** As published in RCR Wireless News ** For all that it promises to change in our daily lives, wireless technology still comes up short far too often. We live in a world that’s both fascinating and discouraging. Just think, if we own the right car and the right mobile device, we can start our car from thousands of miles away today. But try sending a video or picture message cross-carrier and it may never be seen or heard of again. That’s the world that Thwapr finds itself in and if you take its leadership team’s word on it, it wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, CTO Eric Hoffert and COO Duncan Kennedy played an integral part in the development of Apple’s QuickTime so they’ve been through these technology hurdles before and came through with great success.
“Back then we had the multi-platform problem that just drove us nuts,” Kennedy told RCR Wireless News. “This problem is just two orders of magnitude more.” With literally thousands of mobile handsets in the marketplace and a growing number of operating systems, it’s no wonder something as seemingly simple as Multimedia Messaging Service isn’t as ubiquitous as one would assume from the surface. “There are too many reasons why carriers don’t want to be interoperable, why Apple wants to be proprietary,” Kennedy said. “Our business loves that. We’re all about solving that interoperability.” Thwapr is a mobile-to-mobile video and photo sharing service that works via e-mail, text messaging and mobile or full-featured browsers. The team’s goal is to capture the widest user base possible, so comparisons to TwitPic and TwitVid, for example, only go so far because of their focus on Twitter as a backbone. It also has distinct differences from mobile video applications like Qik or Kyte. Thwapr, which isn’t even one week into its beta launch, enables users to “thwap” a picture or video from their mobile phone or computer and share it with essentially any friend of their choosing. They can select who to share their thwap with by entering their mobile phone number or Thwapr user name. Thwaps can be sent from the browser or to a unique e-mail address. Users who aren’t signed up for the service, which admittedly is just about everyone right now, can receive a thwap from a friend via SMS with a link to view the picture or video on their mobile browser. Once you sign up for the service you can select whether you want to be notified via e-mail, text or both. The team at Thwapr wants to reach as many wireless subscribers as possible and there’s nothing more ubiquitous than text messaging. So it’s not without reason that SMS will be the initial point of entry for most. Whether or not that will be the secret ingredient that catapults Thwapr into a large enough user base is hard to gauge. The media-sharing space is incredibly crowded as it is, but if Thwapr can improve and simplify the experience, it might have a chance. RCR Wireless News had the opportunity to preview the service first hand just 72 hours after launch. As the team walked us through the process and thwaps were sent and received as they should, the excitement was noticeable on the other end of the line. Handset compatibility, revenue models The cloud-based service currently works on about 160 handsets, but it should reach more than 1,000 in 2010. Because of the short-code notification feature, Thwapr has to get carrier approval one-by-one, but it’s already inked deals with the four major U.S. carriers. Provisioning for T-Mobile USA Inc., which was the last to sign on, should be completed soon. The company has also met Mobile Marketing Association’s compliance standards. Thwapr is obviously young at this point and initially focused on private, one-to-one or one-to-few sharing with family and friends. Thwaps aren’t publicly available – they can only be viewed by the intended recipients, but the company has plans to add other services that will eventually allow public publishing as well. “Today our focus is on making the private world work and then we’re going to work on the public side,” Kennedy said. The team has submitted an iPhone application to Apple that features more integration with the service and geo-tagging. It hopes to be approved and launched in the App Store in February. Apps for Android and BlackBerry are also in the pipeline, as are plans to add some integration with social media. The lightweight Thwapr platform relies on proprietary technology that will use device detection and optimize the quality of experience through hybrid transcoding and adaptive rendering. Thwapr is pursuing three revenue streams: consumer advertising and a pair of premium versions tailored to suit small and mid-sized businesses or large enterprises. The company has 15 employees and $3 million raised in funding.