Tag Archives: wrong solution

Foleo, Foleo, Where Art Thou?

image

Caption competition:

“Is this a dagger I see before me?”

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio”

Now you see it, now you don’t

Photo from BusinessWire

It has the grim predictability of a company that doesn’t seem sure of what it’s doing, and what people want. Ever since Ed Colligan unveiled the Foleo — a Linux-based sub-sub-notebook — a few months back, folks have been saying it was a mistake. Now it’s dead.

I liked the idea, but felt it was the wrong solution: the iPhone and the Nokia N800 seem to prove people now want something that isn’t just a workhorse, but another onramp to the social web, whereas the Foleo seemed to be aimed simply at business customers. Such folk have long been used to lugging heavy stuff around, so it made no sense.

Anyway, Ed has done the right thing and knocked the project on the head, taking a $10 million hit (while sparing a moment for the poor third party developers who committed time and resources to software to run on the dang thing). What is most telling, though, are the comments left on his blog post announcing the gadget’s demise. They reveal the frustration and supportive passion of Palm users around the world, and to me illustrate what people really want from the once-great company:

  • a better interface that isn’t so buggy and unreliable.
  • better battery life (the Foleo boasted six hours. But remember the IIIx: days and days on a couple of AAAs. How far backwards have we gone?)
  • more durable. The IIIx also survived a lot of bashing about.
  • a phone that isn’t a sop to the phone companies — in other words, so it can do VoIP, work on WiFi networks as well as cellular ones.
  • find a way of getting a bigger screen onto a Treo. How about projection?  
  • GPS. Things have moved on, Ed, and nowadays we expect our devices to fit a lot more in.
  • Like good cameras. Not just for snapping, but for scanning.
  • And 3.5G.
  • And probably WiMAX.
  • And big storage.
  • And decent software that can handle PDFs, flash, browsing and interactive stuff.
  • And decent keyboards (get back in bed with the ThinkOutside guys, or whoever bought them.) I still love my Bluetooth keyboard and can’t understand why they’re considered such an afterthought.
  • Voice commands and voice recognition.
  • USB connectivity

The bottom line, is that we’ve been thinking the PDA is dead, whereas we should be thinking the other way around: The smartphone is just a PDA with connectivity. A good PDA does all these things we’ve been talking about, and while we take calls on it, that’s a small part of what it is about. We just want the things we did on our PDA to be connected, that’s all.

That’s not just about being able to take calls, it’s about SMS, email, browsing, and of being able to meld into our environment — GPS to know where we are, cameras and HSDPA and GPS to take photos that go straight to Flickr, tools like Jaiku to wrap us into our social network. It’s still a digital assistant, it’s just a connected digital assistant.

As one commenter put it, it’s still a Getting Things Done Device.It’s just we do lots of different things these days, so a to do list shouldn’t be where you stop.

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Cellphone Terrorism

My old colleague Nick Cumming-Bruce writes in today’s IHT on Thailand’s demand that prepaid cellphone users register before they get a SIM card as police continue on the trail of cellphone terrorists.

Interesting piece: the basic idea is that you must hand over your name and address before getting a phone number as a measure to deter terrorists, who have been shown in Thailand and elsewhere to use phones to organise attacks and trigger bombs. Roaming customers visiting Thailand may also have to register.

But how effective is this going to be? First off, I think the practice of prepaid registration is more widespread than this. When I was in Australia last year I had to submit to questioning over the phone by a network employee, who disarmingly assessed whether I was who I said I was before he activated the card.

The other thing is that there’s no way this kind of thing would work except in places where the cost of a prepaid card is high enough to deter fraud, and even then it probably wouldn’t. In a place like Indonesia — where cellphones have been widely used by terrorists to plan, coordinate and trigger attacks — people buy SIM cards for as little as $2; what’s to stop a thriving gray or black market of these cards appearing, as folk offer themselves as registrants. Needless to say, there are 100 reasons why people don’t want others to know — especially, but not only the government — what number they’re using, and they may have nothing to do with blowing things up.

Wrong solution to a problem, I think. If you really wanted to do this properly, I would go for the credit card solution: Use software to track usage patterns and look for unusual behaviour. Cellphone data must be massive but it must also reveal all sorts of interesting data that is not necessarily personally intrusive: where someone is, how they use their phone — voice, SMS, MMS, GPRS — and how often they use it. Monitoring this kind of data would take some time, but it might reveal patterns of usage that expose terrorist-like behaviour.

Terrorists, for example, tend to keep a phone for just certain calls, so usage is very low. Of course, that also describes grandmothers given a phone for emergencies, but coupled with location data — terrorists tend to move around quite a lot — and other data might offer some revealing glimpses.

Maybe this is already being done. For sure, security agencies must have been mining the historical data of phones used by captured terrorists: Interesting patterns may be contained therein. But my tupennies’ worth is that by forcing folk to register their SIM cards is not going to deter terrorists: It’s just going to force them to use a more clandestine channel. Much better to keep them in the open and find a better way of looking for clues there.