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VringoVringo – Video Ringtones To Captivate Your Friends

By Jim Bray
April 17, 2007

With downloadable ringtones doing big business and video now appearing on phone screens, it was inevitable that companies would combine the two into some new and interesting features.

So it is with Vringo, an Israeli company that has come up with a way to offer a unique video-based service to providers and customers alike, creating a chance for both sides of the cell phone equation to be a little different from the crowd.

And isn't doing your own thing what it's all about these days?

VringoVringo is also the name of both a product and a community with which people can share video ringtones, which are called "Vringos" for obvious reasons. Vringos let you identify to whomever you're calling that it's you on the line and not some telemarketer, stalker or whomever.

It's a pretty neat concept. I was given a demo of the system and, other than a couple of the inevitable growing pains any startup can expect, I found it to be an interesting concept and I could see how it could be attractive to some people.

The Vringo-enabled phones come equipped with a camera, much like just about any phone these days, but with Vringo you can use the phone to take a video of whatever you want, then upload it to the Vringo community, whereupon it will be used as your outgoing ring tone when you make calls. I tried it, shooting a short movie of myself gesticulating and saying "Hey, It's me! Answer the phone!" And when I tried it out during a demo I could see the Vringo person on my phone's screen, looking out at me and sticking out her tongue.

Now, in a real world application this may turn off as many people as it turns on, but to each his own. And it is unique and could be quite a bit of fun.

"When you call your buddy they see your Vringo and you see theirs," says Vringo CEO Jon Medved. "Vringo creates a deeper form of communication as our users share viral videos with each call they make."

Vringo says it's addressing a huge market for personalization of mobile devices, and claims that market research estimates the worldwide ringtone market at $5 billion so far and still growing.  So there must be a lot of people out there who aren't happy with the selection of crummy and/or annoying ring tones available from cell phone service providers. 

I can understand that. I've messed around with a variety of ringtones during my tests of cell phones, and most of them leave me cold: they're either lame, or annoying. If you can get one you like (such as when I downloaded "Who Are You" by The Who, a personal favorite), you can't customize it (which meant my "Who Are You" gave me the opening instrumental section but cut out when it actually got to "Who Are You?", which was the whole point).

The best audio ringtone I've heard is the sound of the phone from the movie "Our Man Flint," but it was downloaded as an MP3 and installed on a phone that also doubled as an MP3 player and offered that flexibility of customization. But that's the exception to the rule, at least as far as I've experienced.

So maybe there's a vast market out there, waiting for the extreme personalization Vringo offers.

Time will tell. Vringo isn't really a feature that turns my crank – I'm far too cranky for that and I don't even like the fact that my phone number reads out on other people's call displays, let alone my ugly mug – but that doesn't mean the service isn't worthwhile or potentially profitable.  It may just be slick enough to catch on big time.

It appears the Vringo folk had to push the technology envelope to make it work. CTO and Vringo co-founder David Goldfarb said "Until now, making and receiving calls would shut down video and other applications. Vringo has overcome this limitation and our users casn now enjoy video clips as part of the call process."

When the service kicks off, most Vringos will be free, and if you want to use a video ring tone other than one of your own creation, such premium content can be purchased for "less than a latte" or, perhaps, come with a short commercial to cover the cost. Premium content will include licensed material from TV, movies, and the like.

You'll need to have a Vringo-enabled phone, of course, but that's par for the course.

Vringo should be available late this year.

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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