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The phone-in-a-bowl technique is well known among smartphone owners and music lovers. It’s a way to augment the sound from tiny phone speakers – but not by much.

John Daly, an engineering student at North Dakota State University, is tired of the bowl. He and a team are developing a mobile app that will allow users to sync up multiple phones to play the same music.

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Daly, second from right, and the HERD team.

The idea hit him last summer, Daly said.

“I was with some friends at my house, I didn’t have any bluetooth speakers but we wanted to listen to music. So I put on Spotify, threw it in a bowl, and thought – the sound quality is crap,” Daly said. “It didn’t hit me until afterwards that… everyone’s got a phone in their pocket. Their phones have speakers. We could create our own surround system if you synced it together.”

This wasn’t the first time Daly was struck with an inventive idea. In highschool, he designed a GoPro accessory which is currently patent-pending. He has a Note in his phone reserved for all his ideas. The mobile phone sound system was added to this list.

A year later, when he heard of the Innovation Challenge, this was the idea that stood out the most. He formed a team with fellow NDSU students Sarah Russell (also Daly’s cousin), Adam Johnson, and programmer Jordan Kurtz. They joined the Innovation Challenge, a competition that offers a total of $27,000 in cash prizes to students with the most innovative ideas.

How to join the HERD

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The mobile app works by having a host and a client, Daly explained. The host opens up the apps and starts playing music. The app sends out a notification offering for other smartphones in the vicinity to “Join the HERD.”

People can join the HERD via Wi-Fi or Bluetooh, and each phone will sync with the host’s phone and start playing the host’s music. Users also have the option to “vote to skip” a song.

“It’s basically grabbing the data and throwing it back through the other phones, and distributing it through the network,” Daly said.

There are a few other apps with a similar format, Daly said, but due to security reasons users are only able to play music that they own. The ideal goal for HERD is move to a freedom user base, Daly said, that would allow users to play from Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud, Pandora, iTunes, and any other music platform.

The name HERD, thought up by Russell, is an homage to the Bison as well as a play on words. Potential tag lines include phrases like, “Get heard with HERD.” Brilliant.

Other applications for the system include business conferences, classrooms where professors are really quiet, sporting events, concerts, and any other setting where sound quality is a need, Daly said.

The app will be free and available on Android by the end of the year. They plan to generate revenue through ads on the app, and possibly placing a cap on how many phones can be added to the system with a one dollar fee to add more phones. For use in business settings, it would be sold as a licensed package.

Ultimately, Daly’s plans for the project are much bigger than the Innovation Challenge competition, he said.

“Innovation Challenge is just a stepping stone,” he said. “I want to try to get this off the ground and do a small startup business, because that’s always what I’ve wanted to do.”

John Daly

Photos courtesy of John Daly.

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Marisa Jackels