Gemalto’s SIM-based Facebook SMS app is for developing countries – but also flew in the busy MWC airwaves
Earlier this week, digital security company Gemalto announced its Facebook for SIM application, which enables users to access the social nework even when they don’t have a data connection. eWEEK Europe visited Gemalto’s stand at Mobile World Congress to see the new app close up.
The app offers a competely stripped-down version of Facebook, displaying the menu and news feed in list form. It leverages SMS technology, allowing users to post updates and comments by text. The software is embedded in the SIM card, meaning that it is available for both prepaid and pay-monthly customers.
The most obvious missing element is the pictures. In use on the phone, the app looks like an old-fashioned SMS inbox application. It does not include groups or events, but focuses entirely on using Facebook for messaging and communication. For some, this may seem slightly perverse, but there are people for whom Facebook is a more important communications medium than email or SMS, and most of us use it for simple messages in some form.
Stripped down and ready for action
In the demo shown here, filmed at MWC, the app seemed surprisingly nimble. It uploaded messages over GSM, and we saw them appear on someone else’s wall on a desktop screen reasonably quickly. This was an impressive feat, and given the overcrowded 3G airwaves in the show venue, might even have given a heavyweight 3G Facebook app a run for its money.
The app ran happily on a Nokia E64, a middle-aged Symbian slider model, the same as one used heavily by an eWEEK staffer about four years ago. This doesn’t demonstrate fully Gemalto’s claim that it runs on low-end featurephones, but was a sufficient step downmarket to show it doing what the company says it will.
Gemalto is currently working with mobile operators to get the technology built into SIM cards. The company told eWEEK Europe that two major operators are close to signing deals, and Gemalto expects to see the app appearing on phones in the second quarter.
The prime targets for the new application are developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, which will be important given Facebook’s rapidly increasing membership. On our first impression, it could also be useful in rural Britain where there is no 3G, or at events like MWC where there’s a lot of competition for signal.