Category Archives: Mobile Phone Applications

Rethinking cars as communication devices, #ANZCA2014

We presented our current thinking at the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) 2014 conference last week, at Swinburne University Melbourne, Australia.

For this version, we focussed on the mobile media policy gap, i.e. how policy is slow to adapt, is ignorant towards the cultures of use and is slow to adapt, and focussed on the autonomous automobility area. The work was well received with two significant pieces of feedback.

Firstly, Ben Goldsmith pushed our thinking around the privacy concerns of cars that are driven by mobile phones. Beyond the concerns of your data being captured and used in ways not previously thought of, ala FourSquare, what are the consequences of users relying on their mobile phones to arrive at a destination to be ‘hijacked’ and re-routed. A very plausible consideration for manufacturers and policy people to address.

Given the tight time constraints, we only had time for one other comment, provided by Jason Farman asked a great question around the cyclic nature of mobile communication and and cars. Given the past development of cars ‘accommodating’ mobile phones and then becoming an ideal space for mobile communication, are we seeing a similar turn in the current thinking? I.e. mobile phones being incorporated through app development and integration to only advance to the next space of phones driving communication and entertainment in vehicles.

Certainly two great ideas from two amazing scholars that we will incorporate as we move forward with this research.

Taxi apps work – so why does NSW want to regulate them?

By Jonathon Hutchinson, University of Sydney

I don’t know what I did, but I got a message from them saying that I could no longer use Uber to pick up passengers. They reckon I didn’t turn up to a job, but I was just late because I picked up another fair along the way (Sydney Taxi Driver, March 17, 2014).

The way we are catching taxis is changing, and mobile apps such as ingogo, Uber and goCatch are driving the changes. The new taxi apps work to combat the inconsistencies of the taxi industry and bypass the centralised process of booking and paying.

Research in the United States suggests apps make the taxi industry more efficient. But the NSW government announced yesterday that it plans to regulate this “cowboy” industry. Drivers and passengers are shaking their heads, wondering what ridesharing regulation will involve.

Creative economy success stories

The two Australian entrepreneurs who established goCatch, Ned Moorfield and Andrew Campbell, did so when they twigged to problems with centralised booking and payment for cabs. In 2011 they received a A$250,000 innovation grant from the NSW Government for innovative mobile phone projects to help develop goCatch.

They partnered with Microsoft, Nokia, Blackberry, NSW Taxi Drivers Association, PayPal and Google and in October 2012 they launched goCatch. Some 16,000 of Australia’s 70,000 taxi drivers are now signed up to the service, a number that is still increasing.


The application enables passengers to broadcast their request to nearby taxis via their geo-located position. The passenger monitors how many drivers have seen the job. If the request is not accepted because of high demand or location, the passenger can offer the driver a tip as an incentive.

When the job has been accepted, both passenger and driver can see each other’s location on a real-time map, and can directly communicate via their shared phone numbers. The passenger has the option to finalise payment via PayPal, and when the journey is complete, both driver and passenger rate the transaction. goCatch takes a fee to facilitate the service.

Recently, James Packer, SEEK co-founder Paul Bassat, along with members of the Limberman and Kahlbetzer families, invested A$3 million into the goCatch service. This investment not only strengthens goCatch’s market share, it also indicates a market shift.

Users benefit from a self-regulating service that operates across the existing transportation infrastructure. Apps work much more efficiently than the heavily regulated, inefficient centralised offering, that is, calling for a cab.

This, of course, contradicts the role of the existing taxi councils and peak body, which have lobbied to restrict and regulate ridesharing apps.

Introducing goCatch.

The Australian Taxi Industry Association

The taxi industry is a highly centralised sector of the public transport industry. In Australia alone there are 20,658 taxis performing more than 172 million jobs each year, and moving more than 283 million passengers. This adds up to approximately A$3.94 billion revenue.

Of those jobs, Moorfield and Campbell claim that as many as 20,000 transactions are missed by either taxis failing to arrive or passengers disappearing.

In the recent Taxi Industry Inquiry presided over by former ACCC chair Allan Fels, it was revealed that the taxi industry should be concentrating its efforts on improving services for people with disabilities, as well as driver quality, taxi availability, safety, fare structure, booking services, and taxi availability.

The inquiry also concluded that “the existing regulatory regime governing taxis … is overly complex and prescriptive, and imposes unnecessary costs on the industry”.

The Australian Taxi Industry consists of one federal peak body, the Australian Taxi Industry Association (ATIA), with a collection of state members including NSW Taxi Council, Victorian Taxi Association, Taxi Councils of Western Australia, South Australia, and Queensland, Canberra Taxi Industry Association, and The Taxi Council of the Northern Territory. The ATIA describes its agenda in the following terms:

The ATIA will continue to play a leading role in promoting the public benefits delivered by regulated taxi markets. Well regulated taxi markets have been shown by empirical research to consistently outperform their deregulated counterparts on the important metrics of safety, pricing and service. While the threat remains from interests pushing hypothetical merits of open entry markets, the ATIA will strongly pursue its industry advocacy role using facts based lobbying.


Rob and Stephanie Levy

Taxi apps are improving the way passengers source taxis and ensure fares are correct. Most of all, they reassure us that our taxi will arrive on time to connect us with our imminent flight. The overall experience of those who use ridesharing apps to travel in taxis is generally positive. This is the creative economy at its best: the market sorts out the supply and demand to suit the stakeholders.

All this raises the question: why do we need to regulate a system that is working?

The NSW Government was wise to the possibilities of goCatch when it gave the company an innovation grant. It’s a shame it is now moving to inhibit goCatch and other similar taxi apps through regulation.

With both passengers and drivers happy, surely a regulatory light touch, or even deregulation or self-regulation, is a better solution.

The Conversation

Jonathon Hutchinson receives funding from the Australian Research Council to conduct research on a three-year Discovery project, Moving Media: Mobile internet and new policy modes. He is affiliated with the University of Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Original image by jurveston available here.

Ford Applink Hackathon – Melbourne 2013

Late last year, I attended the Ford Applink Hackathon in Melbourne to gain a broader understanding of how the design and development of on board operating systems is impacting on the Australian car manufacturing industry. It was also a chance to see upfront how theses systems work and to chat with some of the individuals responsible for the ‘cool’ apps and interfaces that are emerging in current model cars.

The concept of a hackathon is to get a whole lot of developers together in one location, provide a selection of tasty treats, energy drinks, and access to the backdoor (usually an API or SDK) of a particular database. In this instance, developers were invited to extened the possibilities of the Applink operating system, which is set to roll-out in many new models in the coming year.

Ford is hoping that Applink will become the standard operating system across all automobiles in the near future – great for developers who will only have to learn one system and build tools for the one platform. However, one ‘ring to rule them all’ might, as you would expect, provide political and economical challenges for participating car manufacturers.

There was a broad array of ideas submitted over the 24 hours of hacking, but the winning entry came from the MYOB team who are looking at integrating their product with the locative possibilities of the Applink system.

Thanks must also go to the Ford team particularly Martin Gunsberg for all of his help over the two days. Also thanks to Two Ton Max for hosting this event.

Below is a video grab of the event and some insight into how the Applink system works. More importantly, the video highlights where our research can contribute in the grey areas of legislation surrounding communication within automobiles.

A brief history on the trajectory of apps in automobiles

apps in carsI have done some very crude and preliminary research into the current state of apps and automobiles. However to understand the current framework, it is useful to explore the history of internet in cars to reveal how we have arrived at our recent fascination with connecting smartphones and automobiles.

The following is a preliminary look at a few manufacturers and their technological implementation of devices, protocols and applications.

2003: German Ministry of Education research into FleetNET – a type of ad hoc network between cars and objects,

2006: Academics (Ernst et al.) call for IPv6 to be the protocol used for internet in automobiles,

2008: BMW uses Autonet (dongle in the cigarette lighter or installed router) to connect and mobilise their iDrive in-dash internet browser; Autonet adds media storage ad becomes Delphi/Autonet Mobile System; UConnect system from Chrysler makes and appearance,

2009: Toyota Prius has a consortium of businesses to develop and implement the ng (Next Generation) Connect system, which backs onto the 3G network – it also employs LTE (long term evolution) to act as a wireless hotspot,

2010: Ford integrates API system Sync which utilises app technologies (OpenBeak, Pandora and Stitcher), while GM uses OnStar which is a built in car phone service using sensory technology like iRadar and CARbonga,

2011: Ford Sync into 10 European models – a move away form embedded technology to enable users to connect their devices, subscription based at $395 plus some features requiring $60; GM offers MyLink: using apps to access Pandora, Stitcher and eventually Facebook, email etc.,

2012: BMW iDrive updates its software to 4.x and significantly improves its rendering and mapping capabilities, interesting to see the disappearance of surfing the net in this update,

2013: Emphasis on smartphone integration; iOS and Android are producing apps that connect to the car; apps are using GPS and drawing information from communities of users to provide real time information; aCar to interface with the car’s operating systems (fuel consumption, mileage etc); CarLocator; GasBudy; iOnRoad – camera to detect accidents; iWrecked for when you have an accident; 3rd party componentry is quite distinct in this era to connect older cars with smartphones; average cost is around $5.99 per app (needs further investigation); Audi is working with Inrix Inc for parking data; BMW working with Parkopedia Ltd. for info on parking spaces (user communities); GM using OnStar RemoteLinkMobile app to start car and lock/unlock car; manufacturers still unclear about whether to connect to other cars or internet; Telematics is the burgeoning field from these types of discussions; Hyundai has Blue Link mobile services; BMW release “Last Mile” app.


What this leads me to believe is that there are four distinct eras in mobile internet within cars which has directed car manufacturers to abandon their desire to turn cars into mobile hot spots. The first sees the push come from academia (and no doubt the policy sector) to establish a suitable mobile automobile internet technology and protocol. The second sees car manufacturers implement communication systems that, awkwardly, brings the internet to the automobile. The third has manufacturers abandoning their push to make the car the internet source, and concentrate on app installation. While the final era demonstrates an integration moment where the manufactures concentration appears to be BYOD (bring your own device) to the automobile, where the apps are preinstalled to integrate with the car.

More research is required to fill a few of the obvious gaps here, but what is clear is there are four moments that are ‘driven’ by the political economy approach that are fascinating to investigate. Why did certain manufacturers partner with particular technological groups and not others? At what point did the manufacturers decide to abandon one form of tech for another? Will apps on smartphones be the future or will we see a reversion to include connectivity in the automobile?

The final observation is there seems to be three types of automobile apps emerging: safety apps (crash prevention, diagnostics, etc), general apps (radio, media, radars, navigation, objects etc), and insurance apps relevant to incidents (speed, camera, cause).

This week in apps – App Store turns 5

Original image available at

Original image available at

It has been a few weeks since we took a broad look at the app industry and made some sort of summary of it, but you may have noticed we have been busy with the social network analysis of the mobile health industry. That is not to mention the two conferences the entire research team have attended in Dublin (the International Association of Media and Communication Research IAMCR) and Perth (Australian and New Zealand Communication Association ANZCA) where we presented our work to date. We are happy to report our research was well received with many new connections being forged across the two week period. But! Back to app news…

The big news this week is the Apple App Store has turned five and to mark the event they have released a suite of apps for free. Given the enormous success of the platform and app generation, it is useful to historicise on the apps that made the store such a success. It is also worth mentioning that iOS7 has emerged amongst the development world, where some of the key developments include an improved Siri, more transparent Command Centre, transparent folders and the introduction of photo filters (interesting yet in no way a threat to Instagram).

As is always the case, privacy issues are rampant in the mobile communication world, especially given the recent hysteria surrounding the whistleblowing activities of former CIA IT consultant Edward Snowden. In the mobile world, we have seen Microsoft begin to pull apps from their platform that are deemed vulnerable. There is also some thinking emerging amongst practitioners, who are beginning to question, are social apps just a little too creepy in how they share your personal information? We are again reminded that free apps are the gateway to your personal privacy of information, where some are suggestions free apps are essentially a modern equivalent of spyware. However, as Kate Raynes-Goldie suggests, it is radical transparency.

If we switch our perspective to the economics of the app environment, there has been some fascinating research released into the app economy in Vietnam, proving an enormous long tail in the concept, development and marketplace relationship. One amazingly interesting website I stumbled across this week is created by b_willer as part of the suite of infographics. I highly recommend this fascinating interaction with some of the most prominent startups of the last ten years.

Once again, chat apps have dominated our communication habits, where the most recent figures indicate that WhatsApp has an active membership of 250 million users. That’s enormous compared with Twitter’s 200 million users. This Wall Street Journal article highlights some of the new movers in the chat app arena. Keeping with shifting cultural habits, interesting to note that apps are having an impact on youth who are rediscovering radio. TuneIn is a type of radio aggregator with more than 40 million users consuming more than 1 billion hours of radio!

Given the recent push for the FDA to finalise its recommendations on the regulation of health apps, it is interesting to read the other side of the debate, namely those attempting to monetize the experience. In the health apps world more broadly, there is a industry push for doctors to begin designing apps, governments to take a proactive approach towards designing health apps, and a reminder of which types of health apps to avoid. Given the advice on which types of apps to avoid, it is interesting to note the recent award won by the training app, Mobile Medic which is effectively using those ‘do nots’ in a positive and educational sense. For a quick wrap on the week in mobile health, check out his blog.

This week, we also turn our attention towards the increase of apps within cars. The emerging signs we are beginning to follow come from the BMW ConnectedDrive initiative, who have just released a new swag of apps for their prototype. And, if you have been following the taxi app sagas from around the world, you’ll be interested to read the taxi app saga has now spread to China.

Lastly, we leave this week with a look at two potentially useful apps yet a little strange in their approach. In keeping up with the wearables fashion, diapers are now notifying parents when they are full, while Japan has released new election apps for its upcoming election, encouraging users to engage in the gamification of the election process.

This week in apps – a summary of the mobile phone application ecology

Original image by Sean Macentee published under Creative Commons

Each week, the mobile application ecosystem presents new and exciting possibilities to entertain, share information and communicate. From apps that wake you, waste time, develop your communication or promote your productivity, we are witnessing an ever-increasing marketplace of apps that are published across several platforms (iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows etc). Alongside these possibilities of new media technologies are the emergent concerns of how to adequately manage and regulate the potential challenges of mobile applications. This is one area the Moving Media research project is exploring, presented through a weekly series of ‘this week in apps’ – a series that provides a quick snapshot of what has been happening in app development, publishing, privacy and policy. This week in apps will also include the most recent developments in mobile news diversity, mobile health apps (mHealth apps) and locative media.

As user habits shift across mobile media, for example one in four teenagers now access the internet via their mobile phones, a dynamic business environment emerges. Nokia has partnered with the Harvard Business School on an Indian based app incubator to “boost mobile app development on the Nokia Lumia and Windows platforms”. Facebook has bought Parse, to not as first thought develop a Facebook phone, but to boost the development of what will become the centre of Android phones, Facebook Home. Social gaming company King has overtaken Zynga to become the largest global social gaming organisation. In the business world, there are growing demands for enterprise apps as the bring your own device (BYOD) movement gains momentum.

There have been recent developments of apps in news diversity, mHealth and locative media. Four recent news apps continue to challenge the news aggregation market. Increased connectivity of households and their Internet of Things, presents an increase of apps to control IoT devices resulting in increased revenues for niche app developers. It is predicted that mobile health applications will increase by 70% annually, however there are concerns over the slow adoption rate of these technologies. And while some are touting that Apple has revolutionised mHealth, others are focussing on specific advancements in apps to improve disease management.

Chatty apps seem to be the flavour of the month, where for the first time chat apps messaging has overtaken SMS texting, with some potentially shady bug issues.

If you’ve ever wondered how to create your own Android app, here’s a fantastic 101. However, other developers are approaching app building from a holistic perspective by employing RAD Studio XE4 to produce apps for multiple platforms. Heroku (US cloud app platform) has emerged in the open data arena by providing tools and hardware resources for developers. Shifting from developing to publishing, have you ever wondered about the politics of publishing your app through an app store? Here’s a great article on how the politics of app publishing can be improved. And while Samsung has recently blocked access to its app store in Iran, Google have implemented new policy to disable developers bypassing Google’s Play Store when updating apps.

New app development and the code used to access them across various devices also gives rise to privacy concerns. As many users are still unaware of their personal details being shared by applications, the FTC have launched an enquiry that challenges the privacy policy of apps. Likewise, there is significant pressure for the FDA to start regulating mHealth apps.