TORONTO – A Montreal-based tech startup aims to free users from the confines of their smartphones by creating the first ever virtual smartphone platform for Android users, allowing customers to make calls and send texts from another device.
PPLConnect, which launched its open beta on the Google Play app store Thursday, allows Android owners to create an account that links their smartphone to its virtual platform via an app.
Users can then access their phone’s capabilities and contacts through Google Chrome on a desktop computer, tablet, or other mobile device to send and receive calls and SMS text messages.
Co-founders Denzil D’Sa and Jenviev Azzolin told Global News they came up with the idea for the startup while working at an office located near Montreal’s international airport. They noticed that if co-workers forgot their smartphones at home they were willing to make the hour-long commute back into the city just to get it, because they didn’t want to go a full day without their device.
“We realized that was a really powerful motivator,” said Azzolin.
“So we thought how can solve this problem? Because it’s not actually the physical phone that’s hard to be away from, it’s the information.”
The duo’s thoughts were confirmed after doing more research into everything from cellphone addiction, to “nomophobia” – the fear of being without your cellphone or mobile device.
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“When we did research, the one overwhelming characteristic that came out was that the service is really for people that are in many ways ‘addicted’ to their smartphone; they need it all day. Some people are young professionals that are based in North America but travel a lot overseas for work, so roaming fees become a big frustration,” said Azzolin.
“Another key demographic for us is people that have multiple devices – people that have an Android phone, but an iPad tablet and a Windows computer – they have a lot of different platforms and operating systems and the frustration there is that they don’t play nice together.”
Calls from the web
The virtual startup links directly with the user’s phone number so that all communication is routed through their existing information – even when making a call from the web.
But the app also taps in to a touchy subject for most Canadian cellphone users – roaming and long distance charges.
The service allows users to purchase credits for calls, including overseas calls, using their own phone number (and without racking up a huge long distance bill).
“On the Internet the definition of long distance is significantly skewed. It would make more sense to use PPLConnect to call than to use your operator because that’s where you will incur some incredible fees, where our will be a couple of cents,” said D’Sa.
The service also synchs with the user’s smartphone so that all of the data remains the same on both devices – text messages sent through the app will still appear on the user’s phone and any changes made to contacts will be reflected on both devices.
Currently the app only operates in Canada and the U.S., but D’Sa noted that the company plans to update to include more countries as they develop.
“Eventually our plan is to keep adding features so that eventually you have your full smartphone wherever you are,” he added.
For those worried about privacy, though the app does access users’ contacts, SMS and call logs, its creators assure that information is protected through encryption.
“One of the first feature we added was ‘delete my account and take away my information’ because we are very compelled by that as a vision for the company,” said D’Sa.