A Montreal startup has launched the beta version of an Android app that lets you "use" your smartphone even if its battery is dead or you forgot the device at home.
Pplconnect bills itself as the world's first "virtual smartphone" app. The beta version lets users make calls, send and receive texts, and manage their contacts from their computer, tablet or a friend's phone using their smartphone number. It all happens via the virtual smartphone stored on a server that connects to their real smartphone.
The company's ultimate goal is to allow users to access all the features on their smartphone without having to rely on the hardware itself, according to company co-founders Jenviev Azzolin and Denzil D'Sa.
Roaming fees avoided
D'Sa said Pplconnect lets users overcome the limitations of their smartphones.
For example, he highlighted the lengths people go to right now in order keep their phones charged: "Walk into any airport and you see people hovering around the plugs."
He also noted that many people keep their phones off while travelling in order to avoid high roaming fees, but Pplconnect allows people to exchange texts and make calls from their number via another device while overseas without roaming charges.
Azzolin said the app was inspired by her own experiences when she worked with D'Sa in marketing at Bombardier Aerospace.
Some days, she forgot her phone at home, and would get anxious about being disconnected from the calls, texts and people in her digital life.
"Every time I had this overwhelming feeling like, 'Oh my god, I just cannot function without my phone,'" she recalled.
She said she used to regularly lose an hour out of her day fighting traffic to go home to get her phone.
"When I started mentioning that to Denzil, he was like, 'Yeah, absolutely, I love my phone, but hate how I need that piece of hardware.'"
Azzolin said she did some research, and realized that the trend in other areas of technology was to free people from relying on a single device.
"It was about giving users more choice, the ability to connect anywhere through cloud and through the internet. We thought maybe there was the same opportunity for mobile."
The beta version of the app is available starting as a free download in the Google Play store. Pplconnect plans to release an iOS version in 2014.
Once the app is installed, users can log in to their phone from a Chrome browser on another device to make and receive texts, manage their contacts, or make calls.
Calls are done through voice over IP technology (VoIP), so they don't count towards the minutes in a user's smartphone plan, but Pplconnect charges roughly three cents a minute for the service. Those who download the app before the holiday season will get $2 worth of calling credits for free.
For now texts will count towards the user's plan, D'Sa said, but in the future, the system will support sending them through the web.
Limited features in beta version
The beta version of the app doesn't allow users to receive calls, but D'Sa said that feature will be added in the following weeks, before the app's full launch at the South by Southwest music, film and interactive festival in Austin, Texas, in March.
Soon, the company plans to launch photo and video capabilities for the virtual smartphone. And in the future, D'Sa said, Pplconnect plans for your virtual smartphone to provide features that your real smartphone doesn't, such as extra data storage and processing power.
"If you don't have a $700 phone, we can do that on the cloud for you."
So far, Azzolin said, the development of the app has been funded by awards and grants such as the Canada Media Fund, the Spin Master Innovation Fund and the Quebec Finance Minister Grant for Innovation.
But the company expects to earn revenue by selling VoIP minutes.
In the future, it also plans to sell storage space for music, photos and videos, as well as charging a per use fee for future premium features. For example, the app plans to launch a feature that allows users to "check-in" to their phone through another phone, and then "check-out" securely, automatically erasing personal data and locking access to their account.