FunMail Animates Wireless E-Mail

-- It may be some time before you can watch video on your wireless handheld or phone, but animation may soon come to a mobile device near you.

At the PCIA Global Exchange show here this week, FunMail Inc. is demonstrating its recently updated text-to-cartoon desktop service that lets you send animated e-mail. But FunMail isn't content with wireline communications. The company is unveiling its wireless animated message service, now available on NTT DoCoMo Inc. I-Mode phones in Japan. In North America, FunMail will appear first on wireless Pocket PCs and Palm Inc. personal digital assistants; mobile phones still lack sufficient graphics support.

Type and Animate

FunMail works similarly on desktops and mobile devices.

"Users go to, type in a message, and FunMail figures out what animation we've built so far that is most relevant to that sentence," says Garrett Stone, a FunMail spokesperson. "The message is sent as a Flash file on the desktop."

Recipients need the Flash Player, which comes preinstalled on most systems and browsers.

Although FunMail has a limited store of animations for messages like "I Love You" and "Running Late," the company says it's building a collection quickly. You can tailor your favorite character, like FunMan, at the FunMail site, to represent you in your messages.

And if the cartoon FunMail selects doesn't match your intent, you can try again, says Adam Lavine, FunMail chief executive officer.

Animation Goes Wireless

In contrast to the Flash movies sent on desktop FunMail, the service varies on mobile devices.

Demonstrations show the I-mode phones support a fairly rich, albeit slower, version of FunMail. The company says it selected the I-mode service because it already supports graphic files.

"I-mode phones can play animated GIF files, a format we use," Lavine says. When Motorola adds Java support to its phone, as announced, U.S. customers will be able to use the animated GIFs.

But you're likely to see FunMail first on PDAs. FunMail has a version for Pocket PCs that creates the same Flash files as would be used on the desktop.

Using a Compaq Computer Corp. iPAQ Pocket PC with a Sierra Wireless Inc. modem, Lavine demonstrated a desktop-quality playback of a FunMail Flash movie. But Pocket PC users beware: Macromedia Inc. hasn't released the Flash Player for Pocket PC, which is required.

FunMail is also developing support for color Palm IIIC handhelds, playing animation in the ActiveSky player. Based on a demo, the graphics are reasonable. But the Palm IIIC device does not yet support wireless access, nor sound, so the result is much less media-rich than on the Pocket PC or I-mode phone.

FunMail is also showing for the Pocket PC an animated instant messaging service, which it intends will support multiple messaging standards.

For now, if you live in Japan, FunMail seems like a great way to send cute animated instant messages to your friends and family. In the United States, however, you'll have to try FunMail on a PC.

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