We take for granted that the smartphone is on its way to dominance, now that half of Americans have the souped up phones. But smartphone take-up is much slower in developing parts of the world due to handset prices, slower wireless networks and other considerations. The desire for a smartphone experience, however, is real no matter where you are in the world.
That’s where biNu, an Australian startup has been making its mark. The company launched a mobile app 18 months ago that allows Java feature phone owners and low-end Android users to access more than a 100 apps including Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube, Google Search and others, on their phone. The biNu app not only delivers a host of smartphone apps to feature phones, it also compresses the data, using 10 times less bandwidth than normal, which is also helpful in countries with rickety mobile networks.
The startup has gotten the attention of Eric Schmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures, which is leading a $2 million Series A round along with other American and Australian investors. The company will use the money to build out the services and apps it provides, grow its user base and focus more on developers, who can also build directly on biNu.
BiNu has attracted more than 4 million monthly active users, most of whom are based in Asia and Africa and the number of users is growing by 10 to 20 percent a month. It is also generating more than 800 million page views a month. In addition to popular apps like Facebook and Twitter, biNu also offers a range of content like the Bible, the Quran and access to news, sports, weather and book reading services. More recently, biNu has been evolving into its own social network for users, who can message each other, create profiles and share content.
BiNu isn’t the only one trying to tap this opportunity. Peek in the U.S. and Blaast, a Finnish startup launched by a former Nokian, have also introduced platforms that bring smartphone capabilities to feature phones. It’s a big opportunity considering feature phone still outnumber smartphones by 5 to 1 globally. As Schmidt talked about earlier this year, there’s still another 5 billion people that have yet to get online and mobile will be how many of them do it for the first time.
BiNu co-founder and CEO Gour Lentell told me biNu’s current offering will be relevant for at least three to five years. But he said the larger goal is to build a cloud platform for delivering apps. The company, which has previously raised more than $5 million, monetizes through its own virtual currency and is also exploring advertising.