Edinburgh-based technology firm Pocketwatch has come up with a way of to allow users to access everything on their PC from anywhere via a mobile phone.
The PhD studies of Alex Heneveld, the company's founder and chief technology officer, into the use of mobile data, led him to identify a potential gap in the market for mobile access that the big players would not, or could not, address.
Heneveld discovered that an individual's PC can act as a server, feeding requested information of any kind - as long as it can be read - to a clientless mobile device. It seems simple but, perhaps because the big mobile technology suppliers wanted to sell users devices containing lots of software, they could not see the solution he came up with.
Using Powerhub, a user installs software on their PC and then configures their mobile via SMS through a series of installation choices. The software runs on all Windows operating systems since 98. It has been customised for 70 specific mobile devices and will work on about 300 handsets in total.
Using a mobile internet connection, Powerhub provides access to almost any PC-based program, including e-mail, calendar software and Office favourites such as Word. Claimed response times are between four and seven seconds to log in and one to five seconds to load a page using GPRS or wireless Lan links between the mobile and the PC.
Heneveld said, "We looked at the ways small businesses wanted to access data and found they needed to be able to get to it from wherever. Synchronisation is often difficult and PDAs can be limited in the amount of data they will store. Powerhub turns your PC into a server so you can access anything on it from your mobile."
Heneveld's university research looked at the way people store and process information and it revealed that things became inefficient when the structure became fixed. He believed people wanted their information "not in their mind but in one place, with lots of ways of getting to it".
Heneveld said, "If information is stored centrally, you can access it from anywhere. When Wap came along there was not a lot on the internet you could access using it as the providers usually restricted you to their sites, but there was a lot on my PC I wanted to get to."
The technology's architecture consists of three main elements: Powa Script, an XML-based scripting language that interfaces with Java, PC programs and output data; General Presentation Markup Language, which describes how content should be presented and converts it to the output formats of the accessing device; and Seeker, which organises and prioritises information to be presented depending on the display size, memory and input restrictions on the mobile device.
It seems simple: make the user's PC operate as a server with software to configure any information held on it to a mobile-friendly format. So why had no one thought of it before?
According to Heneveld, it was not in their interests. "Take a look at what is happening. The big players are not interested in interoperability - look at the walled gardens that arose when Wap came along - so there is room for a company like us.
"People ask us why Microsoft has not come up with something like this. The answer is that it is pushing Stinger [Microsoft and Intel's forthcoming mobile platform] and it does not want real-time access. For that you need clientless devices and if that is the case there is no need for a Microsoft product on your phone."
PocketWatch Systems was helped to become "investor-ready" by Connect Scotland and subsequently presented its ground-breaking technology at Connect's annual investment conference two years ago. Its offering created a lot of interest and following the conference it was successful in gaining funding.
Connect Scotland is a non-profit-making organisation founded in 1996 to nurture the creation, development and growth of emerging technology companies. It provides a nationwide support infrastructure which brings together universities, venture capitalists, banks and technology angels, as well as corporates, local enterprise companies, lawyers and individuals with specific management or sector experience.
A spinout of the University of Edinburgh, Connect Scotland is supported by all 14 of Scotland's universities.
The Connect Scotland Investment Conference 2003 takes place at the Sheraton Grand Hotel, Edinburgh, on 27 and 28 October. For more information go to www.connectonthenet.com
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