DEMO ’08 goes mobile

September 9, 2008, 4:28 AM UTC

By Michal Lev-Ram

SAN DIEGO – As expected, mobile services are playing a big role at DEMO, a two-day showcase of tech startups companies that kicked off Monday in San Diego. Here’s a peek at some of the most innovative – and unusual – companies launching at the show:

Ever lost a cell phone? Maverick Mobile Solutions, a startup from India, is coming out with software that not only protects the data on your mobile device in the event it is stolen, but also lets you track any outgoing calls or text messages from the swiped phone.  Maverick’s software also lets you remotely activate a loud, high-pitched alarm that goes off on the stolen device and can only be disabled by removing the phone’s battery, rendering it useless to thieves. The service is already available on Nokia phones in India (for about $1 a month) and the company says it plans to offer the service on additional phones in the United States in the coming months.

For busy people who don’t have time to read the news, startup Rocketron will read it to them. The Campbell, Calif.-based company showed off its personalized news service, which lets people pick categories – such as business, entertainment or technology – and then dial in to a number via their cell phone to have relevant stories read to them.

Rocketron says the service will be available for free – the company plans on making money from spoken ads that will be inserted in the news articles. But the demo gods weren’t with company execs when they tried to show off the service  – their attempts to get a news article read to the audience via cell phone didn’t work.

Sure, the iPhone is sleek and cool, but can it also help you lose weight? That’s what startup WebDiet is banking on. The Henderson, Nev.-based company is launching an iPhone application that uses the device’s built-in GPS to recommend and order healthy meals at nearby restaurants. WebDiet also lets people track what they eat and keep count of their calories via their iPhone. The company says it is working on versions for other mobile phones.

Avego, a forthcoming iPhone application from Irish company Mapflow, uses the gadget’s GPS to connect drivers who have empty seats with riders in need of a lift. It also automatically calculates the gas fees owed by the passenger to the driver, and then takes a cut of that exchange. Sounds promising, but the success of the service will partly depend on how comfortable people feel giving or taking rides from strangers, even with gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon.