Blackberry Provides a Mobile Device Too!

Since the iPhone came out a year and a half ago, mobile app development has gone into an iPhone-only mode of development. Mostly. The web interface has made it much more conducive to providing a real rich environment for web applications and now that the iPhone 3G has arrived, apps are being produced left and right.

It’s all great, except Apple still has a minority market share in mobile devices. By mobile device, I am referring to smart phones: iPhone, Treo, Blackberry, etc.

In DC, we have a running joke about the iPhone. In DC the preference for a smartphone is a Blackberry. When I get on the Metro, I look around and everyone is fiddling on their Blackberries.

It’s a matter of utility and practicality.

In San Francisco, no one goes without an iPhone, but in DC iPhones are far more scarce.

Yet, mobile application development seems to trend toward iPhones. While iPhone rich applications are great for the “bling” factor, they represent a small minority of customers in the global market that actually can utilize these interfaces.

In my opinion, developers can work within the limitations imposed by RIM to provide rich Blackberry equivalents to their apps. The Facebook App for Blackberry is a shining example of great Blackberry app that has been developed within the context of the RIM framework.

It can be done. It should be done.

I was pitched an iPhone app by a PR guy yesterday and when I scolded him for having an iPhone app and not a Blackberry app as well, he corrected me and gave me access to their prior-released Blackberry version. After fiddling around with it for 30 mins, I realized it just doesn’t work. Why are companies putting out half-assed products?

The Blackberry Storm is coming out, by all accounts, in the next 2-3 weeks and I’ll be one getting it as soon as it comes out. Why? Because Blackberry users know our product sucks. But, we need it. It’s utility. It’s functional. It’s the hub of our digital lives. The Storm will theoretically change that and that is great.

In the meantime, mobile app developers have to recognize the market share and not take an elitist perspective that they can somehow push users to the sexier platform. Because in DC, purchasers don’t care about sexiness. They care about utility. I imagine this city is not alone in that regard.

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Thummit: Food Reviewing Comes to Your Phone

picture-4Have you ever found yourself sitting in a restaurant and completely turned off by the service you received? Or maybe you experience the best crab cake you have ever had?

Up until recently, the best you could do was go submit your review to sites like Yelp – if you remembered when you got home. Thummit, a Launchbox Digital incubation company based in Washington, D.C. hopes to solve that and similar problems for you using your cell phone.

The idea is simple, and builds on the successes of other mobile companies like Twitter: You send a text message to a designated number with your thumbs up, thumbs down, so-so markup and the service stores that review.

In a demo given to a small group of bloggers in their hip office space in the middle of Chinatown, co-founder Sean Greene outlined use cases where Google local results for pizza in Dupont Circle yields chain blasé such as Pizza Hut and California Pizza Kitchen while Thummit yields much more acceptable results for a foodie in Dupont: Pizza Paradiso, Alberto’s and Anna Maria’s Italian Restaurant.

The service is not open to the public as of yet and there is still a lot of work to be done. The service has been seeded by review content (fair use) from sources like Zagat and other restaurant review sites so new users will not feel like the community is dead.

Socially, the service assumes that as a user, you will get your most use out of it if you have trusted connections of friends and contacts who provide great reviews and might be inline with your own tastes. By cultivating that community and social network aspect, they hope to provide tailor-made results to you based on your preferences and trusted social connections.

Text messaging is the cornerstone, but even that remains to be fleshed out completely.

The usefulness of this service is, of course, the immediacy of mobile and content. I may not be inspired to write something on Yelp when I get home, but I am now and by God, I have a phone! This also takes the web technology aspect of reviews to a new level, further marginalizing the one-way communications of your daily circular’s restaurant reviews.

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Damn the Economy — Full Speed Ahead!

damn torpedoes2.jpgRandom-sampling the mix of entrepreneurs who made it to OpenCoffeeDC earlier this week, the wretched economy has deterred um, let’s see — no one. Gotta love that entrepreneurial spirit!

Optimism still reigns — rains, even. Everyone in the group echoed anti-parallels to the dot.com crash (“Back then, ‘Internet’ was a bad word and investors ran from technology; today, it’s the financial markets,” and ““negligible costs of getting started”) — even attending VC Jonathan Aberman waxed enthusiastic: “People will invest in things they understand,” he noted, referring to the backlash from Wall Street’s love affair with exotic but obtuse instruments, “and for many, high tech equates to high growth.” (I took comfort in the notion that there’s something out there more obtuse than technology.)

Still, Aberman had a strongly worded caution for the near term: “Don’t look for money now.”

Gakk!

Not that the entrepreneurs were oblivious to the issues and challenges ahead. Nobody disagreed with LaunchBox Digital co-founder Sean Greene’s assessment that “Most angels have watched 40% of their net worth disappear” along with the Market. Money remains the biggest issue.

And many times during the discussions, the word ‘runway‘ came up — a term I guarantee few people uttered outside of airports a month or two ago.

(btw, a runway analysis is a good exercise for every startup. As is acclimating to the idea that whatever your relevant variables were two months ago — demand, market adoption, advertising CPMs, time to raise capital, valuation, etc. — everything’s changed. There may be a few pluses — cheaper rent, cheaper talent — but for the most part, things have gone in the wrong direction.)

Back to happy thoughts.

I was genuinely pleased to see the diverse mix of companies and stages around the table. We even had a non-software start-up (!) — The Dupont Collection bed & breakfasts. (Heck, I didn’t even know there were bed & breakfasts in DC. They look inviting . . . and reasonable!) I couldn’t have mixed it up any better if I planned it. Here’s a sampling of companies and their outlooks:

DubMeNow — (Beta.) As told by Director of Business Development Chris Hopkinson, DubMeNow, which aims to rid the world of business cards through enabling mobile devices, was sitting comfortably with over a million angel dollars raised . . . though it will continue to pursue VC funding to accelerate expansion to additional mobile platforms.

Funds sought: $1M. Runway: 12 months

YourMusicOn.fm — (Pre-launch.) Daniele Calabrese is in the formative stages with a one-stop-shop for digital delivery of music and content.

Funds sought: $500k. Runway: Self-funded, working towards a target of August 2009 beta.

SocialMinder — (Alpha.) John Adler founded and funded this ‘keep-in-touch’ minder (currently works with LinkedIn) that analyzes the ‘health’ of your relationships and flags those that need strengthening.

Funds sought: $1M. Runway: Through the end of ’09.

The great thing about OpenCoffees and similar meetups is the collaborative atmosphere. As an entrepreneur who’s weathered startups through several recessions — (“No, son — I don’t recall the Crash of ’29”), I can say I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Even the dot.com days were far more competitive and snarkier. (I think it’s because it was all about ‘eyeballs,’ and you never wanted the other guy to get any of yours.)

Maybe it’s just human nature to huddle together during tough times. Well, there are lots of ways to do it. Join Amplifier Networks’ DC Tech Corridor social network, for one.

And for Pete’s sake, get out of the house now and then (like going to OpenCoffees). Rounding out our group was Chloe Feinberg, a supporter of Jelly in DC. For those not aware, Jelly is a ‘floating crap game’ workspace for technical/social media types looking to do casual co-working, usually in corners of various wi-fi connected coffee shops and eateries. Anyone interested, the next assemblage is at Busboys & Poets Monday 11/3, from 10am to 4pm.

Sign up — networking with warm bodies can be a nice alternative to Facebook for braving a nuclear winter.

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