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A mobile idea so stupid, it's brilliant

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A technology writer for The New Yorker magazine called it “easily the worst piece of software that I’ve ever used.” A host of bloggers have speculated that it’s nothing more than a joke, an April Fools prank that suddenly went viral in a mobile world gone mad. Even the product’s creator admits that, at its core, “it’s a stupid idea.”

What everyone is talking about is Yo, probably the simplest mobile function available today. It’s an app that performs one single task: it sends the word “Yo” to any user with the simple tap of a button. That’s it.

Yesterday, the two men behind the creation of “Yo,” Moshe Hogeg and Or Arbel, made their first appearance at the MobileBeat conference in San Francisco. Hogeg is the founder and CEO of Mobli and a few months ago he went to his business partner (Arbel) with a plea to develop a simple way he could let an assistant know when he needed something without having to call or text.

As Arbel related yesterday, he thought it was a dumb idea, but he coded the app anyway and delivered it to Hogeg. It took Arbel about eight hours.

Hogeg decided to roll out the app through on April Fools Day. It got only modest interest in the beginning, until word came out a couple of weeks ago that Yo had received over $1 million in financial backing. It is now the hottest app in the Apple and Google stores. As Hogeg sheepishly told the MobileBeat audience, “It’s a fine line between stupid and genius.”

Yo is not without problems. What prompted criticism from The New Yorker recently was that the app has been routinely hacked over the past several weeks and there’s no account verification (a Canadian user has been sending “yo” to the world using a handle attributed to Tesla’s Elon Musk).

Yet, behind the madness, there is an interesting context to Yo that cannot be ignored. It’s being used as a news feed for things as trivial as when a team scores a goal in the World Cup, to more serious purposes such as push notifications in Israel this week. Users are sending “yo” to friends and family whenever a missile is in the air, according to Arbel.

It’s also being used as a simple form of personal contact, such as sending a “yo” to let someone know that you are thinking about them. In a world conditioned to the 140 characters allowed by the ever-popular Twitter, Yo has managed to do the same thing using only two. “The communication itself is the message,” said Arbel.

At yesterday’s MobileBeat conference, one in a series of events hosted annually by VentureBeat, Yo wasn’t the only company making news. Glenn Lurie, the President of Emerging Partnerships for AT&T, dropped a hint that the world will see an independently connected (non-phone) wearable device this year. He refused to say more, but Lurie is the executive who guided the rollout of Apple’s first iPhone (which was exclusive in the beginning to AT&T), so his comment offered a small, credible glimpse into what Apple may be getting ready to announce in a few weeks, possibly in partnership with AT&T.

Cirrus also announced yesterday that it was introducing an iPhone app that lets Salesforce users do everything they want from their Gmail. This is part of a growing trend towards reducing the amount of multitasking necessary on the smartphone these days as users increasingly want to run their business and personal lives from their mobile devices. It’s also another example of why the desktop is going away.

In his remarks yesterday, Matt Marshall – founder and CEO of VentureBeat – admitted that “there’s actually still a lot that isn’t working” in the mobile space. But there is no question that even when new apps (like Yo) have problems, the changes taking place in the mobile world will still have a profound effect for years to come.

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