As cell phone devices, carriers and operating systems proliferate, innovative products and services are emerging with verve within the mobile phone market, supported by a plethora of mobile carriers.
Mobile application service provider ROAM Data Inc. is making its mark with middleware player technology that enables its payment acceptance products to run on virtually any cell phone. The company also provides a mobile gateway that allows merchants to conduct targeted marketing campaigns via customers' mobile devices.
Its commercial offerings include a cell phone-based POS terminal and mobile storefront with an interactive marketing platform. But the company's distinguishing product is what supports these different applications: ROAMplayer, a downloadable middleware player that communicates with the ROAM server for seamless downloads and upgrades across all mobile types.
"The key is the player technology," said Rob Stringer, Vice President of Marketing and Products for the Boston-based enterprise. "When clients utilize a ROAM Data application, it automatically supports and is available to all the cell phones of the client's sales force. The reach we can get is a reach that nobody in the industry can get. In five years, my goal is to have our ROAMplayer as ubiquitous on mobile devices as Real Player, iTunes or Flash Player is on PCs today."
While payment software programs typically need to be encoded and certified for every different mobile device to which they're adapted (usually limiting their compatibility to one or a handful of devices), downloading ROAMplayer enables ROAM's other programs to function on virtually any Internet phone. By communicating with the ROAM server, furthermore, the player lets merchants incorporate new software updates without having to re-download a program in its updated form.
"ROAMplayer is our base product," Stringer said. "It is basically attached to the phone, and then the applications run on the player - so we can update the applications without having to recertify. That's how we can change applications on the fly."
At the Electronic Transactions Association's 2010 Annual Meeting & Expo, held in April in Las Vegas, ROAM was awarded the 2010 Technology Innovation Award for its mobile payment terminal software, ROAMpay.
The ETA selected ROAM Data's application because "of its near universal applicability and because it is a market-ready product," said Del Baker Robertson, ETA Director of Marketing and Membership.
According to ROAM, ROAMpay's compatibility with any brand of phone makes it especially attractive to businesses that specialize in home-based, direct-sell marketing, as well as vendors and contractors who conduct business off site.
In June 2010, the company launched its "audio coupled" payment card reader - a small, encrypted, semicircular swipe device that plugs into a phone's audio jack and derives its power from sound waves.
ROAMpay users have the option of using the swipe piece or entering card information manually. For merchants who use it, the device is a relatively cheap way to protect consumer card information and reduce interchange costs, according to Stringer. He said the device is compatible with the Apple Inc. iPhone and certain phone models that run on Google Inc.'s Android operating system. "You've got to turn the volume [on the phone] all the way up, and it uses the power of the sound waves to actually power up the device and power the encryption," Stringer said.
While ROAMpay allows merchants to accept card payments on mobile phones, ROAMbuy lets them connect with the mobile phones of consumers. The software provides merchants with a mobile storefront to display and sell their products, as well as market to customers with promotional messages, through ROAMpay's application programming interface (API).
"It functions as a mobile storefront, allowing businesses to market directly to their customers' phones, and customers in turn can shop and immediately purchase items via their phones," Stringer said.
ROAM is also developing a mobile wallet for its merchants aimed at increasing customer retention by providing convenience. The program will let ROAMpay clients store customer payment information that's protected by a username and password, which can then be used in lieu of payment information for return shopping trips. Stringer said the mobile wallet will harmonize with ROAMbuy's marketing features.
"If our client is a florist, it could push an offer a week before Mother's Day ... and all someone has to do is say I'm interested in this offer, click it and - if they're a mobile wallet user - all they have to do is log in and say pay, and they've actually bought something that will be delivered to their house," he said.
ROAMcommerce, launched a year-and-a-half ago, uses ROAM's API much the same way that ROAMbuy does, except it is geared toward back-end business functions. Salespeople can pull inventory and product information from the corporate back-end system, as well as receive timely marketing promotions from the company.
"Three words: lose the laptop," Stringer said. "A lot of mobile professionals use a laptop to access proprietary information in a company's back-end, whether it's a commerce type application like actually processing an order and making payments, or taking something out of inventory, putting something into a POS system - any of that stuff is ROAMcommerce. We actually hook into a company's back-end system without changing their data model."
The final piece in ROAM's product suite is a commerce window for companies that want to develop their own mobile applications but still plug into ROAM's gateway for processing. For example, an advertiser in a virtual magazine (either online or downloaded to someone's phone) could embed a "pay now" button in their advertisement that links to ROAM's payment gateway, Stringer said. "If somebody's already developed an iPhone app but it doesn't have commerce capabilities ... we can make it so your customers don't have to leave your application," Stringer noted. "They can stay in the application, and you can still process the complete order for payment as well as order fulfillment using our ROAMbuy API."
ROAM received a big boost in November 2009, when Ingenico Ventures, the investment vehicle of POS device manufacturer Ingenico, made a $6.5 million investment in the company. ROAM also has a reseller partnership with Ingenico North America, whereby the two companies are licensed to sell one another's payment products - an arrangement that has significantly broadened the reach of ROAM's sales channels. ROAM itself has 72 signed ISO resellers, according to Stringer.
ROAM acquired Kincaid Technologies, a leading independent payment gateway, in April 2009, which gave ROAM access to several major payment processors. The company currently processes through First Data Corp., Chase Paymentech Solutions LLC and Global Payments Inc., and Stringer said other processing arrangements are in the works.
ROAM's credentials as an innovator seem centered on its founder and Chief Executive Officer, Will Wang Graylin. The entrepreneur's resume includes two masters degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the founding of five startup companies (ROAM is number five).
Graylin was founder and CEO of mobile POS service company WAY Systems Inc., which he developed into the second-largest POS provider in the United States. He was also founder and CEO of security software company EntitleNet (sold to DEA Systems in 2001) and founder of mobile software company Skyfire Technology.
ROAM now has a staff of about 25 to 30 people, including a national sales force. Stringer said the company will begin marketing its products internationally by the end of 2010.
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Regional Sales Director