April 26, 2007

Innovative Communication Devices

More than two weeks back, I was catching up on my reading material that were backlogged during my trip to India. It so happened I came across three articles that seem to be not related just as I was fighting jet-lag. They were: I’ll be bach by Martin Geddes; Mobile is where innovation will happen by Gary Kim and VoIP is core to the future of Communications by Jeff Pulver. As I read through the articles and was thinking about the points raised by them, it occurred to me what we as an industry should be focusing on in the coming months.

In his stylistic fashion, Martin admonishes the industry for not offering useful services/features by narrating a personal experience. He has done this before while describing other real life stories. I do not have the inclination to search and locate the specific references, but I can quickly abstract the common idea: utilize the rich message signaling capability that the Internet affords to the end-points of a communication session to enhance the user experience in one way or another. For example, in the recent post, Martin would like to attend to some other business when he has been put on hold instead of he holding the phone and listening to some piped-in music. Most of the times he discusses such points in the context of VoIP technology. But in this post he explicitly states that the absence of UI-rich clients is the root of this problem. Let me add that once we have such clients, one can offer most of these features even over POTS lines. If you are mystified as to how that can be done, I can describe to you if I am sufficiently rewarded. (By the way this post is remarkable for another reason – unreserved criticism of Skype both on business and technical aspects by Martin, a long time Skype apologist.)

In his post, Gary describes the advances made in the smartphone technology, especially in the area of user interface. Gary argues that “landline VoIP” does not change the user experience. But smartphones changes that because of the rich user interface. Let me add that the overriding reason for this is that invariably smartphones have sizable screen. If we were awed by iPhone demo, it is primarily because how the screen was utilized, not the transport technology. iPhone is more a POTS phone than a VoIP phone. So one can certainly introduce radically improved user experience even to POTS phones.

Finally, Jeff tells us that CEOs of some of the largest phone companies discussed with him regarding VoIP. He does not say what did they discuss, though one can be certain they discussed the set of new features they can introduce as they roll out the “Next Generation Network”. So I decided to call Jeff and tell him that he should be meeting with the CEOs of small device manufacturers like Uniden and CIDCO and generate an RFP (not like the one related to ATAs) that focuses on UI enhancements without much worrying about the transport technology (POTS or VoIP) and not depend on the service providers at all. Remember the refrain: “intelligence at the end”. As I was reaching for the phone, my boss walked in calling my name and saw my dazed look. He left my office murmuring something to the effect of daydreaming once again ...

Posted by aswath at April 26, 2007 01:32 AM
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Spot on, ab-so-flippin lutely. I never could understand why we should spend more time money and effort to get less quality over IP. Today, I already have a UI that lets me start a conversation in any medium I like, IM, Phone, Conference, Video, and then escalate to include other mediums, and I don't have to choose ahead of time (book in other words). It doesn't matter whether the other people are IP, PSTN or mobile - perfect thanks.

Posted by: Matt Lambert at April 26, 2007 06:13 PM

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