SPRINGFIELD, Va.-- America Online Inc., which revolutionized chitchat by allowing customers to zap messages to one another's computers, wants to bring instant messaging to the next frontier: cellular phones.
AOL, based in Dulles, announced Wednesday it has acquired Tegic Communications, a leading developer of cell phone messaging technology, for an undisclosed sum.
The acquisition is part of AOL's effort to expand wireless communications options for its nearly 20 million subscribers and the 50 million customers who use its ICQ instant messaging program.
"Instant messaging has become a social phenomenon," said Barry Schuler, president of AOL's interactive services. "This clearly turbocharges our effort on the wireless front."
Unlike wireless pagers that feature miniature typewriter keypads, Tegic's software allows people to type messages using the numbered telephone pad. The software uses the letters assigned to each number on a cell phone -- A, B, or C for the numeral 2, for example -- and deciphers the numbers to guess the desired word.
A boss who wanted to send the message "you're fired," for instance, would punch the numbers 96873 34733. Punctuation is added automatically.
Other software programs already use cell phones to type text, but AOL said Tegic's is the easiest to use.
Tegic's software operates in 14 languages, including Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish. Versions that understand eastern European and Middle Eastern languages are in the works.
Tegic has licensed its software to more than 20 wireless phone makers including Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and Panasonic, serving 90 percent of the world market.
Tegic, founded in 1995, has 85 employees and will remain in Seattle.