Microsoft picked the software vendors to compete in its Mobile Incubation Week, where the startups worked (with the help of Microsoft experts) to create software for Windows Mobile devices. Who would produce the best Windows Mobile application?
The first-place winner was Networks In Motion (NIM), which won with a turn-by-turn navigation system for cell phones. AAA Mobile maps and Verizon's VZ Navigator use their technology.
The company sees three phases in car navigation systems: 1. Built into the car; 2. Dashboard devices from companies like Tom-Tom and Garmin; 3. Smart phones. According to NIM, smart phones will lead the way by 2013. Recently they announced Gokivo Navigator (www.gokivo.com) for the Blackberry Bold. At Microsoft, NIM worked on extending their brand to Windows Mobile devices.
Chicago-based VisTracks and BridgeNet Solutions produced a supply chain tracking application, Track and View. They stayed up all night to complete their demo, winning the prize for Team Spirit.
It's easy to track FedEx and UPS shipments, but much harder to track multi-stage shipments and the 150 shipping companies that BridgeNet supports. VisTracks' founder, Dr. Steve Eick, told me that Track and View was their first mobile application. With prior Microsoft desktop development experience, they found the Windows Mobile programming environment easy.
After his week at Microsoft, Steve said, "I see the end of the PC era for our type of application." Indeed, analyst firm Gartner claims worldwide PC shipments declined 6.5 percent to 67 million, comparing first quarter 2009 figures to first quarter 2008.
Motolingo has a cool application, MotoCarma, that produces a report on a car's health. They plug a device into the diagnostic port that sends messages to a cell phone in the car. These are combined in an e-mail report that can tell a parent whether a child is driving the family car too fast.
BrightKite has a social networking application for the iPhone. They had never programmed on Windows before, so were anxious to compete in Microsoft's competition. They found it really easy to connect to their database, but harder to emulate the iPhone user experience on Windows Mobile.
I tried out their app on my iPhone and found "jacdo" and "jonk" sharing their lunch time with four friends they'd met on social networking site Twitter at Sushi 85 near the new 99 Ranch supermarket on Grant Road. I salivated viewing a photo of their large selection of sushi.
The fifth finalist in Microsoft's competition was DJ Nitrogen. It helps users share content without breaking licensing rules. They demonstrated an application that shares ringtones based on music that you own. If I had a tune and made a ringtone from it, I could send you the script for making the ringtone. Provided you owned the same music, you could apply the script and make your own ringtone.
Microsoft's Mountain View campus employs about 2,000 (out of about 2,600 in the entire Bay Area). If, as Steve Eick predicts, it really is the end of the PC era for some, then Microsoft's emerging business unit, headed by Dan'l Lewin, must race to attract innovation, especially in light of last quarter's 6 percent revenue decline.
Brian Hoskins, senior Microsoft business development manager, is searching the world for innovative applications and takes Mobile Incubation Week to London in June. You can read his tweets at twitter.com/bthoskins, and view the software developers' presentations on YouTube by searching for Mobile Incubation Week.
Can we help stimulate the economy by encouraging more of these innovation weeks for other market sectors?