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The latest example of the caprice of artificial borders: residents of a coastal village in Kent have found themselves facing high mobile phone bills as their phones latch onto signals from France, across the channel. Then, when their iPhones and Samsung Galaxys inevitably fetch data from the internet, they incur extortionate roaming charges, set at the dawn of time when mobile data abroad was the province of executives with deep expense accounts and left in place because bilking people for checking the email across a border is a nice little earner for the phone companies.
The bay is blocked by the white cliffs from receiving UK signals and people in the village sometimes get connected to the French network depending on atmospheric conditions and the weather. Nigel Wydymus, landlord of the Coastguard pub and restaurant next to the beach, said: "We are a little telecommunications enclave of France here.The phone company, helpfully, advised residents of and visitors to such villages to switch off mobile data roaming:
The spokesman from EE, which covers the T-Mobile and Orange networks, said: "We always recommend our customers switch off roaming while they are in this little pocket of an area to ensure that they are connecting to the correct network, because we cannot control the networks from the other side of the water."This minor absurdity is a result of the distortions of topology caused by a system whose building block is the post-Treaty of Westphalia nation-state, and which, by fiat, sets the distance between any two points within such a state to be a constant. From the mobile phone system's perspective, the distance from Dover to nearby Folkestone is exactly the same as that to London, Glasgow or Belfast, all of which are orders of magnitude nearer than Calais across the Channel. The costs of carrying the data across a system of base stations and trunk cables is part of the settlement of maintaining the legal fiction of the unitary nation-state; the sharp shock of roaming charges is the other side of the coin, a licence for the carriers to make a bit back from the tourists and business travellers, who are either in no position to complain or are used to the data they consume on the go being an expensive premium service. After all, it costs a lot to live in The Future.
Kent isn't the only place where travellers may find themselves virtually (though potentially expensively) abroad; a while ago, I was walking in Cumbria, near Ravenglass, and found myself on the Isle of Man (a separate jurisdiction with its own phone companies and, lucratively, roaming rates).
I wonder how this situation is handled on the continent, where the phones of people living near borders are likely to inadvertently cross them on numerous occasions. Do, say, Dutch phone companies charge roaming Belgians local rates? Do Italians find themselves inadvertently roaming in Switzerland or Croatia? Or do base stations on either side of a border do double-duty, serving both countries' carriers as if they were local?
I am currently visiting Sweden for a few days; consequently, I now have a Swedish mobile phone number.
I have no plans to actually move to Sweden, and no current plans to return (though it's not unlikely that I will at some point), and so the +46 number I have will most probably sit idle, the SIM card in a drawer next to the German card I bought in Berlin last year (unlike that one, though, this card can be topped without having a local bank account in the country in question, making it more likely that I'll reuse it). But at the moment, the SIM card is in my iPhone, providing me with access to maps and similar services on demand, and my British SIM card is in my second phone (a Palm Treo 650, a piece of mid-oughts executive power-tech that looks ridiculously clunky these days and probably will be considered retro one of these decades).
The reason I went to the somewhat absurd extent of investing 99 Kr (almost exactly £9.90) in a foreign telephone number I will use for a few days is because of the unusable state of data roaming in 2011. While, in the EU at least, roaming charges on phone calls and text messages have come down, data still remains prohibitively expensive, with the foolhardy user who enables data roaming on their smartphone likely to drain their prepaid credit in minutes or, if on contract, be on the hook for thousands of pounds.
Things have improved slightly, though not enough to make using a smartphone abroad with one's own SIM card remotely economical, except for the super-rich and those with the deepest of expense accounts. For example, Vodafone (my UK carrier) now offers either 5Mb or 25Mb (depending on the country) of data abroad for £2 a day, with subsequent use being charged at £1 per megabyte. I tried using this when in Paris a few days ago, and found, to my chagrin, that the quota evaporated within ten minutes of idle time. Presumably Vodafone's offer is intended for users of something other than modern smartphones. Not quite sure what: perhaps those social-network featurephones marketed to teenagers with limited allowances?
I suspect that this has less to do with smartphones sucking up vast quantities of data and more to do with the way roaming data being metered being incompatible with the way smartphones use data. I imagine that what is happening is that, for billing purposes, one megabyte is one megabyte or part thereof, and the clock stops whenever the phone stops sending or receiving data for a period of time and/or when the phone connects to a different server. Which was probably fair enough a few years ago, when the much simpler phones did one thing at a time, and internet access on phones was an afterthought, a special mode added on after the fact. Today's smartphones, however, are entirely different beasts, being effectively UNIX-based computers designed to be permanently connected to the internet, and constantly sending and receiving small quantities of data, from notifications to location hints. Because this data is sent as internet packets, a premium-priced service on top of the mobile phone network, the partial megabytes soon stack up, and so does the bill.
With smartphones, we're living in The Future, but only in our home countries. There, we can pull down maps, check email, upload photos to the web, and even, particularly ironically, get spoken text translated into other languages. Elsewhere, we're still in the mid-2000s, forced to rely on pre-cached data and scrounge for open wireless access points (themselves an increasing scarcity, due to the three apocalyptic horsemen of terrorism, paedophilia and copyright infringement). Of course, one can, for a tenner, buy a new SIM card, and then freely use the same networks one would otherwise be paying through the nose for, at the cost of losing access to one's phone number for the duration. Which, all in all, is an absurd situation, and The Future won't officially arrive until this is resolved.
Apparently Sony-Ericsson have codenamed their latest mobile phone "Shakira", after a pop singer signed to Sony Music. This isn't the first time a Sony electronic gadget was named after a Sony-signed recording artist; four years ago, Sony launched a pocket instant messaging device which shared its name with a dance-music artist. Which makes one wonder whether there's now a clause in the standard Sony Music recording contract that grants Sony's electronics division the rights to use an artist's name for naming products, and, if so, what artist will get a gadget named after them next.
In the UK, they have the Shipping Forecast; in Israel, they have text message alerts of incoming missiles:
"The rocket sensor will create a virtual ellipse (of the predicted impact zone) and all phones in that area will receive a warning," the Jerusalem Post quoted Chilik Soffer, a senior official at the Israeli Home Front Command, as saying.
(via HuffPo) Share
So why would I get an iPhone? Because it's an appliance that just fucking works.
I have a list of 30-ish reports of more-or-less irritating bugs that I encountered during my first week of using the phone that I back-channeled into Palm via several of their developers, but most of those bugs were tolerable. The deal-breaker bugs are as follows:
- I still can't reliably sync my phone to my Mac.
- Peformance is a joke.
I was thinking of getting a Pre as my next phone, though after playing with one, I'm not tempted to buy into an 18-month contract for one. Perhaps if they were available as prepaid, I'd consider one. (The Pre concept sounds nifty, and perhaps they'll fix the execution.) Until then, I'll probably stick to my ancient Treo 650; you can sort of get the web on that.
A phone carrier in the United Arab Emirates recently pushed out a patch for BlackBerry handsets, which it advertised as a "performance enhancement", but which, on closer examination, turned out to contain a remotely activatable surveillance programme:
The spying program in the patch is switched off by default on installation, but switching it on would be a simple matter of pushing out a command from the server to any device, causing the device to then send a copy of the user’s subsequent e-mail and text messages to the server.I wonder what the story here is; is the UAE's government too cheap to shell out for some of that sweet Nokia Siemens surveillance gear the Iranian government has been reportedly very pleased with? Was the patch planted by other agencies (The Mossad? The Iranian secret service? Organised crime?) Or is Dubai trying to build the world's most elaborate context-based advertising system?
Users of criminal hacking forums have apparently been offering ridiculous sums of money for one type of low-end mobile phone. Certain Nokia 1100 handsets, manufactured in Bochum, Germany, are said to have a firmware bug which allows them to be reprogrammed to use another user's phone number, and thus intercept text messages containing bank transaction authentication codes, which is why the going price for them has gone as high as €25,000. Nokia have denied knowing of either such a flaw or of the phones for going for more than €100.
Though if criminals want a handset that can bypass GSM network security and intercept other users' messages, surely there'd be cheaper ways to go about this. Given that criminal gangs somehow managed to compromise a Chinese factory that made point-of-sale terminals and "enhance" the terminals with GSM-based card skimmers, surely it wouldn't be so hard to get one of the numerous Chinese mobile phone manufacturers to intentionally weaken security in one of their units to allow it to be used to spoof numbers, and then buying up a few boxloads of them. Bonus points for getting one that looks almost like an iPhone.
(via Engadget) Share
In the US, mobile phone carriers have a lot more power over consumers than in Europe or Australia. There phones are only obtainable from carriers, are locked to one carrier and often have features disabled to drive profits to the carrier, resulting in Americans paying more for less than their fellow mobile phone users abroad. (It's the classic "turd-in-a-can" ideal of predatory consumer capitalism; first, make sure you have a captive audience, and then you can sell them any old crap at the price of your choice, safe in the knowledge that they have nowhere else to go.)
Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is turning its attention to this issue, in particular to the practice of locking phones down and the use of copyright laws to enforce this; to this aim, it has launched the Free Your Phone campaign, and is asking US residents to sign an online petition. It's probably about time.
The launch of the Kogan Agora Android phones has been postponed indefinitely, apparently due to "interoperability issues" of some sort. The Agora and Agora Pro, from an Australian outfit named Kogan (who, until now, have apparently been best known for cheap LCD TVs or similar) were meant to launch at the end of January, but now this will not happen. Which means that the T-Mobile G1 won't have any competition for a while longer yet.
I was thinking of buying an Agora Pro as my next phone (my Nokia 6230i—go ahead, laugh—is getting a bit long in the tooth), though with the announcement of the Palm Prē, I was having second thoughts. Now I suspect I may wait for the Prē to come out.
Beleaguered PDA maker Palm, who brought us the Pilot/PalmPilot and its descendants, has been having a rough time of things; PDAs have largely gone extinct, and their PalmOS (which, technically speaking, was rather like MacOS 9 in a lot of ways) was looking a bit long in the tooth compared to other phone OSes; Palm acknowledged this and deprecated it in favour of (of all things) Windows Mobile, becoming just another Windows phone vendor. And not a very competitive one, it would seem; their market share all but disappeared, and they looked to be circling the drain, as everyone ditched their Treos for BlackBerries or those Apple things they've been going on about. There were rumours of a new operating system they were working on, but as the months and years passed with no sight of it, a revival of their fortunes started looking much like the mythical second coming of the Amiga.
But now, it's here, or at least on the horizon, and it's looking rather good. Here is the report of the CES press conference. Basically, it's a rather nifty-looking handset with an iPhone-like multitouch screen and a slide-out keyboard and it runs a new system named Palm WebOS, which is based on a Linux core but seems to take a quite interesting data-driven approach. The user interface and other performance appears to be very polished—some would say better than the benchmarks set by Apple, which are indeed high—and, to top things off, it comes with a nifty contactless charger known as the "Touchstone". And, as they made a point of mentioning, it has both a removable battery and cut and paste. The US version is, as always, exclusive to a carrier (Sprint, in this case), though a GSM 3G version for non-US markets has been announced. In general, the commentariat are impressed. Needless to say, Palm's stock is recovering nicely.
The street finds its own uses for things; in this case, the things are iPhones (though the concept could easly be ported to other, less fashionable, smart phones; an Android version is in the works), and "the street" is FixMyStreet, a system that lets you notify the relevant public authorities of any local problems. At least it does if you live in Britain, where the system runs,.
Meanwhile, Namco have decided to milk the Katamari cash cow once more, with a version for the iPhone:
No new twists here; just an adaptation of the classic Katamari game. It uses the iPhone (and iPod Touch)'s tilt sensor as a control mechanism. Unfortunately, the hardware seems to be a bit too slow; when I tried it on my first-generation iPod Touch, it ran infuriatingly slowly. (Perhaps the second generation will work better with it?) The fact that the developers kept the screen-warping effects when you reach a size milestone probably doesn't help either. As such, I can't recommend buying this unless you're desperate for a Katamari fix.
On a tangent: I wonder how Keita Takahashi is getting on with Noby Noby Boy. I haven't heard much about it for a while.
(via Gulfstream, Boing Boing Gadgets) Share
It has emerged that organised crime gangs modified hundreds of credit/debit card terminals at the Chinese factory they were made at, installing a GSM module and SIM card, which was then used to send stolen credit card data to a number in Pakistan, and also receive instructions on what to target. The terminals, which were distributed across Europe, remained undetected for a long time, stealing only small numbers of details, only arousing suspicion when a security guard noticed mobile phone interference near the checkout area.
The corrupted devices are an extra three to four ounces heavier because of the additional parts they contain, and the simplest way to identify them has been to weigh them. A MasterCard International investigator said: "As recently as a month ago, there were several teams of people roaming around Europe putting the machines on scales and weighing them. It sounds kind of old school, but the only other way would be to tear them apart."
The illicit transactions took place at least two months after the information had been stolen, making it difficult for investigators to work out what had happened.
But after six months of fruitless investigation, investigators spotted an attempt at a similar fraud on a card which had only been used in one location in Britain. The chip and pin machine from the particular store was passed to MasterCard's international fraud lab in Manchester for inspection.There has been no announcement of anybody having been arrested, and the criminals got away with a tidy profit, so one can probably chalk this down as a success for the criminals, and a serious failure of security (for one, the chip-and-pin protocols governing communication between the chip on the card, the reader and the network seems to be too weak by far if they allow a card to be cloned; shouldn't the system be using some form of challenge-response security rather than handing all the information over in one go)?
(via Schneier) Share
London's Brick Lane is installing padded lamp posts to reduce injuries to people walking into them whilst texting on their mobile phones.
Is this a common problem? It could be argued that it would be better to attach spikes to the lamp posts, and let the not-looking-where-you're-going gene weed itself out of the gene pool.
(via Engadget) Share
Nokia to buy Trolltech, the Norwegian company behind the Qt C++ user interface library (as used in Linux desktop KDE and numerous multi-platform applications including Google Earth and the Last.fm client) and the Qtopia mobile user interface platform. Nokia has pledged to continue the development of Trolltech's software and its commitment to open source, and this step could give it more of a foothold in the Linux mobile phone market. The future for Nokia's own Maemo toolkit (based on Linux and rival user interface library GTK) looks less certain.
(via Engadget) Share
Faced with the choice of a mobile phone plan to buy, Charlie Stross did the math and determined that the more "expensive" ones are often, in terms of total cost of ownership, cheaper:
The first obvious conclusion I reached is that if you look at the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a phone, including both the phone cost and the monthly tariff cost multiplied by the term of the contract, there's surprisingly little elasticity in the bottom line until you get into the eye-wateringly high usage tariffs. The TCO for a sample phone on 18 month contract varied by only £102 between the Talk 75 and Talk 500 tariffs (75 included minutes and 100 included texts per month, versus 500 minutes and 1000 texts per month). The same pattern held on 12 month contracts, with a £60 spread. Which is, frankly, ridiculous, because you get so few minutes and texts on Talk 75 that the actual cost per minute is nine times higher, and the cost per text is eight time higher than on Talk 500.
What I had discovered looked weirdly like a classic bathtub curve — only plotting price against contract time, rather than the more familiar failure rate against time. It's a familiar curve: airline seat price allocations often follow the same distribution. At one end of the curve, you've got the chancers who want a flashy phone but no commitment to use it. Typically they'll sign up for a short, cheap contract with an expensive phone. Fashion victims, in other words. The cellcos are set up to recognize and fleece them, however. At the other side of the curve you've got the gabby heavy users, and they're going to throw money at you whatever you do, so you might as well take it. In between, you've got a highly price sensitive market, which you want to encourage to use their phones more (and graduate into being heavy users), so you dangle some promising discounts in front of them, weighted towards the heavier tariffs.Charlie also has this revelation about airline pricing:
(Airline seats for long-haul flights: if someone books a flight six months ahead of departure, it is a Big Deal to them, so they value it, so you can price it high. If they book at two day's notice to go to Aunt Irma's Funeral in New Zealand, it's a coercion purchase, so you can price it high. In-between, there's a trough where people have time to pick and choose which carrier to use ... so seat prices are at their lowest in the period 8-12 weeks before departure. It's the same bathtub-shaped curve.)Interestingly, railway companies don't do this (they sell a small amount of cheap tickets first, then progressively more expensive ones as each price level sells out, culminating with walk-up fares; at least Eurostar and Britain's railway system do this). This is undoubtedly partly due to any railway route between two stations taking the same duration being a monopoly, though that doesn't explain everything. Why, for example, are air travellers booking early willing to pay over the odds, while rail travellers are not?
Though is the bathtub curve the whole story for air fares? As flying a jumbo jet from one airport to another has a rather large fixed cost, it would make sense for the airlines to make an effort to fill as many seats as they can, whilst taking as much per ticket as the market will bear. I imagine they may have worked out a way of, at the last minute, selling off the remaining empty seats to whoever will pay for them without disincentivising other passengers from, in future, paying as much as they would otherwise be willing to, perhaps by making last-minute discounts inconvenient or cumbersome to obtain.
Anyway, while we're on the subject of mobile phones: here is a piece on how unwanted mobile phones are recycled. (Some are sold to people further down the new-shiny-toy chain; ancient, obsolete bricks often end up in countries where their network technology is still in use; some are refurbished or used for parts in countries with lower labour costs (and lower gadget-buying power), and those at the end of their useful life can end up melted down for their precious metals (of which there is a lot). If they're lucky; if not, they may end up leaching toxins into the water table somewhere in Africa.
It’s hard to track ReCellular’s or Collective Good’s phones. But Jack Qiu, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who has studied the movement of used computers and phones in China, describes one route phones take. In Kowloon, in Hong Kong, Pakistanis and other immigrants (often asylum seekers) import phones from Europe by the shipping container. These are fixed or cannibalized for parts in stalls at a local market. In the past, Nigerians and other African exporters swept in to buy tens of thousands of phones at a time, particularly so-called “14-day phones” — those that have been returned under warranty and used little. But recently, Qiu says, the markets for these phones have become saturated in African cities. So the Nigerians, needing to take their business to poorer African villages, have been leaving Hong Kong for Chinese cities like Guangzhou, where they can purchase cheaper, more heavily used phones from the larger refurbishing companies there. Many Nigerians have learned Mandarin in order to do business in Guangzhou, Qiu says, and the city now has an African-style coffee shop.
cellphones are not easily abandoned — and, when they are, someone somewhere is still likely to see some value in them. Jim Puckett, the coordinator of the Basel Action Network, a nongovernmental watchdog group that focuses on e-waste, visited Nigeria in 2005. He describes, at one Lagos electronics bazaar, repairmen sitting on dirt floors under shelves of scavenged parts, jury-rigging phones back together, over and over again, until the things are absolutely dead.And here is a discussion of what the signal strength bars on a phone actually mean. (The answer is: often not much.)
(via Boing Boing Gadgets) Share
The street finds its own uses for ultrasonic teenager repellants; now some enterprising hoodie-wearing troublemakers have apparently sampled them into mobile phone ringtones inaudible to teachers and authority figures, allowing them to text each other and organise happy-slapping parties and such in class with the teachers remaining none the wiser. Or so the Metro (a throwaway tabloid given out on public transport in the UK) says:
Schoolchildren have recorded the sound, which they named Teen Buzz, and spread it from phone to phone via text messages and Bluetooth technology.
A secondary school teacher in Cardiff said: 'All the kids were laughing about something, but I didn't know what. They know phones must be turned off during school. They could all hear somebody's phone ringing but I couldn't hear a thing.I'm somewhat skeptical about this. Wouldn't the MP3 format's psychoacoustic compression algorithms wreak havoc with subtleties such as ultrasonic tones?
Anyway, I wonder how long until the Teen Buzz sound is heard in grime records, making the first form of teenage music that's actually (partly) inaudible to elders.
Google Local, formerly known as Google Maps, is now available for mobile phones. There are Java applets which will run on a variety of phones and allow you to scroll and zoom around the Google Maps map. For some reason, you can't zoom in to street level, at least for the UK. Also, being able to bookmark locations would be good. Other than that, it's pretty nifty, and could end up giving PDA-based static map software like Tube a run for its money.
This person is planning to build his own home-brewed GSM mobile phone, out of an ARM-based Linux board and a GSM module. It doesn't appear that he's quite hardc0re (or insane) enough to write his own GSM stack over software radio and risk a visit from
the FCC Ofcom's SWAT team, though at the end of the day, he will end up with a phone that runs Debian.
Police in Malaysia are carrying out random spot checks for pornography on mobile phones. Those found with porn will be charged with possession, and presumably flogged or caned or whatever they do, at Dr. Mahathir's pleasure.
Meanwhile, in India, the local movie studios' organisation, the MPA, has successfully obtained a general search and seizure warrant, allowing its officers to search any property in Delhi deemed under suspicion of piracy. Of course, they only intend to use such warrants against the terrorists who produce and sell pirated DVDs at markets, and, being the good guys, undoubtedly are honour-bound not to abuse these powers, so there's no cause for concern.
And in China, a researcher has discovered a sinister and ominous new trend, that people who buy webcams often use them whilst naked, posing a serious threat to public health and morality:
"At first, we thought it was merely a game for a few mentally abnormal people," the paper quoted Liu as saying. "But as our research continued, we found the problem was much larger than expected."It wasn't made clear what proportion of webcam users are filthy perverts, or, indeed, what those who don't chat naked use them for.
A researcher at the veritable MIT Media Lab is mining volunteers' mobile phone location and call data, and using it to determine all sorts of things, from simple things such as how long people work and how much they procrastinate to which people are friends and which ones are merely coworkers. Not only that, but the data can predict people's behaviour:
Given enough data, Eagle's algorithms were able to predict what people -- especially professors and Media Lab employees -- would do next and be right up to 85 percent of the time.
Eagle used Bluetooth-enabled Nokia 6600 smartphones running custom programs that logged cell-tower information to record the phones' locations. Every five minutes, the phones also scanned the immediate vicinity for other participating phones. Using data gleaned from cell-phone towers and calling information, the system is able to predict, for example, whether someone will go out for the evening based on the volume of calls they made to friends.
Eagle was also able to see that the Red Sox's improbable breaking of the World Series curse shook even the world of MIT engineers. "I actually saw deviation patterns when the Red Sox won," Eagle said. "Everyone went deviant."The information was recorded by special custom programs running on the phone; the same information is gathered by the mobile network operators, though is not available to the general public. However, it is available to law-enforcement agencies, and is probably being used right now for assembling automated dossiers on entire populations.
(via schneier) Share
I'm getting rather fed up with the Fresh prepaid mobile service I use. I got it when I arrived in the UK, as it was the cheapest way to get a +44 mobile number (essential for getting calls about accommodation/jobs returned), and to someone living off saved Australian pesos, cheap is good. (It's something like half or less of the cost of using other services.) What I've since learned is that what you save in call costs, you pay for in gratuitous inconvenience. Consider, for example:
This happened to me a few times. The most recent time, yesterday I went to top up my account, and asked the clerk to remove the bar immediately. He said he could do that. He lied.
As such, I just spent 9 minutes on hold, being subjected to what sounded like some kind of jazz-fusion/whalesong melange, punctuated at 15-second intervals by a plastically cheerful female voice insincerely apologising for the delay, before getting a call-centre employee who could lift the bar for me.
There is no technical reason for why Fresh needs to suck so badly. I suspect it may be part of an experiment in how people monetise convenience, and how much inconvenience they are willing to put up with to save a few quid.
It will soon be possible to use mobile phones on the Tube, with Ken Livingstone promising full coverage of the system within 3 years, and also mentioning the tantalising prospect of wireless internet access on the Tube. (Though have they figured out how to hand moving connections over between access points yet?) Meanwhile, opposition politicians are concerned over terrorists using phones as detonators, the anti-mast movement is concerned about the microwave saturation making Tube journeys even more carcinogenic, and everyone else is concerned about there being no escape from that bloody Crazy Frog or whatever inanity replaces it.
The street finds its own uses for obsolete mobile phones, it seems. Football hooligans in the UK are getting around police weapon searches by throwing mobile phones instead. While knives and other traditional hooligan weapons are confiscated on entry to stadiums, football fans are allowed to bring in mobile phones, so the hooligans bring a few extra to lob at the other side. The extra phones are apparently traded around some football clubs. I wonder whether they leave them as is or hollow them out and fill them with ballast of some sort to do more damage.
Meanwhile, a man in Sweden has been arrested after firing arrows with attached mobile phones into a prison yard. Mobile phones have been used to plan three prison escapes in Sweden in recent months.
Don't throw away your old, featureless mobile brick phone: sell it to a hipster at an over-inflated price.
Yet another application of mobile phones: by anonymously sampling the positions of phones, one can measure traffic flow on roads. Assuming, of course, that enough drivers have phones in their cars. (via 1.0)
Some of the fastest-growing mobile phone markets are in Islamic countries, from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia. So is it any great surprise that there is now a mobile phone designed for Muslims? The Ilkone i800, designed in the United Arab Emirates, has as its features an Islamic/Gregorian date converter, a prayer time calculator, a device for showing the direction to Mecca and the complete searchable text of the Koran, in English and Arabic, as well as the usual polyphonic ringtones, GPRS and "exciting action games". (via Worldchanging)
In the race to sell reprocessed Congolese coltan to teenagers who already have some, mobile phone manufacturers are grappling for new, fun and fashionable must-have features to put in the latest models. The latest innovation from Nokia is "airtexting". Phones with this feature are equipped with a row of LEDs down one side and an accelerometer; when waved back and forth, the LEDs spell out text in the air, which is claimed to be ideal for picking up in nightclubs and/or heckling speakers/performers without shlepping around a huge LED display. (via bOING bOING)
A German "electropunk"/"disco-pop" band best known for wearing giant panda heads are releasing their new album exclusively in mobile phone ringtone format. A copy of Super Smart's "Panda Babies" will set you back €1.99.
Apparently mobile phones are replacing cars as the dominant means for young people to assert their identities/freedom. Cars are a bit unhip these days, being large, bulky and environmentally unfriendly, whereas phones, with ringtones, custom covers and those pointless bitmapped Eminem/Manchester United/No Fear/whatever logos that go for a few dollars in magazine ads, have taken over both as a fashion item and a symbol of independence and mobility.
That mobile phones are taking on many of the social functions of cars is to be welcomed. While it is a laudable goal that everyone on earth should someday have a mobile phone, cars' ubiquity produces mixed feelings. They are a horribly inefficient mode of transport--why move a ton of metal around in order to transport a few bags of groceries?--and they cause pollution, in the form of particulates and nasty gases. A chirping handset is a much greener form of self-expression than an old banger. It may irritate but it is safe. In the hands of a drunk driver, a car becomes a deadly weapon. That is not true of a phone (though terrorists recently rigged mobile phones to trigger bombs in Madrid). Despite concern that radiation from phones and masts causes health problems, there is no clear evidence of harm, and similar worries about power lines and computer screens proved unfounded. Less pollution, less traffic, fewer alcohol-related deaths and injuries: the switch from cars to phones cannot happen soon enough.
But does this mean we'll see pop songs glorifying the freedom-facilitating power of mobile phones in the near future? What would the 21st-century equivalent of, say, Prefab Sprout's Cars and Girls, be like?
The street finds its own uses for things. In England, where finding new ways to have anonymous sex with strangers seems to be somewhat of a national pastime, almost up there with trainspotting, football hooliganism and doing stuff in sheds, a new, tech-savvy, subculture of sex hounds is using Bluetooth phones to hook up.
An interesting account of how investigators tracked al-Qaeda operatives via their Swiss mobile SIM cards. The terrorists were apparently sufficiently naïve to assume that the SIM cards (which could be purchased anonymously in Switzerland and used worldwide) guaranteed anonymity, and, whilst changing phones frequently for security reasons, to keep the same SIM card.
Some selections from a website selling Java games for mobile phones:
Boobi Sisters: Boobi sisters went to farm to get experience. Their mission is to gather the cattle in a pen.
Butter Head: Butter Head is mail carrier in the Magic Land. One day, while taking a nap he looses his mail.
Christmas Eggs: Help Santa to catch all eggs at his Lapland chicken farm. Don't let the eggs to fall down!
This is one of about half a dozen Santa Claus-themed games on the site. But "Christmas eggs"? "Lapland chicken farm"? WTF?
Mobile Dolly: The cloned Sheep Dolly is based on the previous Frog Game which was a famous arcade game during the 1980's. It is a mobile phone game recreated with a cute character of sheep for the sheep year.
Yeah, it looks like a Frogger clone. The question that immediately comes into mind, though, is: what would a cloned sheep be doing hopping on lilypads and logs across a river?
Mobile Ttarzan: Ttarzan and Jjani live in the nature and study plants. One day, Jjani goes out to collect some plants and then is kidnapped by a monkey.
I just noticed that my Nokia 3310's text-messaging dictionary has "múm" before "mum". Someone at Nokia must really be into Icelandic glitch-pop. (Either that or they assume that 99% of their market spells the word "mom" like the people on TV do, and those who don't are a smaller mobile-phone market segment than indiekids.)
A NYTimes piece about the social impact of mobile phones: (via FmH)
In Malaysia, mobile phones are so widespread that Muslim leaders send out S.M.S. reminders to call the faithful to prayer, five times a day. Muslims in other countries -- like Britain -- have begun using a service that tells them the prayer times in Mecca, which means they essentially live in two time zones at once: local time for their professional lives and Saudi time for their spiritual lives. ''They're existing in two countries simultaneously,'' Bell notes.
Of course, living in two places -- even virtually -- means being spread thin. Rich Ling, a sociologist working for Telenor, a Norwegian telecommunications company, has interviewed thousands of mobile-phone texters, and he has noticed that they actually feel more disconnected from the world around them. Consider it the mobile-age version of Bowling Alone: text-messagers are connected more tightly than ever to their core friends and family but are less likely to engage the civic life around them. ''When you're waiting for the bus and it's late, you could talk to the person next to you. But if you're texting to someone, you won't talk to that stranger,'' he says.
Douglas Rushkoff on why 3G phones-as-TVs are a daft idea: (via Techdirt)
These are essentially three different scales of devices. To use the American measures: inch devices, foot devices, and yard devices - and each has a particular range of appropriate functions... Inch devices, like cell phones, pagers, and PDAs, are for a single person's use, and are unique for their ability to help a person deliver important information from anywhere. Their screens are not for reading, but for eyeballing or copying a fact or figure that will most likely be used on that very device. Stock quotes, weather forecasts, or restaurant addresses are appropriate data points for a communications device on which you might make a trade, a date, or a business meeting. Yes, avid sports fans may want to check an important score (and then call their bookies) but do they want to watch a tiny, inscrutable image of a goal being kicked? No. They'll want to get home to see the event on their foot devices.
An article on the perils of bad design; in particular, how the low battery alarm on a Motorola futurephone can become an inhumane torture device:
Right now, however, at 2am, I've discovered that the usability engineers at Motorola designed this feature not as an alert, but as a behavior-modification tool. Make the punishment for forgetting to plug in the phone painful enough, and I won't do it again.
If I could just get up and turn it off I could do so half asleep and drift back into my dreams. And I wouldn't be writing this column. But the Motorola alarm only rings once every 4 minutes, and I have no idea where the phone is hiding.
(via Techdirt and/or bOING bOING)
What do you get when you cross a mobile phone with a sensory-deprivation chamber? the Isophone:
"You can't hear anything else, you can't see anything else, you can't smell anything else, all you have coming in is the telephone call. "You can't feel anything because you're basically floating around in water that's heated to body temperature, which removes the distraction of gravity, and allows the user's body to blur into the environment."
"Whilst it's not necessarily very efficient, in many ways it's very pragmatic, in that the user will be totally focused on who they're talking to," said Mr Auger.
Perhaps this will be the new thing to have once Segways become passé. (via bOING bOING)
Futurephones seem like a bit of a gimmick to me. I mean, it would be cool to have something with a naff 640x480 camera that can zap blurry, authentically crappy-looking pictures to your friends/moblog in realtime, and that you can kill hours of your life playing Java games on. And polyphonic ringtones would be cool too; I must confess that the bleepy version of the City of Lost Children theme on my Nokia 3310 is getting old. Nonetheless, I couldn't justify the enormous financial millstone of buying one of the damned things, while my 3310 still does the job I use it for and does it admirably, and there are CDs/VST plugins/airline tickets I could better spend that money on. But this has made me think again about my priorities, and has nudged a Java-enabled phone up the list a little. The ability to run ICQ on a mobile phone, keep in touch with people on the Net worldwide -- and pay a fraction of what SMS messages cost for the privilege -- would be hella doovy.
Now let's hope they port Gaim or Trillian or something to J2ME, so AIM, Yahoo and Jabber (and MSN, if Microsoft don't insist on being asshats about it) work as well.
(Btw, does that mean that each futurephone has an IP address and is pingable whilst switched on? Or would Mobicq and such apps open a socket through a proxy at the telco's gateway to the Internet?)
The street finds its own uses for things; those camera-equipped mobile phones, for example, are ideal for vote-rigging, as the Italian Mafia have discovered:
Here's the idea: you promise a voter 50 euros (31 pounds) to cast their ballot for your candidate, send them into the booth with a 3G phone, they send a picture via the phone proving that they have voted as instructed and then they get the cash.
(via bOING bOING)
Happy Hallmark Day: Mobile phone operators in the UK are bracing for a bumper crop of SMS messages this Valentine's Day, as people send flirtatious text messages to each other. I wonder if they'll take a hint from the floral industry and jack the price of SMS messages up on Feb. 14? (Remember, if you express your love on any other day of the year, it doesn't count.)
Yet all this consumerism, patriotic as it may be, is not without cost: A survey has found that the effort people put into sending amorous text messages, buying cards, arranging romantic dinners with a loved one and seeking out gifts is estimated to cost British business more than £92m. Which is an outrageous toll on productivity. Perhaps we need a levy on Valentine's Day price hikes to make up for lost profits and productivity?
Journalist almost freezes to death when trying to use a Microsoft Smartphone mobile to call for help after a ski accident in the Scottish Highlands. He was eventually rescued when a passerby lent him her Nokia phone. Proof that bad UIs can endanger your life. (via bOING bOING)
Everybody's trash to somebody, baby: A psychologist has claimed that your mobile phone ringtone says a lot more about you than you may like. For example, young schoolgirls choose Top 10 pop songs to fit in; if young, competitive men, however, choose pop songs, they do so to make themselves look "safe" and camouflage their manipulative, sexually predatory natures. Meanwhile, themes from action movies are frequently chosen by young professionals who want to be seen as dynamic problem-solvers; however, those who have the time to set up their phones like that typically have dull lives that fail to live up to this image:
"They don't have huge excitement in their lives but like to think that they do. I doubt you'd find a firefighter or ambulance driver with a ring tone like that."
An article looking at the social impact of mobile phones. From workers being "on call" 24 hours a day, and the increased vagueness of distracted conversations, to users tuning out their environment and sharing their private conversations with strangers, to the phones' double-edged effect on social connection and isolation, an interesting study in unintended consequences: (via Techdirt)
The portable phones, depending on their usage, can by turns be a shield against loneliness or create isolation. At one end of a restaurant, a patron dining alone places his or her order, then dials a friend - alone but not alone. At the other end of the restaurant, a cell phone conversation interrupts a face-to-face dinner conversation - leaving one party dining alone.
I wonder what effect PXE phones with built-in digital cameras capable of taking and sending instant photographs will be; the immediate will be teenagers zapping pictures of themselves and friends gurning bozotically to their friends and the like, but chances are that a synergistic combination of two features, and the human tendency towards all sorts of social interactions, will go in directions nobody has anticipated. As Gibson said, the street finds its own uses for things.
A look at Britain's mobile-phone mugging epidemic, by a 14-year-old girl who has had two phones stolen:
My friends and I are "trendies". We wear American-type skateboarders' clothes: hoodies and baggy trousers. The kids who jack mobile phones we call "rudes" - rude boys. They're working class, mainly black, although not always, and at the moment they wear these funny woolly hats with two bobbles, and big jackets with fur-lined hoods. (Obviously, only a minority of kids who dress like this go jacking phones.)
(So the victims dress in imitation of ghetto gangbangers from America and the perpetrators are actual local gangbangers? The authentic preys on the imitation...)
You know those unique, world-wide serial numbers mobile phones have to make stolen phones unusable, and which you should write down just in case? Well, don't bother. Don't waste your time; the numbers can be easily changed, with little more than a laptop, a cable and some software. Some crims even have their stolen handsets rigged to change the number every time the phone is used.
(Digression: apparently it is possible to replace the firmware inside most mobile phones with hacked versions, much in the way that car hackers can reprogram their BMWs' engine controllers; how much effort is required, I do not know. I can think of some neat (and benign) applications for this; having a phone display the relative strengths of several nearby base stations would be somewhat cool, in a somewhat trainspotterish sort of way.)
Though, just from following a search query, it seems that unlocking stolen phones and changing serial numbers is so trivially easy that any petty thief with a PC could do it. Which is rather stupid on the part of whoever designed the system.
In the Philippines, mobile phone text messaging has taken off in a big way. Now the government and phone companies are very worried about the system being used to spread false rumours and rude jokes about the president. So much so that the phone companies have taken out full-page ads urging restraint. (BBC News)
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