The trick is simple: Find something which makes voice calls more expensive, but makes people want to pay for them.
Now, that sounds mad. The trend of the last ten years has been relentless: Voice calls to and from mobile devices have become cheaper and cheaper. What possible excuse could I find for paying over the odds for voice?
OK, theres an easy and obvious one: Missed calls. Its recognized that people will, indeed, pay for answering machines and answering services, and for call forwarding. But that, surely, has been factored into the mix?
Enter the Mouse.
The Mouse (I have to explain this briefly, because otherwise it makes no sense at all!) is a gossip columnist for my own modest web site at NewsWireless. The human character is the Hunky Mouse, alias Hank Maus, who runs Anchor, Mouse communications—a small communcations consultancy based in Belmont, California. As an industry insider, he writes under the nomme de plume of N Sniffer, a network sniffer who finds stray packets which nobody will acknowledge, but which can be found in current gossip.
As with most gossip writers (names like Spencer Katt and Robert Cringeley come to mind) there is more than one human behind the persona of the Hunky Mouse.
Sometimes, a contribution is anonymously made by people who are indeed well-connected consultants in other organizations; sometimes, by people who run their own companies and wish to start a rumor without acknowledging their identity; and sometimes by journalists who have found a scoop which is irrelevant to their own publication, and who arent allowed to earn a freelance fee, but would love to see the story go public.
In other words, the Hunky Mouse isnt me, except for those odd occasions when he is.
How cute would it be, then, for voice-mail to come into my phone not just as recorded sound, but as a video clip spoken by a Mouse or tiger? Piglet? Obi-Wan Kenobi?
Its easy enough: You take the voice message to a video studio, and ask them to dub the sounds onto a moving face.
Or, alternatively, you go and get a Veeper.
Its easy because it arrives as a multimedia message (MMS) in your phone.
Authors of the Veeper, Pulse, have sold it to Comverse, which in turn is showing it to phone operators, and I came across it at Cannes.
The idea is that caller ID defines the Veeper. Your least favorite relative could be a talking hippo; a self-important boss could speak to you with the face and voice of Jessica Rabbit, and yes, I do think theres a chance people will pay to see these messages!
Pulse isnt the only outfit making Veepers, or moving, talking images for phones. At last weeks Nokia Application Summit in Prague, Czech Republic, Anthropics was a hit with operators for its facestore technology, complete with software to capture a face and animate it, in your own smartphone.
What Pulse has, is the server technology to make this an operator service chargeable. I dare say operators will be equally pleased if people use Anthropics technology and actually make Multimedia Messaging work because up till now, its been the biggest flop since the Tablet PC. But Pulses idea is to provide push voice-mail, as a premium service.
There are lots of issues with turning these into black ink. Optimization, rationalization and plain old "it works without having to make four support calls" issues. But the easy way to make money is to charge more.
Is the Veeper-call a way to do this? Heck, I rather think it might be.
Oh, one more caveat: That image isnt a video of me talking. Its a still image, encoded by Pulses Veeper technology and animated by the sound of my voice. Except, its not my voice. It could be, but it aint: Trust me; Im really a Brit!