Mobile Web Browsing on Microsoft’s Dime

UPDATED: Anyone who has tried to get sports scores or traffic updates using the Web
browser on their cell phones can tell you how frustrating the experience can
be. Download speeds are maddeningly slow and even eagle-eyed Gen-Yers need a
magnifying glass to read the content.

ZenZui, a start-up with the backing of Redmond, Wash.-based software
behemoth Microsoft , is introducing technology that it says will make
handheld devices more Web-friendly.

The Zooming User Interface technology, initially developed by Microsoft
Research, creates a user interface consisting of 36 individual “tiles” that
users select and customize according to their interests. The company said that the modular tile interface will let users sync up with and share
fresh content.

John SanGiovani, co-founder and vice president of products and services at
ZenZui, explained that the content tiles selected by users will be
constantly synchronized on the handset and thus ready to consume at will. “A
lot of the cool technology kung fu is on the back end… so that content is
waiting for you to [zoom in on it],” SanGiovani told internetnews.com.

The application, based on a proprietary language called ZZML, can be used on
any device and platform. SanGiovani said this is one of the reasons that
ZenZui was spun out of Microsoft. “The business model is only interesting if
we can blow it out.”

SanGiovani said that the application is a way for wireless carriers test out the realm of mobile advertising; ZenZui offers carriers a
revenue sharing opportunity as incentive to strike deals.

But ZenZui isn’t dependent on deals with carriers, because users will be able
to download the application from the ZenZui Web site beginning in late summer when it will be available in beta form. The beta version will only
have 16 tiles, as opposed to 36 when the application becomes generally
available, most likely by the end of the year.

ZenZui CEO Eric Hertz said the “unique user experience” is already creating
excitement among wireless carriers, content providers, interactive agencies
and marketing companies. The company has already signed a plethora of
marketing and content providers, including interactive ad agency Avenue
A|Razorfish, brand-marketing firm OTOlabs and real-time traffic advisory
company Traffic.com.

ZenZui benefited from Microsoft’s IP Ventures program, started in May 2005,
to help get technology developed by Microsoft Research into the market
quickly.

ZenZui worked with IP Ventures to acquire the technology and assistance in
securing venture capital funding. The company raised an initial $12 million
from Oak Investment Partners and Hunt Ventures.

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