Apps We’d Freak Out On

SOMETHING TO DREAM FOR

There are apps that reproduce mooing sounds (Hello Cow), games where you score points by licking the screen (iLickit). What could possibly be left?

THE ORIGINAL 2007 IPHONE HAD ONLY ONE screenfulof software icons, believe it or not. You couldn’t install any new ones of your own. It took a whole year before Apple opened the iPhone app store, making it possible for the masses to download and install new apps (programmes) and, in the process, creating a whole new gadget category.

The app store changed everything. Why just make calls, when you could auto-tune your singing voice, play virtual Ping-Pong or summon bodily sounds on command? There are 225,000 apps on the iPhone store and 60,000 on Google’s Android store, and that’s just the beginning. Those statistics will be out of date by the end of this week, or even the end of this sentence. You may find it hard to comprehend a selection that vast, let alone to navigate it in search of the good stuff. But it could be worse: you could be the aspiring app programmer who has to come up with a fresh idea. (Maybe you’re inspired, for example, by the release of Google’s new, free App Inventor software.) There are already apps that reproduce mooing sounds (Hello Cow), apps that dial someone from your address book randomly (iDrunkTxt), games where you score points by licking the screen (iLickit). What could possibly be left? This week, I challenged my Twitter followers (I’m @pogue) to invent iPhone or Android apps that don’t exist but should.

I’ll spare you the jokey wishful-thinking responses: “An app that puts my kids to bed at night,” “An app that gives my wife the ‘right answer,’ “ “An app that teleports me to a spot with a good cell signal.” OK, everyone’s a comedian. In general, I’ll also omit the great app ideas that do, in fact, exist. (One popular idea: a To Do-list programme that, thanks to the phone’s GPS, would remind you of things to do when you’re in the right place to do them — to “pick up a saw when you’re near the hardware store,” as @Truman206 put it. But the Twitterites were quick to identify programmes that already do that: Reqall, Omnifocus, Remember the Milk, Geostrings, Pocket Informant, Astrid, Task Aware and so on.)
One hugely popular category was “Shazam for other things.” Shazam, of course, is the amazing app that identifies a pop song on the radio just by listening to it. No wonder, then, that people loved @ale_guzman1’s concept of “Shazam for movies or TV.” How great would it be to let the phone’s camera identify whatever you’re watching? But why stop there? The Twitterfolk also dreamed up Shazam for art (“who painted that?”), Shazam for plants (“is that a weed or a valuable plant?”), Shazam for bird calls, Shazam for classical music, Shazam for “the handwritten menus on the walls of Chinese restaurants,” and Shazam for people. (“I want an app that shows me someone’s name/info when camera is pointed at them,” said @maj8614. “Conferences and weddings: much easier!”)
Parking was a hot topic, too. “Alternate side parking app. You don’t have to open it; the icon just says YES or NO.” (That’s from @harryhassell, who obviously lives in Manhattan, where you’re required to move your parked car to the other side of the street on certain days.) Likewise, @2jase dreams of “an app that tells me the correct parking rules for the spot where I’m currently standing.”

But @danfrakes responded, “I think I’d rather see an app that teaches people how to park and sends them a notification when they do it wrong.” Social apps were popular, like the “reverse Foursquare” suggested by @churlala: “Register all your exes, so no awkward runins around town.” Or @sppatel’s “Six Degrees of Separation” app, which “uses public friends lists across multiple social sites to determine how you may be tied to someone you just met.”

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SAMSUNG’S BADA OS DEBUT.

A shiny new OS debuts from the Korean shores. It is called BADA and is set to lock horns with the might of Apple and Google

Glancing back in the recent past, say about a decade ago, the Symbian OS offered the best it could, and Nokia was probably the most popular handset manufacturer. Fastforward ten years and the same OS is as loved as the good old yellow- black taxis you find in Mumbai.

They get the job done, but more often than not, you hate them. Apple’s mobile operating system, which the world got to experience for the first time on the iPhone in 2007, with dropped jaws, may I add, was the new sports car of mobile operating systems. It was slick to work with and delicious to look at. Android in the last year or so has boosted its grip to even higher levels and is dangerously close to out-performing the Apple iOS, that currently runs on the iPhone 4. While the two biggies set themselves up for battle royale, Samsung, debuts its very own mobile OS.

They called it ‘Bada’ which in Korean means, ‘Ocean’, and quite frankly after experiencing it first hand on the Samsung Wave, at the launch, I can safely say, that its got what it takes to shine within the mobile OS realm. Simply put, Samsung wants to put premium features in the hands of everyday mobile users. Which is why, you get, multipoint-touch, 3D graphics, an enhanced UI, application downloads and installation.

The Bada OS also extends support for API plugs for features such as, GPS navigation, accelerometers, proximity and ambient light sensors, and even compasses.

Flash, which is completely left out by the Apple OS, is supported by Bada, and the good bit is that it supports HTML 5.

The built-in web browser christened ‘Dolphin’ supports Flash video and you can download files in the background. You can even purchase apps via Samsung’s very own app store, and even take advantage of push notification.

All this works superbly on the new Wave, Samsung’s new Super AMOLED display touchscreen phone.

The Bada OS is complemented well by the blazing fast 1GHz processor. Other features include a 5MP camera with support to record videos at 720p, Wi-Fi, A-GPS and more. It would be interesting to see how the developer community embraces the Bada OS. Since mobile apps are the current in thing, they will play a huge part in the success of the Bada OS.

For now, i am thoroughly impressed with the fluidity that the Bada OS offers. Plus the feature set is robust enough for users to sit up and take notice.

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The App Catwalk

WHAT MAKES A PHONE SMART? IF you go by the literal definition, even a dualsim Java phone can be classified as one, since it can run Nimbuzz and Opera Mini. Getjar provides a free library of apps for feature phones, while carriers have their own app markets that you can use to download games and other software. The smart option would be to buy a phone that can take video calls on Skype over Wi-Fi for free. Here’s a concise platform-wise overview on how to buy a smartphone that can run apps:

Apple iPhone

Apple maintains total control over both hardware, software, and the App store. iPhone’s walled garden and premium pricing have helped create the largest library of free and paid apps. The iPhone 4 doesn’t need to sell itself, especially if you can afford one.

Samsung Bada

Samsung’s replacement to its feature phone platform, the Wave S8500 touchscreen handset launched recently in India, is one of the first Bada phones. In terms of specs and pricing, Samsung’s S8500 is a lot more competitive than its Android counterparts, but we’ll have to wait and see how the app marketplace matures in a few years.

Nokia Symbian

Skype has been available on the Ovi store for S60 phones since March, and we reckon there’s plenty of value for money to be had in a Nokia E5, E63 or E71. However, when it comes to delivering a touch experience, Nokia’s phones have plenty of ground to cover against Android or iPhone counterparts. Nokia’s Linux development platform Maemo resulted in just one phone, the N900, which was launched a few weeks ago in India. At the Mobile World Conference this year, Nokia and Intel announced that they have combined their Linux development platforms to create Meego. We’re also looking forward to the Nokia N8, which will be running on the Symbian^3 OS.

RIM Blackberry

Research In Motion is a major smartphone player in the enterprise space thanks to its support for push e-mail and encryption. Of late, RIM has been trying to appeal to a younger audience, but there are no student discounts. Compared to Android phones, their usage terms are quite restrictive. Access to basic smartphone features requires a post-paid Blackberry plan, without which you won’t be able to use the push email service on your phone, or run free third-party apps on the Blackberry App store. We have yet to find a Skype-to-Skype app that will enable phone calls on Wi-Fi.

Google Android

This has the second largest app store after Apple, and retains the largest marketshare for free apps — over 57% of apps on the store are free, twice the number when compared to other handset platforms. It offers good value for money if you are a cash-strapped student with access to a Wi-Fi hotspot. Android devices come in a lot of form factors and flavours. One of the best buys at the entry-level was the Samsung Spica, but it is out of stock and hard to find. You can expect to see a lot of action in this space, with the world’s first dual-SIM Android phone and a mid-range CDMA Android from Reliance expected this year.

Windows Mobile

Windows Mobile 6.5 phones can be had for the price of an Android, and has its league of satisfied users — what everyone has been waiting for is the Windows Phone 7 series. The latest release will be less open than previous versions, and will be able to run apps downloaded only from the Windows Mobile Marketplace.

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July Systems scores big with mobile media

Bangalore-Based Co To Step Up Focus On Streaming Sports Events On Cellphones

AS TIGER Woods teed off at the Augusta Masters last month, viewerships of the event — across internet and mobile — surpassed all others in the US and Europe. But little did the world know that the mobile broadcast was being delivered right out of Hosur Road in Bangalore by a 250-people firm called July Systems.

And, while newspapers and TV channels were busy raking money from the off and on field coverage of IPL 3, last month, July Systems was busy creating a solution that would stream IPL matches on mobile screens using the existing 2G bandwidth.
The firm, pioneers in mobile media, is focusing big on mobile streaming of sports with the number of GPRS handsets growing, mobile price-points dropping and 3G services getting launched. The company’s proprietary technology, MIX (mobile internet experience), is the first next-generation mobile publishing platform that offers features like cross-platform publishing and distribution. This patented software streamed IPL matches clip-by-clip, with in-house techies-cum-sports enthusiasts even adding live ball-by-ball commentary.
July Systems was started by seven techies, led by Rajesh Reddy, in 2001, post the dotcom bust. It didn’t make much money till about 2006, but turned cash-flow positive in March and secured a fresh $7-million Series C investment. The investment was led by Intel Capital with existing investors Sequoia Capital and Footprint Ventures taking part.
The growth in mobile internet consumption and rise in its customer base — locally as well as globally — has already helped the firm clock a 300% year-on-year growth in revenues in March, the last time this privately-held firm declared its run rate. The technology hotspot counts media clients like PGA Tour, Indycar, ESPN, F1Live, and claims to be one of the largest players in mobile broadcast of sports.
But there isn’t a doubt that cricket is dialling the right numbers for these firms — for the first two weeks of IPL 3, a million people clicked on the link,m.iplt20.com, resulting in 3.7 million video views and roughly 15,000 hours of video. Not just that. Anupam Srivasatava of Intel Capital, which has also invested in buzzintown.com, said: “Mobile internet usage in India will become very big with 20% of 500 million users possessing GPRS handsets. With such handset prices falling and the advent of 3G, it will gain a new growth curve in next two years.”
What’s helping the firm is a band of sports enthusiasts in its top team: be it president Prem Bhatia, who played county cricket or veep of product management, Richit Jhunjhunwala and chief architect, Vikas Murthy. Mr Srivasatva of Intel Capital feels that sports on mobile is definitely going to be a new ball game.
So does the July Systems CEO Rajesh Reddy, as he said: “Over 50% of our revenues comes from sports vertical and rest from news on the mobile. We are also active in creating sessionbased advertising for advertisers.” The firm is, however, facing some competition from emerging companies like Apalya Technolgies. Apalya is currently streaming the ICC T20 World Cup Matches live on mobile screens.

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Global smartphone sales touch 55 million

THE global smartphone market experienced its strongest ever growth since 2007 with sales of about 55.2 million units in January-March, 2010. The volume of smartphone sales continued their climb in the first quarter of 2010, posting a growth of 67%, a study by Canalys said. The sector weathered the period of economic uncertainty well and growth has fully rebounded, it added. Despite strong competition, Nokia increased its share of the global smartphone market in the first quarter of 2010, according to Canalys.

The Finnish vendor shipped 21.4 million units, around twice the volume of nearest competitor RIM. Nokia showed strong growth across all regions, with Latin America the highest growth market, but with the lowest volume. Under fierce competition from rivals, Nokia has broadened its touch-screen portfolio over the last six months. “For the first time, touch-screens represented over 50% of Nokia’s smart phone shipments this quarter, which were historically dominated by the keypadbased candy bar form factors,” Canalys VP and Principal Analyst Chris Jones said.
Aggressive pricing has enabled Nokia to deliver smart phones that appeal to a broader consumer audience. RIM was another vendor to forge ahead, particularly on the back of its impressive performance in Latin America.

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Mobiles for delivery of public services

WITH THE RESERVE BANK OF INDIA (RBI) increasing the daily transaction amount using mobile to Rs 50,000 there is a sudden spurt of activities in mobile banking with some of the major banks announcing a foray in to this area. This is part of a trend that we are observing in mobile value added services (MVAS) that is moving away from strictly entertainment oriented towards utility based. Utility services can be defined as the ones that are of interest to a larger audience and which have transactional time value. With about half of our population subscribing to mobile services, what better way to disseminate pubic information than using MVAS. Indian mobile VAS industry valued at more than Rs 7,000 crore has so far been dominated by entertainment services such as mobile music, ring back tones (RBTs), wallpapers and plain SMS. Though services such as RBTs have been a real success, the MVAS ecosystem players often paid little attention to other innovative services that can be of use to a larger audience. However, with hyper competition in the mobile services sector with voice average revenue per user (ARPU) continuing to decline, operators cannot afford to ignore public utility services. What are examples of such utility services and how are they beneficial to the masses? How useful it would be for the travellers if they are forewarned about the closing time of Bandipur forest (in Karnataka) while one is planning to make a journey in the evening through the thickets, instead of getting stranded at the entrance. Would not it be good if everyone is forewarned through SMS about the harmful effects of radiation emanating from the corona and the needed precautions to be taken during the astounding solar eclipse which we witnessed late January? Though one has been getting travel alerts from the traffic police in the metros about major procession in the city, it would be of immense use to get alerts periodically; even better, based on the location in the city or town one is travelling and the possible detours so that traffic bottlenecks can be circumvented. SMS alerts targeted at specific locations may provide better reach than the traditional public address system to warn people of catastrophic events such as tsunami and flash floods that are quick and devastating. In countries such asJapan and Sri Lanka, technology known as “cell broadcast” is used to send early alerts about earthquake and tsunami through mobiles to specific regions of the country. There are a host of health-related public VAS services that can be provided, especially in the rural areas, to select target audience. SMS reminders and alerts can be sent to registered pregnant women on next medical checkups; to mothers of infants on next immunisation schedule; to patients on doctor’s arrival time; to nurses for attending and monitoring school health check-up programs in villages. For certain diseases such as tuberculosis, SMS alerts to patients on due dates for check-ups, and to doctors on the next doses of medicine to be administered to specific patients, will improve the efficacy of directly observed treatments. Tourism Promotion Councils in districts such as Kanniyakumari in Tamil Nadu that earn substantial revenues from tourism can enable SMS-based advertisements for hotels in the area indicating room availability, prices and directions to promote a tourist friendly hospitality industry. Farmers from far-off villages often go to nearby towns and cities once a week to participate in mandis to sell their agri products. More often than not customers do not know the advantage of coming to mandi and sometimes may not even know the venue and timings. Information on products and the mandi prices can be sent via SMS alerts so that customers have information and reason to come to mandi to buy products. Increase in demand will also encourage farmers to come to mandis to sell their products. Mobile devices, which are truly personal, provide an opportunity to learn anytime-anywhere. People in rural areas can be educated in languages using “worda-day” paradigm through which they learn words, their meanings and pronunciations using voice SMS. Mobiles may be the only channel available in certain rural areas of the country for enabling banking and can be deployed effectively using the strong distribution network of the mobile service providers. Mobile payment and banking enable quick turnaround time for remittances, especially in rural areas as demonstrated by service providers such as Zain on in Africa. Examples such as the ones mentioned above can be delivered by the ecosystem comprising of mobile service providers, the appropriate government/municipal agencies, and private content providers. So far, the various government agencies have not utilised the mobile services technology for disseminating public information. It is time that the agencies embrace this powerful and ubiquitous technology to disseminate public information for the benefit of the citizens. The service providers and content providers should also realise that utility MVAS remains an unexplored territory in India, however showing a good promise for the off-take of the still fledgling MVAS industry in India.

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IN JUST TWO YEARS, MICROMAX HAS BECOME INDIA’S THIRD-LARGEST GSM MOBILE PHONE VENDOR

Journey from Micro to Max

Two years back, when the Goliaths—Nokia, Samsung and LG—had a firm grip on one of the fastest growing mobile markets in the world, a David was born. Just two-years old, still in its nappies, this David has pushed Goliaths into a tight corner and is giving them a run for their money.

Micromax, the David, is now the third-largest GSM mobile
phone vendor in India, after Nokia and Samsung, with a market share of 6%, according to research firm IDC. The Rs 1,600-crore brand, which sells around 1 million mobiles every month, has a presence in more than 500 districts through 70,000 retail outlets.
A distribution company, Micromax Technologies, was engaged in reselling hardware since 2000. It subsequently did software projects for other big IT companies and later on graduated to become back-end partners of Nokia and Airtel, helping implement their different products and services.

It was in 2008 that four friends—Rajesh Agarwal, Sumeet Arora, Rahul Sharma and Vikas Jain—decided to diversify their IT hardware distribution business and start making mobile phones. The move towards selling handsets was a natural progression. “We saw that the MNC brands were not selling phones that suited Indian consumers’ requirements. This void had to be filled. So in April 2008, we forayed into the handset market,” said Vikas Jain, one of the four founders of Micromax Infomatics, the company that owns the Micromax Mobile brand.

Their first mobile phone boasted of a month’s battery power, and further charged the ambitions of the friends. Like all leading players in the cell phone industry, Micromax also gets its handsets contract manufactured from China. A zero-import duty on cell phones has helped the industry proliferate. After a slew of phones targeted specifically at the rural masses, the company made a shift towards selling handsets that come with features appealing to urban consumers such as music phones, qwerty and internet-enabled handsets. “We wanted to approach the market in a different manner by first going to rural and semi-urban areas, establishing a good distribution base and then targeting the big cities,” said Vikas Jain.

In a sea of me-too brands, Vikas feels that it is innovation and R&D that will power Micromax’s growth and set it apart from the crowd. So, the brand has been integrating different solutions into one, to churn out mobile handsets that are unique and differentiated through the features that they provide. The company already has a universal remote control phone, one that can be paired to household appliances like the TV, AC, to act as a remote control for them. Then there are gravity sensitive phones and a whole gamut of different feature laden phones that the company is guarded about, but is going to launch in the days ahead. “We have to be quick in launching new products as competitors can also copy a lot of this soon enough,” reasons Jain.

But the ace up its sleeve really is the Micromax Gameolution phone. Post signing up actor Akshay Kumar, the company sold 1.2 million handsets last month. Akshay was a natural choice. He has a youthful and peppy image that is perfect for our brand. In fact, we signed him up in fifteen days flat,” says Jain. Before this, the company tied up with MTV to launch its X360 music phone, another big hit with urban consumers.

Instilling pride in the brand, the custodians of the Micromax brand now want it to be the top brand of 10 in every 100 mobile consumers.

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