Bump app draws buzz at CTIA

iPhone users swap contact information with a fist bump

SAN DIEGO -- A free iPhone social networking application called "Bump" for quick sharing of personal contact information and photos created a buzz at the CTIA International wireless conference here.

Bump, by Bump Technologies Inc. in Toronto, first appeared in March, and was distinguished as the billionth download on Apple Inc.'s App Store for use with the iPhone and iPod Touch. As such, it won a mention in a TV ad and the attention of iPhone users that seems to have multiplied six months later.

Bump aroused the curiosity of analysts and technology buffs at CTIA partly because of how it uses AT&T's network, built-in GPS and sensors in the iPhone to help users share their contact information.

In order to work, two iPhone users must have downloaded the app. Then with their iPhones clenched in their hands, they gently bump their hands together in a fist bump to begin the exchange of information which is stored in each phone.

A bartender at a CTIA party who noticed the mobile phone executives playing with phones in the crowd remarked that Bump was his favorite iPhone app. "I don't know how it works, but you just bump another person, and it works," he said.

So, how does it work?

IDC analyst Scott Ellison said most Bump users believe the device transmits the data over the air via Bluetooth or even infrared. But the correct ansswer is that it relies on AT&T's 3G cellular or EDGE networks or Wi-Fi to transmit the data between phones.

Bump's FAQ gives more details on how the phones identify each other and knowi the other is ready to transmit data.

According to the FAQ, the Bump app runs on the iPhone and a matching algorithm runs on a server in the cloud. The app on the phone uses the sensors on the phone to "feel" the bump, sending that information to the server. The algorithm listens to bumps from phones globally and pairs up those phones that felt the same bump, and then routes the contact information between the two phones in the pair. The process takes less than 10 seconds.

Ellison said that Bump relies on GPS to give a close location of each phone, but also uses the iPhone's accelerometer for detecting movements.

The FAQ says that if two pairs of users bump their phones at the same time, such as at a crowded party, and the server cannot resolve a unique match, the pairs will be asked to bump again.

The communications between the phones and the server are encrypted for greater security. Once a bump is made, the server will find a matching phone that felt the bump and then ask each phone to send up the contact information for each user to share, but nothing else, the FAQ says. If both users confirm that the match is correct, the information is sent to the other party.

Bump Technologies says it plans to keep the basic version free for the "entire foreseeable future" and is working to bring the app to other smartphones equipped with sensing technologies "in the near future."

The iTunes App Store includes a variety of customer reviews that show how Bump is used. One comment, by Paddledave, says the app is "great if you are in a bar and too drunk to trade contacts." Another by cwinfoseeker says, "it's cool but it would be way better if u could bump music and apps with ur friends."

Ellison said the Bump is "very, very snazzy" and shows well the capabilities of emerging mobile technologies. But he also foresees a time when "bump brawls" in parties develop, and he's not completely kidding. "What if somebody basically says 'Hey baby' to a woman [with a bump] and her husband or boyfriend is standing nearby?'' he said.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)
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