On the Google Android Developer Challenge

Put together on January 27, 2008 9:03 pm by Dimitris
1 Comment

android attack Due to circumstances beyond my control (i.e. having been drafted to serve 9 months in the Greek Army) writing here has been next to impossible – at least until now that things seem to be getting into a routine that allows PC use (not the internet though). However, I have been able to follow the technological developments to some extent – some times by visiting internet cafes but mainly via my lowly and almost obsolete yet web-enabled Sony Ericsson K320i mobile.

This being my first exposure to the ‘mobile web’ the experience probably warrants a separate post but I’ll postpone that for the time being. Instead I’ll write about Google’s Android Developer Challenge that’s been on my mind almost since its announcement in early November(?). Now, the competition is exciting news in itself both in terms of the advances it will facilitate and of course the good prizes that’s there to be won – both in terms of money and possibly future deals. Even after the Challenge finishes and the dust has settled down I think the Android platform will be a major driving force in the mobile market.

Despite all this though (or perhaps because of it) going back to my Google Reader and looking for any mention of Android returned very little if anything at all. This either means that interest in the competition has died down before even starting or that everyone interested is hiding in their basements and secretly developing apps. (Either that or I haven’t looked well enough.)

Anyway, the bad news is that much as I would like to participate in the challenge, given my current ‘state’, I obviously can’t. The good news however is that I have had plenty of thinking time and came up with a few ideas that someone might want to take up and play with. The idea is that using the Android platform (and in cooperation with mobile manufacturers) developers will have unprecedented access to the mobile’s functions and hardware. With these in mind here’s a number of things that one could try – I’ ve split them in smaller-scale (‘exercises’) and larger-scale (‘vision’) ones.

Now all these are little more than arbitrary thoughts and are likely to have quite a few problems especially concerning bandwidth adequacy (e.g. when transmitting voice), battery life (when the mobile is acting as a sort of access point) and voice control quality and reliability. Also it’s probably worth noting that at least in terms of the Android platform Bluetooth and wireless drivers and libraries are not available – yet. In spite of all these problems though, it’s fun and useful to think blue sky for a bit – and take it from there.

The large-scale ones:

1. Improved user-interface. There are a number of ways the now mediocre-to-horrid UIs can be customised and enhanced esp. given the new multi-touch screens. But what I was thinking is more of using voice (through a Bluetooth extension) to control most of the mobile’s functions. Apart from the obvious cool factor and multi-tasking capabilities (e.g. easy smsing while stuck in low traffic, easy dialing while walking etc) achieving such a control is the first part in turning the mobile in your personal helper. The second part would be to gradually phase off to some extent the usually small mobile screen in lieu of the headset. So if your hands are tied maybe you can listen to what your mobile brings your attention to. That could be in the form of a voice telling you straight to your Bluetooth that ‘X is calling you’, reciting an sms that’s just arrived or giving you GPS directions to the party. Basically the phone turns into your ‘personal assistant’ whom you issue preprogrammed commands to and listen to its/his/her (!) results.

2. Mobile P2P protocol for internet downloads. That’s an obvious one although highly problematic due to the costs involved (for ALL peers) – for the time being. However, it becomes an interesting prospect (or even cause) for unlimited data plans which should soon become ubiquitous or at least markedly cheaper. Also it’d be very interesting to use Bluetooth and wi-fi to facilitate mesh networks using mobiles (independently from the internet): especially in densely populated areas where mobiles are everywhere, a wireless mesh can be created and the much hyped wi-fi cloud can come a bit closer to being realised.

3. Money transfer. I think it’d be cool to have a *secure* app to transfer money from one mobile to the other via the credit cards or bank accounts of their owners. Apart from the obvious use of lending money to your friends another application of such a capability would be to ‘pay with your mobile’ in all those places where a credit card reader is now used. For example. all a shop or restaurant would have to have to accept your payment straight from your credit card is simply an Android-enabled mobile. Yes, security is a problem but there are workarounds (encryption, PIN input through the mobile keypad, maximum limit of withdrawals, etc).

4. Higher-level language. I’m not sure how feasible is this one but it’d be great to have a more natural language of customising your phone – more natural than Java or the Android SDK that is. Probably something like a drag and drop interface for customising the main menu and the basic functions would be enough – that way anyone can do simple enhancements to their phone experience without needing to know all about Java and other scary stuff.

5. Multiple devices’ cooperation. Given that it’s very easy and cheap to buy a mobile these days it’d be useful to explore what can be done if more than one are combined for use on a specific purpose. For example, if two camera mobiles cooperate they can perform a number of interesting tasks. You could attach one on your bag strap and make it regularly capture a low-res image of whatever it is you are doing or attracts your attention – and send it to its little brother back home (something like Twitter with images). A security setup (similar to a close circuit TV) can also be created that way as well as a means to check on your baby’s sleep or how close you’re to the car in front when parking. In higher bandwidth circumstances video can also be transmitted that way (justin.tv-like).

The small-scale ones:

A. Locate other ‘Android-enabled’ mobiles. I guess that’d be a useful app to build on so that one Android device can tell which of the various handsets around it may have an equally ‘open’ platform to communicate on.

B. Walkie-talkie mode. A number of phones running this app can get ‘syncronised’ to behave like walkie-talkies. You press a button and automatically the rest of the devices hear what you say. This may be done either via the GSM network or through wi-fi or Bluetooth if distance permits.

C. Compass. For those devices with GPS and accelerometer, a compass can appear on the device when horizontal. For bonus points North could be *spoken* to the owner (as in ‘behind you’, ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘in front of you’ etc) say at regular intervals. A similar experiment has shown very exciting results in terms of enhancing one’s sense of space and direction.

D. SMS2Morse. For devices that have a flashlight an app could be written to convert an sms and its characters into morse code emitted through the flashlight. Alternatively, if a flashlight does not exist, the screen contrast can be used instead. I know this is probably as it geeky as it gets.

E. Remote control. This probably is very dependent on IR specs but in principle a mobile with an infrared port could be ‘programmed’ to control all devices that are remote-control operated, similarly to those all-in-one remote controls. The TV, stereo, DVD player etc could all be phone controllable.

F. Fingerprint security. As the resolution in mobile cameras increases they can potentially be used to identify one’s fingerprint as a measure of security. Simply take a snapshot of your thumb and if it matches (to some accuracy) the image in the database you get through (to use the mobile, access your credit card and so on).

G. RSS2Bluetooth. A useful (to me at least) feature would be to be able to download some of my RSS feeds, turn them into voice and have the mobile ‘tell’ them to me through my Bluetooth headset whenever I request them.

H. Driver Safety. Mobiles with an accelerometer can be used to alert the driver when he or she drives erratically (e.g. nodding off and veering of the road to rough ground, changing directions too abruptly etc).

I. Notekeeping. By saying a keyword (e.g. ‘quote’) the mobile goes into recording mode (e.g. through Bluetooth) until the keyword is heard again. Very useful in noting down random interesting thoughts that would otherwise be lost.

J. Broadcasting. I guess it should be fairly simple to use a single phone as an emitter of e.g. songs to not just a single Bluetooth headset but instead to a few of them. That way a group of friends can share the iPod collection of one of them – in their ‘own’ privacy.

K. Webcam+microphone. The mobile camera and the mobile speaker could be made to communicate via wi-fi or USB with the PC and act like a webcam and microphone. That way any PC can be allowed to make a conference call.

L. Multitasking. When I was browsing (very slowly) the internet through my mobile I caught myself trying to open another tab or at least somehow multitask (e.g. write an sms to be sent later, take a note regarding a webpage I had just accessed etc). Instead I was stuck waiting for the next page to load. It would be really useful to have ‘tabs’ or at least the capability to get rid of some of the downtime.

M. Motion sensor. The mobile camera can easily be used as a motion sensor simply by comparing snapshots between two instances. This may require the mobile to stay still (for the snapshots to be of the same ‘view’) or it may work in motion too if the mobile includes an accelerometer which can be used to ‘remove’ any movement prior to taking a photo.

N. Standby mode. This could turn out to be very helpful for other power-hungry apps or apps that need long downtime mode before ‘waking up’ to act. It would basically mean accessing all unnecessary components and shutting them down to conserve energy until a certain effect (e.g. some time passes) triggers only a particular component. For example, when waiting to take a picture the power-hungry mobile antenna could be turned off as well as all light on the screen.

So that’s it to begin with. Lots of these are quite likely to surface soon as the Challenge’s participants’ ideas are made public – quite a few can already be found at their forums. Exciting times indeed!

tags: idea

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  1. On the Google Android Developer Challenge | terrainnova.org | Line Of Credit on January 27th, 2008 9:46 pm

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