Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Aro Offers a Parallel Universe Where Mobile Apps Work Together

Aro Mobile on Tuesday will be presenting at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. The company makes a set of search-driven mobile apps for Android that link together so they can be more useful. (It is still in private beta, but as of tomorrow those who sign up on the waiting list will get in more quickly.)

After analyzing your address book, emails (only Gmail and Google Apps for now), calendar and other information you give it, Aro compiles a linked library of topics and people that are relevant to you. Then it uses that information to help you complete actions that usually are tedious on a smartphone because they require users to open all sorts of different apps.

Say you’re using the Aro mail client: Any name that’s mentioned in an email will be highlighted in a bubble that you can click on to see all the people by that name in your address book and call one directly. You can also search through all your correspondence with that person over time, through various email addresses and phone numbers.

Or if someone schedules an appointment with you and you view it in Aro, you can add it to your calendar from within email, look up more information and get directions to the location right there.

Aro synchs all this information back to the original hosts of your email and calendar, though you don’t ever have to open the old apps on your phone.

I’ve been trying Aro for the last couple of days and I can start to see the potential. However, it’s pretty awkward to have the Aro parallel experience layered on top of everything I’m used to doing. My existing phone, email, SMS, address book, calendar and mobile browser apps are now all redundant with Aro versions. The simple action of making a phone call on my setup now requires clicking through an Aro dialog, then a Google Voice dialog–it’s a little too much.

These tools would be much more awesome if they were more tightly integrated into the operating system itself rather than as a whole bunch of apps. Aro CEO Jon Lazarus says he’s working to strike deals with carriers and handset partners to release phones with tighter Aro integration, which would help a lot.

Playing around with Aro makes me think about the potential for a smarter mobile phone that combines Aro-integrated apps with something like Siri’s voice-activated commands. Siri, which launched at D7 and was bought by Apple, is a virtual personal assistant iPhone app that helps users tie into a whole bunch of Web services to do things like make reservations at nearby restaurants. You can start to imagine how a phone would understand a lot more about its owner, and actually help get things done.

Seattle-based Aro, whose parent company is called Kiha, has raised more than $20 million over the past three years from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (the company was originally developing for Windows Mobile, actually, but it switched to Android last year). Aro came out of stealth only a few weeks ago in the run-up to Web 2.0. Here’s a (somewhat cheesy, yes) demo video of how it works:

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— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”