Wireless Wonders

No news, just comment about mobile phones and services, from a veteran practitioner...3G, GPRS, WAP, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc...

Monday, April 25, 2005

Updating presence info and fixing your car...

There's a lot of marketing excitement about presence in a mobile network, which is the ability to indicate your state, such as "online/offline", "home/office", "busy/free", "bored/excited" and so on. Presence information can also be extended to indicate the type of communications you want to receive, where you are, the situation you are in (public/private) and so on. Presence is a feature of later generation 3G networks (that have IMS).

I did some work on a product to allow car garages to update customers on the status of their car in the service bay (or queue). One mode allowed customers to send a text message to the garage number and to receive an update on their car's status (e.g. "being fixed, waiting for parts, ready").

However, the big problem with such a system is keeping the state current. In garages, as we found out, staff are notorious for finding every shortcut possible to avoid IT hassles. For example, they would fail to enter many mandatory fields in screens and just type "mm" for Mickey Mouse, or some other shortcut.

For a moment, I had wondered about extending the above idea to the presence system. Your car would appear as a "buddy" in the buddy list and its status would be dynamically updated. Sending a message to "the car" would probably result in being connected with the engineer, or another member of staff.

It is not beyond the imagination, because systems could be devised to allow state to be dynamically maintained in a reliable manner. For example, were the garage to use wireless devices to track jobs, this might allow the state to be reliably tracked.

However, without such systems, it is highly unlikely that this would work. Moreover, having looked at the potentially complex array of presence states for mobile users, one wonders if anyone will bother to keep their presence information up-to-date that often, or just default to a common setting.

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