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Smart apps for slow phones [Special Report] [Times of India]
[November 19, 2012]

Smart apps for slow phones [Special Report] [Times of India]

(Times of India Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) There's a smart app for every phone. That seems to be the belief powering the mobile app industry today. The perception that apps are meant for just Android phones or the iOS platform of Apple products is not really correct, as developers are trying to make the 'dumb' basic mobiles smarter with new apps.

True, they have to contend with low-end software and handsets, besides slower net connections and different screen sizes, but the underlying incentive is the huge user base -- reportedly 85% of mobile phone users in India have feature phones. A large percentage of these don't have GPS (global positioning system) or Wi-Fi. Says Vinayak Naik, assistant professor at Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-D ), Delhi, "We thought 'how can we leverage this number and give them smart apps ' How can a feature phone user find out travel route info, the right metro or bus in the city " Naik and PhD student at IIIT-D , Kuldeep Yadav have developed an alternative to GPS, one that uses cell broadcast service messages (CBS) to estimate location. CBS is a GSM standard in which nearby cell towers broadcast their locality name -- which often shows up on the mobile screen as 'Connaught Place' or 'Karol Bagh' , for instance. A phone can receive CBS messages from only one cell tower to which it is currently connected. The IIIT-D team's software captures these location names and then uses Google Maps to find the exact coordinates. "You can use it if you want to know about good Chinese restaurants in your area. A smartphone owner uses GPS and Google Maps. But GPS is very expensive and a drain on the battery," says Naik. However, they acknowledge that while GPS gives accurate locations, the CBS-based approach might not be that exact because CBS locations might be far from actual locations.

"We wanted to work around services like 2G and SMS which are more prevalent in India," says Naik. Their app can work in mobiles in the range Rs 2000-7000 . In a country where people might baulk at paying steep mobile bills for GPS, downloading music and games and where net penetration is quite low, such low-tech ideas could benefit the large base of feature phone customers. In fact, according to telecom market research firm Ovum, the global apps market for feature phones will almost double by 2016, hitting revenues of $1 billion, after being spurred on by the success of smartphone apps.

A number of entrepreneurs and firms are already developing apps that are popular with smartphones , such as games, Facebook and Twitter etc, for feature phones too. There are cloud-based platforms that are giving feature phones access to books, health information, news and weather etc.

Naik and Yadav too have developed a mobilecloud based system i.e MobiShare, that helps feature phone users to share large content files more easily, despite using 2G which has limited bandwidth . But the moot question is how effectively can these features be understood -- and used by an ordinary mobile user "MobiShare can be used by anybody -- including students and the elderly. The minimal requirement is that the handset should have Bluetooth," says Yadav. Seems like a smart idea, sirji.

(c) 2012 Bennett, Coleman & Company Limited

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