Pairing the cloud with mobile devices has been a preoccupation of ours and apparently also of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, whose $20 million funded project Aro Mobile gets its first public showcase today at the Web 2.0 Summit. Kiha Software, the company behind the technology, will show off how Aro’s platform helps make smartphones more intelligent and useful by tying the basic applications dynamically to the cloud.
Aro is a collection of downloadable apps: contacts, email, search, phone, browser that communicate with the cloud, where servers apply natural language processing, context awareness and data extraction to help speed information to a user and anticipate their needs. The goal is to cut down on the number of steps it takes to complete actions. Aro does this by scanning your all your information and pulling out important data that it thinks you might want to act on.
So, for instance, if a friend emails you to set a lunch date, Aro offers to schedule that right on your calendar. If you’re browsing on the web, Aro can pull out names and offer to provide additional information about it or short cuts to actions. Aro also works with your contacts and email to prioritize messages from the people you interact with most. It can also organize conversations with one person as you move between IM, email and SMS. And since Aro is context aware, it can offer different options at different times of the day or can provide reminders on when you should leave to make it in time for an appointment.
Aro is coming out of private beta on Android and will be coming to the iPhone soon, though in a less full-featured way because the iPhone doesn’t offer the same type of access that Android does. The application attempts to take the best of user interfaces like HTC’s Sense and combine it with personal assistant apps like Siri (which Apple bought), while layering in some of the relationship awareness of Gmail’s priority inbox and Facebook’s new messaging service. Kiha believes it can deploy deep into phones with the help of manufacturers but Aro can also exist as its own standalone solution.
Aro would seem to transmit a lot of data, though I was told it’s not much more than what an avid Facebook or Twitter user would experience. A bigger question would be privacy, since all of a user’s private data would flow through Aro’s servers. The company said it always asks for user data and never shares it with a third party. It’s still a question if consumers will entrust their data with an unknown entity.
One on the key promises of smartphones lie in their ability to tie into the cloud. This is an interesting take on that model but it seems to get at some real world problems shared by harried smartphone users. I still have to see how it works in person and on an ongoing basis. But if it delivers, this could be a big win for Android users. And it could show why Android’s openness is beneficial by enabling some applications to tackle some deep-rooted problems that other platforms might not fully allow.
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