The second session of the first day of the TechCrunch40 conference was on the topic "Mobile and Communications." There were very interesting companies but unfortunately, they all suffered bad connection & coverage problems, so they couldn't pitch their products so well. Here they are:
Cubic Telecom's mission is to make phone calls seamless and cheaper than ever. They do it by locating special wifi spots all around the world and making your calls via these spots. For GSM calls, they have a special cheap price as low as 15 cents per minute. You can call anywhere in the world anytime you want.
According to Om Malik, if they can scale, Cubic can be a viable business. However, they're going need to compete in a very commoditized market and it's likely that their profit margins will be way too low.
Yap is trying to enable speech for the mobile web. Small keyboards are really archaic interfaces and they impose a lot of frictions on the popularity of mobile browsing. Yap is trying to solve this with an innovative J2ME based interface, and distributed, lightweight speech recognition technology. They will soon announce their first round of VC funding.
The company will allow people to change their Twitter or Facebook status and send SMS via voice. In order to get established they'll need to cut deals with telecom carriers; but they have reason to be hopeful. The company includes people who created and popularized the iPod, IBM ViaVoice as well as ex-Cingular and Amazon executives.
Jason Calacanis said he likes this company. Their business model is mainly advertising; when you say "let's go have a cup of coffee," the service may reply with the location of the nearest Starbucks. See also Jott, a recently launched competitor.
Ceedo claims to enable mobile phone virtualization for PCs. When you connect your phone to your PC, it shows up a user interface which will make it much easier for you to use the capabilities. For example, you'll be able to use Picasa directly. They will also allow you to buy music for your mobile device immediately.
Personally, I didn't see anything revolutionary here. Just an interface; virtualization is way too serious for this kind of technology, in my opinion.
LoudTalks is a neat idea from Russia. The founders say that today there are 2 ways of real time communication: telephone or instant messaging. They are building a desktop application very similar to ICQ or Skype that serves as an internet walkie-talkie. They try to eliminate the limitations of instant messaging - no emotions, time loss due to typing. It's basically a push to talk system. But it allows you to talk to many people at once. You don't need to be in a continuous dialogue with someone, you can talk and browse the web, do your job at the same time. When you go busy, incoming messages are stored so that you can listen to them whenever you are available. Neat idea, and similar to Twitter in my opinion - not a technological breakthrough but catches something that we missed in rush of finding the next big thing.
According to Marc Andreessen the main problem that they may face is distribution and he recommended them to use blog widgets (perhaps like meebome) to spread virally. See also long-time provider of a similar service, YackPack.
TruTap brings social networking to mobile space. It's a free, universal mobile service which lets you see the status of your IM friends (MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, AOL supported). It allows you to blog and set your profile. You can make group messaging as well. The service is planned to go live in 16 weeks. They claim that they have already cut deals with key social networks and the service will be available in more than 200 countries. TruTap will be usable from your browser too. Developer APIs will be immediately available.
For me, there were such promises before too, but we didn't see anything viable. The deals these companies make will define their destiny. It's a fact that Nokia is already after this market and doing anything to capture market share. Time will show how it's gonna roll up.
Edited by Marshall Kirkpatrick.