Location-based services

March 2, 2009

I don’t necessarily think that location-based services will be the next big thing for the mobile market, as Mark Lowenstein discusses in his short report on Fierce Wireless. At least not those that try to sell items to cell phone users.

First of all, it will take a long time for a reasonable number of cell phone users replace their devices with those with Internet and GPS-capability, as well as adopt plans with data services, and if you have a GPS-capable cell phone it doesn’t necessarily mean that the carrier will always enable it.  Also, because if there are no users to “locate”, there will not be incentives for companies to invest in these applications. Another reason is that not all cell phone users may feel comfortable with these ads, which in most cases will target impulse buyers.

However, a non-commercial location-based application type that I think it could be very beneficial for its users is security functions.  An example of this kind of application is “SafetyNet”, as reported about in Inside the GPS Revolution in the edition of Wired published last February (2009-02-27). The app has a map of bad neighborhoods and it goes into a “watchdog” mode if the user enters potentially dangerous locations. If something bad happens, the only thing that the user needs to do is to shake his or her device, and it will send alerts to friends and family, take a picture of the location, turn on its speaker, and dial 911.



1.      Is there any location-based application that is becoming increasingly popular among cell phone users? If so, what is attracting more attention to it than others?

2.      What are the main challenges for application developers when building a location-based app?  


Signs of change in Kenya

February 22, 2009

In a country where basic living necessities are not fulfilled, where people survive on scarce food and water and struggle to have a decent home, dreaming about real democracy, they will probably be better off with cell phones. This is the main point of Paul Mason’s BCC short report on his journey to Kenya. The correspondent traveled through the country following the mobile phone networks and emphasized changes in the economy and democracy brought by these networks.
Mason describes the importance of the creation of M-Pesa, a mobile application built by Celtel and Safaricom that allows users to transfer money. In a place where most of the people don’t have bank accounts and barely use plastic money, this simple innovation can make Africa a more liquid economy. He also explains how the use of cell phone is already benefiting the population in terms of democratic actions. In Kibera, Africa’s biggest slum, people are using cell phones to fight evictions. He reports: “They used what we would call flashmobbing to call people from across the many different and rival settlements together where big evictions were planned, and threatened to sit down in front of the bulldozers.”
Even though the changes seem very small, Kenyans who own a cell phone consider it massive. Not that all the problems will suddenly disappear, but as Mason wrote on his report, they will give African people more power, and a bigger voice. It is definitely something for those who have never had anything.


1. What other countries besides Kenya are using similar systems to M-Pesa? What are the security risks associated with the financial transaction?  

2. Could the Kenyan government shut down the mobile phone networks if it considered “dangerous” for political purposes?

Mobile Web Best Practices

February 16, 2009

The Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0 is a useful and detailed guide directed toward Web Site owners, developers, and operators, who intend to improve the user experience when accessing the Web by mobile devices.  The document was prepared by the Best Practices Working Group (BPWG) and it is part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Recommendations.

I was most impressed by the amount of restrictions that website developers have to cope with in order to create a pleasing user experience. Some examples of these limitations – or recommendations, presented in the document are: minimal navigation at the top of the page, identification of target links, limitation of scrolling to one direction, use of sufficiently contrasting colors, and division of pages into usable but limited size portions. The document emphasizes the importance of readable content in different types of devices and the need of creating an optimal user experience, considering screen size and users’ difficulty to enter text into their cell phones.

The Mobile Web Best Practices guide is interesting because it explains what the best alternatives are, how to configure a web page for mobile use, and what to test. The document provides very good insights of what to stress and what to leave out when creating a page that may be visited by mobile users.



1. In the 5.4.6 Image Size topic (p.21), the authors suggest the resizing of images on the server because it reduces the amount of data transferred and the amount of processing the device has to carry out. How does this process occur?

2. New application markets have been emerging recently and, consequently, more independent and amateur applications and content are available for cell phones. Do amateur pages usually respect the mobile best practices? Is there also a Mobile Applications Best Practices’ guide?  

Privacy Issues

February 9, 2009

In the paper “Direct Marketing: Mobile Phones, and Consumer Privacy: Ensuring Adequate Disclosure and Consent Mechanisms for Emerging Mobile Advertising Practices” Nancy King discusses the companies’ necessity to inform mobile phone users about disclosure privacy, and argues that current federal and state regulations are inadequate and don’t protect consumers’ privacy in mobile advertising. King suggests that one solution is to oblige companies to have a more transparent approach and notify consumers about the company’s privacy practices. Among several recommendations, she also suggests the use of privacy enhancing technologies (PETs) to protect consumer’s identity.

On the other side, James Nehlf criticizes King’s suggestions, alleging that consumers don’t have the capacity to judge whether to opt in or opt out of a proposed privacy-reducing transaction. He explains that consumers cannot make an informed choice because they don’t know “what is at stake” (p.54). As the Jamster case shows, the lack of a coherent mobile advertising policy and the lack of a better understanding of disclosure practices are allowing companies to take advantages of consumers indiscriminately.

 To me, the problems regarding privacy in mobile advertising are occurring for a simple reason: technologies are evolving in such a fast pace that they give legislators no time to rebuild every paragraph of regulations. Similarly, mobile technologies are being developed much faster than the consumers’ capacity to judge whether they are beneficial or not. I believe that King’s approach would probably not solve all the privacy issues, but it would help mobile users to start reflecting on this matter and might influence them to investigate regulations before exposing their private data.


1.       Is there any wireless carrier that is taking a more transparent approach in regards to consumers’ privacy disclosure?

2.       Are there other public known cases of irregular mobile selling practices? If so, what were the measures taken to punish those that committed infractions?

Shared Phone Use

February 2, 2009

Visiting the Personal Democracy Forum I was happy to encounter several articles on mobile phone use all over the world. As we think about mobile technologies, high tech devices, applications, market places, deals among wireless carriers, and so on usually come to mind.  It was definitely refreshing to see something else.

An article I found especially interesting was “Nokia Anthropologist Shares Thoughts on Mobile Sharing” and then the related paper “Shared Phone Use.” It encompasses the shared phone practices in Uganda, as reported by Jan Chipchase, a Nokia anthropologist.

Chipchase interviewed people in a farming community, a fishing village and a small town in 2006 and found unique phone practices in those places. Among others, Chipchase revealed an informal practice of sending and receiving money through phone kiosks and networks. As the author (Chipchase, 2007, p.3) explains:

Joe lives in Kampala and wants to send his sister Vicky 10,000 Ugandan Shillings – about 4 Euros. He buys a pre-paid top up card for that amount but instead of topping up his own phone calls the local phone kiosk operator in Vicky’s village. The phone kiosk operator uses the credit to top up his own phone, takes a commission of anywhere between 10 and 30% and passes the rest onto Vicky in cash. The kiosk operator then resells the airtime at a profit (it is after all his business).   

Another very common practice in Uganda that is uncommon worldwide is “Step Messaging”, i.e., delivering text or verbal messages via shared cell phone or kiosk where the message is delivered the last mile on foot.  In Uganda it is socially acceptable to leave messages with someone else (a neighbor or kiosk operator), and by using the social hub people can connect to others without having individual devices.



1.       Chipchase affirms that people prefer to have their own mobile phone rather than borrow one and that the cost of buying one is the main barrier. If manufacturers created specific devices for shared use that somehow could have some “individual” features, i.e., people could set their devices in different ways and log in and log off, would it change consumers in Uganda’s stated preference to have an individual phone?

2.       What other research was conducted in emerging markets regarding shared phone use? Is it not economically viable?


January 27, 2009

Reading this article for the Mobile and Communication class, I found interesting that several companies (Google, T-Mobile, Microsoft, Rimm) are focusing on wireless applications market places. It seems that with the organization of these markets, opportunities in the mobile industry will expand even faster, especially for mobile application developers. For Microsoft, that “presents a philosophical dilemma” according to the article’s author, Skymarket may represent a new and completely different strategy, which “embraces the democratization of software revenues with 3rd party providers”. As we know, Windows Mobile has been struggling for years with customer experience, so I believe that a neat, democratic, and profitable change will be more than welcome.

1. Apple iPhones have been working well with several Google applications, such as the YouTube channel and Google maps. How are things changing with a fiercer competition between Google phone and iPhone?
2. Microsoft Live Search is being used as search engine on all Verizon phones, including BlackBerry (RIM) models. Is it likely that Rim will utilize Skymarket? Or will they prefer to develop their own applications market place?

Growth in Mobile Services

January 19, 2009

Understanding the Mobile Ecosystem”, a white paper written by Strategy Analytics, explains in detail the roles of the key players in the mobile industry. The paper emphasizes the rapid growth of the use of mobile phones all over the world, and especially the continuous development of technologies to provide users with data services and content. The report also examines the market opportunities for content owners, designers and developers, publishers and aggregators, hosting partners, and delivery agents. I will briefly comment on two topics discussed in this paper: the mobile phone as the most widely-used electronic device and the distinct uses of cell phones world-wide.

The numbers shown in the report are not surprising: there are approximately 3.5 times as many mobile devices in use as there are PCs. Mobile phones are cheaper than computers, even though used computers may be cheaper than high tech brand new mobile devices. Nowadays, mobile phones encompass several functions that only online computers were able to offer in the past. They are being used as aggregators, and they are making us put many other tech gadgets aside. Cell phones are not only used for voice communication; they are mp3 players, video cameras, televisions, radios, GPSs, and, of course additional Internet navigation portals. One of the charts presented in the report shows that 800-900 million phones equipped with cameras and/or music are expected to be sold in North America, Western Europe, and the Asia Pacific by the end of 2010.

Another interesting topic in the paper is the diversified uses of cell phones in distinct parts of the world. The report mentions that Japan and Korea are globally known for use of data services. In these countries users spend twice as much per month on data than users in Western Europe and North America. In Brazil, for example, the data service opportunities are still pretty small. The 3G technology has already arrived, but the price of smart phones and other technological devices are still very high. The iPhone was released in Brazil last year at seven times more its price in the US for prepaid plans. In my opinion, the level of technology penetration in a country is a decisive factor for the success of data services business. Another barrier for the expansion of data services is piracy and lack of control of illegal downloads.


1.      How does an international channel such as CNN produce mobile content having to take into account regional differences of data service use, and many other variables such as diverse types of content consumption, device storage capacity, platforms, sizes of screen, etc?

2.      One of the advertising delivery options presented in the report is “display space on websites accessed by mobile users (p.11).”Smart phones users, for instance the iPhone users can zoom in and zoom out parts of the navigation page to facilitate their reading. However, having this option, will they not skip the ads in those pages? And in the case of users with devices that don’t have this option, will the ads placed on websites not be too small?