McCormick sophomore develops mobile app to lock phone intelligently

Yunita Ong, Reporter

McCormick sophomore William Xiao has earned kudos from the online technology community for developing an Android mobile application that intelligently locks and unlocks the user’s phone using sensor data.

Named Pocket Lock, the application uses sensor data to keep the user’s phone locked until taken out for usage. Users can wave their hands over the front of their phones when they want to unlock it. This prevents accidental activity while the phone is in one’s pocket or bag. The app has received about 45,000 downloads on the Google Play store, where it has been rated 4 out of 5 stars by more than 1,500 users. Xiao said the app is being downloaded about 500 times a day and he expects to reach 50,000 downloads by the end of the month.

Pocket Lock is the first app Xiao, a computer science major, has ever developed. Xiao said he began building the app during winter break of 2013, when he got bored learning about mobile app development in an e-book he had bought online.

“I wanted to develop something I personally would find useful as well,” he said. “One of the next big things in app development is to help people communicate with their devices in a smarter way.”

Xiao worked on the app alone, primarily during breaks in the academic year and over the summer. His biggest difficulty was his lack of experience, he said.

“I had never built an app before, so I had to Google every single thing — even something as simple as placing a button on the screen,” he said.

He said he did not anticipate the positive response to Pocket Lock, which has won praise from technology websites such as Gizmodo, Digital Spy and Lifehacker.

“I read Lifehacker every day, and one day I woke up and saw my own work being featured there,” he said. “I was absolutely floored.”

McCormick sophomore Jaiveer Kothari, who has taken multiple classes with Xiao since freshman year, said Xiao’s work ethic and resourcefulness helped him perfect Pocket Lock.

Xiao now provides technical support for his users and is working on updating the application. Currently, Pocket Lock is free for download, but Xiao is considering creating a paid, pro version by the end of next summer. He said he may also build more intelligent applications in the future, such as one that will turn on a smartphone’s flashlight automatically.

“Nowadays, we already have computers everywhere — in our cars and in our phones — we need better software to make them more useful,” Xiao said.

This article was updated at 11:01 p.m. on Oct. 5.

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