Posts Tagged ‘sms’

 

So it’s my third week into the iPhone saga, and I’m still wrangling with mixed feelings about it.

 

First the good.

 

The interface is nice.

 

There are a lot of apps. Everyone knows this. Cool apps, useful apps, fun apps, dumb apps. There are a lot of all of them. I’ve installed a number of free and paid apps, and they’re fun to play and experiment with. Take Shazam for example. I really appreciate the fact that people would make such a ridiculously useful application available FOR FREE. SplashID is a particularly good paid app. My old standby, iSilo, is here, but I don’t find the implementation to be quite as useful as it was on the Palm Treo.

 

Now let’s talk bad. I’ve talked about a lot of these before. I was kind of dreading some of these before making the jump to iPhone, so I knew they were there. They weren’t all surprises. I’m going to spend a little time writing about specific things I have encountered as a user.

 

I have to start with battery life. Have. To. I use my phone a lot, and I use it even more at conferences. During times when I can’t get a WiFi connection, I can still check e-mail on my phone. And I do. Regularly. I check my voice mail. I read books. I look up things on the web. I use text messaging a lot. The iPhone’s battery life leave a lot to be desired.

 

I’m currently three days into my first conference with the iPhone, and I find that I’m seriously modifying my behavior to work around the limitations of the device. I’m trying not to make as many calls. I’m definitely looking up far fewer things online. E-mail use is about the same as on my old device, but text messaging is down quite a bit. Seems that such a cool device would compel you to use it MORE, NOT LESS, but the reality is that I have to use it less than my old phone just to make it through the day. On my old phone, if the battery ran low, I just . . . you know . . . swapped it out with another one.

 

How ’bout that GPS? While I’ve been working my way through Chicago for this conference, I’ve turned the GPS on a few times, to check for restaurants, distance to conference hotels, etc. If you’re going to have a GPS, it needs to be least be, oh . . . how ’bout . . . accurate? In my experience, the GPS on the iPhone 3GS is anything but accurate. As I was riding to a conference hotel on the shuttle today, I check my location to see how close I was. My location on the map jumped by several blocks not once, not twice, but repeatedly throughout the trip. Oh, and that GPS really eats the battery.

 

Now let’s talk about syncing the device. I knew it was going to be bad. I didn’t know it was going to be THIS bad. I have a very basic need: I need to be able to sync calendar and contact data across the phone and multiple computers. I did a lot of advance reading, and it sounded like MobileMe was the way to go. I fought with MobileMe for days. I repeatedly wound up with duplicate contacts. As I moved through my circle of computers, by the time I made my way back to the starting point, I was repeatedly cleaning up duplicates. I tried merge, delete, replace . . . nothing seemed to do the trick. MobileMe failing me, I next turned to Google. I tried the calendar sync with some success. I tried the contacts sync and eventually wound up with 4 total contacts for each entry I had started with. Too much cleanup, so I’m back to just calendar sync. Beyond the duplicate data, these sync attempts also randomly deleted data. Sometimes part of a company name would be missing from the contacts list. Sometimes characters were be missing from calendar entries. This experience fails on so many levels that my frustration level has been through the roof. Staying up all night to achieve the most basic of functions isn’t really much fun.

 

Even the data that I can move between computers is at best clunky. I can (somewhat) sync calendars, contacts, and notes by connecting a cable and clicking a button. SplashID data sync requires a convoluted process whereby I have to set up an ad-hoc connection from the host PC and connect to that. iSilo? I have to turn on an internal FTP server to push data across since the hard drive in my iPhone doesn’t really want to act like a hard drive.

 

It’s frustrating that such an elegant and useful device has these shortcomings. I like the iPhone, but I don’t really feel that I’ve made a major leap forward. I feel that it has been primarily a trade-off of one set of shortcomings for another.

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I came across an interesting article on CNET: On Inauguration Day, will my cell phone work?

The gist of the article is that with the huge number of people expected in D.C. for the inauguration, the local cell networks will be saturated with users. The wireless congestion is expected to be so great that users may experience dropped calls, delayed text messages, and possibly a system so overwhelmed that they may not be able to make or receive calls. Add to this the number of smartphone users who may be trying to use data services for e-mail or web browsing and the problems multiply.

It’s an interesting problem to consider, but I think the thing that most interests me is the recommendation from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. The association is advising attendees, "Text, don’t talk." Text messages are easier on the network than voice calls and data-intensive applications, so the recommendation makes sense from a technological standpoint.

From a people perspective though, it just fuels a trend that is of increasing concern to me: the depersonalization of communication. Remember in the old days when we used to get letters? Remember how nice it was to hear some news from an old friend? E-mail, instant messaging, texting, and other forms of near-instant communication are convenient, but something is missing. When you read "This is amazing!" in a text message, it just doesn’t convey the emotion you would hear in someone’s voice. But the preference increasingly seems to be for electronic communication. I see it more and more in the workplace. People prefer to send an e-mail message rather than just talking to the person in the next cubicle. A generation of youth is growing up preferring to send text messages rather than actually speaking to their friends.

It reminds me of an old FAQ we received when a new voice mail system was implemented at our university. One of the points dealt with why some people are resistant to voice mail, and it highlighted the fact that some people used voice mail as a way to hide from direct communication with people trying to contact them. Increasingly I think people are using electronic communication in much the same way.

Perhaps it’s a pointless bias simply due to my generation, but I can’t help wondering why people don’t want to talk to each other anymore.

A recent CNET headline proclaimed, “For teens, the future is mobile.” DUH! A quick look around confirms that for teens, the NOW is mobile. Anyone who watches and talks to cell phone-wielding teens knows that they love their cell phones. Many prefer texting over actually talking to someone. The story also reports a prediction that mobile phones will surpass the popularity of desktop computers for U.S. teens. Again, no big surprise. In fact, we may already be there.

The story did bring out one point that is well worth noting. Bill Carter of the marketing agency, Fuse, predicts, ” . . . mobile phone providers likely won’t succeed as the entertainment leaders for the phone, despite their efforts to sell ringtones, games, and music. Other companies like Apple, Google, and Yahoo will be more effective at ‘side-loading’ the cell phone with services.” I think this is an important trend to follow, both for consumers and libraries.

(Olsen, Stefanie. “For teens, the future is mobile.” CNET News. July 15, 2008. Available at http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-9991979-93.html.)

As I’ve noted elsewhere, my current phone is a Palm Treo. I’ve customized my phone with a number of applications that meet my needs. In contrast, one of my biggest gripes with the original iPhone was that Apple intentionally blocked users from truly making the device their own with specialized applications. Happily Apple has remedied this unfortunate situation with the introduction of the app store.

But what does this trend hold in store for libraries? What custom applications might library users need? When I started thinking about this, the first thing that came to mind was not an application at all. I started thinking about the library website. Just how well does your website play with mobile phones? If you’re not sure, just try browsing your website and searching your library catalog on your cell phone. If you think your website and catalog pass the test, start trying some of your databases. It really gets ugly there! Libraries need websites and catalogs that load quickly and work well with mobile devices. Handheld users don’t exactly have the fastest connection after all! But how about those databases on a mobile device? Ugly, ugly, ugly! So . . . perhaps a nice, clean, elegant widget for searching various library databases.

Beyond that, what else might a library user want to do with a cell phone? Bibliographic citation manager perhaps? How about a way to deliver due dates for checked-out items directly to the cell phone calendar? Stream audio and video content from the library’s media collection? Easily store e-books on the phone for reading later? Or let’s just get basic. How about texting with a reference librarian? Yes, I know that some libraries already do this, but maybe not enough of us are. If that is the preferred communication medium for our users, maybe we should explore it a little more.

Well, I finally bit. I get annoyed by websites that require users to register before they can read the content (even if it is free), but after holding out against the New York Times for all these years, I stumbled across a headline that intrigued me. For those interested in following it, the article is Drilling Down: Phones’ Texting Feature Often Unused.

In this article, Alex Mindlin reports, “In the United States, for example, 82 percent of cellphone owners said that they never used text messaging, 3 percent said that they used it monthly or less, and 15 percent said that they used it every week or even more.”

82%. That’s a LOT of cell phone users who don’t use text messaging. My guess is that those who don’t use text messaging may not use other features such as taking photos, web browsing, or reading e-mail on their phones. Libraries spend a lot of time thinking about about Millennials. We know this group uses their cell phones regularly, and they send a lot of text messages. They bring different expectations to their library experiences, and libraries are trying to design new services that meet their needs.

However, if the 82% estimate is correct, libraries also need to stay focused on those users who don’t bring Millennial expectations. In our search for services that engage technically savvy users, we must be careful not abandon those who have different needs. Sure it will be cool to search the library Web site on a cell phone and receive courtesy notices via SMS. But if 82% of our cell phone-toting public don’t use those features, we need to make sure that we continue to develop services that they WILL use.