By Keith Dyer, at CTIA Wireless in Atlanta
OK, so you’re a mobile messaging company whose raison d’etre is to allow operators to help their users, enterprise and consumer get full email functionality onto mobile devices.
Your target customers are therefore mobile operators, and what you offer them is a platform upon which they can offer real time wireless email functionality, whether that be from Exchange or Lotus Notes, and whether that be to devices running Palm OS, Pocket PC, Java or Symbian. Your name is Visto, and armed with $50 million of private equity funding and with the fat feeling of the recent purchase of Psion Software under your belt, you are not shy.
As a little background, the pre-eminent and most successful company in wireless email has undoubtedly been RIM, purveyor of the BlackBerry. With a million units shipped and with a slew of licensing deals announced to get the BlackBerry client onto other mobile phones, BlackBerry has done nicely out of filling the hole between reality and expectation on wireless email. But its problem is it is really a point product. You have to buy a BlackBerry to get the system. If you’re a corporate user you need the BlackBerry server as well. Although there are a million BlackBerries out there, in the grand scheme of things that is not a mass market product.
There are plenty of other forays into this market. Good Technology is a company that has many corporate clients in the USA. Good’s vp of sales and marketing, Sue Forbes, says that the key to delivering mobile email to enterprises is not to be a mobile operator. "On the whole," she says, "enterprises like to talk to an enterprise software company about enterprise software." Mobile operators are "very important partners" Forbes says, providing the devices and the data plans, while Good provides its software to get the email product up and running.
Forbes says that, although email is the most important application, this is about providing access to more corporate applications than email, and therefore enterprises are very twitchy about security. Which is why they like the idea of a partner like Good. Good has very recently opened a European office in the UK, and is looking for VARs to help spread the message, as well as leverage its MNC clients from the US who want to extend functionality to their European offices.
Visto’s ceo, Brian Bogosian, is slightly more forthright on the possible security applications of wireless email. "If they were worried about security, they wouldn’t be buying BlackBerry," he snorts.
He also has little time for Good, the company that is, not the moral concept. "Good doesn’t really compete. It has a direct relationship with enterprises but it doesn’t support Lotus Notes, it supports the Palm Treo 600, but doesn’t have Symbian, and no smartphone support."
The last, Forbes would point out, might depend on your definition of a smartphone. The company does have an agreement to support Pocket PC devices, as well as the Palm OS agreement for the Treo.
Anyway, Bogosian is unimpressed, and says operators aren’t considering Good at all. Nor is he over-chuffed with the argument that RIM is overcoming its device-centric BlackBerry approach by licensing the client to other handset manufacturers.
"There’s a lot of press releases," he says. "On the Nokia the [BlackBerry] performance is unsatisfactory," he offers, by way of example. "We are miles ahead of where they are."
One of Visto’s attractions to operators, Bogosian says, is that it presents a platform that can be branded by the operator either to enterprises or prosumers (his terminology not ours). This also contrasts, Bogosian says, with BlackBerry, which is very brand and device centric. Visto users needn’t know they are on the Visto client at all.
Mobile Europe saw a Visto demonstration on a Nokia phone running Symbian. Connection was from a booth in Atlanta back to a desktop Exchange client in the UK, over AT&T Wireless’ GPRS service in Atlanta. It looked pretty good, with real time synchronisation of calendar and contacts changes, as well as sending and receiving emails, of course.
Good’s approach seems to offer more to the dedicated MS Exchange user. Integrated into the Pocket PC environment users can view and edit standard MS attachments, such as Pocket Excel, and see PDF images rather than as a text file. Good also has both ends of the BlackBerry debate covered, with an agreement with RIM. The lack of Symbian is a problem at the moment, but Forbes was adamant there would be progress there too.