Mocospace Moves Beyond Feature Phones, Launching Android and iPhone Apps for Mobile Social Networking

Boston-based Mocospace, proprietor of one of the country’s largest mobile social networking services, has long kept its focus on users of feature phones—meaning cell phones that can connect to the Internet via built-in Web browsers but that don’t run separate apps. Now, in a major change of tactics, the company has launched Mocospace apps for both Android phones and the iPhone.

The company soft-launched the apps in the Android Marketplace and the iTunes App Store last week, and officially announced them today.

Mocospace CEO Justin Siegel says he expects that most users—who come for the service’s mix of chat and media sharing tools, as I’ve detailed in past profiles—will continue to access the service via the mobile Web browsers in their feature phones. But since the beginning of 2010, he says, the company has seen a doubling in the number of users accessing Mocospace from iPhones and Android phones. “Our strategy has been on the browser side of things, but we want to make sure that we are integrating with our users and given them the most and best options possible for accessing Mocospace,” Siegel says.

And there’s another reason for the shift: the time had come, Siegel says, to get on the app bandwagon. “Very few people think of the mobile space as a browser-based space,” he says. “The constant question, even from our own board and investors and potential partners, was ‘How many people are using your app?’ We’d have to explain that no, this is a browser-based service. We spent so much time explaining why we don’t have an app that we finally said, ‘Let’s just build an app.'”

Mocospace’s iPhone and Android apps are designed mainly to facilitate live chat, photo uploads and sharing, and profile viewing and commenting. They don’t yet include advertising, virtual currency features, or the other mechanisms Mocospace uses to monetize the Web version of its service, but those features will arrive over the next couple of months, Siegel says.

Interestingly, today’s news release from Mocospace focused completely on the Android app and didn’t even mention the iPhone app, though it came out concurrently. Siegel says that’s for two reasons: first, “We’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in our base of Android users,” at a pace outstripping the number of new users connecting over iPhones or BlackBerry devices. Second, according to Siegel, there’s just so much coverage of the iPhone that it’s no longer news when companies launch iPhone apps.

Overall, the release of the smartphone apps “is not a change in strategy,” Siegel says. “We continue to believe that the browser wins in the long run. In fact, yesterday at Google I/O, Sergey Brin commented that the Web and applications will merge in the not-too-distant future, and we believe that. But as a startup we’re pretty nimble and fast-moving, and apps are going to have a little bit more staying power and play a bigger role than we thought a couple of years ago.”

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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