AOL acquires skins-maker Wildseed
America Online announced today it is acquiring wireless start-up Wildseed, a wireless technology that has developed Smartskins technology used to customize generic handsets.
No financial details were released. Wildseed was previously a privately held company founded in 2000 by Microsoft veteran Eric Engstrom. Engstrom will become senior vice president of wireless products for the newly formed AOL Wireless division.
Wildseed Smartskins technology is a Linux-based OS that allows for multiple types of data application firmware to be grafted into generic handsets. The technology was designed to create highly targeted service offerings centered on a particular brand or set of data applications that a customer could change out at will. For instance a sports skin would not only be branded with sports iconography on its outer cover, but contain specific content, such as games and ring tones, unique to that skin.
Wildseed’s plan was to create hundreds of different types of skins through content partnerships ranging from celebrity skins to gaming skins to TV brands. Because of the flexibility of the Linux-based platform, the skins technology could support anything from Nintendo Game applications and MP3 playback to standard wireless data applications like MMS and ringtones.
The company’s concept, however, didn’t resonate with carriers as much as it had hoped. Wildseed landed a manufacturing partnership with Kyocera to create the generic handset and had developed multiple branded skins—including several recording artists like Nelly and Korn, fashion brands like French Kitty and game titles such as Mortal Kombat. But up until today’s acquisition announcement it had announced only a few carrier relationships with Korean provider Curitel and with Dobson Communications in the U.S.
AOL officials, however, said it was Wildseed’s proof of concept for the customizable data phone that attracted its attention. While AOL is not discussing whether it will continue the Smartskins line in its current format or maintain Wildseed’s carrier relationships, an AOL spokeswoman said it definitely plans to leverage its OS and middleware technologies to support AOL’s own content portfolio and launch new services.
“AOL already has a significant piece of real estate in software stack,” the spokeswoman said. “But we’ve been looking for a way to deliver to our carrier customers customized applications. Wildseed provides that flexibility in the software.”
AOL has been venturing further and further into the wireless space since it launched AOL Mobile, its wireless instant messaging and e-mail platform. Spurred on by the success of its AIM platform in particular, AOL has been bringing out mobile versions of its core content applications such as MapQuest Mobile, AOL Search, Cityguide and AOL Pictures. AOL also owns Tegic, which produces T-9, the software power text input on many of the world’s handsets.
As part of today’s announcement, AOL is now placing all of those efforts under the same umbrella with Wildseed to create AOL Wireless. The new division will be headed by new general manager Craig Eisler.
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© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
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