AOL nibbles at mobile

The world’s biggest internet provider AOL has acquired fancy mobile accessories specialist Wildseed.

AOL said it is paying an undisclosed sum to add Wildseed to its nascent Wireless division to “speed the development and deployment of new applications and solutions that address the wants and needs of consumers and carriers”.

The new division will also include Tegic Communications, a company AOL acquired six years ago which develops text input technologies.

Wildseed has been around for a few years now and is best known for its SmartSkin ‘interactive accessories’ faceplates. This is a slightly off-the-wall business; the faceplates, which are very clearly aimed at a teen audience, are chipped to include the delivery of music, ringtones, video clips, pictures, games and screen themes. Users can listen to music, look at pictures or play games without long waits for applications to be transmitted.

AOL presumably aims to develop mobile apps such a quick access to its music services. Reading further between the lines, though, AOL probably sees a role for Wildseed technology in promoting its AOL Instant Messenger beyond the PC to mobile users.

AOL has been losing subscribers lately and is clearly keen to keep up with its principal competition – notably Microsoft’s MSN – in high-growth areas like mobile.

If there’s an issue with this approach, it’s the reaction of the networks. The Wildseed-type interface and content effectively bypasses the mobile operator – indeed, for many apps the user doesn’t have to make a call or download anything.

Wildseed isn’t exactly a strategic acquisition, however, and if AOL is serious about becoming a mobile player it needs to add more capability pronto.

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