Zenzui is a significant new spin-out out from Microsoft that delivers rich mobile applications — from Amazon, to Traffic.com and travel site Kayak — to your mobile phone.
Zenzui is still in closed testing mode, and will be distributed more widely beginning this summer.
So far, Zenzui has built the interface to handle 36 applications, and the ones being tested appear to be slick and easy-to-use. The apps sit on your screen as little “tiles” next to each other (see YouTube video below).
One, for example, is for Kayak‘s travel service. You select the tile, and zoom in to use it. You can personalize the Kayak tile by selecting your city, and your destination cities, for example, and have Kayak forward cheap flight ticket info automatically. You’ll be able to do similar things for books with the Amazon tile, and photos at Flickr, for example. Other apps include things like traffic, sports, weather and Wired Magazine. The applications are updated dynamically in the background via your phone’s cellular network — Zenzui’s servers being the conduit between Kayak’s site and your phone.
A number of other companies have offered mobile applications in the form of tiles, for example Plusmo and Widsets. However, Zenzui is different in important areas. On a tile, you can hit “2” to send it to a friend. Your friend can then choose to accept it or reject it, and where to put it on their screen. You can also “rate” the tile. Zenzui’s service will be an open interface, so that any developer can submit applications, and will share in revenue made from sponsors of the tile — or they can sponsor their own. Amazon, for example, has sponsored its tile, paying Zenzui every time someone “zooms” on its application. Amazon also pays anytime someone buys a book from Amazon.
Zenzui has thought carefully about how to make money from the get-go. Each tile, when zoomed in on, will have two banner ads at the bottom of the screen. Hopefully this money-making won’t dominate the experience. Again, we haven’t used this on our phone — we were limited to a couple of video demos about how it works.
Here’s Zenzui’s main challenge: It is dependent on carriers to allow it access to mobile phone decks, and to make money without getting charged to death. Zenzui’s chief executive, Eric Hertz, who has a wireless background, says he’s in “deep discussions” with the major carriers, though has not yet reached a deal with any of them. The carriers are all testing it, he said.
Zenzui works on Windows Mobile phones, and will be rolled out to other phones (J2ME this summer, and BREW by end of year). It’s compatible with any form of phone touch-screen/pad/keyboard, the company says.
Seattle-based ZenZui is a spin-off via Microsoft’s IP Ventures program, similar in structure to Wallop. Zenzui has raised a $12 million first round of capital from Oak Investment Partners and Hunt Ventures. Wireless entrepreneur Tom Huseby, of SeaPoint Ventures (a fund created by Oak, Sevin Rosen and Venrock) acts as chairman. He’s also a venture partner at Oak and Hunt.