ZenZui's Zoomspace zeal
One Seattle startup is introducing a video-game-like Web browser for mobile phones that it hopes will be fun and helpful for users while giving carriers more ad appeal.
Seattle Times technology reporter
ORLANDO, Fla. — Much of the chatter this week at CTIA Wireless 2007 — beyond the buzz-hogging Apple iPhone, which isn't even on the market yet — is expected to swarm around one thing: cellphone advertising.
For evidence, consider one more company going that route — ZenZui, a Seattle startup that's lifting the cover off its operation today after working in "stealth mode" since Microsoft spun it off in September.
Among the two dozen or so Seattle-area companies at this year's show, which starts today, ZenZui could grab much of the attention.
It is expected to be mentioned during today's keynote by Pieter Knook, Microsoft's senior vice president of its mobile business.
But ZenZui could also demand attention because of its claim of solving so many of the industry's sore points. Not only is it hoping to improve Web browsing on the phone, it also expects to give carriers new revenue streams through advertising.
And it wants to make mobile-phone users happy by providing a useful and fun way to get information normally retrieved on the Web.
ZenZui is doing this by building a browser with video-game-like graphics.
The so-called Zoomspace that appears on a phone's screen is a grid of 16 "tiles" sponsored by major brands, such as Amazon.com, Nike, Kayak.com, ABC, Fox's "The Family Guy," Traffic.com and more. Users get to pick the tiles they want on their screen.
Eventually, the grid can grow to 36 tiles.
The tiles eliminate some typing by allowing users to see 16 miniature pages at once.
They can zoom in on a tile to get flight prices, for instance, or zoom out to scroll around.
Each tile reserves space for two small ads in a corner. The ads help subsidize the application, so there's no charge to the user.
Content owners, brands or even individual developers can build the tiles.
ZenZui, based in Seattle, was spun off from Microsoft as part of Microsoft's IP Ventures program. ZenZui is independent and owns the rights to the intellectual property, while Microsoft holds a minority stake.
The company raised $12 million from Oak Investment Partners and Hunt Ventures through the help of Chairman Tom Huseby, a partner at Seattle's SeaPoint Ventures.
Eric Hertz joined ZenZui recently as CEO. He was chief operating officer of Bellevue-based Western Wireless, which was bought by Alltel.
The Zoomspace interface is expected to be available to a small number of trial participants in the summer and generally available at the end of the year.
Besides ZenZui, other local companies are making announcements today.
The Seattle-based mobile-research company said it is installing software on high-end phones to monitor how subscribers use the devices.
The "meter" has been installed on 1,100 devices used by panels in both the U.S. and United Kingdom. With the help of the software, M:Metrics can provide information not possible through reader-response surveys.
Mark Donovan, M:Metrics senior analyst, said the level of detail will help advertisers pinpoint when to place ads on mobile phones.
The Kirkland company, which develops software to predict traffic patterns, will announce today an application aimed at consumers.
Previously, Inrix provided data strictly to corporate partners. Bryan Mistele, founder and CEO, said partnerships will continue to be Inrix's core business model, but the company wanted to build the consumer application to increase awareness of "predictive traffic" and how it can be more powerful than "standard real-time traffic info."
For instance, the application predicts how long it will take a person to get to the airport up to five days in advance. It uses road sensors, data from cars using global positioning satellite (GPS), and information on weather, accidents and even school closures.
It will be available for Windows Mobile devices at Handango.com for $40 a year.
OpenMarket, a Seattle business unit of Qpass (which was acquired last year by Amdocs), will discuss development of financial and billing systems designed to help make selling off-deck content more reliable.
An off-deck sale occurs when mobile subscribers buy ringtones or other content from third parties rather than from the carrier.
Steve Shivers, general manager of OpenMarket, said 30 percent of purchases made by text message fail. To fix the problem, OpenMarket needed direct access to each carrier.
OpenMarket is announcing today that it has 10 additional connections with carriers such as Virgin Mobile USA, MetroPCS and Amp'd Mobile. In total, OpenMarket says it now reaches more than 225 million U.S. mobile subscribers.
The Bellevue company said Find It!, its local mobile-search application, is available to users of Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices.
The application, which previously had been on the Sprint network, allows users to search for restaurants, banks and other local listings based on their location, which is tracked by GPS. If the phone doesn't have GPS, users can enter their location manually.
The application is free to users because it's subsidized by advertisers who pay for sponsored links in the results. The advertisers don't get preferred placement.
The Bellevue-based company, which builds software that helps users easily fix problems with their phones, is conducting a commercial pilot of its self-service software on some handsets from T-Mobile USA.
Tegic Communications, a Seattle subsidiary of AOL, said it will give updates on news released in February at 3GSM World Congress, a wireless trade show in Barcelona, Spain.
For months, Tegic has been showing off a rival to the iPod. The media player allows users to stream or download music or videos to the Linux device over a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection, said Michael Wehrs, Tegic's vice president of product management.
The 30-gigabyte media player, developed with hardware maker Haier, is expected to launch by July, but Tegic is not disclosing the name, price or what company will provide the streaming music service.
Bellevue-based UIEvolution, a subsidiary of Japan-based Square Enix, will talk about its MySpace.com application.
It launched the service with Cingular Wireless in October and now has "hundreds of thousands" of subscribers paying $2.99 a month for the service, said Travi Beaven, UIEvolution's director of consumer and service provider products.
Now the MySpace application is launching with Vodafone, one of the largest wireless carriers in the world, Beaven said.
The application allows people to access MySpace profiles on a small screen and upload pictures shot with a camera phone directly to their page.
UIEvolution also said it created a mobile application featuring Hollywood trivia for E!, the entertainment TV station.
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