YourStory.in, in conversation with Girish Dhakephalkar, founder of Shoonya 3D, and developers of Krishna 3D, an iPhone app that takes the user through a virtual experience in the temple of Lord Krishna. Krishna 3D was one of the Top 10 Indian Apps at TechSparks 2011 App4India.Edited Excerpts:
Girish, tell us about Shoonya 3D’s iPhone app, Krishna 3D.
Shoonya 3D has always aimed at providing new and exciting audio visual experiences to audiences. We want to create an experience which is uniquely Indian and brings delight to users through a rich and interactive 3D environment.
Religion has a big place in the hearts and minds of the Indian population and we wanted to touch that exact nerve through Krishna 3D.
We have asked three questions before starting this up:
Can we create an app that parents, grandparents as well as kids would love to use?
Can spiritual experiences be made more accessible to newer and younger generations through technologies they are familiar with?
Can temples (specifically their space and architecture) which have always been an inherent part of Indian culture and society, become more accessible to a world-wide audience?
Unlike existing flash based attempts at something similar, our aim is to provide a much wider and deeper experience. We are currently at the first version and are looking at adding more elements from a real life temple experience, including a persistent multi-user virtual world.
Are there any other apps that provide similar 3D experience?
We haven't come across any other apps in the market which offer an interactive 3D temple darshan. Most of the apps are either audio playback apps or apps showing some images. But, what we have done differently is create a completely interactive 3D app. The ability to move around the temple and perform the puja in high quality 3D creates a very different and richer experience as compared to other apps.
Can you tell us in detail about the features of Krishna 3D? Which feature excites you most?
The app features includeAbility to move in the 3D space - here you can use the on-screen widget to move through the entire temple space as you please
Ability to perform an interactive puja - multiple puja options are provided which can be invoked via button touches
Sound of temple bells via a touch interface
Changing of rangoli patterns through a touch interface
Being able to quickly navigate to pre-defined points of interest via button touches
3D sound with sound coming from objects defined in the 3D space for example the water fountain sounds are heard only when you go close to the water fountain, the Hare Krishna Mahamantra becomes louder as you go inside the temple
The most important feature from our perspective is the ability to move inside the 3D space as this completely changes the experience from the user being a static observer to being part of the space
How much time did you take to code the app?
Since we were focussed on creating an overall framework for virtual temples, the time taken was around 5 months. But, we are now able to create other virtual temples within a 4 week period.
So, how did the idea of building a temple app with 3D experience come about?
The idea actually came about when we wanted to create a uniquely Indian experience with interactive 3D technology. Since we had done quite a few interactive 3D space visualisation projects for the real estate sector, we re-used the core framework from there and applied it to one of the most common Indian spaces - temples. We started actively experimenting with it somewhere around the end of 2010 with a couple of months spent in trying to understand the iOS hardware limitations as our previous work was meant for gaming PCs.
How easy/hard was it to move from gaming PCs to a mobile device?
Gaming PCs are not as restrictive hardware environments as are mobile devices. The processors on these devices are equivalent to what PCs used to have 10 years ago. But, the quality of the graphics demanded still needs to be good enough for today's tastes. We had to apply a lot of optimisations that allowed us to get a good end-user experience. We are learning the intricacies of each mobile platform and based on these learnings, we are getting much better visual quality for our other products now. This can be evidenced by the graphical quality of the Ganesha app on www.lifespaces.me which we will soon be launching on the Apple App Store.
Other than iPhone, which other platforms are you aiming at?
The original app runs on iPhone & iPad. We have also released the same experience on the web now at www.lifespaces.me and are looking at porting it to Android soon.
Why did you choose iOS to begin with over other platforms?Apple has a very good system in place for publishing and distributing apps, things we did not have to worry about while creating the app. Also, since it is a 3D app, we required a certain base level of graphics hardware which was available on iDevices and most importantly we did not have to worry about myriad hardware configurations.
Coming from a PC background, were you comfortable with iOS and its development environment? (Develop / Test / Debug cycles)
The development cycles for games are pretty much the same for PCs, iOS or any other platform. One of the major issue where development time was concerned, was moving from a Windows based development environment to a Mac. This was probably the biggest contributor to hair-pulling on the project :)
Can you share more details on the 3D platform you used to create Krishna 3D?
The 3D platform we have used is Unity. Since the app is based on the concept of computer games and real-time graphics, we needed to use an engine that allowed us the maximum flexibility and ease of development and Unity fit the bill to the core.
The app is currently paid on the App Store. Do you have any other plans to monetize?
We are also looking at partnerships with organisations in the same field i.e. temple trusts, religious organisations etc. and we would be looking at providing their content within the app on a royalty sharing basis.
Which other features are you planning to add to Krishna 3D?
We are looking to add more interactivity options to the app - being able to read the Bhagavad Gita, a variety of downloadable aarti options, being able to interact with various temple elements, being able to perform 'mantra-japa' for a specific number of times etc.
How many downloads have you achieved so far?
We have clocked around 120 downloads within the first three months without any marketing efforts. We would now like to focus on marketing activities.
So, how do you plan to go about marketing the app?
We are now looking to publish more information on websites and facebook pages of religious organisations like ISKCON as well as popularise the app through our web version which is available for free.
What are the challenges you face as an entrepreneur in mobile app space in India?
This is our first mobile app, so there were many initial hurdles we had to cross. Our focus is on providing rich and engaging interactive 3D experiences to as many people as possible by creating unique audio-visual content.
Girish, Finally any interesting statistics that you would like to share with the readers of YourStory.in?Any specific instances of user feedback that you want to share with us?
Our first feedback was from my grandmother who due to old age cannot visit temples. When we showed the finished app to her, it brought a big smile to her face and she used it for more than 15 minutes at a stretch with very little help from us.
The app has seen downloads from 24 countries so far, as diverse as Brazil, China and Russia apart from the UK, US and India. Since our web-launch, we have seen 1800 hits to our website www.lifespaces.me in just 24 hours!
Krishna 3D is a unique application in the sense that it does not serve a utilitarian purpose. It is more of an experience - of going to a temple. The 3D experience is immersive and very well done! They've used the swipe gesture effectively to move around in the 3D environment. Gradual reduction in sound as we move out of the temple, and ringing the bell by touching it are all subtle, but add to the overall experience! Good job, Shoonya Team! I am mighty impressed :-) I am also impressed with iPhone / iPad as devices that pack enough punch to render such 3D!
Do not expect Pixar'esque details in 3D though. The images are towards the grainier side. Also, I think the target profile is iPhone / iPad owning Hindu who are ready to pay 1.99 USD (close to 100 INR now!). In India, iPhone / iPad proliferation is not that high, and in the west, where penetration is high, non-Hindus are not much interested in visiting the temple. This explains the low download counts. It might be good to release this free and gain from the marketing this would bring to the team in software services market :-) Also, however engaging an app can be, it does get repetitive after few times, and people may not shell out 1.99 USD.
Try this, if you don't mind the pinch in your wallet! (Or, do it to support the good tech that went inside!)