kottke.org posts about telephony
Edward Snowden and Bunnie Huang are working on a system to help smartphone users determine whether their phones can be tracked. Their aim is to protect journalists from being detected while they're in the field.
National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has been working with prominent hardware hacker Andrew "Bunnie" Huang to solve this problem. The pair are developing a way for potentially imperiled smartphone users to monitor whether their devices are making any potentially compromising radio transmissions. They argue that a smartphone's user interface can't be relied to tell you the truth about that state of its radios. Their initial prototyping work uses an iPhone 6.
"We have to ensure that journalists can investigate and find the truth, even in areas where governments prefer they don't," Snowden told me in a video interview. "It's basically to make the phone work for you, how you want it, when you want it, but only when."
They are calling the device an introspection engine:1
Snowden and Huang are calling this device an "introspection engine" because it will inspect the inner-workings of the phone. The device will be contained inside a battery case, looking similar to a smartphone with an extra bulky battery, except with its own screen to update the user on the status of the radios. Plans are for the device to also be able to sound an audible alarm and possibly to also come equipped with a "kill switch" that can shut off power to the phone if any radio signals are detected. "The core principle is simple," they wrote in the blog post. "If the reporter expects radios to be off, alert the user when they are turned on."
Huang also announced today that he's suing the US government over Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act:
Section 1201 means that you can be sued or prosecuted for accessing, speaking about, and tinkering with digital media and technologies that you have paid for. This violates our First Amendment rights, and I am asking the court to order the federal government to stop enforcing Section 1201.
If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can buy the BLU R1 HD smartphone for only $50 (or double the memory and RAM for $10 more). The phone is unlocked so you don't need to sign a 2-year phone contract, but Amazon's ads and product offers display on the lock screen (just like they do for the Kindle). According to Joanna Stern at the WSJ, it's no iPhone or Galaxy, but it's great for the price.
No, the R1 doesn't feel or look like a premium phone, but it also doesn't feel like something you'd find on a Toys "R" Us shelf. The metal frame and the touch screen's curved edges give it a weighty feel, while the black plastic casing is more firm Coke bottle than flimsy ShopRite water bottle. Even the power and volume buttons have a satisfying click.
The 5-inch, 720p screen is very bright and viewable at multiple angles, even outdoors. It's not as crisp as the 1080p displays you'll get on $200 Moto G4 or Honor 5X, but again...$50.
In only 9 years, we've gone from smartphones with touchscreens being magical to companies nearly giving them away. Back in 2009, John Walkenbach predicted that Kindles would be free by sometime in 2011.
The price for Amazon's Kindle 2 has dropped again. It started at $359, and then was reduced to $299 last July. Now it's $259.
If this price trend continues, it will be free by June, 2011. I'm actually serious about this. At some point, the Kindle will be free. It will probably be before June, 2011.
The cheapest Kindle is currently $80, so we haven't quite gotten there yet. Which is a bit puzzling now that I'm thinking about it again. Amazon is famous for playing the long game. If compare the cost to giving away a free Kindle (or highly subsidized higher-end Kindle) to every Prime member who signs up or re-ups for two years vs. a) the revenue gained from the ebooks purchased by those customers, b) the revenue from new Prime members, and c) being able to offer a package which is basically free shipping on all Amazon orders + Netflix + Spotify + a ton of free books + a free Kindle...that's gotta make good economic sense for them, right? I mean, unless so many Prime users already have Kindles that giving them to those that don't doesn't make sense.
Anyway, it'll be an interesting race...will the smartphone beat the Kindle to free? (via df)
From Kevin Slavin and Bunnie Huang on location in Shenzhen, China, a look at what changes when you stop designing phones for companies and start designing them for people. You end up with a variety of phones satisfying different desires, from tiny phones that double as Bluetooth earpieces to phones that look like a race car or a pack of cigarettes or a soda can to phones with built-in lamps.
A spin around the internet reveals many more examples of these kinds of phones: flashlight phones, lighter phones, phones with up to 4 SIM slots, super-rugged phones w/ walkie talkie capability, credit card-sized phones, watch phones, and USB key phones. (via @triciawang)
In the NYT, Sherry Turkle provides the backup data to confirm what you already know about the digital age: Stop Googling. Let's Talk.
Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel ... Even a silent phone disconnects us.
Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children, from Jane Brody in the NY Times:
Parents, grateful for ways to calm disruptive children and keep them from interrupting their own screen activities, seem to be unaware of the potential harm from so much time spent in the virtual world.
In reply, John Hermann writing at The Awl:
The grandparent who is persuaded that screens are not destroying human interaction, but are instead new tools for enabling fresh and flawed and modes of human interaction, is left facing a grimmer reality. Your grandchildren don't look up from their phones because the experiences and friendships they enjoy there seem more interesting than what's in front of them (you). Those experiences, from the outside, seem insultingly lame: text notifications, Emoji, selfies of other bratty little kids you've never met. But they're urgent and real. What's different is that they're also right here, always, even when you thought you had an attentional claim. The moments of social captivity that gave parents power, or that gave grandparents precious access, are now compromised. The TV doesn't turn off. The friends never go home. The grandkids can do the things they really want to be doing whenever they want, even while they're sitting five feet away from grandma, alone, in a moving soundproof pod.
As a writer for screens, someone who spends a tremendous amount of time each day staring at screens, and an involved parent of two grade-schoolers, this is precisely where my professional and personal lives meet, so I've done a bit of thinking about this recently. Here's what I've come up with and am attempting to actually believe:
People on smartphones are not anti-social. They're super-social. Phones allow people to be with the people they love the most all the time, which is the way humans probably used to be, until technology allowed for greater freedom of movement around the globe. People spending time on their phones in the presence of others aren't necessarily rude because rudeness is a social contract about appropriate behavior and, as Hermann points out, social norms can vary widely between age groups. Playing Minecraft all day isn't necessarily a waste of time. The real world and the virtual world each have their own strengths and weaknesses, so it's wise to spend time in both.
The full story is behind a paywall,1 but the WSJ's The Inside Story of How the iPhone Crippled BlackBerry is kind of amazing. The piece is an excerpt from Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry.
The next day Mr. Lazaridis grabbed his co-CEO Jim Balsillie at the office and pulled him in front of a computer.
"Jim, I want you to watch this," he said, pointing to a webcast of the iPhone unveiling. "They put a full Web browser on that thing. The carriers aren't letting us put a full browser on our products."
Mr. Balsillie's first thought was RIM was losing AT&T as a customer. "Apple's got a better deal," Mr. Balsillie said. "We were never allowed that. The U.S. market is going to be tougher."
"These guys are really, really good," Mr. Lazaridis replied. "This is different."
"It's OK -- we'll be fine," Mr. Balsillie responded.
RIM's chiefs didn't give much additional thought to Apple's iPhone for months. "It wasn't a threat to RIM's core business," says Mr. Lazaridis's top lieutenant, Larry Conlee. "It wasn't secure. It had rapid battery drain and a lousy [digital] keyboard."
"RIM's chiefs didn't give much additional thought to Apple's iPhone for months."
"RIM's chiefs didn't give much additional thought to Apple's iPhone for months."
"RIM's chiefs didn't give much additional thought to Apple's iPhone for months."
Oof. (via @craigmod)
Since iOS 7 came out in 2013, your iPhone's Location Services has included a little-known feature called Frequent Locations, which keeps very detailed track of every distinct location you visit. How detailed? This, precisely, was when I was in my apartment over a three-day period last month:
All told, my phone recorded all 33 different locations I've visited in NYC since April 15, including 84 visits to my apartment and 54 visits to my office, down to the minute and a ~130-foot radius. The feature is on by default if you've got Location Services switched on, so you can find your information by opening the Settings app and going to Privacy > Location Services > System Services (at the bottom) > Frequent Locations. You can also turn the feature off if you wish.
Apple says the feature is used to learn your favorite places and the data is kept only on the phone:
Your iPhone will keep track of places you have recently been, as well as how often and when you visited them, in order to learn places that are significant to you. This data is kept solely on your device and won't be sent to Apple without your consent. It will be used to provide you with personalized services, such as predictive traffic routing.
It's likely that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and the NSA (until recently) are collecting this same sort of data about you regardless of what sort of phone you use, except that these organizations do not share Apple's public commitment to privacy. (via @dunstan)
Roger Pasquier hunts for coins on NYC sidewalks and keeps track of how much he finds. He discovered an odd consequence of everyone having a smartphone: people don't pick up change on the sidewalk anymore.
From 1987 to 2006, he averaged about fifty-eight dollars a year. Then Apple introduced the iPhone, and millions of potential competitors started to stare at their screens rather than at the sidewalks. Since 2007, Pasquier has averaged just over ninety-five dollars a year.
I know, I know, that's anecdotal and correlation != causation and whatever, but that's an interesting theory.
Some sort of embargo seems to have lifted because here come the Apple Watch reviews! As I'm unanointed by Apple, I haven't experienced Apple Watch in the flesh, but I do have a few random thoughts and guesses.
John Gruber notes that why Apple made a watch is different from why they made the iPhone. People were generally dissatisfied with their mobile phones (I know I was) so Apple made one that was much better. But people who wear current watches like them.
But as Ive points out, this time, the established market -- watches -- is not despised. They not only don't suck, they are beloved.
I'm one of the watch non-wearers Gruber discusses elsewhere in his review; I haven't worn a watch since my Swatch band broke when I was 17. Part of the reason I don't wear a watch is they look hideous. The more expensive watches get, the uglier they are. Have you seen the watch ads in the New Yorker or Vogue? Garish nasty looking objects. And men's watches are generally massive, built for lumberjacks, linebackers, and other manly men, not for dainty-wristed gentlemen like myself. I tried on a regular men's Rolex some years ago and it looked like I'd strapped a gold-plated Discman on my wrist.
I know, I know, not all watches. The point is that for me, Apple Watch looks like something I would consider wearing on a regular basis -- imagining myself living in Steve Jobs' living room has always been more my speed than J.P. Morgan's library.1
The subtle notifications possible with Apple Watch (taps, drawings, heartbeats) are very interesting. Also from Gruber's review:
You're 16. You're in school. You're sitting in class. You have a crush on another student -- you've fallen hard. You can't stop thinking about them. You suspect the feelings are mutual -- but you don't know. You're afraid to just come right out and ask, verbally -- afraid of the crushing weight of potential rejection. But you both wear an Apple Watch. So you take a flyer and send a few taps. And you wait. Nothing in response. Dammit. Why are you so stupid? Whoa -- a few taps are sent in return, along with a hand-drawn smiley face. You send more taps. You receive more taps back. This is it. You send your heartbeat. It is racing, thumping. Your crush sends their heartbeat back.
In 2005, I wrote about a feature I called sweethearting:
Pings would be perfect for situations when texting or a phone call is too time consuming, distracting, or takes you out of the flow of your present experience. If you call your husband on the way home from work every night and say the same thing each time, perhaps a ping would be better...you wouldn't have to call and your husband wouldn't have to stop what he was doing to answer the phone. You could even call it the "sweetheart ping" or "sweethearting"...in the absence of a prearranged "ping me when you're leaving", you could ping someone to let them know you're thinking about them.
Like I said elsewhere in that post, this stuff always makes me think about Matt Webb's Glancing project:
Glancing: An application to allow ultra-simple, non-verbal communication amongst groups of friends online.
It's a desktop application that you use with a group of other people. It lets you "glance" at them in idle moments, and it gives all of you an indication of the activity of glancing going on.
A group is intended to be less than a dozen people. A person may belong to several groups simultaneously by running separate instances of Glancing. Groups are started deliberately, probably by using a www interface, and people are told the group secret so they can join (a "secret" is just a shared password).
But the thing that has struck me the most since the announcement of Apple Watch is the idea that if you're wearing one, you're going to be checking your devices a lot less. From TechCrunch last month:2
People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck.
One user told me that they nearly "stopped" using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don't, period. That's insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.
From Joshua Topolsky's review at Bloomberg:
I'm in a meeting with 14 people, in mid-sentence, when I feel a tap-tap-tap on my wrist. I stop talking, tilt my head, and whip my arm aggressively into view to see the source of the agitation. A second later, the small screen on my new Apple Watch beams to life with a very important message for me: Twitter has suggestions for people I should follow. A version of this happens dozens of times throughout the day-for messages, e-mails, activity achievements, tweets, and so much more. Wait a second. Isn't the promise of the Apple Watch to help me stay in the moment, focused on the people around me and undisturbed by the mesmerizing void of my iPhone? So why do I suddenly feel so distracted?
The promise of the Apple Watch is to make it more convenient to send & receive notifications and quick messages, although many of the reviews make it clear that Apple hasn't entirely succeeded in this. In the entire history of the world, if you make it easier for people to do something compelling, people don't do that thing less: they'll do it more. If you give people more food, they eat it. If you make it easier to get credit, people will use it. If you add another two lanes to a traffic-clogged highway, you get a larger traffic-clogged highway. And if you put a device on their wrist that makes it easier to communicate with friends, guess what? They're going to use the shit out of it, potentially way more than they ever used their phones.
Now, it's possible that Apple Watch doesn't make receiving notifications easier...instead, it may make controlling notifications easier. Like congestion pricing for your digital interactions. But that is generally not where technology has been taking us. Every new communications device and service -- the telegraph, telephone, internet, email, personal computer, SMS, smartphones, Facebook, Whatsapp, Slack,3 etc. etc. etc. -- makes it easier to 1) connect with more and more people in more and more ways, and 2) to connect with a few people more deeply. And I don't expect Apple Watch will break that streak. The software will get faster & better, the hardware will get cheaper & longer-lasting, and people will buy & love them & use them constantly.
P.S. While I didn't quote from it, The Verge review is great. But mainly I'm wondering...where are the reviews from the fashion world? I assume Vogue and other such magazines and media outlets received Apple Watches for review and their embargoes lifted as well, but after searching for a bit, I couldn't find any actual reviews. And only a single major review by a woman, Lauren Goode's at Re/code. If you run across any, let me know?
Update: Joanna Stern wrote a review for the WSJ with an emphasis on the fashion aspect. (via @trickartt)
Update: Executive editor Nicole Phelps wrote a review for style.com. (thx, louis-olivier)
If you're thinking of switching mobile carriers (b/c perhaps a certain fruit company is releasing new models), you should check Sensorly for "unbiased" coverage maps of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and even smaller companies like Metro PCS and US Cellular. Looks like the maps are somewhat inaccurate because they rely on contributions only from Sensorly app users. For example, there are large swaths of upper Manhattan and the Bronx which show coverage only along major roads. But still helpful to use beside the companies' official coverage maps. (via @ludacrisofficia)
Update: Rootmetrics also has coverage maps for the major carriers. (via @ropiku)
This year, your back-to-school shopping may have included more devices and downloads than pieces of attire. According to the NYT, today's teenagers favor tech over clothes. One retail analysts explains how his focus groups go these days: "You try to get them talking about what's the next look, what they're excited about purchasing in apparel, and the conversation always circles back to the iPhone 6."
A plan used to be simple: you would agree to meet someone at a certain time and place and then you would meet them there and then. Now, a plan is subject to all sorts of revisions because "cellphones make people flaky as #%@*".
A Plan: Once heralded as a firm commitment to an event in the future, a plan is now largely considered to be a string of noncommittal text messages leading up to a series of potential, though unlikely, events.
A Cellphone: Your primary device for making plans. More specifically, the medium with which most plans are conceived and later altered. It's imperative that you keep your cellphone on your person at all times, as you can expect all plans to dissolve into an amorphous cloud upon conception.
I have experienced this recently and am convinced this is partially a generational thing. If you spent any part of your 20s without a cellphone, the sort of thing described in the video happens a lot less. But this practice is also contagious, as most social behavior is...if you witness friends doing it, over time it becomes more acceptable to do it yourself.
Ooh, I really like the idea of this smartphone card game on Kickstarter: Game of Phones.
One player picks a card and gets to judge that round. They read the prompt to everyone else. Something like 'Find the best #selfie' or 'Show the last photo you took'. Everyone finds something on their phones and shows the judge, who gets to choose a winner for that round. First to win 10 rounds is the overall winner.
This is pretty much what people do when they get together anyway, why not make it a game?
Leave it to Werner Herzog to take the driver safety video to new heights. From One Second To The Next is a 35-minute documentary film by Herzog on the dangers of texting while driving.
Powerful stuff. Don't text while you're driving, okay? (via @brillhart)
Dillon Marsh photographs cell towers disguised (poorly) as trees.
There's one of these as you drive north out of NYC on the Hutch...it's twice as tall as any other tree in the area, like a redwood that got lost while visiting its grandparents back east.
I still remember the first time I saw a guy at a restaurant talking on one of those prehistorically massive cellphones. My dad leaned over and said, "Look at that poor guy. Never let that happen to you. Never take a job that's so all-consuming that you have to carry a phone around, even during lunch." A lot has changed since then (although I still often see a lot of validity in my dad's initial response to these devices) and in the forty years since Motorola engineer Martin Cooper made the first cellphone call. Wired takes a look back at the twelve cellphones that changed our world forever.
If a cellphone GPS system can't get a specific read on a device, the system will return a general location. For Sprint users in North Las Vegas, the general location returned is the home of Wayne Dobson, and over the last couple years, several people have knocked on his door looking for their phone with the Find My Phone feature. These situations are generally diffused when Dobson calls the police, and he's even invited people in to wait for the police to show up.
It's a more serious issue, though, because 911 dispatchers have also sent police to his house for domestic disputes when an address isn't given and his address shows up via GPS. Chilling to think of what would have happened to Dobson if he had confronted officers with a gun.
About two weeks later he was awakened at 4 a.m. by a person prowling along the side of his house. Dobson followed a flashlight beam to his bathroom window. When he looked out, the person flashed the light in his face.
"I screamed at him, 'Who are you? Get out of my yard!'?" Dobson said. "And he said, 'We're the police, open the door.'?"
North Las Vegas cops had received a 911 call from a woman on a cellphone who was arguing with a man. The argument was escalating, but dispatchers weren't able to get a location from the woman.
They looked at the location of the phone and sent officers, who arrived minutes later at Dobson's house. He was taken outside to his front yard and searched. When officers realized the mistake, they apologized.
Dobson said he is grateful that he didn't confront the officers with a weapon.
"I would have been on the losing end, and it would have been because of that issue," he said.
A team of researchers in the UK have developed a method of predicting where people will be in 24 hours using tracking data from mobile phones.
Studies have shown that most people follow fairly consistent patterns over time, but traditional prediction algorithms have no way of accounting for breaks in the routine.
The researchers solved that problem by combining tracking data from individual participants' phones with tracking data from their friends -- i.e., other people in their mobile phonebooks. By looking at how an individual's movements correlate with those of people they know, the team's algorithm is able to guess when she might be headed, say, downtown for a show on a Sunday afternoon rather than staying uptown for lunch as usual.
Feel it, feel it, feel the vibration? Ever have that feeling that something is vibrating in your pocket but when you reach for your phone, nothing is there? If you have experienced such bad vibes, you're by no means alone. From The Atlantic, here are 11 things you need to know about phantom vibrations. Even if the vibrations are imagined, your carrier will still probably figure out a way to charge you for the call.
89 percent of the undergrad participants in this current study had felt phantom vibrations. In the two other studies on this in the literature -- a 2007 doctoral thesis, which surveyed the general population, and a 2010 survey of staff at a Massachusetts hospital -- majorities of participants experienced phantom vibrations.
Mobile phones are banned in NYC public schools so a company called Pure Loyalty parks trucks outside of several schools so that students can check their phones, iPods, and other devices for the duration of the school day.
Pure Loyalty LLC is the originator in electronic device storage. We put student safety first and work together with school safety to make sure that phones are checked in and out in a timely fashion for students to go straight to class and then home after school.
Each student is given a security card to ensure that their device is only returned to them!!!! If a student with a security card loses their ticket, not to worry. We have a system in place that secures their phone. Each student is given a FREE security card. Replacement cards are $1.
(photo by Jesse Chan-Norris)
From Joe Holmes, Texters, a photo series of people texting.
From the June 1880 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Mark Twain writes about the telephone, then a relatively recent invention. Or rather, he writes about hearing other people use the telephone:
Then followed that queerest of all the queer things in this world, -- a conversation with only one end to it. You hear questions asked; you don't hear the answer. You hear invitations given; you hear no thanks in return. You have listening pauses of dead silence, followed by apparently irrelevant and unjustifiable exclamations of glad surprise, or sorrow, or dismay. You can't make head or tail of the talk, because you never hear anything that the person at the other end of the wire says.
They text, they email, they IM, but increasingly the phone call is too intrusive of a communication option for many.
"I literally never use the phone," Jonathan Adler, the interior designer, told me. (Alas, by phone, but it had to be.) "Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she'll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can't think of anyone else who'd want to talk to me." Then again, he doesn't want to be called, either. "I've learned not to press 'ignore' on my cellphone because then people know that you're there."
"I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, 'Don't call anyone after 10 p.m.,'" Mr. Adler said. "Now the rule is, 'Don't call anyone. Ever.'"
As a long-time hater of the phone call, this is good news.
People around the world are starting to use two or more mobile phone numbers on a regular basis for a variety of reasons (and using a variety of techniques, including special 2-in-1 SIM cards).
Another motivation to have more than one number is for the user to control how one is contacted and contactable. Naturally users typically have a strategy on handing out the right number to the right person for future contactability. Our research participants most commonly report separating private and business contacts by having separate numbers. Being able to switch one number completely offline is a way of switching the mental mode, such as "I am turning my work phone off as I am not working anymore". Small business owners and those who deal with a large number of people can identify the type of contacts easily by differentiating which phone number they use. One Chinese electronic shop owner gave out one of his mobile phone number for his best customers, ensuring that he is always reachable for them. The ease of having another mobile phone number also provides the exclusive communication channel for some, like those in early or secret relationships.
Part two of the piece is here. (via @antimega)
Greg Beato on how the seemingly humble phone book "signaled the coming shift from an industrial economy to an information-based one".
The phone itself was a pretty big deal, of course, helping intimacy transcend proximity. But phone books provided a crucial element to the system: intrusiveness. In the beginning of 1880, Shea writes, there were 30,000 telephone subscribers in the U.S. At the end of the year, that number had grown to 50,000, and because of phone books, each one of them was exposed to the others as never before. While many American cities had been compiling databases of their inhabitants well before the phone was invented, listing names, occupations, and addresses, individuals remained fairly insulated from each other. Contacting someone might require a letter of introduction, a facility for charming butlers or secretaries, a long walk.
Phone books eroded these barriers. They were the first step in our long journey toward the pandemic self-surveillance of Facebook. "Hey strangers!" anyone who appeared in their pages ordained. "Here's how to reach me whenever you feel like it, even though I have no idea who you are."
From the October 1971 issue of Esquire, Secrets of the Little Blue Box, an early mainstream piece on phone phreaking.
About eleven o'clock two nights later Fraser Lucey has a blue box in the palm of his left hand and a phone in the palm of his right. He is standing inside a phone booth next to an isolated shut-down motel off Highway 1. I am standing outside the phone booth.
Fraser likes to show off his blue box for people. Until a few weeks ago when Pacific Telephone made a few arrests in his city, Fraser Lucey liked to bring his blue box to parties. It never failed: a few cheeps from his device and Fraser became the center of attention at the very hippest of gatherings, playing phone tricks and doing request numbers for hours. He began to take orders for his manufacturer in Mexico. He became a dealer.
Fraser is cautious now about where he shows off his blue box. But he never gets tired of playing with it. "It's like the first time every time," he tells me.
Fraser puts a dime in the slot. He listens for a tone and holds the receiver up to my ear. I hear the tone.
Fraser begins describing, with a certain practiced air, what he does while he does it.
"I'm dialing an 800 number now. Any 800 number will do. It's toll free. Tonight I think I'll use the ----- [he names a well-know rent-a-car company] 800 number. Listen, It's ringing. Here, you hear it? Now watch."
He places the blue box over the mouthpiece of the phone so that the one silver and twelve black push buttons are facing up toward me. He presses the silver button - the one at the top - and I hear that high-pitched beep.
"That's 2600 cycles per second to be exact," says Lucey. "Now, quick. listen."
He shoves the earpiece at me. The ringing has vanished. The line gives a slight hiccough, there is a sharp buzz, and then nothing but soft white noise.
"We're home free now," Lucey tells me, taking back the phone and applying the blue box to its mouthpiece once again. "We're up on a tandem, into a long-lines trunk. Once you're up on a tandem, you can send yourself anywhere you want to go." He decides to check out London first. He chooses a certain pay phone located in Waterloo Station. This particular pay phone is popular with the phone-phreaks network because there are usually people walking by at all hours who will pick it up and talk for a while.
He presses the lower left-hand corner button which is marked "KP" on the face of the box.
"That's Key Pulse. It tells the tandem we're ready to give it instructions. First I'll punch out KP 182 START, which will slide us into the overseas sender in White Plains." I hear a neat clunk-cheep. "I think we'll head over to England by satellite. Cable is actually faster and the connection is somewhat better, but I like going by satellite. So I just punch out KP Zero 44. The Zero is supposed to guarantee a satellite connection and 44 is the country code for England. Okay... we're there. In Liverpool actually. Now all I have to do is punch out the London area code which is 1, and dial up the pay phone. Here, listen, I've got a ring now."
I hear the soft quick purr-purr of a London ring. Then someone picks up the phone. "Hello," says the London voice.
"Hello. Who's this?" Fraser asks.
"Hello. There's actually nobody here. I just picked this up while I was passing by. This is a public phone. There's no one here to answer actually."
"Hello. Don't hang up. I'm calling from the United States."
"Oh. What is the purpose of the call? This is a public phone you know."
"Oh. You know. To check out, uh, to find out what's going on in London. How is it there?"
"Its five o'clock in the morning. It's raining now."
"Oh. Who are you?"
The London passerby turns out to be an R.A.F. enlistee on his way back to the base in Lincolnshire, with a terrible hangover after a thirty-six-hour pass. He and Fraser talk about the rain. They agree that it's nicer when it's not raining. They say good-bye and Fraser hangs up. His dime returns with a nice clink.
"Isn't that far out," he says grinning at me. "London. Like that."
Interestingly, a number of the early phone phreaks were blind kids, including Joe Engressia, who could whistle a perfect 2600 hertz tone.
Peggy Nelson argues that everyone being on their mobile phones all the time -- even while at a dinner for two -- isn't rude, it signals a shift from our society's emphasis on the individual to the networked "flow".
We've moved from the etiquette of the individual to the etiquette of the flow.
This is not mob rule, nor is it the fearsome hive mind, the sound of six billion vuvuzelas buzzing. This is not individuals giving up their autonomy or their rational agency. This is individuals choosing to be in touch with each other constantly, exchanging stories and striving for greater connection. The network does not replace the individual, but augments it. We have become individuals-plus-networks, and our ideas immediately have somewhere to go. As a result we're always having all of our conversations now, flexible geometries of nodes and strands, with links and laughing and gossip and facts flying back and forth. But the real message is movement.
But au contraire, mon frere.
My new standard of cool: when I'm hanging out with you, I never see your phone ever ever ever.
If we're hanging out and you pull out your iPhone to water your Farmville crops, we can no longer be friends. It's not me, it's you.
If you're going on an overseas trip and want to use your phone (with data) while you're there, check out this new wiki on what plans are available in several countries. I hope this develops into a solid resource...I never know where to look for this stuff before I go. (via dj)
The recently announced iPhone 4 includes a feature called FaceTime; it's wifi videophone functionality. In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote that within the reality of the book, videophones enjoyed enormous initial popularity but then after a few months, most people gave it up. Why the switch back to voice?
The answer, in a kind of trivalent nutshell, is: (1) emotional stress, (2) physical vanity, and (3) a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the microeconomics of consumer high-tech.
First, the stress:
Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation [...] let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet -- and this was the retrospectively marvelous part -- even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end's attention might be similarly divided.
[...] Video telephony rendered the fantasy insupportable. Callers now found they had to compose the same sort of earnest, slightly overintense listener's expression they had to compose for in-person exchanges. Those caller who out of unconscious habit succumbed to fuguelike doodling or pants-crease-adjustment now came off looking extra rude, absentminded, or childishly self-absorbed. Callers who even more unconsciously blemish-scanned or nostril explored looked up to find horrified expressions on the video-faces at the other end. All of which resulted in videophonic stress.
And then vanity:
And the videophonic stress was even worse if you were at all vain. I.e. if you worried at all about how you looked. As in to other people. Which all kidding aside who doesn't. Good old aural telephone calls could be fielded without makeup, toupee, surgical prostheses, etc. Even without clothes, if that sort of thing rattled your saber. But for the image-conscious, there was of course no answer-as-you-are informality about visual-video telephone calls, which consumers began to see were less like having the good old phone ring than having the doorbell ring and having to throw on clothes and attach prostheses and do hair-checks in the foyer mirror before answering the door.
Those are only excerpts...you can read more on pp. 144-151 of Infinite Jest. Eventually, in the world of the book, people began wearing "form-fitting polybutylene masks" when talking on the videophone before even that became too much.
This comic on The Oatmeal pretty much nails why I hate talking on the phone.
If you're like me, you can't relax on the phone because you're constantly looking for an opportunity to say goodbye.
Word is trickling out of Bell Labs that Alexander Graham Bell is developing a device that will supplant the telegraph.
While the technology behind the Telephone is new, the design is reassuringly old-fashioned, reminiscent of a phrenologist's horn or ear-candle in form. We found the experience far more comfortable than the one we had with the Telegraph, though fatigue from magnetic waves is inevitable in the use of each. This is a minor complaint, however, as we could scarcely imagine using such a device for more than a few minutes a day.
Update: Meanwhile, back in the real world, F. Marion Crawford had this to say back in 1896:
The old fashioned novel is really dead, and nothing can revive it nor make anybody care for it again. What is to follow it?...A clever German who is here suggested to me last night that the literature of the future might turn out to be the daily exchange of ideas of men of genius -- over the everlasting telephone of course -- published every morning for the whole world....
The everlasting telephone!
Crazy statistic of the day:
American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company -- almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.
I went over on my 200 messages plan for the first time last month. In other news, I am fucking old and get off my lawn, you damn kids!
Ha! Maureen Dowd interviews Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone.
ME: The telephone seems like letter-writing without the paper and pen. Is there any message that can't wait for a passenger pigeon?
BELL: Possibly the message I'd like to deliver to you right now.
ME: Why did you think the answer to telegrams was a noisy new telegram?
BELL: We have designed the receiver so you can leave it off the hook.
See also The Victorian Internet. (thx, @evamaria_m)
Land sakes, with all the hustle and bustle around here lately, I plumb forgot that Apple had an event today to announce the newest version of the operating system for their interactiveTelePhone. Engadget has the details. The iPhone 3.0 highlights so far:
Embeddable Google Maps within applications.
Same apps of two phones can talk to each other (gaming!).
Turn-by-turn directions available.
Push notifications finally coming. (They retooled after hearing all sorts of feedback from App Store developers.)
Streaming audio and video.
CUT AND PASTE.
Better searching, like in email and calendars.
After almost two years, Google finally does something with GrandCentral: Google Voice (announcement). David Pogue raves about it in the Times.
From now on, you don't have to listen to your messages in order; you don't have to listen to them at all. In seconds, these recordings are converted into typed text. They show up as e-mail messages or text messages on your cellphone. This is huge. It means that you can search, sort, save, forward, copy and paste voice mail messages.
GrandCentral was amazing enough...Google Voice really sounds spectacular.
In 1960, just before the widespread release of push-button phones, AT&T tested a number of button configurations to see which ones offered the greatest speed and least confusion. The number pattern based on the numbers' positions on the incumbent rotary dial did well but the company decided to go with the now-familiar 3x3+1 configuration instead.
Before the iPhone 3G came out last month, I wrote about how valuable the old iPhone still was.
A quick search reveals that used & unlocked 8Gb iPhones are going for ~$400 and 16Gb for upwards of $500, with never-opened phones going for even more.
I just checked eBay again and those prices are down only slightly. Never-opened unlocked iPhones are still fetching $400-500 and somewhat less for previously used phones. If you've purchased an iPhone 3G in the past few days, you still have an excellent shot at getting most of your money back from your first phone (provided you can get it unlocked, which isn't difficult).
I also checked the prices for unlocked iPhone 3Gs...prices are upwards of $1400 for the 16GB model. The unlocked claim is somewhat dubious. AFAIK, there hasn't been a crack released yet although it's been reported that the 3Gs are being sold unlocked in Italy and Hong Kong.
Update: The 3G has been cracked.
Last week: maybe that old iPhone isn't completely worthless after all.
But a cheaper and easier way to get an iPhone that works on T-Mobile, etc. is to buy an old iPhone from an upgrader for $100, maybe even $150?
This week: you might actually break even or turn a small profit from selling your old iPhone on eBay or craigslist. A quick search reveals that used & unlocked 8Gb iPhones are going for ~$400 and 16Gb for upwards of $500, with never-opened phones going for even more. Here are some recent old iPhone auctions:
- A lot of five never-opened unlocked 16Gb iPhones went for $2,755 ($551 per phone)
- A used unlocked 8Gb iPhone went for $405
- A used unlocked 16Gb iPhone went for $585.
Before the announcement of the iPhone 3G, new 8Gb iPhones retailed for $399, 16Gb for $499. When the iPhone 3G comes out on July 11, the supply of old iPhones in the marketplace will greatly increase (which means that the price will drop) but the auctions above suggest that those old phones might not be shiny paperweights after all. (thx, praveen & carl)
Just after Apple announced the iPhone 3G, Khoi Vinh whipped up a quick graph of the declining value of his iPhone over the past year. He generously estimates that when the iPhone 3G is released in early July, his old iPhone will be worth $100, half of the price for a new iPhone 3G. At the time, I speculated that you'd be hard pressed to find a buyer at $75.
However, the resale market for old iPhones might not be so dismal. AT&T has confirmed to MacWorld that in-store activation of the iPhone 3G will be mandatory:
AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel confirmed for Macworld that activation must be done at the time of purchase, in-store.
For those who want to use their phone on another network, an untethered 8 GB iPhone 3G would cost them at least $374 ($199 + $175 AT&T account cancellation fee). But a cheaper and easier way to get an iPhone that works on T-Mobile, etc. is to buy an old iPhone from an upgrader for $100, maybe even $150?
After yesterday's iPhone 3G revelry, the inevitable hangover. AT&T is done playing nice with iPhone customers. First off, the data plan for 3G is $10 more than the old plan. Second, in-store activation is required, "which takes 10-12 minutes"...with the old version of the iPhone, you could activate through iTunes and it took 2 minutes. (That means no online ordering of phones either.) Third, Apple and AT&T may be working on a purchase penalty for those who don't activate their phones within 30 days...so no more buying a phone to use on another network. Four: no prepaid plans. Yay?
Leave it to the Japanese to put barcodes on tombstones. Scannable by mobile phone, the tombstones can deliver images and video of the deceased to future mourners.
In addition to images of the deceased, people can view a greeting from the chief mourner at the funeral and browse through the guest book. They can also make entries using their cell phones.
[I'm sure this is nothing new and has been amply documented elsewhere but I'm in rant mode, not research mode, so here we go.] We're going to London soon so my wife calls up AT&T to make sure our iPhones will work in the UK. We already knew all about the ridiculous prices they charge for international data roaming (viewing a 3-minute video on YouTube would cost about $40!), so turning that feature off for the duration is not going to be a problem. After unlocking the phones for international access, the woman informed Meg of two other tidbits of mobile phone company idiocy:
1. If my iPhone is on in the UK and the phone rings but I don't answer, the call goes to voicemail. As it should. But somehow, I get charged for that call at $1.29/minute *and* perhaps an additional call from my phone to the US, also billed at $1.29/minute. Individual voicemails are limited to 2 minutes, but if I get 10 2-minute voicemails over the course of a couple days, I'm charged $25 for not answering my phone. And then I have to listen to all the voicemails...that's another $25. Insane and inane.
2. But it gets even more unbelievable! Then the woman tells Meg that when the iPhone is hooked up to a computer via USB, you shouldn't download the photos from the phone to the computer because you'll incur international data roaming charges and further that the only way to deal with this is to wait to sync your photos when you get back to the US. W! T! F! How is that even possible? This sounds like complete bullshit to me. The iPhone somehow calls AT&T to ask permission to d/l photos? Verifies the EXIF data? Informs the US government what you've been taking pictures of...some kind of distributed self-surveillance system? Is this really the case or was this woman just really confused about what she was reading off of her script?
Good notes from today's Apple event at which they announced the developer's kit for the iPhone. VC John Doerr also announced the iFund, a $100 million fund that will give money to companies wanting to develop applications for the iPhone. (via df)
Did Alexander Graham Bell drink Elisha Gray's telephone-flavored milkshake?
On May 22, 1886, The Washington Post published a shocking front-page scoop: Zenas F. Wilber, a former Washington patent examiner, swore in an affidavit that he'd been bribed by an attorney for Alexander Graham Bell to award Bell the patent for the telephone over a rival inventor, Elisha Gray, who'd filed a patent document on the same day as Bell in 1876.
Even though Bell has been legally vindicated on this issue, Seth Shulman's new book, The Telephone Gambit, suggests that he did in fact steal a key idea from Elisha Gray. (via house next door)
The Indian letter writing industry (for those who are unable to write themselves) is all but extinct because of near-ubiquitous mobile phones and text messaging.
Mr. Sawant mourns the demise of the letter culture. After dropping a letter in the box, he used to imagine its winding journey. Someone far away would open what he had written on someone else's behalf; the reader would savor its kind words or its little secrets, then maybe file it away in a box, and perhaps revisit it weeks later in a burst of nostalgia.
But even Sawant admits that ringing his daughter on his mobile is much easier than writing a letter.
The design of the iPhone is such that all other mobile phones, including those released after the iPhone, look not only old but antiquated and even defective. IMO.
Tobias Wong has made a slick all-black iPhone called the ccPhone. It comes preloaded with videos, photos, music, and the company address book of Citizen:Citizen, the company selling it. Available as a limited edition of 50, each phone is $2000. Another of Wong's projects that I really like is the Tiffany diamond solitaire engagement ring with the diamond turned upside down so the point sticks out (possibly for slashing attackers). A nice play on the marital security that an engagement ring offers the wearer. (via core77)
Google recently announced that a bunch of companies (aka the Open Handset Alliance) were getting together to make cell phones that run on an open platform called Android. That was a couple of days ago so maybe someone else has already made the imperfect comparison between this and Mac vs. PC circa 1984, but if not:
Or perhaps Steven Frank has it right:
A 34-company committee couldn't create a successful ham sandwich, much less a mobile application suite.
David Pogue has been keeping a list of questions that he doesn't have answers for; some of them are pretty interesting.
* Why is Wi-Fi free at cheap hotels, but $14 a night at expensive ones?
* Do P.R. people really expect anyone to believe that the standard, stilted, second-paragraph C.E.O. quote was really uttered by a human being?
* Why doesn't someone start a cellphone company that bills you only for what you use? That model works O.K. for the electricity, gas and water companies -- and people would beat a path to its door.
* Why doesn't everyone have lights that turn off automatically when the room is empty?
Two bits (bites? har har) of Apple news:
1. Steve Jobs has announced that an SDK will be available for the iPhone and iPod touch in February. No more hacking your phone to put applications on it.
2. You can now preorder OS X 10.5 (Leopard) at Amazon for $109...that's $20 off the retail price. The offer comes with a pre-order price guarantee; if the price drops before it ships, you get it for the lower price.
A feature I would like on my iPhone: every single call gets recorded (at a low bitrate to conserve storage space) and stored on the phone for a short period of time. Playback works like the visual voicemail feature.
Update: I've gotten a couple of emails from people saying that this feature is illegal. Which is true in some states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington). My feeling is that the recording of voice communication is a legacy thing that should go away. If you write me a letter, send me an email, IM me a note, or send a SMS, I get to keep a copy of your correspondence. Why the different standard for a phone call? I believe this difference will eventually go away...after all, it's trivial to record a Skype call.
I'm loving the new 1.1.1 update to the iPhone. Best new features for me: the double-tap of the Home button to go to your address book favorites (first suggested by Steven Johnson shortly after the phone's introduction) and more alert ringtone choices for when a new text message comes in. I still wish I could set that alert volume independently from the main ringtone volume, but this is a good start...I'll be able to hear my texts coming in again.
Apple may have announced their ringtone strategy for the iPhone (30-second ringtones cost $1.98 to make and you must purchase songs through the iTunes Music Store), but Ambrosia Software's iToner utility lets you make ringtones from any mp3 or acc audio file with a simple drag/drop, all for $15 (free 30-day trial). iToner seems like the clear winner here.
Update: The just-released new version of iTunes (7.4) makes iToner ringtones invisible to the iPhone. Ambrosia is working on an iToner update. (thx, jim)
John Gruber remarked on the lack of a clipboard on the iPhone and I found myself missing that feature this afternoon. Steven Johnson suggested a double-click of the Home button as a shortcut to the phone favorites screen to shorten initiation times for frequent calls. Both of these observations beg the question: how are new capabilities going to get added to the iPhone? A bunch of you are either interaction/interface designers or otherwise clever folks...how would you add a feature like a clipboard to the iPhone?
Here's where interaction on the iPhone stands right now. Pressing, holding, flipping physical buttons (home, power, silent, volume). Tapping buttons on the screen to active them. Tapping the screen to zoom in/out. Tap the screen with two fingers to zoom with Google Maps. Pinch and expand on screen to zoom in/out. Swipe screen to scroll up/down and side to side. Swipe screen to flip album covers in iPod mode. Touch and hold screen to bring up magnifying loupe and drag to move cursor. Flip unit to reorient screen from portrait to landscape and vice versa. Swipe message to delete. Swipe screen to unlock. There are probably more that I'm forgetting.
How do you add to that while keeping the interface intuitive, uncluttered (both the physical device and onscreen), and usable? Add a button to the device? Add buttons onscreen...a menu button perhaps? Double and triple pressing of physical buttons? New touchscreen gestures? Physical gestures like shaking the entire phone to left or right? Voice activated features? A combination of some/all of those?
- I'm kind of amazed that this thing lives up to the expectations I had for it. It's an amazing device.
- To read RSS, just put a feed address into Safari and Apple redirects it through their iPhone feed reader. But it's very much of an a la carte thing, one feed at a time. What's needed is a proper newsreader with its own icon on home screen. Workarounds for now: Google Reader looks nice or you could make a collective feed that combines all the feeds you want to read on your iPhone and use that with the iPhone feed reader (Meg's idea).
- I skipped the index finger and am right into the two thumb typing. With the software correction, it's surprisingly easy. Or maybe I just have small lady thumbs.
- After fiddling with it for an hour, I know how to work the iPhone better than the Nokia I had for the past 2 years, even though the Nokia has far fewer capabilities.
- I could use the Google Maps app forever.
- When I go back to using my Macbook Pro, I want to fling stuff around the screen like on the iPhone. It's an addictive way to interface with information.
- Finding Nemo looked really nice on the widescreen display.
- You can pinch and expand with two thumbs instead of your thumb and index finger.
- The camera is not what you would call great, but it's as good as my old phone's, which is about all I want out of it. The lack of video is a bit of a bummer.
- I Twittered from on line at the AT&T store that the line was moving slowly because they were doing in-store credit checks and contract sign-ups, contrary to what everyone had been told by Apple beforehand. That was not the case. They were just being super careful with everything...each phone and the bag that it went into had a bar code on it and they were scanning everything and running phones from the back of the store one at a time. The staff was helpful and courteous and it was a very smooth transaction, all things considered. I was on line for 2 hours before the store opened and then another 2 hours waiting to get into the store.
- The alert options (ringtones, vibrate options, messaging alerts, etc.) aren't as fine-grained as I would like, but they'll do for now.
- I have not tried the internet stuff on anything but my home WiFi network, so I don't know about the EDGE network speed. Will try it out and about later.
- The Google Maps display shows the subway stops but not the full system map. Workaround: stick a JPG of the subway map in your iPhoto library and sync it up to the iPhone. Voila, zoomable, dragable NYC subway map.
- Wasn't it only a year or two ago that everyone was oohing and aahing over Jeff Han's touchscreen demos? And now there's a mass-produced device that does similar stuff that fits it your pocket. We're living in the future, folks...the iPhone is the hovercar we've all been waiting for.
- The iPhone is the first iPod with a speaker. Which means that in addition to using it as a speakerphone, you can listen to music, podcasts, YouTube videos, and movies without earphones. Which might seem a bit "eh", but won't once you have 15 people gathered around watching and listening to that funny bit from last night's Colbert Report. You know, the Social.
- I'm getting my mail right off my server with IMAP, so when it gets to the phone, it hasn't gone through Mail.app's junk filters...which basically means that mail on the iPhone is useless for me. In the near future, I'm going to set things up to route through GMail prior to the phone to near-eliminate the spam.
- Tried the EDGE network while I was out and about. Seemed pretty speedy to me, not noticeably slower than my WiFi at home...which may say more about Time Warner's cable modem speeds than EDGE.
- BTW, all of these first impressions are just that. You can't judge a device or an interface without using it day to day for awhile. I'm curious to see how I and others are still liking the phone in two weeks.
- Everytime I connect the iPhone to my computer, Aperture launches. Do not want.
Video about how the keyboard software for the iPhone works. As suspected, learning the keyboard requires some techniques not needed for using a regular keyboard but once you get used to them, the two-thumbed typing shown in the final scene seems pretty quick.
David Pogue writes that the iPhone lives up to most of its hype. Summary: typing is so-so, browser good, network slow, email is great, and a modified Russian reversal joke: "On the iPhone, you don't check your voice mail; it checks you". (thx, david)
Update: Walt Mossberg has a much more in-depth review...he liked it less than Pogue, I think. Regarding the Microsoft Exchange incompatibility speculation: "It can also handle corporate email using Microsoft's Exchange system, if your IT department cooperates by enabling a setting on the server."
Update: Steven Levy weighs in with a review in Newsweek. I wonder how many review phones got sent out? I'm guessing less than 20.
I've been keeping up with the latest iPhone news but I haven't been telling you about it...partially because my poor pal Merlin is about to pop an artery due to all the hype. Anyway, it's Friday and he's got all weekend to clean that up, so here we go. The big thing is a 20-minute guided tour of the device, wherein we learn that there's a neat swiping delete gesture, you can view Word docs, it's thumb-typeable, the earbuds wires house the world's smallest remote control, Google Maps have driving directions *and* traffic conditions, and there's an "airplane mode" that turns off all the wifi, cell, and Bluetooth signals for plane trips. It looks like the iPhone will be available online...here's the page at the Apple Store. What else? It plays YouTube videos. iPhone setup will be handled through iTunes: "To set up your iPhone, you'll need an account with Apple's iTunes Store."
Update: From the reaction I'm hearing so far, it's difficult to tell what was more disappointing to people: Jobs' keynote or The Sopronos finale. Also, a Keynote bingo was possible (diagonally, bottom left to top right)...no report yet as to whether anyone yelled out during the show.
Update: TUAW is reporting that someone in the crowd yelled "bingo" 35 minutes into the keynote, but if you look at the card, a bingo was only possible when the iPhone widgets were announced towards the end. Disqualified for early non-bingo! (thx, alex)
As people exchange their land lines for mobile phones, phone books are getting smaller. "Americans have not been eager to list their cell numbers in phone books. Consumers and privacy advocates balked at the idea in 2004, when most of the big wireless carriers said they wanted to compile a nationwide directory. Cellphones may make it easier for people to reach each other, yet Americans are very guarded about whom they want calling them."
Apple has released three new iPhone ads in advance of the device's release date on June 29. The third ad is the money spot. The only remaining question: how likely am I to get one within a week or two of release without standing in line for hours on end? (via df, who notes that "No other cell phone is advertised by showing off the user interface.")
Profile by Ken Auletta of Walt Mossberg, the WSJ's technology columnist. It was interesting reading Mossberg's opinion of the Sprint/Samsung UpStage. A couple friends of mine were testing this phone before it came out and it was one of the most poorly designed technology products that I've ever held in my hand. Who knows if the iPhone will actually be worth a crap, but Steve Jobs must rub his hands together with glee when he sees his competitors come out with stuff like this. Mossberg was too easy on it. Auletta has previously profiled Barry Diller, Pointcast, Andy Grove, and Nathan Myhrvold for the New Yorker.
Artist Christian Marclay says that Apple contacted him about using his short film Telephones for their iPhone commercial. He refused and they went ahead and made the commercial using the same idea with different footage. Says Marclay, "the way they dealt with the whole thing is pretty sleazy". TouchExplode gets credit for spotting the reference. (via df)
Adam and David recently reminded me of pocket, an episode of 0sil8 I did back in 2001 (the second-to-last episode actually):
pocket was a broadcast mailing list for mobile phones. People signed up and then I sent them SMS messages on their phones periodically. As I recall it only lasted a few weeks before I shut it down; there just didn't seem to be anything interesting about broadcasting short messages to a group of friends and strangers.
A commercial for the iPhone aired during the Oscars last night. Rick Silva noticed that it was a lot like artist Christian Marclay's 1995 piece Telephones (the relevant clip starts at 3:40) and, to a lesser extent, Matthias Mueller's film, Home Stories. Nice detective work!
Update: Here's a list of all the actors in the iPhone commercial (except one).
Update: The missing "French Woman" is Audrey Tautou from Amelie. (thx to several folks who wrote in)
Jargon watch: "book" as a synonym for "cool". Sample usage: "That YouTube video is so book." As books are decidedly uncool, you might wonder how this usage came about. Book is a T9onym of cool...both words require pressing 2665 on the keypad of a mobile phone but book comes up before cool in the T9 dictionary, leading to inadvertent uses of the former for the latter. (thx, david)
The Twilight Years of Cap'n Crunch, an article on olde tyme hacker, phone phreak, and tech legend John Draper. I met Draper at Etech one year; he seemed like a brilliant man not quite at ease with society. (Also, when you see a phrase like "rave scene" in a WSJ article, it's probably a euphemism for something.)
Regarding some of the points in my iPhone round-up from yesterday, David Pogue has some answers to those questions and a whole lot more in his iPhone FAQ. "Is it ambidextrous? -No." What does that even mean? As a lefty, am I out of luck? (via df)
By now you've all heard about the iPhone and read 60 billion things about it, so I'll get straight to it. I've been tracking some of the best points from around the web and jotted down some thoughts of my own.
Caveat: Evaluating an interface, software or hardware, is difficult to do unless you have used it. An interface for something like a mobile phone is something you use on the time-scale of weeks and months, not minutes or hours. There are certain issues you can flag as potential problems, challenges, or triumphs after viewing demos, descriptions of functions, and the like, but until you're holding the thing in your hand and living with it day-to-day, you really can't say "this is going to work this way" or "I don't like the way that functions" with anything approaching absolute confidence. With that said:
- In his keynote announcing it, Steve Jobs said the killer app for the iPhone was voice. The thing is, many people you talk to who are are under 35 use their phones more and more for text and less and less for voice. Same thing for Treo and Blackberry aficionados. Does the text entry via the touchscreen work as well as text entry via a mini keyboard? The tactility of raised buttons provides a lot of feedback to the typer's fingers that a touchscreen does not. (Jason Fried said: "When you touch the [iPhone] it doesn't touch you back.") Can you type on it with your thumbs? What about if your thumbs are large? I know people who can text without looking at the keypad and/or Blackberry keyboard, that's out the window with the touchscreen. Can you dial with one hand?
The touchscreen text entry is the biggest issue with the iPhone. If it works well, the iPhone has a good shot at success, and if not, it's going to be very frustrating for those that rely on their mobile for text...and every potential customer of the iPhone is going to hear about that shortcoming and shy away.
- The price is pretty high. So was the price for the first iPod. And the Macintosh. Apple will approach this in a similar way to the iPod...start with a premium product at the high end and work their way down to shuffle-land. It isn't difficult to imagine an iPhone nano that just does voice, SMS, music, and a camera. (Or an iPhone shuffle...you press the call button and it randomly calls someone from the ten contacts the shuffle synched from your computer that morning.)
- I guess we know why iPod development has seemed a little sluggish lately. When the Zune came out two months ago, it was thought that maybe Apple was falling behind, coasting on the fumes of an aging product line, and not innovating in the portable music player space anymore. I think the iPhone puts this discussion on the back burner for now. And the Zune? The supposed iPod-killer's bullet ricocheted off of the iPhone's smooth buttonless interface and is heading back in the wrong direction. Rest in peace, my gentle brown friend.
- How long before the other iPods start working like the iPhone? I imagine a widescreen video iPod with touchscreen but without a phone, wifi, camera, etc. will be introduced at some point after the iPhone comes out in June. Without the need for the clickwheel, the shape of the video and nano iPods becomes much more flexible. If they can cram all the memory and electronics into a smaller space, the nano could be half its current height with a touchscreen.
- What's really kind of sad about the intensely exuberant reaction to the iPhone is that the situation with current mobile phones are so bad in the first place. It's not like we didn't see any of this coming or couldn't imagine the utility of the iPhone's features. Visual voicemail is a good idea, but the reason Nokia or Motorola didn't introduce it years ago is that the carriers (Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.) don't want to support it despite its obvious utility and ease of implementation. (T-Mobile sends my Nokia phone a text message every time I get a voicemail...what could be simpler than sending the number along with it and shunting those messages to a special voicemail app on the phone to see a list of them? Listening to them out of sequence would be a bit harder, but doable. Blackberry announced they were doing this back in 2005.) Integrated Google Maps, email, and search makes obvious sense too. As for the touchscreen, we've all seen Jeff Han's work on multi-touch interaction, Minority Report, and Wacom's Cintiq, not to mention the mousepads on the MacBooks and the iPod's clickwheel. The Japanese are pretty unimpressed with the whole thing.
What *is* fantastic about the iPhone is the way that they've put it all together; features are great, but it's all about the implementation. Apple stripped out all the stuff you don't need and made everything you do need really simple and easy. (That's the way it appears anyway...see above caveat.)
- Regarding the above, a relevant passage from a Time magazine article on how the iPhone came about:
One reason there's limited innovation in cell phones generally is that the cell carriers have stiff guidelines that the manufacturers have to follow. They demand that all their handsets work the same way. "A lot of times, to be honest, there's some hubris, where they think they know better," Jobs says. "They dictate what's on the phone. That just wouldn't work for us, because we want to innovate. Unless we could do that, it wasn't worth doing." Jobs demanded special treatment from his phone service partner, Cingular, and he got it. He even forced Cingular to re-engineer its infrastructure to handle the iPhone's unique voicemail scheme. "They broke all their typical process rules to make it happen," says Tony Fadell, who heads Apple's iPod division. "They were infected by this product, and they were like, we've gotta do this!"
- From the video, it looks like it take four clicks (after unlocking the phone) to make a phone call. For everyday use, that seems excessive. I hope there's going to be some sort of speed dial mechanism...with my current phone, pressing "2" and then "send" calls my wife (which I can basically do without looking, BTW).
- I don't know what the state of the art is in voice recognition these days, but I'm a little surprised that's not an input option here. To call someone, you say their name (my current phone does this). To text someone, you speak the message and they get the text on their end. Speaking "Google Maps, sushi near 10003" would have the expected result.
- Or maybe drawing graffiti on the screen with your fingers and other gestural input methods? You could have different swipes and taps as a speed dial mechanism...swipe the screen from top left to bottom right and then tap in the lower right hand corner to call mom, that sort of thing. Or Morse code maybe? ;)
- The OS X included with the phone obviously isn't the version that's running on my Powerbook right now. John Gruber proves that footnotes are often more interesting than the referring text and offers this little tidbit:
Several people have speculated that the iPhone's version of OS X is actually a preview of what we'll be getting with Leopard, the next version of Mac OS X.
That is to say the core operating system at the core of Mac OS X, the computer OS used in Macs, and "OS X", the embedded OS on the iPhone. More on this soon in a separate fireball, but do not be confused: Mac OS X and OS X are not the same thing, although they are most certainly siblings. The days of lazily referring to "Mac OS X" as "OS X" are now over.
- Lance warns us of the dreaded version 1.0 hardware from Apple.
- My favorite thing about the iPhone is the Google Maps integration. I would use that at least 4-5 times a week.
- Will phone numbers and addresses detected on web pages in Safari be clickable? Click to dial a phone number, click to look up an address with Google Maps, that sort of thing. Update: There's a video online somewhere (anyone?) of a demo that shows a URL in an email and/or text message that's clickable. (thx, Deron)
- The resolution of the screen on the iPhone is 160 ppi. People who have seen it close up report that the screen is extremely crisp and clear. Apple displays have been higher than 72 ppi for quite awhile, now but not as high as 160. How soon can we expect 160 ppi on the MacBooks?
- Double the width of the iPhone and you've got the iTablet. 640x480, a bigger virtual keyboard to type on, etc. Just a thought.
- My friend Chris suggested that it should ship with a dock that hooks directly to a monitor. Attach a keyboard and mouse to the monitor and voila!, you've got the world's smallest portable computer.
iPhone trademark dispute between Apple and Cisco: booorrrrr-ring.
- This is one of the biggest questions in the hardcore technology community: will Apple allow 3rd party development of widgets and apps for the iPhone? Right now it seems like they might not, but there's a lot of speculation in the absence of information going on. It sure would be nice if they did, but Apple doesn't have a good track record here. I bet the Dodgeball and Upcoming folks are looking at the integrated Google Maps and wishing they could integrate their apps in the same way. (And Flickr too!)
- Games! A no-brainer. Probably lots you can do with the motion sensors and proximity detectors, not to mention the touchscreen. Although the touchscreen does make it difficult to see and control the onscreen action at the same time. How would you play Pac-Man on the iPhone?
- Available in more than one color? Probably a few months after launch...or it could be right away.
Parallels running on the iPhone was a joke, folks. Just pulling your ARM.
- Don't you think that maybe every company should fire their founders after a few years and then hire them back a few years later? I mean, how crazy is it that Apple birthed the Apple II and the Macintosh -- each a significant achievement that taken alone would have sealed Apple's reputation for innovation in the history of computing -- and then fired the guy that got them there, stumbled badly enough that they were heading for mediocrity and obscurity, and then brought Jobs back, who spurred a string of successes that has nearly overshadowed the company's earlier achievements: OS X, the iMac, the iBooks/PowerBooks/MacBooks, the iPod, iTMS, and now the iPhone. It's insane! Not to mention fun to watch. Perhaps Google should fire Larry and Sergey with the idea that they'll take them back in a few years when they're a little older, a little wiser, a little more seasoned in business, with a new perspective, and possessing an enormous amount of motivation to prove that their dismissal was a bad move.
- My favorite comment from the Digg thread about the model iPhone I made out of cardboard: "Nothing says you've never kissed a girl like toting around a paper iPhone."
- From the Time article, a quote from Steve Jobs about how Apple does business: "Everybody hates their phone and that's not a good thing. And there's an opportunity there."
Interesting thoughts from Adam Baer in the wake of the iPhone announcement:
Apple has figured out a way to retain a hold on hearts and minds in a business previously based on bytes. I applaud its designs, I worry about its tactics and what they mean for the future of marketing and group think. A group that wants our devotion but doesn't need the press, doesn't want the press, can't keep the press off its backs, is a group that's more interested in mind control than in improving lives with its products.
- Some miscellaneous links: Watch the MacWorld keynote with the iPhone announcement. Fortune piece on how Apple kept the iPhone a secret for two years. David Pogue got an hour of hands-on time with the iPhone. The Digg post of the announcement got almost 20,000 diggs, more than 1,400 comments, and nearly crashed my browser when I went to look at it.
And that's enough, I think.
Comparison of the iPhone with other smart phones...a nice companion piece to the comparison of my cardboard iPhone to various iPods, mobile phones, etc. So far, the market thinks that Apple's got something good on their hands: Apple stock was up $7.10 today while RIMM (makers of Blackberry) dropped $11.16.
Apple's new iPhone looks like a thing of beauty. Widescreen touch interface, no buttons, runs OS X, useful widgets, integrated email, Google Maps, Google/Yahoo search, visual voicemail (see who voicemail is from before you call), SMS, Wifi, etc. etc. Oh, and it plays music.
A lot of people are wondering just how big this thing is. Using the technical specs from apple.com, I grabbed some cardboard, scissors, and glue and made a scale model of the iPhone. Here it is:
My hands aren't that big (I can barely palm a basketball on a good day), but it still seems to fit pretty well. How does it stack up against similar devices?
Here's the iPhone vs. my current mobile phone, the Nokia 7610:
iPhone vs. a 5G iPod:
Thickness of the cardboard iPhone vs. the 5G iPod:
1G iPod shuffle, 3G iPod, 5G iPod and the iPhone:
iPhone vs. a TiVo remote and a Wii remote:
That's all the gadgets I could find on a couple of hours notice.
I also dug up something I wrote a couple of years ago in the gigantic text file I keep on my Powerbook of ideas for kottke.org posts. 99% of the stuff in that file is completely dunderheaded, but I have to say I hit close to the mark on this one:
true convergence of phone + mp3 player will happen when someone solves this user experience puzzle: physically not enough room for two optimized interfaces (one for calls, one for music) on same small device. possible solution: no buttons, replace with touch screen that covers the whole front with one-touch switching between modes...
Once we're able to get our hands on it and use the interface, the iPhone could turn out to be a disappointment, but they're heading in the right direction at least. More thoughts soon.
(Like this story? Digg it.)
Some mobile phones come with water damage stickers that change color when they get wet, thereby voiding the warranty on your phone if it stops working, no matter if the color change and the breakage is related. "As a designer, I would much prefer to look at the problem as 'How can we improve the sealing of phones so that water ingress is no longer a major problem?' than 'How can we design something to cover our backs and shift all the blame onto the user for our design fault?'"
The oh, don't forget site offers an easy way to send yourself (and other people) reminders to a mobile phone. An API for this would be great...you could (theoretically) send all your iCal appointment alarms to the service.
There's a bit of a shout-out to citizen journalism in Superman Returns. Mid-movie, Daily Planet Editor in Chief White, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen look at some photos of Superman spread across the chief's desk. They're great, iconic photos of the Man of Steel in action. White berates Olsen (and I'm paraphrasing here), "these are great and they were taken by a kid with a cameraphone. Whadda you got, Olsen?" Olsen throws his photos down on the desk; the one on top depicts a distant blurry streak across a blue sky.
"Look, in the sky, Chief."
"It's a bird."
"It's a plane."
"No, look, it's..."
Score one for the man on the scene.
Call A Ball is an idea for a soccer ball vending machine where balls are dispensed via an SMS from a mobile phone. You can also issue a "challenge" for other players to meet you at the machine. And if you'd like to keep the ball, it's charged to your phone bill.
Joe Malia's privacy scarves provide mobile phone users and portable video game players with privacy, a light/glare-free texting/playing environment, and warm necks. "Users of the wearable mobile phone scarf can venture into public spaces confident that if the need to compose a private text message were to arise the object could be pulled over the face to create an isolated environment." (via eyeteeth)
Cell phone trees. "Unlike most palms and gymnosperms that take many decades to grow, these 'new' trees appear within days." This is my favorite cell phone tree, just outside of NYC and completely inconspicuous.
Cheatsheet for how to get to a human operator on various automated phone systems. When calling Best Buy, "press 1,1,1,#,# and then wait through the 3 prompts asking for your home telephone number". (thx, scott)
The 3% federal excise tax on your phone bill "was imposed in 1898 to help pay for the Spanish-American War".
Cl1ff N0t3s for the millennials: mobile service will condense books into short text messages. "For example, Hamlet's famous line: 'To be or not to be, that is the question' becomes '2b? Nt2b? ???'".
Hugms connects to your mobile phone via Bluetooth and then when you squeeze it, is sends a "hug" text message to the person of your choosing. See also sweethearting. (thx mike)
Got quite a few emails in response to my post on sweethearting/pinging. Several people mentioned pranking as a current implementation of this idea, a trick I remember using as a kid. You call someone and hang up after one ring..."prank me when you're outside my apartment and I'll come down". Pranking is typically driven by economics...you don't pay for a phone call that doesn't connect.
Gen Kanai asks: "why can't SMS do this?" It certainly can; if I were implementing sweethearting, I would piggyback it on SMS. But what I'm really concerned with (as usual) is the user experience. To send a blank text message to a specific recipient with my phone takes at least 6-10 keystrokes. I want to do it in two keystrokes and (in time) without looking.
 I received reports of pranking being used all over the world. It's called one-belling (or pranking) in England, people send "toques" (roughly "touches") or "sting" each other in Spain, Italians "fare uno squillo" (which Google translates as "to make one blast"), and in Finland it's called "bombing".
Update: In South Africa, they call it a "Scotch call".
Here's a feature I would like on my mobile phone: the ability to "ping" someone with 2 or less keypresses (something that takes around a second to do), even if the keypad is locked. The idea is that when I press a couple of buttons on my phone (say, 1#), a tiny content-less message is sent to the person corresponding to that key combination. On their end, they see something like "Jason pinged you at 7:34pm" with the option to ping right back. You'd have to set up what pings mean beforehand, stuff like "I'm leaving work now" or "remember to pick up milk at the store".
Pings would be perfect for situations when texting or a phone call is too time consuming, distracting, or takes you out of the flow of your present experience. If you call your husband on the way home from work every night and say the same thing each time, perhaps a ping would be better...you wouldn't have to call and your husband wouldn't have to stop what he was doing to answer the phone. You could even call it the "sweetheart ping" or "sweethearting"...in the absence of a prearraged "ping me when you're leaving", you could ping someone to let them know you're thinking about them.
This reminds me a bit of Matt Webb's Glancing project: I'm Ok, you're Ok. I guess you could think of pinging as eye contact via mobile phone...just enough information is conveyed to be useful, but not so much that it disrupts what you're already doing. Webb cites Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs:
Howard Rheingold in his book Smart Mobs gives a good example of text messaging being used for this. He talked about kids in Sweden after a party. Say you've seen someone you quite liked and you'd like to see them again, but don't know if the feeling's shared. You'd send them a blank text message, or maybe just a really bland one like "hey, good party". If they reply, ask for a date. The first message is almost entirely expressive communication: tentative, deniable.
Matt does a fine job explaining why this stripped-down style of communication is sometimes preferable to more robust alternatives.
Quite a few folks are pointing to the results of this survey (graph here) about what features people want on their most frequently used mobile devices. The results are interesting but also probably misleading in about 1000 different ways (text messaging didn't even make the list). But it got me thinking about how I use my most frequently used digital device, my mobile phone. In order of a combination of most usage and importance, here's what I use my phone for:
- Clock. I don't wear a watch, so I look at my phone all the time to check the time.
- Taking pictures + sending them to Flickr.
- Voice. I dislike talking on the phone, but when you gotta, you gotta.
- Text messaging. Texting is preferable to voice in many instances and many friends text more often than they call nowadays.
- Taking pictures. I think of this as distinct from the photo + Flickr usage above. The camera on my phone just isn't that important to me without the ability to easily publish them to the Web.
Stuff I don't want on my phone:
- Music. I am unconvinced of the wisdom of cramming a music player into a phone. The user experience needs to be solved first.
- Email. I still use client-side spam filtering so reading my mail on a phone would be a painful exercise. And I can send email from my phone and that's enough...I can handle not reading my email for hours on end.
- Web browsing. I love the Web, but my preferred portable device for accessing it is my laptop. Not worth the extra expense of adding it to my service plan.
What's your most-used portable device and what do you use it for? Feel free to comment here or link to a post on your site.
This is odd...you need a mobile phone to sign up for Gmail (or get an invite from a current user). Well, I guess that's not a whole lot more strange than needing an email address to sign up for an email account.
The Firefly is a cell phone for kids. It doesn't have a keypad, but it's got dedicated buttons for calling mom and dad and accessing the parentally controlled address book.
Barcode tattoos + mobile phones with cameras = business card (or, say, a list of your sexual preferences) on your arm.
Billboard is now tracking the top-selling ringtones. The list seems to track pretty close to the top singles list. Well, except for the Super Mario Bros theme song ringtone. (via rw)
How to use your cell phone anywhere in the world. Get a GSM phone, pay through the nose for roaming, or unlock your phone and use local pay-as-you-go SIM cards wherever you are.
Nokia.com comes up first in a Google search for "motorola mobile phones". I suspect it's because Motorola's site isn't optimized for Google (lots of Flash, little text) and a difference in usage: it's "cell phones" in the US versus "mobile phones" in Europe (where Nokia is from).
The Apology Line. "The way it worked was that you could call and confess to anything that you wanted, and you'd be recorded, or you could call and listen to other people's confessions." Sounds sort of like a phone-based message board.
Walt Mossberg: wireless phone carriers exercise too much control over the technology their customers can use. "I once saw a sign at the offices of a big cellphone carrier that said, 'It isn't a phone until "Harry" says it's a phone.' But why should it be up to Harry (a real carrier employee whose name I have changed)? Why shouldn't the market decide whether a device is a good phone?"
Two Morse coders beat two text messengers on Leno. That's it...I want a phone with one big button with which to tap out messages.
How Sprint PCS loses customers. Sprint wanted Cam to sign a 2-year contract just to switch plans, even though he had been a customer of theirs for 7 years. He switched to T-Mobile and got a new phone in the process.