Imagine you could play a graphics-rich game like Star Wars, edit images on PhotoShop, or run Microsoft Word on any of your computing devices–without installing them on your machines, and even without an Internet connection?
That’s the sort of world a new Irvine, Calif.-based startup called Numecent, which comes out of stealth mode today, is promising. Using a technology it calls cloudpaging, Numecent says it can reduce the time it takes to deliver an application online by 20 to 100 times. That means you can run a program almost as if it were installed on your machine–even a little smartphone.
This isn’t something with obvious relevance to the Internet media and advertising that is the subject of this blog. But Numecent’s technology could have a big impact on online media companies and advertisers, in particular game makers. To date, mainstream games have required huge, time-consuming downloads and high bandwidth during play. Now, gaming companies could find it much cheaper and faster to deploy complex (meaning huge, network-clogging) games over the Net, which could broaden their appeal considerably.
What’s more, I can imagine the technology could shake up the larger worlds of app. They’re becoming increasingly important for media companies and marketers alike. While many are fairly simple or even primitive, they’re sure to become richer and more interactive–or at least they will if they can be delivered and run quickly, cheaply, and without those annoying incompatibilities with one device or another. “Content is becoming software,” notes Numecent CEO Osman Kent.
And because the best ads are content people want to see, ads are becoming software as well. So the same technology that can make games and other Internet media and services faster to use and more compelling should be able to do the same for ads, or whatever ads are evolving into on the Internet. After all, one key reason display ads, until recently, haven’t been a great marketing vehicle is that they don’t do much, so they’re easy to ignore.
Essentially, Numecent’s cloud-paging divvies up programs and data into fragments called pages, which are then fetched by a small piece of software on the device and immediately run without installing on that device. The software saves pages to the device to speed repeat views and also anticipates what other pages are likely to be accessed and caches them as well. Rather than mangle the technical explanation further, I’ll point to a video explanation of how the technology works. You can also view a large game being cloudpaged to a PC and then streamed to an Android tablet.
Stefan Ried, principal analyst for platform strategies at market researcher Forrester, says he hasn’t seen anything like this before. But he also notes that the technology has such broad application that it’s difficult to peg it to a discrete market category. The technology is applicable to a swath of current markets, such as file storage and synchronization like Dropbox (which venture capitalist Bill Gurley recently suggested could go in this direction as well), video streaming like Akamai, and desktop or smartphone virtualization like Citrix or OnLive.
Ried thinks Numecent should create a cloud service, essentially offering a virtual desktop system as a service. But he also says it’s not yet clear what the business model is. That’s partly because the product isn’t quite ready as it stands for enterprises, he adds.
Indeed, Kent says he realizes that the technology has many potential applications that would be difficult to exploit within a single corporation. So he’s choosing to spin off companies to focus on particular markets. The first is Approxy, which will use the technology to provide an instant game delivery service to game developers, publishers, and aggregators. Kent says Numecent, which has raised $9.5 million in funding and holds 1o relevant patents and has 10 more pending, is talking with others interested in funding future spinoffs. Microsoft and Citrix have licenses to the technology.
The bottom line for online media, however, is pretty clear: Anything that speeds up online services makes those services that much more appealing, and profitable.