By Shefali Anand
For Sabeer Bhatia, the quest for the next Hotmail continues.
The latest idea from the co-founder of Hotmail is a mobile application that will allow users to send text messages to any mobile in the world for free.
The application – titled JaxtrSMS — is available for all phones which have data plans, including the iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia and other phones which are based on Android or Java platforms. The application is available to users of all phone service-providers.
It was officially launched in Mumbai on Tuesday, but a beta version has been around for a month. Mr. Bhatia says 120,000 people have downloaded and used the application already.
He says the idea came to him around a year ago when his wife wanted to switch from an iPhone to a BlackBerry so that she could chat with her friends for free via the BlackBerry messenger. “What if we write an application that makes all texting free?” Mr. Bhatia wondered.
He said he called up his Silicon Valley-based partner Yogesh Patel, discussed the idea, and put together a team in India to develop the application.
Already there is another application in the market which provides a similar service.WhatsApp allows messaging among various smartphones which have the application on them. WhatsApp is free for the first year and charges $1.99 per year after that.
WhatsApp, like JaxtrSMS, asks for users’ cellphone number at the time of registration and thus makes available all mobile contacts for messaging.
JaxtrSMS allows text messages to be sent to phones which don’t have the JaxtrSMS application. “You don’t have to know if the recipient is on our network or not,” said Mr. Bhatia though to reply to texts requires downloading JaxtrSMS.
In addition, some phone users in India may not receive texts sent through JaxtrSMS texts if they have signed up for the Do Not Call registry. Earlier this year, the Indian government started enforcing heavy fines on telecom companies which would make unwarranted calls or text messages to mobile users.
At this point, JaxtrSMS has to go through certain aggregators for sending its text messages, but these are blocked for some users. “This is a big problem only in India,” said Mr. Bhatia. However, he said he and his partner are working to tie up with an Indian phone carrier to solve this problem.
Outside India, users will not experience this issue, said Mr. Bhatia.
Mr. Bhatia plans to keep JaxtrSMS free for life, but hopes to make money from it by selling value added services. These could include the ability to text message videos, or to have online archiving of pictures, all for a small fee.
JaxtrSMS is the latest in a series of products which the Chandigarh, Punjab-born Mr. Bhatia has launched since he sold Hotmail to Microsoft Corp. in 1997. Mr. Bhatia lives in San Francisco but works closely with developers and start-ups in India.
Last year, he helped launch Live Documents, a web-based service which allows users to create, edit and share Windows Office documents. Mr. Bhatia funded the Bangalore-based company InstaColl, which created the product. Mr. Bhatia said that Live Documents is doing well and is lately being used increasingly on the iPad.
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