As touchscreen mobile devices mature and applications become more readily available for virtually every operating system, user interface becomes a vital factor for manufacturers to differentiate their products from competitors.
At the moment device makers have struck more misses than hits in creating a truly satisfying touch interface, but YOUi Labs inc., an Ottawa-based mobile tech startup aims to change all that.
The three-year-old company has been quietly turning out software tools that enable mobile device manufacturers to create mobile user interfaces capable of bestowing ease-of-use properties akin to Apple’s iPhone to almost any device, according to the economic development agency Ottawa Centre for Regional Innovation (OCRI). There are currently about 500 million devices running software developed by YOUi Labs. The government agency, which helps IT startups develop and bring their products to market, estimates that YOUi Labs revenues with top $20 million in the next three years.
This is how YOUi envisions digital camaras of the near future will be controlled.
Breaking down app silos
There are very few mobile devices that offer consumers a smooth and easy-to-use touchscreen interface, according to Jason Flick, president of YOUi Labs.
“HTC has been very successful with its Sense 3.0 interface, the Kindle Fire is so good you don’t even recognize it’s running on Android, but for the most part touch interfaces are disjointed,” said Flick.
Ironically, mobile apps are also the most fun features of a mobile device, according to Chuck Martin, director of research for Media Post Communications, a marketing firm based in New York.
“Apps offer slick interfaces that result in higher engagement and repeat use,” said Martin.
Tied with useful features such as global position systems, location-based marketing tools, or mobile payment functions, apps can become an integral part of a marketing or business program, said Martin.
Much of the frustration and cumbersome feel that users relate to mobile devices come from “apps feeling like silos onto themselves,” Flick explained. “Take Android, for instance, it’s a great OS but its UI is not cohesive and not intuitive. People need to search for different control buttons each time they use a different application on it.”
This mostly occurs because developing different user interfaces for each mobile OS or mobile device can be time consuming and expensive for app developers, he said.
OS agnostic developer tools
“Our company’s natural user interface (NUI) framework and software services enable the creation of visually rich and responsive user experiences on any hardware,” said Flick.
The company’s uSwish graphical user interface (GUI) can be embedded onto any mobile device. It has features such as multi-touch, haptics, gestures, stereoscopic 3D and Physics. uSwish supports Android, Embedded Linux, Windows CE, Windows Mobile, Android, BREW MP, Nucleus, QNX and more.
uSwish performs like a custom-built UI with all the benefits of having an OS and hardware agnostic platform, said the YOUi co-founder. “With uSwish, you can differentiate your next Android-powered device or share a common user experience across your entire device portfolio.”
YOUi Labs’ isGPU (intelligent software graphic processor unit) is a set of libraries for 2D and 3D graphics that provide app developers and device manufacturers with an OS-independent graphic tool. isGPU reduces the need to create OS specific graphic tools and allows developers to concentrate their efforts on their primary tasks and projects.
Flick said YOUi Labs is working towards developing their products for embedding into devices other smartphones and tablets.
He says YOUi Labs’ NUI solutions can find use in other handheld devices such as digital cameras. Digital camera now have view screens that have touch functions, but Flick said YOUi is looking towards functionalities closer to what smartphone screens are capable of today.
Ottawa moving away from telecom
According to Bruce Lazenby, CEO of OCRI, YOUi Labs typifies the new breed of Ottawa-based tech startups.
“Ottawa still has strong roots in telecom, but there a growing number of younger small tech businesses here that are making a name for themselves in other areas,” said Lazenby.
Many of the new startups are can now be found in the mobile, gaming, life sciences, clean technology, wireless as well as defence and aerospace industries, he said. “Telecom is a capital intensive business. These areas do not require a lot of private capital.”
OCRI was instrumental in attracting a critical $1.2 million investment from various government funding programs which underwrote the production of uSwish, he said. “Many businesses like YOUi Labs know that there are government funds they could tap, but they do not know where and how to go about it,” said Lazenby.