Smart' platform trims Web excess
What: Action Engine, based in Redmond
Who: Craig Eisler, president and chief executive officer
What it does: Action Engine's mobile Web-services platform allows cellphone users to access Internet-based information without using a browser. Browsers, Eisler said, were built for computers with full keyboards, big screens and persistent connections to the Internet. "Wireless phones have none of the properties of a computer," he said. "It's got a small screen, a tiny keyboard and a crappy connection to the Internet."
How it works: Instead of requiring applications on the phone to connect to the Internet constantly to operate, the Action Engine solution uses storage capabilities and processing power on the phone plus data compression to cut down the time an application must be connected to the wireless network.
Why it works now: The platform requires more memory and a faster processor than have been available in handsets. But an increasing number of smart phones have fast processors and up to 32 megabytes of RAM — more than typical computers had in the mid-'90s, Eisler said.
Write once: With wireless carriers offering many different smart phones, it's difficult to deliver a standard set of applications to users. Often developers must re-create an application for each device. With Action Engine's platform, applications need be written only once using standard Web languages such as XML.
Bases covered: Action Engine recently sealed deals with Symbian and HandSpring (the PalmSource operating system) on top of an earlier agreement with Microsoft. Now its platform can deliver applications to the three dominant smart-phone operating systems.
Other benefits: Last year, Action Engine added control features that allow cellular operators to manage their customers' phones remotely. For example, operators can add and remove applications — such as games relevant to a one-time sporting event — on customers' handsets over the wireless network. They can also remotely troubleshoot the device or shut it down if it's been stolen.
Who's using it: British Telecom's wireless arm, mmO2, and British mobile-phone operator Orange.
Future of browsers: Action Engine won't replace browsers. "This is for 5 percent of data that you want to use 95 percent of the time," Eisler said. "The browser is for the rest."
Investors: OVP Venture Partners, Northwest Venture Associates and Spangler Ventures. The company is in the midst of raising more financing.
Profitability expectation: 2004
— Nancy Gohring