Zumobi Goes Beta

Zumobi, a spin-off from Microsoft, just debuted in Beta today. The company is trying a different, less intrusive approach to mobile advertising.

I just wrote a story explaining why mobile advertising has been slow to take off: One reason is, carriers are worried that their customers will be inundated with spam such as text messages and multimedia ads marketing various products.

Well, Zumobi, a spin-off from Microsoft that just debuted in Beta today, is trying a different, less intrusive approach to mobile advertising. The company’s founders, who are scientists specializing in interface design and mobile computing, have created a way to navigate through tiles. Each tile is an application that a consumer selects to show up on his or her phone.

The tiles are, essentially, ads, only they don't look or function that way. Of the 80 tiles that debuted today, eight are from Amazon. One lets users to easily buy certain books from a cell phone, or to search for book titles. Another sponsor's tile offers a card game, though it is marked with the sponsor's name. Consumers get to pick which of these little applications they would like to have on their phone. The tiles are typically created, using Zumobi's developer's kit, which became available today, by potential sponsors or their advertising agencies.

I will be testing the interface in the next few weeks. Initially, Zumobi will only work on Windows Mobile devices, but it could become available for everything from the iPhone to BlackBerry Pearl (the company has, in fact, tested the software on both devices, says John SanGiovanni, a co-founder, with whom I met yesterday).

Mobile advertising is a green field, and no one is quite sure how to mine it right. But this certainly looks like an interesting approach, one that users may be less likely to resent.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.