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We get to see many of the most innovative products firsthand and we get to field test them while we evaluate them based on ease of use and other criteria that are listed on our Website.

Andrew Seybold Choice Awards

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The few months leading up to the presentation of the Andrew Seybold Choice Awards is my favorite time of year. We opened award nominations in December and they will close on February 15, 2008. Our judging methodology is based on a number of criteria, but we place a lot of emphasis on a great user or customer experience. The nominations are also a good indicator to us of whether the industry is moving in a direction where ease of use is not only a catch phrase but something being designed into the products and services. Last year's winners made great strides over entries we reviewed the year before and we are looking forward to our evaluation process again this year to see how far the industry has come. All awards are presented at the Andrew Seybold Wireless Dinner at CTIA Wireless 2008.

While waiting for nominations to close on February 15, I returned to last year's award winners and thought I would recap their progress over the past year. It turns out that with one exception (Disney Mobile), everyone is doing very well in the market. Impatica won "Most Innovative Wireless Device" for ShowMate, a small device that connects a BlackBerry to a presentation projector to enable PowerPoint presentations directly from a BlackBerry. Over the last year, Impatica has added capabilities for the Palm Treo, Sony Ericsson or Windows Mobile handheld, added a new software module designed to be installed in a BlackBerry Enterprise Server to view and save animated, graphically rich PowerPoint presentations and then project them using ShowMate, and added the capability to project a Blackberry screen. Impatica touts this as being a great tool for teaching people how to use the BlackBerry and for product demonstrations.

ClairMail, last year's winner for the "Most Innovative Consumer Application" for ClairAccess, has also expanded and has been successful in the area of what it calls 2-way customer interaction including banking solutions, stock trading and brokerage solutions and mobile payments. Ebanking, which is still in its infancy, is the market for using wireless phones to buy products including stocks that will soon be expanding to pay for groceries. ClairMail has certainly continued as a leader in this area and I am pleased to see it has had a good measure of success this past year.

The "Most Innovative Business Application" was Verizon Wireless' Field Force Manager, primarily because of the tight integration between the wireless device provided to a service technician and the application that sits on the desktop back at company headquarters. The product supports location and tracking, an electronic timecard to track time spent at a customer's location and, of course, the dispatching of service techs. The product has been expanded since last year and Verizon now offers three levels of product: Limited, Basic and Premium, which provides complete workforce management and audible turn-by-turn directions.

The next category was the "Most Innovative New Service by a Wireless Operator or MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator)," and it went to Disney Mobile for its MVNO service. It was built around families with younger children and offered parents the ability to monitor their children, exchange family messages and much more. Like the Verizon Field Force Management package, it was tightly coupled to desktop access to a family account.

Unfortunately, within a few months, Disney gave up on the MVNO in the United States and began making content deals with network operators. This was Disney's second MVNO failure in less than two years. You might remember that it closed the doors on its ESPN MVNO last fall after investing $50 million in the effort. Interestingly enough, in today's news there is an announcement that Disney is launching a new MVNO in Japan, this time with network operator Softbank handling all of the backend issues including billing, customer service and device sales and distribution. I'm not sure exactly what Disney and Softbank are doing, but from the sounds of it, I probably would not classify it as an MVNO though they apparently do.

I hope they have better luck than Disney did in the United States. The reason it won the award was because of the family integration and ease of use, both on the wireless side and the desktop side. Unfortunately, Disney was late to the family-plan market since most U.S. operators have been offering family plans for several years now. I think it must have been tough to sell entire families on moving to Disney if only one person in the family was a Disney fan, and I'm not sure working fathers and mothers would want to admit to having their wireless phones on the Disney network when the subject came up for discussion. I certainly wish Disney well in its Japanese endeavor.

We departed from products and services and awarded "Most Innovative Design Concept" to Alereon for its AL4000 Wireless USB chipset. I have been a believer in ultra-wideband (UWB) technology for local communications for some years, and we thought that the fact that Alereon had harnessed UWB and built it to work exactly like a hardwire USB device attached to a computer or any other device was a smart move and that Wireless USB will become an important part of our personal-area network (PAN) stable of products going forward. This year we saw movement in the Wireless USB and Bluetooth camps to work with each other and Alereon has released its AL5000 chipset not only with more capabilities, but also designed to work worldwide (there are differences in the allowable bands for UWB transmissions in different parts of the world). Also, 2007 saw the introduction of some real Wireless USB products including a USB hard drive, a Wireless USB hub and adapter kit and more. I think 2008 will be a good year for Wireless USB and for Alereon as well.

The last category we presented was "Best New Company." Our choice was a company that develops and markets a series of phones and services designed for older Americans. The phones have larger numbers, the address books can be programmed over the air and there are live operators. The phones are sold with no contracts and the fees include all long distance and roaming charges, and service plans start at about $10 per month. The phones are made by Samsung, and the two people responsible for both the company and the product have been involved in the wireless industry for a long time: Arlene Harris and her husband Martin Cooper. Marty, while at Motorola, introduced the first portable cellular phone in 1973, a product known and loved as the DynaTAC. Reports are that Jitterbug phones and the company (Great Call) are doing well and that sales have been brisk. It seems that a simple, easy-to-use phone is something many people want, not only older Americans. In this case, simple is better.

We also presented one last award to a company that did not submit a nomination but introduced a product the Andrew Seybold team thought was unique and so different that it deserved a special award we called the "Most Imaginative Award." This went to Newton Peripherals for the MoGo Headset, a Bluetooth headset designed to fold up and fit into a PC Card for storage inside a computer (where the battery is charged), or to be attached to the back of a wireless phone battery, also for storage and charging. Unfortunately, it does not appear as though the product has been released yet. It is still shown on the Newton Peripherals Website, but the only information available is the press announcement released after our Dinner last year.

The company does have other products, and one we use all the time is a Bluetooth mouse that folds up and also fits into the PC Card slot of a notebook where it sits charged up and ready for use. Newton Peripherals has expanded its mouse product line to include an ExpressCard version.

But those were last year's winners. Judging from the nominations I have seen so far, deciding on this year's finalists in each category―let alone winners―will, once again, be quite a challenge. But it is also one of the most enjoyable projects we take on. We get to see many of the most innovative products firsthand and we get to field test them while we evaluate them based on ease of use and other criteria that are listed on our Website.

Though winning one of our awards does not guarantee success or make you rich, it announces to the word that out of all of the products nominated, yours was the best of the best in its category. We do not charge an entry fee and nominations close on February 15, so if you have a product or service you believe is worthy of consideration and it meets all of the criteria spelled out on our Website, submit it and let us take a look! We look forward to trying it out.

Andrew M. Seybold

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