Commercial Whiplash: Nokia, carriers, and why Canada is still full of crap mobiles

On Nokia’s shrinking North American market share: “(Samsung & others) were quick to meet carriers’ customization demands, an area in which Nokia proved reluctant.” (http://bit.ly/zuSN).

But this is precisely why Nokia ought to be lauded – for its efforts in putting out handsets that straddle grids/networks (3g/wi-fi) and balancing different interaction design models in the same devices (creators+consumers, and their inevitable Web 2.0 hybrids). The N97 is out now soon [thanks Roland!] (as is the much awaited N96). Both of these are weighted heavily on the media creators’ side of things (for media creators, camera quality, rather than a touch screen, is premium, and Nokia must know this, or it would’ve gone to the extra bother of putting a touch screen in the N97, sacrificing who-knows-what. [CORRECTION, Jan 5 2009: sloppy reading on my part – it does have a touch screen, though it’s not a front stage feature of this handset, as confirmed at Mobile Review.].

Why should the carriers be allowed to influence the design of multiplatform devices? They aren’t their end users. Their sole relation to the handest is, seemingly, to coerce people into buying plans of various shapes and sizes. Thus, their influence helps shape handsets using a logic born of advertising and seduction/coercion techniques (and then further, techniques to induce users into using the devices in ways that turn uncomplicated profits) – not genuine interest in how users proactively seek their own tools of creation (and destruction). This benefits no one except the carriers themselves.

I think Nokia gets this.

The real problem is that Canadian wireless carriers don’t care if their user base consists of any media creators. Rather, they’re probably scared of that prospect, just like the music industry is still scared of amateurs. This is why upload rates are typically throttled as compared to download rates, and it’s why Rogers and others keep peddling handsets that in any other country would be laughed at, gonged off stage, and tossed in a landfill.

Personally I’ll stay out of buying a new handset until we see more severe trickle down of advanced features, and some reasonable data plans without a 2 year commitment in this IT ghetto called Canada. But here’s hoping Nokia doesn’t start pulling its resources out of North America, as some have speculated (see above-linked article).

I’m frankly tired of being treated by carriers as an unproductive media eater, a “pocket potato”, if you will. Bring on the dancing handsets (irrelevant link, just for fun, love that song).

Mesh Potato, Community Wireless, Design by Constraint

I’m hyped about Mesh Potato and I am aiming to be involved in their project in whatever way I can be useful, whether via some connection to Mobile Muse, or just plain old twit-and-post evangelism.

Mesh Potato is an Open Hardware project to create a wireless (mesh) access point that can function as an independent cellular phone network. The goal is to enable groups around the world to offer affordable voice and data services to small communities that cannot afford existing service from the major telcos (or who must use exorbitant but low barrier to entry pay-as-you-go services).

Also quite cool – the design principles underlying their project and goals. By way of Roland I read this article by Steve Song who recounts the strategy, inspired by Ethan Zuckerman’s idea of Innovating From Constraint:

With the Village Telco, we have a wireless project that has a number of self-imposed constraints.

  1. Get pay-as-you-go voice services right.  Data services are a given on a wireless platform but the one thing we want to make bullet-proof is affordable, simple-to-bill voice services.
  2. Make a telco as simple to set up as a wordpress blog.  Wireless meshes, least-cost-routing, etc.  Let’s make as much of that complexity disappear into default behaviours that can be tweaked as the owner/entrepreneur becomes more comfortable with the product.
  3. Be as open as possible.  This is more of a philosophical than a practical constraint.  We believe we can attract maximum participation by making software and hardware as open as possible.  We believe that Open Hardware strategies devices like the Mesh Potato can change the way people think about hardware.
  4. Break even in six months.  The technology ought to be cheap enough and easy enough to deploy that anyone with a reasonable head for business could have recouped their investment and be making a profit in six months.

Simplicity, rather than constraint, seems to be the operative theme here. Still, as a musical aside, this recalls for me Eno’s Oblique Strategies, which is similar in principle (limiting options to incite creative thinking), but which operates on aesthetic endeavor (which is about much more than “problem solving”, ultimately).

Hot potato, hot potato, sez my daughter.

FTSE-footsi

Yes, of course the title references the song by Wire (or Wir as they were called for that album).

An interesting article popped up in the Guardian speculating about the current upheaval in world trading and finance, specifically about the implications for the tech industry. Several trends are pointed out – two of those implications might be quite beneficial to many, if of real predictive value: (1) a trend toward open source solutions and (2) potentially more venture capital for startups due to its removal from the stock market and from sectors that are being hit hardest by the crisis.

Stop it, Jean. Stop flirting with crystal ball-gazing. And don’t panic.

Twittering the Election, SIFTing Media Collections

If you haven’t seen this already, then go check it out. Terse political opinions fly by with impunity. What to do, what to do…and how does media theory speak to this? I can anticipate hundreds of approaches, from critical political economy to social constructivism to what-have-you … but then again, I’m directly implicated in the construction of these very tools, for better or for worse.

Case in point – if you can imagine a media rich version of this, then you might be interested in what Mobile Muse (in partnership with the affable people at Raincity Studios) has been working on for the past little while: the Social Information Feed Tracker (SIFT) Tool. Currently in beta, this application allows SMS and social media from sites like Youtube and Flickr to be aggregated in custom channels. More functionality is being added as we speak – watch for a full public announcement of this and other Mobile Muse innovations very shortly…

Android

Exciting times. Right on the heels of our Open Mobile event, the first Google Android handset has been released on T Mobile – the HTC Dream, announced just this morning in NYC.

And it’s wi-fi (!!!)

Now if only I had an in over at HTC, or if a Canadian provider had this handset available – I’ve been using their 6800s a bit on Bell. Any rumours going around about Rogers or Fido picking this up, perhaps? Anyone?

Of course, the most hilarious bit in all this is that it’s the first open platform handset, but it’s “locked” to the T-Mobile network. Maybe T-Mobile doesn’t quite understand that paradox?

Open Mobile

I’m presenting a keynote this Sunday for an event called Open Mobile, presented in part by Mobile Muse as part of New Forms Festival 2008. I’m co-presenting with Roland Tanglao and Jesse Scott (artist info here), who will be my visual accompanists. But hopefully their visuals will override and scramble my messages such that the audience comes away more confused than I am going in. No, seriously. It should be a good opportunity to talk about mobiles with a highly creative audience, fresh from ArtCamp and other New Forms goings-on.

Here’s the abstract for my talk in draft form:

Opening Mobiles, Community Activation and the One Wireless Web
It was once said that the Sony Walkman, not love, would tear us apart. Contrary to these claims about mobile privatization, whereby individuating technologies are said to produce alienated populations running around in mobile media cocoons, and for some quite unexpectedly, the diffusion of advanced mobile devices and applications offers new opportunities to build and activate communities, invoking a radical reconstruction of media, art production, intellectual property, and public space. Ubiquitous, open, mobile, and accessible internetworking technologies, heralded by portable wi-fi devices such as the Nokia N95 or Apple’s iPhone, will enable us to continue the legacy of our tethered social media cloud – media sharing, wikis, tagging, twemes – in a radically different space than we’re used to (or one that we’ve simply forgotten about somewhat): public space. This is contested terrain, with a complex political economy, but the potential for a ubiquitous mobile web is now too alluring to ignore. This talk will navigate the mobile web space with one eye on media history and political economy, and another eye on the accompanying VJ screen, to assess how the speaker’s messages are being scrambled while this all unfolds.

Check out the Open Mobile Eventbrite page for more details about speakers, times, location and so forth.

Update: Here’s a compressed PDF of my presentation. I’ll post a link to the video later on…

Car V. Bike pre-test :: Nokia Sportstracker and Qik

Today Roland and I mounted our Nokias (running Qik and Nokia Sportstracker Beta) on our bike helmets and rode around False Creek (see this map of our route, and see my Qikstream here). Due to rain, Scott (who was to supply our connectivity on a third bike, pulling a trailer containing a wifi mesh router connected to a WiMAX modem) bailed, but we took the trip anyway (for those who have no idea why we did this, click here and here for some back story)

The handsets (an N82 and an N95) both crap out after 25 minutes of Qik video recording (the phones store the video in RAM I believe), and with nowhere to upload the video to (no wi-fi, no data plan), the video cameras simply go into standby.

I used a velcro strap designed for the iPod Nano to secure my N82, and we used a combination of grip tape and duct tape to affix Roland’s N95. IMHO this gives an excellent POV, which is more or less shock resistant (as it’s got that wonderful spinal thing helping keep everything fluid [good thing I got some kundalini in yesterday], but makes the cameras impossible to operate. So you have to get apps running first, then lock the keypad, then mount it in the helmet without locking up the camera or obscuring the lens. A better alternative would be to use Gorilla Pods (or some homemade facsimile), which I think we’ll have to do next week.

Roland’s Nokia sportstracker data uploaded without a hitch (the map link above) over EDGE, while mine has been experiencing issues for a few days now over wi-fi. Any pointers on how to get past the “uploading to service” hang in NSB would be very helpful. Update – I managed to get around it – see comment below, and see my map here.

I see I’ve angled my camera too far down – it’s actually angled the same as Roland’s, but my handlebars are racing style, so my head actually leans down more than his. Chalk that up to first time glitches.

Also of note – the N82 survived about 20 minutes of moderate rain. It got soaked and kept on ticking.

Anyway, check back for an update when we’ve tested out the WiMAX setup. You can also tune into the Car v Bike event next Sunday, June 15, here.

MOSHING (Mobile Social Health Informatics ‘N Google)

Just two days before I posted at Mobile Muse about social media mashups around health information, Google announced their Health API and Health Data API. So it looks as though some of the pieces are already in place for the development of tools for managing health information on a personal mobile computing device. As the logical social media annex of this sort of enterprise is such a bleeding edge concept, though – mobile social health media, that is – one has to wonder whether the important questions around who will obtain benefit from such applications (and how they will obtain it, and why they should) will get due consideration prior to the development of said apps.

Anyway, it’s late and I need my beauty rest for Vidfest tomorrow. Not to mention Grant McCracken‘s talk. I’ll twitter ye as she unfolds. And hopefully I can still grab a ticket to M.I.A. this Sunday … y’know, do some of that other sorter moshing.

Real time GPS tracking on the Nokia N95

I exercise 5 days a week, and much of this is running. While I can be found in local gyms on occasion, I try to do as much of this running as possible for free. For in using a treadmill, with its diligent, brainless constancy, I subjugate my running activity to the Gestell of its designers and the networks of people and things that maintain that thing as a predictable machine, and me as its consumer. I become some totally useless, galloping form of what Heidegger calls Bestand in the process.

Enter GPS and Google Maps, which together offer tangible, and ludicrous alternatives to the regimentation of gym apparati. With these marvels of our age I can, in theory, monitor and regulate my own running, and in doing so keep costs down, like the careful consumer I am. And what the hey, biofeedback loops are funnest when they involve sending data approximately 20,000 kilometres into space and back again, then across 2000 kilometres of Internet and back again to my Macbook Pro so I can enjoy a bunch of flashing lights and icons. In short, could I use my phone to log my jog?

Well, work colludes with life this week as Scott and I explore various GPS trackers for the Nokia N95. We are looking specifically for something we can deploy for a rally between a smart car and a bicycle as part of Mobile Muse‘s platform demonstration at Car Free Vancouver Day this year (Sunday June 15th).

I’m sorry to report that I’ve tried out two of them, and both failed.

Nokia Sportstracker beta didn’t work for me at all. It’s basically a heavyweight stopwatch. A stopwatch that works just fine, but that doesn’t do anything else.

MapMyTracks has an excellent website, where one can replay one’s movement on a detailed map with ease. But unfortunately, the phone app seems to go haywire at unpredictable intervals. The stop watch and distance meter ran fine until 2.56 km on my run today, then all the numbers froze. Plus, it was constantly looking for a new wi-fi hookup, which was most irritating. I came home and checked out my My Tracks page and found that the site only recorded two truncated runs : one that crashes the java applet that shows you the movie of your run, and a second one that is only 0.5 kilometres long (my daily run is about 7K).

Back to the drawing board…