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Zumobi Goes Beta

Posted by: Olga Kharif on December 14, 2007

I just wrote a story explaining why mobile advertising has been slow to take off: One reason is, carriers are worried that their customers will be inundated with spam such as text messages and multimedia ads marketing various products.

Well, Zumobi, a spin-off from Microsoft that just debuted in Beta today, is trying a different, less intrusive approach to mobile advertising. The company’s founders, who are scientists specializing in interface design and mobile computing, have created a way to navigate through tiles. Each tile is an application that a consumer selects to show up on his or her phone.

The tiles are, essentially, ads, only they don't look or function that way. Of the 80 tiles that debuted today, eight are from Amazon. One lets users to easily buy certain books from a cell phone, or to search for book titles. Another sponsor's tile offers a card game, though it is marked with the sponsor's name. Consumers get to pick which of these little applications they would like to have on their phone. The tiles are typically created, using Zumobi's developer's kit, which became available today, by potential sponsors or their advertising agencies.

I will be testing the interface in the next few weeks. Initially, Zumobi will only work on Windows Mobile devices, but it could become available for everything from the iPhone to BlackBerry Pearl (the company has, in fact, tested the software on both devices, says John SanGiovanni, a co-founder, with whom I met yesterday).

Mobile advertising is a green field, and no one is quite sure how to mine it right. But this certainly looks like an interesting approach, one that users may be less likely to resent.

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Reader Comments

Brandon W

December 14, 2007 10:14 AM

I will never, ever accept advertising on my phone. I will pay a little more for my service if necessary, to not have it. If a carrier starts pushing ads out to me in any form, I'll cancel. THE END. And I don't think I'm alone in this.


December 14, 2007 04:26 PM

Great article Olga. Zumobi has a really cool product.

Brandon W should unplug now.

David Z

December 15, 2007 01:01 AM

I would have to agree with Brandon. My phone is my only escape from the greedy care-free world on modern advertising. I can't even open a new book now without getting hit with an ad. I'll gladly switch to whichever provider that can assure me they won't be cramming anything down my throat.

December 15, 2007 02:02 AM

It does look pretty cool. Mobile advertising is set to take off, and even if you don't like it, the result will be a better mobile internet.


December 15, 2007 02:46 AM

If it's from Microcr*p - by defintion - it's bad.

Rafael Colorado

December 15, 2007 10:44 AM

Mobile advertising needs to be seamless and ubiquitous. I believe there is a opportunity for a niche segment of the small number of Microsoft based handsets but if the vision is to deliver the message to a broad and diverse audience (read global), the limitations of the OS as well as the complexity of downloading applications narrows the footprint of the message.
Yes you can download an application and knowingly accept advertising or purposefully improve my Amazon mobile purchasing experience by downloading a piece of software; but the power of mobile advertising is way beyond this constrained view of the world. Mobile advertising needs to target a wider audience that effortless receive messages relevant to their immediate needs. This space requires a less math and more consumer focus. A traditional technology such as MMS which is available in almost all phones today can offer a platform for transparent content delivery. I am not talking about a combination of LBS (via GPS) services. I am talking about a much simpler delivery of messages that can be carrier independent and offer a direct (economic) benefit to the consumer.
Rafael Colorado


December 15, 2007 05:23 PM

We need to file a joint law-suit. Let's start with the FCC and how they failed to protect consumer interest. This is a greedy white-collar crime. Why do we have to pay to protect ourselves? I can't believe that I have to pay to for my credit security. I'm urging all of you not to renew your cell phone contract if such companies are having this hidden messages. I'm wondering if DONOTCALL.GOV is even effective. I still get telemarketer calling me. Let's File a complaint with the FCC demanding that they fine the company who calling us with blocked/private number. If you are a business, your number need to be reachable.


December 15, 2007 09:58 PM

Nobody's going to cram ads down your throat, if you don't want ads then just don't use any of the services that will be subsidized by them. Simple as that.

john A

December 15, 2007 11:30 PM

I agree with Brandon W who sez he will never ever accept advertising on his phone. I will go further. I will never ever accept it on my computer, TV or radio. And I damn sure don't want it in the urinals I pee in!!!


December 16, 2007 09:48 AM

Mvive inc have developed already a better product. Only those who subscribe to it for free got the ads on their mobile device.


December 16, 2007 08:49 PM

I installed zumobi, and it is a total joke. To refer to this as browser is also a joke. It is a pathetic applet without serious content, that does not add content from the website to the mobile device after it states content is added, and the UI is primative compared to Windows mobile, much less I phone. It also crashed my Samsung smartphone when I tried to uninstall.

Chris R

December 17, 2007 09:36 AM

Funny that the BETA is such crap. It is a test and it can only be fixed with input from users. The company that it comes from is a non issue as there are good things that come from MS so you might want to take a look at that before you complain and make a judgement. Last but not least if you don't want adverts then don't get them, taking a hard stance now helps no one. I get adverts on my tv, I deal with it. I didn't want them on my radio so I bought satellite radio.


December 17, 2007 10:14 AM

crap.. didn't even think to try and UNINSTALL it.. it's an interesting idea, certainly not a browser, but can be useful if the right tiles are loaded. Stocks, weather, news and more all in one easy to access, FAST to load place.


December 19, 2007 11:34 AM

First, it appears that most of these comments come from individuals with either a technical background or interest in technology innovations --- or why else would they have bothered to write a comment on the day this Beta was released (the general public is more than likely oblivious to this event)? Given that, what techie or wannabe-techie does not use a PC? the internet? listen to the radio? drive a car? have a mailbox? - Everything has ads --- even satellite TV and Radio. If you are involved in business (not to overlook the manic political advertisement/propaganda speech noted in an earlier comment), well ... advertisement has always been a recognized participant in any business --- direct or indirect --- with positive benefits.
Ads are not the point.
Second, a Beta is ... a Beta; not a final product (techies know that). Zumobi states it is only for Mobile 5&6; however, have plans to support other handsets later. Since it is a Beta, they might be soliciting constructive criticism to incorporate into their future releases. So, stop whining - it looks like you work for the competitors or just like to complain. If the later, crawl out of your shell and go make some friends down at your local pub (careful of all the ads along the way...).

The point is to provide a mechanism to access content on a mobile terminal via an acceptable user interface; hence, improving the customer experience and giving us multiple options to obtain content while reducing the current hassles. Anyone who lives in a 2.5/3/3.5G market that actually uses the mobile web regularly is more concerned about the long wait times and grueling step by step pages one has to navigate through just to get a basic piece of data and not the size of the screen; all the while being charged incredible amounts from their service operator for every click. MMS? Triple the cost and download for days. LBS? really - did you see a holiday ad and suppose that would be a nifty, cost effective technology?

I find the internet a useful tool - according to the latest statistics, I am not alone on that. So, making it mobile - even better. Unlocking the restraints, lowering the costs and streamlining the experience so I can get on with other things is okay by me.
No, the product is not perfect and not unique. However, anyone like Zumobi and others trying to enable access to content is fine by me. The fact that they have solicited my opinion beforehand, thanks - and work out the bugs to make it better.

P.S. I have installed and uninstalled this app 5 times using Mobile 5 & 6 on various terminals. If this app crashed your system, you might want to upgrade your phone.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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