AOL plans mobile phone instant messenger

Tegic purchase signposts next expansion area

AOL has boosted its "AOL Anywhere" strategy with the acquisition of Tegic Communications, a Seattle-based outfit specialising in wireless text messaging. Tegic builds smart software that can be used by cellphones to allow single key entry of text messages, thus making it a lot easier to use them, and AOL intends to work with the company to produce, among other things, a wireless version of AOL Instant Messenger. That however begs an interesting question. Tegic claims its software has already been licensed to manufacturers representing 90 per cent of the world's cellphone output, but essentially it's something that's going to be embedded in the mobile phone by the manufacturer. It's possible to use the software on other devices that have the capability to load it (a Palm Pilot, for example) but the major market is going to be cellphones. So go figure. Already in parts of Europe - most famously, Helsinki - use of mobile phone short message services (SMS) is exploding as a wireless, mobile version of PC-based instant messaging. Except it's going to be a lot bigger, and AOL not being the kind of company to miss this sort of trend, it's climbing on the band-wagon. But rolling out a branded service like AOL Instant Messenger into an area like SMS is going to be tricky. Phones come with SMS as standard, so there's got to be something extra to attract users to the AOL flavour. Crossover platforms, and interoperability between SMS and PC instant messaging look like sensible lines of attack. A Communicator or a mobile phone that could send and receive instant messages transparently would certainly have its attractions. But of course AOL has to get the software onto the client, which means deals with the phone manufacturers and - maybe - AOL badged mobile phones. Tegic's software, by the way, works by using a dictionary of commonly typed words, and comparing keystrokes to it. So instead of having to press the mobile phone key several times in order to get a particular letter, you just tap away and the software decides which word you mean. ®

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