Vindigo - The Cool Viral Palm City Guide - goes J2ME


Vindigo, for those of you who may not be familiar with them, made a splash a few years ago by having one of those rare viral distribution models that actually worked quite well. Vindigo is a location-specific city guide that you install on your PDA (only Palm at first). I remember the unique thing about it was that on the front screen of the application, it had an option to "beam" the application to a friend. It was the first (and maybe still be the only) app that did this. Because it was rather useful, it spread like wildfire from Palm owner to Palm owner - sometimes only to actually try out beaming the app, something many novice Palmsters don't know you can do. Vindigo makes its money from monthly subscriptions. So you would beam your friend the app, and they could use it in "trial" mode, and then next time they synched, the app would automatically update its data and prompt you to sign up. Very nice.

Since Vindigo only has a guide for London outside the U.S., I haven't really been paying much attention to them since I came here to Spain. But it seems they've been busy 1) not dying a miserable dot-com death and 2) expanding their services to PocketPCs and mobile phones. First on the Qualcomm Brew platform and later for J2ME phones!

In this press release over at it talks a little about the app and their new deal with AT&T Wireless where their clients can sign up to get the app via their mMode phone for $3.95 a month:

AT&T Wireless mMode customers using J2ME-enabled phones can download Vindigo 2.0 wirelessly to access entertainment and local information, including restaurant reviews, museum exhibits, bars, stores, movie reviews and show times. Vindigo 2.0 also includes detailed information about services such as the location of the closest ATMs, gas stations, parking garages and police stations. The comprehensive service offers ratings and reviews from brand-name content providers, full-color maps and driving directions to any listing. With Vindigo 2.0, users instantly gain a wealth of information about where to eat, shop and play in more than 50 major U.S. markets.

"J2ME cell phones already have the power and flexibility to run information-rich applications, but until recently, 'must-have' consumer applications were a missing link. Vindigo 2.0's strong consumer appeal will help broaden the U.S. market for wireless data services, offering consumers access to compelling content on a device they already carry," said Jason Devitt, chief executive officer of Vindigo.

J2ME support enhances the breadth of Vindigo 2.0 applications, which have been available for Palm OS and PocketPC devices since 2000. Vindigo 2.0 for BREW mobile phones became available in 2002. The company continues building partnerships with major wireless services providers throughout the United States to deliver compelling content and help drive demand for application-rich wireless devices.

This is very interesting. It's surprising to me because it's the first real subscripton model J2ME application I've seen. I'm sure there's others out there already, but I just haven't run into them yet. This is pretty cool and is probably the way to go for mobile applications due to piracy and other factors. It's nice to have subscribers adding cash-flow every month (though it's also nice to develop an app once and then sell it a zillion times with ever-increase ROI...). I wonder how much AT&T gets out of that chunk?

The other cool thing is Vindigo is actually using J2ME as a browser-substitute. Unlike the PDA versions which store all the info about the city locally and is updated when you synch, the memory limitations on almost all J2ME phones would restrict that. So what this J2ME app is doing is providing a custom interface to internet based data. Instead of browsing using a generic web or wap browser, this application organizes and displays the information gathered from the internet. Think of this as a Sherlock/Watson type plug-in for your mobile phone - a truly mobile web services client.

I think regardless of whether your phone is a basic J2ME phone with kilobytes of memory or a monster like my Nokia, these types of custom Internet applications are going to be way to go. It almost seems ridiculous from a PC standpoint: "Forget about all that markup stuff! Design your UI in Java!" but I think that this is really how things are going to play out. It's cool to actually see a demo of this.

An innovative company that still seems to be innovating. I like it!


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