Wireless Wonders

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

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Air tagging...

My last posting shows my tag. I have taken the pseudonym "Blewtooth", although it is not unique. However, tagging is territorial. I don't know of any tagger with this name, so I've staked my claim on it, at least in my locale.

Why the interest in tagging? Apart from a long association with looking at quirky mobile ideas, and some direct exposure to the hip-hop world as a mobile consultant, I've been writing about the topic for my new book ("Wireless Wonders" - the same name as this blog).

Don't ask me what's the point of leaving graffiti tags in space - "air tagging". Graffiti has its own language, ideas, space, culture and art (read "Street Logos"). Using the mobile is just an extension of the theme. It's also an interesting idea with which to explore mobile location-finding and related technologies, which combine to give the more generic possibility of "Spatial Messaging".

I am convinced that virtual graffiti will have a much wider following than the "real thing". There's no vandalism involved, which makes it a possibility for most of us. Moreover, digital tags are just that - digital. They can be created digitally using an array of tools. This also allows wider access. Most of us don't have sufficient dexterity with spray cans.

Air tagging is a more private affair than physical tagging. With actual tags, the public gets to see them whether they want to or not. However, this is often an almost irrelevant side effect, as the public aren't supposed to be a part of the conversation. They're outside the culture.

It helps to think of tagging as just another means of communication. Imagine an instant messaging interface that doesn't detect friends offline and online, but taggers "in zone" and "out of zone". If the tagger's "in zone", that means his or her tag is nearby and can be seen using the app. Taggers might leave a variant tag at each spot they've tagged. These could be collected into a tag gallery (or a standard photo gallery, or mob-blog).

The really interesting part of air tagging is that taggers can communicate with each other, always via their pseudonyms and therefore almost always "anonymously". Different modes and rules of communication could be envisaged, such as instant messaging being possible only whilst "in zone". Also, comments can be left, which can be tags themselves, or text, or even photos. It is interesting to think of "photo verification" as a testimony to being present "in zone" i.e. at the place where the tag was originally left. This can be combined with mapping, which is another interesting extension to the theme.

The variants on air tagging are many and there is no point in speculating about all of them. Once it becomes a reality, the taggers will make their own rules and a new sub-culture will emerge; I am convinced of it.

Technically, there are a few barriers to overcome. One of them is the ability to detect proximity to tags. This is simply a variant on event-driven location-finding, which is a generic problem that needs solving in order for a whole class of important location services to emerge.

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

Meet BlewTooth - my tag...

Watch out for it on a wall (real or virtual) near you!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Ideas (30) so far...

As promised, I would group ideas into 10 at a time and publish these standalone:

Eventually I will compile all 100 into an e-book and add some commentary. This will include updates, reflections, reader comments and some technical notes on implementation issues. If you'd like to get the e-book, I will send it to you when done. Join the spam-free email list below...

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

Trading texts & minutes...idea #36/100...

I've mentioned this idea before, but not in my "100 ideas" compendium; that users should be able to trade texts, minutes and other "mobile-currencies".

School kids would love it!

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The long tail...

As its fashionable to mention it, I thought I should talk about the Long Tail. Essentially, this observation is telling us is that some businesses can cater for lots of tiny market segments (even as small as one customer) and still make money. In fact, they make their money precisely by having so many segments.

The question presents itself - is this meaningful in the mobile services industry? In other words, can a mobile industry thrive by offering myriad services to masses of niche segments? For example, can we offer sports coaches a sports training service, and many other such niche applications to niche users, or do we have to stick to mass-market ringtones, music videos and wallpapers?

My belief is that mobile operators can build Long Tail businesses with judicious and innovative use of software architectures, tools and a creative rethink of their core business assets. I hope to post more on this in the future...

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

Multiplayer music mixing...idea #35/100...

P Diddy's announcement of "I am an MVNO" is not surprising, at least not to me. I have known of the power of his brand for some time. Somewhere in my pile of biz cards I have one for the European franchise manager for his clothing brand.

Meeting him got me involved with looking at "urban-culture mobile". That's how my interest in graffiti developed (e.g. this post on Street Logos). I also have vivid memories of having lunch with a group of people from the industry and not being sure what they were talking about, or, indeed, what language they were speaking.

At one point, I wrote a report on various ways that mobile technology could be utilised in the hip-hop industry. Among them was games, of course. I ended up architecting a rap-battling game, which actually ended up being programmed.

Music mixing is also a possibility, and some mixers have already been made available on phones. One idea I missed, which is the idea for this posting, is making a multiplayer mixer using Bluetooth.

It ought to be possible to establish a common time signature across all participating devices and to maintain synchronisation. Each player could mix down their own track, or tracks, real-time with their device.

Whether sufficient synchronisation could be achieved across a wide area connection, that's a different discussion. But, with the possibilities of the IMS and HSPDA, transmission delays might be manageable. Afterall, one of the hopes for these upgrades to 3G is that real-time multiplayer games can be supported.

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

Panic button...idea #34/100...

Last night I watched the film Hostage, starring Bruce Willis. I enjoyed it! Perhaps its theme entered my sub-conscious. Today, I started thinking about panic buttons.

I think the other prompt was thinking about the word community, which got stuck in my head after reading lots of seemingly pedantic debate about what the word means. My first instinct about community is always to think of neighbours. A lot of what passes for community in the online world is actually just networks. Whoops! I'm digressing....

My thoughts were travelling down the line of mutual support in real communities, an example of which is the neighbourhood watch schemes.

I thought about the potential importance of being able to call a neighbour in case of an emergency. It would be useful to call everyone at the same time. All the phones ring and I get connected to the first to pick up. That's one possibility.

Alternatively, dialling the "panic number" causes a notification to be sent to all the neighbours in my support network. They probably would get a recorded message. Perhaps something like: "Paul, at number 1, is in trouble...please assist immediately."

Thinking about it, this could also be a service that the emergency services offer. For example, the trigger for the neighbourhood panic alert is dialling the emergency services number.

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

WAP Pinboards...idea #33/100...

There are not enough WAP ("Mobile Internet") sites, says Berners-Lee. I commented yesterday on his interview. But, I don't like to wave hands and theorize. There's enough of that already...

I spent a good hour yesterday (regrettably) reading various blog threads on the question of "what is community?" Nowhere could I find a simple example, or an application for the answer, even from the new breed of "social design consultants". We need more reality...

Why aren't there more WAP sites? Tools, or the lack of, is definitely a problem.

Berners-Lee cast the problem in the light of web designers not doing their bit to make sites mobile-accessible. Sorry Tim, but that's not the real problem at all. Perhaps the people who could derive benefits from building WAP sites don't see themselves as "site designers" at all, so you're talking to the wrong audience...

Take sports coaches, for example. I know, from a very distant athletic past, that coaches set individual training schedules for all their trainees. Every week, I used to be given a slip of paper with my schedule on it.

These were followed and then thrown away. A possible metaphor here is the pin board. At the start of the week, everyone gets their "note" from the pinboard. They take it down, use it and discard it.

Imagine then, a pin-board on the PC. The user creates notes, writes on them and then pins them up. They then assign who the note is for, which is simply a mobile phone number. The user receives the text message indicating a new note has been published (or updated). This is a WAP-push to the note.

At no time did the trainer think they were creating WAP pages. At no time did they think they were a site designer. In fact - there is no publishing concept whatsoever. Simply creating the notes and assigning a phone number is enough to make it all happen.

There are probably hundreds (thousands?) of uses for such a tool. Then we might see more WAP sites and more "mobile communities" (whatever they are).

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

Phone shaking...

My previous post on "Touch Mating" may have had a misleading title, more appropriate for a different type of blog. That got me thinking about human touch...

Today, we shake hands when we meet, especially in business. Will we "shake" mobile phones tomorrow?

If we can pass personal information from one mobile phone to another through a close proximity "swipe" (Near-field Communications), then it will probably become habit. I wonder if it will supplant the handshake?

When doing the "shake", perhaps a quick check will be done on our friend-of-a-friend files to see who, if any, our common contacts are. This could be useful in its own right, or an ice-breaker.

It would also be useful if any data relevant to the meeting was brought to the surface. In other words, if I'm meeting "Dave", then all my emails with "Dave" are readily visible in my "meetings" folder, as well as documents, presentations etc.

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Berners-Lee on Mobile...

Not enough web designers are making mobile sites. According to Berners-Lee in a recent interview, it's "chicken or egg, just like originally when the Web became the Web".

I don't think he's right.

Firstly, the question why make a site accessible via mobile has to be answered. Let's face it, most site designers don't have any motivation for "mobilising" their sites. Is it going to affect the function or return on the site? Most of the time, probably not.

Secondly, PCs were made for manipulating and viewing documents. Therefore, the Web, or more correctly the browser, as a PC-application, didn't require any paradigm change. Mobiles are for dialing numbers and calling people, not for viewing documents. At best, they allow viewing pithy text messages. On most mobile handsets, this still hasn't changed.

"Mobile browsing" is a misnoma. The fact that the "XHTML-lite" initiative hasn't spawned many mobile sites should tell us something...

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

Touch mating...idea #32/100...

When mobiles finally get Near-field Communications interfaces, I hope that Bluetooth headsets do to. I'd love just to touch the headset against the phone to make them talk....

...I can't stand all this fiddling around! It has become even more tedious since I started using my Bluetooth headset to connect with my PC. If a call comes in on the mobile....well, it's not easy!

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

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Smart crowds (again)...

Still on the topic of consulting the crowd, it struck me how this is yet another example of shifting. We know of time-shifting and place-shifting through the use of mobiles, but what is going on with crowd forming?

For example, a user could be in a meeting and need to make a decision, so they consult a crowd. In other words, the discourse has shifted. At once they are talking to those at the meeting whilst consulting with those not at the meeting.

I wonder how powerful this possibility actually could be...

I remember being asked to design a mobile portal for engineers taking part in technical standards meetings. The advantage was that meeting participants could influence meeting decisions based on up-to-date information in the portal that was tracking their colleagues standards activities and company objectives.

However, the system had flaws. Sifting the information and arriving at sensible strategies for meeting decisions was difficult. Invariably, a particular expert opinion had to be sought. The problem was getting hold of the appropriate expert.

Thinking about it, I wonder if a system to allow a crowd of non-experts (but still generally informed about standards) would have paid off. Certainly, it would have required a real-time solution in order to bring influence to bear on the current meeting.

On a related point, my mind is still reeling about David's comments on using the crowd to decide on taking a child to the doctors. David was suggesting that calling the National Health Service (NHS) helpline would be more effective, particularly if it could be turned into an expert system.

What got me thinking was how we might approach the design of "expert" systems differently, if instead of relying of them for expert advice, we integrated their output into "the crowd"....Moreover, does this mean that we can design a crowd of "average" systems?

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

Faster typing...idea #31/100...

In the past, I've blogged about all kinds of data-entry methods for mobiles, including recently about Fastap (again). In my pondering of the mobile world, I seem to go through fits of enthusiasm for solving the various interface issues that dog mobiles. I think its actually an obsession....

Recent thoughts about the dual-screen approach of the Nintendo DS got me going again....

Predictive text, for all its ills, has some benefits. Generally, I find people either love it or hate it. Sometimes, users never quite figure out how it works. I do feel sorry for them. On some phones, the implementation is lousy and unintuitive.

I knew someone (I won't say who) who could never send me a text message, simply because they couldn't seem to get the words they wanted. Their problem was predictive text "messing" things up and they didn't know how to switch it off. (Actually, there are people in the mobile industry like this. What does that tell us?)

I don't mind predictive text, although I do get frustrated when I need to switch it off to do something "non-dictionary". Selecting the appropriate word-prediction is also a little clumsy.

[Note, please don't tell me how easy you, or your customers, find using predictive text. That might be, for "power texters", but consider it's only a temporary solution to a problem that still needs fixing.]

Some time ago, it occurred to me that maybe there's a way of making it easier...
Guess what...
It's a dual screen!

If you take a look at most mobile phone designs, the keypad design is pretty similar. There's the standard data-entry area, which is usually the 12-key alphanumerics. Then, above that, there's the "control area", which is some kind of selector (e.g. joypad) and action button combination (e.g. two-button screen control). Above all that is the screen.

Some phones have a wider array of controls. The NEC 338 is a good example and includes a rather nifty annular control, which is a button in the centre of a ring-shaped (donut) joypad.

The idea is to replace the control area with a small touch-sensitive screen. The beauty of using soft-buttons on a screen, instead of hard buttons, is that the soft buttons can be context sensitive. They are labeled according to the task being performed.

With judicious design, the soft buttons could enhance overall usability. Predictive text is one example. Often, when typing, certain predictions are more likely than others. If several of the predictions could be displayed at once on the touch-screen, the user simply hits the right selection, probably with the other thumb.

In fact, using a screen for the control area has all kinds of interesting possibilities...(which I'll either talk about later, or let you ponder....)

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