Posts tagged “mobile phone”

Calling out, around the world?

(originally published at Core77)

Subway ad for Suica, transit fare payment by mobile phone, Tokyo, 2008

Why Japan’s Smartphones Haven’t Gone Global is a toe-dip into the case study of factors that have limited export of Japan’s cutting-edge mobile phone innovations.

Yet Japan’s lack of global clout is all the more surprising because its cellphones set the pace in almost every industry innovation: e-mail capabilities in 1999, camera phones in 2000, third-generation networks in 2001, full music downloads in 2002, electronic payments in 2004 and digital TV in 2005.

Despite their advanced hardware, handsets here often have primitive, clunky interfaces. Because each handset model is designed with a customized user interface, development is time-consuming and expensive, said Tetsuzo Matsumoto, senior executive vice president at Softbank Mobile, a leading carrier. “Japan’s phones are all ‘handmade’ from scratch,” he said. “That’s reaching the limit.”

Semantics of Skin

A recent ad for Blackberry, showing every bit of the otherwise neutral device covered in imagery that references the richness of the life of someone who uses it. Evoking the strongly the aftermarket skins that enable a similar sort of customization. The ad is using the visual as a metaphor but it’s actually quite close to a product that other firms make to address the relative monotony of consumer electronics products.

Rage With The Machine

Biodiesel-fueled coupe made from old semi truck, Half Moon Bay, California

lawnmower-race-sequence.jpgLawnmower Races, Half Moon Bay, California

I went to a huge auto and machine show recently at a small airfield down the coast from San Francisco. I really love this kind of stuff, but my machine lust was battling thoughts of carbon footprints, sustainability and global economics that made it a little difficult to see the event as entirely wholesome.

Living in and trying to navigate this consumption/sustainability paradox is the conundrum of the day for anyone who loves things.

Nokia’s Jan Chipchase gave a talk at Adaptive Path a couple of weeks ago, and showed a model of the Remade mobile phone concept. The Remade is produced almost entirely by upcycling, a Cradle to Cradle concept whereby potential trash is transformed into something valuable and useful.

Appearance model, Remade mobile phone concept, Nokia. (picture from

The extruded aluminum body of the Remade model seemed really tough, and made me think about what it would be like if products were built so well that they rarely broke.

Would that be the most sustainable approach to the object cycle-making things that lasted, and using them for as long as they lasted?

It’s a complex picture: there’s technological evolution constantly rendering our stuff obsolete, there’s the need for producers to continue to produce and sell what they make, and then there’s that crow/magpie thing-our persistent desire to add new objects to whatever we already have sequestered in our nests.

Thinking about a system this complex always leads to big questions. Here are some of mine for this round:

  • What is the relationship between remaking how objects are produced and shifting cultural attitudes toward consumption?

  • Can producers profitably focus on business models that take advantage of long use (for example by focusing more on post-purchase relationships and less on product replacement)?

  • Can it ever be as cool, sexy, and fun as buying new things to use our things for years and years, so that they acquire a patina, shape themselves to our bodies and our personalities, and bear scars that tell stories?

Or will that leave something fundamental in our natures (our crow-selves??) unsatisfied?

Improve your hearing and enhance your image!


Another culture-revealing promotion: a hearing aid that looks like a bluetooth earpiece (or “cell phone ear adapter”).

If a conventional hearing aid sounds like an embarrassment to you, try the Stealth Secret Sound Amplifier. It looks just like a cell phone ear adapter and works as a sound enhancer so you can join conversations and even hear soft voices from 50 feet away. Now you can enjoy the best of both worlds: a more youthful appearance and better hearing.

As we’ve written before, one strategy to lower barriers to adoption is to disguise one behavior to look like another one that is more normal. It’s interesting that the Bluetooth earpiece is presented as normal enough to be desirable over the hearing aid. I guess it’s better to be a young douche than an old fart?

Previously: The Ultimate Tech Accessory

Thanks, Amy!

Welcome to 2007, dude

Last week I said goodbye to my old cellphone. A Motorola v60i that I’d had for oh, 5 years or something. Back when they were free and everyone seemed to have one. Technology has jumped forward a few times since then, but having worked in a cell-coverage-free-location, it didn’t make much sense to keep up with it.

Anyway, time to take a leap:

First time I’d switched cell providers, after having a phone for 10 years. Nice to be able to bring the number. Ordering took forever, since my billing address is a PO Box (we don’t have home delivery of email in Montara) a lot of e-commerce sites break. Street addresses don’t pass verification (since they aren’t real addresses to the USPS) and PO Boxes aren’t acceptable. So after trying to place my order (let’s set aside the long process of figuring out what the heck I’d want) I did an online chat with a rep who directed me to phone in. That took well over 30 minutes; they were nice, but what a pain.

A few days later, the phone arrives. The welcome kit that I was supposed to get by email hadn’t arrived. There’s absolutely no information in the package about how to activate it. Google helps me find a Cingular page, and of course it doesn’t work (“check back later!”). After a day, I call in. I spent about 30 minutes on the phone being passed to various reps who can’t seem to activate it and keep escalating to a higher lever of support. Hours later, the phone will make outcalls but not receive any incoming calls. They’re going to the old phone (this is known as mixed service, I think, as part of the porting process – I love the jargon). Another 30 minutes on the phone. Finally it’s all working.

Now I’m wearing my bluetooth earpiece (thanks, Plantronics for all the freebies) and looking like a douche. Meanwhile, basic activities like setting the ringer to vibrate, calling my voice mail, calling from my address book are all milestones on the steep learning curve (mixed metaphor alert). Not to mention things like syncing to the PC, surfing the web and someday figuring out how to read my email on this thing. It’s kinda fun, and it’s a GSM phone, which means I can buy another piece of hardware anywhere I want, and simply move a chip from inside this phone into that phone. This is a really revolutionary idea and it’s not in any ways new, but how come people don’t talk about this more. It’s incredible!

SMS ya later!

Manipulating Social Realities With Technology

One stance is that technology is neither inherently good or bad, it’s what we do with it, as humans with the ability to choose and judge and reflect our own cultural norms, that’s where the morality comes in. Of course, there are any number of agents along the way to actual use. Those that package a technology in a way that instructs in its usage may persaude or encourage behaviors that are not “approved” of. We see the media blaming cell phones, texting, the Internet whenever possible – it’s a better headline than to blame a gun, or a parent, or a person. Where does the accountability lie?

An emerging special case is the set of technologies that we can use to misrepresent reality to others. The first that caught my eye (back in 2004) was SoundCover (company website is now defunct, but story is here), software that would play fake background noises over your mobile phone, to add credence to an excuse (i.e., “I’m stuck in traffic.”). A more recent mobile twist is the popularity dialer that will automatically call you at pre-arranged times so you can look popular, or fake an exit from a bad date, or whatever. Hacking social norms and faking reality through technology.

Those are both sort of high-schoolish in concept and implementation, but the super-geekery (and with it, super-powers) come in a couple of tools for digital photography. HP has some software built into their digital cameras that automatically slims the subjects of the photo, while some software in development in Israel will automatically beautify women’s faces. Tourist Remover carries less cultural baggage and lets you get the picture you never really got, by taking a few pictures of the same scene and putting together a composite without all those other pesky people.

HP’s entry is the most surprising, for a rather cautious organization, it seems pretty brazen. Every week is another indicator of our culture’s poor health (X-rays don’t work as well because people are too fat, toilet seats are being redesigned for fatter butts, etc. etc.), and of course our body image standard doesn’t change in the same direction. Is this technology for vanity? Or worse? Or is it any better than correcting red-eye? Or removing a blemish in Photoshop? Where do we cross the line from correcting photography to faking reality, and when is that line-crossing a problem?

[Thanks, JZC, for the HP tip]

Backup your cellular phone contacts now!

Backup-Pal seems like a reasonably good idea, but points to a larger problem. Here’s a device that connects to your cell phone and lets you backup your phone book, etc. If the phone dies you’ve still got your data. That’s a problem, and this device solves it. But why aren’t these things interoperable? If I’m already pulling SD cards out of my camera to put in my laptop, why can’t I do that with my cellphone?

Is the future converged formats where we can back everything up easily, or is it a series of special function devices to keep track of that backup everything else? A special third-party TiVo backup, a backup for my microwave, my car, my GPS unit, my XM radio?

I’ve got nothing against this solution, but it speaks to a larger problem that could continue to get worse.

Cellphone assault claim a mouthful

A story that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago:

BLUE SPRINGS, MO. — A woman who police thought deliberately tried to swallow her cellphone during an argument with her boyfriend was apparently the victim of an assault instead, authorities said.

Police have a suspect in the bizarre incident that sent the 24-year-old woman to the hospital last week, Sgt. Allen Kintz said. Police would not say whether the boyfriend was the suspect and would not explain exactly what they believe happened.

Early Friday, police responded to a call from a man who said his girlfriend was having trouble breathing. Police arrived to find a woman with a cellphone lodged in her throat. Police were initially told the boyfriend wanted the phone and the woman tried to swallow it so that he could not get it.

A mobile tale of three cities

The International Herald Tribune reports on a cultural study of mobile phone use in Europe.

“Europe is looked at as a broadly similar market,” Lasén said. “But in studying mobile phones you can see details in each country can change enormously.”

For her research, Lasén combined individual interviews with street-level observations in each city in both 2002 and 2004. Interview questions ranged from mobile phone habits to people’s relationship with the device. Her observation centers were a major train station, a commercial area and a business district in each city.

I thought everyone did a study like this in 1999 – 2000, but I guess they are continuing (not that there’s not more to be learned; just that these sort of things are sometimes fashionable, if you will). I was involved in a fascinating comparison of French and Japanese mobile phone usage and attitude.

Via Future Now

Cingular sez Keep ban of cellphone calls on flights

Cingular is in favor of banning cell phone usage on airplanes

“‘We believe there is a time and a place for wireless phone conversations, and seldom does that include the confines of an airplane flight,’ Cingular wrote in a June 8 letter to the FAA…’Cingular will encourage passengers to ‘tap, not talk’ – that is, to use discreet services such as text messaging and e-mail as opposed to voice communications in flight,’ the carrier wrote.”

Surprising but pleasing occurrence! For more analysis on this issue, check out my recent FreshMeat “Push to Talk.”

FreshMeat #24: Push to Talk

FreshMeat #24 from Steve Portigal

               (oo) Fresh
                \\/  Meat 

Last night I dreamt I read FreshMeat again
Telephone line, give me some time

The cell phone continues to be a surprisingly
prominent item in our public discourse. The idea of the
phone exists on multiple simultaneous fronts:

– a technology platform for multimedia (i.e., camera
phones and text messaging)

– an economic booster (ringtones, just the latest flavor
in mobile merchandising are big bucks, perhaps even a
legit solution to the problem of music sharing)

– a designed accessory that displays economic and social
status (or at least aspirations thereof) – check out
Bling Kit for cell phones, including Swarovski
crystals, the rhinestones of the new millennium

– a performance item to either facilitate or impede
social interaction (just when we were beginning to get
used to the handsfree users who appear to walk around
talking to no one, the New York Times reports on a
supposedly emerging behavior where people use their
phones to avoid face-to-face interactions, making
like they are talking to someone – but are really
talking to no one)

– a challenge to unstated but powerful social norms (in
one of many examples, a man got out of his car and
punched another driver who was talking on his phone
instead of moving when the light turned green)

This last area is seeing an unusual amount of activity
recently, as the powers-that-be are exploring the
possibility of using cell phones on airplanes. The
airplane is a space that has had strict controls on cell
phone usage, and as changes to those controls are slowly
being considered, the debate is growing. This is fairly
unique in the history of the cell phone – it wasn’t until
they began appearing (and ringing) in hospitals and
movie theaters and concert halls and libraries and
trains and restaurants and classrooms and places of
worship and banks that rules intended to control use
began to appear. Belatedly, signs are posted, threats
are made, and consideration of others is urged. But I
think most of us have given up on reliably avoiding
annoying or disruptive ringing and talking.

Virgin territory – using your cell phone on an
airplane – has now appeared, and the battle lines are
being drawn. If you’ve heard about this issue, you’ve
probably heard some strong opinions being expressed.
If not, when you first consider the possibility of
in-flight cell phone usage, what comes to mind? Being
reachable throughout your trip, or the horrifyingly
likely possibility of a loud-mouthed doofus bellowing
details of his root canal all the way to JFK? I’ll bet
that it’s the latter; the careful balance begins to tilt
between i) the benefit to us for access to the phone and
ii) the cost to us for others having access to their

Of course, there are more players involved than just us
and the doofus in the middle seat. Technologies/products
are part of larger systems, and any changes are going to
impact each element of that system in a different way.
Careful consideration of the different players is
essential to fully understand the drivers for change,
the barriers, and the potential impacts. For this issue,
let’s take a look at who’s who:

A. passengers making and/or receiving calls
B. passengers who are not making or receiving calls
C. flight attendants
D. airlines
E. airplane manufacturers
F. wireless carriers (i.e., Verizon, Cingular)
G. infrastructure players (i.e., whoever enables this
new technological capability)
H. handset manufacturers
I. government

Let’s look at each of them in turn:

A. passengers making and/or receiving calls

There are already phones on board the plane. People can
make calls while flying. Using cell phones would
enable passengers to receive calls. All the features
of the handset (i.e., phone book) would be available.
These are both powerful symbols of greater personal
control. The travel experience often entails a
significant surrender of control, even of the most
basic functions (time and choices of food, sleep
schedules, access to a bathroom), so whatever people
can do to reassert that control will have some appeal.

A parallel example might be the payphone; in
metropolitan areas payphones were ubiquitous, yet cell
phone adoption grew enormously and the payphone
continues to fade away. Individual control over the
device itself triumphed “good enough” access.

The ability to make and receive calls (even if these
passengers seldom or never take advantage of that
ability) is a big win for these folks, although there
has not been a lot of impassioned demand for this from
the public.

Conclusion: benefit of new capability

B. passengers who are not making or receiving calls

The loss of control we experience while traveling comes
not only from the circumstances of travel, but also the
intrusion of other people – who we can not control –
into our lives, spaces, and faces. “The screaming baby,”
“the drunken boor,” and “the snoring fat guy” are well-
established archetypes for comedy routines and reality

A tangible manifestation of the control issue was
obvious in last year’s Knee Defender, a product that
would enable you to prevent the person in front of you
from leaning their seat back into “your” space. The
suggestion here was that you could physically over-ride
the conventions of the airplane (you may lean; you may
also be leaned into) and that was okay. More power to
you, for taking whatever control you could, even at the
expense of others.

Our experiences with others who use their cell phones
around us (during our non-travel times) are poorly
regarded. Anyone reading this can probably come up with
their most recent horror story in less than 5 seconds.
Giving other people the power to further disrespect our
personal space and surrender control over our environment
while traveling seems to be a potential for even more
unhappy traveling (even though there is significant
overlap between group A and group B), and the amount of
public grumbling about this potential bears witness to

Conclusion: cost of annoyance

C. flight attendants

No doubt that any new regulations would require some
sort of new monitoring role by the flight attendants.
Passengers that can do more with more devices now are
more independent and need more attention, i.e., making
sure that cell phones are only on during certain
portions of the flight, making sure that passengers talk
at a reasonable volume or set their ringers to vibrate.
Whatever it is, it’s going to require more work from
them. Perhaps they may benefit from access to their
phones during breaks, but the increase in their work
makes this mostly a loss for them.

Conclusion: cost of extra work

D. airlines

Current airplane phones add two inches to the thickness
of the seatback. Removing those phones would allow more
seats to be installed, or perhaps make room for
entertainment equipment such as the TV screens that
JetBlue offers as standard amenities.

One would also expect that whatever technology enables
on-board cell phone usage would be something they could
charge an extra fee for. It may even be a feature of how
the technology is developed, to provide a fee-for-access
gateway (just like WiFi access at some coffee shops).

The existing phones may remain on board; as long he
boarding process. Already the rules begin to be changed.
Once you get to the seatback card (labeled a “guide to
how to make the world a better place…one flight at a
time.”) you may begin to consider the flight experience
differently. The card reads “Be nice. Attitude is
everything on JetBlue. Kindness, respect and
consideration are the way to a nice flight.” Amusing
graphics that evoke traditional flight safety cards
depict passengers creating a common experience, for
example introducing themselves to each other. Sure, many
of us do that on a plane, but JetBlue takes some
ownership of it, and encourages it, with just enough
humor. Other graphics discourage people from bringing
their own smelly fish on board, or sleeping on the
shoulder of their neighbor, or removing their shoes when
their feet are too pungent.

JetBlue (and some of the other newer, more innovative,
and interestingly cheaper airlines) are rethinking the
entire experience they are creating for passengers. A
fresh look at air travel won’t eliminate turbulence, of
course, but they could easily extend this to help people
manage their behavior. Rather than a turf war over
knees, shoulders, ears, and mouths, creating a common
experience could encourage cooperation, establish new
social norms (and social sanctions rather than punitive
ones) that would allow for polite cell phone usage.
Sure, I’m skeptical too. Adding some verbiage to the
pre-flight announcement and posting a few stickers isn’t
going to do it. A new approach to creating a
relationship between the passengers and the airline, and
between the passengers themselves is the key. The
dinosaur airlines aren’t capable of this (i.e., United’s
Ted is a cheaper United, with better graphic design;
it’s not a re-think of the flight experience the way
JetBlue is).

Two thoughts by way of conclusion here: first, with any
new offering, if we fail to understand the differing
concerns of the larger set of stakeholders, we run the
risk of limiting our success; second, if there is a way
to encourage desired behavior rather than enforce
restrictions on undesired behavior, that may be the way
to greater success. We’re trying this strategy with our
dog, in fact.

This discussion is all about voice. Other work is being
done to enable WiFi on airplanes; presumably the cell
network could also transmit data to allow email or
Internet surfing, but that seems peripheral to the
issues at hand. Laptop users on board airplanes with
high-speed Internet access can now do VOIP (voice-over-
IP, or Internet telephony) but right now that’s a
smaller, bleeding-edge type of user unlikely to have the
type of impact we’re considering.

Is it actually dangerous to use today’s phones on
today’s planes? This is one report that documents
the effects of mobile phones on avionic (isn’t
that a great word?) gear. But other studies have
said it’s not a problem. Hence the complicated
governmental role – between communications (FCC)
and aviation (FAA). Sure, there’s reason to be
skeptical, compare the supposed danger of using
a cell phone at a gas station
, which even led to
proposed legislation in some US states.

See Don Norman’s recent essay Minimizing the annoyance
of the mobile phone – The Annoyance, Irritation, and
Frustration of The Mobile Phone — A Design Challenge

Excerpt: "We are in real danger of a consumer backlash
against annoying technologies. We already have seen the
growth of mobile-phone free zones, of prohibition
against phone use, camera use, camera phones, in all
sort of public and private places. The mobile phone has
been shown to be a dangerous distraction to the driver
of an automobile, whether hands-free or not. If we do
nothing to overcome these problems, then the benefits
these technologies bring may very well be denied us
because the social costs are simply too great."


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