Tag - App

Hasun – A Sinhala SMS Messaging App by Bhasha

From the creator of the popular SETT browser (Bhasha) comes a new app Hasun, which enable users to communicate through SMS in Sinhala. This android app lets users type the SMS message in Sinhala through the Helakuru phonetic keyboard. The receiver should also have the app to view the message in Sinhala as the message is delivered in Unicode. (Unless on phones such as Samsung Galaxy S4 where Sinhala unicode is embedded.)

Hasun Screenshots

Once installed and ready to compose, you are prompted to download Helakuru if it is not already installed. The interface is nice and simple taking a very minimalistic approach. There is a button in the top right corner to create a new message, and then the content can be written through the phonetic keyboard. Once sent a new thread of the conversation would appear and further messages to/from the receiver would be seen in the thread. There are no inbox/sent/draft folders, only the threaded view to make it simple for the user and consistent with the android messaging experience.

From the Settings you can customize the way you receive SMS globally which is one of its key features. You can configure Hasun to

-receive only messages sent in Sinhala unicode

-receive all messages sent to you (making it your main SMS app)

-for both Hasun and the default messaging app to receive all SMS.

We recommend you keep the settings to one of the first two, as getting the same message in two apps is bit cumbersome if your receiving in large volumes.

For Sinhala SMS messaging there is another app Sinhala SMS from MicroImage which was launched two years back. This app has the issue of dual delivery which degrades the user experience. Bhasha has negated that issue by providing the above options for delivery.

Design wise and functionality wise, Bhasha has delivered with Hasun. Our only concern is that in most cases the receiver requires the android app to view the SMS in Sinhala. However for friends and family this requirement can be easily communicated.

So go ahead and try Hasun here.

Ingress – Augmented reality meets your android

“You have downloaded what you believe to be a game, but is not. Something is very wrong.” The words that greet you in a synthesized female voice which belongs to Ada, an AI that helps you along the way, when you first start playing Ingress.

Ingress is definitely one of a kind. With all the power and money of Google behind it, it offers a huge scope of gameplay. At an interview with CNN, John Hanke, VP of Product Development for Niantic Labs ( a sub division of Google) states the idea is to get people moving, exploring, and away from the normal stationary act of playing on their phones.


Let’s get right down to it. What is Ingress? It’s kinda hard to put a one word answer on that. To call it a game seems sort of trite. It is an all encompassing experience where people change their lives and lifestyles in order to play. In essence, it’s a massively multiplayer online augmented reality game, where the gameplay area is the whole world. Estimates put the number of people playing at over 500,000.

First off, Ingress is still in closed beta. The backstory is still developing. But basically, the game revolves around something called Exotic Matter. This is an unknown substance of presumably extraterrestrial origin. XM for short, its control is the core point of the game. XM enters our world through Portals. XM and portals cannot normally be seen with the naked eye. However, thanks to technological breakthroughs, you can view them on your mobile device using a piece of software known as the scanner (That is, if your mobile device is Android based). Now XM is believed to have properties that influence that enhance human creativity when exposed to it, so most portals are centered round public works of art. Statues, murals and places of worship seems to be the most common places. Thus, at least, thus runs the backstory.

On starting out (after the initial training where you get a briefing to help you determine a side), you are invited to join one of the two sides struggling for control over the XM. The Enlightened believe XM is the next stage of evolution, enhancing humanity, giving new knowledge, and they want humanity to embrace what XM can give us. They are kinda like the X-Men. The Resistance, on the other hand, want the humanity to remain as is, not change. They are kinda like the William Strykers of Ingress.

Ingress screenshots

Some Ingress screenshots

Gameplay is sifted into multiple levels. At the top is the Niantic Investigation Board. Very few people actually visit this section, this is the real-sit-in-your-basement Brainiac bit, trying to decode puzzles put out by Google. Solve the puzzles quickly enough – and you get a passcode that can be redeemed for game play items.

One level below that is the Intel map. The Intel map is a tool that shows the current state of portal alignment, fields, allows access to the in game COMM system to chat with other agents, and lets you see activity (such as players attacking portals, creating links, etc). As such, it’s an invaluable tool in strategic planning.

Which is all good, but that’s not in line with Niantic’s idea of getting people exploring the world. The busiest, and definitely largest part of the game is run by the Field Agents. Agents are the people who trudge through the real world, seeking out portals, and trying to control things for their teams. To do this the player needs a scanner (mobile device with GPS and data connectivity running the Ingress software). The scanner shows players an area of around 300-500 meters around them, indicating all the XM, portals, links, fields and game objects in the area, on an overlay of Google Maps. Interaction with an object requires the player to be within 40m of an object, presumably due to the inherent inaccuracy of GPS. GPS drift is one of the bigger problems of the game. But I digress.

At the top in the Niantic Investigation Board. Very few people actually visit this section, this is the real sit in your basement brainiac bit, trying to decode puzzles put out by Google.

First, XM. Move around so your scanner is within 40 meters of XM (radius shown by a handy circle on the scanner) and it will automatically harvest the XM. XM is required to carry out just about every action in the game and is most plentiful around Portals. However, XM is limited. Once harvested, it’s gone, until it regenerates about 20 minutes later. The XM is stored in the scanner, and how much you can store depends on your Agent Level. Once you have enough XM, you can approach a portal and “hack” it for gameplay items. Hacking a portal will cause it to eject items like resonators and bursters, which are stored in your scanner. A scanner can store 2000 of these items.

Players control portals

As I stated, players must control Portals. Portals are claimed for the team by placing resonators around it. Place 8 resonators and a portal is energized, ready for linking. Also, placing resonators around portals causes the portal level to go higher, which results in it generating better equipment when hacked. Portals can be linked together using objects called Portal Keys (hacking portals will get you these), causing bands of energy to flow between them. If three links are created in a triangular fashion, it creates a Mind Unit Field. The idea is, an Enlightened field causes people under it to receive the benefits of XM, while a Resistance field protects people from the effects of XM. The number of people who live in the area covered by the field is calculated as Mind Units controlled, and adds to the global MU score for each side.

As briefly as possible, that is the objective of the game. Help your team control the greatest number of Mind Units by controlling portals and building fields, breaking enemy fields and portals and defending friendly fields and portals. The catch is, aside from the defence of portals (which can be done remotely), all these actions require the player to be within 40m of the portal. So, yes, Niantic’s idea of getting people moving is certainly working out. People are out at all times of day, in the rain, the sun, and the snow, hacking, attacking and defending these portals.

Help your team control the greatest number of mind units by controlling portals and building fields, breaking enemy fields and portals and defending friendly fields and portals.

This is not, however, a lonely activity. As a player progresses, interaction with others, cooperation with others, becomes a must. In order to build better portals, get access to keys, build fields spanning countries, certain level of community interaction is required. The natural place, of course, is the Google Plus social network. Regional and local communities form, even across factions. And like I said at the beginning, this game has all the power and money of Google behind it. First, there is a weekly show (aired on YouTube) called the Ingress Report – basically a news report of various things attached to the world of Ingress. This can range from community and agent news and achievements, to official released information on the game, backstory development, clues, passcodes, hints, and so on. This can also drop from portals when hacked in the form of a media file. Google also seems to hire a cast of characters who play the in-game story figures. These characters, in addition to popping up on the Ingress Report, also show up from time to time in the real world and interact with people playing the game. Google spares no expense. The latest event organised by Google (massive real time battles between factions, termed XM anomalies) called Operation Cassandra, just played out on a global scale, 13 cities worldwide in Australia, Germany, Japan, America, the Philippines and more, over 14 days. This involves hundreds of active agents trying to control the area during measurement times (need to decode to get the times) – based on these measurements, victory will be awarded to the team. This also means in-game characters traveling to those cites, meeting actual players and interacting.

On a local note, the resident Ingress community in Sri Lanka is small, but there are close to a hundred people playing. Colombo and suburbs alone count over 300 portals. Other dense clusters and be found in Galle and plenty between Ratnapura and Hambantota. Portals are coming up in Kandy, and even Vavuniya. Dambulla has 5, and there are even portals on top of Sigiriya. New ones come up all the time, meaning new places to visit and see.

Rich, active and immersive, Ingress is more than just a game. In some ways, to some people, it is a way of life. Even a way for married people to play together 🙂

Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”. For the Enlightened, this is Agent P3ricles. See you in the game.

(Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4)

Babel – Thoughts on automated language translations


Babel was a city (now thought to be Babylon), where legend has it, the people attempted to build a tower that would reach into heaven. As this was an enormous task, it required much time and cooperation among the people who incidentally all spoke the same language.

Hearing of this endeavour, God is said to have come down to see the city and declared, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

And so God confounded the attempts of the builders by confusing their language into many mutually incomprehensible languages. Soon discord arose, the tower was left unfinished and the people of Babel scattered across the world.

Whatever your theological belief may be, this story is an interesting allegory. While used as a reason for the existence of the numerous languages in the world, it also illustrates how differences in language often lead to loss of cohesion.

Babel Tower

The Babel fish

In his entertaining novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, science-fiction writer Douglas Adams came up with an unusual solution to the problem of understanding multiple languages across the universe – the Babel fish.

Described as “small, yellow, leech like and probably the oddest creature in the universe the Babel fish feeds on the energy of brain waves around it, and excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them.

The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.”

First steps towards a Babel fish

While text and voice based translation applications have been around for a while,  NTT Docomo made a giant leap late last year with the launch of an Android based voice translator for phone calls – the Hanashite Hon’yaku app. This app provides voice translation of the other speaker’s conversation into a required language as well as providing text readout.

The free service is already being used by Docomo customers, with translations possible on any smartphone, because the app utilises Docomo’s cloud servers for processing. However, the user must be a subscriber to one of Docomo’s packages to be able to use the service, so sadly it is not available on other operator networks.

Docomo will soon face competition from France’s Alcatel-Lucent which is developing a rival call translation product, named WeTalk. The service is to be compatible over any landline and is said to be able to handle Japanese and about a dozen other languages including English, French and Arabic. The firm said all this could be done in less than a second. However, it has opted to wait before the speaker has stopped talking to start the translation after trials suggested that users preferred the experience.

These applications are far from perfect, with errors occurring due to inability to recognize various accents and nuances in a language. The best voice translators typically have an error rate of 20-25%, which is just not good enough especially in business environments.

Babel Translator

Smarter Translators

Microsoft Research and the University of Toronto made a breakthrough in improving translations by using a technique called Deep Neural Networks, which is patterned after human brain behaviour. The researchers were able to train more discriminative and better speech recognizers than previous methods.[ 1 ]

Back in October 2012, Microsoft researchers demonstrated software that translates spoken English into spoken Chinese almost instantly, while preserving the tone of a speaker’s voice – an innovation that makes conversation more effective and personal.

The demonstration was made by Rick Rashid, Microsoft’s chief research officer, at an event in Tianjin, China. “I’m speaking in English and you’ll hear my words in Chinese in my own voice,” Rashid told the audience. The system works by recognizing a person’s words, quickly converting the text into properly ordered Chinese sentences, and then handing those over to speech synthesis software that has been trained to replicate the speaker’s voice. [ 2 ]

As Rashid explains in the Microsoft blog, “it required a text to speech system that Microsoft researchers built using a few hours speech of a native Chinese speaker and properties of my own voice taken from about one hour of pre-recorded (English) data, in this case recordings of previous speeches I’d made.”

As IBM’s Jeopardy champ “Watson” has shown, with enough information computers using neural networks can identify puns and wordplay in languages and learn to respond to questions involving them.

The Future

With further improvement in translation technologies, real time perfect translations could move from science fiction to science fact in the very near future. Wearable technology such as Google glass may soon be able to incorporate real time translation using cloud based services.

In a country where linguistic differences have and still affect such a significant portion of the population, such translation applications could be very useful. There should be some significant effort and backing put into developing translation services in the local market – an example of which is the website translation services developed by Dialog which, however, is only available for English to Sinhala translations. It is a small step but should be used as motivation for local developers to get involved in including Sinhala and Tamil to existing translation technologies – voice and text – in order to create applications that can help break language barriers.

While not so fantastical as a tower that reaches heaven, we may soon be able to embark on the next great project, which will hopefully help in understanding one another a little bit better in the future.


Fish Prices through App and SMS

The ICTA in conjunction with the GovSMS initiative launched a SMS and android based app which lets the user check fish prices in a specific area. The fish prices displayed are the ones announced daily by the Ceylon Fisheries Corporation.

To access the service via SMS user should type cfc prc [fish code] [location] to 1919

Example : cpc prc kel col012
Reply : Price of 1kg Kelewalla/Kilawarayan/Yellowfin Tuna Rs 490 as at 2013-03-03 in Colombo

The android app is simple but delivers the requirement. From the top right hand corner you can select the location, and the relevant fish list with prices will be displayed in the screen as shown in the below image.

Ceyfish Android

The good thing about this app is that it is available on SMS, catering to the larger market. A future step would be to implement such services on a USSD menu, so that the user doesn’t need to remember a lot of codes.

CloudOn – Cloud based Microsoft Office App

Having the ability to create and edit Microsoft Office docs on your smartphone is obviously quite essential. Since there isn’t an official Microsoft Office app for android and iOS smartphone/tab users, you have to basically download a 3rd Party office app for it. There are a few notable good apps like Kingsoft Office and Quick Office, but most have some limitation that lowers the user experience. For example one app which we tried didn’t support adding images to a word file: would be a deal breaker for most users. Also these apps have their own UI which users need to get accustomed to.

Cloudon Inc, with the aim of providing a better Microsoft Office experience, launched the CloudOn app. This app gives the users Microsoft Office, directly from a cloud server. The UIs and features are quite identical to the desktop version. CloudOn supports Word, Excel and Powerpoint and connectivity to Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and SkyDrive storage. We used it on an Android Tab and the experience was quite good for viewing and editing the Microsoft Office docs. However you should note that even though the UI and features are similar to the desktop version, it would be difficult to create a document from scratch for Excel and Powerpoint. Rather this app would be best suited for editing, viewing and reviewing docs.

Since this a cloud based application, you need an active internet connection to work on the docs. So if you want to work in offline mode, this app is not for you. The other limitation is that for Android it is currently supported for only a set of Handsets on Ice Cream Sandwich and above. In Sri Lanka where a majority of handsets are on Gingerbread this app will not find alot of compatible devices. Nevertheless iPhone, iPad and Galaxy SIII(which we have seen moving in SL) users can try it out.

CloudOn Word

CloudOn Powerpoint

CloudOn Excel

Another important factor is that this app is free while other 3rd party apps have a price for the premium version. As per CloudOn CEO they would be running the app free for a certain time to determine the user requirements as well as get the app popular among the users. With all probability there will be certain charges introduced in future versions. Also it is believed that Microsoft will unveil its official mobile apps this year giving strong competition to CloudOn. Till then you can checkout CloudOn for Android and Apple devices.

Sun FM Android App review

In a nutshell: Listen to SUNFM on your android mobile over the internet

Category : Entertainment

The Good : User friendly interface,

The Bad: Does not auto restart after it stops due to low data speeds

Main Features: Listen to SUNFM online, Check radio schedules, request a song

SUN FM recently launched the first official radio station app for android. This app basically lets you listen to SUN FM over your data connection, mobile or WiFi. So you will require this app if your smartphone doesn’t have a radio or if you’re using a tab.

Sun FM App Screenshots

The app has one screen which has three buttons at the bottom for menu, play/pause and volume. The middle of the app is mostly static, only displays buffering when needed. It would have been nice to have an equalizer running in the middle of the app. On the menu you have a set of options, main ones are to minimize the player, request a song or browse the show times.

Since this app is using data you have to keep an eye on your data usage, as this will consume about 20-30MB per hour. On HSPA, I was able to listen to Sun FM continuously without any buffering. However when I switched to EDGE, the transmission got cut off due to the low data speeds. Also once it stopped it did not automatically restart the buffering until I provided a touch input.

This app is good starting point for Sun FM. Hopefully the future versions would add a bit more flare into the UI and optimize for low data rates.