Creating a new lens is a little complex, though. In the current design, users choose an example of a message they would want to appear in a lens, and then select which attributes of the message should define the lens. “Programming by example should be powerful, but this is still not quite right,” Ballagas acknowledges. “This idea would benefit from more exploration.”
One alternative way to combine all the communications on a phone without overwhelming a user is demonstrated by Aro, which makes an app that relies on algorithms able to recognize people, places, and things in text to organize text messages, calls, and e-mails. A survey of hundreds of mobile users revealed that they were often frustrated by the need to regularly “context switch” to check updates in multiple applications, says Dwight Krossa, Aro’s executive vice president.
But services that pull together many sources of information can be hard to build when smart phones are designed around the concept of separate, self-contained apps. “It’s a challenge to get away from the old model of application sales toward services and systems that make life better for mobile users,” says Krossa.
Nokia is in a position to build a system like its universal in-box into the operating systems of its own phones, although the current prototype is only a research project. But like Aro, it would still rely on being able to tap into other services, and could risk irking app makers concerned about missing out on ad revenue and other benefits of engaging their users directly.
Krossa says that helping users is never bad for anyone’s business, though. “We should let the users decide whether or not this is bad for the maker of the existing application.”