With iPod prices as high as $350 before accessories, some users want more from the gadgets than just music. For these folks, there's Mogopop.com, a Culver City-based Web site launched last month, where comedy sketches, games, museum guides, and even an In-N-Out burger locator are available for download on iPods.
It all started in 2004, when Jordan Allen-Dutton bought his first iPod and noticed a "notes" section. Wondering what he might be able to do with it, he hit on the idea of creating an English-to-French translation program, with recordings of English words and authentic pronunciations of the word in French.
"One of the first things I do with new gadgets is I get in there and try to break them," said Allen-Dutton, who says he's always been an inventor because his father is an engineer.
Allen-Dutton asked his friends at a dinner party what they thought about using an iPod as a translator. They looked askance, but he thought he'd try anyway. He built the French translator that night. He later hired someone with more technological expertise and soon got a lawyer, filed patents, incorporated his business, and put in about $30,000 of his own money in April 2004. He expanded his language offerings to 12.
His new company, called Talking Panda LLC, was written up in Time magazine that summer. The business is now called Mogopop Inc.
However, Allen-Dutton soon realized he needed to come up with an additional $35,000 if he wanted his products to be in Apple stores in time for the crucial holiday season. With no connection to venture funding, he had to call on friends and family. "It was like I was in a movie," he said of that time.
It turned out well enough. Talking Panda made about $60,000 in sales on that first shipment.
The following year, 2005, Allen-Dutton developed other software applications for iPods, including iBar, a bartending guide, and iRocker, a guitar tutorial complete with metronome.
Later that year, he partnered with Kara Weber, who came on as vice president of strategic development. Weber had been one of the founders of Tripod.com in the mid-1990s, the first Web site to offer code for consumers to create their own Web sites for free.
With the Apple partnership under way, Weber and Allen-Dutton began consulting with the computer-making giant about what else Talking Panda could do.
Apple suggested Talking Panda sell its installer, the easy-to-use software used to download its content to iPods. Other companies had made iPod content, but downloading it was a headache for the average user.
So Weber and Allen-Dutton decided to remold the company, and Mogopop was launched Dec. 20. It's a Web site where consumers can download the company's programs or create their own applications for personal use. Or they can upload their software to the Mogopop site and share it with the world. The Mogopop installer, compatible with Mac and PC, only requires that computers have iTunes downloaded. Then all that's necessary is to pull up the Mogopop Web site, plug in the iPod, and let the technology do the rest.
After grossing about $750,000 in 2006 with sales of iBar, iRocker and translator software at the Apple stores, Mogopop is projecting revenues well in excess of $1 million for 2007.
Weber said eventually there will be three major revenue streams: advertisements and sponsorship opportunities on the Web site, licensing Mogopop's installer and selling downloads of user-generated content. The company will share revenue with authors.
Weber said the company is already talking to museums, authors and bands about different applications. The natural fits are for self-guided museum tours, novels with links to further explanation of passages, and unsigned bands that want to build a multimedia package online and offer liner notes and tour dates in addition to music and video. But simple offerings, such as guides for hamburger restaurants in town, comedy acts and games, are available, too.
Karen Cera, chief executive of Noodleswap Media, who is working with Mogopop to develop iPod software for books, said Mogopop is "a hip-designed, web-based software application that pushes user-generated content within a community experience that can be downloaded to an iPod." However for general users, the new applications may take time to catch on.
"IPods are audio players, first and foremost, and music has been the driving force behind all sales of iPod devices to date," said Jeremy Horwitz, editor-in-chief of iLounge.com,
a Web site that reviews technology. "Video is a distant second, with other content text, educational multimedia, games, and the like competing for third place," Horowitz said in an e-mail.
"There's an assumption built-in that people are ready to interact with menus in order to access recipes, language instruction lessons, or other informational content that could be stored and carried around," he said. "Changing the well-cultivated perception that an iPod is a passive entertainment device isn't an easy feat."
Weber points to Apple's upcoming iPhone (an iPod-mobile phone hybrid) as evidence to the contrary.
"People are going to be using these for everything," she said. "And we're going to be right there."
Weber maintains that consumers are making significant investments in their iPods and will be looking for ways to make their money go further.
Employees in 2005: 3
Employees in 2006: 6
Goal: To create a one-stop iPod shop where consumers can download a variety of iPod applications, and where advertisers will want exposure
Driving Force: Desire of iPod owners to make their expensive gadgets have more uses
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