Category Archives: mobile phone use

Use of Multiple Mobile Phone Numbers (part 2)

Continued from part 1….

There are several tactics to use multiple phone numbers. Four notable solutions are listed here – please keep in mind that at the time of this research (2007), there was only very few mobile phone models that had the dual SIM feature.

Solution 1. Carrying two or more SIM cards but only one mobile
Not everyone can afford to buy multiple phones, or wants to carry two mobile phones with them all the time. The extra SIM card is carried in a safe place such as inside wallet or inside the battery cover of the phone, which makes an intuitive storage for switching the cards. Some people who go for this solution are typically well aware of call divert function as it allows receiving calls from both numbers even though there is only one active number to make calls at a time.

Solution 2. Multiple phones – A phone per number
In markets where users do not have separate SIM cards, this is the only solution for the user to get multiple phone numbers – while in GSM markets it is a matter of users’ preference and affordability. Users may maintain separate phone book on each of the phones – sometimes intentionally (refer to 1. lowering the cost of communication), sometimes because they do not have the option of easily synchronize them. When affordability is not an issue, physically separating the phone per number provides the greater control over managing the multiple points of contacts.

Solution 3. Mobile phone with multiple SIM card slots
At the time of research, there were very few multiple SIM phones in the market from the known brands. However we observed a few Shanzai phones featuring dual SIM. Obviously after 4 years, this feature has become a de facto requirement for a mobile phone. There are numerous new mobile phone brands popping up in India, and invariably all their products feature dual SIM, sometimes triple SIM functionality.

Indian mobile phone brands’ ads: Most phones have the dual SIM feature

Solution 4. Stitching up multiple SIM cards into one
We found a service offered by a local mobile phone dealer (Mobile Phone People, one of the Nokia authorized dealers) in Ghana. It costs 15 euros to have the two SIM cards combined into one. There is an even more advanced operation, which requires a special SIM card imported from Finland. This card can host up to 16 SIM cards into one, but costs 40 euroes. Either of these operations costs considerably high for the market, as it is more than purchasing a mobile phone. Therefore the clientele is mostly business people who do need to have two or more numbers but do not want to go through the inconvenience of switching SIM cards or carrying multiple phones.

Interviewing the engineer who was working at this service center mentioned that this technology is from Finland, but cannot tell more about its source as it is a business secret. He was proud to say that he was the first one who got trained for this operation in Ghana, and subsequently he trained others working currently in the shop. The way this operation worked was brilliant at the short sight, but obviously I suspect that it may have the legal issues in terms of manipulating the network SIM card directly. 4 years down the road, I don’t see this service booming in the market.

User’s two SIM cards are punched out and combined into one new card

A special chip can host up to 16 SIM cards into one, at high cost of €40

Application to control the stiched SIM card settings. Works with any phone.

I haven’t had a chance yet to study how people actually manage multiple phone numbers – the multiple identities on their dual SIM phones. If the mobile usage goes beyond the voice calls, it will definitely require design considerations in various parts of the mobile phone applications, as it no longer is going to be an issue of cost management, but identity management. Technologically and as a matter of market availability, owning multiple mobile phone numbers is now very easy. But its potential and implications is largely unexplored beyond the manufacturing of physical hardware.

Acknowledgment of the project team: Ti el Attar, Jan Chipchase, Fumiko Ichikawa, Indri Tulusan and local collaborators

Use of Multiple Mobile Phone Numbers (part 1)

2 SIM cards with chips punched out to make one integrated SIM card, Accra, Ghana, 2007

I recently visited a shanzai phone market in Shenzhen, China. Due to its proximity to the main production hub of mobile phones of all brands and manufacturers, it is a true showcase of all kinds of mobiles you ever imagined to exist. As with the timing, there were a lot of design copy products of Nokia’s recent model N8. On one visit to the market, I saw several versions of N8 design copies, with very different feature sets – which was a trend I did not witness when I visited the shanzai market in Chengdu a few years ago.

Various fake copies of Nokia N8 in Shenzhen shanzai phone market

The copies of N8 can be categorized as:
– Dual SIM with TV functionality
– Copy close to the real product
– Various chipset (price tag changes according to the CPU speed)

It is interesting to note the competition space even within fake phones of the same product. While these ‘enhanced’ unique selling points may be just a gimmick, you might also think that there is some level of genius in those features reflecting the market norms.

Fake N8 with the antenna out stresses that it has the TV functionality.
Shanzai phone market, Shenzhen, China, 2010

There are numerous mobile phone models designed to take more than one SIM card. Most of fake mobile phones or lesser-known brand names in the market now has the dual SIM feature as if it is as essential as having the mobile network radio itself. In fact, it is one of the big yet stealth changes in the basic feature set of mobile phones in the last 4 years – especially among the lesser-known brands, low-end of the price tags, and shanzai markets. Despite the popularity surrounding us in several large mobile phone markets including India, China and African countries – I have seen few buzz on the ‘dual SIM’ phenomenon. Thereby I put together a brief post, digging information from an internal research report I wrote for my employer in 2007.

Having multiple mobile phone numbers may be seen as an anti-trend when the mobile phone number portability is increasing becoming a part of the basic civil rights in several countries. But for the time being, the following circumstances drive people to use more than one mobile phone numbers:

1. Lowering the cost of communication
Many mobile network operators offer cheaper rates for inter-network calls, especially in markets where competition among network operators is high. Highly cost-conscious consumers naturally get multiple numbers for cheaper calls. While it may not take too much effort to acquire the new number itself, this comes at a cost of efforts and skill: Remembering, or identifying who in your social network has the number belonging to a specific network operator. People develop a tactic, such as indicating the network operator in the name stored on the phonebook. This is not an exclusive behavior only for the developing economies, however. When the 3G network was newly introduced in Japan several years ago, many Japanese consumers also owned two numbers, one from 3G for cheaper messaging & data connection, another from existing network for cheaper voice calls.

An ideal mobile phone idea hosting 4 SIM cards,
as ‘operators’ rates vary and everyone has more than one SIM card in his community’,
Camp Buduburam – Liberian refugee camp, Ghana, 2007

In the street surveys done in 2007 as part of our research project, the following percentage of users surveyed had two or more mobile phone numbers:
– Accra, Ghana (n=309): 30%
– Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (n=230): 28%
– Chongqing, China (n=150): 9%
– Mumbai, India (n=165): 16%

Considering the fast changing nature of the mobile market, this number probably have changed significantly especially with new players joining in the market.

2. Controlling points of contacts
Another motivation to have more than one number is for the user to control how one is contacted and contactable. Naturally users typically have a strategy on handing out the right number to the right person for future contactability. Our research participants most commonly report separating private and business contacts by having separate numbers. Being able to switch one number completely offline is a way of switching the mental mode, such as “I am turning my work phone off as I am not working anymore”. Small business owners and those who deal with a large number of people can identify the type of contacts easily by differentiating which phone number they use. One Chinese electronic shop owner gave out one of his mobile phone number for his best customers, ensuring that he is always reachable for them. The ease of having another mobile phone number also provides the exclusive communication channel for some, like those in early or secret relationships.

3. Ensuring reliable connectivity
Unreliable network availability or unavailability of the particular network in the area where you live or work may drive users to be ready with multiple numbers from different network operators. In Ghana, people had the perception that the quality of the connection can not be ensured with one network alone hence multiple numbers were essential to prevent disrupted communication. For many prepaid mobile subscribers, having multiple phone numbers means that user can minimize the risk of getting disconnected because of running out of prepaid credit in critical situation.

To be continued in part 2 of the post….

Approaches to sustainability

Do you remember shops in the movie Blade Runner where people could buy spare parts, whatever it is you are looking for, like eyeballs? When you use things beyond its expected or intended duration that they are designed for, spare parts are inevitable. People live longer. Second-hand goods trading extend lifetime of things.

Among those things, there are a lot of battery-operated devices, increasingly so. I personally don’t remember having used any electronic device long enough to see its battery life drained of it, except my first electronic tooth brush. The very first model from Braun lasted 7 years of use with me before its battery gave up, which was not replaceable. My father once collected 7 motorola startec batteries from his friends who were changing their phones to newer models because he did not want to ever change his mobile phone (as it was the last simple model in the market, he claimed). He did survive on those scavenged batteries for a couple of years, but eventually had to give up as it became impossible to get more batteries for that model and repair service too costly. He was alone; too few people shared his interest in the market to support him to use his mobile phone that long.

batterycharger_consumableparts

In the back alleys of the huge mobile phone district in Chengdu, you will see many ‘inofficial’ shops serving the popular needs of their customers – including repairs and spare parts. Easy-to-lose items like stylus, consumables like battery, and cosmetic items like phone covers and protective cases are all vibrantly traded here. They are offered alongside of numerous mobile phones that are made more affordable.

Who do you think would buy extra batteries, and why? Some design decisions, intended or not, have the bigger impact on products’ lifecycle in the hands of people.

Bonus:
In the market – I noticed this universal battery charger, which was sold to me at 10 yuan (~1 UK pound). This charger can be adjusted to fit any type of popular mobile phone batteries. Recently we saw many nice ideas to reduce waste generated around charging, like a smarter charger to prevent overcharging or making a universal charger standard. I am not sure how safe this product is, but thought it’s quite a neat idea.

batterycharger_overview

batterycharger_topview

batterycharger_sideview

batterycharger_inshopuse

phone booth

Have you used a public phone booth with a door for purposes other than using the public phone? It is used as a shelter from a sudden rain, using mobile phones inside, changing clothes, rearranging the bag, or even crying for a while if you must, though being inside a phone booth proper is becoming a faded memory for many. With mobile phones, choosing the physical environment in which we make a call is often up to us. In the early phase of adoption of public phones, phone booths were advertised as essential tool for privacy, making the caller feel more comfortable. Now, some places force mobile phone users to use the phone booth for the comfort of others around the caller.

bell_public_phone

In any case, I reckon that designing a phone booth is a challenging task, satisfying the need for privacy as a comfort zone for a voice call (regardless of whose comfort that is) while minimizing the opportunity for exploitation and valdalism by making it too private and comfortable at the same time. With the vast diversity of the telecommunication culture, I always feel that the design of the surviving phone booths still communicates the attitude of the space that they reside in.

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200804_meguro_02

200804_meguro_03

This booth, in front of Meguro station in Tokyo, has semi-ransparent brown walls. It is complete with emergency numbers and a printed phonebook. On the door is a sticker that bears a warning to those attempting to place pinkupira*, issued by the police.
* pinkupira: the kind of advertisements you would find in London’s landmark phonebooths, like this – though it seems to have become significantly less as sexual advertisement became illegal in 2001 in UK.

200812_londonoldstreettube

This is from London’s old street tube station. With space constraints and the heavy traffic of people, these public phones do not resonate with the concept of comfort or privacy, but serve the necessity of anyone who needs to reach out to someone quickly and efficiently (especially tourists, nowadays).

200903_paris_phonebooth

This phone booth design in Paris seemed fairly new, very spacious inside and totally transparent.

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200812_surreyphone2

These pictures were taken in New Molden, Surrey – London’s suburbia. I never saw anyone using the email / text function in public phone. Booths for silent communication – through keyboards, gestures, screens, would probably require a whole new set of design brief.

200901_londonsmithfield

The classic London phone booths, in Smithfield market.

service efficiency – managing the wait

South Korean tourists are known to be impatient, represented by the well-known word ‘ppali-ppali’, meaning ‘fast, fast’. Waiting time does play a big role in making a service business a success or a failure. If you can’t make it shorter, you may as well look for other options to make it at least more enjoyable.

200811_seoul_cafe01

This Call / Bill / Water button set is available on all tables in this cafe in Seoul (Shinsa-dong). Compared to the more typical model of just pressing the button to call the waiter, this eliminates one additional visit to inquire about what the customer wants.

200811_seoul_cafe02

The opposite example is also found at this self-service cafe chain called pascucci. Once you place your order, you are given this little pager. You go and sit at the table of your choice, instead of waiting around the busy counter. When your drinks are ready to be picked up, it will light up.

200811_seoul_cafe03

200811_seoul_cafe04

I would rate these two systems high because of their simplicity for use and implementation, requiring minimal modification in the existing infrastructure and workflow knowledge, hence lowering the barrier to the initial adoption. A contrasting example would be McDonalds’ ‘Touch Order’ trial together with SK Telecom. RFID reader was provided to be plugged into the mobile phone to enable ordering through touching the menu, with the bill to be topped up in the phone bill. When the order is ready, a text message is sent to the phone to alert the customer to pick the food up. One reviewer righteously complained: “Ordering was fast indeed. But no one paid attention to my order behind the counter so I ended up getting the food much later.” Managing the human skills and habits will still be the prevalent issue in deploying a service backed by new technology.

exploring an exploratory design research method: nokia open studio

for readers looking for light musings like this, or this, i would like to mention that this is no toilet talk. while i try not to make it a habit to write about my professional work here, i feel that i owe an explanation to those who listened to a few conference talks i gave this year. being non-native english speaker, crowd-shy and nerdy designer/researcher, i always struggle with telling stories in the typical 15-20 min talk time in conferences. so here comes a 24-page paper reflecting on nokia open studio as design research method.
my eloquent and diligent co-author, jan chipchase, who has a knack in publishing has uploaded a presentation version in slideshare, which is linked below.

Entry from Dharavi, Mumbai

nokia open studio was a community design competition with the theme of ‘design your ideal mobile phone’, hosted in 3 communities of Dharavi (Mumbai, India), Favela Jacarezinho (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), and Buduburam (Accra, Ghana). it’s a method that we have been developing through several projects over years. my pursuit is to find a way to meaningfully engage and understand people in the design research phase when the research topic does not provide coherent anchor points to real-world behaviors. that’s why we call this work exploratory design research: often starting with a guiding theme but not knowing the full extent of what we will learn and discover.

entry from favela jacarezinho

working for creating something that is about far into the future is similar to finding pearls in the sand, except the fact that you will be responsible to find the sand grain that may turn into a pearl in the future of different shape and quality. ethnographic research methods guide the design research phase for innovation as far as creating opportunities through which we can understand the present living and underlying motivations behind why people behave the way they do. but it often does not let us see beyond the barriers of the present living: people who are not using technology not because they do not need it but because they cannot afford it; people who do not have time or social network to introduce them to new tools. through open studios, we wanted to lift these barriers and understand how people see the relevance of technology in their lives, sometimes for the future, sometimes in relation to what is lacking today. it is not a marketing tool, and it is not a tool to hunt ideas to implement in products directly. but it is a tool that supports our thinking and projection about the future. open studio is also a way to bring the very raw voices of people in the corporate context, which may function as a stopping sign for technology driven industry’s eternal hunt for the new. and as designer/researcher on the ground, it has been an effective tool that taught me how little we know, how creative people can be, how to be aware of our own intellectual arrogance, and how not to be presumptuous.

entry from Buduburam, Ghana

i would recommend to read the paper only if you are interested in design research method, how diverse people’s perception towards mobile phones are, or believe that mobile technology is all about more mega-pixels, better screens, and thin/small/miracle sizes.

> download the report (PDF, 9.7mb)
> business week hosts a slideset of a selection of entries
> my first conference talk on open studio at LIFT 2008 in Geneva

> please note that text in the slideshare below will be readable only in full screen mode.

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: mobile phone)

 

gradual dissemination: the usefulness of touch

going through some of my old photos, i noticed how SUICA system, initially rolled out as a public transportation card replacing paper tickets using nfc (near field communication) technology has been gradually introduced in japan.

the copy on the ad above is translated something in the line of “fun transformation of your mobile phone” (photo taken in april 2008).

around march 2006 when this picture was taken, i saw lots of advertisements and posters featuring this penguin character representing suica. all focused on the concept of how suica can be used to pay for the tickets, make small payments at shops instead of cash, and touch interface. for instance, this little penguin character would appear in the tv commercials accompanying a lady traveling alone passing through ticket gates with her, and drinking beer with her at a bar. it was going everywhere with the owner. the penguin also enjoyed the stardom through lots of character goods produced around it – flush toys, key chains, hats, whatever you can imagine.

suica is one of the brand names in japan that does more or less the same thing or using the same technology (like UK’s Oyster card)- which is essentially a cash top-up card. with japan rail behind it, suica had the power to educate the mass about the new interaction method as the benefits were quite clear: no need for queuing to get tickets, less hassle in passing through the crowded ticket gates, fewer reasons to carry coins. the clear benefit primarily as transportation tickets supported the mass adoption as well – though we are still talking about several years. the maturity of adoption brought a few variants as well: registration is now possible so that you can get your money back even though the card is lost; you can link it to your credit card so that it can be automatically charged once the balance goes below a certain point; commuter-pass registration is possible, as most japanese employers reimburse the commuting transportation cost based on the price of the monthly pass.

of course suica and its sister systems have become available on mobile phone for some time (under the name ‘mobile suica’). it seems about 60% of mobile phones in the market supports the function already. my tokyo colleague, Fumiko Ichikawa has a brief report on the current state of adoption in her blog. what is pleasing to observe is the gradual expansion of its use for other purposes than micro cash payments.

ana (all nippon airways) supports several methods for check-in. obviously mobile phone enabled with nfc like mobile suica is one of them.

suipo (suica poster) is launched last summer – it is an advertising platform using mobile suica as interface. people can touch the indicated spot on the advertisement to get the ad on the mobile. or you can use the normal suica card to get the 2-d bar code displayed, a technology that has been around longer in the market. if the boss canned coffee ad does not tempt you as a smart usage of nfc, you can also read about navita, the public maps using the same information distribution system as suipo. as with 2-d bar code, i am not sure how widely this is used at the moment.

from penguins to mobile micro payment to touch-based information distribution: it is a nice example of how a new technology is disseminated in incremental steps, which was a long journey.

i had a chance to probe how chinese people think about touch or near-touch interface a couple of weeks ago. while the metro ticket system in shanghai is same as oyster or suica, most people could not think of any other use of a similar system beyond that. on the other hand, their understanding of bluetooth wireless technology seemed to confuse many people about possibilities and benefits of near field interaction. a remote indication to think about the adoption curve and mass-market education of new technology – with or without a cute penguin’s involvement.

stimulus

what types of stimulus allow for maximum imagination of viewers’? and when does the maximum imagination become just too much to make any sense?

it is certainly an important question in designing products for which people’s opinions matter but the present lifestyle and environment does not provide sufficient experiential references to the subject. as for the experience of a researcher/designer, this phase is the most tricky part because it is all about a game of stimulus-interpretation-linkage process, for the researchers, the facilitator, and people participating in the research as opinion givers. personally this phase can be also less fun compared to the exploration phase because of the pressure of making decisions and conclusions. no pain, no gain.

spent last week in these rooms, first time to be back since 2004. it was most refreshing to see once again how vulnerable this method is to numerous factors – the stimulus material, facilitator’s cultural/domain knowledge and ability to improvise, tone of the voice, translation, recruitment, group dynamics, and whatnot.

leaving the packed lunch, caffeine overdose, lack of natural light, and midnight dinners behind, happily landed in singapore for a couple of days.

* top photo: ‘welcome – OL (office lady) or beach girl’, osaka, 2008
* second photo: signage for a strip club, tokyo, 2008

mobile call manners

being in a country where i am sufficiently fluent with the local language, i get to overhear conversations regardless of my intention. my everyday 30-min bus ride in london always bring such an opportunity: unfortunately it is not possible to drop out of it. some people do force others to get to know bits of their daily life details whether they want it or not. the benefit of anonymity in a big city? perhaps. i wonder how they perceive privacy in the internet.

one useful tactic to talk on the phone in public is to use your free hand to cover your mouth and possibly the microphone on the mobile phone. benefits are clear for those who consider them as benefits:

– reducing the noise from your surroundings thus more pleasant for your calling partner and clearer hearing for you
– preventing others from overhearing your conversation

it is quite common to spot people doing this in japan and south korea but less as you move to west from there. one speculation is that certain cultures enforce the notion of desirable behaviors more clearly than others.

an indonesian-german girl living in tokyo who quickly adopted the locals’ norm to take a call at a dinner table so that her call does not disturb others.

a korean girl blocking the noise from the street for a conference call

an argentinian gentleman who believes that he can hear the voice from the caller better by blocking the microphone on the mobile phone

delegation & decoration

at an indian wedding, one of many activities that kept the bride busy was answering mobile phone calls from those who could not attend the wedding. several mobile phones were passed onto her ears from others as well as her own since some remote callers were considerate enough to call other relatives attending the ceremony that they knew, sparing the bride from dealing with constantly ringing phones and carrying the phone without any pockets on the traditional wedding costume.

indian wedding, bride

from mumbai, india, 2007.