Nov 21

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Ten Things I Want From My Phone

Ian Hay wrote an interesting cell-phone-related blog post entitled Ten Things I want from You, the result of a survey he sent out to a number of friends (including those of us at Radar) about what people want from their telcos. Ian's takeaway:

What strikes me is that there is a lot of talk on Voice2.0, Fixed Mobile convergence, the rise of VoIP, minutes arbitrage and how telephony in general needs to evolve and yet the two most desired things are effectively:

Improve the basics (and make it work better)

Transparent (clear consistent) pricing

The general ‘tone’ of the replies leads me to believe that the majority are quite happy to pay a reasonable cost for the basics as long as they are done well and that the rise in alternatives we see now are simply because people are finding ways around the problems they have with Telcos.

Doesn't that say it all? Bad service, bad pricing as the drivers for competitive innovation :-)

Check out Ian's complete summarized lists at the link above. In addition, I've included the Radar responses below. We wanted those basics too, but we wanted a lot more as well, which we'll be exploring at the Emerging Telephony Conference in March.


  1. I want my phone to sync seamlessly with my address book to remember everyone I ever communicate with, not just those I explicitly add, and to use heuristics like Google does to find the top web pages to help find the most likely addresses to remember for me. Obviously, adding someone explicitly is the highest priority form of remembering, and deleting them is the highest form of forgetting, but in between, there are all kinds of interesting options: give higher priority to people I communicate with most often; give higher priority to people I respond to most quickly; give higher priority to people with whom I spend the most minutes communicating; give higher priority to people with whom I communicate using multiple methods (see point 2 below); demote people who call me and leave messages but to whom I never respond; demote people on known telemarketer lists.

  2. Integrate with other non-phone communication methods (e.g. email and IM, for phones that don't support it), and use all the same metrics as in #1 above to give me an address book that reflects my true social network.

  3. Give me a PC-based app that lets me manage my social network (and visualize it), in much the same way that iTunes lets me manage my music, with more sophisticated controls than are easy to cram onto a handheld device.

  4. Interoperate with Skype and other VoIP technologies, from both my PC communications console and from my phone.

  5. Make it easy for me to script telephony applications (again, perhaps using my PC "iPhone" program), so that I can, for example, easily have different messages for different callers, even set up IVR type applications, set messages to be sent to myself or others at some future time.

  6. Give me Text to Speech, so I can have things read to me by my phone, and so I can email messages to myself or others. For that matter, give me speech to text, or at least forwarding of voice enclosures to email. We do this from our asterisk server, and it's great.

  7. Stop charging me when other people call me. Move to the sender pays model. (But we like flat rate as well!)

  8. Don't compete with other carriers on cell towers. Work together to give me the best reception everywhere, regardless of who owns which spot on a tower. It's silly to be in places where on carrier's phone works, and another doesn't.

  9. Rate plan commitments as a tradeoff for a discount on a new phone are fine, but requiring a new plan commitment merely to change the plan for a better one (as many carriers do) is a sleazy practice that actually encourages switching.

  10. Work with phone manufacturers to standardize power supplies! It's ridiculous for family members with different phones to have to carry around multiple different power supplies (e.g. in the car or on a trip) when one would do. iGo and USB-based power adaptors help, but this whole thing is unnecessary, wasteful, and consumer-unfriendly.

Phil Torrone:

  1. never ever ever cripple a phone. if a phone can do bluetooth, don't cripple it so it can't be used as a modem. if a phone can play mp3s, don't cripple it so it can't use mp3s as ringtones.

  2. phone has a file system. if the phone has removable media (sd, tflash, etc) when plugged in via usb, it should act as usb host drive for easy drag drop file storage (and charging)...

  3. green it. not really a top 10, but sorta important... make the phones more recycle-able, nokia's "active disassembly" is an interesting start... http://www.nokia.com/nokia/0,6771,27610,00.html

Marc Hedlund:

  1. +1, or a thousand, to pt's first point. The best way to drive early adopters crazy is to compile out functionality.

  2. don't nickel and dime me when I'm trying new things. It would have been ten million times smarter for US carriers to have made SMS unlimited-use (for a flat rate add-on if necessary) then to make people count characters or estimate monthly throughput.

  3. don't lock the platform. I never even thought about buying a sidekick because of this. If I can't install what I want on it, it's not a computing device, it's just a fancy tin can, and I won't buy it.

  4. what I want most of all is one network with which I can use my laptop or cellphone at high speeds, anywhere. I'd prefer all of my data (by which I mean "voice" or other data -- I really don't care about the difference) going over wifi available anywhere. I don't have any belief that the basic mobile phone services work at all, so what I really want is that. If my cell phone could actually receive phone calls when I'm sitting on my couch at home, I'd be less picky about this, but for all I can tell the cell tower / coverage map never got anywhere near filled in for me, and anything else is just expensive frosting on top of mud from my point of view.

  5. don't ever give my data over to anyone else without first making a loud and unsuccessful stink about it, and without suing everyone you have to to fight it. (I don't use Verizon for this reason alone.)

I really tried to start writing this as "what I want" but it immediately turned into "what I don't want." I think it's very hard, in the US at least, to start a conversation about mobile service without immediately tapping a deep abscess of hatred. As an aside, on the consumer rating site I run, cell phone companies are consistently the lowest-rated service providers for our users, across allregular expenses. So here's what I really want: be the JetBlue of cell carriers. Come in and match a good attitude about customer service with reasonable prices and sane offerings. Take that combination and I'll love you forever.

PT again:

  1. when i pay $60 for "unlimited data", in addition to the other cell phone bill, don't fine-print-me-out with doubletalk and how it's actually not "unlimited data". [See] the limits of "unlimited" EVDO

  2. give me a bill of rights. it's weird to know that there isn't a data retention policy i can see, my carrier has my text messages forever? 2 months? 6 months? no one knows. one time i called up to ask to see if i could get a copy of them or know how long they keep them. of course this went nowhere. i mentioned this in 2004 - http://www.engadget.com/2004/06/18/at-t-wireless-keeps-all-your-text-messages/ if you use google over sms or any service over sms, those are kept too. my guess is they're mined for data, saved and stored forever, or until they're lost / stolen / handed over. i'm sure we'll see a terabyte of text messages hit the web, just like the aol search results...

like marc said, be my jetblue.

tags: affordances  | comments: 26   | Sphere It

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Comments: 26

  Diego [11.21.06 12:21 PM]

I would like to see a service in which:
1. I call.
2. I enter a key or code
3. I talk
4. It's a podcast.

Sound pretty damn cool & simple to me...

  Carl Tashian [11.21.06 12:48 PM]

Who's going to ask grandma what she wants? I can tell you she doesn't want a file system, won't care about syncing, etc.

Just for fun, lets pretend we're grandma.

1. Dial phone numbers like I always have, which means big buttons with a satisfying push and easy to read numbers.
2. A place where I can see the number I've dialed in big letters.
3. A "redial" button or--maybe this is a stretch--a list of recent calls to choose from.
4. A switch to go between ringing and vibrating.
5. A stand for charging it when I'm at home.
6. Easy leverage on any moving parts-- if it's a flip phone, for example.
7. In general, a sense of control and no extra features that I don't care to figure out.

What else?

  monopole [11.21.06 02:27 PM]

Simplicity is my preference. All I want is a phone which lets me call out and receive calls with caller id and an address book. My one added feature would be a tolerably good link to the web. Just enough to access google and google reader.

On the other hand if cell phone companies weren't evil incarnate I'd love to have full web access.

Prepaid only as well with a reasonable indicator of remaining money.

  Josh Tynjala [11.21.06 03:26 PM]

1. Pricing for unlimited amounts of any and all of the following... minutes, text messages, data transfer. Just give me one price that will be the same every month.

2. As mentioned above, don't cripple my phone. I'm buying this hot new phone because I want the features it provides. Don't make me go through your proprietary service to use a feature, and certainly don't turn it something off completely.

3. Give me nice big buttons on my phone, and if they must be small, make them form to my finger so I don't feel like I'll slip onto the neighboring button.

4. Make it easier (and cheaper!) to use my phone as the main source of internet access through my laptop.

  Stefan Constantinescu [11.21.06 09:49 PM]

You do realize that about half of your list contains things you want from a carrier, not from a phone manufacturer?

  Donald [11.22.06 12:56 AM]

I'd like to be able to set a "current status" for people thinking of calling me, much like I already can with instant messaging. I.e. "away", "busy", "available", etc. If other people set theirs, I can call people when they want to be called, instead of needing to guess.

  Aurore [11.22.06 03:33 AM]

I do agree with you Carl about what Grandma wants in general..
But.. my grandma is using Skype (from france) daily to call her sister in Brasil and friends in the US. She's using it more frequently than me!! And she definitly wants Voip applications in her mobile phone.
I think 60 years old and more are not so technophobes. They will just adopt services reaching their needs.

  Tim O'Reilly [11.22.06 07:38 AM]

Stefan -- Yes, of course. But that's like the old finger-pointing between hardware and software manufacturers in the computer world. THE USER DOESN'T CARE! We just want it to work, and we don't care whether it's Nokia or Verizon's fault that it doesn't. And the average consumer doesn't even realize the difference.

That being said, I know that most of the things we want are being held back by the carriers, not the phone manufacturers. (There are some software and hardware platform limitations. E.g. small form factor = small battery = slow in order to preserve battery life.)

And fwiw, Ian Hay was writing on behalf of a carrier.

  Tim O'Reilly [11.22.06 07:40 AM]

Donald -- I know of a startup in Europe that's providing just that. I don't think they are out of stealth yet, but that feature is on its way. Of course, adoption will be the challenge. Penetrating the carrier ecosystem with new features is the only way to get them widely deployed beyond the alpha crowd.

  grom [11.22.06 07:47 AM]

Whilst I'm a confirmed geek normally I just can't get used to thinking of a phone as anything other than a way of talking to people. I have few requirements for a phone;

1. it must be small enough to carry everywhere.

2. It must have basic security so if I drop it or have it stolen, no-one else can use it or access my address book (panasonic used to do this well but most phones have only useless sim locks now)

3. I don't want a camera or other bloatware like mp3 players - the phone won't ever be as good as my regular camera or mp3 player/radio and I like carrying only tools specific to the task in hand.

4. I'm happy to have a calendar and some games but most importantly, I need to be able to connect my phone to my pc and customise it as I wish with ringtones, screensavers etc

5. I want longer battery life - tell me how long you can make the battery last and then multiply that by at least 10 to get near to what I want, maybe if I didn't have the camera, flash and mp3 player the phone wouldn't need charging every two days.

6. I want simple pricing, preferably pricing that actually reflects my usage instead of offers of free minutes and free SMSs that I'll never use.

7. I want it to work everywhere - any time, any country.

  Jokull [11.22.06 07:50 AM]

People complain about the current flurry of horrible phone OS's (the Razr has brought out the worst in me). Check out some now-legacy Nokia models with monochrome displays. These phone were truly intuitive and they had a good game that I never got bored of: Snake 1!

Give me that with a huge battery, e-ink display and PC managed call reference plus address book.

  Knutski [11.22.06 11:07 AM]

Hi there!

I saw a interesting system here on the internet from One Voice Technologies inc. You can use ur voice to contact your phone, watch movies and and listen to music.

Here is their homepage adress.


  Long time caller [11.23.06 10:47 AM]

All of your text messages are kept forever. End of story. I've worked at the cell phone providers and they are required to do this by law.

  Jyri [11.24.06 10:58 AM]

Donald, the startup Tim's referring to is Jaiku. The mobile application allows you to share your availability (ringer on=green light, vibrate=yellow light, silent=red light), location, and who's nearby from your phone. The beta's currently available for Nokia S60 phones. A simplified Java version will follow.

  ME [11.24.06 11:20 AM]

"All of your text messages are kept forever. End of story. I've worked at the cell phone providers and they are required to do this by law."

Out of curiosity, which law is that? Messages sent & received?

  duncan [11.27.06 06:16 AM]

Hate to brag guyds, but in the UK we already have Tim's items 7 (no incoming call charges) and 8 (shared towers because coverage benefits everyone: maybe someone else's caller is trying to contact your customer, huh?).
Re item 10, Nokia seem to have got this one tagged: all Nokia chargers seem to work with all Nokia phones - and I'm talking probably a dozen handsets of various models (including analog, pre-GSM, right up to the new h'set I got in August) over probably 8 years now in our family.
Oh and item 6 (Text to Speech) is covered by BT's offering which synthesises an incoming text into voice on your landline. With an appropriate gender on the voice.
Come on guys! Catch up! :-)

  Tim O'Reilly [11.27.06 06:25 AM]

You're right, duncan. US carriers are a sorry lot, very consumer-unfriendly.

  James [01.26.07 08:33 PM]

These problems are by and large caused by mobile carriers & manufacturers behaving like authoritarian regimes and locking their users into closed handsets (so users cannot install applications/functionality of their choice on them). But there is a spectre haunting this closed regime of regimes - the spectre of openmoko.com.

  QAQAMBA QAUKA [03.21.07 02:21 AM]

I want them to stop charging me R4.99 i want my money back because i did not download anything their number is 0118488158 i don't know where they are from or i will take further action they have something to do with (clubcard) please post my complain

  Damien Jorgensen [05.13.07 03:16 PM]

Id just like my phone to work! lol

  Mubasher [05.26.07 08:42 AM]

I think there is something missing -
The title of the post do not match exactly the contents. There are lots of points which are related to carrier (not only to phone). In most of the cases, the phone's features are restricted or customized as per carrier's policy or marketing strategy.

  Emyo [05.28.07 07:46 PM]

1. To be a social networking tool, fool! See Tims' no. 1.
2. No camera or mp3 player
3. To connect to the internet, email, IM, google etc
4. Connect to any PC, usb compatible etc
5. A phone without camera or mp3 player then you can make a half decent slim design and longer lasting battery
6. Refine the basics
7. Usability of software
8. Usability of actual mobile device none of these super tiny buttons, at least make the call and hangup buttons the easiest to press.
9. Yes, I like a 2 or 3" screen.
10. Customizable via PC.

  Adrian [11.07.07 05:43 AM]

1. trouble-free syncing with my addressbook on my home computer, either by bluetooth or wired.

2. that addressbook is also web-accessible.

3. sms -> voice, ie, i send a text message, eg, to a land line, and the land line rings, then reads the message to the recipient.

4. unlimited (i don't mind reasonable fair use policy) web use. fast, so 3g. use of google maps, decent web browser, like opera, multi-imap4 email support, rss.

5. use the phone's fast 3g connection as a modem when i plug it in to my laptop computer

6. good java me support.

7. flexible alarms, so i can set it to wake me up at 7am, monday-friday, except tuesday when i need to get up at 6 and not wake me up at all at weekends... all without having to mess around with alarm settings constantly

8. reasonable camera with video capability - obviously good synchronisation with home computer.

9. all interfacing with home computer to be without having to install drivers, or special software - it should just work

10. battery that will last all weekend, including a fair bit of 3g activity.

Fortunately I already have this: a Sony Ericsson W850i on UK T-Mobile Web-n-walk. My home computer is a Mac.

  Marko Cosic [11.08.07 09:06 AM]

1. Core Functionality

Dual-band/tri-band/WiFi/WiMax/monkeys with flags/whatever. I'd like the phone to connect to the world reliably and with no intervention on my part, wherever I may go (within reason)

2. Basic Human Factors

It needs to fit in my shirt pocket without being so heavy as to strangle me. It needs to fit in my back pocket without violating my arse cheek or breaking when I sit on it. (ie - something magnesium alloy and iPod size/shape) It needs to have buttons that I can press and I know that I've pressed - 10 digits, star/has, green/red, and up to say three navigation buttons. It needs to have a display (and buttons) that I can see, which means big and super high contrast, at night or in the blazing sun. (ie - big buttons and reflective LCD with backlighting) I need to be able to use it with one hand. It needs security from both dialling numbers whilst in my pocket and other people using it/reading my data etc. (ie - a basic fingerprint scanner on the back of it) I should be able to drop it into my jacket pocket and miss without the phone disintegrating when it hits the floor. It must be dust and water proof. Ideally it'll float and be machine washable too, but that might just be me, heh!

3. Basic Functional Specs

It’ll function for at least 28 days standby/1 day actual use without being recharged in any way. It will have a mini-USB plug on it, both to charge it (within one hour) and to interface with other devices (mainly my PC, such that I can pull from/add to/sync with address books in an open, industry-standard format) - standard power supply and standard address book. It will do voice calls. It will write SMS messages. It will have a clock. It will have two alarms for each day of the week. It will have “uncontactable” “flash light” “flash light and vibrate” and “flash light vibrate and ring” settings that I can change between easily.

I don’t much care for anything else until “they” prove that they can implement the simplest of things properly! There’s nothing stopping this at all from a technical standpoint, but the people doing the designing (both handsets and network operators) are a bunch of amateurs incapable of getting even the basics right - and until the customers stop paying them/governments stop fabricating markets which allow this to continue I doubt it’ll change. :-(

  Piedra [11.08.07 02:10 PM]

Personally, I just want my phone to have better reception. Mind you, I live in rural Ecuador.

But seriously, a streamlined means to integrate my phone with my computer, plus my PDA, making all the data easily, and quickly transferable is what would make me the happiest.

  Scott [12.11.07 06:18 PM]

I used to work for the "Can you hear me now?" company.

I don't anymore and for a few reasons, one being the way they practice business. I could post a whole blog within a blog about that.

I work for a different carrier now and we are a small company (150 employees max). Local but we do some of the things that others have mentioned. No, I'm not advertising just simply saying that I made the decision to work for them because they provided what I thought were not only good features but good business ethics.

I like the fact I can tell people I know that I don't have to change contract length to change my plan. I like to tell people that my company pays out extra money to provide them service in about 92% of the United States, Contiguous and otherwise.

We recently opened a new market and put up 62 of our own cell towers in 67 days covering 4 whole counties. We've even went to a customers home and put up the equivalent of a wifi booster to get them signal. That is why I work for the company I do.

The things I want in my phone are simple. Sadly carriers are far more apt to restrict things versus being open so this list is a mixture of both.

1) Elegant, well thought out menu schematics. Just make it work and I'm happy.

2) Open Source software. I like being able to modify things and building my own applications for use.

3) Get rid of exclusive phone deals. (iPhone, LG Voyager etc.)

4) Provide a simple, direct set of pricing plans without gimmicks.

Short list for me but phone wise I'm for the most part happy. I have a UTStarcom 8955. My only grievances is the lack of PC to phone support and no phone tools set to allow me to make my own ringtones.

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