Apple’s MobileMe and Microsoft’s recently announced MyPhone services focus on giving mobile users more seamless access to internet data services and the mobile address book. Conveneer, launching later this year, wants to help other carriers and manufacturers do the same — or better. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup has just announced a $4.5 million round of funding led by Swedish investor Industrifonden and Silicon Valley-based Broken Arrow Venture Capital.
Conveneer is only the latest service to focus on the increasingly crowded market of mobile address books and mobile data syncing. Next to heavy-weights Apple and Microsoft, there are startups in these segments, including Dashwire, FusionOne and SkyDeck. Also, various mobile social networks and device makers are in discussions to integrate social network features directly into the address books of devices.
In the interview below with Broken Arrow general partner Tom Barton, I wanted to hear about his reasons for investing in the crowded space in general, gauge how much room for innovation he still sees in the segment, and find out what makes an address book/backup service like Conveneer’s interesting to partners in the mobile industry.
At a high level, Conveneer has been developing a technology platform called Mikz (pronounced “mix”) that assigns a mobile phone a unique URL. Internet services can access Mikz to provide updates to a user’s phone, using an open set of application programming interfaces. The company is working with an unannounced group of manufacturers, carriers and application developers ahead of its launch. It will use this funding in part to increase its presence in the US mobile market. One can guess who partners might be, given that the company’s chair is Örjan Johansson, one of the creators of the Bluetooth standard, and the former director and general manager of Bluetooth Technology and Products for phone manufacturer Ericsson. Conveneer’s chief executive is Christer Bjork, founder of Teleca’s Obigo software products.
VentureBeat: I understand how you differ from companies like Dashwire and Sprite Mobile, other services that aim to connect your phone with internet data services. Still, who are Conveneer’s competitors and how is Conveneer different?
Tom Barton: First and foremost, we define ourselves as a connectivity service. Conveneer provides the core infrastructure that enables an always-on, on-demand connection from a Web browser or Web application to the phone, using standard internet protocols.
Probably the closest competition is Dashwire, Apple MobileMe and Microsoft MyPhone. To some extent the backup companies like FusionOne, SkyDeck, Sprite Mobile, etc. are competitors, but they are generally not trying to do the same things that Conveneer does.
Conveneer has some strong advantages in our technology platform versus the competitors, and we believe we have a very strong patent position around some of our differentiators. Some differentiators about our platform: Conveneer’s technology platform uses open standard internet protocols and [application programming interfaces] (http, https, RSS, SOAP, etc.). The company also provides an uninterrupted end-to-end connection/session to the device, without a gateway in the middle (this provides very strong benefits in terms of security). Additionally, Conveneer’s model pulls information on-demand, with intelligent caching algorithms to know when new data is present vs. when a stored copy can be used. Competitors use a “push” technology from the phone, which drains battery life on the device and creates unnecessary network traffic. This model allows our connections to be always-on, but in an efficient fashion. Note that some of the larger competitors (e.g., Microsoft MyPhone) only sync/upload data once a day.
Also, our software client is highly integrated with the device, meaning all data on the mobile phone can be accessed. We have extremely strong relationships with handset manufacturers and with cell phone platform providers (e.g., Qualcomm). Conveneer can assign any arbitrary static URL to the device that works regardless of the device’s actual IP address.
VentureBeat: I understand that the assignment of IP addresses to devices is a problem with carriers, so I see that this can be interesting to the industry. What about the business model?
We believe that we are pursuing a more open business model strategy with our customers and partners: Conveneer’s goal is initially to enable handset manufacturers and wireless carriers to increase revenue and offer more capabilities and services. Third-party applications are also welcome to use the network for a fee.
So that Conveneer is not attempting to constrain the “web” side of the opportunity to just us, we view ourselves as an infrastructure play to enable other companies to offer greater capabilities.
VB: All the big Internet companies like Apple and Microsoft are moving in this direction, so I’m wondering what the benefit is for the mobile phone handset manufacturers, wireless carriers, and various application developers to work with Conveneer?
TB: Regarding the benefits to wireless carriers and handset manufacturers I think it’s precisely because big companies like Apple and Microsoft see this as an opportunity that handset manufacturers and wireless carriers also want to move in this direction. They do not want to be marginalized by Apple and Microsoft –- they want to compete with them.
We can tell you from existing proof that the handset manufacturers and carriers we talk to are very excited about Conveneer’s technology and platform and view it as differentiated from the competitors’ platforms.
The top two benefits of Conveneer’s technology to both carriers and handset companies are enhancing their Web portals with live dynamic services (increase ARPU), for one. Improving their diagnostics and support capability (reduced costs to support) would be another advantage.
VB: The Windows Mobile announcement at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona left many startups supposedly working with Microsoft in this direction out in the cold. What are your thoughts on this?
TB: We think the Microsoft MyPhone announcement helps validate the market for what Conveneer is trying to do –- but we believe that our technology platform is superior in many ways to what Microsoft is doing. We would certainly like to turn Microsoft into a customer at some point.
VB: I would like to hear more about what your prospective customers see as the additional benefit of Conveneer’s technology. In which situations do they want to apply it, for example?
TB: [I’ve already] articulated the top two benefits . . . for our first two customer segments (carriers and handset companies). I would say that for the consumer, the top two benefits of Conveneer’s technology are (1) substantially improved manageability of the mobile phone and access to content, and (2) the ability to integrate the mobile phone with their social networking identities (e.g., automatic push of photos from phone to Facebook page, etc.)
Eric Eldon contributed to this article