Wireless Wonders

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

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Recommended IMS Book...

I've been asked what's a good book on the 3G IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). I recently read most of Camarillo's book and it's quite readable. It's more than just a commentary on the specs, although, like a lot of books of this ilk (i.e. about the inner workings of 3G), it gets laiden down with lots of acronyms. But then, that's the nature of the beast....

Buy at Amazon.com or buy at Amazon.co.uk

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Ask your neighbour using IMS...idea #30 (pt.2)

Calling people based on their proximity to others, should that be useful, is not pie-in-the-sky. It is an application that could "easily" be built using the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) in the 3G core network.

The IMS is a part of the evolution of 3G systems and is essentially a platform that allows cellular telephony functions to be integrated with Internet services. It has a variety of components, including SIP-based session control for media connections. It also includes an interface to the Open Services Architecture (OSA) capabilities of the 3G network, which would include the Mobile Location Centre (MLC).

An application could be written to receive the request "call people I know near Joe", where Joe has a unique identifier in the network (a Public User Identity - PUI). The application does a look-up on Joe's location. It then looks at the caller's list of contacts and their locations. This list is maintained in the network (possibly in a presence server). A media or Instant Messaging connection can then be routed to the user(s) in Joe's vicinity. Voila!

This is a simplified description, but essentially correct and possible.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Ask your neighbour...idea #30/100...

In contrast to the earlier post of asking my "neighbour" for help, what about asking your neighbour?

In my parent-child hotline posting, Geoff posting a valuable comment:

"Food for thought - My favourite trick is to ring my daughters friends mobile. They always answer."
That's a good tip from Geoff, which led me to the next problem. How do you know who your child is with? For that matter, if you're having difficulty getting through to someone in a hurry, knowing who they're with might help.

Would proximity-based contact work? Possibly, especially if you could detect someone you knew who appeared to be in the vicinity. This would indicate that they are nearby enough to pass on a message, assuming you can get through on their device.

It is also possible to imagine an anonymous service. For example, I could send a message like "If you're with Fred, please tell him to call Paul G". The recipient would be "your contacts near Fred", but I don't have to know who they are. This would therefore circumvent asking the recipients to reveal their permission first in order to receive a location-targeted message. Of course, if they passed on the message, then all is revealed, but they could chose not to. This idea might have other applications, especially in workgroups and using push-to-talk.

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The sick child experience...

Recently, one of our kids has been sick. The routine is usually the same for us and probably everyone else with kids who get sick from time to time.

Initial assessment is made, some checks done (e.g. for rashes), temperature taken and medicines reached for, such as Calpol (a pink medicine in the UK that everyone seems to give their kids).

After a while, or perhaps early on, depending on the child's apparent health and the parental state of mind, the thought comes to book a doctor's appointment.

Here, an interesting psychology arises; if some other kids have got "it", then "it" is probably not fatal and there's no point in visiting the doctor. We'll just ride it out. Safety in numbers?

I'm not sure how true it really is when people say something like "O yeah, Jonny's got that, apparently it's going round at the moment"..... do illnesses really come in waves?

Can mobile technology assist with this problem? Well, a few ideas came to mind...

Firstly, the doctor's surgery could issue a "sickness wave" advisory. Cell broadcast would be ideal for this, as it's the most effective means possible of advising a population living in the vicinity of the surgery.

The second possibility relates to my earlier posting about consulting the crowd, especially within a locale (i.e. proximity-based consultation). This perhaps stretches the imagination a little, but I feel it is an interesting possibility....

If the worried parent wants to know should I go to the doctor, they could issue a poll to an ad-hoc crowd. Something like: "My daughter has symptom x, y and z - should I take her to the doctor?"

The poll would appear on the crowd's devices with the option "yes/no" and the "comment" box. I suspect that the crowd will "know" the answer. If "it" is doing the rounds, then the crowd will know that and most likely this will appear in the comments.

Asking the crowd is different to asking the doctor's receptionist, who would probably say "it's up to you", or some non-committal response. Of course, these days, they have triage nurses who could follow-up such a question. However, can we assume that the surgery knows better than the crowd about illnesses doing the rounds? Not necessarily, especially if the crowd is working to keep sick kids away from the doctors in the first place.

Food for thought...

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Dual-perspective displays...idea #29/100...

My daughter showed me her badge. It is one of those badges that often come in cereal packets. Viewed from one direction, you get one image, viewed from another, you get a second image. Technically, this is called a lenticular badge.

The same technique is used to produce 3D displays, like the sort being demonstrated now on mobiles at Cebit. I recently went to a demo of such systems and the latest immersive displays. I found the 3D screen fascinating. The 3D effect and depth was excellent. I imagine that 3D displays for GPS navigation systems would be an interesting experience.

Returning to my daughter's badge. The use of the lenticular was to show two different images rather than the standard 3D effect.

It occurred to me that this has a possible use for mobiles to allow two screens of information to be viewed. For example, I could instantly skim up and down a WAP page without the cumbersome scrolling offered by most joypads.

I wonder if a lenticular could work in both horizontal and vertical planes, so that an area four times the size of the display can be easily scanned. Tiltable displays have already been demonstrated, where the single-image display switches according to user orientation. My hunch is that the lenticular possibility would provide a much more responsive "switch" and allow something approaching the visual skim, or scan, process that we are used to.

We seldom stop to think that skimming and scanning is an important and integral part of the web experience for most of us. It is what allows iterative information searches to be tolerable. Try doing a google search from a small screen device and you will rapidly encounter the problem.

Of course, other strategies are possible. For example, the first (i.e. most likely to be clicked) search links could be prefetched. As I have pointed out before, even with a 3G pipe, the speed of accessing a WAP page is dominated by delays other than the actual fetch time. Therefore, pre-fetching (which includes pre-rendering off-screen) the dominant links makes sense because in a way it takes advantage of the shorter fetch time across the entire session.

I'm straying off the topic of lenticular displays, but not entirely. Usability of the WAP (or mobile Web) experience is still of paramount importance commercially. I still feel it is never centrally addressed because of our collective mindset that "mobile Internet" is just "Web-lite". The concern is with technological compatibility and objectives (XHTML and HTTP) rather than usability compatibilities and objectives.

Scan-ability, or skim-ability, is an integral part of the web model. Watch carefully how your eyes jump to links etc. This feature is missing from "mobile Internet". It's not entirely a size problem. Design has something to do with it.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Ask my neighbour...idea #28/100...

I've just started reading "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki. Its central thesis is that for certain questions, it's better to ask lots of people, even "average" people, rather than a few, or single, experts.

This started my thinking about crowd-forming using mobiles. Much on this general topic is already discussed in Howard Rheingold's excellent Smart Mobs. Surowiecki is suggesting that certain types of decision making can be improved, perhaps vastly, through consulting a crowd. There a lots of interesting synergies with the themes discussed in Chapter 7 of Smart Mobs.

What then of a feature to do just that through our mobiles? Imagine, if you will, a "consult" option in the mobile device menu. The user is faced with a particular decision. Let's take a purchasing decision in a shop.

Through the consult button, a "connection" (e.g. conference call) can be formed with a "crowd" of people. These can be complete strangers, if the configuration allows. The user presents their problem to the crowd and asks for a solution. The question would determine the mode of discussion.

If the question can be framed in a multiple choice form, then a polling application is possible. The poll is instantly sent to the crowd and answers are gathered. According to Surowiecki, for the right sort of problem, we should be able to rely on the answer.

Moreover, if we really did want to "swarm" (congregate) on the issue, then location-techniques could ensure that the crowd were in the vicinity of the user. All kinds of interesting possibilities are likely to emerge for proximity or neighbourhood "instant" networking.

As I see it, if the crowd is smart, then the first step is a re-orientation of our thinking towards how we make decisions. But, thereafter, we need to think about social rituals and habits. For example, if I'm in a place where I could physically ask a number of people their opinion, am I likely to do this with complete strangers? Probably not. However, does the anonymous connection of mobile make this easier? It is worth pondering. Certainly if I could poll people, then I might.

Interestingly, a recent study (I need to find the link for you) suggested that we are all stressed because we have to think too much about decisions. Too many options....too much stress. Will the crowd makes our lives less stressful?

There's a whole set of "usability" issues to think about here, but the theme is fascinating.

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Monday, March 14, 2005

Nintendo Dual-Screen and the mobile UI...

I played with the new Nintendo dual-screen today. I wanted to gauge the user experience for myself. Leaving aside the fact that I am generally hopeless at computer games, I found the device very usable, or should I say "playable"?

I had wondered before why no one has thought of this yet for mobiles. Perhaps they have...but I couldn't find one in my brief scan of the web. (There must be one in Japan..right?)

What the dual-screen offers is better interactivity with the applications. It is important to understand that the bottom screen is touch sensitive. During the game that I played, interaction was via virtual buttons on the bottom screen, like "1 player", "2 player" etc. In other words, you simply hit a meaningfully labeled button, not scroll up and down (or across) with a joystick. As I played, new buttons appeared, with different labels, and I touched accordingly.

This seems a very useful user interface possibility for mobiles. Dual-screen will also allow greater screen real estate for site viewing. I'm sure that industrial design might allow for a screen that hinges out from its partner with very little physical discontinuity between them caused by the hinging and screen fixings.

An interesting feature of the new device is a wireless application called Pictochat. Users can scribble messages to each other. I have always been fond of this idea and once proposed designing a device called "Scribble Pad" to a few colleagues. Like so many ideas, we figured out how to do it and then did nothing...

My renewed interest in this idea was when I realised that with SVGL, we now have an open standard with which to exchange hand-written scribbles. My favourite application for this is to allow users to scribble on photos and then send them (which I discussed in an old paper about "air graffiti", or "spatial messaging").

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Mobile wellness...idea #27/100...

Physical fitness and overall wellness are increasingly important to many of us. Heart-rate monitoring is an already well established "wearable computer" application. Dedicated devices such as the watches from Polar are affordable and widely available. Some of them already interface to the mobile phone.

We can expect that wearable computers (mobiles) will become an integrated part of our approach to ensuring wellness, especially if preventive medicine becomes more prevalent. In this context, monitoring of certain vital signs, as well as other bio-indicators, is more effective with frequency. In some cases, constant or frequent monitoring will be considered a strong defence against illness. Thus, wearable monitoring solutions will become more popular.

I am fascinated by recent studies that indicate that heart-rate variability is an important indicator of wellness. I already mentioned this in an earlier post when I suggested that bio-feedback mechanisms could be incorporate into mobiles to allow user entraining of their heart variation.

I wonder what other vital signs can be monitored and then processed in our mobile devices. Will there come a time when visiting the GP can be made more effective if the GP can instantly view a recent history of such vitals? Indeed, I wonder what research has been done to indicate the usefulness of non-specific bio-monitoring in GP diagnosis and treatment protocols.

Monitoring of certain bio-factors can indicate our stress levels and underlying emotional state. Could this be combined with other information, perhaps also collected by our mobiles, to assist us in our decision making? For example, a "high stress" indication might suggest delaying a forth-coming meeting to another time, or that we take time out for a relaxation routine.

It is perfectly feasible that monitoring could be correlated with other activities, such as phone calls. Thus, particular callers could be analysed in terms of their effect on our stress levels. At stressful times, we might even think of automatically filtering-out calls from "stressful callers". We might also be prompted to call a known "soother" for a chat, knowing that the call is likely to reduce stress levels. Alternatively, we watch a short mobile video for inspiration, relaxation, excitement, or whichever emotional state we need to induce or reduce.

Of course, monitoring functions can only be enhanced by wireless communications. The monitoring devices themselves might be tiny wearable units that communicate via Bluetooth to the central processing device (e.g. mobile phone or iPod). Work has been done by some research groups to formulate distributed architectures for wearable computer networks, such that communications is minimised to save battery life.

The wireless connection will allow remote monitoring possibilities. Will there emerge a market for remote wellness monitoring stations, just like we have alert stations for household alarms?

If we're going to carry a computer (mobile phone) around all day, we may as well program it to do other useful tasks. Monitoring wellness seems worthwhile.

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Mobile metaphors...

It is my impression that very few people seem to have a view of what a mobile device should do. This seems to be because it is seen as a telephone and hence if you're not in the telephony business, there's little point in thinking about mobile devices.

Is there an alternative perspective to looking at mobile devices as being necessarily communication devices?

We usually see the future of mobile as essentially an evolution of mobile telephony. Our terminology supports this view, which is why we talk of generations, like 2G, 2.5G, 3G and now 3.5G and 4G. More recently, was also envisage an evolution of something we think of as "mobile internet", although it is still not clear what we mean by this (or what we should mean).

Is there another way of thinking about mobile devices that might lead to different product and service notions?

In essence, the mobile phone is arguably the first wearable computer. It is a computing device and it is "worn" by most of us, even young people. It is programmed primarily to compute control and voice vectors that enable it to act as a telephone.

However, most of the time, this computing device is stuck in a loop that essentially says "do nothing....until time for a phone call"...

In other words, we carry ("wear") these computing devices all day long and most of the time they do "nothing".

What if we asked people the question "imagine that you carry a computer around all day long that can do things for you....what might you want it to do?" Would this allow us to arrive at a different set of answers from the question "what can you do with a mobile phone?"

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