A Communicator Killer?

I tend to think of the Nokia Communicator (aka The Brick) as a somewhat retrograde device, popular to folk who haven’t quite caught up with the shape of things to come (aka The Smartphone). But Indonesians and Germans don’t agree (link to a podcast I did on the subject for the BBC), using the Communicator in such large numbers that Nokia tends to focus most of its promotional energies in those two countries. This may explain why a German company is about to launch a Communicator lookalike: the HandyPC.

Tony Smith of The Register reports that Berlin-based phone maker ROAD GmbH has announced the HandyPC, a clamshell device based on the Linux operating system and Trolltech’s Qtopia GUI. It’s a quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE device with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on board too. No date has been given for when the product will be sold, or how much it will cost.

Linux-based HandyPC to challenge Nokia Communicator | Reg Hardware.

The Poor Get Their Motorolas

I’m intrigued by this program to offer cheap handsets for the poor (from The Register), but I have my doubts. The Register says

Motorola has been selected by the GSM Association (GSMA) to supply the handsets for its programme to provide mobile telephony to people in developing countries. Motorola will commence delivery of these phones in the first quarter of 2006, as the second phase of the GSMA’s Emerging Market Handset (EMH) programme gets underway. The stated aims of the programme are to advance the social and economic development of emerging markets through mobile communications. It includes an initiative to provide mobile phones that cost less than USD30 apiece onto the market in poorer nations.

Where I live you can get a second-hand handset for less than that. Indeed, in Indonesia handsets are so cheap everyone, and I mean everyone, has at least one. Wouldn’t it make more sense to give developing countries (ok, ‘emerging markets’) second-hand phones from the developed countries (‘emerged markets’). Wouldn’t it be better just to give these things away?

How To Build A Good Airport

I just want to sing the praises of Singapore’s Changi airport. I was upset to see a year or so back that they had discontinued free Wi-Fi —  now you have to pay, although many GSM operators have roaming agreements that give you a free access code to one of the airport’s Wi-Fi operators — but to me far more important is the availability of decent working desks with working power outlets and Ethernet cable slots.

Changi has recently upgraded these facilities but has yet to update its airport maps, so I was aggrieved to find that in my usual spot the number of tables had shrunk, and each was occupied with folk who looked like they were camping there for the summer. There was no one at the information desk but I did spot a feedback terminal, so fired off my complaint, saying folk like me try to transit via Changi because it’s a great place to get work done without having to shell out extra money, and that if I am in Singapore for any reason I try to get to the airport early knowing I can work there. (Offhand I can’t think of another airport that offers desks for people to sit at outside a business centre or business class lounge.)  I signed off with the usual threats about losing customers like me if they scaled back these facilities etc etc. (It had been a long day and I was facing blog withdrawal. )

Of course, immediately after doing that I stumbled upon a cluster of other desks — most of them unoccupied — so I felt slightly bad about it, but assumed no one would read my complaint anyway. So imagine my surprise when I heard back this morning from the Civilian Aviation Authority of Singapore:

We apologize for the inconvenience you have encountered while using the Laptop Access corners. We wish to clarify that we do have other Laptop Access corners located behind Giordano shop and Nexus Lounge at Terminal 1(21 workstations), near the GST Refund Counter at Terminal 2 (8 workstations), behind Sports Bar (16 workstations) and the iConnect at Level 3, Terminal 2 (15 workstations).

That’s good service in my view. Singapore really gets it right with Changi. It’s not too noisy, realising that travellers just want somewhere quiet they can shop, rest, and eat without noisy music and loud announcements. It’s got good facilities you don’t have to pay extra for, including quiet rooms with chaises longues, realising that transit and airport facilities should be built into the price of the ticket. And finally they realise that an airport reflects the country it’s in. It’s a gateway not just out but in, and through. If you make people feel they’re having a good experience they’ll leave impressed and come back. If you use an airport just to fleece people and make them feel harried, hustled and hassled, they’ll do their best not to pass through again.

GPRS on the Road? Forget it

I’m amazed by how hard it is to get GPRS when you’re traveling. Prepaid GSM cards don’t seem to support it unless you subscribe to some special service, and even then it’s crippingly expensive (altho not as expensive as roaming). I know 3G is going to replace this intermediate technology sometime, but given the popularity of the BlackBerry, wouldn’t you have thought that some of these operators would be trying to sell a bit of extra airtime to users keen to stay in touch on the road?

I’ve tried four different Hong Kong operators now and only one of them says they support prepaid GPRS. Even then, it’s not been possible for people to send me straight SMS messages on their network. Agh. I’m going back to smoke signals.

Malaysia’s New PDA Phone

Malaysian company Fifth Media (beware: lots of Flash animation) will this week launch the Axia, a PDA phone that is small, and, at $525, ‘arguably the lowest-priced PDA phone’, according to today’s New Straits Times.

The Axia A108 is a GSM tri-band phone using Microsoft Windows CE.NET, with GPRS, MP3 player and 1.3 megapixel camera. There’s no Bluetooth, in case you’re wondering.

It will first appear in Singapore, Bangkok, London and Hong Kong. It will later be launched  in Paris, Mumbai, Jakarta, Manila and Dubai. Fifth Media, the Times reports, plans to launch three more models in the next year: the Axia A208 with a pocket personal computer and facsimile, a A308 with Bluetooth and a 2.0- megapixel screen, and the A338 with WiFi.