A few weeks ago BlackBerry users were offered the beta version of reQall, an application that has already developed a large following online and on the iPhone. Essentially an information management tool, reQall also helps users develop their memory. We spoke to N. Rao Machiraju, co-founder and chairman of Qtech Inc., the creators of reQall, about the science behind the application and its growing user base. Edited excerpts:
It has been called everything from a time management tool to a memory improvement system. What really then is reQall?
ReQall is the first ever memory aid application developed by Qtech Inc. It is available globally via iPhone, BlackBerry as well as via Web browser. It lets you speak your thoughts into your phone, and later you can retrieve what you said via phone or via Web. ReQall captures speech and automatically converts it into to-do lists, shopping items and notes either from an iPhone or a BlackBerry. For example, say “buy” before your voice note and reQall adds the subsequent task to your shopping list.
Applied science: Qtech Inc. founders Machiraju (left) and Sunil Vemuri at the reQall booth at the tech conference Macworld 2008.
When the task date is due, reQall sends us reminders via text, IM, email or calendar alerts.
How much of reQall was inspired by co-founder Sunil Vemuri’s research at MIT Lab? Is reQall the monetization of his work?
Previously, Sunil Vemuri and I worked at Apple Inc. in the Advanced Technology Group. Our work was in the area of building ways for capturing and retrieving organizational memory. Sunil then left Apple and went on for a PhD at MIT.
He extended the work we did together into researching personal memory and how to improve the recalling abilitites of people like you and me.
When Dr Ashok Vasudevan and I decided to start a company, we started a conversation with Sunil on a sunny day on a Southern California beach and reQall was born! It would be a tool to aid memory and organize tasks.
The application was launched in the US in January 2007. Tell us a little about how it has changed and evolved over the last two years...
ReQall was initially Web-based as well as accessible from any phone by calling a toll-free phone number and we launched this service in the US and then in the UK and Canada. When the iPhone came along, we optimized the application for the cult device. With iPhone 3G, we upgraded the application again to use the phone’s faster data speeds.
With this new upgrade, users can simply talk into the iPhone. The application records this and then syncs it with the reQall server over the Internet, thus eliminating the need for toll-free phone numbers.
It is basically like having a virtual assistant that runs around with you, residing in your iPhone or Blackberry, taking down notes, organizing them and is always there to serve you.
How difficult is it to take an application such as reQall and then modify it for the iPhone platform. Surely you must have made reQall do fun things on the iPhone?
The important thing when designing an application for any platform is to design it ground up to take advantage of the unique functionality of the device. The iPhone has an accelerometer that senses motion and that enabled us to have “shake to jog” function on the iPhone. You simply shake the iPhone and reQall throws up an item that you have asked it to remind you. It is extremely handy.
On a BlackBerry there is no accelerometer. On the other hand, say you are reading your email on your BlackBerry and want to have a part of that email remembered by reQall, you can invoke the menu and simply select “reQall this”. This is something not doable on an iPhone.
Finally, what are some of your favourite non-reQall iPhone applications and why? And which mobile phone do you use yourself?
I use three phones. One is an iPhone and the other is a BlackBerry Pearl and the third one is a BlackBerry Pearl for use in India only. I love the iPhone for photos, videos and browsing. I use the iPhone to look up info as I talk on the BlackBerry! It is a very effective way of having a business conversation as I can look up Web pages on the fly. I depend on the Pearl for business emails and for quick email responses and texting. I prefer the iPhone for taking photos and emailing them. My third phone only comes out when I land in India!
My favourite applications on the iPhone are Evernote to save photos and thoughts, the Safari browser, Where (location-based services, from gas stations to coffee shops, and it even has a function for a skymap from which you can see the names of stars!), and Pocket Express for sports, news, weather, finance, movies, travel and so on. My favourites on BlackBerry are Facebook and iSkoot for Skype.
For more information, visit www.reqall.com