Mobile access start-up Sproqit finally launches its software today, which it hopes will administer a good kicking to rivals RIM, Good Technology, Visto and others.
Instead of getting email from a remote server, it operates your PC by remote control, showing the results in a viewer on your PDA.
Sproqit chief executive Peter Mansouris bullish about its likely success and its competitors: "BlackBerrys are good for pie," he said, quoting Sproqit's ad campaign. "Applications like RIM and Good Technology work offline by synchronising email. Other HTML-based applications work online only. They are shoe-horning old technology."
Mansour, who left Microsoft's Windows CE division four years ago to start Sproqit, decided to use a direct connection from the PDA to the PC, but had to deal with the problems of intermittent connections, and actually displaying remote PC applications on small - and varied - PDA screens.
Users can't quite get their hands on Sproqit's software today (they can sign up for a download) but Mansour showed it to Techworld on a visit to London last week. It puts an agent on the PC, and a thin client on the PDA, which displays output, while a server brokers communications between the two. Applications are supported by plug-ins: so far, the software works with Outlook, but other applications will follow, he said.
The Outlook support includes the ability to view, attach and send data files, from the PDA. Mansour showed us this, and the attachments went very fast indeed - as they were actually being sent from a desktop machine with broadband. The service costs £8 per month - for the use of a central Sproqit server, which sets up the connections. The software will be bundled with Treo 600s in the UK, thanks to a deal with distributor Hugh Symons Mobile Computing.
Subsequent versions aimed at businesses will have no monthly fee, said Mansour, as the connection server will be run by the company itself. The "group" server will come by the end of 2004, while the "enterprise" server will come in 2005.
Although the current version supports Outlook, it is easy to "sproqitise" other applications, said Mansour, since the Sproqit thin client abstracts the screen and controls of the mobile device. The product handles 122 different file types, including zip, PowerPoint and pdf, said Mansour. "We are device agnostic, carrier agnostic and application agnostic."
The product could worry IT managers, since it effectively turns the PDA into a remote control for a PC at home or on the desktop, and, like other remote control applications such as GoToMyPC, it can be set up by individuals and can tunnel through corporate firewalls. Mansour's answer is that the software can be password-protected on the PDA, which will itself have a password option.
Sproqit had a financial hiccup last year, when its venture funding ran out and it reportedly laid off three-quarters of its 25 person staff (pity the person who had to lose a quarter of his body weight). Next the company "pawned" some of its intellectual property to more-established mobile application company Infowave for just under a million in stock.
Finally, the company scored $6.5 million in funding in July; enough to bring product out and finally stage its challenge to the incumbent players RIM, Good and Visto (read our reviews of GoodLink and RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server).
In this environment, it's not surprising to see lawsuits out, with Visto suing both Sproqit and Infowave (and another mobile software player, Seven) for patent infringement, and Sproqit counter-suing.
But Sproqit is projecting an image of techno-savvy people doing things because they can. In-house, they have Sproqitised chat and other applications, and Mansour says one Sproqit staffer is using his Treo 600 as remote control for the audio collection on his home PC/stereo. "The signal goes via the cell network, so it's a bit slow," he admitted.