Although the mobile and smartphone industry has been the steppingstone for Finnish technology industry for obvious reasons, the future might not be as clear. The crumbing of our native power-house Nokia and the turmoil with all that talent floating around the markets makes foreseeing the future very challenging. The Finnish educational system however relies on what it knows best and what it can leverage to meet the needs of tomorrow, based on what has been learned yesterday. The game plan seems to be to utilize what we already know very well and keep up with the competition with Nordic rigor.
Our very own Jarno Montonen took up the challenge to go and poke around the mind of a faculty leader in Jyväskylä University to get some insight on what they’re up to. Pekka Neittaanmäki is the dean of the faculty of information technology in the aforementioned school, his primary responsibilities are in leading the faculty, but he is also the leader of the University’s graduate school. As a professor he leads the Ph.D. seminar on mobile devices.
For one, they have kicked off a research project to develop alternative reality mobile gaming for kids. What’s the main motivation behind this kind of work?
We have various sports and health related research projects going on in the University of Jyväskylä, and motivating children and the young to exercise has become increasingly important for public health. One significant reason for the decreased motivation for sports and exercise among the aforementioned public is the attraction of video games as a recreational activity. Current smartphones have evolved to the state in which they give us an excellent platform for bringing some of this video game related attraction to outdoor games, so we decided that it was time to try this out.
And for this particular project, you have chosen to use Windows Phone as the development platform, why so?
While most of our past mobile research projects have been on Symbian or Android, we have been increasingly moving towards Microsoft technologies both in our education and research. We have, for example, changed our basic programming courses from Java to C#. Additionally, Nokia’s decision to retire Symbian and pick up Windows Phone as their main smartphone platform was a huge argument in favor of Windows Phone. So, the decision to utilize this project as our pilot Windows Phone project was easy. As regards further research on the capabilities of Windows Phone versus other smartphone platforms, we have now started to port one of our recent Android projects to Windows Phone as well.
What are the experiences from the concept of motivating children and the young to exercise with an alternative reality mobile game so far?
While the technical implementation of the game is only in its early stages so far, still missing many such things that add to the long term attractivity of video games, we have certainly had great feedback from youngsters about the concept and had some great fun while testing the prototype ourselves. So we are positive that someday games like this might very well have a large scale impact on motivating children and young people to play sporty outdoor games. And that, in turn, would have a positive impact on public health as a whole – not only physical health, but mental too. We have put a lot of thought into the design of the game so that it is as social and as egalitarian as possible.
What are your experiences so far from utilizing Windows Phone as a platform for such a research project?
Well, as I see it, productivity has been very good, and that is very important in research projects in which many different implementations and concepts are tried out before the most suitable one is found. The research team has also been very happy with the tools which seem to be rather pleasant to use. Admittedly, though, the initial version of Windows Phone 7, the No-Do, lacked some features and tooling that would have been helpful to this project, but we are happy to see that the Mango update seems to add what we have been missing.
And last, what is the future of this research project?
Initially, the project was planned to last until this summer, till the end of this month (August), but we have already decided to continue the research next year as well, and we are looking for new partners.
You can check a video demonstration of the application at our YouTube-channel!
About the author: Jarno is a former sports addict, current IT fiend and an Information Systems Development student from Jyväskylä University. On summer he enjoys playing beach volley and rollerblading, on winter he prefers volleyball or snowboarding. But whatever the season or weather, you’ll likely find him between the chair and keyboard, doing some game or mobile development.