Too busy to shop? Do it on a walk.
Imagine walking down the street, seeing a billboard for an intriguing product and pointing your PDA at the sign to retrieve product info and price. Better yet, imagine that you could even click and purchase, all in the time it takes to buy a newspaper on the way to work. This unwired new world of advertising lies not too far in the future, according to Scott Redmond, CEO and CTO of San Francisco-based Tranz-Send Broadcasting Network. It's a company that, while long on vision, is still short on actual product.
On Jan. 6 at Las Vegas' Consumer Electronics Show, Tranz-Send showed prototypes of two handheld appliances, MediaMan and MediaPocket, that it claims will enable passersby to interact with billboards and other signage.
The MediaMan will be a portable "media appliance," a stand-alone handheld device equipped with a wireless receiver/transmitter that lets its owner receive multimedia content. The MediaPocket will be a "master module" for a cell phone or for new PDA devices manufactured by Handspring, Mountain View, Calif., that will enable them to receive media.
Both devices will include a 320x240-pixel touch screen that lets users see high-quality video and graphics; the screen of the MediaPocket replaces the LED screen that comes with a PDA. The system will work like this:
- A red graphical dot on the billboard, street kiosk or other type of outdoor advertising vehicle lets users know it's MediaMan-enabled. This means that the signage will be equipped with a special chip containing a flexible lithography circuit with a short-range, low-frequency transmitter.
- The chip has a proximity sensor. It constantly broadcasts a short numeric code that acts as an address, referring to content stored on an Oracle database hosted by Tranz-Send.
- When the MediaPocket or MediaMan owner sees the sign and is interested, he or she pushes a button or touches the screen. The device registers any Media-enabled chips within 2,000 feet and shows keywords on the screen. For example, if there were a Jeep billboard, you'd see "Jeep" on the screen.
- The user can choose "Inquire" to receive more information or an ad; "Buy," to do you-know-what instantly; or "Interact" to respond to a poll or survey.
- When the user chooses an interaction, the device uses standard wireless connectivity to retrieve the data from that database.
Stuff like this will really put the impulse into impulse shopping. Tranz-Send is promising much more than the simple text-based messages or WAP versions of Web pages that already are available on cell phones, PDAs and pagers. But how will those bright, sharp images squeeze through this tiny pipe?
Tranz-Send says its proprietary technology, called a Tranz-cast, can even send and receive full-screen video content over a wireless Internet connection.
Among its plethora of proprietary and patented technologies, Tranz-Send has developed a way of super-compressing video files after they've already been through an initial compression, and brought into a standard digital video file format such as .avi. The Tranz-Send codec (or compression/decompression algorithm) destroys around 60 percent of the data in the file before transmission, while at the receiving end, it makes smart guesses as to what's missing and recreates it.
Redmond uses what he calls "the cherry pie allegory" to explain. "Say you want to send a cherry pie from one locked room to another," he says. "You take a few cherries and squeeze them through the keyhole, along with a drawing of the pie and a note that says, 'This is what the pie was like and here are a few sample cherries. With this information, you should be able to recreate the pie.' "
Redmond says he'll also use the Tranz-cast technology to sell video on demand through the PC or any network and, eventually, even on handheld devices. ClickMovie.com, which is live but limited to a few free short downloads, will be the sales center.
In addition to Tranz-Send's proprietary technology, Redmond is counting on bringing together various technology and
hardware partners to make this system happen. He calls it "a unitized solution," adding, "We're a software company, but for all this to happen for consumers, you need hardware as well, so we're helping to evangelize that."