Wireless Wonders

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

This blog moved a while back...

Paul Golding's site is http://paulgolding.com

This blog was popular for a while because of the "100 mobile ideas" series of posts that Paul wrote, mostly before smartphones existed. Since then, the "app for that" explosion has happened, as predicted by Paul in his first book.

His latest book is Connected Services.

Find out more about Paul.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Things to do with kids, Play Dough and Blackberry...

Turn it into a Strawberry (we couldn't resist).
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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mobile fiddling...(idea #107)

I think it was Jakob Nielsen who first identified (in one of the earliest WAP usability field trials) that a great "use" for mobile phones (actually for WAP) was killing time. It is hard not to notice that anywhere you go where there are people sitting waiting, they are usually fiddling with their mobile phone. Of course, some of this "fiddling" is actually doing stuff, like sending messages, cleaning up the folders, and so on. Other times it's adjusting anything that can be adjusted - ring tones, wallpapers, themes etc.

I've done it many times myself - take out my phone, even though I have no new messages or calls or any other change brought to my attention, and just start fiddling with it. Some people just like touching their phone, spinning it round and so on - that's supposedly why Motorola made the PEBL - something with a satisfying touch, just like a real pebble.

However, on close inspection (i.e peeking) at what some people do with their phones, the fiddling is a kind of mindless playing around - poking, changing, reverting back, going up and down menus, swapping settings back and forth, and so on - plain fiddling about. We like to tell kids not to fiddle with things - the remote control, the car controls, the radio, the computer. We often then go and do it ourselves (which doesn't mean the kids can too!) It seems we are born to fiddle. No doubt, psychologists, mobile ergonomists (human factors?) and other ologists know what this is all about and I'm slow to catch up, but I think they may have missed something.

I wonder, have we fully embraced this fiddling-thingy within mobile design, or are we treating it as an exception? In other words, do we think that only idle hands (and fingers) want to fiddle, so give them a game like Snake, or a news feed to the home page, and endless other variants of "time killer" apps (including Nielsen's "nothing better to do" WAP browsing, which it still as tedious as it ever was). Or, should we literally make it easier and give more options for simply fiddling around with the phone (the UI is the app)? I think that a UI designed for fiddling would be a different one that a UI designed for task-driven interaction. We could have two UIs. A playing around one (in pink - the new black) and a doing-stuff one (in the usual doing-stuff palette). Of course, that probably breaks all the UI and usability "rules", which is why it's probably an idea worth exploring.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

The dialler application

In my book and some workshops, I give an anatomy of a mobile phone. A bit of modem here, an operating system there, a sprinkle of APIs, MIDP sauce and so on. I include a "dialler application", which is not often found on the average handset block diagram. It's the thingy that takes numbers from the user and passes them to the "call processor" software wotsit, which in turn invokes a protocol stack to go send a "set-up call" message to the switch in the mobile network. Incrediblty boring, mundane and obvious. So obvious, that it doesn't often get a mention in the block diagram/handset overview in many (most) treatments of the subject. Is this perhaps why it is so lacking in innovation? After all, it's a dialler - it takes numbers and green-button pushes and does its stuff. Why tinker with this?

Telco marketers have come up with grand gestures of customer satisfaction like the theme of "connecting people" (it has its variants). However, about the only parameter they fiddle around with is the billing arrangement - call home all weekend for free and so on. When I dial a number, why can't I get useful info about the number I'm dialling? For example, the rating of this plumber on plumber-pages-dot-com [don't look - I made that up], or the time zone of the person I'm calling (good for all those Indian/US/Euro projects)?

It's framing again (or paradigms). My daughter asked me today "what's 'old school' mean?" - to which I should have replied green push buttons on phones. Functional thinking is good for programmers, but no good for business people (or "engineers" - who don't make engines anymore, although that word still gets used everywhere, e.g. "speech engine"). What business are operators in? Of course, it's the switching business right? A number here connected to a number there, start the stop watch, stop it and add the number to a bill (I have a great slide that sums up a mobile network like this). OK, by the same functional logic, Google is in the same business. A browser here connected ("switched") to a website there courtesy of the "URL look-up table" (i.e. switch). That's why they charge us for minutes of usage right? No.

I'm reminded of a Parker pens story. It was told to me by my tutor at University. Anyway, I hope the story is true as I've re-told it so many times it feels like a legend. Parker, who make pens and ink, were faltering as a business. This was pre-McKinsey days, but nonetheless they hired a "management consultant" to tell them what to do. (I am not skeptical - I would love to make loads of money doing this.) After a presumably lengthy consultation period with high numbers of noughts on the bill, he merely asked the management board - "what business are you in?" Frustrated by the obviousness of the answer, they replied "pens". He said "no, you're not". They said, "OK, ink?" - "Nope." On it went through a list of functional answers until they gave up in frustration. "The answer" he said, "is that you're in the gift business".

That's an old story and it has now been replaced. In the post-writing age (emails, keyboards, pdas etc.) luxury pens as gifts isn't such a great idea. According to the latest market study for Parker (which I found on Google, so it must be true) they are now in the "accessory" business - things we might want to own ourselves, just like expensive wines have become desirable. What business are operators in now?

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Friday, November 10, 2006

who's left me a message? (idea #106)

People like me often get missed calls. For a number of reasons, I can't or don't always answer my mobile. Eventually a bank of voicemails builds up. One of the most tedious mobile experiences ("anti-experience"?) is the laborious wading through a talking voicemail service - "you have seven new messages and ....... [there's always a a pause here]..... four saved messages". Of course, I already know that because I just got a text message telling me the same thing, so why do I need to hear the same message?

What my voicemail fails to do is tell me who any of the messages are from so that I can jump straight to their message. Is this so difficult? It would be nice to jump straight to a message I want or need to hear because it's from a customer (or the boss (wife) of course). Yes, I know you can skip through messages, but please don't make me do that. Do I have to skip through the first few seconds of each CD or DVD track to get to the one I want? No. Today's mobiles are sophisticated tiny computers with mulitple keys, menus and various other interface capabilities, so why are we still in "linear tape recording" mode for voicemail? That's why! It's a recording, so we have to stick with old recording metaphors. Please Google, Apple, someone...rescue us from this Telco -2.0 drudge.

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urgent calls indicator (idea #105)

When I hold workshops for operators I divide value-added services into basic categories. One category - usually the first - is "enhanced voice". It seems to me an amazing feat that after nearly two decades of mobile telephony (and over a century of regular telephony) we are still stuck with the same basic voice features we started with - dial a number and hit a green button.

In my earlier posting about downloadable ring tones within the ring tone selector app itself, one commentator pointed out that this is exactly what MSN Messenger does today, which is true (with downloadable winks). Many things are already done well on the Internet, but in the so-called "Mobile Internet" the good stuff seldom seems to port across. For example, when I send an email I can mark it as urgent. This, of course, is an old idea carried over from the "snail mail" world - the red "urgent" stamp on the front of the envelope.

I have yet to see the "urgent button" for making a phone call. It seems an obvious thing to offer callers. A callee could control how urgent calls get processed, but at least they would get the option of knowing that a call is urgent. Marking anything urgent is always open to abuse (although I think that the "urgent email" fad has worn off in companies as many users have matured in their discretionary use of such tools). In some cases, it might be an idea to have the handling of urgent calls subject to a corporate policy framework. For example, it might be made difficult to "ignore" urgent calls from a particular number (which might be useful for parent-child relationships too).

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auto reverse-charging (idea #104)

In the UK, and lots of other markets, the calling party pays (except when calling a roaming mobile, when the charge is shared). It would be great to set up relationships between callers so that the called party can nominate to pay the charges. This might work well between adults and kids - not necessarily parents and siblings, but any adult-child relationship where the adult is happy to pick up the bill for the call.

As per my last posting, it would be great to control this feature via the "addess book" itself (or whatever we're going to replace it with once we get over the book metaphor) and not some tedious meandering through a portal. Simply applying an attribute to a person in the book means that I get to pay the call charges both ways automatically. The same feature would be useful for paying roaming charges too. Calling a prepay user overseas can rapidly deplete their call credits.

The sharing of payment is a great idea generally and there are a number of variants on the theme. I'm glad to see that some markets allow the trading of minutes between friends, which is especially useful to the youth.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Game boy in the pocket experience (idea #103)

All my kids have Nintendo DS lite - in all colours (black, white and pink). I watch as they struggle to force them into their trouser pockets. I'm still adamant that garment design isn't keeping up with technological habits. My older brother still pokes fun at my techno "clothing ideas" (remember the socks?) so I felt duly compelled to announce my latest thinking in this untapped fashion arena.

Firstly, trousers need console pockets - this is clear. However, what a console really needs is a top screen too to announce the ongoing progress of "evolving" games, like Nintendog. If a dog needs feeding as it's about to die, this should at the very least cause the console to vibrate, but better still announce a small message on a top screen on the closed device. Consoles need to follow mobiles and have a top screen. This would then require a pocket with a transparent portion to allow top-screen viewing.

Now this leads to my latest thinking in men's apparel. With phones like the Motorola KRZR now reaching very thing, light and slender proportions, they should be easy to "wear" on the sleeve in a tiny outside pocket (I will submit a drawing as soon as I get my new tablet connected). With a landscape view of the top screen, it would be possible to view the screen just like reading a watch. Now, does that mean we need tacky clear-plastic inserts in our sleeves to see the screen? I'm sure that with the right mix of thin (but durable) material and a bright enough display, it would be possible to see right through a veneer of material snuggly wrapped over the device. Paris fashion show beckons!

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Ring tone experience (idea #102)

I recently sat in a cafe and watched a teenaged boy take his brand new phone out of its box, insert the battery and start "playing" with it. Not surprisingly, before long we could all here an array of ring tunes whistling their merry way across the cafe. Ring tones have come a long way - they weren't nearly so annoying as they might have been, even with a constant switching from one 5 second blast to another (and back again).

Of course, most of us have done this, although usually in the privacy of our own homes - it is a natural part of exploring a new phone. Let's play the ring tones. I still argue that a tune sequencer would be a great feature on any phone, allowing musical loops to be sewn into a unique ring tone, or should that be "tune"? (See my last post.)

In a recent user experience definition I worked on for an MVNO project, the "out of the box" (ootb) experience was a key part of the analysis, as it clearly marks and affects the entry point into the device and the services attached to it. Usually precious little effort is given to the ootb experience and so the initial playing around with the new phone can be a short-lived and quite dull affair. Service discovery is an important part of service design, but often an afterthought, it thought about at all.

In the cafe I observed an ootb experience first hand - the young man became my lab study for a few moments. He fiddled with the ring tones and having exhausted himself of the possibilities (in MTV-speed fashion - i.e. about 1 minute) he duly proceeded to less interesting stuff. I couldn't see what, but it was probably the usual address book boredom, changing a wallpaper and so on.

This was a golden moment to engage him with services. Within the "ring tone application" he could have been offered a number of options that drew him further into the experience and also made the operator some money. The option to download new tones should be built in to the same user interface (UI), not a link somewhere on the operator's WAP portal. Tones should be organised into "play lists" and shareable, reviewable, rate-able, just like an iTunes experience. Moreover, it should be immediately possible to share any of the default tones with another user from within the same UI.

A portal is a single entry point to several services. It make sense to offer a front-door into a set of related services. However, with a mobile phone it already has a multitude of doors, like "ring tone selector", "address book", "call record" and so on. There's no need to make a user go out of these environments and back through a front-door - they're already in the house! Why not put services within these partitions?

I'd probably argue that the whole partitioning of the experience into ancient functions like "address book" doesn't make sense anyway - most users haven't had an address book for the past 5 years anyway, most likely never at all. Why mimic a book on a phone? There are lots of metaphors that could be used to organise people information. As an exercise, I suggest taking a large sheet of paper and drawing an imaginary set of icons on it to resemble a phone interface. However, the rule is that you're not allowed to use any of the traditional icons and names. For example, try putting an icon called "connect". What might it do? If the only options you can think of are "call" and "text", then you probably shouldn't be in value-added services (if that's what you do already). The ootb experience requires some ootb thinking!

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Collaborative Mobile Musical Composing...(idea #101)

In my household, we now have a Mac Mini as a "home entertainment" system for the sitting room. We discovered the really exciting Garage Band application for composing/recoding music. Moreover, we hooked it up to our keyboard via the midi port - great for easy composing and the kids are amazed at the conversion of input to a musical score (great for learning music theory).

For even a relative musical novice, it is possible to create enjoyable music using the many musical loops that can be dropped in to a track and moved, stretched, chopped and repeated anywhere along the timeline.

I can well imagine that a mobile version would be fun too, especially on a device with a substantial music synthesis capability. A multi-user version could allow sharing of tracks and collaborative composition. Finished scores could be saved as ringtones, uploaded to blogs (a standard extension to any mobile app - or it ought to be, and remarkably isn't).

Numerous readers of this blog have asked me to continue the "100 Ideas" series, despite still not having released the compiled e-book of the first 100 (I hope coming soon). Therefore, even though I have posted other ideas since the 100th, this is the official 101st idea....and here's looking forward to the 200 mark!

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