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Strung out hackers and BBC beanbags

Mobile programming as a competitive art form?

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On Saturday the BBC-sponsored Over The Air: the 48-hour race to create innovative mobile applications wound up with 21 teams presenting applications they had hacked together.

The teams comprised mobile-development companies showing off what they could do, interested hackers creating stuff for fun, and a few individuals just there for the craic, along with the occasional network operator rep on the look-out for the next big thing.

Among the presentations of Twitter clients, mash-ups and social networking utilities, a couple of clearly–distinguishable trends did emerge.

There was a lot of interest, and innovation, around location-based services, although most of the applications demonstrated didn't actually work as they relied the local Cell-ID for their location, and lacked the corresponding longitude and latitude for each cell - a problem one innovative team solved by spending the night walking the streets and logging them.

Attendees also seemed frustrated at the lack of integration between the desktop and mobile worlds, so there were several applications designed to smooth that transition. The best example replicated the user's desktop browsing on a Windows Mobile device- so the phone can be grabbed by the user, and will already display the page they were reading along with their browsed history.

But not everyone look the challenge so seriously; a cocktail database was also demonstrated, alongside a robot arm controlled with the wave of a phone that was able to stream pictures back to a different phone, for no readily-desirable reason. Also bordering on the lunatic was a Bluetooth-and-accelerometer-based sword fighting game, and a complete high-definition tribute to Torchwood shot and edited at the event.

Imperial College hosted the two days, which was free to attend and over-subscribed. Sponsors including Adobe, Sun, Google, Yahoo, Forum Nokia and BetaVine provided support and prizes in a variety of categories. The BBC provided the beanbags, as well as sponsoring the event which was run by Mobile Monday .

Sponsorship from companies involved in, or hoping to be involved in, mobile development is easy to fathom; Google even dropped job adverts into attendee bags b. But why was the BBC sponsoring a load of mobile hackers creating, largely pointless, applications? According to the BBC's Controller of Mobile, Matthew Postgate, it's because good programming is a creative art form, and the BBC has a responsibility to promote creative art. This was the first mobile event with which the corporation his been involved, but Postgate is clear that it won't be the last. ®

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