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An Action Engine For Mobile Content

Plenty of little companies are trying to break through the noise at the CTIA wireless conference this week and get some notice.

Mobile data platform provider Action Engine is betting its offering will speak for itself.

Consumers can live without Web content on their mobile phones, analysts say, but mobile application firm Action Engine thinks it can change minds because of its new partnerships with MSNBC.com and TiVo.

By partnering with MSNBC.com, Action Engine hopes that delivering free, ad-supported content such as articles, pictures and video will convince consumers to look at their mobile phones as a more extensive source for news, entertainment and sports.

Action Engine also built a mobile application for Verizon Wireless customers who want to program their TiVo away from home.

Both partnerships mean cool features, said Forrester Research Analyst Charles Golvin. But he thinks the companies face an uphill climb with the offerings.

"A lot of people only think of [their mobile devices] as a phone," Golvin told internetnews.com. "All they want to do is talk on it. They don't really care about watching TV on it."

Golvin argued that, to convert consumers, mobile Web content has to be good and compelling.

"Consumers say, 'Oh, I can live without it,'" he said. Mobile content is often "not a very good experience. The screen is small, the buttons are cramped. The connections are slow."

He went on.

The TiVo feature, he added, might just be useless.

"I think most people who like The Sopranos have already programmed it for Sunday night," he said.

Still, convincing consumers that mobile phones can be more than phones is gaining steam with media and technology companies. AOL just announced a subscription service that turns a mobile phone into GPS navigation system. Earlier this year, Korean phone-maker Helio introduced a pair of MySpace-branded devices, hoping teens would use the phones for online social networking.

Although it's nice that the MSNBC.com content will be free, the ad-supported service might annoy already wary consumers, Golvin added. "There are users out there that have a metered plan. They have to pay more if they use a certain amount of data."

For those customers worried about paying for data that includes ads, that might be a problem.

Action Engine is undaunted by the nay-sayers. Director of product management, Amar Patel, hinted that the company is putting its money where its mouth is.

"We don't typically share our business model," he told internetnews.com, "However, I can tell you that most of the deals in this space are revenue shared. That's because partners like to share risk."

Action Engine is betting on overcoming doubters in part with a new approach to advertising with the MSNBC mobile application in order to prevent users from wasting minutes downloading an advertising campaign.

"We've taken the on-device application approach," Patel said, "It allows us to place the advertisements on the device itself, cache them. When the user clicks on the [MSNBC application], it comes up immediately."

Naturally, Action Engine counters that MSNBC content piping through the platform is superior.

"News articles, world entertainment, sports," -- the combination will "create a superior experience for users," Action Engine spokesperson Anne Baker told internetnews.com.

Action Engine is equally excited about building demand for a mobile device that doubles as a remote control with the TiVo partnership.

"This partnership came primarily because TiVo was looking for a mobile strategy," Patel said, "They were studying the industry to see who could offer better features for their customers and they chose Action Engine. They felt we had the best user experience."

But Forrester's Golvin said the biggest challenge right now is adoption.

Will Action Engine change consumer minds? Will they get them to perceive their mobile devices as more than phones? They say the offering and content will speak for itself.