With the increasing use of smartphones, many users are simply overwhelmed by their features. I’d like to see the ability to access a mobile phone similar to how current remote desktop applications work. I think it would be great if the mobile company or manufacturer of the phone could simply connect to the phone directly and help the customer resolve their issue. This idea may be way before it’s time and need, but it originally came to me when I wished my father knew how to use the SMS application on his mobile phone. I wanted to be able to remotely show him on the phone by having me navigate online and have his phone menus change in front of him. Additionally, with all the enterprise customers out there, I think IT help desks would appreciate being able to remotely take control of a Blackberry or iPhone to investigate an issue (I spent several hours and multiple days with a support person in India trying to troubleshoot a synchronization issue with my last Blackberry and the Blackberry Enterprise Server integration with my companies email servers.
The technology is finally catching up to the idea. A friend of mine recently forwarded me a link to a new application for the iPhone and iTouch that allows people to connect randomly while remotely wandering this planet. It doesn’t use a centralized server to connect the profiles, but instead uses data on each device to connect individuals that are near each other and may want to be connected for one reason or another. I think it’s brilliant! Although, I think having the online profile and ability to keep track of the experience will be a much more exciting offering (an old idea of mine – mobile dating and SMS flirting), it’s a great start at using technology as an icebreaker.
The application: iFob
Features (from their site):
iFob is ultra simple to use, and has no required fields.
With iFob you enter only what you want people to know about you, plain and simple. You can modify whatever you enter whenever you want without having to login to any site.
iFob has lots of cool features, including:
- Public Taglines that any iFob user can see.
- Add more detailed public information about yourself.
- Add additional private information that you can chose which iFob users may see.
- Chat with other iFob users who are in the same hotspot.
- Is not a web site: iFob is software that is installed on your iPhone, iPod or laptop.
- Mark other iFob users as “interesting” if you would like to pay attention to in the future.
- Visual and sound indicators when other iFob users come into the room.
- Block iFob users based on whether or not they are boring so you will never be bored by them again.
- Versions for iPod touch, iPhone, Windows PCs and Mac Intel laptops.
- Works with any wireless network which your iPod, iPhone or laptop can connect with.
- iPod and iPhone version are 100% free.
- No subscription fees.
- No advertising or any other kind of hassleware.
- Ultra simple to use.
- Ultra simple “profiles” with no required fields.
- No having to define categories for yourself.
Overall, I am impressed with the new design of the iPhone and am excited to see Apple venture into this consumer electronic category. There are plenty of reviews out there of the iPhone, and I do not intend to provide one here. I would like to share some of my ideas though on features I think should have been included in the iPhone 1.0 along with future product enhancements.
About a month ago my music collection went over the 10GB mark. I was bummed. Suddenly my iPod no longer has the capacity to support my entire music library and has since lost sync with iTunes. But, being the avid monitor of all things Apple I was confident there were two things on the horizon that would be worth waiting for before I plunked down some cash for a new iPod. One, being the rumored Video iPod (not to be confused with the iPod “with video”) and two, the insanely rumored (more popular than “it”) iPhone. With the MacWorld conference coming up in a month, I figured I could.
Unfortunately, the Video iPod was not announced. We did get to find out about a beautiful new widescreen iPod, but this didn’t solve my personal problem as it’s coming inside the iPhone, which will leverage a 4GB or 8GB flash drive, neither of which will hold my entire music collection.
Although, my guess is this was a marketing strategy. Why dilute the announcement with two products when you could make the world go crazy about one. My guess is that the new generation of iPods will be announced and hopefully released in the June/July time frame at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference. I expect the new generation of iPods to all use the new multi-touch display. While I would have much rather had an iPhone that could double as my primary iPod, my guess is that won’t come for a while (~1 year). I’ll be happy to buy both though if Apple makes me a really big (>100GB) new Video iPod.
When the iPhone was just a rumor, I told a few friends that there were going to be a few (ok, several) things that it must support out of the gate for me to consider it “revolutionary”.
1.) Built in iPod with OTA access to iTunes
2.) Wireless internet connection with the ability to sync with iTunes on my home mac over the cellular or wi-fi networks
3.) An enhanced .mac account experience that synchronized all pictures, video, email, contacts and calendar items on the phone. Yahoo! has had this since last year, so I figured this would be a given. Also, with the rumors of the unlimited Gmail account (could partner with Google), I figured the .mac accounts current size would become infinite.
4.) Third generation (3G) and Wi-Fi duel-mode networking with an advanced mobile web browser that allowed easy access to any web site
5.) GPS enabled for location based services
Breakthrough Internet Device
In order to be a breakthrough internet device, you really need to have the high-speed data access, GPS enabled, and an ability to digest any content out there from youtube videos to MMS exchanges.
Ultimately, the iPhone will get there and likely sooner than most will expect. There is still a chance that the iPhone could be shipped with a 3G radio. I suspect the GPS will follow shortly as well. When it has some of these capabilities, then I think it will breakthrough the pack. Right now I think there are many mobile phones with similar offerings.
In the high technology category, I think it’s pretty awesome how they’ve done away with buttons. Probably the most elegant menu system I’ve seen. Being able to flip through album covers and contact lists really brings the device back to what we love…our CD cases and Rolodex. I have used some of these touch displays on the Sony cameras and am excited by how this will work. The one thing that stands out the most though is Apple’s comment that the intelligent keyboard “[is] easier and more efficient to use than the small plastic keyboards on many smartphones.” Given the amount of effort Palm put into the Treo keyboard to try and be more efficient than the Blackberry keyboard, I’m excited to see how this multi-touch display will provide this capability. However, if it turns out to not be as fast as a keyboard, hopefully they’ll come out with a slide away keyboard so that it can be a powerful email device.
Additional Feature Requests Not Mentioned Above
– Exchange Sync for corporate customers
– Security lock-out over the air with automatic data eraser
– iChat with video conferencing and VoIP
– Social networking integration (e.g., myspace, facebook)
– Music ID integration with iTunes so you can capture a song and immediately download it
iPhone Sales Forecast
Now is where we get into the real hype. Given what happened with Apple stock the day of the announcement you can tell there are great expectations for Apple and this new “product line”. My roommate and I, both avid followers of all things gadget, have differing opinions on 2007. It’s been a fun on-going debate to discuss how well the iPhone will sell out of the gate in June. I am of the opinion that Apple could sell 10 million units in 2007 provided the following happens. 1.) The product must ship with no major defects, 2.) they actually manufacture enough of them (traditionally something Apple misses on new products) and 3.) They have it available in all markets as planned. I was in a restaurant last week and overheard three gentleman talking about the iPhone at the bar. None of them were tech geeks nor in the target demographic. Yet, all were excited. My roommate thinks it’s going to be a while before they hit their 10 million unit sales goal due to the large price tag. Given the sales volume of PlayStation 2 over the 2006 holiday season one can infer that customers definitely come out more for the sub-$200 price tag. But, I think the iPhone is going to be so visually interesting that everyone that sees their friend, colleague or family member with one will want to immediately have one themselves even if they’ve never been interested in a high-tech device before. Only time will tell who’s prediction is true, but regardless we both agree that this is a game changer for the mobile device industry and that everyone should be scrambling to figure out how they’re going to stay in the game once Apple starts launching a whole line of iPhones.
Yesterday I was down in Santa Clara visiting a company to participate in a usability study for a new UI. On my way down, it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen a close friend for a while that lives in the south bay. Since I was going to be down there, I figured I could just work from a hot spot for the afternoon after the study and then meet her for dinner. Upon completing the study in Santa Clara I started heading north up to Sunnyvale where she lives so that I would be in the neighborhood when she got off work. After arriving to the downtown area that was very quiet I decided I wanted to be some place a little more busy to people watch (while I work of course). I then remembered that I had a gift card for Starbucks from Christmas burning a hole in my pocket. The challenge is that I don’t know my way around this part of the bay area and had no idea where the nearest Starbucks is. Doh! Could it be?! Could I really be in that strange moment where suddenly location based services and mobile marketing collide to rescue me from my dispel? Unfortunately, I do not have a GPS enabled handset nor one that even supports location based services at this time. But, I do have a Blackberry with mobile Google Maps installed so I wasn’t completely lost. So, I opened Google Maps and went to “Find a business” and entered “Starbucks”. Of course it found nine within the surrounding area and one that was very close to where I was ironically. Now, here’s where the challenges to location based services became completely apparent to me.
First let’s pause for a moment to think about the various use case for mobile marketing and location based services. When would you actually use this stuff? Well, I think there are three ways you would access such a service. The first is the most traditional use almost every web surfer employees today. This is the scenario where you are at home or in an office sitting in front of a computer with a full keyboard and large display. In this scenario it’s very easy to interact with something like Yahoo! Local, tell it you want to find all the Starbucks around a certain address and then get directions to and from where you are and where that double, non-fat, light whip, extra hot, latte is awaiting. The second use of such services would be when you’re literally mobile and on foot walking around. In this case, hopefully you have a cool mobile phone that has all these capabilities and can show you where that latte is, where you are and how you can get to it. The third, and most likely widely used scenario, is when you’re in your car. This is where today’s mobile phone options fall down fast. As I was cruising out of the parking spot I was in and heading onto one of the main roads, I struggled to key in all these inputs and view the map. I wanted to be able to just speak to my phone and say, “find me a Starbucks close by and tell me how to get there.” Now, I realize that many of the GPS navigators in cars these days have this capability, but this is a separate system and not connected to your mobile phone.
While everyone, including myself, is very excited about location based services becoming a reality, I think we’ve got a ways to go before we have a device that makes the user experience such that they would get really excited about engaging this technology. But, who knows, it could be right around the corner.
A few years ago I had the idea for SMS dating in a bar. The technology would enable people to have an online profile and then when they were within proximity to another person that matched their profile, the system would notify them. It would be great for coffee shops, bars, etc. It’s sense been built to some degree by some folks in Europe and Japan, but has not had much widespread use. Why match.com or a similar property hasn’t done this is curious.
Today I was scanning Citysearch.com for a suitable place to host my friends to meet up for my upcoming birthday. Citysearch is one of my more favorite city guides as it still adds some editorial content, but I still feel that the city guide space online has been dead for a while. There are a lot of great sites where businesses can either post their information for a fee or for free and there are of course the newspaper versions, but nothing that really provides the definitive source for where to go, where to play. Following this need to know what’s hot, other sites have popped up that are more focused on getting the masses to provide feedback, such as Yelp.com. These are great, but overall are noisy with their design and difficult to get through the rants and determine the legitimate insight.
Then it dawned on me, why couldn’t you combine mobile phones location based services and one of these sites. A wireless carrier for example could provide the data that says where users are located. You could then feed this data through a system like Google Maps and show where there are large clusters. Now, filter it through only a listing of known entertainment venues and you’d see what places are happening on any given night. Over time, you could track this by date and average it to see what places are really hot. You could even monitor trends and be able to illustrate what places are up and coming vs. dying out.
As I walked to the grocery store today, I thought again about the infamous meter maid. It dawned on me that as these metropolitan wi-fi networks are deployed, the city could leverage this network to provide many new services that could either increase revenue for the city or lower costs. One thought is to change the meters to take a credit card (or some form of future electronic payment). The meter could validate the card through the metro wi-fi network and run off a solar panel and battery. They already have an electronic parking meter for the cellular networks, but I’m guessing that a wi-fi version would be cheaper.
Also, imagine all the outdoor vendors that could process credit cards through mobile devices. Making the Internet ubiquitous should prove interesting.
Update 1-11-2007: A few days ago I was in Hong Kong and saw a parking meter that used their ubiquitous Octopus card. This RFID smart card made it very easy to pay for parking, something every city in the world should adopt.
An additional example of use for the Octopus card:
Almost a year ago, the little firefly hit the wireless scene with its lively glow and child accessibility. It’s a phone for kids. It makes it really easy to call mom and dad, and for mom and dad to call their kid. It’s got only a few buttons to keep things simple and provides complete parental control. As a wireless geek, I have to comment on what I think is one of the cutest gadgets I’ve seen. It’s got to be one of the coolest toys in Toys R Us now. And with any first generation device, there are a lot of other things this phone could do in the future. While I don’t have kids today, I was one and remember how my over protective mom always wanted to know how I was. Having lived in two households, I also know how valuable it is to the kid to have a way to reach both parents whenever they want. Below outlines my initial thoughts on the current product and ideas for Firefly Mobile’s future.
The 911 button is a great start. Add a GPS to the phone so that you can offer the e911 service that allows our 911 centers to better determine the callers position without requiring their input, and you’re really set. As I see it, with kids there are a million possibly scenarios of them getting themselves into trouble or it finding them. I’d go beyond 911 & e911 and add an alarm function that blasts a high pitched alarm sound when activated. This could be used for those situations where they’re stuck in something or even worse, someone is trying to take them somewhere they don’t want to go. None of these measures handles all situations a kid could find themselves in, but the more mitigated the better.
Presence has become a popular term and concept with the advent of instant messaging. Most versions now even show when the person is on their computer versus a mobile phone and some are getting smart enough to tell the difference between someone at home and at work. But, what about true presence? This is a valuable concept when it comes to parents. Knowing where your kids are can be invaluable to a little comfort while at work. The next generation firefly needs to better integrate the GPS technology available today. The firefly should not only let parents call their kids, but should let them know where they are and notify them if they leave a predefined safe zone. Learn more. This is the key feature of the Wherifone by Wherify Wireless.
As our wireless infrastructure and technology advances, so will our abilities to communicate. It seems to me that mom or dad would much rather see their little ones face then simply hear their voice. My bet is that we’ll see versions of these kids phones in the short future that allow video to be sent and received. Imagine what a parent would pay to see their kids smiling face at lunch time. Thankfully, these aren’t for teens! Imagine having your mom trying to see what you’re up to…
- Quick Messages or Alerts – provide parents the capability to send a text message to their child reminding them of something they need to do or where they’re suppose to be; could be SMS or email
- Calendar Function – kids schedules are almost as crazy as a business executive; keeping track of it all could be easy with a web based calendar that sych’d with the phone similar to Danger’s Hiptop
- Games – can’t we let them have snakes at least! make them cherish it so it doesn’t get lost easily
- Lights, Camera, Action! – why can’t they have a way to take pictures and send them with little messages to mom, dad and the grandparents
…more as I think of them.
Mobile Virtual Network Operator, or more simply MVNO. It seems the buzz would have you believe that within a few years we’ll all be carrying Captain Crunch, Corona or Pepsi mobile phones. Maybe we well. Seems kind of fun to me. As our global society continues to be obsessed with promoting the hottest brands on everything we own from our feet to our ears, why not have a branded cell phone that goes beyond just the case! I have two thoughts on this subject. One, I think the carriers need to take control of this more or they’re going to loose out on more revenue then they need to and two, big brand companies out there like Louis Vuitton and Disney could take the experience much further.
Let’s start with the carriers. The infrastructure costs related not only to the networks themselves but also the customer management and billing systems is enormous. It seems a waste to make the MVNO build out this infrastructure or worse yet give up this potential outsourcing revenue to a third party such as Visage Mobile, who will provide these systems for the MVNO to integrate with whatever carrier they’d like. The carriers themselves should setup their systems to be flexible enough to manage these MVNOs and take a large cut of the revenue rather then just the whole sale rates of the network usage. Additionally, economies of scale can be created by leveraging large call centers to support multiple MVNOs keeping the costs down for everyone.
Regarding the MVNO’s themselves I think the big opportunity is integration. Let’s take the Louis Vuitton brand for example. If they were to create an MVNO that was super high end, they could not only drive customers to their stores and product lines, but create a need for increased purchases. For example, if LV setup the service to be high-touch customers would be coming in to their store every time they had a problem or wanted to change their plan. Now, given the market, I’d jack up the price of those cell phones to the point that they were disposable so that when that customer walks in with a problem the store person just gives them a new phone and sends them on their way. Not to mention make sure they have the latest mobile holder that came out this week. Big brands becoming MVNO’s open up lot’s of opportunities to better integrate themselves with their customers. They can immediately increase customer insight on buying habits, etc. by monitoring their calls and or web sites visited from their mobile phone (all in aggregate of course to protect privacy). Additionally, they have a way not to directly contact their customer based on their preferences. For example, Disney could do everything from send SMS coupons for Disney Land to the latest program guide for ABC’s lineup.
I’m still looking forward to Apple coming out with a mobile phone and possibly an MVNO play too, but I’m even more curious about when The Quaker Oats Co. is going to have Captain Crunch cell phones for kids!
Having worked in the wireless industry for some time, it’s always amazed me by how painful and expensive a process it is to change plans and features for your mobile phone service. There is a lot of missed revenue on the table and some that just doesn’t see a profit because of the way it was turned on. Here’s an example, you have a new customer activation that does not include SMS (text messaging). This customer later has a friend trying to text them, but can’t get through. They then decide they want this service. Now, this service may bring in anywhere from $36/year to $1200 a year, but more likely it’s going to be on the lower end until the customer gets into it. So, why use an expensive call center transaction or even more expensive an in-store transaction when the phones themselves have the capability to perform these transactions. Why doesn’t the customer just receive that text message, but for them to read it, require them to sign up for a SMS plan. They could do this all from responding to text messages on their mobile phone, or accessing a secure web site. Want to upgrade your minute plan? Simple, just send a text to “upgrade” and follow the prompts.
At first glance of this opportunity to provide a metropolitan WiFi network for San Francisco, one assumes that the provider would pay for it by either advertising or additional services (like a faster connection). But, after thinking about it longer, I believe Google wants to provide free (monitored) access to the Internet in order to improve their PageRank system.
Page Rank Explained – http://www.google.com/technology/
“PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”
Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search. Of course, important pages mean nothing to you if they don’t match your query. So, Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of the page’s content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it’s a good match for your query.”
Now, imagine if Google had access to millions of peoples Internet traffic and an ability to monitor every site everyone visits. This would allow them to determine which sites are truly popular, trends on when a site might be more popular (time focus like during an event), and what sites may naturally link to other sites (following a users surfing rather then a robot?s). Let?s use a BLOG as an example. If you had a link to a specific BLOG off of CNN.com, you may think that the BLOG is quite important (let?s assume it?s a non CNN property). However, if you can ?see? that 30% of visitors to CNN.com click through to this BLOG, you can likely assume it?s an important site and thus the PageRank should be high. Let?s take it a step further since you know everything that user is doing. On the one hand, if after those 30% of people click through to this BLOG, 99% of them are off it in less then a minute, then it?s probably not that good. Thus, you?d decrease the PageRank. But, if a large percentage of people that click through linger on that site for a significant amount of time (because they?re reading all of it and enjoying it), then you can really assume that this is a hot site and that you should increase it?s PageRank.
With this level of ?visibility? into the Internet and interests of all of us, Google?s search engine would provide even more relevant and popular results for your query.
By the way, SBC and Yahoo! Provide broadband together.