For organizations with employees working on the go, they often have a challenge in front of them – making their desktop applications available to their employees-turned-road warriors, especially as many of them are already using mobile devices like tablets.

While it’s possible to virtualize desktops or individual applications to run on mobile devices, sometimes the desktop experience doesn’t translate well to the tablet. Enter PowWow Inc., a startup from San Francisco, Calif. focused on helping mid-sized and large businesses virtualize their Windows and web apps for tablets in hours, rather than months. And rather than simply making apps and files available on the tablets, PowWow allows users to tap, swipe, pinch, and do other customized gestures with these apps.

Armed with seed funding of about $1.08 million, as well a team of 10 employees, the startup just officially launched its product last week.

However, its founders have always been interested in making it simpler for people to work together from anywhere, says Andrew Cohen, PowWow’s CEO.

He co-founded the company with CTO Jonathan Kaplan in 2012. They first met at Teleplace Inc., a company that provided 3D virtual worlds and avatars to users for collaboration.

“We just decided that it was just way too complicated, and here was the iPad. The iPad was this lightweight mobile device, and we just decided the world was going to go mobile,” he says. “We wanted to start our own company where we built mobile tools and mobile work and collaboration tools for the iPad and other tablets. That’s been our passion.”

Cohen adds for many companies, coming up with a mobile strategy is a priority. However, that generally means developing one or two native apps each year, or using HTML5 or a mobile enterprise application program to crank out five to 10 apps per year. Alternatively, companies can turn to desktop virtualization or desktop as a service solutions, but that usually means they get a full-fledged Windows desktop running on their mobile devices.

And once companies do get their apps built, IT departments need to deal with a fragmented infrastructure, as well as potential security woes with employees’ personal devices. Plus, the employees themselves may not have such a great end user experience if their desktop apps haven’t been outfitted to work with their tablets, Cohen says.

Screenshot of PowWow's platform.  (Image: PowWow).
Screenshot of PowWow’s platform. (Image: PowWow).

So instead, PowWow is introducing a mobile virtual application delivery platform that takes just hours to deliver a desktop app to an employee’s tablet. The other selling point is its adaptive user interface – instead of users adjusting their gestures to fit the original desktop app, PowWow works with a company’s IT department to modify the virtualized app to fit users’ needs. In later releases, PowWow will allow users to do this part themselves, without any coding required.

And as an added functionality, the startup has made it possible for employees to collaborate remotely while using their apps, gathering in “rooms” to make changes to a document at the same time.

Still, PowWow is definitely going up against some well-established competitors in the virtualization space, like Citrix Systems Inc. and VMware Inc., Cohen acknowledges. What sets his startup apart is its ability to work with just about any app and make it tablet-friendly, he says.

“We haven’t really found anything in the enterprise yet that we can’t run,” Cohen says. “We’ve run some horrendously old applications, a Linux cloud, we can run Linux applications, we can run Android applications. And we don’t have it running yet, but we can run Mac applications if there was a demand for that.

“We’re actually displacing Citrix at the bank and at the pharmaceutical, we sit side-by-side VMware. They use VMware Horizon for consultants, and they use PowWow for all their internal employees who are running iPads and Macs.”

For example, some of PowWow’s biggest customers are pharmaceutical companies and banks, which often have older, legacy applications they want to update for mobile.

“What really surprised us is, of course, there’s a bunch of old Windows apps out there … There’s a tremendous number of older web apps that run on a whole variety of browser configurations, and they don’t run on any other device except for the configuration they’re on for the Windows machine that’s configured for that enterprise,” he says, adding one of his bank customers is standardized on Internet Explorer 7.2.

The startup has also prepared for more heavy-duty tasks like modelling, designing, and rendering. For example, it has run all of the AutoCAD devices using graphic processors in its cloud, ensuring processing times are still quick. It can also run audio and video up to 15 frames per second.

Pricing is also “significantly lower” than what competitors are charging, he adds. There are two distribution models, with one distributing directly, and the other through original equipment manufacturers for app developers. However, list pricing is set at $25 per user per month. PowWow is also offering a free trial to new customers.

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