Bump, the mobile app that lets you share information with other people by bumping your phones together, announced tonight that it now has 25 million iPhone and Android users and has raised $16 million from hot investors Andreesen Horowitz, Google-backers Sequoia, early Google investor turned billionaire Ram Shriram and Silicon Valley godfather Ron Conway.
What are these people funding? Bump is a fascinating integration of the online and offline worlds. It's not the Apple-acquired super-intelligent voice-controlled Siri mobile personal assistant, it's not the plug-and-pay Square dongle that raised twice as much venture capital just today, it's not the maybe-it-will work Near Field Communication (NFC) chips that Google is putting in Android phones and in window stickers for businesses - it's yet another new way for users to interact with mobile devices to get things done. We'll probably get a chance to try them all in the fast-approaching world of mobile-enabled commerce.
Bump is like the Shazzam of the mobile interface world, if you will. The app uses a mobile phone's accelerometer and compass to send its location to the Bump servers whenever it vibrates. When Bump gets a signal that two phones have vibrated at the exact same moment in time, and in very close proximity, then the service presumes those two users are the intended recipients of one-anothers' message or sharing action. It's an ingenious idea. The company prominently features an Application Programming Interface, which allows its software to be integrated into other mobile apps as well. The Let's Pour iPhone app for wine lovers, for example, uses the Bump API to share info about wine.
Originally just for sharing contact information, Bump can now be used to share photos, music, calendar events and more. You can even send money between Bump users, via the company's PayPal integration.
That's a big part of the future that the newly announced funding will let the company focus on, according to a conversation with the founders recounted on TechCrunch tonight. Bump sounds like it's going to jump right into the mobile commerce market, and it's not hard to picture it as a Square competitor. "Bump wants its experience to be very tangible," wrote that blog's Jason Kincaid. "Users won't simply pull out their phones and fire up the app -- they'll walk into a venue and see a physical station to 'Bump' with in order to get whatever discount, data, or media the business is offering."
Can a startup like this really go up against mobile giants like Google and Apple? Time will tell and there's something about the feeling of Bump that makes me wonder if Microsoft will buy it someday.
Either way, in the mean time, the rest of us get one more mode of interaction with our phones. Which would you rather perform transactions with, Bump, Square, Google NFC or maybe a future version of voice controlled artificial intelligence like Apple bought with its Siri acquisition? We'll soon have lots of fun opportunities to bump, waggle, shake and talk to our mobile devices and find out.