Locative Lab

researching locative media

Six Mobile Innovations That Will Change Your Life

1. Pay By Phone

The idea of using your phone to make payments has been aroundfor several years but is finally gaining serious traction, starting inJapan where NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest cellular carrier, launched its mobile wallet program in2004. The number of handsets that support the company’s new paymentsystem has grown to nearly 12 million, according to Karen Lurker,communications manager in the U.S. for DoCoMo,

Thesephones–and those that are expected to be introduced soon in theU.S.–use a wireless technology called Near Field Communications (NFC).You wave the phone near a point-of-sale terminal that supports thetechnology, and it automatically pays for the item.

DoCoMohandles payment two ways, according to Lurker. The first is DoCoMo’sOsaifu-Keitai service, which enables you download credits worth as muchas 10,000 yen per month, or about $95, to your phone via the company’si-mode data service. When you wave the phone in front of the terminal,the amount of the purchase is deducted from the amount of creditcarried on your phone. The amount you actually spend appears on yourmonthly cell phone bill.

With the second method, the phone works like a credit card, withyour bill being sent to you separately by the credit-card company.Ultimately, you’ll be able to download your spending information tosoftware on your personal computer so you can monitor your expenses.

Amajor limiting factor: Merchants must buy new point-of-sale terminals.There are currently about 78,000 stores in Japan with terminals thatsupport Osaifu-Keitai and about 25,000 that work with thecredit-card-like service, though the numbers are expected to ramp-up,Lurker said.

2. Commanding Presence

If you use instant messaging, you already know about “presencetechnology”–the mechanism that tells you if somebody on your IM buddylist is online, offline, busy, or away from their desk. But soon,phones and other mobile devices will have supercharged presencecapabilities that not only provide details about your availability butalso help make you, and those you connect with, far more efficient andproductive.

Ata simple level, you will be able to program presence capabilities sothat the phone rings when specific people call while others areautomatically routed to voice mail. These presence “rules” will be tiedto your location–pinpointed by GPS capabilities in your mobiledevice–and will change automatically as you arrive, leave, or are enroute to specific locations.

Chris Isaac, a partner in thePricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory practice specializing in the wirelessindustry, is a believer. “The system will know, for example, if I’mtraveling between my primary work location and a client,” says Issac.”I will be able to set it so that if some people call at certain times,they’ll go to voice e-mail, but if my wife calls, she’ll get putthrough.”

Microsoft, IBM and others have quietly been hopping on the presence bandwagon. Forinstance, Microsoft put presence capabilities in its LiveCommunications Server 2005 to assist with collaboration on documents.Early examples of mobile presence-based services use your cell phone topinpoint your location and send you relevant traffic information whileyou drive. Google ,for instance, is in beta testing with Google Mobile Maps, a system thatprovides real-time traffic information to your cell phone.

Techgurus predict that this technology will make its presence felt inplenty of other applications. In the meantime, standards-setting bodieshave been busy for the last several years developing common protocolsfor exchanging presence information. The completion of that processwill greatly accelerate the development of applications that usepresence technology.

3. Internet Everywhere And Embedded In Everything

Soon it won’t be just desktop and laptop computers and mobile devicesthat will connect to the Internet. It also will be myriad otherdevices, ranging from video cameras to heating and cooling systems athome. And access will be available from virtually anywhere.

Ubiquitousconnectivity is already becoming a reality. Cellular operators inmedium-sized U.S. cities, for instance, are offering 3G data service,with typical speeds of about 500 Kbps. In addition to 3G, mobilebroadband technologies such as mobile WiMAX will start being deployedwidely in the next year. The presence and location capabilitiesdescribed above can also be integrated into these newly connecteddevices.

For instance, say you are traveling and have an earlyflight. If that flight is delayed, the information could be sentdirectly to your Internet-enabled travel alarm clock, which couldautomatically reset itself so you can get a bit more shut-eye, saysIssac of PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Plus, the system could notify yourassistant of the delay so that when they get to the office they’reaware of the changes,” he added.

Embedding the Internet intoeveryday devices is not a new idea. Several years ago, appliancemanufacturers were showing off Internet-connected refrigerators,microwave ovens and the like. At the time, they were toutingapplications such as the ability for the refrigerator to sense when,say, you are almost out of milk. It could then, in that early vision,automatically order more milk for home delivery.

Things havechanged–and even more useful applications are being developed. “Usingthe current 3G network, there are [potential] opportunities to interactwith appliances in the home,” said NTT DoCoMo’s Lurker. “You couldswitch your burglar alarm on or off or have an alert sent to yourhandset if the burglar alarm goes off.”

A service called Roboriorhas already emerged in Japan. Here, a robot armed with wireless camerasenables users to monitor their home while they are away. If it senses abreak-in, Roborior calls homeowners’ cell phones to alert them.

Inthe future, Lurker said, systems are likely to emerge that can be setto automatically cool the house down (or warm it up, depending on theseason) when you are a certain distance from home. Some vendors arestarting to make home infrastructure applications available that workvia text messaging. And at least one vendor offers control of ovens viacell phones, so that you can start the cooking process before you gethome.

When these new applications will be widely available remains to be seen. But all the pieces are falling into place.

4. Ubiquitous Media

In the last year, the most talked-about type of mobile media hasbeen television, but there’s doubt about how successful TV delivered tocell phones will be. So far, it hasn’t been a huge success in Japan,where these types of trends often get an early foothold.

Doug Neal, a research fellow for global systems integration firm Computer Sciences Corporation‘s Leading Edge Forum Executive Programme, said the real story may well bemaking media transmissions a two-way street. That means you could, forinstance, send live video-casts of your vacation to family and friends.

Thereis also an obvious business application for this sort of technology.”The use of two-way videophones will be important,” says Neal. “If I’mdoing business with you, I want to look you in the eye.”

Whileubiquitous mobile entertainment is readily available, cellularoperators have to get more realistic about their media offerings, manyof which are currently too expensive and too limited, says Scott Smith,an analyst with Social Technologies, a research and consulting firm inWashington, D.C.

“So far, downloading media [to mobile devices]costs a lot and isn’t that great an experience,” Smith said. “Theoperators are going to have to give up some control, open it up andcharge less.” Today, cellular carriers want to sell you media but don’twant you downloading media from sources they don’t control. But thatwill change, says Smith, when competitive technologies such as mobileWiMAX start becoming available.

5. Easier, Better Health Monitoring

Having your blood pressure checked takes just a minute or two. But ifyou are housebound, elderly or frail, getting to a place where yourblood pressure can be taken, logged into your medical records and madepart of a diagnosis is a bit trickier.

Enterwireless-network-enabled measuring and monitoring equipment. Instead ofscheduling an appointment and finding transportation, patients can wearmonitors that transmit their vital signs directly to their medicalproviders. That information can be automatically recorded and reviewedby medical personnel. When emergencies occur, doctors can be givenaccurate information while they are en route to the patient that willhelp them respond better.

Many of the pieces have been in placefor a while. But the increasingly ubiquitous nature of the Internet isspeeding development and adoption of “telemedicine” applications, suchas remote monitoring of blood pressure, blood glucose and heartconditions.

This sort of wireless transmission of health data isnot limited to sending information to doctors. Increasingly, it willalso help regular citizens monitor their loved ones. “If you have aparent who needs attention but who lives somewhere else, you can know,’Did Dad get up, has he taken his medication and, if he’s sleeping,does he have a decent sleeping heart rate?'” says Smith. “There alreadyare a couple of handsets that can deal with that type of information.”

6. Do You Know Where Your Kids (And Trucks) Are?

Parents worry–that’s a given. But special cell phones can help.

Lastyear, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo released a cell phone for children thatenables parents to track their whereabouts. “There are GPS capabilitiesbuilt into the phone so the parent can find out at all times where thechild is,” says Lurker. “If the child feels they’re in danger, they canhit a button and a very loud alert is sounded. And if somebody tries totake the battery out, an alarm goes out to the parent. This phone isextremely popular.”

Another monitoring application–a high-techbreathalyzer–using cellular data was created for a trucking company inJapan. “The [driver] takes the test over a live video connection withtheir headquarters,” explains Linker. “The video phone confirms thedriver is the one doing the test, not somebody else.”

Of course,monitoring people in real time raises some sticky issues. “The pushbackcomes when, say, you start watching where your spouse is or co-workersare,” says Smith of Social Technologies. “Obviously, there are privacyissues.”

Whatever the social implications, the ability to trackthe movements of others can save money and lower risks for enterprises.For instance, an insurance carrier in England called More Th>n (sic)has a low-cost policy called DriveTime for young drivers who promisenot to drive between the high-risk hours of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thecompany installs a GPS in their cars, and charges a premium dependingon how often they drive at night, thus reducing the number of accidents.



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Cityscape LocativeLab.org is Ronald Lenz's research website on locative & mobile media. This is mostly an archive of blogposts I find inspiring and interesting and an overview of my work. I'm a strategist, technologist and researcher in the field of Location-Based Mobile Services and work at Waag Society, a medialab in Amsterdam, The Netherlands where I head the Locative Media research program and at 7scenes, a platform for GPS games and tours as creative director. Picture 4 Find me at Twitter, LinkedIn or via ronald [at] waag [dot] org.

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