Montreal ISVs tackle mobile address book issues

A pair of Montreal-based companies are collaborating to solve address book management nightmares faced by smart phone users.

UNYK (pronounced “unique”) is tackling contact information management with a cloud-based system that uploads address books from multiple sources – including Gmail, LinkedIn, Hotmail, Yahoo!, AOL, .mac, Outlook, Outlook Express – and merges them into one. When a UNYK user updates their contact information in the UNYK system, fellow UNYK user address books are automatically updated as well, which keeps the information current.

Since its launch in September 2005, UNYK remains as a beta release. While uploading contact information isn’t seamless and fields don’t necessarily translate as well as they ideally should, UNYK has amassed over 10 million users. Plus, the service is free.

UNYK has now partnered with Mobivox and will be adding the Mobivox platform, Mobivox/PL, to its system. As a result, users will be able to access their UNYK address books by phone and add new contacts using Mobivox’s prime voice user interface. Users will also benefit from low-cost long distance calling options and other Mobivox voice-activated telephony services under UNYK branding. The beta release will be available this November, with worldwide availability scheduled for January 2009.

“Everything that our customers of our direct-to-consumer business today get, UNYK’s customers who sign up for the UNYK-branded service will be able to get,” said Mobivox CEO Peter Diedrich. “They will benefit from our future roadmap and so on.”

The future roadmap for Mobivox’s IP telephony services will be made available next week, when the company will cease to offer free calling between Mobivox members. “We’re changing it to a rewards program for those customers who actually decide to sign up for the service and pay us…the free member-to-member was in many cases abused…you don’t make a lot of money running a business when things are free,” said Diedrich.

A single up-to-date, all-encompassing address book, accessible from anywhere with no threat of loss or theft is every users’ dream, said Michelle Warren, president of M.W. Consulting in Toronto. Add the ability to make calls to anyone in that address book using voice commands from your mobile phone at low-cost long distance rates.

“Having it up there in the cloud, all in one spot, is just easier from a day-to-day manageability and usability perspective,” she said.

Mobivox was initially a dream come true to the mobile phone user with expensive long distance rates. With free calls between members, all users had to do was sign up for the free service online and convince the people they wanted to call to do the same. Membership was activated by placing one initial call, which was also free thanks to an initial credit the company offered in exchange for new membership. Calls between members around the world took place by either party calling a local Mobivox access number.

As opposed to Skype, which provides free VoIP calling between users and requires payment for calls to landlines and cell phones, Mobivox members don’t need Internet access to make calls and can to or from any phone number. It truly offered the option of free local calling, around the world, with no strings attached.

Around October 15, “our whole direct-to-consumer Web site will go live with a whole new look and feel, as well as new pricing and packing,” said Diedrich. Everything presented will also be available to Mobivox/PL partners, he added.

Mobivox members won’t see any results from the Mobivox/UNYK partnership, which provides Mobivox services to UNYK users. While there’s a chance Mobivox members will switch over to UNYK in order to experience the benefits of both, Diedrich pointed out that the two companies aren’t in competition with each other.

“The reason we’re keeping the direct-to-consumer business is to provide ourselves an engine for taking some of the innovation and innovative services we develop and proving them out instead of having to deploy them in real time onto our customers’ platform solutions…we battle test them ourselves prior to making them available to our partners,” he said.

“Mobivox’s strategy is to work with partners so that we share the costs of going to market. We’ve already done all the product development and services development. We have a tremendous amount of customer knowledge, and the goal is to allow our customers to take that into their market and ultimately profit from it. We want to partner with those who have large audiences,” he said.

Apart from free calling between members, Mobivox has stood out from like providers with its voice-activated features. “By putting all of your contact address book information into our Web site, hosted in the cloud contact book, you don’t have to remember anything but the person’s name…essentially, it’s dial-by-name from anywhere in the world and we have access numbers in a bout 500 locations globally,” said Diedrich.

“We’ve been optimizing the voice user interface and the voice recognition elements of it from a usability as well as a quality perspective for quite some time,” he explained. For example, if a user calls the same number three times, the system will notice and ask the user whether they want to create a contact for that number.

“We also note what access numbers you would use or even what telephone number you use and take measurements of the channel quality…we also measure how loud you tend to speak or how softly you tend to speak and we carefully optimize the voice user interface on a user-by-user basis.”

Diedrich likened the Mobivox platform to a learning application. “It learns how to interface with you most effectively to maximize the quality you perceive in suing the service, so it’s quite unique in many ways.”

Before signing up with a cloud-based computing organization, users must be aware of the privacy and security polices, said Warren.

Another concern, which applies to non-cloud-based services as well, is to actually use the product effectively in order for it to save time and decrease stress, said Warren. “Because that’s what this can do. It can give back some time so you’re not looking for that phone number or email address.”

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