Will Nimbuzz ring in the death of the phone call?

With so many different ways to contact people these days, phoning someone up is often the third or fourth option many of us think of when we want to get in touch with them. And as the mobile Internet gets faster and cheaper, more of us will be using our phones for email, instant messaging, VoIP, and accessing our social networks. This could mean that within just a few years, none of us will actually be making standard mobile calls, but rather using our handsets to send Facebook updates, post tweets to Twitter, chat on Google Talk, and talk via Skype.

The infrastructure to enable this to be done in a cost-effective way isn’t quite there yet, but the technology to do all of this certainly is. Recently, we’ve seen Skype announce that it will be bundled onto all new Nokia N-Series devices, and mobile IM apps such as qeep and Slick are growing in popularity. The leader in this field of multi-platform mobile communication is arguably Nimbuzz. This mobile social messenger, which I reviewed for Softonic a while back, is starting to attract some serious attention from both users and the mobile industry as a whole. Nimbuzz  already receives 20,000 new users every day, and has 12 language versions serving subscribers in more than 200 countries. It has been top of the iPhone App Store, won a Red Herring Global 100 award, and recently joined to the Research In Motion affiliate program.

I recently caught up with Geoff Casely, VP of Manufacture Markets at Nimbuzz, at the World Mobile Congress. Not only did he give me a demo (above) of the product in action on a Nokia N78, but he also outlined his vision for mobile social messaging and how it could spell the end of the mobile phone call:

OnSoftware: How does it feel to have a top download on the app store?

Geoff Casely: It’s amazing. App stores are a key part of our growth, and it’s always good to hear when, in such a competitive marketplace, our apps are so popular. In August last year we had a customer satisfaction survey. 15,000 respondents came back with over 95 percent of users saying they either would or had recommended Nimbuzz to other people.

OS: How do you succeed in a crowded market of messenger apps?

GC: We succeed by doing simple things very well. We’ve quickly become trusted by users by having a high quality product, relevant products that offer support for the relevant communities, not just supporting the large social networks and IM communities but also supporting the local ones. We’re rapidly expanding our base of locally-supported social networks, so we’re relevant to the user populations in countries like Spain, Holland, Italy, and Germany, for example. This is something that we’ll continue to do. It’s all about providing the best value proposition and that’s our commitment to mobile freedom.

OS: Why do you need a messaging device on a phone?

GC: Messaging has become an accepted part of our society. Instant messaging has been around for a very long time. But I think social networking has changed people’s perceptions on how they need to be able to communicate and collaborate. If you have the option to have the flexibility to be visible and contactable all the time by everybody in your pocket then people are going to use the service. I think the easier and more accessible that service becomes, the wider the use and uptake will be.

Geoff Casely of Nimbuzz

OS: What’s your business model given that you’re offering a free product?

GC: Nimbuzz will monetize its services slowly, primarily through our partnerships with mobile operators. We will, over time introduce services like advertising into the client but we want to do this in a way that provides value to the experience. We don’t want to become ad-ware overnight. We’ve seen what happens when other look-alike services have suddenly introduced this type of model and it’s gone down very badly. So, we’ll do it slowly, we’ll listen to ambassadors, we’ll do some market trials and find a comfortable way to do this. We need to make money – we’re a business after all. But it’ll be done in a way that continues our ethos of providing best quality service.

OS: How are you finding it as a European company trying to make it big America?

GC: Since the launch of the iPhone and the App Store we’ve seen significant take-up in the market and word is spreading very, very fast. We have a UK country manager in America now. We’re working with all, if not most, of the operators in North America. Our numbers over there are growing very steadily and as we expand our partnerships with device vendors and carriers we expect significant growth in that market.

OS: Which mobile platforms do you prefer to develop for and how do you see the evolution of mobile operating systems?

GC: I don’t think preference is the key issue. Relevance of market demands is our key driver. We need to make sure that we have a high quality product on each of the major platforms. We’ve seen new ones coming through with Android, which has a very, very bright future ahead of it. We will be launching an Android client in due course. Being mass market capable means that we have to have high quality across all clients. Some (platforms) are more painful than others to develop for, but that just means we need to work a bit harder on those.

OS: What steps can be taken to encourage more cheaper and easier data plans?

GC: Right now, with the global economic downturn a lot of businesses are suffering and a lot of companies are needing to find new ways to maintain profitability – operators are no different to that. Price points have to be sensitive and have to be relevant to each market. But thanks to devices like the iPhone and BlackBerry, always-on is fast becoming the norm and now it’s all about compromise and providing the right price points with the right value proposition and it’s the field of dream. Get the ecosystem right and the customers will come.

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