This month a Seattle area startup called Syntonic is offering up a new kind of app and content store to AT&T Mobility customers. What makes this app store different from, say, the iTunes app store or Google Play, is it comes with a free-data pass. Any app downloaded, video watched or site surfed isn’t counted against your data plan.
Syntonic is taking advantage of AT&T’s new sponsored data program, in which developers or advertisers can the pay the mobile data freight charges that would normally be incurred from consuming their content over the cellular network. The program has been controversial to say the least, raising the specter of pay-to-play mobile internet where companies that can afford to foot their customers mobile bills crowd out everyone else.
So far we haven’t seen any big internet companies like Netflix, Amazon or Google rise to the bait, but we have seen a few examples of smaller companies exploring new business models with sponsored data at their center. In January, I profiled Aquto, a marketing company that is using AT&T’s toll-free data to encourage consumers to watch rich media ads on their phones by exempting those ads from their data plans.
Syntonic, however, is taking a different approach. It’s basically creating a free zone on the mobile internet within the borders of its app store (which next week be available beta download over AT&T Android phones, followed later by iOS devices). Right now Syntonic is populating the store with test content from popular e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy and eBay, though none of those companies are official partners.
Founder and CEO Gary Greenbaum said Syntonic plans to use the beta period to see how consumers use the store, and then start signing up internet companies as permanent fixtures on its virtual shelves. The eventual goal, Greenbaum said, is to white label its technology so internet brands can create their own app stores, encouraging their customers to use them by promising toll-free browsing and video streaming.