SMS apps: The other side of the app story

While a good section of the crowd is going gaga over their smartphone apps, yet another section – which is a significant proportion – is left out of the app phenomenon. What’s separating the two sections? A smartphone of course, and the price associated with it. All the iOS, Android and Windows phones have a heavy duty operating systems, developer communities and app ecosystems. None of these exist for the so-called feature phone community. Is that fair?

The feature phone community is also the biggest mobile phone user community. Smartphone shipments off late constitute 20-25% of the total phone shipments. That means 80-85% of the phones across the world are largely untapped by the app phenomenon. But how do we get a feature phone under an app ecosystem? By building one. But how? These feature phones don’t have Android running on them. Well, almost all the mobile phones sold till date have a nifty utility called the text message. Yes, the 160 character long message which any phone user can send. This text message aka SMS has potential. Apparently a huge one.

In India, U2opia has tied up with Bharti Airtel to bring Facebook to non-Internet enabled phones. The technology uses GSM and USSD to deliver Facebook updates and enable users to update status and view comments. Though the functionality is limited, U2opia has shown the possibility of what a feature phone can do. Indiatimes has launched an SMS-based browser providing access to its rich content. Those are just two possibilities of what a simple text message can do.

txtWeb has launched a App2Fame contest – first of its kind- which is focusing on SMS based apps. API’s for the platform are released to the public and the developers were asked to submit SMS based apps by Jun 30, 2011. There are multiple categories and prizes including iPad 2s, flat screen TVs and more. The contest has already seen apps like getting lyrics of a song, checking rates of popular bikes or listing the timings of movies in the city. The possibilities are left to the imagination.

Best part is that these apps are platform agnostic, don’t have a fragmentation problem and Steve Jobs wouldn’t even care.

SMS-based apps might not be Angry Birds and Scrabble like their smartphone counterparts. But these apps have the potential to become the Angry Birds for feature phones. I wish there was an app store for this.