HP Labs builds cloud tech that can ease mobile web access

HP Labs India has developed a cloud-based technology, called SiteonMobile, that simplifies accessing content and doing transactions on the Web.

Rather than requiring the user to navigate the Web in a number of steps to achieve a task, the series of steps required to complete the task are encapsulated in a cloud application that HP calls TaskLet, Sudhir Dixit, the director of the lab told reporters on Thursday.

Mobile phones users can access specific information on the Web or complete a transaction online by sending an SMS (short message service) or calling up a number that invokes the relevant TaskLet on the cloud, said Geetha Manjunath, senior research scientist at the lab. PC users can run a TaskLet by clicking on the corresponding icon on their computer screens, she added.

In India, where there are over 600 million mobile connections in the country, most people are likely to access the Web through mobile phones, Dixit said.

HP Labs India first disclosed it was working on the technology in 2008, as a way to make the Web accessible on mobile phones to the masses in emerging markets.

The challenge in emerging markets is that, because of the high cost of mobile bandwidth and relatively low tech literacy, a lot of users want intuitive and quick access to the information they need, rather than having to negotiate the Web for it, Dixit said.

The SiteonMobile technology allows people with little or no programming experience to create the TaskLets for a variety of online services including booking airline tickets online, or a daily horoscope, Dixit said.

An interactive voice response (IVR) system and SMS server in the HP Labs cloud enables mobile users to access the information and transact using SMS or a phone call, Manjunath said.

A user requiring information on the Bangalore weather, for example, can send a message "try weather" to a number on the cloud, or dial another number in the cloud for voice information through the IVR system.

As more than 50% of users have low-end phones without browsing capabilities, the new technology throws open the Internet to a new category of users who may not even have an Internet connection, Dixit said.

HP Labs is offering the technology by invitation through the SiteonMobile Web site. The technology is also being piloted with three companies. The lab expects that a large number of vendors offering a variety of services will find it useful to use the HP Labs technology to offer TaskLets to potential customers.

The ease with which the TaskLet can be created will also ensure that small computer vendors and desktop printing shops in small towns and villages will be able to create the applications for customers in those markets, Manjunath said. The lab is also working on technology that will enable businesses that do not have Web sites to also offer TaskLet to mobile users, she added. Manjunath did not go into details as this version of the technology is still under development.

To provide content in local languages, the SiteonMobile technology chains together information services on the Web with translation services already available online. Currently, translation from English to Hindi is being offered, with a text-to-speech facility in Hindi being considered, Manjunath said.

A decision on the commercialization of the SiteonMobile technology will be taken by the various business groups within HP, Dixit said. HP's key aim in developing technologies such as TaskLet is not to build a revenue stream, but to popularize technology, and create demand for HP's products in emerging markets, he added.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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