Wireless Wonders

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

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Email versus texting...

In my last post I was lamenting the unimpressive promotion of mobile email on an operator website. Fellow mobilist Chris Petersen came back to me suggesting that mobile email could still become a killer app.

However, as much as I am an advocate of mobile email, and an avid user, I would like to question the assumption that the success of texting provides a vector into the world of mobile email. Unfortunately that simply isn't true. In fact, texting is proving to be a complete anomaly in many ways.

With the notable exception of the US, where texting is much less successful than anywhere else, practically every mobile phone user is also a text user, even penetrating the older age range of users. The unmistakable feature of text, apart from its incredible speed and push-alert nature, is that it is built in to every device without exception.

Combine this with the fact that everyone carries their mobile with them for nearly every waking hour (and even to their bedside) and that texting is compatible with every single network and works across networks, the communications power of texting is unmatched. In its Metcalfe's-Law potential, it is super-connected.

In fact, texting is probably the most successful application in the history of technology.

Because of its prevalence and power, there simply isn't any reason for texters to move to email. It is not a progression whatsoever. Let's say I have 100 contacts in my mobile address book, I can reach every single one of them instantly with a text message and be highly confident that they have received it and probably will read it. I can't say that about email with any of them. As a matter of fact, even with my fellow Blackberry users, it is a strange-but-true experience that texting them gets a quicker response than emailing them, even though I know they will get both on the move. This is probably because the perceived time-sensitivity is different.

The anomaly of texting is that it works, almost counter-intuitively, despite its pithiness. Those of you involved with texting in its early days will remember how dismissive people were of its measly 160 characters. What we have really discovered is that, very often, human-to-human communication can be very sparse and still be effective.

Texting dispenses with formalities, etiquettes and the apparently redundant small-chat "hand-shaking" process that we can't help undertaking face to face. Texting even dispenses with redundancy in language. Grammar has been altered, letters have been dropped and language has been wholesale re-configured to make our texting exchanges even pithier than 160 characters.

Those of you who remember the hype behind MMS will recall that one prevalent line of reasoning went like this:

1. Texting is big
2. MMS is "better" than texting
3. MMS should be big
4. [Worrying logic] MMS is the litmus of the mobile-data future (a la 3G)

This line of reasoning has proven to be incorrect. A similar line of reasoning exists in some minds about mobile email. This too has proven to be incorrect.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Mobile email - a killer?

I just spent about 1 hour trying to find an answer to a relatively simple question: what email options are available on the XDA (a type of PDA) from O2 and how much do they cost?

I still don't have an answer.

There are two types of information available on the Internet. Vague generalisms on the O2 websites ("supports email") or hard-tech info from gurus in the various forums that ordinarily are best avoided by the rest of us. A lot of the forum discussion is of ROM upgrades, which gives you an idea about the level of tech they are talking about.

The XDA product site doesn't mention services anywhere. It is a detailed technical description of the hardware. Worse still, when eventually I found a reference to the Blackberry Connect option, which theoretically allows an XDA to behave like a Blackberry (for email), I was linked to a site that doesn't feature the XDA. It is mentioned under a link "other devices" and merely repeats that this option is possible, but gives no more information than from where I started.

To obtain further information, the site suggests visiting an O2 shop or filling out an enquiry form. We all know that the former isn't going to produce fruit and is an absurd way of finding out information. Why should the shop sales staff have information that's not available online? Filling out a form is even less likely to lead to an answer. I did it anyway and haven't received a reply.

At a recent O2 sales conference, a sales guy lamented that not enough people seem to understand the benefits of mobile email. It isn't clear that O2 does either.

Mobile email is not a killer app and stands no chance of becoming one. It's dead on arrival.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Using SIP to give my details to a form...

In a previous post, I mentioned how convenient it might be to send personal details from the phone in a way that would allow someone to avoid entering them into a form on their PC screen. For example, when checking into a hotel or conference and the desk clerk asks for name, address etc.

There are already many ways to store the information on our phones or online, such as vCards, but how can we make that information available in a consistent manner?

In the earlier posting I mentioned that simply giving the clerk my mobile phone number ought to be enough to allow the process to be completed. I said that the desktop screen would be able to find the mobile, but didn't say how and that I would return to the topic.

With SIP-based telephony, the phone network works in a way that sessions can be established from the caller to the callee using the SIP URI or telephone number. Therefore, if the PC-based application can use SIP and has an IP connection, then it can find my SIP-capable phone via its number (or URI).

Thereafter, it is a straightforward matter to exchange details. Within the initial SIP exchange (SIP Invite) to my phone, my SIP client (or a proxy on my behalf) can embed a reference (e.g. URL) to my personal details. Provided I acknowledge (accept) the call and my settings are set to reveal my identity in this manner, then the caller gets immediate access to my personal contact details.

Revealing identity could be controlled on a per-call basis. It is easy to imagine that when a call is received, the options on the device screen are "Accept, hide your identity" and "Accept, reveal your identity".

To summarise, let me describe the process.

1. The clerk asks for my number
2. Clerk enters number into the form and hits button, something like "collect rest of details"
3. An alert appears on my phone
4. I hit "Answer & reveal identity"
5. Call immediately hangs up and moments later the form on the PC is populated with all my details

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