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Thursday, Oct 6, 2022
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Co. Aims to Break the Mold On Smartphone Customization

Isaac Eteminan wants Foneclay to be the next big thing in smartphones.

His small company’s software customizes and animates Android devices in ways manufacturers have not yet been able to do. And it provides a way for anyone to easily make their own apps — even if they know very little about computer code. More on that in a minute.

Foneclay also enables people to change a phone’s or tablet’s “wallpaper” — the background of the main screen, where the icons for all the apps are displayed. Eteminan, Foneclay’s CEO, sees wallpaper as a wonderful, underutilized piece of “real estate.”

Solana Beach-based Foneclay recently signed a deal with Getty Images, the Seattle-based stock image supplier, to provide a variety of pictures for a phone’s background space.

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“They said, ‘We never thought of getting into mobile,’” Eteminan said.

Foneclay signed a similar deal with Hollywood-based SpinMedia to provide pop-culture content. Financial details of the two deals were not disclosed.

To Eteminan, wallpaper can be a dynamic thing, changing frequently. What’s more, it can be personal.

Imagine a visual Twitter or Facebook feed, restricted to family and friends, as a frequently updated piece of wallpaper. Foneclay can make it happen.

Foneclay enables inexperienced people to write code for apps by making code writing a matter of dragging and dropping blocks. Cloud-based software algorithms look at the code to make sure it works.

“We don’t need 400 iPhone engineers to validate the user experience,” Eteminan said.

The support software will catch errors such as “memory leaks,” which occur when an app allocates space for memory but never gives the space back when it’s done. Meanwhile, Foneclay’s cloud-based support system is able to catch malware, the CEO said.

Appealing to Creative Types

Eteminan — a serial entrepreneur who sold a business to Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) — showed off his software at his office on a clear morning in mid-April. He was celebrating a victory, saying that Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) had agreed to share source code for the Windows operating system, enabling Foneclay to develop for that platform.

The CEO said that creative types, political camps and businesses have been able to make new things using Foneclay software.

Artist Natasha Jen put together a piece called “TransFoner” that animates smartphone icons, creatively rearranging them to resemble a rocket ship, a robot, a duck and other objects — similar to how the Autobot characters change forms in the “Transformers” movies and animated TV shows. A video demonstrating the creation, crediting Foneclay, is at bit.ly/1jMdzwH.

Eteminan showed off the work of another artist: a photographer who reimagined the app icons on the smartphone as the desk accessories of a hard-boiled, 1930s detective. There is a black dial phone for making calls — and the dial rotates and clicks. For telling time, there is a classic clock with alarm bells on top, wearing a coppery patina. To take a picture, a person touches an old-fashioned camera. For texting, there is a typewriter.

And it’s not all fun and games. In India, Eteminan said, a political candidate used Foneclay to make an app for communications.

Business Applications

Eteminan and business partner Marco Carosi are the investors in Foneclay, which has two U.S. patents and has applied for more. The business has a handful of workers in San Diego County and employs software engineers in Rome and Bangalore, India.

Today, Eteminan faces the challenge of scaling the business. He is working to amass $10 million to help Foneclay grow, he said, speaking with potential investors, including venture capitalists and private equity firms.

There is a lot of potential in his product, Eteminan said.

A big corporation — Eteminan used the example of a prominent computer vendor — could create a feed for its sales force. Rather than checking their email, the sales team could get needed information using the real estate on their smartphone screen.

Eteminan sees opportunities for brands to connect to their most loyal followers using the Foneclay platform.

Clothing lines or fashion houses could offer their best customers news on their latest offerings — and online shopping. Sports teams could take a cue from Futbol Club Barcelona and offer daily updates. Fans of a movie franchise could receive trailers or other content via smartphone. Eteminan said he is speaking with studio representatives about the latter.

For this businessman, the smartphone is old news. Today, he said, it’s all about delivering a “smart user experience.”

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