Using the Web on most cell phones has tended to be a balky, awkward experience, reminiscent of what the Internet was like on computers in dial-up 1995. So a handful of startups are trying to make it much cooler.
By using new programming tools or rethinking existing ones, companies at this week's DEMO emerging technologies conference claim they can replicate familiar aspects of today's desktop computing on the phone's small screen.
One such company, Bling Software Inc., uses a programming technique called Ajax to deliver Web-like modules of content to any phone with a browser, on any wireless carrier's network. Ajax speeds up Web applications by summoning snippets of data as needed instead of pulling entire Web pages over and over.
These modules might contain video clips and other interactive features. Users can access them through a slicker graphical interface rather than the text-heavy menus often used to bring content onto cell phones.
Hoping to first attract a young, urban demographic, Bling is fueling content modules for rapper Jay-Z and baseball's Barry Bonds. The San Francisco Giants slugger is a business partner of one of Bling's investors and appeared at DEMO to help launch Bling's platform.
Bling will make it possible for Bonds fans to download a Bonds module to cell phones, which will show highlight clips and a running tally of his career homer total as he pursues Hank Aaron's all-time record — assuming, of course, that he stays healthy and out of legal trouble as federal investigators probe the use of steroids in sports.
"I just want to interact with my fans," Bonds proclaimed. "Now there's a closer interacting phase."
Other DEMO presenters share Bling's contention that it takes slight tweaks to make everyday cell phones much easier to use.
For example, TeleFlip Inc. is launching a free service that can route e-mails to cell phones. The messages come to the phone over the devices' text-messaging systems, but are formatted to look as clean as traditional e-mails. CEO Tony Davis says this simple trick is all that's needed to turn any regular phone into a "smart phone" — though in fairness, those more expensive devices offer more than just e-mail.
Another vendor, GoWare Inc., plans to soon offer a way for any cell phone Web browser to have a customizable portal of personalized content.
Users should soon be able to go on GoWare's DoMo Web site and select the Web feeds and other information they would like to have on their phones. Then, rather than being confined to whatever links wireless carriers happened to push to the phone, DoMo users could have slices of their favorite Web sites delivered to them wherever they happened to be.
"Our challenge is to break away from a model that puts technology at the center," DEMO producer Chris Shipley said in kicking off the conference Wednesday. Instead, she suggested, successful startups would "shift to a model with people at the center."