DEVELOPER FOCUS soundSYNC is a new app that turns separate mobile devices into a single speaker system, so users can blast out tunes with the combined volume of however many devices they sync together. This clever, useful and very desirable app is the result of the combined genius of four university students, Edward Noel, Robert Parker, Jonathan Neumann, and Alex Bochenski. Smart Chimps has a chat with the chaps about how they cooked up the idea for soundSYNC.
SC: For some background on soundSYNC, the group teamed up to try and win the Microsoft Imagine Cup app building competition earlier this year, egged on by SETsquared, a collaboration between the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey that partners in enterprise activities and collectively supports the growth and success of new business opportunities. The boys rocked the competition and on 11 July this year were proclaimed the winners, taking $50,000 home with them. So what is soundsynk and how does it work from a technological and a consumer perspective?
Edward: soundSYNK is a music app that allows us to connect an unlimited amount of phones and tablets together and stream music from one phone creating a portable stereo system. From a user you will be able to connect your phone and stream your music to a friend's phone and play the music from his phone speaker as well as yours. We can have an unlimited amount of phones connected in this and we hope to be able to get all the phones at a festival playing music together, instead of the speaker system.
SC: How did you guys come up with the idea of syncing your mobiles together to make this app?
Edward: The idea came as we were taking part in the Southern heat of the Microsoft Imagine Cup, which was an app-building competition we'd been invited to take part in by SETsquared. It was Saturday 16 February 2013 at 2am in the morning.
Our initial aim was to build an app just to win the competition. Our team had never met or worked together before and it was a bit of fun. We were throwing out ideas such as creating an app for events, calendar and little football league manager tool but after mapping all of these out on the board, none really felt right.
So it got to 2am and we must have had at least three cans of Redbull each and being students we were craving music so Alex got his laptop out and started playing 'Sweet Nothings, by Calvin Harris. It was simply not loud enough for us to have a little dance! So as we have all tried before, we put our laptops and tablets together and tried to press play at the same time.
It was a surreal moment when we all looked at each other and knew exactly what we were about to make. As Rob and Jonathan (the programmers,) got to work figuring out how to make this, Alex and myself started sorting out the presentation to win this competition, getting the logo made, a business model and website built.
While this was going on we actually realised that we could create a platform that allows us to stream data to an unlimited amount of phones. This is when we realised it was a viable and extremely big market we could tap into. It wasn't just music, it was streaming videos, power point presentations, live voice; any bit of data you can imagine.
SC: soundSYNC uses Bluetooth, but how does it work technologically, and would you be better off or perhaps consider using NFC when that is more commonly available? Would NFC provide soundSYNC with a better backbone?
Robert: We're developing a new networking system called Colinked, and this network connects through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi Direct. It is a completely new approach to a form of mesh networking!
This network allows us to send data between devices and overcomes the current bandwidth limits, which would of stopped us sending music streams to more than four devices. Eventually we are going to license this advanced technology so anyone can use it with ease!
soundSYNK uses the Colinked network, and on top of it we've developed a number of clever syncing technologies. We use these to ensure that the music is all played together in harmony, this all works through known delays and predetermined time intervals, as well as dynamic adjustment from transmission rate timing and even tick level syncing depending upon the latency of devices caches, we wanted the SYNK to be perfect regardless of platform, device, or environmental effects.
SC: Who is the soundSYNC team, what are you studying, are you all app developers or planning to be, and why does app development appeal to you guys?
Edward: Our team is consists of four guys, two programmers and two business guys. We didn't really know each other that well before this competition and we clicked straight away. We didn't really choose to build an app; the opportunity was put to us and this awesome idea came out of it so we thought we would run with it and see where it goes. Rob and Jonathan are the geniuses about making this work and are the ones who are developing the product itself. Robert is a second year computer science and mathematics student. He has developed over eight apps in both Andoird and iOS but this is his first in Windows. Jonathan is in his fourth year and is doing a Masters in history. He is from France and is in the UK on an Erasmus scheme (where students from Europe can do a year abroad in another uni). App development is a hobby of his and has developed over eight apps himself and he works mainly on iOS. Alex is a second year business and economics students. Alex is from Hong Kong and is also in the UOTC (Army at university). Alex deals with the finances I am a second year mechanical engineering student. I deal with the marketing and business side (business models and grants). I have set up and worked on various startups before.SC: What sort of training was provided by SETsquared, and how has that helped?
Edward: SETsquared, Ignite (Exeter Guild Enterprise unit) and the Exeter Innovation Centre have actually been amazing! SETsquared set up an investor readiness session for us which really helped when presenting. They have provided us with amazing contacts. As a team we are very fortunate to have a team which functions very well together and knows what they are doing. SETsquared have been there to fill in the gaps we are missing and it is very comforting having them behind us. We owe a lot of this to Karen Brooks (SETsquared) and Tracy Costello (ignite) who have both been behind us 100% and having that support has given us so much confidence. If we had any issues we could call them up and they would have a solution or a number to help sort this out. And for a start-up and students who also have a degree to worry about we couldn't of asked for more.
SC: What advice did doug Richards give you, and what have you learned from this experience and from all the organisations and companies that have helped you on this? How can you use this in your own futures?
Edward: Doug Richards was interesting, Tracy Costello organised a dinner for ignite and invited Ed and Doug along. She cheekily positioned Ed next to him. within 20 minutes Doug made him stand up and present the whole business to him of which he said. 'that is pretty cool' I was expecting to be grilled but nothing, He really liked the idea and that was so comforting. Having a dragon saying your idea is cool was one of the best feelings ever. The advice he gave Ed was amazing, he explained his mistakes in business and it was an eye opener and how to be wary of investors. He also helps us sort out our pricing scheme. It was a great experience.
So many people have helped us. It has been amazing and we are really proud to be apart of this. The best lesson we learnt was 'go ask' and most of the time people are willing to get involved. Everyone we have spoken to has given us another idea for taking the colinked technology forward or some great tips to help us forward. The biggest thing for us is finding the right questions to ask and this is our challenge. When we ask them we have such a wealth of support we nearly always get an answer or at least a name who can.
SC: Will you guys work together again on app development?Edward: We had a team analysis by a company called Saberr who have created a programme to predict which team would win (so far they have been 100% correct predicting us to win at both the regionals and the UK finals). We know we have an extremely strong team and we have already agreed if this for what ever reason doesn't work we are going to work on another project together. We hope that the technology will keep us going for a couple of years at least and give us time to develop something even cooler together!
SC: Congratulations on your $50,000 top prize guys! Smart Chimps can't wait to download the app.