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April 24, 2008 / Marco

They Want to Connect us All: an Interview with SHAPE Services Marketing Manager

As I heard Helen’s voice at the other end of the line, I immediately recognized that the interview would be an exciting one. Not only did I receive a warm welcome, but unlike my preconceptions she was willing to talk about future application enhancements and observable bugs. What you read below is my interview with SHAPE Services marketing manager, Helen Khais. Before reading the interview, please note that SHAPE Services will bounteously offer two IM+ All-In-One Mobile Messenger licenses and two IM+ for Skype licenses to four individuals who take time to comment on this interview in the comments section. As indicated at the end of this post, the people who provide us with the most comprehensive feature requests will get the prizes. Alternatively, feel free to ask any questions or send your comments because you might very well get the prize in case very few people decide to swamp us with feature requests.

Q: Please talk about yourself and the position you have at SHAPE Services.

A: I’m Helen Khais and work as SHAPE Services marketing manager. In general, I try to organize resellers and integrate them into the infrastructure of the company. I’m not directly involved in application development, but I provide application developers with user requests and bug reports.

Q: When was SHAPE Services founded?

A: It was founded in 2002.

Q: In which countries are you currently active?

A: We are headquartered in Germany, and have an office in Odessa, Ukraine and in Ekaterinburg, Russia. As you know our users are spread all across the globe.

Q: Does the fact that you don’t have an office in North America negatively affect your sales and the provision of technical support to users?

A: The time difference is definitely a downside, but our sales stats in the U.S.A are quite strong. As a matter of fact, 60% of our products are sold in the North American market, and we’ll also be opening an office in the U.S.A soon.

Q: How would you describe SHAPE Services for us?

A: SHAPE Services is a company which offers a variety of applications for the whole range of mobile platforms. Our products can be installed on Java phones, Blackberry RIM, Windows Mobile for Pocket PC and Smartphone, and all Symbian subplatforms. Since 2002 SHAPE Services has been developing Real Time Communication software solutions for both individuals and enterprises. We want to help people connect to one another via their hand-held devices as smoothly as possible. Our mission is the mobilization of all important processes and demands, from communication and entertainment to business processes and productivity.

Q: How many software engineers are involved in the process of developing your Symbian-based applications?

A: Our Symbian development team consists of 5 to 7 full-time technical engineers and all development takes place in-house.

Q: Please talk about Symbian S60 products you offer.

A: Our flagship product is IM+ All-In-One Mobile Messenger, and as the name suggests it helps users Chat with their AIM, iChat, MSN and Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo!, ICQ, Jabber, Google Talk and MySpaceIM buddies in a convenient environment. Version 7.06 of this product was just released and costs $29.95. We also offer a product called IM+ for Skype which is aimed at satisfying the day-to-day needs of Skype users. Its 2.22 release costs $19.95. Our third product is Mobiscope which helps users monitor their apartments, offices and personal properties. It can be used in a good number of unique ways, and can also be set to record certain activities when the application detects a disturbance. It can transfer data in a highly secure way. V2.2 of Mobiscope costs $29.95. Finally, SHAPE Services offers a free application called GPSed. This location-based application is used to track and map trips and works with both internal and external GPS receivers. Routes can be shared with friends and traced on Google Maps. It’s also equipped with geotagging capabilities. More information about our products can be found on the SHAPE Services web site and all of them provide fully-functional trial licenses.

Q: Why do you offer a different product for Skype users? In other words, why not offer an IM+ All-In-One Mobile Messenger which would also support Skype accounts? It’s rather inconvenient to purchase and install two separate applications when, in theory at least, just one app can take care of all communication needs.

A: Our products usually follow a cross-platform style; that is, they tend to offer similar features on different mobile platforms. Part of this limitation stems from the fact that not all mobile platforms support the integration of Skype into other VoIP and IM networks via one application. Also, given the special features Skype offers, we thought a dedicated application can serve users more efficiently. The smooth integration of Skype into other networks is something we’re also looking at.

Q: Why doesn’t IM+ for Skype support free Skype-to-Skype calls? Put differently, people should have SkypeOut accounts in order to call others via IM+ for Skype, and many Skype users don’t buy this type of account. Considering the fact that IM+ for Skype competitors support free Skype-to-Skype calls, don’t you want to implement it in your products?

A: The point is that some competitors offer free Skype-to-Skype calls only on handsets that support WiFi, (e.g., Pocket PC), and others work closely with Skype which allows them to have better access to the necessary technical resources. IM+ for Skype offers good quality and cost-effective calling to landlines and cell phones and is available on all mobile platforms. The support of VoIP which will make Skype-to-Skype calls free is in our feature list.

Q: Many people have been complaining for a while that IM+ All-In-One Mobile Messenger isn’t compatible with the N82 and that it makes the N82 quite sluggish to the point of being forced to close the application. Are you aware of this issue?

A: Yes. This problem seems to be related to the way contacts are loaded in the N82. We have an N82 here and are doing our best to uproot the cause, whatever it is. Stay tuned.

Q: Quite interestingly, it doesn’t affect IM+ for Skype.

A: that’s a good thing to notice. It’ll also help pinpoint the culprit more easily.

Q: What features should we expect to find in future releases of your popular Vo-IP and IM applications?

A: Application development is an ongoing process, and soon you’ll see a tight integration between our products and popular online communities such as MySpace and Facebook – something currently missing in our competitors’ offerings.

Q: Anything you want to share with my readers?

A: We’re always interested in user feedback, so if you have any suggestions for future product releases I’d be glad to take them here. You can also send us your suggestions and bug reports via the Contacts section of our web site.

Related Info: SHAPE Services Interview Winners

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7 Comments

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  1. Christopher Hallsworth / Apr 24 2008 7:51 pm

    Hi, just want to say thanks for a good interview. I have one suggestion regarding the IM+ All in One Mobile Messenger. There should be away to edit your own nickname, as well as view updated nicknames of your contacts, as, for now at least, I can’t change my nickname, nor can I see updates of my contact’s nicknames; instead, old nicknames appear. This is despite Windows Live Messenger for the PC is set so that my display name and picture are updated on the server. Otherwise, it’s a great product, and I’d like to wish the developers of Shape Services all the best for the future and to keep up the good works. Many thanks, Chris

  2. Jonathan Mosen / Apr 24 2008 9:30 pm

    Amir, thanks for this interview which was excellent.

    I don’t need a license for IM+ because I already have one, and after purchasing an N82, can no longer use it due to the N82 issues. I hope that when this show stopper issue is resolved, it will be clearly announced on the Shape Services blog that the issue has been fixed, so I don’t have to keep downloading successive versions only to be disappointed.

    One feature that would be quite useful for those phones that support the high quality Nokia TTS, is for a hotkey to be introduced that speaks the last instant message. This would not only be useful for blind people, but also for anyone who is unable to look at the phone because of a task they are performing.

    As for IM+ for Skype, it simply isn’t viable for me. I have Skype’s amazing new global calling plan, but it does not include calls to mobiles in my country. So to place a call back to my mobile with SkypeOut just costs way too much. I do believe there is a market for a good quality Skype client on Symbian. I would hope Skype would actually do it themselves, but they have gone very quiet on this in recent months. Maybe this could be your next interview project?

    In the mean time, I would gladly pay for a quality product that connects to the Skype network. The call quality on Fring is flaky, and connections are unreliable.

    But in conclusion, I am very very keen to be able to use IM+ again because it is a terrific product. Given that the N82 is one of Nokia’s flagship phones, I hope this is a top priority.

  3. Amir / Apr 24 2008 9:49 pm

    @Jonathan:
    You’ve managed to reflect many users’ concerns regarding the N82 and IM+ Mobile Messenger very well. I too download all releases of IM+ only to remove them later from my N82. In fact, other than SHAPE Services engineers no one can tell what features or bug fixes a new release of IM+ Mobile Messenger provides; so it would be a good idea to make changelogs available to all.
    As for Fring, neither have I been able to use it for more than 20 minutes because it tends to disconnect a lot, and the log-in process takes unusually longer than the norm. I believe whoever releases the first good-quality Skype client with normal Skype-to-Skype call capabilities would be a big winner in the Symbian market, regardless of whether or not the application would be available free of charge. Currently IM+ for Skype offers everything but this highly crucial feature. It also supports chat history which is missing in many competitors’ offerings.
    Finally, I’d definitely see what I can do with the Skype project. I hope I can find someone to talk with because Skype usually adopts a low-key stance towards public attention right before any product releases or service announcements.

  4. Amir / Apr 25 2008 11:01 am

    @Darrell:
    The error message is something SHAPE Services guys should address. As for the accessibility of their IM+ applications, both IM+ Mobile Messenger and IM+ for Skype are accessible with Nuance TALKS. I’ve also heard that people successfully use it with Mobile Speak for Symbian. As I don’t have a Windows Mobile device, I can’t tell if the same is true regarding the screen readers on that platform.

  5. Amir / Apr 25 2008 11:04 am

    @Jonathan and others:
    Quite incidentally, Skype just released its client for Symbian and UIQ handsets, but it’s a Java application, written in a cumbersome and inaccessible format which doesn’t adhere to many development standards — check:
    https://mobilespace.wordpress.com/2008/04/25/skype-for-mobile-is-disappointing

  6. Pranav Lal / Apr 28 2008 4:06 pm

    It would be good if I could transmit live video from my phone during a chat. Windows Live messenger and Yahoo messenger already have this capability in their pc versions. Yes, You would need a gprs or a EGPRS connection for this feature but I believe the number of users with those connections are increasing.

  7. Edwin / May 5 2008 1:41 pm

    Hi Amir and all, I got to comment on Amir’s determination in blogging to give us all his wonderful findings and reviews of Nokia and its symbian 60 apps. Great job and keep up the great work. With regards to shape services and IM+ messengers, I’m glad that Amir has done a splanded job in getting this interview out. Its developers like this that I would invest my money to. However, the problem with N82 till date is just not acceptable. This phone has been out for a dam long time, till date, they don’t seem to get it solved. I’ve been contacting with the company, we have been going round in circles to try get it solved. I initially was quite disapointed with them as there don’t seem to be a solution. They even place N82 as a supported device for IM+ which isn’t the case at all. However, they are rather forth-coming by offering me a free licence for causing so much inconvenience. I told them I’m not here to ask for free licence as I do sincerely hope to support them and assisting them in getting the problem solved to benefit others. So, i sincerely hope I could once again use IM+ extensively on N82. And, if ever IM+ for skype moves towards skype to skype calls, i’m too prepared to invest in it. Anyhow, kudos to all at Shape Services and willing to spare thoughts for the blindness market to make their softwares accessible.

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