Zumobi and Squace: Read the mobile Web in squares

Zumobi's major back-end update and the introduction of Squace into U.S. markets stake a claim that when it comes to mobile data, squares could be better than Opera Mini or Skyfire's links.

Squace company logo

The widgets story has always locked icons and links in a race to recover your most-wanted data quickly and accurately. When it comes to cell phones, there's been no clear winner, only trade-offs. Mobile browsers such as Opera Mini and Skyfire promise rich desktop search augmented by straightforward links to favored sites, while well-designed widgets applications such as Yahoo Go supply clear paths to tightly-focused content, some of it user-customized.

Image of Zumobi application on a Windows Mobile phone.
The most recent update improves Zumobi's speed and accepts personalized tiles of RSS feeds. (Credit: Zumobi)

Seattle-based Zumobi and Swedish newcomer Squace are two companies I spoke to this week that are pitching icons over links. On Wednesday, Zumobi announced a version update that gives the graphics-rich widget application a performance-based tummy tuck--technically, a rewritten threading architecture.

The efforts have paid off. Now, zooming into a widget "tile" from the 16 square interface produces a much smoother, faster rendering than earlier versions, a strong complaint of mine.

Zumobi has also continued to tighten its offering with a functional Zero Menu, which serves as Zumobi's tile manager and gallery. Smarter work flow patterns list available gallery tiles by category type, like humor, news, and finance, and a new installation methodology drops Zumobi onto Windows Mobile phones about 30 percent faster than before. The most exciting addition is a Web tool to create and port user-generated tiles of RSS feeds.

I'm pleased to see that Zumobi, which has always been a juicy piece of eye candy, is beginning to purse its brain, too.

Image of Squace interface.
In Squace, each cell represents an RSS feed or personal Squace site. (Credit: CNET Networks)


Operating in roughly the same quadrant, Squace beta takes a more micro view of getting to online content. The application interface is a simple grid of 45 cells to 150 cells, depending on the phone's screen size. The personal or preset content you add from your online Squace account fills in each tiny square in alphabetical order and lightly etches on the letter to help you keep track (see image).

Hovering over a cell pops up the content name. If it's a blog, you'll be directed to a second screen where scrolling over a cell pulls up the titles to individual posts. This, too, is currently alphabetized, making the chronology of news items unclear.

Unlike Zumobi, you may add as many links as you want to Squace; the extras spill onto following pages. There are tabs for tags, messages, and reaching out to contacts in the budding social network. There's also a search icon, a called-out ribbon for storing favorites in teeny squares, and a very easy online interface for creating personalized content like the private site Squace CEO Aage Reerslev demoed of his daughter's day care.

Squace looks promising, though time-stamp filtering and the capability to add content from the phone interface are notably absent. As for the geometry, Squace's tiny squares may give way to a squint, but it's an intriguing form factor that's despite the uniform sameness is designed very well.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.