Mobile security services — tracking your device, or using your device to track others, or making sure you know who is tracking you — is a hot topic these days. But apparently, when it comes to actual usage of these apps, it’s not as extensive as you would think. Figures from Canalys estimate that only four percent of devices have some form of security installed and used.
That has led one entrepreneur to come up with a solution: put several of these services into a single app and try to make that into not a “nice to have,” not a “should have,” but a “must have” for mobile consumers.
The app is out today for Android and iOS devices, with a Windows Phone version due soon, too. (And sorry, BlackBerry users, but he says there are “no plans” to offer this for RIM’s devices.) These follow a beta launch back in December on Android, when BlueSprig also announced a $10 million round of funding led by Accel-IDG China.
Canalys’ numbers were backed up by Johnson’s own straw polls amongst his techie friends. “I was astonished at how few people I knew who used iPhone or Android devices had the “Find My iPhone” service or the Android equivalent installed, or even knew about it,” he said. He believes his developers have put “enough functions on there” that it will be seen as an essential tool.
Those services include “Family Safety” GPS tracking within pre-defined boundaries; “Battery Doctor” to manage battery life; “Cloud Backup” for contacts and photos; and “Device Found” which tracks your device and activates an alarm on it. On the Android version there are a few extras: an anti-virus service; a service that lets you see which apps access your personal data (one of those hot-button topics at the moment); and a system optimization to speed up the device.
While some of these sound like the kinds of things that have been, up to now, marketed very much for enterprise and/or power users of mobile devices, AirCover, says Johnson, is squarely aimed at mainstream consumer market. (He’s also promoting AirCover at SXSW; those who download the app get priority access to a big party he’s throwing on Friday, March 9.)
Users will be able to download the app from the App Store and the Market (and soon Microsoft’s Marketplace), with the app free of charge and offering an option to upgrade for an annual fee of $24.95 to expand the service: 2GB of free storage, for example becomes 5GB; and the number of people you can track goes up from two to unlimited.
Johnson says he expects 90 percent of users to opt for the free model, but to drive up numbers of downloads, he has another card up his sleeve for how to get this service into the hands of users: carrier deals.
He says that he is currently in negotiations with several tier-one carriers, in the U.S. and further afield, to preload this app on to certain Android devices (preloading on to the iPhone is out of the question). Those are relationships that he brings to the table from one of his past jobs, overseeing licensing services for Dolby.
Another thing he’ll be bringing from Dolby is some licensing nous: “It would be a per-handset fee with the price dependent on how much functionality the carrier wanted to enable,” he tells me. “Some will only want the free version, others will want to offer more backup storage, more frequent virus scanning, etc.”
Offering a mobile security service makes sense for a carrier: it gives the carrier a closer grip on its customers’ usage, and potentially offers a unique selling point to set a it apart from a competitor offering the exact same device for more or less the same price. Johnson expects news of carrier deals to come later this year.
The other eye-catching part of AirCover’s business model is that just about all of the development of the app has been done in China. At a time when good developers are in huge demand in the U.S. Johnson says that going to China has not only been an “apples to apples” comparison in terms of skills and execution, but has been about 10-15 times less expensive.
In other words, the ongoing story about Apple (and others, of course) making iPhones in China very much has a software counterpart.
“It is spectacularly cheaper and I plan on using as much Chinese software development as possible going forward,” he said. He says he is not the only one, and sees it as a “growing trend.”
Whether that will be seen a controversial or just a very clever way of making sure he doesn’t burn through his $10 million too quickly remains to be seen, but in any case Johnson tells me that he has big plans for how to develop the mobile security services going forward.
One idea, he says, involves working with a company that makes a special device that could be linked up with AirCover and used as a tracking instrument. That way you don’t have to feel bad when you decide that you shouldn’t be equipping your six year-old daughter with an iPhone or even a low-end Android device, just so that you can see where she is.