Tuesday, November 23, 1999
During a California trip two weeks ago I had occasion to visit Gray Cell, the first Indian software company to win Silicon Valley venture capital. The company has been working quietly for three years in Bangalore and has now opened up an office in Campbell, CA in preparation for launching Unimobile. This is a free software "device" that can talk to nearly any mobile gadget anywhere in the world -- text-enabled cell phone, pager, PDA, email, and (of course) another Unimobile. I was impressed by the product focus Gray Cell has maintained in realizing the Unimobile device in "bits, not atoms."
Gray Cell claims its database of worldwide phone services is the most comprehensive in existence, and I have no reason to doubt it. Do you know another service that can instantly tell you what telephone company issued the cell phone attached of any random phone number you choose to throw at it? If so I'd like to hear of it (and so undoubtedly would Gray Cell).
The Unimobile isn't quite like anything that has come before -- Gray Cell is opening up a new market. The device may not initially have much application in the world of business. It's colorful, noisy, fast, and fun. The product is targeted at young, technologically savvy, and above all mobile consumers worldwide. The US lags much of the rest of the world in its uptake of mobile and wireless technology, so the Unimobile will at first find a larger audience elsewhere than it does on these shores. (Gray Cell tells me they have two entirely separate marketing plans, one for the US and one for everywhere else.) An American may need a little time at first to appreciate what the Unimobile can do, though I expect that a 15-year-old Finn who lives on her cell phone would get it right away, so the product and its Web site come with extensive tours, tutorials, and help getting started. (The TBTF Irregulars were privileged to test an early version of the Unimobile, and since many of us are Americans we may have influenced the amount and quality of handholding available in the product.)
Gray Cell wants to build a worldwide community of connected users who chat constantly with people on their buddy lists, and don't want to give up chatting when they leave their desks and go out into the world. The company will offer a growing roster of services to this mobile community and draw revenue from sponsorships and other non-intrusive forms of partnership. The Gray Cell executives I spoke to were adamant that they will never beam advertising to Unimobile users -- they truly "get it" that a mobile device is even more personal than a personal computer. Blasting advertising to a user's Unimobile would be an act akin to marching a brass band into a Quaker meeting.
You can also download this software from this site. To do that Click Here (full version)
If you have been the user of the pervious version download a patch: Click Here
When youdownload and register a Unimobile, you get a free email address -- mine is firstname.lastname@example.org -- which you can point to your normal email POP box, or to any text-capable device you travel with. Any Unimobile user, or indeed anyone at all with Internet access, can message you at your Unimobile address and you will receive the message in seconds on whatever device you have configured at the moment.
You can change the device's "skin" -- on-screen appearance and behavior --to resemble your PDA, or your pager, or your cell phone -- complete with the look & feel of whichever brand and model you're most accustomed to. A number of skins will be included when the product launches and more will come from mobile device companies, hobbyists, etc. I expect Unimobile skins to be traded freely on Web sites the way Nokia ring tones are today. See what I mean about the product not being targeted to business users? This soft device is all about lifestyle.
Unimobile is a 3-MB download. It runs only on Windows. Give it a try.
Disclosure I don't have any business relationship with Gray Cell, nor any financial interest in the company. One of their employees, Udhay Shankar, is a TBTF Irregular.