As earlier reported, the new software service will allow people who use mobile phones to check a central email box, check voice mail, and respond to email with a voice message. The service represents the underpinnings for Phone.com's recent acquisition of Onebox. Analysts say the two companies' products together will provide a powerful new combination for wireless communications carriers--the target customers for Phone.com.
"Phone.com is really trying to draw all the services it can down to the phone," said Iain Gillot, an industry analyst with International Data Corp. "It's really a pretty slick move."
The release of the service is the latest iteration in a Web messaging market that is evolving rapidly. Dozens of companies now offer some version that allows someone using a phone or computer to check voice mail over the Web, check email over the phone, receive faxes online or other similar services.
But many of them are now shifting direction, hoping to tailor their services for the exploding wireless Web world. The companies are looking at analyst predictions that say more than 1 billion mobile phones will be in use worldwide in just a few years.
Onebox established an early name for itself in the market by partnering with Web sites but then focused its business on becoming a service provider for wireless phone companies. While the young company has yet to sign any deals with the wireless giants, that strategy got an enormous boost when it teamed up with Phone.com last month.
Phone.com is one of the wireless data industry's early success stories, creating the software that almost every major mobile phone carrier in the world uses on its phones and networks to allow wireless access to the Web. It still faces fierce competition from Microsoft, which offers a similar set of products, but the Redmond, Wash.-based software company has yet to gain traction in the market.
The new Onebox wireless service also includes a calendar and address book feature, which takes a significant step toward giving the average cell phone many of the most popular capabilities of handheld devices such as the Palm. Another new text-to-voice service that will read email messages to wireless phone users will go live in another week, the company said.
The calendar function, which has been live on the company's Web version of the service for several weeks, hasn't attracted much praise from analysts yet.
"We are simply not convinced that calendar services are an important unified messaging tool," Current Analysis analyst Jilami Zeribi said in a report last week. "Much more powerful calendar tools are increasingly common on more functional devices" such as Palm Pilots, he said.
Nevertheless, the addition of the service to a wireless phone service, which is also tied closely to the actual communications features itself, could make the calendar more interesting, Zeribi said.
Separately, Onebox competitor Jfax plans to announce today that it has struck a deal with online direction-finders MapQuest. The deal will see MapQuest put a button on its site--and on affiliate sites such as Yahoo that use its services--allowing users to fax a copy of maps of driving directions directly from the site.