For anybody who has ever tried to retrieve Web-based content on their mobile handset, be it a full-blown smartphone or just one that's capable of basic Web access via the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), being able to retrieve content on that handset the way its retrievable on the PC are two tasks that are worlds apart. For example, today, you can browse pretty much any Web page and when you see an image you like, you can relatively easily download it to your PC for later viewing or turn it into your wallpaper.
But let's say you want that image on your mobile handset? The hoops most people must jump through is the equivalent of inserting a square peg into a round hole. Is the content properly formatted for the target handset (eg: if it's an image, must it be resized?). Is it even possible to browse the Web page in question with your handset and pick off content in a way that can be saved to your handset's storage for subsequent retrieval?
And what if you're a content provider that desperately wants people to be able to access the content on your Web pages with their mobile handsets? Maybe teens want to keep pictures of their idols on their cell phones. Or, what can you do to make ringtone search and retrieval much easier? How do you track that behavior and if you want to charge some form of micropayment for license to the content, how would you do that?
Regardless of whether you're an end user looking to get content for your mobile or a content provider looking to provide it, there's so much friction involved that only those of us who are mobile masochists are willing to figure it out. Either that, or you take what's "given" to you by your mobile carrier who goes to great lengths to control the horizontal and vertical (making sure that just about every retrievable bit of content passes through their cash registers first).
With his new "Bango Button," Bango CEO and co-founder Ray Anderson thinks his company may have found a way to ease the pain for both users and content providers. As you can see in the attached video, the basic premise of the Bango button is that instead of using their handsets to search for or identify content they might want on their handsets, end-users use their PCs. Then, for that content (text, images, audio, video, etc.) that they they want on their handsets, hopefully, there's a Bango button that when clicked, literally pushes the content to their mobile phones. As you can see in the video, the first time someone uses a Bango button, they're given a very specific WAP-based URL to visit with their handset. But from that point forward, any other time they use the Bango button, they only need visit WAP.com (a domain operated by Bango) with their phone and they'll get an index of all the content that they've pushed to their handset using Bango buttons from across the Web.
In addition to taking the friction out of getting content to mobile handsets, Bango also handles any specific formatting issues. When Bango sees what kind of handset the end-user is using (something it can detect when the handset visits a Bango-encoded URL), Bango automatically applies any intelligence it has on that handset to the content that the end-user is retrieving. For example, it resizes images to a size that's ideally suited to the handset's display. Additionally, if the content provider prefers that some form of micropayment take place before the content is retrieved (for example, with ringtones), Bango provides all the back end billing infrastructure to enable the presentation and collection of those micropayments. In cases where payments are involved, Bango gets a cut.
Downside? Well, there isn't much in the way of choice for the buttons and of the stock buttons that Bango offers, they aren't very attractive. In fact, they're downright ugly. Even stranger, there's no Bango branding on them. There's also no way to upload buttons of your own design to the Bango service to make them easily selectable when creating a Bango button that you might put with an image of yourself or someone on your MySpace or other Web page. According to Anderson, Bango is working on a new feature of the service whereby anybody can upload buttons that can be shared.
Another downside? Not every handset or carrier is supported. According to Anderson, certain carriers and handset manufacturers go out of their way to disallow unsanctioned content. Anderson says that Verizon Wireless does this on its BREW-based handsets and cited Apple's iPhone as another device that users haven't been able to push audio to.
The service seems very cool. However, I wonder if long term, once more handsets can do the Web better (eg: the way the iPhone does it), if pushing content from the PC to the handset will be a thing of the past. After all, it's no secret that the number of handset users in the world far outnumbers the number of PC users (by a long shot). But even then, perhaps Bango will be on the back-end making it easier to pick-off content and take the friction out of massaging it for the target device.