Berlin-based Phonedeck, which launches in private beta today, manages to deliver something a lot of users have likely been looking for; seamless integration of mobile phone and computer-based communications. With its Android app, users can receive and initiate calls, read and reply to text messages, and view their entire cellular communication history in a browser window (any modern browser), and the service also provides rich contact information from connected services like LinkedIn to flesh out address books with additional details and photos.
Of course, getting access to the kind of features Phonedeck provides means giving the app plenty of leeway in terms of what kind of information it has access to, but Phonedeck CEO and co-founder Frank Fitzek thinks the company’s approach should help it minimize any privacy concerns people may have about using it.
“We make the user aware that they’re giving away something,” Fitzek said, speaking of how Android asks for a user’s permission and outlines everything it will access ahead of an app’s installation process. “On the other side, we do our best to make sure that third parties can’t access the information, by using SSL for communication from the phone to the cloud, and from the cloud to the browser and back again.”
Fitzek says what makes Phonedeck less likely to run into privacy complaints is that it’s transparent about the process it employs. “That we’re taking away some privacy is totally clear, but we’re offering something on the other side. If you look at the [recent issue with] Path, they just took that information without saying anything, which is not at all what we’re doing.”
When he says Fitzek offers users value in exchange for access to information, he isn’t kidding. By connecting an Android device to Phonedeck and installing a simple Chrome plugin, users will be able to see incoming calls, text messages and more on their computer direct from their mobile. Calls display not only caller ID information, but also relevant information like communication history with that individual. It’s a function that’s particularly useful for business users looking for a greater degree of control over who they do and don’t deal with during the course of a busy workday, or who want more context around phone meetings.
The messaging service provides something like what Apple is planning to offer with its expansion of iMessage to the desktop in OS X Mountain Lion, and the Phonedeck site will even provide an icon to indicate when a phone is connected, its battery charge level, and whether it’s plugged in or not.
Phonedeck’s features are definitely handy, and for now they’re free. Fitzek envisions a two-pronged approach for the company and product, however, one of which will result in revenue potential. For business users, he says Phonedeck will eventually add paid subscriptions that will allow for the management of multiple devices simultaneously, as well as introduce simple integrations with sales and CRM tools like Salesforce. For consumers, though, Phonedeck will continue to be free, and will instead focus on providing opportunities for users to share their activity on Facebook and Twitter, which will add a new dimension to the so-called social graph associated with online activity.
“We think that the phone log is one essential part of the social graph,” Fitzek said. “It’s not only LinkedIn or Facebook, it’s an accumulation of all of this information, but the phone is really essential, because the phone graph knows how good a link between two people is, and in which direction a connection flows.” Phonedeck analyzes the frequency and direction of communication that passes through a user’s phone, and can deliver insights regarding who the most important contacts are, and about specific interaction patterns with those individuals.
Phonedeck is offering users the ability to bring their phone fully to their computer (Android smartphones and Nokia S40 feature phones for now, though iOS software is planned for later), something a lot of people will probably jump at. The company’s greatest challenge will be in convincing users what it offers is worth giving up a little privacy, but Fitzek hopes an upfront approach can allay those fears.