The Qwikker the Better
Qwikker specialises in Bluetooth distribution of mobile content. David Murphy caught up with CEO Saul Kato to find out more about the company
MM: Could you give us the 2-minute guide to Qwikker please?
SK: Sure, we were formed in 2000. Were a traditional, Silicon Valley, VC-backed company, with backing from Sequoia Capital, who have funded some of the biggest names on the Internet. We have raised $17m (9m) to date, and we have offices in the San Francisco Bay area and in London.
Up until the fall of 2006, we were focused on commercialising the UK. We wanted to get one market right, and we chose the UK, because the adoption of mobile content was well established, both in terms of consumer behaviour and Bluetooth adoption. The UK was ahead of the game on this, mainly because of the legislation on driving while holding a handset, which drove a lot of people to buy a Bluetooth headset. So now we are looking at an untapped opportunity to use it as an ever-present protocol, because, apart from very low-end, prepay models, you cannot buy a non-Bluetooth-enabled handset.
MM: But its always been about Bluetooth?
SK: No, we have always been about direct delivery over short range distances, but we have also done a lot of infrared, so in that sense, we were Protocol agnostic. But by 2004, we were almost 100%-focused on Bluetooth.
MM: Can you give us an idea of what a typical project looks like?
SK: There are two elements to it. The first is location-delivery, where locations deliver content on behalf of the content providers and the brand. This would be at a contextual event, something like a Robbie Williams show or the Virgin V Festival for example. The content comes in the form of Qwikker Channels that we deliver via Bluetooth to peoples phones. Its like an on-device portal but the offering is brought down on to the phone.
MM: And what exactly are Qwikker Channels?
SK: Qwikker Channels are a way of downloading channels packages of content - that can be shared between end users. The content providers set the DRM (Digital Rights Management) rights so they can set restrictions, or enable users to freely share. Our vision is to allow a spectrum of DRM rights. Today, its simply Share or No share or limited to time expiry, but I can see this developing in time.
Our technology also understands what the phone is and makes provision for the phone it is being downloaded on to. We run on pretty much every Java-supported handset, though some of the features may be disabled depending on the phone.
MM: And what sort of content are we talking about?
SK: Movies and Music are the two big categories. We have standard media items, including music, games, videoclips and ringtones as well to click-to-web and click-to-call functionality. Clients sometimes want to do a single content items, such as a single video clip, for example. But the majority of our customers are asking for a richer experience, because a raw clip has a limited lifetime, and its so much more powerful to leave the customer with a way of getting more content and responding.
MM: So how is the download instigated?
SK: People at the event with Bluetooth switched on would get a message saying something like: Would you like to receive content from the V festival? If you say Yes then you get a message into your inbox that includes the Java application and the built-in channel.
When you open the message, the application launches on your phone and you are right into the content. The channel is built into the Java app so its a single delivery of the whole bundled package. So you can always launch it and can also go into it over your own connection and retrieve new channels. Every channel goes onto an aggregated list of channels that consumers can access via a Get New Channels button.
Within the channel there are links to content theres about 15 megs (MB) worth on the phone - and when you request an item in the channel, it checks to see if it is locally available via the access point and downloads it over Bluetooth. If no Bluetooth is detected, then it downloads over the air. And some of the content you have to go online to get.
MM: How do the operators feel about what youre doing?
SK: A lot of them are customers. We have done campaigns for 3 and Orange in the last few months because they need a way of exposing people to content.
MM: So the marketing people like you, but what about the finance people? Some people argue that by distributing content free of charge via Bluetooth you are hitting their data revenues.
SK: We have not had any run-ins with the finance people. We can measure the amount of data someone will use. At the V festival, for example, the average person would download one and a half pieces of content, so it stimulates data usage. The networks should be happy about that.
MM: And how is business looking?
SK: The interest level is picking up significantly. Theres a buzz in agencies. Consumer brands are asking if they can do something. We are also seeing a lot of repeat business. Robbie Williams has renewed for the second half of the Australia tour. We are doing more events with Virgin. We are also working with the Department for Transport on a driving game as a part of a public service campaign encouraging people not to drink and drive. It appeals to brands because it gives them the opportunity to get a varied amount of content into the consumers hand.
MM: And all your campaigns are in these contextual event settings?
SK: Yes, we dont get involved in ambient delivery, where there is not a physical, visible call to action.
MM: Is that because of concerns that Bluecasting is illegal?
SK: No, its because it doesnt work. It is not illegal. Ambient Bluecasting without a visible call to action or context is annoying, but it is not illegal. We have scrutinised it, and we do not believe it violates any aspect of the law. There has been some misunderstanding about the way that a Bluetooth message is delivered. An unsolicited message sent to your phone is not stored on your phone in the way an email is on your PC. The Spam regulations involve data that is stored on the phone, but there is no way to get an unsolicited message, or any other data, stored on your phone, without the users permission.
In fact, you could argue that the initial message is generated by the phone. The transmitter says: I am here and its the phone that says: Do you want to accept this? But at this point, no data has been stored on the phone. Its only when you say Yes that you get something in your inbox. So the legality is airtight. Is in intrusive or not? Thats a different question, and I think ambient Bluecasting would be intrusive.