Touchpoint Observatory: SIM Card Vending Machine

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In Germany, mobile phone contracts are 24 months by default, not just for an iPhone. Additionally, there is a culture here whereby contracts are automatically renewed for a year (in some industries, two years) if you don’t quit the contract in writing, three months before the end of it. Of course, most people forget and hate their telco forever more. The telcos haven’t got their head around this yet.

Pre-pay accounts are, of course, a lot easier, but you usually have to provide some kind of ID. I saw this vending machine in Heathrow airport – the first time I’ve seen the possibility to just buy a SIM card without any human interaction and just start using it. The vending machine appeared to be provider neutral, with all the big networks represented. Interestingly, some of the SIMs were just data-only, which is a sign of the times for mobile telcos (VOIP killed roaming, so let’s sell them data instead).

It is also a reminder that SIM cards are really the only product that the mobile telcos sell. The handsets are sold by the manufacturers, subsidized by the telcos (who also get a cut, of course). Telephony is pure service.

Do you shutdown or sleep?

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(Photo: Paul Watson)

What’s the emotional difference between shutting your computer down and putting to sleep? Or turning your phone onto silent mode instead of switching it off?

I need some input from you all (aka comments) on this one.

I’m interested in this because I’m thinking about the idea of closure when it comes to interactive experiences. Stories end, usually, with a return to equilibrium and it feels irksome when they don’t. Everyone has had the experience of watching a film and suddenly the credits roll and you think, “Huh? Was that it?” (with the exception of French and Japanese films where nothing actually happens anyway).

What makes you stop interacting with something? Is it getting the task done? Is it boredom? The bus arriving? What’s the emotional feeling at the end of it?

I feel sure there is an emotional difference between turning your computer or phone off as opposed to sleeping/muting it. There is definitely an emotional reaction when it shuts down or crashes of its own accord.

What’s your take on this? Do you have any examples of this be handled, managed, designed in good or bad ways?

Pinger – Voice-based Twitter?

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Pinger is doing the rounds of Twitterland at the moment. It’s a service that allows you to send voice messages to one or a group of people anywhere from a local number. It’s not new to be able to do this on some networks and some phones, but they’ve made it easy and cross-network and country.

They’ve presented it as a kind of voice-based text-messeging, but I can imagine it might get used like Twitter too.

On the plus side, I can imagine it would be very useful if you were trying to organise some kind of gathering, either impromptu or making changes to a previously organised one.

On the negative side I can imagine an increase in voice spam from either your friends or marketing baddies.

Any thoughts?

The Changing Culture of Mobile Phones

In France at least (which is good, because we usually only get a very Anglo-Saxon view of these things).

Experientia have translated the summary of a report by The French Association of Mobile Operators on the changing culture of mobile phone usage.

Some of the really interesting points are about mobiles becoming collective items passed around social groups (in response to free talk-time packages) as well as the nature of and relationship to the devices on an emotional/cultural level.

It’s all interesting and you should have a read in detail and it’s fascinating to see how culture takes up tools and plays with their affordances. This last point about the taking of photos with mobiles was interesting to me:

The mobile phone is seen as a “average medium” that renews amateur photo and film practice.

Mobile phone images are viewed as precarious images, often of uncertain quality, not to be printed and not be shared between devices. These images always call up a description of something one should see. They serve to create memories and to prove that one really was present at the event one is talking about (e.g. a concert, a celebrity passing by …).

Mobile phone images are integrated within several reference frameworks that preceded the phone: the journalism of the everyday and one’s own life, spontaneous family images as opposed to fake happiness, the sensationalism that comes with having to set up brief, clear, efficient and striking acts.

More spectacular scenes can raise the challenge by bringing in the grotesque, the playful, the macabre, even violence. This is what lead to the videos gags, the MTV Jackass and the so-called ‘snuff movies’. The aggressions filmed on a mobile phone are one of the most recent expressions of this (although the expression ‘happy slapping’ was not used by any of the people interviewed within this study).

I’m not sure who did the translation (the blog post doesn’t show the author), but I’m guessing it was Mark Vanderbeeken who maintains Experientia. I can’t thank him enough, my schoolboy French would have bee soon out of its depth and drowning in a sea of declensions.

[tags]mobile, photography, Experientia[/tags]

John Gruber on the iPhone

John Gruber is one of the few Apple advocates that writes with intelligent consideration rather than just being an over-enthused fanboy. He has just written a pretty smart analysis of the Apple iPhone pricing, which Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer lambasted.

Before the iPhone was announced I was in a meeting with some folks at Fjord in which the team were discussing applications for various phones. Like many who regularly browse mobile phone shops to see what’s going on, I have long been thinking that there are simply just too many. But what struck me in the Fjord meeting was just how many different interfaces and products even one manufacturer made.

Compared to the iPod it seemed absurd. Sure there have been various generations of the iPod, but they have all pretty much been minor variations on a theme. The iPhone, as Gruber says, is more complex, but basically an iPod that also does a whole lot more.

All the different phones around are due to some misguided market segmentation, I believe. Much smarter would be to make a product with a broad appeal. Gruber makes a good point here:

Why worry about the iPhone’s appeal to corporate IT? The iPod isn’t marketed to businesses and Apple has sold 100 million of them. The iPod is marketed to people, and the iPhone is, too. RIM sold 2 million BlackBerry devices in its most recent quarter; Apple sold 10.5 million iPods in the same period.

And there’s a huge, fundamental difference between these two markets. Businesses, typically, want to buy the cheapest things possible for their employees to use. When buying for themselves, people want to buy the nicest things they can afford.

Personally I’d rather see less flavours of phones from Nokia and, instead, one or two really well designed ones each year. Much smarter to get everyone to love the one thing you make rather than make a whole spread of things badly.

The Black Box Interface

The Black Box   Black Box interface ideas

As most of us know, phones don’t make brilliant music players or games machines. Sure, they can do that stuff, but the 0 to 9 buttons, tiny screen and perhaps a joystick are not the best interfaces. At present most mobile interfaces mimic desktop operating systems. They have a little folder and file icons that you have to navigate through. Most of them leave a lot to be desired.

So what if you made a black box that could do anything and was simply a touch-screen? That’s the idea behind this concept phone from BenQ which just won an iF Design award.

Apart from its multi-modal interface and decent typography, it’s nice to see something playful on there (the carp in the pond, which presumably is some kind of screensaver).

The only problem is that it’s so nice and glossy and techno looking that it’s going to become all scratched and nasty. It’s a common theme with new technologies, which is why I like Hulger’s collaboration with leather designer Bill Amberg. Leather looks better the more it is used and it also becomes more personal. There is still some thinking to be done in this area.

Via Mobiface.

Mobile and Home phone convergence

So, Orange just announced their new Orange Unique service, a convergence of home phone, mobile phone and broadband. The question is, will their customer service match the product?

It’s not that radically different from BT’s Fusion service, though I think you get more. Here’s the Orange Unique low-down:

  • Inclusive calls from home, over your broadband connection
  • Up to six Unique phones per home, and up to three people can make calls at once, even when you’re surfing the Internet
  • Dedicated customer helpline for registration and support
  • Fast broadband connection up to 8 meg. Top speeds vary due to your distance from your local exchange
  • From £50 a month including broadband package and free phone

It’s still not quite a Wi-Fi phone and mobile and landline all in one, but it’s close. I’d like a phone like the Vonage Wi-Fi ones (that can hook into almost any Wi-Fi network) as well as it hooking into my home network and mobile. But it’s pretty close and the multiple phone connections are great news. I wish they had it here in Germany though.

So, a dedicated customer helpline for Unique? Hope it works better than their normal customer helpline and why not just get this stuff right across the board?

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