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Re: <nettime> mobile: the next killer app (some comments)
Miles Nordin on Wed, 3 Jul 2002 10:40:59 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> mobile: the next killer app (some comments)

>>>>> "rs" == Rich Stillman writes:

    rs> But take a close look at instant messaging.

There are two big problems with IM.  While wireless IM might be nice,
I think we should want wireless email first.

1. email is inherently a one-to-many discussion medium.  One can
   subscribe to mailing lists, or just put lots of addresses in the
   To: header.  IM is, like voice, a person-to-person medium, so it
   preserves the political limitations of the telephone network as
   compared to the Internet.

2. IM is a closed standard under AOL's control.  Open clients
   reverse-engineer AOL's protocol.  Outside AOL's hedgemony, Instant
   Messaging is a balkanized mess of competing and
   increasingly-ridiculous standards.  My favorite right now is
   gale.org, but I haven't actually used any of them extensively.

   Even if you could make IM one-to-many, which you can't easily do
   equivalently to email given the system's pervasive assumption of a
   synchronous conversation, the community could not grow past the
   borders of the system integrator's brand name and the
   wireless-handset medium.

email, OTOH, is ubiquitous and flexible.  It's also gatewayed to stuff
like FAX, web-to-mail, ftp-to-mail.  And if you limit the discussion
to fundamental functionality rather than color wallpaper and bitmap
emoticons, email is a superset of IM.

Granted, email is missing some of the sweet IM window-dressings like
ad-hoc conversation threading and idle-time-stalking.  The single-window
conversation-threading is kind of pretty, but the stalking features are
basically irrelevant with wireless: what's the point of keeping track of
who is ``logged in'' when you are carrying the handset and therefore
always logged in?  In any case, whatever IM extras we can achieve should
come second, after providing email's essential and open, non-exclusive
communicative ability.

These pleas for wireless IM disturbingly echo email's
pre-mainstream-Internet past where the Internet was one of many types of
email---there was also Compuserve mail, MCI mail, Delphi mail, Prodigy
mail, Bitnet, Fidonet, WWIVnet.  You tried to be on the same mail system
as your friends, and most people were on several systems. Business cards
would list a grab bag of addresses along with fax and ``telex'' numbers.  
>From Compuserve one could communicate with most of these, but only through
``gateways'' using weird gothic addresses, introducing formatting garbage,
requiring unpredictable delays, and often charging per-message or
per-line.  No doubt this appeals to telcos with their history of ``roaming
agreements'' and closed ``text messaging'' systems (with most US carriers
you can receive truncated 60 - 160 char emails sent to a magic ``text
message'' address, but you can't send this kind of text message from your
handset to an email address.  Now, there are many subtly-different kinds
of text messages even on a single carrier's network.  Some of them ring
and others sneak into your remotely-held ``inbox'' like voicemail, all
with different length limits, address namespaces, costs, and archiving

Anyway, I don't think IM is useless.  Considering stuff like finger,
ytalk, irc, and Zephyr, the IM concept is almost as old as Internet email
based on SMTP.  I just think simple, properly-integrated wireless email
needs to come BEFORE wireless IM, and that the current US trend of
AOL-branded Blackberrys and AT&T keitai is far more suspicious than Sadie

    rs> Current screens are too small for Web browsing.

    rs> Connection speeds are too slow for data transfer.

I disagree with this almost unilaterally.  Existing systems have totally
appropriate hardware and network speeds for doing things like reading the
nettime list.

The screen size does defy the current crop of web-oriented flashturbation
marketing graphic designers, but I think ``new media'' types will embrace
the keitai screen successfully.  Remember, existing handsets are
65536-color 120x160 screens.  In the reasonably readable font that I'm
using right now, 'xterm -font 6x10', here's how big such a screen is:

 120x160 keitai                 newspaper, USA Today
+--------------------+     ___
|   Months before    |     /|\    Months before WorldCom says it
|WorldCom says it    |      |  began to boost earnings through
|began to boost earn-|      |  alleged accounting fraud, the com-
|ings through alleged|      |  pany faced intense pressure to
|accounting fraud,   |     3.3 please Wall Street that worsened
|the company faced   |     cm  as its problems grew.
|intense pressure to |      |     Last week's disclosure that the
|please Wall Street  |      |  telecom giant hid $3.9 billion in ex-
|that worsened as its|     \|/ penses during 2001 and the first
|problems grew.      |     ___ quarter of
|   Last week's dis- |
|closure that the    |
|telecom giant hid   |
|$3.9 billion in exp-|
|ses during 2001 and |
|the first quarter of|

Think of it as an extreme version of the polite way you are supposed to
fold your newspaper on the train, except that the keitai should do smooth
scrolling with an analog IBM-gerbil-dick or Kyocera-scrollwheel instead of
requiring you to awkwardly refold and elbow your neighbor.

The screen size problem is that on current poorly-integrated American
systems, there is no smooth scrolling, only jerky per-line or per-page

What's worse, you have to press ``next page'' after every 1 - 5
screenfulls and wait for a new page to download, which takes about 10
seconds with Nextel Online (compared to only 1 second with DoCoMo i-mode,
a better-integrated wireless data network of equivalent bandwidth to
Nextel's).  You spend 3/4 of your time pressing [next page] and 1/4 of
your time reading.  You shouldn't spend ANY time pressing [next page],
because keitai should download pieces of article before you scroll to them
by using software read-ahead.  NONE of this has anything to do with screen
sizes or network capacity!

The network speed problem is that email isn't sent to the handset until
you're reading it---another software/integration issue.  If it were, then
the existing networks' speed becomes both adequate and irrelevant: you
never wait for the network.

Devices like the Blackberry and the i-mode/EZweb/J-Sky celfones in Japan
send the entire email into the keitai before it rings.  This way, you can
scroll through mails quickly, solving both problems.

    rs> Memory and processing power are too limited for significant
    rs> local applications.

I've seen zero evidence of this.  I see that software in US celfones is
often of very low quality (especially that OpenWave ``phone.com'' WAP
browser that mangles all the European sites), but I see no evidence that
this has anything to do with memory or processing power. Nor have you
actually named any ``local applications'' that this nebulous level of
memory and processing power supposedly precludes. This is nothing but FUD.

    rs> Keypad design makes data entry too difficult

Again, this argument is rarely presented as an obstacle to Graffiti, yet I
believe skilled 10-button keitai/handset typists easily beat skilled
Graffiti(r)(tm) users, and unlike the plastic-pencil-pushers, the keitai
users can do it one-handed if they want to.

For some reason, certain people seem very resistant to the evolution of
devices in telephone handset shape to other purposes, in spite of contrary
evidence of its practicality in the Japanese (and Korean?) markets.

I have a much longer rant about this:



There will be plenty of room, I'm convinced, for any wireless service
that doesn't frustrate its customers---something many American
wireless providers do routinely---and i-mode emphatically does not
frustrate its current customers.	-- Dr. Tachikawa, NTT DoCoMo

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