Wireless Wonders

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

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Short movies and presence...idea #52/100...

I recently signed up to the website Trigger Street, which is a community website for amateur (budding) movie makers and script writers. This was to explore further the possibilities for the emerging industry of short movies for mobiles, which is really in its very early phase.

I found some very interesting short ("micro") movies on the site, which only encouraged me further that short movies can be engaging.

However, I think that a lot more can be done to make the mobile movie experience more compelling, which is needed if this in any way going to drive users to 3G as a uniquely engaging experience (versus the predictable interest in pop videos etc). This is an area for research and innovation.

I am intrigued by what forms might emerge from the potential to alter movie content using mobile presence information. Taking location as an example, watching the movie in location X produces a different cut from watching it in location Y. In this regard, I am especially interested in the prospect of co-location shooting. In other words, a movie maker shoots some scenes in the actual location that I watch it from. Watching a movie in the location it was shot has a surreal quality, but I expect that there is scope for some very creative concepts.

If I move from location X to location Y, then the action moves to the same location.

It would also be possible to link the movie with virtual elements, such as content that is accessible via co-location, which could be anything from sounds to web pages. For example, moving to a certain location in the movie, it might be possible to "pick up" an additional conversation from the characters in the scene, not otherwise available in the main movie.

Presence isn't just about location. Mood is also possible. Is it possible to shoot the movie with several narratives, different in emotional tone. If I'm "happy", then I get (presumably) a happy cut, or otherwise a "sad" cut, or whatever possibilities make sense both within the presence environment and within the creative scope of the film.

I might be stretching the imagination somewhat as to what a film-maker can produce. However, one assumption I am making is that in the digital-video age, this is a field wide open to anyone who has the creative bent and resources to offer, which are not all that much. Of course, at the extreme end of technical possibility is that films might actually be produced via mobile phones themselves.

The other encouraging aspect is that we are talking about short films where the possibilities to create non-linear narratives that adapt to presence are presumably greater. Shooting and editing a short film with various cuts is easier and cheaper than for a long one.

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I recently posted about the idea of a "merged web interface" for mobiles. The idea was mainly about the UI, in particular having a search box approach to service discovery, both on and off device. This implies the other idea, which is that service location is transparent. The user might be using and configuring an application that is resident locally or remotely, but without knowing, or needing to know, its whereabouts (or implementation). Data sets could also be merged, such as a single list of ring tones that contains both installed and available tones.

The guys at SurfKitchen have come up with such a solution, which you might want to look at if this approach interests you. It is being deployed on O2 Active.

There is an amalgam of ideas here, some of which I have discussed before. A while back I was excited by the possibilities of XUL, a configurable GUI environment driven entirely by XML configuration data. However, this environment is articulated in terms of standard design "widgets" whereas what is really needed, as per Surfkitchen's implementation, is something more free-form in terms of interface design, such as Flash Lite offers.

Without knowing the details, it seems that Surfkitchen and Flash Lite are very similar in concept. Flash Lite is an integral part of the i-Mode experience on DoCoMo's network. This enables Flash designers and programmers to create interesting services, which has resulted in thousands of content providers making their wares available within this environment. However, I think that a key difference is that Surfkitchen has taken an approach that exposes the underlying phone functions to the user via the UI, which is a more powerful design approach similar to the MIDP 2.0 concept.

Just one final note, which is that Flash Lite supports Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG-T), which opens up a wide set of display possibilities. I have previously looked at using SVG to overlay photos taken on phones with hand-written notes, linking this to any URI, such as contact details of someone in the photo. I am now wondering if such an application is realisable with Flash Lite, which would require access to the underlying files (photos) on the phone.

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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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Aristotle, Poetics, Mobile Movies...

I've recently been reading Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters. It is a fascinating book. You don't have to be a screenwriter to enjoy it or understand it. I'm not a screenwriter, but I appreciate the craft of screen production. Moreover, I really love stories. I read lots of them to my kids.

When I first wrote about Mobile TV on my website, someone emailed me with a rant about how ridiculous the idea of Mobile TV is. Their "argument" was that with increasingly accessible plasma screens and other home-viewing goodies, who in their right mind would want to regress to a pokey little screen on their mobile.

Last week I encountered a similar doubter who wasn't sure about Mobile TV. However, I don't agree. I actually think that eventually there will be a breed of "TV Watcher" who only watch TV on their mobiles and seldom watch the big screen, except for feature-length movies of course. Here, I agree, the home entertainment centre is a clear winner.

The point is that a compelling story will be sufficient to allow mobile viewing to work. The challenge will be delivering the story in a short space of time and probably making it episodic. This poses a challenge for screenwriters and movie producers to become a lot more creative in their craft, but I am confident that a new breed of creatives will take up this challenge and succeed.

Within this craft, we can expect multiple genres. I am utterly convinced that documentary and educational material will become more important in this context, even for the younger age groups that we might otherwise associate with a diet of mind-numbing rock video downloads.

Some of the best stories are real ones. I recently watched startup.com and found it fascinating - a real human drama. Some of the stories of great people of the past are astoundingly brilliant. To be totally honest, I have only found joy in some of these stories through telling them to my children. The reason is that a child's book is distilled down to the basic elements of the story, which makes it so accessible. I think, and hope, that the same can be done with short films on mobile.

This might seem like a dumbing down process, but let's look at the context. We're not talking about replacing full-length documentaries and detailed historical tomes with snippet-TV. We're talking about using a new medium to open up these topics to a wider and time-starved audience, who might otherwise sit around playing Snake. After their bite-size introduction, they might, as we have found in my home, make their way to more in-depth treatments and find joy in education.

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