What it is: An application loaded onto a cellphone that makes the screen more user-friendly for the mobile web. The idea is to make what has traditionally been a clumsy process -- surfing the web from a tiny screen -- easier for the average Joe.
How it works: Consider when the internet was young, and only the most sophisticated and patient users were able to navigate with dial-up connections. Recall how AOL made it easy for the average American to surf? Well, today's mobile internet is clumsy, tedious and difficult to navigate, and on-device portals are "brand plug-ins which give the consumer easy access to web content," said Dave Whetstone, mobile-marketing expert at Publicis & Hal Riney. With an on-device portal, mobile-phone users interested in, say, baseball scores can pick up a baseball "tile" from the internet, then press the image of the tile, and scores will pop up instantly. ZenZui co-founder John SanGiovanni sees the tiles having a social, community function as well because friends can create them with photos, video and other user-created content and spread them virally. And, yes, they resemble the iPhone interface, as well as that of Alltel's Celltop.
Who are the players? A number of companies, such as ZenZui, Action Engine, Mobio and Nokia's Widsets, offer on-device portals.
What's in it for the marketers? Marketers can offer tiles that bring users directly to their mobile websites. An airline, for example, could create tiles with passenger flight information. Ideally, marketers would be able to measure the media on a cost-per-"zoom" (or interaction) basis. Mr. SanGiovanni said ZenZui, which starts its beta trial this fall, is considering applications where a college tile would be built and his company would marry the tile with sponsors. He envisions an ad model where revenue is shared with carriers.