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How Pyka calls from the cloud?

A few months ago, when we were brainstorming Pyka, we realised that a reliable and scalable telephony system is critical. That’s when I started exploring platforms that would meet our requirement. One of the cloud telephony platforms widely recommended across various forums was Twilio. I stumbled across this amazing twilio demo and this is now my personal benchmark for a good product demo. Though I was happy with the features, outgoing calls to India were a bit expensive (about Rs.4 per call).

I came to know about TringMe, an Indian cloud telephony platform and they had better pricing and we built our proof of concept using that. We were convinced with the idea and started building the whole framework. All we wanted was to play an audio message when the user picks up the call. This wasn’t possible directly in TringMe and we had to internally place another call to achieve it. Just then, our friend Raja of Hexolabs suggested Tropo. I found Tropo simpler than Twilio and, more importantly, the pricing was attractive. Making an outbound call to a phone number and playing an audio was as simple as,

<?php
call("+91955550100");
say(“welcome.mp3”);
?>

We finally decided to go ahead with Tropo for our MVP after we saw their excellent customer support. Our queries were answered within a couple of hours and this gave us complete confidence. We wanted fine-grained control on the outgoing calls as our system had to call multiple times till the user picks up the call.

After we completed the MVP pilot testing, we wanted to build a robust platform with redundancy. We had to keep the cost per call low as well. That’s when we came across Mobme, whose call rates were lower and they had a very rich response format. Their support team was responsive too. So, now we use Mobme for our voice calls for Pyka with an automatic fallback on Tropo.

Some of the interesting telephony startups that I came across during this time are Exotel, KooKoo and Miglu. Let us know if there are other interesting cloud telephony platforms that I might have missed.

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What’s in a name?

A lot of people, well, at least, a few asked about our product names. So, here’s the story.

When we did our digital metering app, we focussed on Bangalore. So, naming the app in Kannada felt right. But, Bangalore has large populations of speakers of other languages too. While scouting for options, I happened to read about ideophones, words that “sound like what they mean” or, as Wikipedia says “words used by speakers to evoke a vivid impression of certain sensation or sensory perceptions, e.g. smell, color, shape, sound, action, or movement.” It sounded like a neat idea to name the app with an ideophone. It’ll evoke the same impression in people speaking different languages, right?

Given that the bulk of the Bangalore population speaks some Dravidian language or other, the choice fell on Suruk, which connoted diligence, speed, sharpness etc. signifying what Suruk does. And, it helped that www.suruk.com was available. It was nice also because, between us, we spoke Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada (apart from English and Hindi). We picked Ideophone as the name of the company and thought that we’ll name each of our apps and services with an ideophone.

As for SOS app, it was difficult to call it anything other than SOS itself. We excused ourselves saying that, if Morse code was a language, SOS would be an ideophone in that language. So much of retrofitting. ;)

Pika

Pika (Photo by Alastair Rae)

Then came our railway wakeup alarm service. We were looking at numerous ideophones and chanced upon Pika, a Belarusian and Himalayan rodent that alerts other animals with a characteristic sound ‘pika’ (audio). What a linguistically and ecologically fitting find! :D But, we realised that most people pronounce pika as peeka as well as that the rodent is everywhere in search results. So, we called it Pyka. Don’t know from where we’ll pick the name for our future products, but http://ideophone.org/ would be one place where we’ll look at.

I’m sure there would be several interesting stories behind naming products. If you know of any, please share it in the comments.

Update: Mark Dingemanse (http://www.mpi.nl/people/dingemanse-mark), a linguist from Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics and expert on Ideophones, likes our naming and has written a blog post at http://ideophone.org/ideophones-around-the-web-ideophones-and-product-naming/. Thanks Mark.

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tung tung tung … yatriyon krupaya dhyan dhijiye …

We’re pleased to present to you, Pyka, your very own wake up caller. Are you supposed to get down in an ungodly (or unevolutionary or unutilitarian or whatever) hour at a railway station? You don’t want to wake up hours before the train chugs to your destination and sit in the lower berth with your neck against the middle berth laden with a happily-snoring uncle, no? Then, do the smart thing.
Pyka Message SyntaxAnd, SleepWell™. :)
For more details and the obligatory disclaimer that we’re in beta mode and are not responsible for acts or otherwise of god, network, cloud, or Python, please visit www.pyka.in. You can watch a cool video too there. Thanks to all the friends, Ammas, Appas, thammudus, Achans, machans, and chechis who tested Pyka and helped us fix a number of usability issues.

Brought to you on the rails from the clouds, quite literally.

Sundar and Sandeep onboard JetLite S2 blah and Anenth on the ground. :)

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The SOS Story

When we started with Suruk, we ran an email survey with the help of some Christ College students and found that the top 3 problems faced by auto commuters were meter-tampering, rude drivers, and personal safety issues. So, we built a digital meter, a provision to share drivers’ conduct (good as well as bad), and to press an emergency button in case of risk. A senior person in Nokia saw our app and observed that the last option can be a standalone application because it won’t be buried in the menu when someone needs it as well as because it’s applicable in more scenarios. That’s how our One Touch SOS was seeded!

It was also our first paid app on Ovi store and our first foray into Android. Most recently, we’ve also launched it for Windows Phone 7 users. SOS also became a premium app on Aircel PocketApps as well. Here are some usage stats below to compare our reach in Ovi (paid) and Android (free).

SOS Ovi Pie

SOS Ovi Pie

SOS Android Version Breakdown

SOS Android Version Breakdown

SOS Android Country Pie

SOS Android Country Pie

SOS Device Pie

SOS Device Pie

Thanks to the prod by Movilzona about not releasing a Spanish version, we tried to localise our SOS app in Spanish. While looking at professional translation for Spanish, I asked my friend Chander if he could help with the German translation. He went beyond that, and got his translation brushed up by his friend, Johannes. As a bonus, he also got a Spanish translation from his friend, Barbara. Thanks to all of them, we released SOS in 3 languages on Ovi. We’re crowdsourcing French translations at Get Localization. Please lend a word or two if you know French. :)

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Journey so far and looking ahead

Bangalore Mirror storyWe’ve not written much since our first launch of Suruk, an attempt to counter the meter-tampering menace. Honestly, we didn’t take ourselves seriously until Bangalore Mirror covered us on its front-page (thanks Renuka). We suddenly got a lot of regular users. A lot has happened since then. Suruk has got over 25,000 users from 138 countries! Though we only targeted what we identified as ‘Bajaj countries’, we were surprised by its reach.

Following are the top 25 countries downloading Suruk on Ovi:

India Indonesia Malaysia
Turkey Pakistan Greece
Saudi Arabia Morocco Czech Republic
Italy United Kingdom Australia
Brazil Egypt Netherlands
Russian Federation United Arab Emirates  
Thailand Vietnam  
Spain Poland  
Mexico United States of America  
Germany Bangladesh  

 

A Spanish blog reviewed Suruk and demanded to know why we didn’t have a Spanish version of it! We released our next app, SOS, in 3 languages Deutsch, English, and Español. More on that later. Alongside, we graduated to multiple platforms Android, Symbian, Windows Phone 7, and just plain SMS, on several stores and markets.

Thanks to mentors and supporters in the startup ecosystem, we are carving our niche – location, motion, and journey aware mobile apps and services for people on the go. Going forward, we’ll talk more about how we proceed with our mission of helping people travel safer, cheaper, together, and better informed.

We’ll also be posting from Twitter and FaceBook.

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Simple, yet effective!

It’s been over 2 months since our flagship product, Suruk has been live on the Nokia Ovi Store for free download. Suruk has been downloaded over 15,000 times and, apart from offline usage of Suruk auto meter, there has been more than 50,000 requests to our other services like fetching the routes. The high usage and very encouraging response from various tech-blogs in Spain and UK motivated us much and has given us lot of stuff to work on and improve the application day by day.

We recently came across astonishing figures of SMS VAS usage in India.

* An average Indian sends 29 SMS per month

* 1 in 5 urban Indians have used a SMS based VAS service

* Approx 6 million have used SMS to get directions

We believe that providing our services over multiple channels will help us cater to most of the people in India. Hence, today, we launch our first SMS-based application, Auto Fare, which started out as a collaboration with a IIIT-D team. It costs nearly nothing to use, doesn’t require an internet connection and there’s no need for a gps/gprs/java enabled handset: it’s practically an open and free for all service.

Do try it out and tell us what you think :-)

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