Microsoft on{X} makes Android phones smarter than Windows phones

Microsoft is launching an application programming system called on{X} for Android phones

It seems strange -- and it is -- but Microsoft is launching an application programming system called on{X} for Android phones that make it easy for Java-savvy users to turn the phones into smart, hypervigilant assistants.

Want the phone to automatically send an SMS message to callers when you're driving your car? On{X} can do that.

Have trouble remembering where your car is in the mall parking lot? On{X} can find it for you.

Haven't called your mother in a month? On{X} will remind you.

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On{X} is a framework for accessing and sensing data generated by the phone: GPS location, movement, whether AC power is connected, whether a Wi-Fi network is near, whether the phone has just left a particular location, etc.

The software then takes that data and creates an action based on it. Did you just leave your house at 7 a.m.? Program the phone to automatically send a text to your admin saying you'll be at work in 20 minutes. Are you driving in your car headed home at 5:30 p.m.? Automatically turn on drive-time music.

Users can write JavaScript code against the on{X} application programming interface to accomplish these and any other tasks they can think of, share their code with others and install it quickly, customizing the phone to perform helpful tasks in appropriate situations, according to a blog post written by one of the software's developers, Eran Yariv.

The Microsoft group developing on{X} has plans to create a version for Windows Phone, but that is more complicated and will come later. With Android being open source, it's easier to access the code. Right now on{X} is in beta and is calling for developers to expand the tasks it can perform.

The on{X} team calls the code for executing tasks "recipes" and offers up a handful on its website. But it also provides the core on{X} framework code that users download to their phones once, then apply recipes to its API to carry out desired functions, the post says.

So rather than write apps that interface with individual phone functions like GPS or Internet access, the recipes are written to the API, simplifying the developer's task, according to the blog. "To get started with on{X} you don't need any experience developing mobile apps," the on{X} site says. "Basic JavaScript programming skills will do."

Developers can store their code on the site and access their script logs remotely for debugging.

The data gathered by on[X} stays on the phone, and any rules set by a recipe can be turned on and off on the phone. The on{X} framework includes logic so, for example, it can use raw motion data to conclude that the phone is being carried by a person walking or that the person is riding in a car, further simplifying what needs to be written to create a recipe, the blog post says.

"The system can be used to create daily reminders such as 'eat lunch at noon' that pop up every day. Reminders can also be more complex. Users can define geographic locations that can become triggers, for example. So if you leave your jacket at your mother's house, you can set a reminder to take it with you the next time you visit." 

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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