Zook : A New Approach to Mobile Search


As a Mobile App enthusiast it always fascinate me to see how user behavior changes when a certain activity /task is shifted from PC Internet to mobile Internet. Biggest mistake product manager commit is to assume that change in user behavior will be primarily driven by the constraint imposed by mobile phone. A commonly held axiom is that activity level usually decreases from PC to mobile. For example if I write long verbose  reply to emails from my laptop , I will probably be writing short 3-4 lines long email  messages on my blackberry (keypad constraint) .If I read a long article,leisurely on my PC then on my cellphone I will be snacking on bit sized content piece (screen size constraint). If I watch full length movies on PC ,I will see clips on mobile (bandwidth constraints ) .While these assumptions are heuristically correct but they leaves a large number of use cases un explored which lead to a HUGE potential untapped  which could have been tapped only through the medium of cellphone.


Search is a case in point .when you carry out a search in desktop paradigm your looking for content related to that query . when I look for something like say "Kingfisher Beer" on PC, potentially relevant results for me are corporate website of UB group , wikipedia entry for Beer , advert to latest campaign ,related News item etc. But when I carry out the same search using a mobile my potentially suitable result will also include wallpaper Kingfisher logo, Kingfisher's Good Time Ring tone , Theme, SMS forward with Kingfisher word in it , Store locator's showing nearest bar serving the brew, discount coupon to beer etc . These additional results might be of no value to me on PC but on mobile my propensity of consuming these content is more. Based on this information one can make a pretty strong case that when it come to mobile phone we need to not only optimize search but also modify it .




 Zook is an search application from Bangalore based Ziva software which is trying to do just that. they are modifying and presenting the search result tailor made for Mobile phone . I am very fascinated by their value proposition . You can download Zook client from the website by pointing your mobile browser to www.zook.in/client or you can download the app on to your PC from http://www.zook.in/client/phonelist.html and side load  it to your cellphone . application size is of `198 kb and its supported for most of the popular Nokia devices . Installation on My Nokia E63 was smooth and glitch free. once the app is installed and you start it . it takes sometime to calculate the current location of user and after that you are ready to go . Interface is very similar to  clean and standard Search engine.only difference is that underneath the main search box there are section for Movie ,coupon,deal ,event,local etc .


 I searched for the term "BAR" . In addition to the organic result I got a pointer to the nearest bar , there was option for  click to call or save number to phone book. This make the whole experience very mobile friendly.Other result are  categorized under various sections as shown in screenshot below. you can browse them by clciking to every category link and expanding it .There is a social angle to Zook search also .You can query the Zook community or your specific group of friends to tell you, for example, what they think of the movie or restaurant before going to it. Zook can even tell which of your 'active' friends (those users in your phone book whose numbers have been promoted to Zook and also use Zook themselves) are nearest to you. this functionality is a huge differentiators for Zook . It allow the to seamlessly integrate the social recommendations in search results.

I am using it for past couple of weeks and I am very impressed by it and I am not alone, Zook has a significant fan following amongst its user. They were showcased by  Nokia in featured application section some time back . Do try Zook and do let me know your views. 

X BLOCKR : An App to Duck ,Drop or Divert Unwanted Calls .


 Much as I like the convenience of cellphone and freedom it offers to my family and friends to reach me at anytime ,still it won't stop me from asserting that this freedom comes at a price . And there are days when this price seems to be a bit too much . when you are connected ,then everyone from credit card salesperson to automated IVR based advertisements bid for your attention. you always run a risk of getting  distracted. In addition to these unsolicited calls there are people whom you know ,but who call you at wrong/ inconvenient hours .While you can afford to ignore the unsolicited calls but ignoring calls from people you know is tricky .you don't want to offend them.

All these situation are the reason why there is a plethora of call management application available . Their is a genuine need for such applications but unfortunately in spite of all these offering, the problem is far from solved . Adaptation of all these call management software is very little . I have tried 6 such device based application and 2 Network based call management services but none of them worked for me . from UI to work flow to configuration there were many issue with them. All I was looking for was a simple.easy to use  app which do what I mentioned above . XBLOCKR is one such application which is nearest to my idea of good call management application.  

Developed by Bangalore based Aquilonis Technologies ,X Blockr is an nifty app which help you to handle unwanted calls. its supported for Symbian ,Windows Mobile and BlackBerry Phones.Its a paid application with the price tag of $20 for international users, but it is specially priced at Rs. 349/- for Indian users. You can have a 100 call  Trial version for free . This trial version can be downloaded from their website( link). I sideloaded Xblocker to my  Nokia E63 . Installation was a smooth two step process . I was ready to use it instantly.

   
X blocker offer you a variety of response for spam calls .With Xblcoker you can choose to DUCK,DROP or DIVERT the call you don't want to answer . When you choose to  "Duck" a call ,the caller will hear a default busy message provided by the operator if you are subscribing to voice mail service this will be diverted to your voice mail box. There is also an option to duck with SMS, In that case app will send an automatic message to caller.You can also choose to "DROP" the call , doing this will answer the call for a second and disconnects instantly. This will sound like a network error to the caller .Finally there is an option to divert the call to a number of your choice .All of these three option can either be applied on case-by-case basis or can be configured as a default response to a specific number .Here one of the differentiators or  USP of Xblockr is the flexibility it offer to user to choose response on run time . User can choose to duck,drop or divert the call when He/She receive the call or at the end of call.This makes the list management very easy. 

In addition to that there is a functionality to define "Mode". By defining the mode you allocate a default response to every incoming call. As long as  XBLOCKR is set to that mode every call you receive will be answered with the response of your choice. There is also a provision to make a list of special number which can override the mode preference .As an end user I like this kind of granular control over incoming calls. A word of caution : You SHOULD put your Wife's number in that special number's list, whether you put your Boss's number there is entirely up to you :) .

I had a brief conversation with Mr.Rahul Rajguru ,CEO of Aquilonis Technologies. He mentioned that customer response to XBlockr has been very encouraging. they have acquired more than 25,000 downloads in less than two months.they are coming up Android support very soon and will be introducing New enhancements in  existing applications very soon. I will surely check them out. Do try X Blockr and let me know what you think of it .

Mundu : Best IM App For Your Mobile Device



There are many way in which Mobile Internet is different from PC Internet. but there is one thing in which there is striking similarity in both medium . That is,The sequence  in which new user try out application . Like PC,first and foremost use case of Mobile DATA is Email,then its WAP surfing , Once a user get comfortable with  Email & WAP he graduate to ? Your guess is as good as mine ,Instant Messaging /Chat . Essentially its the need to have an instant and always-on connectivity which shape our choice of apps. while there are reasonably robust client app available for Email ( Gmail ,RIM BB , NMS) and WAP ( Opera, Skyfire ,Webkit) but there is no such universally accepted benchmark application for Instant Messaging. Mundu Instant messenger can fill this gap .Developed by Mumbai based  Geodesic System , Mundu is a paid application . you need to shell out USD $11 for getting one . however you can get a trial version for free by pointing your mobile browser to http://m.mundu.com. Its supported for all leading mobile platform S60, JAVA, WM,Palm,RIM OS and iPhone .

Functionality :
Mundu is a nicely designed Mobile IM application which runs on XMPP-Jabber Protocol ,ergo its compatible with all major Instant messengers like YAHOO,GTalk,MSN,AIM,ICQ etc. I installed it on my Nokia E63 and Blackberry . Installation was smooth . I logged in to the application using my G Talk Credential . it shown a list of all my contact . you can segregate contacts by there connectivity status ie you can choose to see only those users which are online at that point of time. if you are logged into multiple IM services than you can also segregate them based on  each service . Other regular IM feature like change in status message ,support for background mode,conference across multiple IM services etc are also available .

You can also share images and other files with your chat buddies.Customize the color and style of chat text with a range of exciting rich text options and also with a range of emoticons. You can customize sounds, pop-up, vibration preferences for all IM alerts. It can send e-mail notifications whenever you receive new mail in your Gmail, MSN, or Yahoo! accounts. It supports some European languages, too, so you don't have to chat exclusively in English.

My Take :

The best thing about Mundu is its Excellent User interface . For such a feature rich application Mundu has got an extremely clean and intuitive UI & work flow .This kind of simplicity is hard to achieve in mobile applications. There are some minor deference in terms of swiftness and experience across various platform but that's more of the problem of underlying OS than application itself. Getting PC like IM experience replicated on resource constrained environment of a mobile phone is a tough task , but Mundu has demonstrated that it can be done with right kind of UI and under the hood optimization . Big Kudos to Geodesic team for this .Do try out Mundu IM . I am sure you will end up buying full version . Trust me its USD $ 11 well spent .

IndiSMS : Send Text Messages in your Native Language

 Fact that masses in India has embraced Mobile phone in a spectacular manner is an old news. We are the fastest growing telecom market in world. Its only  logical to  extrapolate that this huge user base represent a huge untapped potential for content consumption and creation. However this content revolution hasn't really happened in India yet . There are many roadblocks . there are some unresolved issues with device .Things like keypad layout is not optimized for indic language input ,inability to support rendering of Indic language content on majority of devices etc .Most devices today are inherently incapable to render Indic language content on their screens. There are many companies who are trying to crack this market by creating applications which enable Indic content on Mobile phones. IndiSMS from Eterno Infotech is one such application. It allow user to create SMS in Indian languages .

IndiSMS is a mobile application that helps people send & received SMSs in Indian languages. Anyone  can  download the application and use.you can download the application from website (link)  or get it from Ovi store (link) .It is supported for all S60 devices and all major Samsung ,Sony Ericssion and Motorola devices . you can get the list of supported devices here. Its a free application .There are no charges for downloading or using IndiSMS application. only one standard SMS charge to get activation code.App size is of 389KB .I downloaded it on my Nokia E63 . It was a smooth installation with only couple of intermediate steps.after installation you are ready to send and receive  text messages in 9 Indian language. Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil.



IndiSMS uses Transliteration method for accepting input on Mobile phones. this essentially means that you need not to modify the keyboard layout of device or learn new technique of keying in the input. all you need to do is to simply enter phonetic equivalent of word and IndiSMS will display it into your prefered language. Thanks to our habit of sending messages in hinglish, the learning curve for user to master transliteration is very little . Most user can pick it up on the fly. There is no extra price you need to pay for sending SMS using IndiSMS , Each message sent using IndiSMS will cost you the standard charges that you pay your mobile operator for short messages.however because out going message is sent in unicode so there is a restriction on Maximum number of character which can be sent per SMS.It can send only 70 characters in an Indian language message versus 160 characters in English. if you continue typing beyond the limit of 70 characters ,the extra characters will get split into a second message automatically.Since its a Unicode based application ,ergo on recieving end, messages are displayed properly on all those phones which are unicode compliant .

Sometime back I have reviewed another application by Eterno Infortech . Its called NewsHunt.What I like about IndiSMS and other product from Eterno is their approach toward solving the problem of Indic content in India. IndiSMS is a part of suit of Indic language products developed by Eterno.IndiSMS do an excellent job of providing user first glimpse of  Indic Language capability of mobile devices. Thanks to the popularity of SMS in India we couldn't have asked for a better use case. This can be a steeping stone for user to adopt various other usage like reading news , browsing  music catalog in Indic Languages etc . This step by step approach of exposing user to Indic language content can do a wonderful job of seeding user interest in this field . Do try this out yourself and surprise your friends by sending a SMS in your native language .

Calcium : Simplifying your Cellphone Calculator


First and foremost use case of Cellphone is still for making voice calls. But if I have to make a guess about which is the most frequently used cellphone feature after voice . I am sure that it will be SMS and Calculator . Part of their appeal is in their ubiquity across devices . Almost every cellphone in market have an SMS  and calculator functionality . While  SMS captures attention of everybody from  handset OEM to Network operators ,calculator is treated like a step child .
There hasn't been much innovation in Calender application . Both in terms of UI and functionality . UI is very cumbersome and not easy to use . As anyone who has tried to use his cellphone calculator  to tally a grocery bill , split bill at a dutch party or need to do a quick currency conversion will testify.Most of the time we use it because there is no other alternate app available to do the same . So I was very happy to discover Calcium  ,a Calculator app by Mtvoid . Its not a Full blown Casio style 100-Function scientific calculator but a strip down ,bare basic , easy to use, 4 function  calculator which can serve requirement of 90% of the users.

Calcium is a nifty app of just 90KB in size . you can download it for free from Mtvoid website . Calcium is supported for S60 devices . I installed it on my Nokia E63  and process was smooth.After just three clicks during installation.I was ready to use the app .The elegance of  UI design in Calcium is outstanding . They have essentially mapped all the operation of calculator to joystick and in doing so removed the need to select on-screen buttons and moved all the operations to the joystick. Left arrow key is mapped to divide ,RIGHT arrow key is mapped to multiplication, UP arrow key is mapped to addition and DOWN arrow key is mapped to  subtraction. Select button in the center of joystick is mapped to equivalence /result ( "=". ) operation. you can use numeric keys of your device for entering data and # key is used for inserting decimal point. Thanks to the onscreen display interface much of this mapping can be intuitively grasped by end user . it took me less than a minute to figure it out.

After initial learning curve you are ready to fly with it . USP of Calcium is that  With calcium,number of key press required to perform a certain calculation is significantly reduced. for example start the standard calculator and do 2/3 x 7. It takes 13 clicks. Using Calcium it only takes 6. Now that's a productivity Value add .

Its refreshing to see innovation in a seemingly dead evolved category of Mobile app .its a testimony that there is always room for improvement. Do give it a shot and let me know how you feel about it.

Nokia Bots : Making Your Cellphone learn form your usage pattern.

My affair with Mobile Phone is close to 8 year old now . But even after so many years It never fail to amaze me . Every now and then I stumble upon an app which brings that "A-Ha" moment for me . Most of these apps are not complex,they are simple,elegant and easy to use and they solve a real life problem . Often They do one thing but do it Very well. Nokia Bots from Nokia Beta Labs is one such application which has excited me recently. Core idea behind Nokia Bots is to observe usage pattern in background and optimize the interface and functionality to best suit each user's habit.

For example each one of us have a different approach to use phone . some of us set up alarm for a certain time in morning but we forget to change the profile from silent to normal/outdoor. we have our appointments and calender entries on device wouldn't it be nice if phone automatically switch to silent mode in meeting hours rather than we need to do it manually every time . similarly we don't answer phone call in office hour and than forget to call back. wouldn't it be nice if some app can remind us of all the miss called at the end of the day ? Nokia Bots is an attempt to address this latent need .

On an application level Nokia Bots is just 170 KB in size and supported only for Touch devices as of now. you can download it from Nokia Beta Labs site . here is the link . as this is a beta app so there will be few rough edges and long learning period for bots. that shouldn't deter you from using it . You might find prediction or automatic updates by Bots to be a little off the mark initially but due to the heuristic learning method of bots it will improve as you keep using it .

On functionality level its is a collection of Add ons that improve the user experience. Each add-on is represented as a bot the bots are smart int he sense that instead on relying on factory default for device or making user to configure  application setting manually ,they learn in the background how each user prefers to use the phone and then act accordingly .The Bots ‘live’ within a single home screen widget, where their status, messages and suggestions are presented to you. in its present avatar Nokia bots consist of four"Bots" . One for Profile,Alarm,Shortcut and Battery .

Profile Bot : Profile Bot track your preference of profile and after a brief learning period it start automatically changing your profile based on your history .

Alarm Bot :Alarm Bot learns at what time you wake up, and suggests alarms and profile changes on your home screen nightly. Create a new alarm and automate night profile with a single click, and never again forget phone to silent profile in the morning.

Battery Bot:Battery Bot observes your battery status. In case the battery is likely to drain while you sleep, it reminds you in advance to connect the charger. Otherwise you might wake up too early because of “battery low” alerts, or too late if it drains before wake-up alarm.

Shortcut Bot:Shortcut Bot provide you with  quick access to your most frequently used apps straight from your home screen without configuration hassles: your preferences are learned in the background, and shortcuts automatically updated.

Right now the selection of "Bots " are limited to these four choices  but i am sure more will be added in the future> i won't be surprised if soon Bots will become the def-acto method of  application access on our device.  I hope Nokia allow the access of this framework to third party and non native application too. this will really make it a clear winner . I am curious to see how this evolve in years to come . Do try out Nokia Bots and let me know your thoughts .

Socially

Socially is a Mobile Social networking integrator application developed by Mumbai based Antarix Networks. Socially provides a unified interface to all popular social destinations like Twitter,Facebook,LinkedIn .with socially you can track your social stream right from your cellphone. Socially has some interesting feature set which make it stand out in a crowded marketplace . 

Application Functionality  : 


You can download socially by pointing your mobile browser to http://m.sociallyapp.com . It can also be downloaded from  Nokia’s Ovi Store (here), GetJar (here).Socially is supported for symbian Platform and specifically Nokia Handsets. you can find a complete listing of supported handset here. It has a memory foot print of 889kb . It took me  5 min on GPRS connection and 2-2.5 Min on Wi-Fi to download the client on my Nokia N97 and Nokia E63 respectively.Installation went smoothly . After installation you are welcomed with a tabbed interface . Each tab is dedicated to one social network . right now there are 6 Tabs .one for Facebook,Twitter,LinkedIn each. other tabs are for Updating your status ,viewing an integrated stream,Blockcalls etc. I am sure that there would be additional tabs as and when they add support for new social destinations. 

For the first time you need to provide your login credential to login to each social network .after that you can watch your integrated social stream every time you log in. In addition to these aggregation , Socially also provide some Mobile phone specific feature too. it provide a deep integration with your social graph by connecting your phone data. these functionality can be clubbed under two broad categories . Event based information and Status Ticker. 

Status Ticker: After installation Socially works in background , you keep receiving status update alert on your phone screen in the form of a ticker.this ticker works as a teaser , providing a temptation to engage in conversation.User can see latest update from their friends with out going to application interface.if you want to respond to it or know more detail you can click on it and it will take you to the main app screen .its an excellent use of phone's idle screen if you ask me . One might think that it will be preventing user from moving application interface and thereby reducing page view of app but on the contrary people tend to visit the application interface more often if they got to see the teaser of status ticker. I speak for myself , i find my self repeatedly visiting the app interface most of the time when I see an interesting update on my ticker. 

Event based information : These information are displayed in response to an event like incoming calls. For example whenever you receive a phone call it shows you a summary of your previous interaction with the caller . things like when was the last time you talked or sent an SMS to caller , their current location and latest status message etc.This  can be of huge value add to reciver as it put an context to the call. Apart from providing the updated status info on receiving call .Socially  also provide an option to add calling party to your facebook /Twitter account or to block call from that number,once the call is terminated.

My Take :
I am pretty excited about the application , mostly because the way it has exploited the cellphone functionality by integrating them with social network. This is a novel product mix , I am curious to see how user respond to it . there are obvious concern about end user privacy and disclosing the information but application has good enough privacy control features to ensure that your information is secure. you can read the privacy policy at http://www.sociallyapp.com/privacy.html . In terms of application performance , I felt it to be a little slow and unresponsive at times but that might be an issue of Latency due to  slow GPRS. Performance on feature phones was less then satisfactory but again i am not sure if that was a device issue ( memory etc ) .I hope it will improve in subsequent versions of app.

On distribution and Monetization front socially has got some good potential .  Its available on Ovi and Getjar . It has also  been launched with Reliance Communications, R World User can  download the app for free and do unlimited browsing on Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter by paying 10 Rs /Month . This price point make it very tempting for its primary audience : young cellphone users. I am sure any advertiser would like reach out to them .Apart from the Subscription revenue , Socially can also moentize its usage by inserting advertisement on Ticker . This kind of idle screen advertisement has been around for sometime , another products which use such method is Celltick and SMS 2.0

 Do try out Socially and let me know how you feel ?