More than 60 companies are showing off their latest wares this week at DEMO Spring 2010 in Palm Desert, California. This year, small-business services are making a splash. Here are three of the most compelling new services I've seen at this year's show.
I've often wanted to take a baseball bat to a piece of malfunctioning hardware, but not being particularly rich, I generally control myself. Yet the coolest demonstration here at Demo entailed exactly that. The CEO of ABJK NewCo, which makes a nifty little app called Zosh, beat a fax machine into pieces and then tossed it across the stage, making the point that a small business no longer needs a fax, even when a document must be signed.
No, this isn't yet another e-mail/fax service. Zosh, which is one of a number of companies here that that are showing off technology geared for the small business, is a mobile app.
Let's say you're on the road, and a client e-mails you a document that has to be signed. Instead of going back to the hotel business center, or looking for the rare Internet café that lets you print, simply email the document to Zosh's server. When it comes back to your iPhone, you'll go a screen that lets you sign the document using your finger. By default, Zosh uses a fairly thin pen, so the signature looks pretty good. If you like, you can add text, or a stored image of your signature, a logo and a date. The cost: just $2.99 on the iTunes App Store.
Downloading and opening a humongous file attachment can take forever on most mobile phones. But now there's Mobile Documents from Visiarc. It's a nifty app if your company uses IMAP- or exchange-compatible e-mail systems (but not POP3) and it runs on Symbian (and soon) Android smartphones. But because it replaces the mail app on the iPhone, Apple, which keeps a tight grip on the iPhone/iPad platform, has blackballed it.
But if you've got the right smartphone, here's how it works. You set up an e-mail account with Visiarc. All of your mail is forwarded to the company; if there's no attachment, you'd never know the difference. But if there is, you'll see the attachment and a small tool bar. Click on it, and the document will stream right to your phone. It will cost your company about $7 a month.
Here's a very different sort of a problem faced by small businesses: How to send a compelling pitch to a customer's smartphone. Clickturn (developed by Widgetbox) makes it very easy to create a mobile web page from scratch and send it to users via Twitter or Facebook.
Using a simple set of pull down menus, you can pull content into an ad from a variety of sources and send it out. Clickturn adds a link to Twitter feeds that takes users to a page that contains pictures, Google maps and other rich media content. Instead of a static ad, build a box and fill it Twitter feeds, Facebook fan page links, polls, a photo gallery or a YouTube video.
You can view a dashboard that gives a real-time view of how many clicks and retweets your ad is getting. The app is free, but Widgetbox gets a cut of fees you pay to place an ad.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He welcomes your comments and suggestions. Reach him at email@example.com.