Friday, September 12, 2008

Eye-Movie: An interview with Cinepura’s Harish Mallipeddi

Harish Mallipeddi keeps an eye open for the latest movies in Singapore.

Last Sunday, I wanted to take my kids to watch Wall.E. I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket and in seconds, found out that the Shaw cinema at Bugis was showing it at a convenient time. We jumped onto the MRT, got to Bugis and bought the tickets with plenty of time to spare.

For this, I have Cinepura to thank. Cinepura is a simple iPhone web app that does one thing very well, it tells you where and when a particular movie is showing in Singapore.

Why is this revolutionary? Because Cinepura is the only place on the Internet where you can get this information, presented in such a tidy fashion. The movie listings in the Straits Times are a mess while Yahoo! is only slightly better. Select a movie you want to watch and you get sent to a page that tells where, but not when, the movie is showing. To find out screening times, you’ll have to click on the link to the movie theatre. That brings you to a page which gives you all the screening times for all the movies showing at that cinema. If you don’t like the screening times at that theatre, you hit the back button and click onto another movie theatre. Repeat process until satisfied. Just describing the process is painful.

Cinepura is different. One click and it tells you all the cinemas showing that movie, all the screening times for that movie in those theatres, as well as a short summary and audience rating courtesy of IMDB.

Not just some yahoo

It will come as no surprise to learn that Harish Mallipeddi, the man behind this marvellous application, is a movie buff who watches about two movies a month. He wrote the application to “scratch my own itch” as he says.

Cinepura consists of a crawl script that gets the show times from Yahoo! Singapore Movies every day around 9am. The information is then consolidated and formatted for the iPhone.

Harish took just one day to write Cinepura. “It was written on a Sunday. Subsequently I've made some minor changes to the crawl scripts. It's a simple app which does only one thing well and that was my goal.” It has been live since April this year.

He has vague plans to turn it into a proper iPhone app but is not sure when it will happen. “Right now it seems like Apple is taking a long time to approve applications for a developer license and without a dev license you cannot publish your apps to the AppStore.”

Besides, he’ll also have to find the time to do the port. Currently, he’s busy with his day job doing development work for Circos, a search start-up based in San Mateo, California that does most of its R&D work in Singapore. “We crawl user-generated content like reviews, blogs and figure out what people are saying about a particular brand. Currently we're just focused on the hotels/restaurants vertical but this could potentially be applied to anything.”

Harish joined Circos about a year ago as its first engineering hire in Singapore. While the team has grown, it’s still relatively small, and that keeps him busy. “Since there aren't that many people in a startup to delegate tasks to, you tend to work on a wide variety of problems! This month I could be working on an iPhone app. Next month, I could be fixing some issue with our Hadoop cluster.” He is, in fact, working on an iPhone app for Circos but understandably, he can’t talk about it.

What he can talk about is his love for Singapore developed over his five years here. This 22-year-old grew up in Chennai and Bangalore and came to Singapore in 2003 to study Computer Science at the National University of Singapore.

“Coming from India, I find Singapore clean and safe. Singapore is very cosmopolitan; I got to meet people from all over Asia when I was studying in NUS. There's hardly any corruption (at least that I know of) and I'm impressed with how the Singapore Government makes everyday things so simple (trust me, I cringe every time I've to deal with the Indian Government). I love the food. And more importantly, I love the fact that immigrants are welcome here :)”

What does bother him about Singapore is the lack of innovation. “Businesses here tend to be too service-oriented rather than focussing on creating value by building innovative products,” he says.

“So far this has worked because of Singapore's geographical location, and the fact that the infrastructure in all the neighboring countries is not on par with Singapore. Once they catch up, what will Singapore do?”

On the iPhone

This Mac user (he has a white MacBook having switched from Linux a year and a half ago) believes that the iPhone’s impact has been in the area of user interface (UI). “What the iPhone has done is to show the world that a phone's UI doesn't have to be inferior to that of a desktop just because there's less screen real-estate.

“And I think Apple stumbled upon this result purely by accident because they started off by trying to figure out how to get OS X to run on a phone and multi-touch with a huge screen is the fruit of this train of thought. No other mobile phone software vendor would have approached this problem in this manner except for maybe Microsoft but Microsoft hardly gets its desktop OS right, so there was no faint chance they would have gotten the phone UI right.”

Harish’s favourite apps on his iPhone

-, a radio station that analyses your musical taste and actually plays music you like (not available on the Singapore App store)
- Super Monkey Ball, Sega’s popular iPhone game
- Dizzy Bee, a game where you help a bee collect flowers and avoid baddies using the iPhone’s accelerometer.

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