Crushing phones

There seem to be more people doing this kind of thing around recently…

© José Luís Agapito. Some rights reserved.

I guess the current deterrent doesn’t worry some people. My mum had an interesting idea though: what if your mobile phone was confiscated and crushed if you are caught using it while driving? That might be a real deterrent. Not just because of the cash value of some modern phones, but because people are so attached to their phones. Could it work? Cars already get crushed for not having road tax in the UK, so it doesn’t seem too much of a leap.


Poken in the wild

Just back home* from the second Tuesday tweetup (excellent event once again) with a grand total of zero high-fours (the Poken term for exchanging contact information).

Everyone at the Information on Demand conference (@IOD2009) was given a Poken, so if I’d been in Berlin recently, there would have been a massive captive audience of Poken users to high-four with. A conference seems like the natural environment for a Poken: lots of people with a common purpose all wanting to network, and multiple brands looking for a new piece of plastic to give away with their logo on.


Photo from “IBM Information On Demand 2009 Berlin with customized Poken” set by Ayman van Bregt (some rights reserved).

Unfortunately, as Andy has already mentioned in his Poken review, there just aren’t that many around. One glaringly obvious question is why it’s not possible to use mobile phones to do the same job, which is something almost everyone has already. Poken themselves saw that question coming and have a plausible answer about compatibility and usability but I think the shear number of Poken required before they are even half useful means a phone based solution must still be a strong contender. Using bluetooth couldeasily get round the problem of working out who even has a Poken, and there are ways to use it just as easily as a Poken. For example, the cityware digital co-presence project was pretty similar in lots of ways, using bluetooth device IDs combined with a Facebook application to manage contacts later, rather than beaming bluetooth contact information directly, and all without any awkward high-fouring. Obviously it also had its downsides, one of which was needing cityware nodes to log when devices were in the same place.

To earn a permanent place in my pocket, the Poken would have to deliver more, even if I never see another Poken. For a start, I’m just astounded that the Poken I have doesn’t even provide some simple USB drive storage. Or, to focus a bit more on the core purpose of a Poken, why not build it in to a business card holder? (Or a Moo card holder if you’re Andy!) Or even go the cityware route and log bluetooth device ids as well as other Poken contacts.

I still have my Poken with me but I don’t see them taking off in the wild for a long time, if at all. On the other hand, they are ideal for specific events and defined groups of people, such as employees for example, where I think there’s a lot of potential. A high-four is certainly far more natural than messing around trying to find some well hidden feature of your phone, especially if you know you aren’t going to be met with a blank look for suggesting high-fouring in the first place!

There’s more talk about Poken on Dogear Nation

* I didn’t actually get home this late, but half way through writing this post TalkTalk decided not to bother providing an internet connection for the second night in a row. It’s not going to take too much more of that before I disconnect from TalkTalk permanently.

Updated: …with a photo from IOD. (17 June 2009)

Update: More thoughts on Poken on Barry Leiba’s blog. (26 June 2009)

Update: Looks like a Poken might be trying to creep back in my pocket; the new Poken Pulse finally includes a 2GB USB drive! (2 October 2009)

Update: Interesting list of different ways to establish online connections from real world encounters, including the Poken. (8 July 2010)

More iPhone accessibility

One of the first posts on this weblog was about iPhone accessibility, and touch screen accessibility in general, which is been something I’ve had on the back burner for a long time. At the start of this year I was thinking about what my priorities should be in 2009 (wedding clearly being number one!) in attempt to get more done and, by coincidence, the Royal Institution Christmas lectures included a demo of the Dasher project which I think could be quite useful: reading most likely letters first rather than showing them in bigger boxes for example. A circular gesture to cycle through the letters in order of probability might work quite well.

Not everyone can see the point of considering this kind of thing on what, to the sighted, is a very visual device. I think that’s a pretty limited view of what is also a powerful, connected, personal computing device with a very flexible input device. Fortunately other people see it this way as well and are investigating ideas to make devices like the iPhone accessible.

I also found a site dedicated to mobile accessibility, via Tim’s blog, so perhaps a little momentum is building at last. One of my colleagues even twittered about accessibility of touch screen phones while I was writing this post!

Maybe I should get Andy to mock something up now he’s a pro at iPhone apps

Looking for a new phone company

18 months of TalkTalk hell is almost over, so I’m looking for a new phone company. I have also been completely underwhelmed by Vodafone recently, so a package that includes, home phone, broadband and mobile phone could be the answer.

Of course, I don’t doubt that most companies are just as useless, so who to choose…

Not Pipex it would seem!

And, even if I did think about going back to BT, they don’t seem to want me back, with a comedy, “Installation fee just £124.99” (this is obviously a new use of the word ‘just’ indicating a complete rip off). Unfortunately that kind of limits the choice somewhat, as many other providers require a BT line. One option I’m beginning to give serious thought to is Virgin Media (they must have improved since the NTL days by now surely?!) but I have reservations: their pricing seems a tad chaotic (their junk mail seems to include a reasonable offer, but it doesn’t appear on the web site it tells you to go to!) and if I pay for 4Mb broadband from them I would be extremely upset not to get the whole 4Mb, all the time. None of this ADSL/’up to’ nonsense. Sure, it might not be possible to supply higher speeds, so charge me less (not difficult really)!!!

Maybe Orange could be the answer– that would take care of the mobile part of the equation without going near O2 or Vodafone, which is a plus. At first glance they don’t seem to require a BT line either…

You also need:
a home phone line (excluding Kingston Communications and cable)

I suspect that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so I’m still looking. Any suggestions for who to try, and who to avoid, would be very very handy!!

Premium rate guarantee

A little more progress after I had my mobile phone account held up:

A letter from a Vodafone Customer Relations Specialist arrived this morning which did at least depart from the standard script used so far. They very carefully didn’t accept any liability but made some goodwill gestures instead, so I finally have my money back and should be properly invoiced from now on, at no extra charge. One thing they are still unwilling, or unable, to do is prevent the same situation being repeated. I’m quite happy with the ring tone that came with my phone, and I’m not interested in paying for an expensive call to find out if I’ve won a fabulous prize, so I would much rather block any future reverse charge SMS texts. The closest they offered was to block all SMS messages, both incoming and outgoing! Not exactly useful when I use texts more than phone calls on my mobile.

In many respects I think that existing laws should already protect customers if only the mobile phone companies accepted their liability. In particular, my contract is with Vodafone, not some 3rd party I have never interacted with, so they should be refunding me for services I have not requested. Given the unwillingness of Vodafone to take responsibility for the charges they are billing their customers for, and I suspect other companies are no different*, I wonder if a premium rate guarantee would be useful to increase the level of protection for consumers. Perhaps the following would be a good start:

  1. an option to accept or reject a message should be given before each reverse charge SMS is delivered (if this is not given, the company billing the recipient should be liable for providing an immediate refund)
  2. it should be possible to block all premium rate services on an account without affecting other services
  3. a proper invoice should be provided for any premium rate services at no extra cost

I would be very interested if you have any comments or suggestions.

* if there is a mobile network that does better than Vodafone, please let me know!

Update: was very pleased to receive another letter from my MP last night, who has also written to Ofcom. Looking forward to seeing how they respond.

17 Dec Update: another follow up letter from my MP who has received a teflon letter from Ofcom telling him that it’s a matter for PhonePay Plus, the premium rate industry body. No prizes for predicting what they’re going to say! I think Ofcom are missing the point that the mobile phone company are dodging their liability, regardless of what the companies sending these texts are doing. I also finally received the itemised bills Vodafone have been promising for so long. Unfortunately the bills are about as useful as a chocolate teapot; one of the text messages is so well hidden that I can’t find it, and the other is just labeled as a premium service, or something similar, with no indication of who sent it. I think I’ll be writing to Arun Sarin again since even the extra special call centre staff I now have the number for are completely uninterested.

Highway robbery – update

It has been just over a month since receiving a couple of unwanted reverse charge SMS texts, so here’s a quick highway robbery update:

  • I have just received, and paid in, a refund sent as Postal Order from one of the SMS companies. My guess is that it was from 81404 as they did actually get in touch, unlike the other company. Nothing in the envelope other than the Postal Order though (I think it’s the first Postal Order I have ever received!) so it could have been an early Christmas present I guess! The person who phoned from 81404 explained that they were unable to simply refund the charge made to my Vodafone account directly so, in part thanks to Royal Mail delays, I have had to wait a month to get the refund. Still, I’m actually quite impressed to get it at all, so the October award for best effort goes to 81404.
  • Vodafone did eventually reply in writing to my complaint, unfortunately it appears that they didn’t take the time to read my letter before replying. Instead they just restated exactly what they had told me on the phone. I have had a couple of attempts at encouraging them to take the matter seriously, but despite the promise of a free itemised bill for September (it might be nice to know exactly how badly you’re being ripped off) and forwarding my complaint on to a manager for a reply, I have not received anything more from them. Looks like I’ll be writing to their CEO Arun Sarin next.
  • I have just been on the phone to Royal Mail about one of the other letters that I sent recorded delivery and they can find no trace of it on their system. So it looks like Icstis may have an excuse for not replying yet. An updated letter will be on its way to them shortly though.
  • As I suspected, my MP was the first person to respond in writing, however I still await a full reply. Looks like he might have other things on his mind now but I look forward to hearing from him soon.

I completely forgot about the Watchdog option last month. The last time I wrote to them was about phones 4u… what is it about phone companies?!!

Highway robbery

I almost went for “Hightech robbery” but actually, it’s not that hightech at all. Just send a premium rate reverse charge SMS text message to someone who didn’t ask for it and collect. Who on earth thought they would be a good idea?! Especially when they arrive without any chance to accept or reject them before the money is taken. Even worse, there’s no way to stop it keep happening: Vodafone won’t let me block any future reverse charge messages to my account. So every time it happens you have to look up the number on the ICSTIS site (try 80122 or 81404 for example) to attempt to get a refund.


Your mobile account is being treated like a debit account for ‘services’ (not that I even got a ring tone for the money) without any of the protection of a bank account. I’ve wasted the entire evening writing to Vodafone, the two companies who stole money, ICSTIS, and my MP. I’ll also be writting to OFCOM and possibly the Information Commissioner’s Office. Wonder who will reply first… I don’t think Vodafone have ever replied to me in writing, I’m not holding my breath for Tanla Mobile Ltd or Zamano Ltd, and I suspect ICSTIS, OFCOM and the Information Commissioner’s Office are going to be completely disinterested. MPs are usually pretty good though, and I did actually vote for this one; maybe I should have mentioned that in my letter!!

iPhone accessibility

I have largely avoided all the iPhone excitement (being a child of the 70’s, I’m more than happy with my pocket calculator) but I recently found a post about the problems it has with accessibility.

A few years ago I had an idea about making touch screens devices more accessible after I noticed the rise in self-service kiosks that had no other way to provide input. The same idea could be ideal for the iPhone so I emailed to see if Apple would be interested.

The full description can be found on the prior art database by searching for document ID IPCOM000125721D but the basic idea is for a touch screen device, like the iPhone, to support an accessible mode where, instead of the usual graphical buttons and layouts, large areas of the screen are used with a telephone prompt style system to interact with the user. For example, an audio prompt to, “Press the top right of the screen to make a call” and so on. High contrast blocks of colours would make it possible to find the right area with very little vision, and completely blind users could find the edge of the screen by touch, with small modifications to the case if necessary. Numeric input, to enter a phone number for example, could be handled with simple tactile markers arranged around the outside of the screen. Switching to the accessible mode could be as simple as pressing anywhere on the screen for a few seconds, or recognising a pre-paired bluetooth headset. The main advantage of all this is that it is largely software based with no additional external controls required, so ideal for small devices, or touch screen kiosks that have already been installed… and easy to add to something like the iPhone.

So it looks like I’m interested in the iPhone like everyone else now!