Vickram’s View: The PixSense Story

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PixSense launched its new, wide range of installables for cellphones at DEMO/fall in San Diego on Monday September 25, 2006.

I met with Adnan Agboatwala, who captains the development of this remarkable new application and service as managing director of PixSense development operations in Pakistan. He’s also co-founder of PixSense worldwide. Together with CEO Faraz Hoodbhoy and chairman Anurag Mendhekar, whose background includes building the backbone for Yahoo! Anywhere, he has built a useful and compelling application now running on the web, but capable of being controlled from ordinary new cellphones (the kind that take pictures and video).

Adnan told me how the application was conceived, developed and marketed, and where they expect to take it in the next couple of years. Of the three founding members, Adnan has chosen to drive the development activity out of Pakistan, while Faraz and Anurag manage the marketing and global strategy out of the US. All three of them have experienced being part of new, new things before, and this one is the first they have created together.

PixSense (whose byline is simply “Click. Done.”) was born out of the frustration of digital phone/camera users to share and manage photographs. This happened to Anurag’s wife, who had just bought a fancy digital camera, but was soon bogged down by the technicalities of getting the pictures into her computer. She dumped the camera, but inspiration had already struck, and only the remaining 99 percent needed to be sweated out.

The friends spent the next few coffee sessions at Mountain View’s Castro Street Starbucks, blocking out the working parameters of a solution to address this seemingly important gap in functionality and, more importantly, defining where and how the application would fit. They decided to address the problems faced by mobile users rather than the entire digital camera concept. “We decided to give it six months, threw in some cash, and I came back to Pakistan to develop the application,” Adnan commented.

This happened between February and June 2005, and the company had a working service for some models of mobile phones by November last year. “Working with phones is very different from the traditional PC applications, because just about each and every model needs distinct customisation. It’s not like developing once and porting among platforms,” grins Adnan. Even on seemingly compatible phones, versions of operating systems have proliferated, each one needing customisation before the service becomes accessible.

Essentially, with the application installed on a mobile phone, every picture and video file on the phone is immediately uploaded to the user’s space on the PixSense site, and can be shared as desired. It is then automatically erased from the phone, leaving its memory free for endless new visual creations. What this means is that the memory space on the web serves as the memory for the phone, instead of using up precious (and pretty expensive) flash bytespace. More importantly, with the application installed on the cellphone, uploading to the web becomes automatic and seamless, and the files can be shared freely with the complete experience managed from the phone, free of dependence on computers.

Anyone with a supported phone can sign up and download the application for free from the website, but this will change shortly, as the operations go commercial, and mobile phone operators start working it into their local service offerings. This is about to happen in Pakistan and China, and discussions are in progress in Japan, the U.S. and the U.K.

While the business offering in some mobile markets will continue to be served through mobile operators in the foreseeable future, the company is also working on deals with social networking sites in the US, whose members will be able to enhance their personal space idents with instant photography and videography, taken with a huge range of mobile phone devices from a number of manufacturers. Making the service meaningful in different mobile markets dictates such decisions.

Nokia’s range of phone devices looms large among the compatible models, as the company shares its current and forthcoming device models with PixSense to ensure seamless compatibility. The full range of models and the latest version of the application have been on the site since Monday, September 25, 2006.

PixSense expects revenues to hit around $30-50 million annually in the next two years, but won’t speculate yet on where it will go after that. Shaping the moment has already been a pretty cool achievement, I can’t help but imagine, and am eager to see how the future looks. Just think. Done.

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