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Tuesday, 08 October 2013 15:28

Omny is the radio of the future Featured


An Aussie app released today could seriously change how we consume information and entertainment on the go.

Omny, released today for exclusively on the Australian iOS App Store, provides users with their own personalised radio station, pulling in a whole range of data, content and music.

The Azure-powered app, from Aussie startup crew 121cast, uses everything from weather forecasts, Facebook feeds, emails, radio shows and music through services like iTunes and Spotify to put together a radio station that can fill you in on everything that's going on before you get to work.

Users could open the app and listen to a quick weather update before a CNN report and a fresh Kanye West track, alongside news that their ex-girlfriend has become engaged.

Omny co-founder and 121cast CEO Ed Hooper told iTWire the idea came to fruition after using his smartphone religiously on the train every day, and realising he was missing out on that same news and info when walking or driving to work.

"It drove us nuts, so we looked at radio as a replacement," Hooper said. "But with radio it's a very 'one size fits all' medium, it looks at what's best for the average person in Sydney for example, whereas we're purely about the individual.

"The individual can now say 'I like this type of music, I like these radio hosts, I want emails from my boss or partner, and I want to know if it's my friend's birthday. And our app can do that."

Hooper said Omny uses an algorithm that learns as you go, and users can swipe and 'like' content to teach the app what content they want to consume.

Hooper and fellow co-founder Long Zheng quit their jobs and made a proof-of-concept app, SoundGecko, a news and RSS text-to-speech app, in order to prove the technology would work and that there was a sufficient market of users who wanted their news read to them. There was.

Omny was subsequently backed by Adventure Capital and Optus Innov8, and Hooper and Zheng, along with fellow co-founder Andrew Armstrong. have been working on Omny for nearly eighteen months, with the support of a team including two PhDs - a Cambridge alumna, a machine learning specialist who has worked at NASA as well as a former Buzzfeed employee.

Hooper said while the app was starting locally for now, he'd been in talks with partnerships in America, Asia and Europe to look at rolling the app out internationally. He said text-to-speech technology wasn't perfect yet but it's definitely improving all the time.

"The text-to-speech industry is definitely heading in the right direction," he said. "We're getting better at processing tweets and Facebook posts and misspelled words, we're a lot happier with it now than when we started. It could definitely use more emotion, but the industry is moving in a direction where the voices will have more emotion and be less robotic, and our product will get better as that gets better.

"That said, we're happy with the standard at the moment, and people don't have to include text-to-speech content in their feed if they don't want it."

The app is iOS-only for now but some "very cool things" are headed for Android shortly.

Check out the app for yourself in the App Store here or visit the Omny website for more info.

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