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Your phone’s getting smarter

Mobile phones spew out a lot of data; with the right tools to capture, store and analyse it, they can put it to use for you in really intelligent ways

On any given day, think of everything you do using your smartphone. You make calls and send text messages—that’s a no-brainer; you perhaps use it to access your email and send replies; pictures are shot and shared; videos downloaded, and shared; appointments are made and requested; maybe you use the GPS to figure out how to find that elusive Lebanese restaurant for a date; and if you are into social media, there is a constant stream of chatter from Skype, Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. You get the idea. Your phone is a very good reflection of who you are, what you do, your friends and business associates, your likes and dislikes. It could—potentially—even know trivia like when and where you charge your phone most often.

Now, let’s ask a question: Which song were you listening to on your phone just before you went for the movie last week?

Er, what kind of a challenge is that?

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Narayan Babu, the young CEO and founder of Dexetra, a mobile applications start-up, thinks of what the phone is generating as “personal data fabric". When he looks at the data fabric, he sees all kinds of interesting patterns. For example, by looking at the GPS records of your phone, it is possible to tell which restaurants you visit most and, on an average, how much time you spend there. Which, to tell you the truth, may appear to be a rather silly piece of personal information. But it does have unique—and distinctly advanced—capability.

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So, how can this swishy, geeky thing called “personal data fabric" help? What can happen is that your visit to the restaurant can be timed. If you visit it frequently and spend an adequate amount of time there, you obviously like it. If you don’t visit it too often, you don’t.

The fascinating thing is, the GPS on your phone can automatically record all this, without any particular attention from you, push it into a humongous cloud-based repository and have it ready to throw back valuable and accurate insights when you query the data. Now just extrapolate that to thousands of users whose data is being stored in a cloud service and can be looked up (anonymously) for analysis.

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The idea of capturing, storing and analysing personal data hit Babu like a bolt of lightning. His team created a smart personal mobile assistant called, appropriately, Friday, in February 2011 (now, Robinson Crusoe need not be the only one to get things done by Friday!). Friday is smart. It can handle contextual queries. And, one day, when there is adequate data in the cloud from a gazillion Friday users, it will throw up answers to questions such as: What do people like me think is the best Lebanese restaurant for a date?

Friday can handle this complex query because it is able to look up data from thousands of users who have similar musical tastes, use similar keywords in text messages, perhaps share the same contacts, go to similar restaurants and even have the same model of phone as you. The possibilities are endless.

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To download your own smart mobile assistant, you can pick from several that are available online. Here is our short list:

Cue

Happiness Engines

Friday

Google Now

All of them do different things. There’s plenty of choice out there. Pick the one that suits you the most.

Arun Katiyar is a content and communication consultant with a focus on technology companies. He is a published author with HarperCollins and has extensive media experience spanning music, print, radio, the Internet and mobile phones.

Disclosure: Arun Katiyar consults for One97 Mobility Fund, which has invested in Dexetra, the creator of Friday.

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