Danger has received a ringing endorsement of its mobile messaging and Internet system with a further $37 million in funding and its first device OEM partnership with Sharp Electronics. The deals suggest a greatly enlarged mobile operator footprint, and Danger could have some high-profile new operator partners lined up…
Danger has long made the reference design and client software to its Hiptop device available to other manufacturers. However, the tie-up with Sharp marks the first time an OEM has openly committed to the platform, which offers applications such as email, Internet, games and personal information management (PIM) applications as well as an AOL Instant Messenger client.
Any devices to arise from the relationship will be marketed and distributed through Sharp and will not necessarily adopt the sliding display, qwerty-enabled form factor of the existing Hiptop.
Danger chairman and CEO Hank Nothhaft described the deal with Sharp, which already supplies LCD displays for the current Hiptop devices, as an incredibly important agreement for the company. He told ComputerWire that the Japanese electronics giant’s first Danger-based design should be available by Christmas this year. Others, including voice- rather than data-centric models, should follow within twelve months, he said.
Mr Nothhaft was unable to put much flesh on the bones of the announcements. However, the fact that the Hiptop system requires both the device and Danger’s service provisioning system, which it currently hosts for clients, to function suggests the company may have lined up some high-profile new operator partners.
Sharp has been signed since April, said Mr Nothhaft. Carriers were always intrigued by our story but on the handset side it’s a big guys’ game. And Sharp brings important operator relationships to the table that Danger is hoping to exploit.
From a standing start less than two years ago, Sharp has become a significant player in the European mobile phone market through its relationship with Vodafone, for which it created the signature handsets for the Live service. More recently, Sharp developed an exclusive handset for T-Mobile in Europe, reinforcing its reputation for meeting operator handset requirements. It would be little surprise to see new Hiptop-based devices from Sharp made available on T-Mobile networks around the world. A relationship with global number one mobile operator Vodafone would rubber-stamp the company’s coming of age.
Sharp also brings scale. Mr Nothhaft said Danger has struggled to keep up with demand for its hardware as a result of being capitalized as a software company. Sharp should be able to increase output of Danger-compatible devices by an order of magnitude if required. Around 200,000 Hiptops are estimated to have shipped to date, with T-Mobile in the US experiencing considerable success with the device, which it sells as the Sidekick. The operator is said to generate 10% of its data revenues from the device, which makes up only 1% of handset sales.
Mr Nothhaft told ComputerWire that research across the Danger operator footprint has shown that the average user sends 182 instant messages (IM), makes 17 voice calls, sends or receives 25 emails and eight SMS text messages and views 24 web pages each day. The seemingly outlandish IM count could possibly be explained by the tendency of IM users to send one word responses to fellow users.
It is unclear whether Sharp’s devices will primarily make use of Danger’s Java-compatible Hiptop OS 1.1 or if it will focus software development efforts towards Sun-compliant mobile Java. Danger signed a licensing deal with Sun Microsystems for use of the MIDP (mobile information device profile) CLDC (connected limited device configuration) version of its Java 2 Micro Edition runtime environment in September last year. Mr Nothhaft said a J2ME-compliant version of the Hiptop OS is almost ready, a fact that will increase the appeal of Hiptop to GSM operators, most of which are aligned with the technology.
Danger’s $37 million cash input, its D-funding round, was led by existing shareholders Mobius Venture Capital, Redpoint Ventures and Softbank Capital Partners, along with new investors Institutional Venture Partners and Adams Street Partners.
The deals suggest a greatly enlarged mobile operator footprint but Danger was cagey about who further partners could be. Aside from T-Mobile USA, Danger’s current mobile operator partners include Triton PCS in the southern US, Edge Wireless in the US northwest, E-Plus in Germany, Cable & Wireless in the Cayman Islands, Microcell in Canada, and Starhub in Singapore.