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Chris Cardell

Interview with Richard Uren (Handset Detection)

Handset Detection is a tool used for mobile website redirection, mobile browser detection and device identification.

I interviewed Richard Uren, Handset Detection Director at Teleport Corp Pty Ltd to find out more. This interview is the eightieth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Richard!

How would you describe Handset Detection in under 50 words?

We help web designers and developers work with mobile devices. Usually that’s handset, tablet & game console, detection and redirection. In some cases its content optimization as well. Futureproof device detection for all. :)

How does Handset Detection work?

It’s a real time device detection service. It works like this : You plug us into your website via API Kit or Javascript, then whenever a new visitor hits your site we’ll tell you what the device is. If its a mobile device then we’ll give you lots of info about that device too (screen size, vendor name, model name etc…). That way your site can decide what to do with the visitor – like optimize content, redirect off to a mobile site, not show the flash video etc…

What made you decide to develop Handset Detection?

In a previous life (circa 2006/2008) I had a mobile agency building mobile apps and mobile websites. To deliver apps and experiences that worked great on different handsets we kept building this device detection building block over and over again. Then new handsets would come out and we would be updating dozens of builds all around the place – Gah !

Having that device detection build block managed by a central service scratched that itch for us so it seemed a great candidate for a web service.

What technologies have been used to build Handset Detection?

Its developed in PHP using CakePHP with MySQL and MongoDB as the databases. We leverage 3rd party services for specialist tasks as well, Recurly for billing, Postmark for email delivery, Zendesk for Helpdesk, Pingdom for monitoring, DnsMadeEasy for GeoDNS and Amazon S3 for storage.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Handset Detection?

As a bootstrapped startup our biggest challenge in the early days was scaling out. Taking our architecture from a few servers in one location to lots of servers spread around the world meant re-architecting and re-building most of how Handset Detection worked.

Our most persistent challenge is keeping up with the new devices. We pick up about 300 new devices (handsets & tablets) each month. Thats increasing each month too, mostly thanks to Android.

You’re putting the finishing touches on HD3, your new detection system. What new features will this have?

Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. There is a revamped schema, about a 100x speedup in device detection (no database, fully in memory) and a local detection option : where you can download our database, detection rules and use an api kit to perform detections locally, plus a swag (technical term) of stats updates going live in April/May.

What’s your background? Where are you based?

Handset Detection is my 7th startup so I guess I’ve got the startup bug :) – By default I’m into the tech side of things (design, development, network ops). I also enjoy learning new things from a wide range of sources, I just did a pasta making course last weekend, and have a strange addiction to non fiction and business books.

I live in Melbourne/Australia and work with a small team spread out around the world. Assembla, Zendesk & Skype help co-ordinate everything.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

Big question. That I should buy Apple shares ? ;-) Hahaha. The mobile landscape was so different back then. iPhones were about to be released, Blackberrys were king and Nokia ruled the roost everywhere else. Nowdays the ecosystem is dominated by two companies that didn’t even have a product back then.

I think my big takeaway from the last 5 years is don’t rush the process due to perceived time pressure. Start small, ship it and iterate. That’s one of the luxuries you have building a web service.

The Handset Detection pricing model is scalable to suit the specific needs of users. What’s your philosophy on converting free members?

Help people, be useful, honest and excellent. Its a pretty simple philosophy.

I figure if people like the cut of our jib then they’ll hang about. Over time, as peoples needs grow, they they’ll grow into paid plans. I like the idea of having a generous free usage tier, with extras for people that refer friends.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Handset Detection’s biggest competitor is regular expressions. Weird, but true.

Most platforms that offer some sort of built in device detection have a static database of user-agents or a hideous 3 line regular expression of string fragments to try and pick up if the visitor is a mobile or not. I guess they’re somewhat effective, depending on the audience, and the target use case. Keeping them up to date usually requires regular module/framework updates and in many cases they can’t differentiate between handsets and tablets.

Our challenge is to let folks know there’s a far better, rock solid option.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

The explosion of internet enabled devices is pretty exciting for Handset Detection. We’ll be adding more classes of devices in the near future.

Looking more broadly the scope and number of API based web services are amazing. Check out, you can pretty much find a web service for anything.

On a development front D3.js has my eye at the moment, its a work of beauty.

Can you convince the reader to start using Handset Detection in under 50 words?

Rock solid device detection that you install once and never worry about ever again. Get some today – it’s Free!

Finished reading? Check out Handset Detection!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 at 12:03 am GMT. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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