AirFlash.com Inc. will offer a new type of service for mobile phone users later this year that provides business, entertainment and travel information which is specific to a user's location, company officials said today.
Called AirFlash, the service is based on the company's belief that you can't effectively surf the Web on a mobile phone, and that people need a better way to find relevant information when they're on the move, said Rama Aysola, chief executive officer of AirFlash.com, in Redwood City, California.
"This isn't about browsing the Internet; we're creating a new service with content that is tailored specifically to the needs of mobile users," Aysola said. "We're delivering the mobile portal experience."
An AirFlash user could access the service to look up the nearest Italian restaurant, for example, as well as check traffic information, sports scores and stock quotes. The service also offers transaction capabilities, allowing a user to put down a deposit on a hotel room over the telephone, Aysola said.
One analyst said AirFlash could prove highly attractive to consumers -- assuming that the company can drum up support among wireless service providers to offer the service as an option.
"It's the first service I've seen like this that's based on providing localized content to users," said Phillip Redman, a program manager with market research firm The Yankee Group Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts.
Wireless providers can tell a user's location by which antenna they use to access the network, allowing search results to be tailored to their location, Aysola said. If a user punches "post office" into his mobile phone, for example, the AirFlash service will be able to locate one that's nearby.
To make the results more useful, AirFlash includes a search technology that takes into account obstacles like rivers and freeways. For example, if you're in New York City's Manhattan borough and you search for pizza, a restaurant across the Hudson River will be listed low down in the results, even though it might be closest as the crow flies, Aysola said. The company has applied for a patent for the technology, he said.
Users can also personalize the service by creating a "mobile profile" on the AirFlash.com Web site, which might request updated stock quotes every half hour, or specify tastes in music and food. A user could also set up predefined locations, such as "home," "main office" or "preschool," allowing a user to locate services at that locale before they actually arrive there.
The information provided with the service has been collected from the Internet and other directory sources licensed by the company. The data is reformatted for distribution by carriers using the Short Messaging Service (SMS) standard. AirFlash also supports Java and the emerging Wireless Access Protocol, Aysola said.
To use the service you'll need a digital mobile phone that supports SMS. That includes about two-thirds of the digital mobile phones in the world, although the proportion of SMS-enabled phones in the U.S. is lower, Aysola said.
You'll also have to find a service provider that offers AirFlash's service. The company hasn't closed any deals with carriers yet, although it has tested its service with Pacific Bell, Sprint Corp. and AT&T Corp. in the U.S., and with Vodaphone Group PLC in the UK. AirFlash plans to start the first consumer trials in the U.S. in September, and hopes to roll out commercial services in the U.S. and Europe in the fourth quarter, Aysola said.
Pricing will be set by the individual carriers, although AirFlash.com expects the service to cost less than US$5 per month for most users. The service could be offered free to users on high-usage plans, Aysola said.