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SoonR Gets Mac Mobile

Extending the vision of delivering the power of the PC to mobile devices out to the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) world, SoonR said yesterday it has added support for Macintosh to its product suite. Macintosh users can now remotely access files on their hard drives, make Skype Ltd. calls, share documents and images, and search their computer using the Mac Spotlight feature, all from a standard cell phone.

Founded in 2004, SoonR is one of a handful of startups that are focusing on bringing the PC to conventional mobile devices, rather than creating more and more powerful mobiles running more robust applications. The companies in this space include Orb, which is focused more narrowly on porting specific applications, in particular streaming media, to the cell phone.

Created by a team of Silicon Valley veterans with extensive startup experience, SoonR was originally backed by a group of angel investors. Recently the company announced that it had closed a $5 million Series A round of funding, led by Santa Monica-based Clearstone Venture Partners . (Disclosure: Bill Elkus, the founder and managing director of Clearstone, is my brother-in-law.)

The SoonR system, which is available for free download from the SoonR Website, works via a small client software program installed on the user's desktop. The client gives access to all files and applications on the PC, through the SoonR data center in the Internet "cloud," to the user on a conventional cell phone -- even one with a 2G connection.

"We spent a lot of time optimizing the software so that it will run unobtrusively on the PC," explains SoonR co-founder and CEO Martin Frid-Nielsen. "The [Internet] cloud is the piece tying it all together. We take all the information and applications, synthesize them, and deliver them to any of 400 mobile handsets."

There's no question that the SoonR system has a "wow" factor, which helped make it one of the 12 companies selected as "Connected Innovators" at this week's Supernova 2006 show in San Francisco. At the Clearstone limited partners meeting in May at the exclusive Casa del Mar resort in Santa Monica, the SoonR team downloaded the company's PowerPoint presentation onto the cell phone of every one of the limited partners present, according to Clearstone managing director William Quigley.

"The LPs really appreciated getting a real life example of the capabilities of this technology," says Quigley. "They all went home with [the presentation] on their cell phones, which they thought was pretty cool."

Still open, though, is the question of what is the target market for the technology. The company is generating zero revenue at the moment; the plan is to build a user base both through direct marketing and via carriers and other large service providers.

"The focus right now is really to nail down the key use-cases in the mobile space," explains Frid-Nielsen. "We're accumulating a lot of knowledge of what people are doing with mobile handsets, what kind of content they really need to access and share, and as we gain that information, we plan to offer multiple tiers of premium services."

"It's still early to tell which applications people want to have access to remotely all the time," acknowledges Quigley.

One feature that could give SoonR a big niche is turning conventional "dumb" cell phones into "poorman's BlackBerries," by giving users remote access to Outlook and to Macintosh Mail.

"There's certainly an argument that for the 150 million plus Microsoft Exchange users -- beyond that very small fraction that has been addressed by the BlackBerry and the Treo, probably because of the cost of service -- SoonR offers a way of getting access to all your Microsoft applications without paying much if anything," explains Quigley. "All you need is a browser and a dataplan, and that's relatively cheap."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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