iPhones and Blackberries with all-you-can-eat data plans may be commonplace in Silicon Valley, but for the vast majority of mobile phone users in the United States, data plans are still an unneeded luxury. That said, nearly every phone built in the last decade includes SMS – the immensely popular text messaging format that now counts over 2.4 billion users worldwide.
To capitalize on the ubiquity of SMS, a number of companies such as Pizza Hut and Amazon now allow users to place orders and query information using some basic commands in a text messages. Unfortunately, these commands are clunky and impractical for most users (for example, to order my favorite Pizza from Pizza Hut I would need to enter “O FAV”).
SmartTouch, a mobile software company that launched at last week’s TechCrunch50 DemoPit, is looking to fix this. The company has developed a suite of basic widgets for mobile phones that visualize these SMS services, allowing users to navigate through an intuitive menu instead of having to remember keywords and commands. As CEO John McDonough explains, it’s sort of “like moving from the days of command line MS-DOS to Windows 3.1”.
At launch the site is offering a widget bundle that includes support for Amazon, Chase Bank, Facebook, Google, and over 20 other widgets, with more on the way. Widgets are currently available on phones running Windows Mobile 6, with plans to expand to more platforms by the end of the year.
SmartTouch has a good idea, but the technology behind it seems extremely basic – essentially assigning commands to buttons on the keypad. The fact that it’s also a download also hinders it, as the people who this will appeal to most probably won’t be comfortable downloading new software onto their phones. But if the company can partner with manufacturers and come as a default app on new handsets, it could become a very popular way to incorporate extra functionality into even the most basic mobile phones.