Interview with Snaptu: Can New Mobile App Platforms Still Succeed?

-Snaptu Logo-Israel-based Snaptu is a new mobile phone platform that bundles various mobile applications into an easily managed series of catalogs for your phone. There are two main problems that Snaptu is trying to solve with its mobile platform, and that’s the automation of web content to remain user friendly in the mobile environment, and create a seamless experience for end users seeking to access applications through their mobile device.

One key component of doing so, aside from bundling applications for mobile use, is providing these apps through remote server access, minimizing the amount of space needed for individual devices to support multiple applications. These differentiating factors are a bit different from what we’ve seen from more popular application catalogs such as Apple’s application store, though it hopes to be an equally powerful platform benefiting developers and mobile users alike. Below is an interview with Snaptu’s VP of Business Development Lior Tal.

Kristen Nicole of Social Times: As far as mobile applications go, how did you determine that bundling groups of applications into catalogs would be beneficial to mobile users?

Lior Tal of Snaptu: The current set of Snaptu apps is either based on partnerships with service/content providers such as ESPN, Accuweather, Seatwave, Mymovies etc. or based on open API services such as Google, Facebook or Twitter.

The default set of applications can be set according to country, language, age etc., enabling the user to add other available apps from the catalog (since the apps are not actually downloaded into the device, there is no limit as to how many a user can add)

Kristen Nicole: What types of mobile devices do you support?

Lior Tal: Snaptu runs on approx. 500 java enabled devices (MIDP2.0, CLDC1.1) from all manufacturers. We recently added support for Blackberries (pearl/curve onward) and touch screens (incl. Samsung instinct). We are currently working on adapting the client to additional platforms.

Kristen Nicole: What services do you provide for developers or content owners? Do you offer a series of tools for creating an application to work on your platform?

Lior Tal: Snaptu is intended as an off-portal open platform which will enable third party developers (and eventually non-developers as well, though more limited ones) to develop and launch mobile apps. The main advantages in our technology, is the ability to develop the app once, while the system performs the adaptation to the various devices completely automatically.

In a nutshell, our server-client architecture is designed and executed in such a way, that the application developer is agnostic to the device on which the app will be running. Adding an application to any Snaptu user is immediate (distribution can be controlled from the server), which makes it an amazing distribution channel for mobile services.

We are currently conducting trials with several mobile VARs/Integrators which will use Snaptu as a platform for developing mobile apps based on leading online content providers. Once the SDK is mature enough, we will release it to selected developers, and eventually to the public.

Kristen Nicole: Are the applications on your platform able to be used on other platforms or as standalone applications?

Lior Tal: The thin client which resides on the mobile phone (about 90kb) provides access to any or all of Snaptu apps according to permissions provided by the server. This way, we launched a Picasa stand-alone client (http://www.phoload.com/software/210-picasa-photo-browser/view) which in essence is the same as the full Snaptu client. The decision whether to bundle apps into “portals” is business/marketing driven rather than a technology issue.

Kristen Nicole: Could you expand on the benefits of having the applications run on a remote server?

Lior Tal: Moblica’s technology was developed to overcome two major difficulties which content providers face when developing mobile internet solutions: providing excellent user experience on a wide variety of different mobile devices, while maintaining low development, maintenance and deployment costs.

By moving functionality from the mobile device itself to the server side of the system, we circumvent the need to rely on the specifics of each device, empowering even the most basic phones with the resources of powerful servers. The result is having the ability to easily and rapidly develop engaging applications, which are easier to develop than mobile websites.

Using this technology, when a user logs into the system with a new device which was unknown up to that point, the system maps its keys, learns its screens properties, and all our apps are adapted automatically to support it.

Another interesting aspect of working server-side, is the ability to “mashup” service. For example, a user can post a news, movie review or pub information to Facebook, the local guide can “feed” the venue location into the journey planner – and these, without the various services having anything to do with each other.

Kristen Nicole: Are all the applications free for mobile users?

Lior Tal: That depends on the content/service origin. All services which are free online, are free on Snaptu. Services which require subscription may also require so here. We are soon introducing a premium content shop, which will enable users to purchase mobile content from leading publishers directly from Snaptu (single purchase or subscription).

Kristen Nicole: Does Snaptu compete with Apple applications at all? Have you learned anything from Apple’s success?

Lior Tal: One thing that the world learned from Apple in our space, is that user experience is the key to mass adoption of mobile services. Content providers must understand, that a service which was originally designed to the PC web’s environment, consistent of a large screen, pointing device and full keyboard, will result in poor user experience if attempted to automatically be reformatted into a mobile solution. We believe that the entire process should be automatic, besides the design and decision on how the user interface and application flow should be.

Kristen Nicole: Do you offer any monetization options for developers that have applications on your platform?

Lior Tal: Our platform supports several options, which some are already implemented in applications. Similarly to web monetization, Snaptu apps provide integration to ad networks (impression or action), they enable transactions, some more mobile-specific channels such as click to call (using premium numbers) etc.

Kristen Nicole: Can users create their own catalogs for apps?

Lior Tal: Currently, we allow users to choose from our growing repository of available applications. We are constantly working on the development of additional ones, and should see some exciting new ones in the coming weeks.

We added a feedback applications to hear which applications and features our users would like to see on Snaptu, and do our best to accommodate them.

Kristen Nicole: Do you have any social components that would allow for recommendations and application sharing across Snaptu users?

Lior Tal: If you open the menu, you’ll see the option to send Snaptu to a friend (using an SMS sent to the friend from our servers). We will deepen the integration into more social functions, which will enable sharing content and recommendations mobile to web and vice versa.

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