Ribot, ustwo, Neon Play and Qriously among the firms making our list of the most dynamic companies in UK mobile.
ME's Top 50 Mobile Innovators project, sponsored by O2 BlueVia, was a quest to identify the firms doing amazing things in gaming, loyalty, ticketing, payments, advertising, education, gifting and more.
With the help of a panel of judges comprising VCs, analysts, entrepreneurs and more, we've assembled a list that spotlights the best of British mobile.
And it's not all about London's Silicon Roundabout either. There are representatives here from Bristol, Newcastle, Leeds, Cirencester and elsewhere.
Tim Green, executive editor of ME, said: "Britain has always been home to inventors and entrepreneurs. It's been that way since the Industrial Revolution – which we invented too, of course.
"Today, as we enter the information revolution, that entrepreneural spirit is clearly found in the mobile space.
"It's very gratifying to provide a showcase of the best of UK mobile, and I congratulate all those who made the 50."
ME's Top 50 Mobile Innovators project was open to privately-owned UK registered companies. The sponsor was O2 BlueVia, and the initiative was also supported by Frog Capital, IMR and RPC.
The 50 winning firms will celebrate their inclusion as a special reception at the 24 London bar on September 5th, which will include a talk by Kristian Segerstrale, who will share some of the insights and lessons he learned in building the social gaming start-up Playfish from launch to acquisition by EA for $275m in just over two years.
The Top 50 Mobile Innovators are listed below:
Fast-growing ad network, which worked with Yell to map every click plotted at street level and used geo-targeting to align the campaign. Adfonic launched in mid-2009 but already serves over 2bn impressions a month. It offers real-time reporting, analytics and post-click measurement to its base of over 6,000 publisher sites and apps.
In a world of liberally distributed VC cash, the key achievement of this ad network is in flourishing without any external funding. The company has vaulted to 18 billion impressions a month (7.2 billion of them from Adultmoda), and recently launched in the US.
Always On Message
Bristol-based mobile marketing agency that claims to have built more apps than any other UK firm. Clients include The Economist, Glenfiddick, Jamie Oliver and Universal, for which it created an app based on the movie Bruno that was downloaded 400,000 times.
Cortexica Vision Systems
Sector: Image recognition/discovery
Google Goggles has popularised image recognition in phones. But Cortexica says its system goes further, with tech so advanced it can even follow the brush strokes of an oil painting. The technology spun out of research conducted at Imperial College London, and has already been used to create a wine comparison app called WINEfindr. Its API is now available for third parties.
DigiClef has been one of the most active players in the musical instrument app space. Its Guitar Buddy packages and presents Guitar Scales, Licks, Chords and well-known Rock & Pop Songs as tabs on the iPhone and iPod Touch. It's an official digital partner of Faber books.
Eagle Eye Solutions
What a year this has been for Eagle Eye, which owns the patent for redeeming vouchers/coupons on chip and pin devices. The company believes mobile will become the main redemption channel for a retail coupon market worth £4bn in the UK. It's hired former Virgin Entertainment CEO Simon Burke and recruited well-connected ex AdMob man Russell Buckley as CMO. Already working with the Aurora Group, Blockbuster, Comet and Virgin Active.
Engine Rooms Apps
This Leeds-based app maker has a lofty rep among British brands, and released 50 products in 2010 alone. Among them was its ASDA Price Guarantee app, which looks at the prices of around 14,000 like-for-like branded and own label grocery products at Asda with Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and Waitrose. Users can type in an item and claim back the difference if it's cheaper elsewhere.
A mobile marketing agency that does everything from ads to apps to mobile web to SMS. Its campaigns have run in over 70 countries. Fetch was one of the first to use geo targeting in an Admob campaign and serve ads with Shazam based on tagging history and music preferences. It was also the first agency to run an iAd campaign in the UK.
Future Games of London
Fast growing games developer that achieved 16 million downloads of its Hungry Shark title. But the twist is that Hungry Shark can be played wirelessly on a 42 inch flat screen using a function was built from scratch by the FGOL team. It's also scored more than 700,000 downloads of its Pool Bar title. Recently, the firm launched the Future Games Network to market direct to its 18m gamers.
This Brighton firm paid its dues in the dark days of operator decks and shoveled all that experience into building some of the most popular apps in circulation. They include Official Glastonbury 2011, AA Breakdown and Traffic, LastMinute.com and Guardian Anywhere. It also develops its own products, bagging €50,000 in the Vodafone Mobile Clicks competition for its gambling-between-friends Roulette Cricket app.
Givey is a new fundraising tool that was created to enable impulse-based, gift-aided mobile donations via Twitter, Facebook and SMS. It describes its product as a kind of gift wallet, which allows users to track their 12 month giving history and donate at any time. It launched in May with nine charities including British Red Cross, RNLI and The Rainbow Children’s Trust.
One of the most prolific of branded app makers. Golden Gekko has made apps for Absolut Vodka, BAA, Disney, Duracell, Jack Daniel's, Lynx and many more. Its Mango apps lets users “try on” the clothes before purchasing them, and did 22,000 downloads in a week. The firm also offers Tino, a DIY app building platform using a web front end and point and click.
Nobody mention The Apprentice. Oh, go on then. Grapple is barely a 18 months old but is already established as - arguably - the public face of app development in the UK. It's built over 170 bespoke apps for more than 60 clients such as Xbox, BT, The Post Office and T-Mobile. And it appeared on TV's The Apprentice to advise on app creation.
Sector: Social networks
Handmade runs the serial award-winning social network Flirtomatic. The basic service is free, but the firm has been a genuine pioneer of micropayments for premium extras and even monetises user-paid 'ad words' on its site. It has around 5m users, and recently launched in Germany, the US and Australisia. They generate over 500m page views and 59 million messages every month.
With its solely Android focus, Hyperbees stands out from the iOS-fixated mass of mobile games developers. Two of its titles, Speedx 3D and Impossible Level Game, reached top 5 on Android Market, and its overall catalogue of games has been downloaded more than 3.5 million times with 200,000 daily active players.
Sector: Games services
Now established as one of the world's leaders in cross-platform app development. Its Marmalade (formerly Airplay) service gives developers a cost-efficient way to 'develop once, run anywhere' in a fragmented smartphone market. The Ideaworks Game Studio has also made hits for third parties – including Call of Duty: Zombies (iOS), Backbreaker Football (iOS) and Fable: Coin Golf (Windows Phone).
Sector: Mobile ticketing
Masabi appears to have cornered the transport ticketing market with a mobile barcode solution that works on any phone, and is being used by Virgin Trains and Chiltern Railways. It expects that in the future rail operators will be able to cross sell and up-sell services using the app with offers based, for example, on the user's destination.
MePlease has built a 'socialcasting' platform to power viral marketing campaigns. A merchant can send customers a voucher code via social media, which the recipient can share with friends. And everyone who clicks or 'likes' is tracked back to the original consumer thanks to the MePlease software. In one campaign with a PizzaExpress in Richmond the redemption rate was 28 per cent – with ten per cent responding within 15 minutes of a text being sent.
Sector: Mobile commerce/web/messaging/marketing
One of the giants of the UK mobile scene, but still innovating. The firm is active in advertising, mobile sites and apps, payments, marketing and 'experiential'. But its current big new thing is its broadcast platform, through which TV makers can incorporating mobile interactivity, messaging and payments into Facebook.
Sector: Mobile education
Educational app pioneer founded by Playfish's Shukri Shammas in 2010. Rather than license big-money IP it has put faith in its own creations. It launched two apps so far based on the Jellytoons brand and is planning to release more for iOS by the end of 2011. Its first app was named as the #1 Education App for Kids by parenting website Babble.com.
Sector: Mobile commerce
Newcastle-based firm that developed a platform for building native m-commerce mobile sites or apps for Android and iOS. The system delivers both the sites and the back-end so businesses with limited funds can be up and running quickly and cheaply. Mobicart has secured $500,000 in seed funding and saw ex-Google director Stephen Lusty invest £100,000 and join as chairman.
Mobile Money Network
Sector: Mobile commerce
A JV between Best Buy, Monitise and Charles Dunstone to create a platform for buying products via mobile through codes placed on ads, POS material or even the items themselves. Retailers and publishers are listening. It helps having ex M&S chair Stuart Rose on the board.
Movirtu's cloud service links a user to a phone number rather than a device. In other words, they can use any phone to make and receive calls from any phone. The software enabling it is called MXShare and is installed in the network. It's live with Airtel in Madagasgar and is being actively pushed at emerging economies.
Muzicall is the company trying to whip the European ringback market into shape by sitting between all the many platforms, operators and retailers and bundling them all together so that consumers can find widely available services that work cross-network. It's also pushing RBTs for enterprises and experimenting with ad-funded concepts. Progress is slow, but Muzicall deserves credit for leading the charge.
The mobile unit of this console game company has been responsible for some of the most advanced iOS and Android gameplay ever seen. The Backbreaker Football games, Jenga and Icebreaker have scored 7m downloads, wowing players with their 3D effects and real-time physics.
Games developer best known for making Paper Glider, which was the ten billionth App Store download. But this was no lucky fluke. Neon Play has released 32 apps and accumulated over 20 million downloads. Seven of these have been UK number one games. It is now aiming for 50 million downloads by the end of the year.
Orca is a specialist in video streaming, apps and video chat that is aligning itself closely with the 'multi-screen' lifestyle. It was ranked 21st in the GP Bullhound Media Momentum Awards 2011, which recognise the top 50 fastest growing digital media companies in Europe.
Sector: Group messaging
Another star of the Newcastle mobile scene, Palringo has emerged as one of the most used - if less wildly hyped - group messaging apps in the world. Like the others in this hot space, it enables small groups to communicate. But the real USP is the many thousands of open groups it supports around different interests. It handles 1.5 billion messages a day and has been adopted by enterprises such as 3M and a staff comms tool.
Intriguing start-up that lets people send 'real' gifts via text, which are dispatched after the recipient acknowledges the message. The sender selects a gift, picks a contact from their phonebook, and pays instantly via the phone bill. The clever bit is getting brands to use the channel to promote new launches – and ParcelGenie is already working on such deals.
Paythru processes credit and debit card payments through the phone. Users register once, and from then on payment can be processed with no need to enter lengthy card details, just a PIN. It works on all mobile handsets, on all networks and with every bank, anywhere in the world. Paythru also has an in-app option for developers.
You wouldn't think it possible to come up with a new idea in the mobile music space, but Psonar reckons it has one: pay-per-play streaming at nominal prices – from 1p per play. Psonar is aimed an under served demographics (16-24) who think subscriptions require too much commitment, and downloads are too expensive. It says 1p per play encourages sharing and gifting, and discourages piracy. Indies such as the Orchard, Ingrooves and Ioda have all signed on, and the majors will follow in Q4
Qriously is like an ad network that replaces ads with questions. Users get free 'question-funded' apps and developers get a rev share. Brands meanwhile get a service for measuring location-based public sentiment, in real-time. Qriously also offers its own 'insights' report based on answers to generalised questions, and gives developers the chance to ask their own questions. Its SDK has been installed about 15m times.
Sector: Apps/user interface
This Brighton-based agency which has won awards for its eye-catching ideas on design and user experience. It's best known for building the Tesco app, which lets users scan and even speak their selections. It's also come up with a 3-button phone UI called Threedom for easy navigation through contacts, texts, music, photos and more.
Sector: Multi-screen technology
The 'Screach' tech links mobile with TVs, billboards, kiosks stadia screens and more. Its Screach application detects devices nearby and then uses data from any source to influence what content is delivered. Thus, it turns the the smartphone into a game controller, quiz answer pad, voting and polling tool, bingo card or roulette table. Newcastle United has already used Screach to let its fans select their Man of the Match.
Sector: Content discovery
Without doubt one of the titans/darlings of the mobile content scene. Shazam started out as a tech for identifying music by recoding it using the phone microphone. It's evolved that ID tech into one of the world's favourite apps, and is now applying the process to TV and advertising. Shazam was the first European company to raise money from the 'iFund' and has close to 150m users.
This creative agency is active in all corners of digital - and is especially well known in radio circles. But it's diversified into apps, and applied the same creative approach. Its biggest hit has been Papa Sangre, a 'video game with no video' for iPhone that showcased 3D audio and challenged players to navigate through five palaces to gather musical notes while dodging monsters.
Somo started as a demand-sided mobile ad agency founded by the team behind search pioneer Overture. Its purpose was to bring major advertisers to the mobile channel. It still does this, but has also branched out into building sites and apps for these clients. Earlier this year, it built a landmark app with augmented reality features for Audi.
StrikeAd runs a demand-side ad platform through which brands can plan, execute and evaluate campaigns. Its recent breakthrough was introducing 'real time bidding' to UK mobile ad space. This option, well-established on the fixed web, lets clients monitor traffic across multiple networks, identify the consumers they want to reach and deliver targeted advertising to them in real time.
Sector: Augmented reality
Launched this summer, this London-based start-up is aiming to lead the 'vision-based' AR space, in which an image triggers a graphical overlay on the phone screen. This is a little different from the location-based AR of Layar and others. It's busy rolling out an SDK to iOS developers, integrated with Unity. String helped developer Somo's Audi AR app.
This Scots gaming studio has a burgeoning global reputation that has seen it gather an enviable roster of global partners. They include Channel 4, Namco Bandai, Square Enix and more. The BBC chose Tag to create its Dr Who app, while Endemol hired Tag to make Red Ball Challenge, which was based on the hit TV show Total Wipeout.
Sector: Content aggregation
Taptu began life as a mobile search firm, but more recently it re-focused its core tech to create a social news reader service that can be organised by topics. The results are not displayed as links, but as an article card with headline, photo, and teaser text. It's a little like Flipboard, but for mobile. The motto is 'DJ your own news'.
TeePee launched in March as a portal for games across social networks, smartphones and the web. The real aim of the site is to solve the discovery piece and be the 'Pandora of gaming'. As such, TeePee's gathers games based on Facebook, Flash and Android handsets using the sign-up process and behavioral targeting techniques to offer up suitable suggestions. TeePee Games has an estimated 25,000 users in its public beta.
Touchnote lets users turn their digital pics into physical postcards to be sent anywhere in the world. It works on the fixed web but also via a mobile app that makes uploads from a handset easier. It's been downloaded over 200,000 times on Android, and pre-loaded on five Sony Ericsson Android devices.
Sector: User interface
The firm behind the multi-award winning SwiftKey app, which speeds up mobile text input. It does this by intelligently guessing the next word and making it available for selection. It can also learn the user's habits a vocabulary. It's done a million downloads on Android and tablets. It's also pitching its tech at OEMs and developers.
txtNation's JunglePay enables mobile payments by SMS, phone billing, and credit card in one application. The channel has been designed with non-techy users in mind. Thus, it is enabled quickly using a billing ‘widget’ that can be embedded in a site or app in minutes. It's modular and can be tweaked using a web-based CMS. JunglePay is now powering several hundred sites and apps.
You may think Upstream is Greek. But it's UK-registered, and it sent us the documents to prove it. Upstream pioneered the opt-in database marketing initiative to reduce churn and increase ARPU for operators. It claims to boost ARPU by 3 per cent on average – and has worked with operators like Vodafone, TIM and T-Mobile in more than 40 countries.
This endlessly creative agency combines hugely successful work for third parties (500,000 H&M app downloads, for example) with wildly creative in-house output. The latter varies from jokey-yet-compelling Mouth-Off and HappySnapper to the gorgeous iPad children's book Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime. It also created a B2B product – the app performance tracker, PositionApp.
VouChaCha is a purely mobile UK-based company operating in the insanely hot space dominated by Groupon. It offers targeted discounts delivered via coupons to within a two minute walk of a user's current location. For retailers and leisure venue operators Vouchacha reacts instantly to low capacity or overstock. They can use a branded version of the VouChaCha app, or hook into the VouChaCha network.
Sector: Mobile web
This veteran mobile site specialist offers a DIY platform for small companies to build sites but also works with multinational brands on giant campaigns. Wapple has been around for many years, but its range of services is now coming of age, as the smartphone age makes marketers aware of the need for properly optimised mobile sites. Recent high profile projects include microsites for Pantene and Ford Fiesta.
Yuza began as a specialist in music apps, but has gone on to create dozens of titles across all genres. It recently released an official Kylie app which its claims is the first to marry music with social gaming and other gamification elements. It also makes its own products, winning lots of attention for a social movie making app, CineCam, which lets users overlay their own lenses. It's Instagram for the moving image.