The fight for transparency. Pt. 1

I’ve been off work for a short time and, as a result, have had much more time recently to indulge my inquisitive nature… and it’s made me less than happy.  There are so many wonderful ideas out there for the mobile market which are either not being promoted/advertised in the correct manner or are having their implementation hindered by the short sighted hierarchies of the cellular companies.

I’ve owned several smart phones over the years, including Windows Mobile devices, PALMs, Blackberry’s and Symbian powered Nokias and with the exception of both Blackberry and Symbian have found myself drawn in to the dark world of hacking/tweaking the OS/firmware.  I didn’t do this out of some desire to show off, or break into some forbidden subsystem, I did it so that I could utilise the hardware in the manner the manufacturer intended… I’ve since moved on to Symbian based Nokia devices and, while my provider doesn’t seem to have crippled the phone itself, I’m still experiencing restrictions in what the phone is capable of compared to what I can do with my current provider and so I find myself looking to the dark corners again.
Cellular providers seem to have developed a nasty habit over the years… no, not the one involving exorbitant, unnecessary roaming charges! They have decided, in their wisdom, to limit the functionality of our phones by disabling hardware and rewriting chunks of code to hide menu options.  Now, this isn’t new by any means, as can be seen by this news article from April 2007, but it is definitely something that isn’t too well documented as far as the user/consumer is concerned, and that’s my point.
A more recent example would be the fact that Sky Mobile is not available on O2 in the UK, and is only available for a fee on some of the other UK cellular networks… Now, many subscribers of Sky TV will not even be aware that Sky Mobile exists, let alone whether it is available on their network, but therein lies the rub…
Staying with the Sky Mobile example for the time being (or Sky Anytime Mobile for its full name).  The idea is wonderful, you have Sky News, Sky Sports News, Entertainment News, and Weather which you can personalise at the bottom end of the scale.  If you subscribe to Sky Anytime or Sky HD+ you can also set up your Sky to record programmes when you are away, now this isn’t new, it’s been available on Microsoft’s Media Centre in the US for some years now, but from a non-PC perspective it is most definitely new in the UK, and I think not available anywhere else?  At the top of the pile is the apparent ability to watch up to 20 Sky TV channels directly on your mobile phone!
All of that seems great, but how many Vodafone, 3G or Orange users actually use it?  It states here that there were 100,000 subscribers in 2006 on Vodafone alone.  I can’t find any more recent figures and I know of no-one in my circle of friends or the extended circle of acquaintances who make use of the service (and I work with geeks all day, every day!).  There are limited mentions of setting up the service on various forums, but they’re primarily forums frequented by technophiles, and the general user, to whom this service must be aimed at for it to become universally known and used, can only be described as a technophobe.  That last statement is by no means derogatory, my brother is the first to admit that he owns a Nokia N95 8GB purely as it ‘looks cool’ rather than for its capabilities, and most of the millions of mobile phones in the UK are sold for that reason alone, coolness/looks.
If we want the capabilities of the current batch of mobile phones to be embraced then surely we must make the consumer aware of just what those capabilities are?  And I don’t mean the slick commercials you see on TV, they gloss over the functionality and make it seem that all you need to do is press a button… we need the manufacturers and providers to work together to ensure that the functionality of a phone is available at the press of a button, and that includes those phones bought as PAYG/PAYT options and not just contract! (to be continued…)

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