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Cognima Ė Replication for Real People

by Richard Bloor

When it comes to technology most consumers simply want it to work and donít want to get involved with the technical niceties. Many of the standards based protocols for exchanging data with smartphones, such as syncML, are not that straightforward and Cognima recognized an opportunity to create a system that was seamless to the user. This week Richard talks with Simon East CEO at Cognima.



Back in April Simon East CEO of Cognima (www.cognima.com) gave me a demonstration of its Replicateô technology at the Symbian Exposium03. It was very impressive, requiring no action on the userís behalf to get contact details and photos replicated onto a server that could then be accessed via the Internet. Since April Replicate has attracted the interest of several major operators including Orange who are currently running formal tests. I caught up with Simon recently and had a chance to talk with him about how Cognima is developing Replicate.

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WDN: There certainly seems to be considerable interest in Replicate, how well are you progressing towards commercial launches?
Simon: Very well, we have made a lot of progress, we have 6 operators running our system in trial and another 2 who we expect to commence trials shortly. Everyone who sees Replicate realizes why it is important. The Operators understand that the customer experience is the key here and simply delivering pure technology to mass market customers wonít work. You can not expect them to type in IP addresses or undertake complex actions to achieve an outcome. It is why a lot of the new services are simply not being taken up. Replicate is improving the user experience, making sure things just work out of the box, its technologically quite hard to do, but to the users things look incredibly simple.

WDN: Are the trials showing any interesting results?
Simon: Yes we have seen a couple of interesting things from our trials. With contacts we have found that when a user first starts the service they jump straight on to the web site and edit a whole load of contact details. We find they have been putting off doing updates on the phone because its too fiddly. Another more unique case was with the photo service. We had one user who took part in the London to Brighton cycle ride and took over 150 pictures along the way. With conventional messaging or web photo galleries he would have had to attached the photo to a message, address it and sent it or go through a long upload. But our cyclist was able to take picture after picture and they just appeared seamlessly on the web for all his friends to look at.

WDN: When we spoke at Exposium you were demonstrating the Contacts and Photo replication, but you have been working in other areas, like ring tones. Is this all working on the same platform?
Simon: Yes we are using the same core technology which is designed to seamlessly move data between a handset and a server. Retro Ringtones (Thomas Dolbyís ringtone company) could see that this technology could provide a better ringtone buying experience. Retroís ringtones are high quality content, but you canít tell unless you can listen to them. Our technology preemptively downloads the tones to the phone, allowing the users to preview the ringtone and then if they buy it, it is instantly installed on the phone. This is obviously completely different from the WAP experience, where you would have to download and play some sort of limited preview, then download again if you wanted to buy, having filled in fields for a payment system, which is quite a performance to go through. What we are doing for specific high revenue areas such as ringtones, Java games or screen savers, where a WAP browser experience will not maximize revenue, is providing a better browsing and buying experience which should increase revenue because the customer will find it easier to use.

WDN: If the ringtones are brought down onto the phone, what stops the user finding a way of getting them for free?
Simon: They are held in our database and previewed from there so the user can not access them independently. We can also offer several DRM mechanisms when the ringtone is installed on the phone, such as tying it to the phones IMEI so even if it is copied on another phone it wonít work.

WDN: Have you used any of the synchronization standards?
Simon: On the phone itís our technology as there are no standards available today that achieve a similar seamless transfer of data, so we had to invent something new. On the back end we do use standards where ever possible, SyncML and XML interfaces, web services interfaces, running on Oracle and Sun, very standard platforms, all in J2ME which makes it as easy as possible to develop around.

WDN: And presumably itís a native Symbian C++ implementation on the phone?
Simon: Yes and we have also ported it to a number of other operating systems including Palm, Smartphone 2002, and mass market handsets.

WDN: Was the original development for Symbian?
Simon: In fact no, originally it was created for Windows CE, we then ported to TTP Comms handset platform and only then to Symbian. The motivation for the Symbian port was the Nokia 7650 as we knew it would be a good phone to use in demonstrations. But it was an obvious port to do especially with the new Symbian phones due out for Christmas. The Nokia 6600, Siemens SX1 and Samsung are very impressive and Iím sure will create a big market.

WDN: Have you looked at the work involved in implementation on the Nokia 6600?
Simon: Itís already working in Beta on the Nokia 6600.

WDN: Did you encounter any challenges with the new 7.0s version of the Symbian OS?
Simon: No actually, we had to make a few changes but nothing significant. We are generally finding that porting between the Symbian phones is straightforward. When we ported from Series 60 to UIQ it did not take long and that is the benefit of an open operating system that has been designed properly, you may have to tweak a little for the odd API but in general it just works. In many respects we have been very impressed and it has worked better than we expected.

WDN: You are a Symbian Platinum partner, did that help?
Simon: We are actually close to virtually all the Symbian licensees and we are planning to support every device as soon, if not before, it comes to market. Being a Platinum Partner has been valuable but we have been able to address most problems internally without calling on Symbian.

WDN: Your offerings include solutions for contacts, photos and ringtones, whatís next?
Simon: There is a lot of interest in device management. These new devices are a potential problem to the operators because they are so much more complicated. So supporting them takes a lot more time. We are looking at ways to allow the operators to manage and configure these phones. We have already engaged with a couple of Operators and identified the issues and are now working on demonstrations of potential solutions. Another area is Dynamic Service Directory. For WAP service directories (Vodafone Live! for example) it will allow operators to cache menus and selected pages on the phone. The issue this is addressing is performance of the basic navigation which over WAP can be slow and can frustrate the user. So this mechanism would improve the response of the basic navigation, for the operator itís about trading off the loss of data traffic for an improved user experience that allows the user to more easily, and therefore, more regularly access the high value content.

WDN: This technology would also seem to be applicable to Enterprise, any plans to move in that direction.
Simon: Enterprise is not where our core skills lie, so itís not part of our focus, we see the opportunity in the consumer space. However we have had interest from several system integrators in using our technology in enterprise, so if it does get applied to solving business problems it will be through partners.

Cognima have recently produced video of their products in action, which are now available on their web site. Videos of the contacts, pictures and Dynamic Services Directory products are currently available, with ringtones and device management videos planned to be available soon. You can find these videos at http://www.cognima.com/video/.




About the WDN Symbian Editor, Richard Bloor:
Richard Bloor is a freelance writer and editor with 18 years experience in the IT industry as a developer, analyst and latterly Project Manager with a particularly focus on software testing. Richard has been involved with the Symbian OS since 1995 and has been writing about it for the last 3 years.

Richard is also an associate with System Architecture consultancy Equinox of Wellington, New Zealand.

Richard can be reached at symbian@wirelessdevnet.com.

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