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Intelligent Machines

Device-to-Device Media Sharing that Works

One proximity-based app has nailed the triangulation problem.

In the next few years, device-to-device sharing of music, videos, and photos will become commonplace. That’s thanks to a new crop of proximity-based apps—including Color, Bump, and Mover—that provide a simple way to share media between phones. One of the most interesting and advanced of these tools is LoKast.

Created by Boris Bogatin, an engineering grad from the University of Pennsylvania, and now CEO of NearVerse, LoKast is unique in that it uses programming tricks to capture GPS and wireless data about which phones are actually nearby. Other location-based apps, such as WhosHere, are hit or miss: there is often a delay in sharing proximity data. But when I tested LoKast with two Sprint Evo Shift 4G smart phones in a variety of settings, including a crowded coffeehouse, its proximity engine worked quickly and reliably.

The app lets users stream their own music, videos, and photos from their phones to anyone within a radius of 1,000 feet. (For copyright reasons, when a user accesses another user’s music on an iPhone, they are redirected to the iTunes Store.) Users can also share Web links and contacts, and even post on Twitter and Facebook about the media they are sharing. The app works over both 3G and Wi-Fi. A “LoKast Live” feature lets users see new videos and photos added in real time and play them back instantly—helpful at a wedding, business meeting, or party.

Ben Allen, a social media expert and consultant, says LoKast’s strength is in its proprietary technology that locates nearby users, with a peer-to-peer link similar to Skype’s. Chris Pollara, CEO of media consultancy Convertiv, agrees that this proximity technology gives LoKast an edge. LoKast checks the quality of the smart phone’s GPS signal and triangulates its position based on proximity to a Wi-Fi hot spot. Other apps use just a simple GPS location string (the phone’s latitude and longitude) and don’t triangulate.

LoKast also uses an intermediary server in the cloud. As in any phone conversation or a Skype call (or, as with LoKast, the video and photos), the media is recorded very quickly in near real time and then transmitted back to the caller. Some apps, like Mover, don’t use a server, but transmit directly from one phone to another over Bluetooth. Using a server is more costly, but it provides a smoother transmission, because the network is faster and more reliable, and it transmits over greater distances. For LoKast, there is another advantage: the company can track actual usage and show that data to advertisers. The server can also keep the app developer informed on exactly how good the streaming quality is.

LoKast isn’t perfect, though. A few videos stalled when I tested it, and there are no privacy settings. Because LoKast doesn’t require registration, anyone can connect to a LoKast stream—and any LoKast user nearby could tap into any video you stream over LoKast, capture it, and use it in any way they wished. Bogatin downplayed privacy concerns, saying, “LoKast is meant for disposable proximity media sharing”—for photos and movies that are created for a one-time event, shared between users, and then forgotten.

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