Wireless Wonders

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

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Street Memes...great ideas out there...

A recent introduction to fellow mobilist Julian Bleeker led me to one of his projects - "Street Memes". Those of you who have followed my previous blog and this one will know of my long-term interest in graffiti within the mobile context.

I recently posted about my enthusiasm for Tristan Manco's book and site "Street Logos", which I found fascinating. Street Memes is a kind of photoblog based on confirmed visual sightings of logos and urban characters, posted to the "moblog". I tried to find my favourite - Invader - but couldn't see it....the invader evades...

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

Point-of-sale location sensing...

Following on from my previous posts about electronic receipts and follow-up texts, it occurs to me that location sensing is inherent in using an electronic point of sale (EPOS).

All EPOS units are uniquely identified and known to the financial transaction network. Hence, whenever we buy something, our location could be precisely determined, even indoors (especially indoors). Thus any follow-up information sent to our mobiles could be made location specific with a high degree of accuracy.

Using the same principle of known fixed EPOS position, it therefore seems a useful idea to add a location stamp to any electronic receipt that we might be able to download into our mobile devices.

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

Usability, usability, usability...!!!...

...That's what I say (rant) umpteen times during presentations about "mobilisation", which is the process of making everything mobile-connected: unconnected connectedness.

As my previous post mentioned, making WAP "browsing" easier will mean more browsing, which means all kinds of positive results. Duh! It's obvious right?

Well, no!

We have to keep banging on about usability until the message gets through (forgive the pun). Barbara Ballard has pointed out that Sprint's usable voicemail and networked voice dialling is driving usage upwards. Sounds reasonable to me.

As a 20-year old solution, it's amazing how many voicemail systems are badly designed. I think there's a propensity towards lowest common mindlessness:

Engineer 1: "What does a voicemail system do?"
Engineer 2: "Same as it's always done."
Engineer 1: "OK, let's make ours do that then...."

Nearly every one-number system I've tried in the UK has some major quirk that drives callers crazy. Most of these services roll-out a 3rd part voice platform and just take its features at face value. More "tick-ware" - if users can tick the features they want, that's all they need. Right?


Hint: formal usability testing is not the same as waiting to hear suggestions/complaints from users.

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

Friday, March 04, 2005

Alternative "screen" metaphors...idea #23/100...

In my book "Next Generation Wireless Applications" (pp 48-51), I discuss fully how WAP and Web are different, despite being based on similar models. Indeed, WAP is ostensibly "Web-lite", if I can use such a phrase. With WAP 2.0 and XHTML-MP, that is not an exaggeration.

If we fail to grasp the essential differences between a WAP experience and a Web experience, we shall end up with poor usability, as we mostly have.

For example, URLs are a fantastic idea and they work well. But, in mobileland, they suck! Even the operators - those selling us this stuff - say so. As I have argued for some time, until we get usable keypads on all phones (like Fastap), or regardless of text entry method, why can't we use numbers and "dial" sites?

Reading pages is also quite different. The ability to skim read, quickly scan for links and other aspects of looking at pages on PCs are all absent from the mobile experience. Switching pages from one window (or tab) to another also makes life easier. Again, absent from mobileland...

So, why can't we have multiple page views on a mobile device?

It would seem relatively straightforward to allow multiple sessions and provide a means to switch between sessions. It wouldn't require much more than a little extra screen buffer (memory) to store the multiple views and allow rapid switching between them.

I would think that four screens would be useful along with a dedicated button for swapping. What's more, I would go as far as saying that such a feature would probably increase mobile surfing, which is good for operators.

Whilst implementing such a feature, I would also like a proper page memory on my mobile device - not just a favourites option. If I find something of interest, I would like to be able to store the page for instant retrieval. It would be nice to think that in a 3G world, we can just store links and reload pages. Well, dream on....

There's NO substitute for rapid response and ease of information retrieval. Anyone who doesn't understand the importance of device responsiveness has not understood usability in the mobile context.

[Note: there is a common fallacy that 3G automatically means a much faster WAP experience. This is not so. Delays occur in contacting websites, loading pages, processing the XHTML/WAP code, loading images etc. For small pages, such delays can easily account for a large proportion of the overall delay, not the actual transmission time. Thus 3G does not mean ultra-fast WAP. It does (or should) mean fast downloads.]

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Google alerts on my Blackberry...

I only recently discovered Google alerts, which are great. Search results are run periodically, or as things happen, and then sent via email to the user. I run searches against Google News.

I have found that getting the results on my Blackberry is actually very useful. Firstly, there's the interrupt-effect. This is otherwise known as the "bump into effect", a phrase that I heard (I think these were his words) Tom Peters use in one of his early books. His argument was that if you leave things lying around where you might bump into them, you're more likely to use them, read them, listen to them etc.

[Note: If you have kids, the bump-into-effect is especially useful. For example, if you leave books lying around, they will read them. If you leave arts-and-crafts materials around, they will use them. If you leave your mobile lying around, they will play with it....OK, so don't leave your mobile lying around then... :) ]

With the interrupt-effect, I tend to read the alerts as they come in.

Secondly, on the Blackberry, as you will know if you have one, it is incredibly quick. Opening mails and doing any task happens instantly, without a hard-disk chugging away. I can actually skim-read my mails much quicker on the Blackberry than I can on my desktop. [Interestingly, I use the Blackberry to skim emails as they come in, even when I'm sitting at my PC. Using Runbox, they arrive on my Blackberry instantly without the extra polling delay that my IMAP client adds.]

My search terms are "3g" and "mobile", which I find catch a lot of useful news events as they happen. Although I can check for news with other sources and RSS feeds, I have found that using the alerts service is the most efficient way of staying in touch.

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

100 Mobile Product Ideas...#22...
...User-requested ads...

Following on from my suggestion for electronic receipts, the second item I mentioned, namely using the receipts to access other information, is of greater interest to me than simply tracking my spending habits (useful though that is).

What I am going to suggest also has some resonance with my previous post about follow-up texts. There is also a relationship with sell-side advertising.

Let me explain...

When I thought of Halfords sending me a courtesy text after the fitting of a new wiper, it occurred to me that they could also advertise a related product or service. They could also send me an electronic coupon.

I then realised that anyone could send me an ad, provided they had access to my transaction information. They just need to know what I've bought....

That's where the electronic receipt comes in handy.

Imagine that I "publish" the receipt (XML, Web Services etc.) and that advertising engines can examine it and then advertise to me based on my purchasing habits. For advertising in general, this is better than some relatively arbitrary keyword-based ads.

If we return to the idea of the follow-up texts, we could think of being sent an advertisement that is precisely relevant to my purchase. For example, I buy a DVD recorder and might expect to get sent an ad for bulk-buy DVDs. At a supermarket check-out, I get sent an advert for a dietary supplement related to one that I just bought, and so on.

By default, because I am publishing my purchase information to the advertisers, this is a permission based system. In effect, I am asking for adverts that are directly relevant to me.

This scheme has even greater relevance to location-based services. Adverts, information and offers can be sent based on purchases and location. This has all kinds of interesting applications and implications.

Overall, the advantage of having the electronic receipts in my hand (on my device, in my domain) is that I can fully control the ongoing use of that information. This is better than having it dictated by any service provider.

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

100 Mobile Product Ideas...#21...
...Electronic receipts...

Whenever I shop, I would like to get an electronic copy of my sales receipt. This would give me:

1. A record of what I'm buying, useful for accounts, archiving etc.
2. A means to plug into the Semantic Web and do all kinds of interesting things...

The second point interests me most, but let's just think about getting the receipt. Retailers would have to be willing to provide the information, but how should it be transferred to my domain?

There are a number of possibilities for transfer, but using a mobile is one possibility. If mobile payment - or, should I say, when mobile payment becomes a reality, the transfer of data between the retailer and the user becomes easier. With near-field communication techniques, like Paypass, a single "air swipe" with the mobile is enough to make the payment and download the receipt.

An added benefit of point-of-sale transfer is authentication. The retailer can use the user's presence and "signature" as a means to authenticate the transfer of the receipt. It is easy to understand why authentication is important. I wouldn't want anyone else knowing what I was buying, at least not without giving them permission (lots of interesting possibilities there...).

Once I have the information, then I can do with it as I please. For those who like keep meticulous accounts, transfer into an accounting package is easy. There is also the added benefit of keeping track of expenses.

Analysis is another possibility. Thinking about it, I imagine that it would be very interesting to see a graph of what I was spending my money on. It is interesting to reflect on how that might alter spending habits...

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

100 Mobile Product Ideas...#20...
...Follow-up texts protocol...

Driving on the motorway yesterday was frustrating. There was insufficient precipitation to keep the windscreen clear of all the muck that tends to come off the roads whenever snow, sleet or yucky rain falls.

Technically, I don't know what yucky rain is, despite studying climatology at one point, but it's a condition. The one that means the windscreen gets all sticky and messy and the wiper blades are guaranteed to smear.

I confess...worn out wiper blades are probably part of the condition. So I decided to get the driver's one changed. I visited Halfords, a well known car-parts merchant in the UK. To my great delight [well done Halfords!] shop assistants are now trained to fit such parts, so I opted for the fit.

Driving back home, with a clear windscreen, I realised that the already great Halfords customer care could go further...with the aid of mobile of course. The idea just popped in my head that if they now sent me a text saying to take care and that they hope the part is working fine, I would be a customer for life and probably tell others about the great service. It's those little things....

I admit that the fitting service had already put me in a good mood. Afterall, I didn't have to get black grime all over my hands, which, as an eczema sufferer, was a welcome relief.

Euphoria aside, follow-up texts do have all kinds of applications. One problem is how to automate the process. We can come back to this problem. Mobile payment, or associating mobiles with payment (two different topics), is a key theme for the 3G era and needs much debate.

Follow-up texts are useful for all kinds of reasons. Useful enough that I might just agree to opt-in to receive them automatically. In other words, I agree that by using my loyalty card, debit card, or mobile to make a payment, the merchant is allowed to text me.


I don't want to be spammed.

So, what about a protocol? I opt-in for the "follow-up text scheme" and you, Mr Merchant, agree to send me only one text per transaction....and NO MORE. If I'm in the scheme, then it applies to all transactions with all merchants, unless I opt-out from any of them.

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

Acupunture....the ideas meridian...

Yesterday when undergoing acupuncture treatment, my mind drifted to mobile ideas. I didn't dare mention it to my Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor, in case she took it as a sign that I wasn't relaxing. "Relax" is her standard mantra, or "smile"...both good advice.

The last thing I do before the needles is to switch off the radio part of my Blackberry. I don't want to get interference...of any kind...so I tune out from the great info-umbilical in the sky. Then I tune out my mind and let the chi flow....

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

100 Mobile Product Ideas...#19...
...Slide clicker with preview...

Yesterday I was looking at wireless control devices for Powerpoint. All of my slides for training use copius animations and I like to walk around and wave my arms. Hey, maybe that breaks some of the text-book "rules" for presenters, but when I'm trying to engage students for an intensive 3-day session, I can't stand around like a lampost.

I always project onto a whiteboard, so I can scribble all over my slides. I haven't tried this on a tablet PC, but I sense that the whiteboard will be easier. Besides, I don't have a tablet and I'm not convinced enough to go buy one. My tide is currently flowing in the Mac direction anyhow (more on that topic later).

All this engagement with the slides means that having to walk up to a laptop and click keys, or a mouse, is cumbersome. I've used a wireless mouse, but it doesn't allow me to go back.

All this leads to my need for a remote control device specifically for Powerpoint.

Of course, with Bluetooth, I can use a mobile device as a remote control. This is nothing new. I blogged about it several years ago and people are doing it with MIDP and MS SmartPhone.

However, there's one key element that I realised I need from such a facility: the ability to preview the next slide. I find this is the number one technical challenge whenever I present.

With hundreds of slides, I simply can't remember the flow. Moreover, with animation, I often can't remember the exact sequence that I'm building the story. Therefore, telling the story can become problematic. And telling stories is what I have to do. Students have to have a sense of narrative, otherwise they get bored, lost or fail to grasp what's really going on.

I print out contact sheets with all my slides in miniature, which is fine, but preview on a PDA acting as a remote control seems like a powerful alternative. It would even be possible to preview the animations, as some fully blown Powerpoint-on-PDA products demonstrate.

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

100 Mobile Product Ideas...#18...
...To click list...

Increasingly, in the mobile world, we are interrupted by our devices. Sometimes we don't have time to click through the link, read the message, check the voicemail etc. Adding a simple "do later" option across all menus will enable better management of tasks.

The user simply returns to their "To click list" and clicks on the items to process. Of course, in the mobile personal portal world, task management could also be done online from the desktop. Aaa....dream on.....

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

Monday, February 28, 2005

100 Mobile Product Ideas...#17...
...Let the users sell services...

As I recently wrote in a piece "Mobile in the 3G Era" for a forthcoming book "Mobile Mania", the future of mobile is smart-following. This means following what others do. If a trusted and respected friend buys brand X, then his or her followers might buy brand X too. Ditto, what they read, watch, listen, surf, where they holiday, who they network with etc.

This is nothing new, but mobiles enable a kind of agility and immediacy with information that once users become accustomed to, there's no going back. Also - and critically - much smart-following (or leading) will be permission based. This means smart-leaders can give permission for others to access their digital alter-persona. Permission granting is more viable with mobiles because the one granting permission can do it there and then, as requests come in.

When such a trusted network is working smoothly, I envisage that we have entered into the Semantic Web era more fully. Meanwhile, there are very simple steps that can be taken to enable mobile users to influence each other. I already mentioned how a MIDlet programmer should always consider adding viral features to promote their MIDlet to others.

Allowing referrals is not difficult, but we can go one stage better. Pay users to do it!

Yes. Click-throughs on referrals should be rewarded on mobile services. In fact, it is possible to go another step further and allow users to advertise actively to each other. Let the users do the segmenting of the market, not some horrendously complex data-mining effort. The principles of sell-side advertising apply equally to mobiles as they do the Internet, if not more so.

In mobile applications, there is a real cost to finding things out. Going back and forth between pages takes real patience. If a user finds a gem buried away somewhere, they should be able to tell others and get rewarded financially for it.

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Wireless health check...

These past few days have been spent in anxiety. My wife had a major operation. It has been stressful for all of us.

I'm not going to voice my complaints here about the healthcare service in the UK, as I know that with it being "free", we're luckier than most. However, I can certainly suggest some improvements. One of them is automated patient tracking that allows wireless querying of patient status.

As patients get moved from one phase of administration to another, this should be tracked in real time electronically. From what went on - and wrong - during my wife's 3-day stay, it is obvious that tracking would be useful for all kinds of internal procedures. For example, after coming out from surgery, there could be an automated notification to remind the consultant to do the post-op check.

What really sparked my interest in automated patient tracking is making it available to friends and family. I imagine that I can't be the only relative who keeps phoning the hospital to find out what's going on with their loved one. This phone polling is terribly inefficient for everyone.

An alternative is to issue me with a code that I can text to an enquiry number and get an automated status response, such as "out of theatre", "awaiting consultant", "staying overnight", etc. These states would have to be thought through carefully, but the general idea seems both possible and hugely beneficial.

Join my email list
Subscribe to my "100 Mobile Product Ideas" free e-book