Mobile Startups to Watch – the Final 40

by Jeff Vance on October 31, 2012

in Blog,Tech Trends

In no particular order, here are the 40 finalists, culled from nearly 150 entries, for my upcoming Network World story “10 mobile startups to watch” and my upcoming CIO story “5 startups ready to shake up the mobile status quo.”

I plan to keep this list active, updating it, adding new startups and subtracting ones that just don’t seem to resonate. If you missed recommending a startup that you’d like to put on my radar screen, please mention them in the comment field. Similarly, if you have experience with any of these startups, good or bad, let me know in the comment section.

1. Gravity Jack

What they do: Develop augmented reality solutions.

What I like: Augmented reality has underperformed so far (or is too early to market at this stage), but Gravity Jack has created successful augmented reality campaigns for major clients, including Coca-Cola and Bowflex.

What caught my eye in the pitch: Gravity Jack looks like they’re figuring out some of the reasons why augmented reality has been a dud so far.

“Gravity Jack’s browsAR platform has unique features: real-time visual search, interactive e-commerce, polling, social media integration, analytics, white-label integration, and more on the way, such as object detection. Gravity Jack holds non-provisional patents on select, particularly valuable aspects of their complete technology, including: light oscillation markers, signal triangulation without a fixed point, QAR, and broad patents in computer vision and interface elements.”

What gives me pause:  This all sounds interesting, but is it really more than a science project? Even if it is, are consumers ready for AR?

PR: Chrystina E. Woody, Weber Shandwick

2. Divide by Enterproid 

What they do: Provide mobile security that focuses on device partitioning.

What I like: I consider this a superior approach to BYOD security and management than most MDM and EMM solutions. Instead of managing entire devices, as with other solutions, Divide enables administrators to manage a standardized, controllable workspace across all connected devices, easing the burden on both IT and employees.

What caught my eye in the pitch: Enterproid has been on my radar for a while. What I like best in the pitch is the fact that the product “Divide” is emphasized, and the terrible company name, which sounds like a disease you’d contract in a malarial swamp, is being de-emphasized.

What gives me pause: The mobile security space is a crowded one, and other vendors like Red Bend offer solutions that directly compete with Divide.

PR: Max Kayen, Project Manager, Enterproid

3. DoubleDutch

What they do: Mobile enterprise app development, starting with CRM, event management and collaboration.

What I like: Their focus on usability. The best app in the world won’t fly if people can’t figure out how to use it.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “By getting users to actually USE the applications provided them, DoubleDutch delivers a LOT more insight and/or accurate information. They’re starting with CRM, event management/lead gen and collaboration as their first applications, since there is a big opportunity with each.”

What gives me pause: I received a ton of pitches from mobile app development companies. The competition will be fierce. Whoever figures out how to automate as much of this process as possible, without sacrificing too many features, will likely be the winner.

PR: Jay Nichols, Triple Point PR

4. Message Bus

What they do: Provide a cloud-based and mobile messaging platform that focuses on how end users actually interact with the messages they receive.

What I like: Their data- and analytics-centered approach to messaging.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Current email sending practices are similar to CB radio – where the sender blasts a message out and hopes someone receiving the message on the other end answers. CB radio is old school technology and has largely been replaced by mobile phones – a system where recipients decide whether and how to have a conversation.

“Message Bus is replacing the old school approach [with] a data driven approach where we actively manage the relationship between senders and recipients. With email, your reputation is only as good as the last message you have sent, and in the highly competitive and often abusive/adversarial relationship between senders and recipients, it is very easy to make mistakes where you are suddenly viewed as a bad sender. And surprisingly, the data is there – if you as a sender choose to collect and act upon it. Further, good actors should be rewarded just as bad actors are punished.”

What gives me pause: Is this really a mobile startup? Yes, messaging is moving to mobile, but I’m not sure that’s central enough to what they do for the purposes of the Network World roundup. Maybe the CIO story on “disruptive mobile startups” will be a better fit, but, again, is the mobile focus really there?

PR:  Amber Rowland, The Rowland Agency

5.  Canvas

What they do: Mobile app development.

What I like: They have a parallel and linked strategy with a mobile app building platform and a mobile business app store.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “The ‘secret sauce’ for Canvas is a software platform that enables organizations, in a matter of hours, to convert paper forms and paper-intensive processes to mobile apps, create their own data collection apps or download apps for free from the Canvas mobile business app store.”

What gives me pause:  I received a ton of pitches from mobile app development companies. The competition just to be one of the app development companies included in this roundup was stiff.

PR: Brian Lustig, Lustig Communications

6. BrightAct

What they do: A mobile app development platform that pulls non-coders and engineers into the development process.

What I like: The fact that this platform focuses on getting non-coders into the development cycle early. How many crappy interfaces and designs could have been avoided if this were a standard practice?

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Most mobile Apps, especially in large companies, are developed without structured research and validation. In many cases, product, marketing and user-experience professionals are included late in the process and asked to do some ‘quick fixes’ or to document issues that were revealed in usability studies (done on the final version of the mobile App) and/or collected from early customers.

“BrightAct’s intuito was created to allow product, marketing and user experience professionals to validate ideas, designs and requirements, before and during the development cycles. With intuito these non-technical team-members can easily create low-to-high fidelity prototypes without coding; enable others to experience the prototypes on mobile devices and on the web; conduct studies and collect feedback from real testers, at the lab and around the globe; and analyze these insights and feedback in real time.”

What gives me pause:  As I’ve written several times already, I received a ton of pitches from mobile app development companies. The competition is stiff, yet since this is still a pretty complicated, manual process, there’s room for several players — for now.

PR: Etay Gafni, owner of BrightAct

7. ItsOn

What they do: Provides a cloud-based platform that offers service plan flexibility and real-time service customization features for both mobile operators and service providers.

What I like: Eventually, if carriers want to continue to grow, they will offer a much wider array of plans and services that better fit specific individuals’ needs. Doing this, though, isn’t a trivial task, so platforms like ItsOn are essential.

What caught my eye in the pitch: A clear, concise description of how this will benefit both subscribers and operators:

“Consumers gain complete control and visibility into their mobile services, buying only what they want, when they want it, with no restrictive plans or bill shock. Mobile operators and content providers are given total freedom and flexibility to create new, unique and profitable services in hours rather than months or years.”

What gives me pause:  Carriers are slow-moving, stubborn beasts. Even if a solution is a no-brainer for them, it doesn’t mean they’ll actually adopt it.

PR: Joe Volat, marcom for ItsOn

8. TOA Technologies

What they do: Provides mobile field services management solutions.

What I like: They’ve tapped into a real problem – the “cable guy problem.” We all hate it when we’re told a service person will show up between the hours of noon and 9 PM. This practice annoys the heck out of pretty much everyone, especially us tech-savvy folks who know how fixable this problem is.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Have you ever been stuck in one place for hours waiting for a delivery – maybe cable installation, new furniture or a home repair service? Most of us have been there, feeling helpless as hours are wasted. In this age, when mobile, social and location-aware technology is in everyone’s palm, it seems like there must be a better way to know when appointments will occur and communicate this knowledge openly with customers.

“TOA’s solution helps organizations solve the ‘cable guy’ problem, customers waiting at home and wasting time without knowing when a product or service delivery will occur. Using time-based measurements reported from the field and predictive technology, TOA helps service organizations ensure the right mobile worker arrives to the right appointment or job assignment on time.”

What gives me pause:  GPS tracking and predictive analytics are catching on in lots of businesses. How hard will it be for incumbents to copy what TOA is up to?

PR: Kayleigh Fitch, Public Relations Specialist, TOA Technologies

9. Speaktoit

What they do: Provides a mobile virtual assistant.

What I like: The AI engine behind this solution looks like it has the potential to take the Siri model a step or two forward.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Speaktoit supports clarifying conversation – it isn’t just question-and-answer. By having this back-and-forth dialogue between virtual assistant and users, there are user preferences built up that make the app run increasingly smoother and more efficient over time. Speaktoit also works with more external web services/apps, like Evernote, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, etc. Speaktoit’s virtual assistant is also a customizable avatar, which differs from, say, Siri’s faceless voice.” 

What gives me pause:  Challenging Apple and Nuance could well be a sucker’s game. Just because you have a better tech, or took an idea to market first, doesn’t mean you’ll win against entrenched incumbents.

PR: Kyle Peterson, Clement Communications

10. FuzeBox

What they do: Provide a videoconferencing service designed to work well on mobile devices.

What I like: From my personal experience, the videoconferencing status quo is awful. If someone can deliver a solution that is simple, reliable and which works well, regardless of your device or network, they have a good shot to knock off the incumbents.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Other systems are screen-share based, not cloud sharing based. Can’t do HD 1080p video. No telepresence integration, no ability to host from tablets. Others don’t feel like human interaction, FuzeBox does.”

What gives me pause:  What’s to stop WebEx, LifeSize or any of the other established players from evolving? With their existing customer bases, do more established players have too much of a head start?

PR: Lizzy Wilmarth, Major Accounts- Education, FuzeBox

11.  VirtuOz

What they do: They create conversational virtual assistants (like Apple’s Siri or Nuance’s Nina).

What I like: Mobile and “Internet of Things” user interfaces will continue to evolve over time. Voice will certainly play a part, a part I expect to see grow larger over time.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “50 percent of applications are abandoned because they don’t facilitate self-service, are not easy to use, and don’t integrate with a live agent.  To that end, successful mobile agents must have the ability to integrate with Web, social media, CRM systems and live chat support for a consistent, engaging experience across all channels.  After all, consumers don’t view their interactions with a company based on their access point – they just want a consistent experience.”

What gives me pause:  Patents. Apple and Nuance have a bunch of them for this sort of thing and aren’t shy about suing.

PR:  Aimee L. Quemuel, Codey Communications

12. Leap2

What they do: Mobile search provider.

What I like: Mobile search doesn’t have the kinks worked out yet. Anyone working on a better solution warrants a closer look.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Mobile search is still modeled after desktop search, and not optimized for the on-the-go user. When mobile users do a search on their phone, it’s all about their ‘need to know now’. . . A page of Google search results is ill-suited to the mobile use case. . . . Instead of a search engine or a decision engine, Leap2 provides a ‘context engine’ that delivers faster, more precise answers by combining direct-to-web options with social results.

“Leap2 also has ‘living search.’ Many search queries – such as updates from sports teams or healthy recipes – are driven by an ongoing curiosity. A person’s interest doesn’t end at that precise moment; instead, a sports fan needs to know about athlete injuries, sports scores, drafts and trades as they happen.”

What gives me pause:  Challenging the likes of Google and Microsoft with a new search engine could easily be dismissed as a sucker’s game. I’m not dismissing Leap2 as such, but I wouldn’t bet the house (or even the shack out back) on their future success either.

PR:  Deanna Ferrari, Geben Communication

13.  Appboy

What they do: Provide a CRM platform for mobile apps.

What I like: They’ve identified a significant pain point in the app model of mobile engagement.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “As consumers grow weary of sifting through the cesspool the mobile app marketplace has created, app owners dedicated to communicating with their users, pushing out updates and features rooted in customer insights and actionable analytics will ultimately win the battle, as they weed out the [cr]app.”

Okay, I liked everything but the lame joke.

What gives me pause:  Immaturity in this space. A lot of mobile apps are developed on shoestring budgets. Will the developers be willing to spring for something like this?

PR: Kristen Tischhauser, talkTECH Communications

14. SessionM

What they do: Provide a mobile advertising platform.

What I like: Mobile advertising and marketing is a huge opportunity, and the status quo is just as big of a failure.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “It’s important to solve the mobile advertising problem ASAP because as time progresses, more and more mobile devices continue to infiltrate the mass market. Without the industry fix, brands and advertisers will continue to try interact with these mobile users via banner ads, a delivery method that just isn’t working. This is especially true when it comes to digital natives – those under 30 years old who have grown up with smartphones and the web. They change screens 27 times per hour and expect ads to be entertaining and useful, or they will simply ignore them.

“SessionM’s platform provides the ‘fix’ that brands, mobile advertisers, developers and publishers are looking for by rewarding consumers for interacting with apps and ads. As mobile users watch videos, visit apps, etc., they acquire mPOINTS, a virtual currency that can be redeemed for real-world rewards, like gift cards to places including Amazon, JCPenney and Barnes & Noble.”

What gives me pause:  I’m skeptical about this “mPOINTS” solution. Do we really need yet another rewards scheme? My feeling is that these things only work when they’re closely tied to a brand. If you gamble a lot and are in Las Vegas and sign up for Mandalay Bay’s rewards card, it makes sense. The same is true for restaurant, hotel and airline loyalty programs. When you sign up for these, you’re already invested.

If you’re just being lured to click on ads and watch videos, I’m not convinced.

PR: Brian Kramer, LaunchSquad

15. Mobile Commons

What they do: Provide a mobile messaging/engagement platform for large organizations.

What I like: They have a data-driven and analytics-based approach to customer communications and engagement.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Our extensive data collection tracks every action that a user takes, from the texts they send to the calls they make to the web links they click on. That allows us to build elaborate profiles, and gives organizations the power to segment and target their users along almost infinite criteria. Our real value is not in messaging – but in the deep relationships that we build, and the data analysis that makes them possible.”

What gives me pause: Eventually, consumers are going to push back on the massive invasion of privacy happening on the web and even more so on mobile platforms. Judging from the apathy today, this may not happen in my lifetime, but if it does, solutions like these could suffer. Big time.

Of course, consumers have shown time and again that they’ll trade privacy for pretty much anything shiny and labeled as “free,” so I doubt that the Mobile Commons team is too worried about any sort of privacy backlash.

PR: Louise Ng, Marketing Manager, Mobile Commons

16. payvia

What they do: Mobile payments.

What I like: m-commerce is all over the map. The space is highly fragmented and confusing. However, payvia has already processed over $2 billion in m-payment to merchants, developers, political campaigns, etc.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “payvia, a mobile payments startup, is powering text message contributions for both Obama and Romney in the current election. They are the only company providing this technology (they worked with the FEC to get it approved) and it’s the first time it has ever been used.”

What gives me pause: m-commerce and m-payments will eventually disrupt existing payment structures (credit cards, debit cards, even cash), but there are security issues (do they limit your liability the way credit card companies do) and expect stiff competition from credit card companies and even telcos.

PR: Carolyn Guss, Kindling Communications

17. Revel Systems

What they do: Develops iPad point-of-sale (POS) solutions.

What I like: Solutions like this have the potential to free POS systems from clumsy, proprietary hardware, and, of course, they promise to make POS mobile.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Revel Systems has not only reached profitability in just a year, but the startup has also managed to traverse rough waters of some very ‘old school’ industries set in their ways – including restaurant, grocery and retail – transforming the ways they do business. Revel’s . . . iPad point-of-sale solution has replaced old legacy dinosaur models in more than 400 enterprise locations – including Little Caesar’s Pizza, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, Illy Coffee, Twistee Treat, Camille’s Sidewalk Café, FreshBerry Frozen Yogurt Café, Marty’s Market – all at about half the cost of legacy systems.”

What gives me pause:  They’ll face stiff completion from other startups, such as Square, as well as from credit card companies, existing POS vendors and perhaps even telcos.

PR: Jamie Larson, Oro Group

18. LifeKraze

What they do: They offer a mobile system that helps people achieve goals through public accountability and positive reinforcement.

What I like: Social scientist and behavioral economists have found that people have a much higher success rate at achieving goals when they make their goals public and are held accountable. LifeKraze piggybacks on the Twitter model of stating what you’ve accomplished in 160 characters or less, and then you earn points when others in the community feel like you’ve earned them.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “We provide the community-reinforcement and real-life rewards that tracking applications lack, and the mission-based focus and competitive point system that general social networks lack.

“However, we play well with others: tracking applications (like Nike+ or RunKeeper or MapMyFitness) are excellent tools – they simply need peer support and physical rewards to drive significant life change. Other social networks are phenomenal broadcast mechanisms, but serve separate purposes. We like to say that Facebook is about who you are, Twitter is about what you say, and now LifeKraze is about what you do.”

What gives me pause:  There’s not a very high barrier to entry for any emerging competitors. Moreover, LifeKraze ignores the human mind’s strong aversion to loss and how powerful loss can be as a motivating factor. Studies by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have found that people don’t equate loss and gain. In other words, you’re a heck of a lot more angry when you lose $20 than you are happy when you find $20. If you have to pay when you miss a goal, you’ll strive harder to meet that goal.

LifeKraze focuses on incentives and ignores the punishment phase, whereas competitors like stickK and Lose it or Lose it make you pay when you slack off.

PR: Jonathan Yagel, Director of Communications and Business Development, LifeKraze

19. Mobli

What they do: Enable mobile photo and video sharing.

What I like: As a journalist, the way mobile photos and videos are filling the void created by mass layoffs of journalists certainly catches my eye. As for distant acquaintances wanting to show me videos of their babies and pets, I’ll pass.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Mobli aims to solve two problems: First, it’s the “too many social networks” problem. Photos and videos are highly fragmented across the web and people are sharing to way too many places. The first problem that Mobli solves is the ability to host/share/discover both photo and videos – which helps to consolidate visual media into one central location so that all of your memories are in one, easily accessible place.

“Secondly, on Mobli, users can follow people, subjects, events, and places. This allows for communities to come together around the things that they’re passionate about and share/discover moments with people who are interested in the same things or at the same place/event.”

What gives me pause: What’s to stop some other social network with deeper pockets from co-opting this approach?

PR:  Chi Zhao, Marketing Manager, Mobli

20. aSpark

What they do: Develops solutions to bring social networking and mobile technology to enterprises.

What I like: One of the apps they’ve launched, Panorama, is a mobile portal that allows enterprises to build personalized “magazines” for different stakeholders, without forcing anyone on the enterprise side to do any programming. The app aggregates content (client-tracking, industry news, competition in traditional and social media channels, and internal research and reports) from multiple sources and presents it in a magazine style, which is obviously perfectly suited for tablets.

What caught my eye in the pitch: A specific passage didn’t catch my eye, but what resonated instead was the fact that aSpark is experimenting with new paradigms and mashing up old ones to make mobile a better fit for enterprises.

What gives me pause: Tons of startups are trying to leverage social-networking models for the enterprise.

PR: Dan Scorpio, RF|BINDER

21. ZocDoc

What they do: Provides a mobile and web-based app that helps people find an in-network doctor or dentist and instantly book an appointment online. 

What I like: In the five years since ZocDoc was founded, they’ve raised $95 million in fuding and have more than 1.9 million users per month, with a geographical reach that covers more than one-third of the U.S. population.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Patients love our mobile apps for iPhone and Android, which allow them to book an appointment anytime, anywhere – whether the office is open or not. Our mobile traffic has grown 400% between 2011 and 2012.”

What gives me pause: Obviously, the engine of this is the web-based app. Is a mobile companion enough to merit being in a roundup like this?

PR: Jessica Aptman, Senior PR Manager, ZocDoc

22. Bonfyre

What they do: They’re developing social networks around events and experiences, rather than artificial “circles” or endless strings of friends you don’t really care about keeping in contact with.

What I like: The social networking era is young, and there’s lots of room for growth. Better models could well upend Facebook or Twitter, especially if the SM incumbents alienate users as they try to monetize their platforms.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Bonfyre’s mission is the redefine sharing to better reflect real life. A little context: Pew Research came out with a study recently that found that the average Facebook user has over 200 friends. But does anyone actually hang out with 200 people on a regular basis? Of course not. These 200 friends are really an accumulation of everyone you’ve ever met. While this Rolodex is a powerful way to share something with the world or see what everyone is up to, its not a great way to share  experiences with the people that matter since the value of the Rolodex inevitably decays over time.

“Bonfyre (free mobile app for iPhone and Android) is built around one simple concept – that sharing around experiences and events is a more accurate reflection of real life than these static connections, circles or groups.”

What gives me pause: What’s to stop any number of incumbents from cherry-picking Bonfyre’s good ideas and driving them out of business?

PR: Ray Gobberg, Co-Founder and Director of Communication, Bonfyre

23. InVenture

What they do: Provide an SMS platform that helps entrepreneurs in developing countries raise capital.

What I like: The concept of micro-loans has proven to be effective in developing countries, but what if you have too many communications barriers preventing you from know about or applying for any sort of capital?

What caught my eye in the pitch: “2.5 billion working adults worldwide lack access to financial services. We want to change that. InVenture’s vision is to provide a standardized global credit score for anyone with a mobile phone thereby revolutionizing the financial services sector in emerging markets.

“InVenture has created an SMS-based application for low income entrepreneurs in emerging markets that does two things: 1. Entrepreneurs with no access to financial services now get a simple and easy to use accounting tool to help them manage their business via text message. 2. As entrepreneurs text us their daily spending expenditures, we take this data, plug it into our proprietary algorithm and we are then able to generate a credit score which will provide people operating in the informal economy their first opportunity to financial inclusion by getting banking services from established banks and micro-finance institutions.”

What gives me pause: The established financial services sector could push into this territory.

PR: Patrick Furlong, Director of Policy and Communication, InVenture

24. AetherPal

What they do: AetherPal uses remote diagnostics to help carriers train customers on their equipment and troubleshoot support problems – while giving the end user the ability to control what apps and content will be shared via a one-time session PIN.

What I like: Mobile support costs are skyrocketing, and poor customer support encourages churn. This solution addresses a very pressing pain point.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “The average return rate for smartphones remains higher than 20 percent, with an average cost of at least $100 per unit, and there are 500 million smartphones sold annually. Some Android phones experience returns that are between 30 to 40 percent of units sold – in comparison to a 1.7% return rate for Apple in the wake of the iPhone 4’s 2010 “antennagate” fiasco.

“Answering a single customer service call costs the carrier between US$5-15 on average, and pulls customers into a lengthy Q&A process that can be both unproductive and dissatisfying. The carrier, or corporate help desk, ends up shouldering costs that are in reality very preventable. AetherPal addresses these problems with its remote customer care solutions.”

What gives me pause:  Not much. This has a solid business model behind it, and no major competitors really spring to mind. I suppose if I wanted to be alarmist, I could ask what’s stopping carriers, once they get comfortable outsourcing to AetherPal, from going a step further and taking the outsourcing concept to a dystopian extreme?

PR: David Worthington, Fusion PR

25. Marble Access

What they do: Provide cloud-based security for mobile, network and endpoint protection.

What I like: Mobile and cloud security are both big issues. A solution designed to focus on those threats, rather than duct taping cloud and mobile protections onto old perimeter- or signature-based schemes is what is needed.

What caught my eye in the pitch: A compelling overview of the problem:

“Criminals, hactivists and malevolent nation-states continue to succeed in their attacks on enterprise, banking and government IT infrastructures for only one reason: an outdated over reliance on detect-and-patch countermeasures like antivirus and firewalls that fail to protect endpoints and network connections. . . [Meanwhile], the proliferation of BYOD, smart phones, tablets, and the use of cloud and mobile apps have opened many attack vectors for hackers. . . [and] the incredible increase in the sophistication of hacker tools like SpyEye and Zeus Trojans and their legions of botnets have made it easy for hackers to mount massive attacks and make every day a zero-day.”

What gives me pause:  They were founded in 2005 as IronKey. That may be a bit mature for a roundup like this. However, they recently sold off their secure mobile storage products and the name IronKey to Imation, so in many ways Marble Access is akin to a young startup.

PR:  Debra Montner, Montner & Associates

26. Kicksend

What they do: Provide photo sharing apps for smartphones.

What I like: With smartphones replacing point-and-shoot cameras, people are taking more photos than ever before. However, many people would like better ways to share photos directly from their phones, a process that is still less than optimal.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Kicksend differentiates itself from other photo-sharing applications because it gives users the ability to share high-resolution photos in large batches – up to 30 at a time – from their smartphone, to any email address or phone number. Kicksend users also have the added flexibility of being able to use different options outside of the app; photos can be sent on the Kicksend website or via a desktop application that can send even larger batches of photos.”

What gives me pause:  Photo sharing via smartphones is obviously a growth area, but Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube could easily outflank a startup like Kicksend.

PR: Elise Chambers, Method Communications

27. OneTok

What they do: Provide a platform that lets developers add voice recognition to apps and devices.

What I like: Mobile voice-recognition is a major opportunity for startups.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “The new Siri paves the way for mainstream adoption of voice-mobile interactions. Users are able to open apps with their voices, but have to stop there. . . OneTok enables them to talk and actually interact with and use their apps through simple voice commands. Instead of jabbing at buttons while driving or typing their destinations, users of smartphones and tablets need only to speak, using their voices for tasks such as controlling and navigating apps, entering their logins or initiating web searches.

“OneTok is a cloud-based platform that lets developers configure any word or phrase to invoke any activity with just a few clicks. As an end-to-end platform, OneTok gives developers cutting-edge libraries that address audio hurdles on the device, such as echo cancellation, noise suppression and audio compression.”

What gives me pause: Existing companies like Apple or Nuance could sue due to their many, often obscure patents. Even if they don’t hold a specific patent, Nuance has shown that it isn’t hesitant to try to bury startups through the legal process, which many startups just can’t afford. And if litigation isn’t the threat, straight-up competition from more entrenched players could be.

PR: Irena Boostani, Comunicano

28. Trendslide

What they do: Provides an app that delivers a real-time view of how a business is performing right on your smartphone or tablet. Trendslide aggregates data from the websites and applications a business is already using, and delivers actionable insight by presenting a simple dashboard for a single purpose: to give business owners a pulse on whether key metrics are trending up, staying flat, or trending down.

What I like: They’ve zeroed in on the fact that knowledge workers usually have ten million tabs and apps open at once and are constantly toggling among them. This process is not efficient.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Executives and leaders in small businesses are increasingly adopting mobile smartphones and tablets. However, in order to get an overview of their business they have to open 8+ tabs in their internet browser and login to each data source, navigate various UI’s, download reports, and then manipulate the data in a spreadsheet. Not only does this take significant time that small business executives don’t have but it also allows them to make decisions on the go, from anywhere, to improve profitability of their business.”

What gives me pause: Trendslide has a narrow focus, and I’m not sure what their growth strategy really is.

PR: Jeffrey Vocell, Co-Founder and Director of Product & Marketing, Trendslide

29. Truphone

What they do: Provides a multi-number SIM card that allows users to make “local” calls no matter where in the world they happen to be.

What I like: They’ve tapped into a significant, but often ignored, problem: the fact that mobile roaming can blow up travel budgets. Often, these charges aren’t planned for, and they can add up quickly.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “It’s the ‘C-Suite’ execs who really feel the pain of roaming expenses  and who, in some cases, have forbidden their employees to use their mobiles while traveling outside the U.S. Of course, curtailing the use of employees’ essential mobile devices hinders productivity and can even have the effect undercutting the whole purpose of a trip.”

What gives me pause:  I don’t see much of a barrier of entry preventing others from rushing into this space.

PR: Jim Byrnes, Comunicano

30.  Mobiquity

What they do: Mobile app development.

What I like: They already have 100+ customers, including big names like CVS, SAP and Verizon Wireless.

What caught my eye in the pitch: Their customer list and: “Mobiquity’s approach is to first understand the business problem an organization is trying to solve, and then explore how their customers use mobile devices.  With the groundwork done, Mobiquity then develops and deploys apps that work across various platforms and devices – Android, IOS, in HTML5, on tablets, iPads and smartphones.”

What gives me pause:  To reiterate once more, I received a ton of pitches from mobile app development companies. The competition will be fierce. Whoever figures out how to automate as much of this process as possible will likely be the winner.

PR:  Jim Crook, InkHouse

31.  Catavolt

What they do: Offer a hybrid cloud and mobile application development environment.

What I like: Their focus on extending existing enterprise apps to the mobile channel in a standardized, partially automated way.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “The main differentiator between Catavolt and every other app provider in the market is our Dual Model Architecture, a patent-pending proprietary protocol that allows us to securely stream encrypted corporate data in an incredibly efficient manner to mobile devices. A satellite server that sits in the datacenter behind the firewall streams all mobile data securely to a light client on the personal device. The cloud serves as an orchestration layer, taking the metadata and assigning it to a user interface, which is presented on the Catavolt client on the mobile device. Applications created in Catavolt all have the same functionality and a consistent user interface across popular platforms, such as Apple and Android. They are fully native applications and completely cross-platform, with no need to code, cross-compile or develop specifically for each platform.”

What gives me pause:  There is plenty of competition from other app development companies, but Catavolt’s approach is unique.

PR:  Mary Rose Macaranas, Arketi Group

32. Stack Mob

What they do: Mobile app development.

What I like: Their focus on the app back-end.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “StackMob aims to disrupt the traditional method of building, deploying and scaling apps by allowing developers to focus their development on value-added activities: creating compelling user experiences using the ambient intelligence of emerging connected devices.

“StackMob holds to a thin client approach to mobile development. While other platforms are simply data stores in the cloud, developers can actually write and run code in the StackMob cloud. This means that developers can seamlessly create, manage and extend customer Java code in the cloud and can easily make their applications available on a variety of ever-changing connected devices. “

What gives me pause: I received a ton of pitches from mobile app development companies. The competition will be intense.

PR: Steve Gershik, VP of Marketing at StackMob

33.  SOASTA

What they do: SOASTA provides automated app testing (for mobile apps and otherwise) through their CloudTest and CloudTest mobile software, simulating millions of concurrent users at a time, and making sure that a developer’s app won’t fail when they hit prime-time.

What I like: Many, many mobile apps stink. Personally, I uninstall most mobile apps after trying them for the first time and finding that they freeze, crash my phone or just don’t deliver. Services like this should help them get better.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “SOASTA was recently been responsible for testing NASA’s site for the Mars Landing, allowing millions of people to watch error free. SOASTA also tested the Olympics website, which was the most visited sports website in history, proving the reliability of their product.”

What gives me pause:  The mobile angle here is a little weak. It certainly applies to mobile, but the examples given didn’t have a mobile focus. Could a startup more focused on mobile app testing outflank them?

PR:  Anthony Acosta, Grayling Connecting Point

34. Torsion Mobile

What they do: Provide a mobile website development platform.

What I like: Their focus on making mobile website development simple enough that non-tech savvy business users can develop their own apps.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Website development, much less mobile website development, has been in the hands of developers – Torsion Mobile is focused on the democratization of mobile web development by developing a tool that allows non-technical people in marketing organizations to create state of the art, best practice mobile sites.

“Drag and drop technology to create a mobile website without coding with a robust analytics package to help organizations to not only go mobile but also utilize mobile as part of their business and strategic plan.  No coding needed. . . Most other solutions have a thin veneer of usability that rapidly becomes a coding exercise. Mojaba focuses on the workflow and objectives of creative professionals to publish for the mobile world quickly and to reflect the designs they want to accomplish.”

What gives me pause:  There’s plenty of opportunity here, but I don’t see a huge barrier to entry for potential competitors.

PR: Brooke A. Benschoter, CMO, Torsion Mobile

UPDATE 11/4: Originally, I incorrectly lumped Torsion Mobile in with app development platforms. Torsion’s focus is on mobile websites, not apps. From CMO Brooke A. Benschoter: “Discovery will be a huge issue going forward. Our tool allows for discovery from search, QR Codes, url input to name a few. There are some clients where an app is the way to go — about 15%. But for the rest, a robust website — not just a landing page or a reformatted version of their desktop web — will be the answer.  That is where our tools come in.”

35. Fixmo

 

What they do: Provide mobile risk management solutions.

What I like: Their focus on mobile risk management, rather than on locking down mobile devices.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Fixmo MRM is the only mobile security solution featuring NSA-developed tamper detection technology and is included as a required software component in the BlackBerry and Android Security Technical Implementation Guidelines (STIG) for the U.S. Department of Defense.”

What gives me pause:  The mobile security space is a very, very crowded one.

PR: Nicole Cornwell, fama PR

36. Tagwhat

What they do: Provide location-based services that leverage your mobile device’s built-in location sensors to deliver web and social networking content about the places around you.

What I like: The strategy of tying LBS to social networks is a smart one. Most simply try to connect to the web, or they just try to push you advertisements or coupons or other stuff we really don’t want.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “With Tagwhat, anyone can now geo-locate Web content and deliver it to nearby mobile users in seconds. Tagwhat automatically applies algorithms to identify and associate related contextual content including Facebook pages, Foursquare venues, Twitter streams and commercial offers. The result is a geo-tagged, connected Web that dramatically increases the volume of localized content available to mobile users.”

What gives me pause:  As with many services like this, if it becomes too ad-based and feels too intrusive and “spammy,” people will drop it quickly. Yet, it looks like ads and targeted marketing are central to their business plan, so they will have to tread carefully.

PR: Sabrina Johnson, K/F Communications

37. Enflick

What they do: Provides mobile “social connectivity solutions.”

What I like: Enflick’s TextNow app gives users a cloud-based alternative to expensive carrier text plans.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Enflick builds apps that help people stay closer with their friends and family. Touch and TextNow are the company’s two core products. Both products are used by millions of users worldwide and are growing rapidly.

“Touch is designed to make staying connected with close friends and family an amazing experience through an integrated, cross-platform photo sharing and chat platform. TextNow provides fast and reliable text and voice messaging — for free.”

What gives me pause: Has anyone really figured out how to make money with services like these?

PR: Tonja Aldis, StoryboardPR

38. Tango

What they do: Provides a cross-platform (Android, iPhone, Windows Phone) communications and sharing platform (video, voice, photos, texts, etc.).

What I like: They’re positioned in a high-growth sector.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “With global active smartphone users recently topping  1 billion and 1.1B devices expected to be active by 2013, streaming live video has the potential to encourage a consumer to reshape their communications habits as a result of this service alone.

“More than competitors, such as FaceTime and Skype, Tango has been designed to work natively on mobile devices on direct peer-to-peer connections that allow them to scale to hundreds of millions of users with a relatively low infrastructure cost.”

What gives me pause:  Competitors like Skype and FaceTime are no slouches.

PR: Trey Sims, Atomic PR

39. Bizness Apps

What they do: Provide a mobile development platform targeted at SMBs.

What I like: The platform helps SMBs develop mobile apps, without forcing them to learn any programming. Heck, even having a really good WordPress site still requires at least a little familiarity with CSS. If they can successfully abstract programming, SMBs could well flock to them.

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Recent studies have shown that 98% of SMBs’ businesses and sites are not mobile optimized. This is a huge issue considering users are now searching for services and businesses more frequently on their mobile device than on a desktop by a large margin.”

What gives me pause:  The mobile app development space is ridiculously crowded, but their focus on SMBs should help set them apart.

PR: Zach Cusimano, COO at Bizness Apps

40. Taptera

What they do: Mobile app development.

What I like: While Taptera develops custom apps for customers (a time-consuming process that is hard to scale), they’re doing their best to automate certain parts of the development process, such as leveraging existing apps (Salesforce.com, Box) for “pre-authentication.”

What caught my eye in the pitch: “Many other startups are trying to offer their own solutions but are being slowed down by the security wall inside many large enterprises. By having that security layer mitigated by this self-authentication tie-in the adoption curve can lower and the sales cycle can shorten – all of which CMOs and CROs appreciate. The tool is trusted by others to buddy up with them for authentication so the trust in the product goes up and it can get into the hands of users faster.”

What gives me pause:  I’ll say it one final time: the mobile app development space is incredibly crowded. However, I do believe that whoever figures out how to automate as much of this process as possible – without sacrificing features and usability in the process – will likely be the winner.

Taptera seems to agree with my assessment and is looking for novel ways to automate cumbersome mobile development processes by leveraging existing tools.

PR: Kate Pokorny, Pluck PR

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Moataz Rashad October 31, 2012 at 4:03 PM

Checkout Vufind’s personalization and behavioral analytics platform based on the Interest Graph
We also developed a visual analytics engine for photos/videos that enables image based commerce and image based ads.

Sabrina Johnson November 1, 2012 at 12:40 PM

Tagwhat’s primary revenue streams are branded channels (subscriptions paid by publishers) and affiliate revenue through third party services linked via the Superslider to each Tag and selected rather than pushed to the user. Tagwhat is building a location/interests graph and all revenue streams are ultimately tied to the user’s specific location and his/her particular interests, and therefore much less likely than other ads to be ‘spammy’.

Jeff Vance November 1, 2012 at 12:42 PM

Makes sense, Sabrina. It’s a model that has yet to be proven, but who knows, maybe Tagwhat will figure it out.

Jeff Vance November 1, 2012 at 12:43 PM

Will do. Thanks for the recommendation, Moataz.

Amber Rowland November 1, 2012 at 4:24 PM

You raised good questions on Message Bus. Here’s one stat I thought you might find interesting: 42% of all email is opened on mobile devices. Email is becoming a primary form of communication on mobile.

And just this week Forrester put out a report stating that campaign execution cross-channel is a top challenge for marketers and email is the most reliable form of conversion of all message types.

Let me know if there’s anything that would be helpful to have on the market or Message Bus.

Brian L. November 2, 2012 at 2:18 PM

Great to see Canvas included on such a distinguished list, and definitely a fair point in the “What Gives Me Pause” section about the heavy volume of mobile app development entries.

A few Canvas capabilities separate it pretty significantly from the mobile app development label. While Canvas does have an app builder tool, what has really taken off is the Canvas mobile app store, used by thousands of organizations to find, customize and create mobile apps specific to their industry or business function that replace paper forms. By the summer of 2012, the Canvas mobile business app store surpassed 3,800 apps – a 500% increase from a year ago.

One way to think about Canvas is they are to old school data collection methods (Paper Forms, Surveys, Reports) what the Kindle was to Paper Books.

Kirk Hasenzahl November 5, 2012 at 8:52 AM

While I recognize the crowded space for new platforms to create mobile apps, we have automated a lot of it, including eliminating x code. I believe RareWire is a great candidate for the list. The platform was used to build apps for CA Technolgies, West Point, Perceptive Software, Forever 21, Johns Hopkins, Black & Veatch, and The Atlantic Magazine, to name just a few. Just launched the App Creation Studio out of Beta 30 days ago, so now anyone can sign up and use the tools to build the same robust apps. A PaaS, true native (it can also incorporate HTML5), free form design, cross platform mobile app development software. The key here is the WIRE language where you build apps is XML based, meaning you don’t have to be a hardcore Objective C or Java programmer to now build the same robust native apps only programmers could previously build. Think of it as a very robust XML-based app creation tool for native mobile apps, combined with the capabilities of Urban Airship, and combined with the abilities of TestFlight, all for front end developers.

Jeffrey Vocell November 7, 2012 at 12:10 PM

Thanks for including Trendslide, Jeff.

To clarify on our focus – we are really keen on the idea of a zero configuration business dashboard. Too many current dashboards (regardless of whether mobile or not) require a lot of consulting and technical configuration up front, which leads to a lack of business user adoption. We are building a dashboard that is easy to download and get up and running, regardless if you are a CEO or marketing manager or intern. It’s much more than easy configuration though – and we’ll share more details on that soon. Checkout the app on iOS (just search for Trendslide in the app store) and let us know what you think.

S. Martin November 7, 2012 at 1:31 PM

Thanks for a great top 40 Jeff. As I monitor this space, I see a number of app development platforms coming online – a number of which are founded/based in the US. One that I noticed from France (now with HQ in Silicon Valley) is a company called moTwin (www.motwin.com). The main premise behind their offering is about connecting a context-aware, differential push/pull mobile front end to nearly any existing/new back-end-driven business service. Picture them as the middle-man between the mobile device and the back-end business systems companies already have in place. While they may view each other as competitors, an interesting partnership might be found in the content-savvy RareWire (see Kirk’s note above) and the context-drive and service-enabled moTwin. Not sure it makes sense technically, but, just sayin…

Looking forward to see how you whittle down these top 40 to a top 10 list for NWW.

Jessica Valenzuela November 14, 2012 at 1:25 PM

Jeff – thanks for including Taptera!

To clarify our focus: we’re a mobile app development company with portfolio of mobile productivity apps for the enterprise. A total of 8 today available in the iTunes and Google Play stores and as B2B purchase. Each of these apps can be custom-tailored in shorter innovation cycles using our proprietary mobile technology. These apps can integrate with Salesforce, Box, LDAP, Exchange, Google and any enterprise system with API integration points.

After numerous requests from customers we now also offer custom development through our professional services group.

Thanks so much!

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