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The Perfect Phone

Lee Dryburgh initiated a great thread in the Emerging Communications public group entitled What would your perfect phone be? There are 14 messages there at this moment with a lot of good ideas, but my first thought was the term “phone” is too limiting. Indeed, some of the correspondents’ ideas also go far beyond the idea of a telephone. Here’s what I want and fully expect to see, eventually.

The Basics

It’s a mobile computing device that, as a platform, is at least as open as today’s computers.

It has unconstrained or “open” mobile connectivity to what today is called the Internet, i.e. it’s able to exchange arbitrary information with any other device that’s willing to participate.

I like Phil Wolfe‘s description of the included sensors:

Sensor overload. Movement, location, biometric, barometric, full radio frequency detection including notice when I’m being RFID scanned, Affymetrix-style food safety tests. The more my phone is aware of my condition and my environment, the smarter the apps that follow.

and style:

Wearable. Fashion, baby! I should have more phones than shoes, all doing the same things but with looks and form factors that fit my mood, my social set, my wardrobe, my activity. Form factors I want: pocket watch with fob, lapel pin, ear ring, tattoo, shoe lace, scarf, tie clasp, cuff links, mood ring, brass knuckles.

Identity and Security

This device will be my wallet and keys, so I need an easy way to guarantee it’s only available to me.

Coordinating Communications

It’s a computer so it can run my communications applications. But the most important application is not telephony as we’ve understood it over the past 120 years. Top priority is managing information about availability and current circumstances—mine and that of people I want to interact with. I want more than what’s commonly called “rich presence.” I want location, current activities, health, and anything and everything that can be determined from a plethora of available sensors.

Then I want total control over who can follow my circumstances, who they think I am (multiple identities!) and what they see as my current circumstances. Like Phil Wolfe, I may want to be able to lie about my current circumstances, at least to some people. As Phil puts it:

When I’m out picking up porn instead of groceries, attending a dissident political meeting, climbing a wall during a combat mission, investigating a crime family, or meeting with my divorce lawyer, very very few people need to know. In fact, I want my phone to have selective memory and occasional amnesia.

Availability and current circumstances are critical to coordinating communications. This is an issue that traditional telephony has never addressed, but with the advent of instant messaging, texting and Skype, most of my voice calls are preceded by a quick text exchange. In many cases the text exchange obviates the need for a voice call.

Is there an overlap with social networking? Absolutely. Has anyone cracked the code yet? Hardly. However we are beginning to see attempts to aggregate and filter our profiles, friends and communications across multiple social networking services. There’s a big need, a lot of activity and thus strong reason to expect big progress.


Of course I want all options; text, voice, video, 3D holographic virtual presence. More importantly, I want the ability to select live two-way communications, broadcasting and asynchronous messaging, some of which may be near real time. For example, there are occasions when voice is best but a live call is not needed or not practical. That’s why Voice SMS service is so popular (where it’s available).

I also want to be able to archive (or not) all communication. Think “life streaming.”

The Digital Life

Finally, I expect my device to facilitate life logging and a digital life as proposed by Gordon Bell and Jim Gremmel.


Obviously we’re talking decades for some of this, but most people will have portable webcam capabilities within a few years and hard drive storage has pulled ahead of most people’s ability to create or copy content. Gordon Bell’s full vision may be a few years off, but lifeblogging is real today.

What’s the monthly cost? Today we pay for telephone service. In the future, I’m likely to pay for open mobile Internet connectivity, i.e. a mobile dumb pipe, but only as a fall back to open shared wireless connectivity built from the bottom up via user-to-user wireless connectivity.

I may also choose to pay people to provide other parts of this functionality as services, but everything I’ve described is based on devices and software which I will be able to own.

By Brough Turner, Founder & CTO at netBlazr

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