A weekly column profiling companies and personalities.

Share story

What: Zumobi, Seattle

Who: John SanGiovanni, 37, co-founder and vice president of product design

Mission: Develop compelling mobile applications for “superphones” — the iPhone and its ilk.

21st-century tool: SanGiovanni compares these phones to the Swiss Army Knife, which puts a variety of small, useful tools into your pocket. Unlike the knife, though, the phone is configurable, and availability of portable applications drives the market. “For some people it was the availability of GPS and mapping that caused them to upgrade to a superphone,” he said. “For others, it was Facebook.”

Without a paddle: Zumobi is adding to the iPhone ecosystem by developing direct connections to retail outlets such as REI — push a button and buy a tent. Its flagship project is Ziibii, which features an interface in which the phone’s screen becomes a river, as news, videos, RSS feeds and Facebook posts float by.

Portion control: Some people will spend all day floating down the Ziibii river; others will choose a short dip. “We only need our users to spend three or four minutes a day in order for us to succeed,” SanGiovanni said.

Employees: 36

Financials: The privately funded company does not disclose financial details. And while the economy is in a downturn, the iPhone is thriving. Said SanGiovanni: “This is the space to be right now.”

Ear, today: SanGiovanni said the iPhone represents a generational shift. Think how motion pictures evolved into video games as the medium of choice for many. “We see the same kind of pattern,” he said. “It has become a mechanism for sharing, like putting a bud in someone’s ear so they can hear your music. People will discover new applications in the same way.”

Location, location: “Seattle is a great place for this type of business,” SanGiovanni said. “We can draw from a strong pool of talent with experience in the mobile and wireless field. There are more talented engineering and design people here than anywhere else in the country.”

— Charles Bermant