by Sigmund Leominster
As the world moves ever-closer to being wired to the internet 24/7, the opportunity to be both in the real world and the Second Life® virtual world simultaneously increases. And as more and more people switch from regular cell phones to more sophisticated smart phones, these present a potential platform for accessing your virtual life.
Enter the Mobile Grid Client (MGC) software, running on my Motorola Droid A855.
Described as “a Second Life messaging client for Android-powered cell phones like the Motorola Droid, the T-Mobile G1, the Google Nexus One and a lot of other devices,” Mobile Grid Client is basically a way for someone to be in Second Life via their smart phone. After logging in, you can use IM to chat with people, teleport to different locations, take part in local chats, look at peoples’ profiles, and even bring up a regional map to see where you are and where other avatars are located.
Because it runs on a portable-device operating system – in this case Google’s Android software – it isn’t the same as a fully features Second Life client. For one thing, you can’t actually “see” where you are and move around, nor can you interact with objects – unless that includes money, in which case you can give and receive Linden dollars. It is primarily a text-based program yet allows someone to maintain a real-time presence in world.
And you do have a “real” in-world existence. During my test period, I was able to log in and teleport to be among friends and hold a conversation. They could see me just like normal, but I couldn’t move around without their assistance i.e. by having them push me – all, of course, in the interests of science. Nevertheless, there is a sense of “presence” to be had when using the MGC software, and as a way of being there when a regular computer isn’t available, it has value.
The software is the brainchild of Kurt Schlager, a software developer from Austria, and was launched in October 2009 as a download from the Android Market. I asked Kurt to tell me a little about his thinking behind developing his client.
“The idea to create a mobile application had nothing to do with virtual worlds at all. Before Mobile Grid Client, I knew Second Life just from the press. It all started with the idea to compete at Google’s Android Developer Challenge last summer. At the time, it seemed to me that every useful application had already been published. Then one day, a very good friend of mine suggested that I make a Second Life client. So I created an account, very quickly became a little bit addicted to SL, and loved the idea of creating the first SL client for Android.”
So how long did it take to go from an idea to a saleable product?
“It took me about five months to release the first version of the client. My biggest challenges were of a technical nature. As this was my first application for Android, learning about the Android operating system itself was a big challenge, and of course SL itself. I was also new to the virtual world so I had to learn a lot about how things worked there and how people were using all the tools that SL offered.
“The biggest challenge of all was that it wasn’t possible to develop an SL client on a Java-based device in a timely fashion. There are no libraries that you can use. But this directed me to the client-server architecture MGC builds upon now. All the heavyweight computing is done on a server and the client application on the mobile device is just the remote.”
You are using a subscription-based approach to selling the client. Why did you have to do that as opposed to just selling a one-time piece of software?
“Simply put, because it really is a service. I have to run and maintain the servers. I could also offer a one-time payment, but I felt that if I had to stop the service in the future, it would not be fair to people who had paid for the client and who then couldn’t use it anymore. Therefore, the client itself is free but the usage of the service has to be paid for. If I have to discontinue the service I’ll just stop selling license and shut down the service after the last license has expired.”
The lack of the ability to move around while in Second Life was the one feature I miss when using the client. Are there any plans to try to make this possible?
“I’m aware of this and have thought a lot about it. But walking with just the map as a reference plus the extra lag to the server and back is something I think could lead to frustration. Thus there is currently no such feature. But never say never!”
What are your short- and long-term goals for MGC?
“Well, there are some things on my to-do list: Better inventory integration, better group handling, mute list, and some others. But the next big thing will be support for the Blackberry platform.”
If there were three pieces of advice you’d offer to people wanting to run businesses based on the Second Life platform, what would they be?
“First, be very aware of SL’s population and your target group as real people not just avatars.
“Second, do your business with full commitment and enjoy being your own customer.
“And finally, don’t mix up L$ with real currency ;-).”
The Mobile Grid Client software is available free for users of Android-based devices and can be downloaded from the Android Market. There is a 14-day free trial before you have to switch to the standard version that currently goes for L$250 per month – about $10 per year. There is a Pro version for L$450 per month (or L$4500 per year) that provides some extra features, such as the facility to make payments, change groups, and an extended inactivity time-out feature.
 Mobile Grid Client Home page: http://www.mobilegridclient.com
© 2010, Sigmund Leominster