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Photos: The future of mobile life - in the lab

The academics cooking up tomorrow's mobile apps...
By Natasha Lomas, Contributor on
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1 of 9 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

The academics cooking up tomorrow's mobile apps...

This is professor Kristina Höök, professor at the department of computer and systems science at Stockholm University. Höök heads up the Mobile Life Centre in Kista, Sweden, where a team of academics have around 21 million Swedish kronor (£1.63m) per year in funding until 2017 to research and develop the next generation of mobile services.

The team works closely with tech companies, including Ericsson, Microsoft, Sony Ericsson and Scandinavian mobile operator TeliaSonera, to explore how mobile apps and services could evolve in the coming years.

The Centre's focus is on understanding what makes for a good user experience on mobile, and developing apps that enable mobile users to interact with each other in increasingly engaging ways.

The challenge now for the rest of the mobile industry is to compete and catch up with Apple, according to Höök. "They have to produce a user experience that is as beautiful and nice as this one and make it possible for you to download services easily, to create services easily and so on," she said.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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2 of 9 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

This is one of the projects the team is working on, called FriendSense, aimed at allowing groups of friends or colleagues to express their underlying emotions.

The display pictured above shows the emotion status of the group - with each person represented by a coloured 'marble'.

Each marble can be customised with pictures and patterns to better reflect their mood - one marble here features a sleepy cartoon, for example, to show the person it represents is tired.

The marbles can be uploaded to the screen and positioned close to or far away from other marbles, depending on each person's current mood and how sociable they are feeling.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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3 of 9 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Users' interactions with a sensor-node, shown here, can also be fed into the system to give indicators of their mood - the digital equivalent of body language.

The sensor-node includes pressure and temperature sensors to allow a user to use physical actions to influence the colour and tone of their marble.

If a user squeezes the node or bangs it around for example, the marble can change colour - perhaps becoming red - to show the user is stressed. In contrast, if the node is cool and untouched, the marble reflects this state of calm.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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4 of 9 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Another project - called Affective Health - is exploring how mobiles can be combined with body sensors to help flag up stressful situations.

As part of the project, users are equipped with monitoring devices which detect bio-data including sweat level (such as the devices wrapped around the subject's fingers in this case) and heart rate.

The data is then sent via Bluetooth to the mobile and displayed through the Affective Health app. With the data at hand, users can see how their body reacted to different situations and thus spot patterns of behaviour which might have a positive or negative impact on their health.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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5 of 9 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

This project is called SwarmCam.

SwarmCam is exploring how multiple mobile users with networked cameraphones can collaborate to broadcast coverage of an occasion, such as a sports event.

With cameraphone-touting users positioned around an event to provide multiple camera angles, the app can then be used to mix to the different feeds on the fly.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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6 of 9 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Here is another app that makes use of location. Open Geo Channel, pictured above, mashes up location and chat functionality to enable mobile users to find or create chatrooms based on a specific location.

The service could be useful to a person planning a holiday who wants to get hotel recommendations from locals, for example.

The centre is also developing another app called Subway Friend Finder, aimed at helping friends travelling on the same train to find each other.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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7 of 9 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

This iPhone app - called CamGnomes - toys with the Swedish tradition of playing pranks on people by stealing garden gnomes and sending postcards back to the owner claiming to be from the travelling gnome.

In the iPhone version of the game users pick up virtual gnomes created by fellow game players, adding photos and messages before leaving them in locations for other users to find - building up a gnome-based social network in the process.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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8 of 9 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Another type of play that's big in Sweden is the pervasive game. Pervasive games often involve role playing and take place in outdoor public spaces, with multiple players engaged in puzzle-solving activities and the like.

The software interface pictured above is called Babylon. Babylon acts as a reporting tool for pervasive games, gathering players' feedback and analysis after the game has finished.

The team have also developed an iPhone app version of the tool that encourages players to give feedback during the game as well, helping game-makers spot how the reality of game play differs from the experience they expect.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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9 of 9 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Game creation is another area being looked at in the Mobile Life Centre.

The team has developed a tool called TheCreator 2.0, which enables pervasive games to be set up and managed centrally.

Game parameters, such as the amount of ammo a player can carry, can be changed by the game master using the software tool and the data is then pushed out to all players across all devices in play, be they mobiles or PCs.

Smart objects, such as this red doll, which are equipped with sensors and mobile connectivity, can also be incorporated into the game - allowing players to interact with lots of different items, to give the game a new dimension. Pressing on a sensor located in the doll's chest, for instance, generates a response that is fed back into and recorded by the system.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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