Yahoo has gotten into the curious habit of releasing a preview version of a mobile app every six months at the CTIA mobility conference. This time around, it's OneConnect for iPhone and iPod Touch, an application that Yahoo hopes will showcase what it's calling its open mobile strategy. In layman's terms, OneConnect is an application that integrates your Yahoo IM account with your social networking accounts and also your iPhone contacts and camera.
OneConnect is following the herd of any number of iPhone application developers offering to post status updates and messages to various social networks, including Flickr, MySpace, and Twitter. However, Yahoo's effort contains some useful features that, along with its established base of Messenger users, could gain it traction in the competitive world of popular iPhone applications.
I got a close look at OneConnect in a sit-down with Yahoo Mobile's communications crew that builds on my colleague Stephen Shankland's coverage of the keynote speech given by Yahoo's Marco Boerries, Executive Vice President of Connected Life.
In its preview form, the social application has three drives: updating photos and a status message to select social networks, sending free IM and SMS messages to contacts via an IP-based protocol, and souping up the device's address book to show the contact's Yahoo presence and stage interactions with them if they're online.
I'm reserving final judgment until OneConnect becomes available from the iTunes App Store, but based on the demo: so far, so good. Yahoo has rightly carried over from its PC-based Messenger and Yahoo Mail a communications feature that sends a text instead of an instant message when a contact is offline. The IM experience is richer than the SMS, of course, with emoticons and an area for quickly inserting URLs, but that's no detriment to the SMS capability. By hooking SMS to the Internet, Yahoo can offer its brand of texting free of charge to iPhone and iPod Touch users. That's a notable advantage to the latter group--since the iPod Touch is not a phone, those users wouldn't otherwise be able to send text messages at all.
Also promising is the favorites feature, a shortcut that lets you surface certain contact details in the application's contact list, like a buddy's cell phone number, so you can send a text or place a call with a tap. There are also a few cosmetic enhancements that add visual luster, but no functional advantage. When you turn to landscape mode from the messaging view, for instance, your avatar and your friends' avatar communicate via speech bubbles. You'll also be able to dress up a pal's avatar for use on your phone.
As a very early preview, Yahoo's OneConnect is off to a good start, and the iPhone platform has been a good choice for quickly and easily sharing Yahoo's vision of integration. While Yahoo's representatives dodged questions of a time line, it's likely we won't be seeing OneConnect in its full glory on other mobile platforms anytime soon.
We hope that we will see OneConnect add other instant messaging protocols, which would round it out as a full-featured social app. This is Yahoo's stated goal, but another dodge to the time line question and a lengthy explanation of Yahoo's difficulty in integrating Windows Live Messenger contacts into Yahoo's desktop messenger suggests that the addition of more networks could be a long time coming. If that's the case, Yahoo users may continue to use an all-in-one IM iPhone application such as Palringo to reach the sum of their friends, and use OneConnect for its other social updating features.