Wireless Wonders

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

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Cellular - The Movie...

I just finished watching the thriller "Cellular". My wife saw the vanilla case from Blockbuster and thought I'd managed to find a documentary about cell phones. I almost wish I had.

A woman (Kim Bassinger) is kidnapped and locked in a room with a broken phone. She somehow fiddles with the phone and manages to dial a number (at random). The guy (Chris Evans) on the other end answers and hears her plea for help. He thinks it's a prank call.

After various flimsy happenstances, Chris' character stays on the line and tries to help the victim out, which he does for the duration of the film, the whole time staying on the line.

At one point, the line becomes crossed with another cell user, who is forced to hand over his mobile at gunpoint, so that the conversation can continue. GET DIGITAL GUYS! This lady almost got killed because of a line swap and, among other faults...yes, loss of signal, loss of battery (he has to hold up a cellular store to get a charger).

Anyhow, the film is just about worth a watch to see what happens next at each unfolding of the tenuous plot. Otherwise, it's just a huge advert for Nokia phones, with the 6600 appearing about 200 times, including a nice demonstration of its camera and video features. I wish mine had the same quality and resolution as the one in the film.

It was a nice attempt to write a film script around a cellular theme.
Makes me want to write my own script...
(...keep coming back, maybe I'll post one)

100 Mobile Product Ideas...#3...

Calling all operators and mobile device manufacturers...
Here's how to generate more revenue and spark more interest in "mobile data services"...

Operators want to increase their messaging revenues. Operators want to spark interest and demand in multimedia messaging, which so far they have failed to do.

Here's my two-penneth worth of advice on this topic.

Step 1. Join the Atom initiative to develop what is effectively going to be a standard API for blogging.

Step 2. Enable all mobile content on devices to be postable via Atom...and that's all content, including text, video, images and sound.

Step 3. Make sure that "Send to blog" is a one-click (that's ONE CLICK) option on all content production on the device, not an obscure option buried in the nth click menu and called something daft like "Uplink via Atom". See any decent treatise on usability (and don't tell me you have your own usability experts, as we've all seen what they come up with...see my post on how to ruin a WAP experience.) Read Nielsen or hire someone like Barbara Ballard.

Step 4. Make sure that the mobile device is able to AUTOMATICALLY either find blogs that the user is already generating, be they podcasts, blogs, vblogs, or bla-dee-bla-blogs, but THEIR blog, not your behind-the-iron-curtain operator's portal blog.

[NB...don't be tempted to gloss over this step as it will LESSEN your messaging revenue opportunity from mobile blogging.]
[NNB...the finding blogs automatically might be tricky, but it is do-able if you put your minds to it, or ask me how.]

Step 5. IF...and only IF...the user, by some freak one-in-a-zillion chance does not have a blog by the time you get around to implementing this feature (a long while from now) then offer them an option to "create blog", which should be a complete no-brainer, no-need-to-register-via-your-PC-later option.

[NB...please don't attempt your own we-needed-a-special-tweek mobile blog platform or buy a massively expensive one from some "mobile apps house" with a flashy brochure. Talk to the guys who know about blogging (see the list on the Atom site).]

Step 6. Start a marketing revolution around mobile blogging. Promote it like it is going out of fashion, or, as Tom Peters says, "blog like your life depended on it" (ditto social life too...). Talk to Seth Godin about viral marketing, if you have to, assuming that adding that SINGLE CLICK "SEND TO BLOG" isn't going to create a viral explosion. JUST WATCH AND SEE!!!

Here endeth the idea.....(for now...lot's more to say about this topic...)

Friday, February 04, 2005

100 Mobile Product Ideas...#2...

We all need to relax. Stress and stress-induced illnesses are on the increase.

There are all kinds of health scares related to mobiles: Fried brains, or the more tangible hands-off-the-wheel, eyes-off-the-road car mishaps, some of them lethal.

To add to those scares, the prospect of the mobile causing electrical interference with the body is also another possibility. The body uses electric currents to keep everything in sync with the brain. There's also a growing theory that the heart sends out subtle electromagnetic fields to the rest of the body. It has been confirmed recently that the heart is like a second "brain". It has its own neural network and it now seems likely that we do indeed really feel with our heart.

Now, like many other people with mobiles, I use mine as an alarm clock in the morning. I use my Blackberry. In various polls and discussion threads, the alarm clock is the favourite non-voice app of many mobile owners.

It is probably coincidence, or placebo, or less email-overload induced stress, but when I decided to switch off the radio part of my Blackberry at night times, I started sleeping better. Call me a quack, but this is my suggestion for insomniacs who sleep next to their mobiles (and there are probably lots of them).

So what's my idea for the mobile?
It's to incorporate a bio-feedback mechanism and turn it into a relaxation aid.

With the appropriate sensor and application, there's no reason why a bio-feedback mechanism couldn't be included in any mobile phone.

Whenever the user is stressed, or simply has 5 minutes to spare, they tune in to their body and using either visual or audio feedback, try to lessen their tension.

Less stress...until the user reads their bill or gets another dropped call!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Symbian signed...code or death warrant.?...

Steve Litchfield in his article about "Symbian Signed" code-signing thinks that this is the thin end edge of a wedge that will stifle software innovation.

The article quite rightly, and helpfully, points out the dangers of locking down platforms with code-signing. The disadvantage is that it makes the small developer's job cumbersome and, in some cases, impossible. Shareware - forget it! All this makes for an environment unsupportive of software creativity and collaboration.

However, the author of the article makes too little of the underlying reasons for code-signing, which will not help the "freedom for developers" tribe.

I generally support the tribe, but it often suffers from poor and fallacious thinking.

The greatest fallacy is still the notion that the mobile device market ought to be like the PC/Internet market, or environment.

Actually, from one very important perspective - i.e. the users - it is a great thing that it isn't. The reason is that mobile phones are mass consumer devices that everyone owns, from 7 year olds to 100 year olds. MOST of these users are NOT IT-enthusiasts, or fiddle-with-the-settings types. A mobile phone works out-of-the-box, usually 100% of the time (minus the network variability).

Within that environment, there are two issues that increased device sophistication brings, which operators - quite justifiably - want to avoid.

The first is support. The second is malignant behaviour, such as viruses might exhibit.

Giving software programs greater access to the underlying mobile features increases the threat that these two issues pose. This has been well understood by all the mobile community, which is why the latest releases of Java MIDP and Symbian (and already Microsoft WinCE) have in-built measures to limit the threat.

My own experience with operators is that generally they don't want to be involved with code-signing, or even DRM management processes, as it is an extra overhead for them. Therefore, they are pushing the responsibility back to the handset vendors, or the OS vendors.

My view is that as the smart-phone features penetrate further down the device price range, the more likely we will see an enforced code-signing policy for these mass consumption devices.

The alternative, which is also possible with these new OSes, is to limit the features that the software can access if it isn't signed. For example, it is possible to implement a policy to prevent access to the address book for an unsigned program.

Higher priced, more obviously "smart phone" devices (in terms of form factor) will probably not have such stringent controls in place. The assumption here is that these devices will probably have more IT-competent users, either directly or through enterprise support.

On the flip side of the argument, the notion of code-signing stifling innovation has credence. It is probably understood by the likes of Symbian, but most operators are still in no-mans land when it comes to applications. They kind of see the need, but don't do much to promote it, whilst simultaneously wondering where are the "killer apps".

In any case, the whole issue of code-signing for mobiles is not as simple as the author makes out. One last point is that his assertion that "we paid for the devices" is usually incorrect. About the only thing that operators do give away for "free" is the device, or a substantial subsidy.

Near enough (pt 2)...

Nearfield Communications Forum (NCF) is a complimentary technology to Bluetooth and WiFi.

The complimentary aspect of the work in the NFC Forum is its beauty. By merely bringing the devices into proximity, a BT or WiFi link can be immediately established. This allows for further higher-speed transfer beyond the initial "swipe".

I like the idea of a "bulletin board" application. This could be envisaged as an interactive pod/wall - or anything frankly - that users walk up to and touch with their phones. Any application could communicate through this proximity exchange. Messages could be swapped of the type "Paul woz 'ere", or something more "sophisticated", using any media.

I found this blog about NFC. It hasn't been updated for a while, but has lots of useful background-information posts.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Near enough...

The Near Field Communication Forum development looks very interesting. It is an RFID standard that will allow mobile phones to communicate with other machines, merely by bringing them in close proximity with each other.

Oyster card holders who travel on the London Underground will already be familiar with this technique. Waving the card over the entry barrier causes it to open.

There are just so many potentially exciting applications for this technology. I firmly believe that it will be an exciting development for mobilisation of our daily routines.

One possibility is mobile payment. With point-of-sale systems emerging like Mastercard's Paypass, which uses RFID, we are one step closer to making payments simply by waving our mobile phone over a reader. Motorola are conducting such a trial with Paypass-enabled phones.

Paypass is a superior version of the new Chip & Pin initiative in the UK. However, with the basic infrastructure for point-of-sale PIN verification now in place, an RFID extension is a mere hardware upgrade.

There are many exciting connections with my favourite theme of spatial messaging. By placing readers in known locations, users can access very precise location-specific information in a jiffy. This may well prove to be the most cost-effective means of enabling certain types of hyper-accurate location-based services.

A favourite of mine is the virtual information kiosk. Simply walk up to a reader, wave the phone and then start accessing information related to the reader's place and purpose. For example, it could be shopping information in a large department store. The information could come in any manner of media, including an MP3 "podcast".

I recently wrote about this topic in a chapter "Mobile in the 3G Era" for a new book "Mobile Mania: Social Trends and Mobile Phone Use" to be published this year, and I hope to post a summary soon on my site.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Long distance mobile, without fiddling...

Do you want to make cheap overseas calls on your mobile? You may already have something like a One-Tel account and a local number to access overseas numbers at One-Tel rates, not mobile-operator-take-all-my-money rates.

Cory Doctorow was lamenting about the problem with this approach. All that fiddling around with entering access codes and then the international number. Not very easy on the move. Not very easy at all. He poses a solution:

"With the right programming, my P900 could automate all those steps. I could tell it my current PIN, and every time I hit an international number in the phone book, or even started to dial one, it would automatically route the call through my card, shaving a fortune off my long-distance bills. No carrier is ever going to give me the application to do that, but as long as one other person deemed it useful and built it, I could have it too."

Well, Cory, the solution already exists, courtesy of Nick Hancock's new venture. This is his response to Cory:

"This is exactly what my company Intelli-Call has done with the BT Callwise product, available now. The mobile operators may not like it but these products are coming ....take control of your mobile."

Go check it out......Intelli-Call http://www.intelli-call.com/

Monday, January 31, 2005

Seeing Engines...

We are a step closer to being able to view remotely anything on the planet. OK, I exaggerate about anything on the planet. But, adding to the eyeball tendrils of web-cam world is the ability to visualize addresses in a directory. Amazon's interesting search engine - A9.com - adds photos to addresses in the Yellow Pages, albeit for a limited number of localities in the US.

This is nothing new, except it's one of the first times such a feature has appeared in an aspiring mainstream service and not some lab demo, or the like.

The A9 team took the pics themselves using a camera mounted on a car with the shutter synchronized to GPS co-ordinates.

This technique has already been used effectively by the team at Property Key I(PK). They use it to grab house pictures, for a variety of applications.

However, PK are a bit more diligent than the guys at A9, who managed to catch some pictures obscured by obstacles like buses, as featured on Seth Godin's site.

Now, sooner or later, legions of camera-phone holders are going to start posting in cyberspace pictures with co-ordinate information attached, as per the Spatial Messaging concept.

Once this happens, and search engines - like A9.com - can pick out the necessary co-ordinate meta-data geo-coded back to a postal address, who knows what we will see? I'm sure it'll be more interesting than buses.