The quest for the killer mobile app – beyond UIs, browsers
Picsel's 'view everything' multimedia system
Picsel's Interactive File Viewer (IFV) doesn't entirely lend itself to simple explanations. It's a file viewer (of course) that lets you look at and manipulate a variety of file formats, Word, Powerpoint, PDF, eBook, on a mobile device. Clever, no doubt, but why on earth would you want to do that? Picsel CEO Imran Khand sits down with The Register at Symbian Developer Expo this week, fires up a postage stamp sized display of an Amazon web page and starts zooming in and out. Cute, OK, but why would you want to do that either?
After some robust discussion (Picsel is a Glaswegian company), it becomes clear that 'file viewer' is far too modest and limited a term to use for the technology, because what we're talking about here is the ability to mix, match and interact with any data you choose, without dull stuff like browsers, applications and user interfaces getting in the way. Indeed, there are aspects to this that under other circumstances might have had some companies trying to cut off Picsel's air supply.
You could certainly use the technology to construct an alternative UI/browser or similar, and the description of Picsel's Carrier Solution gives a clear explanation of how this could work, and why Picsel could make a great deal of money. This is a "comprehensive, end-to-end client-server technology" for 2.5G and 3G networks. Networks can use it to build applications specific to their users, so can bundle together email, SMS, MMS, video, PIMs and more or less anything else they like in order to produce a compelling, network-specific 'do everything' package.
And although the service is designed to deliver multimedia content to "devices with limited real estate," it's claimed to be device, OS and network agnostic, so it can be applied to devices of somewhat less limited real estate as well. The Register homepage, which we got onto after Amazon, actually doesn't look half bad on a very small screen via a 2.5G connection, but IFV would clearly make it perfectly acceptable on something the size of a Psion netBook screen, or even on something a little bit smaller.
IFV itself is based on Picsel's ePAGE multimedia content engine, which is the bit that actually does the business. It's designed to work without the presence of the source application and without the content being re-engineered, and in addition to phone-type devices it's aimed at PDAs, games consoles, set-top boxes and in-car systems, and it can either sit on top of the resident OS or be embedded in it.
As far as browsing of the general web via an IFV-enabled device is concerned, we wound up agreeing that this is a capability that's helpful to have for use in circumstances where you have no choice, but that realistically if you do have a choice, you'll shop off standard format Amazon screens from more standard devices. If content and service providers put a little more effort into tailoring their offering for limited real estate devices that would be different of course, because then you wouldn't so much be navigating a football pitch through a letter box.
That however is why it makes sense to offer the products packaged to the networks, because they would then be in a position to optimise the presentation of services, multimedia and not so multimedia, for a broad range of real estates. From the user's point of view, it operates as an easy way to get at your stuff, and all of the stuff you're likely to want on this class of device. So you could have the statutory Britney video going, your contact book so you can phone your mother, the ability to toggle over to your mother via the video phone capability, the game of asteroids to play while you're pretending to listen and look attentitive (why does he grit his teeth and look so stressed whenever he calls me?), whatever.
Some people are certainly buying into the concept. Samsung announced it was licensing IFV on Tuesday, and The Register's interview was delayed slightly by a team from Nokia. Which could of course just have been saying hi. Picsel's initial funding comes from Softbank Europe Ventures and BancBoston Capital, and earlier this month it raised a further $6 million in second round finance via a consortium of Japanese investors. Reading the biogs later The Register discovers too late that Imrand Khand's "experience of raising funds... has proved invaluable to Picsel." Curses - let another one slip through our fingers. ®