Quick interview of Jeff Smith, CEO and cofounder of Smule

Smule? That rings a bell? I posted about their Sonic Lighter application last week and added a cool video that shows you Sonic Lighter in action. At the time, I said I wouldn’t spend $.99 in their application. After asking a few questions to Smule’s CEO Jeff Smith, I still wouldn’t put a dime in this app, but at least now I understand what’s cool about it. Oh yeah, it’s a pretty cool app…

How do you use Sonic Lighter?

It’s pretty simple. To ignite, strike the flints or get a light from another phone nearby. Tilt/touch to play with the flame. Blow the base of the phone to extinguish the flame, or blow gently to simply make the flame dance. Double-tap a burning flame to see a real-time view of the World and who has ignited.

Why did you develop this application?

We developed the application with a few purposes in mind.

First, we saw an opportunity to build a new network, a network based on physical relationship Vs virtual relationships. It’s not that we dislike Facebook. It’s just that we’re skeptical of whether someone really has 1,000 friends. In the end, we value human contact, and our network is very human. If you look on our site, you can see where people all over the world are igniting their flames. And so we feel more human connecting to these people. Moreover, you’ll see new versions of the Sonic Lighter product that allow you to track your own network, but these are people you met directly (not virtually) and offered a light.

Second, we think that the iPhone is an ideal platform for audio, and yet virtually all of the audio today on the iPhone is static. We’ve developed a new audio platform, Chip, based on the Chuck audio language that came out of our co-founder, Dr. Ge Wang’s research at Princeton. It is on top of this audio platform that we have constructed the Sonic Modem (allowing in the Sonic Lighter ignitions across phones), real-time synthesized sounds that interact directly with your gestures, as well as our new wind model (the ability to detect wind against a mic so you can blow out a flame, for example).

We are just getting started here, and you should expect some unique and expressive application content from us, allowing people to connect with one another in new ways.

Finally, we are simply curious. We want to explore what is possible on this amazing new platform. Never before have we seen multi-touch, GPS, crisp processing, a GPU for high quality graphics, tilt, and real-time audio in the palm of your hand. This iPhone platform, for all the hype, is frankly more profound than we even contemplate now.

There seems to be 1,000 lighter applications in the App Store, why would I pay for Sonic Lighter when I can have another lighter app for free? And what does make Sonic Lighter different from other lighter apps available in the app store?

Well, apparently people are. We’ve been a top-5 application in France, Belgium, Japan, Italy, Denmark, etc. Our position in the U.S store, in spite of the ‘alternatives’, seems to continue to grow. Moreover, if you look at the current ignition map (in the product on our web site), you see actual real-time data on ignitions around the world. I noticed an ignition yesterday in the arctic circle. We checked the data base and confirmed, in fact, we saw three ignitions from this location. An offshore oil platform or cruise-ship was our guess. We’ve already seen over 18K ignitions in the past 24 hours across the globe.

But to your question, our product is not really a lighter. Yes, you ignite a flame, interact with it by touching, pinch it to expand or contract it, tilt it to fry the side of your phone. But, uniquely and through our audio engine, you can blow out the flame with wind. And you can ignite a lighter on another phone over our Sonic Modem. Moreover, through your ignitions on your phone and others, you can join the new Sonic Network, now graphically displayed on our globe.

What’s next for Smule? Any app development?

You’ll see three new applications from Smule in the next three weeks. Stay tuned.

Anything relevant about you that might interest my readers?

Yes. I’m pursuing a Phd in computer music at Stanford. Our co-founder and CTO, Ge Wang, is an assistant professor of computer music at Stanford and the author of Chuck, the leading audio programming platform. Ge recently created the Stanford Laptop Orchestra. And if you have time, I’d encourage you to chat with or even meet Dr. Wang. He really has passion for the new world of audio on the iPhone.