Aro Mobile wants to simplify mobile phone UX

Posted on October 26, 2010


(NYT)  For many people, their mobile phones often double as a second brain.

But efficiently searching through that reservoir of information to quickly locate contacts, upcoming events and addresses is still time-confusing and often frustrating.

Is there an opportunity to reinvent the way people find things on their phones?

Kiha Software, based in Seattle, is hoping so. The company’s certainly received a strong vote of confidence to try. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has invested roughly $20 million in the company over the last three years.

“The way we use our mobile devices has changed dramatically over the last few years,” said Jon Lazarus, the chief executive of the company. “There is an opportunity for a software design that thinks about mobility and makes using mobile phones much easier.”

On Monday, the company released a beta version of its software for Android phones only, called Aro Mobile.

After downloading the software, it hooks into to e-mail accounts, SMS and calendar and contacts applications to act as a kind of personal virtual assistant for the phone. When text messages and e-mails come in, Aro Mobile uses semantics and natural language processing to analyze them and make suggestions for what a user may need to do with them.

Say, for example, a message comes in outlining dinner plans for that evening. Aro Mobile highlights several pieces of information within the messages, such as the name of the restaurant, other attendees and the time of the event. It then offers the user options like adding the event the calendar, mapping directions to the place or contacting the other people on the invite list.

“It’s a surface layer that can interpret and understand what’s going on and try to make sense out of what to do,” said Andy Hickl, the company’s chief technology office.

Aro’s software also tries to understand relationships between the people its users communicate with so its can filter incoming messages and prioritize them by context. It will also recognize upcoming events like meetings or travel plans and remind the user ahead of time.

Mr. Hickl said the mobile software is able to learn more about the people using it and over time, so it will be to able to make suggestions for things a user might like or make recommendations for restaurants and outings.

Currently, the application is only available for Android-powered smartphones.

Eventually, the company hopes to release an application for the iPhone as well as partner with hardware manufactures and carriers and package the application as a pre-installed feature on future smartphones.

The ultimate goal, Mr. Lazarus said, is to simplify the number of taps it takes to find something or someone on a phone.

“We’re not trying to land airplanes or cure cancer,” Mr Lazarus said. “We’re just trying to make using your phone easier.”