8 posts about mobile

Ushahidi for the iPhone

Sep 18 2008

Update: The Ushahidi team has released a strong new open source iOS codebase.

After a few months of work, we have gotten a new wireframe of the mobile app running on the iPhone.

[http://www.ushahidi.com/images/buttons/ushahidi_button4_170.gif "Ushahidi: Crowdsourcing Crisis Information"]

Lately I've been volunteering a little bit for Ushahidi. Ushahidi is an open source tool for monitoring crises and disasters. It recently won the the NetSquared challenge and was called one of the top startups to watch in the MIT Technology Review. Man, I really don't have to give up anything to work on this one — it's really a top notch operation going on. Other nonprofit and open source teams could learn a lot from the Ushahidi project.

Some of the amazing things about the Ushahidi project include:

  • Participatory design. Everyone is invited to comment on these designs and hack on the psd files we created.
  • Rapid prototyping. (Really rapid: the first version of the app was built in a weekend.)
  • The application is completely open source.
  • It's a platform, not a web application: you can get the code and extend it for your own uses.
  • Strong user-centered design principles.
  • Great attention to detail in the design and insistence on top-notch interfaces (including the marketing website and the admin pages of the application).

Anyway here's the latest mockup. Here's the latestsource PSD. It's v0.2 and still has a long way to go. We did the iPhone app first and will be using lessons learned from this one to port the project to other platforms.

[http://whiteafrican.com/images/ushahidi_iphone_v02a-500x310.jpg]

I did most of the sketching and developed the concepts that were flying around, and then my man Joe Jones did all the real work in Photoshop. It's been a really fun time so far and I am looking forward to implementing some of the changes being discussed on the Ushahidi blog.

Also make sure you check out some of the geniuses behind the project:

Kenyan Pundit

White African

Afromusing

Mentalacrobatics

The Future is All Android, All Open Source. And Underpants. And Ice Cream.

May 29 2008

On the occasion of amazing new videos of the latest prototype, it's worth remembering that Android (not the just-barely-open iPhone) is the future of mobile development for the masses. Especially when combined with the hardware support of the Open Handset Alliance and the general propensity for open source projects to kick ass.

PS: where the hell is Nokia on this list?

And then there's ice cream and underpants:

[http://www.youtube.com/v/jWtFeIw8MVM]

Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty? (Readers' Digest Version)

Apr 12 2008

So I went to this Street Hacks talk 2 nights ago is here: http://www.janchipchase.com/ (it was awesome, you missed it. Clam Pizza.) And then it turns out Chipchase just got all famous this week, seriously: First a rad video in the Economist.

And then in the New York Times.

Here's my Reader's Digest version, since I know you are graphing how much time you spend on blogs.

About Chipchase, who really is a super-nice guy:

"To an outsider, the job can seem decidedly oblique. His mission, broadly defined, is to peer into the lives of other people, accumulating as much knowledge as possible about human behavior so that he can feed helpful bits of information back to the company, to the squads of designers and technologists and marketing people who may never have set foot in a Vietnamese barbershop but who would appreciate it greatly if that barber someday were to buy a Nokia. ...

About getting over your hatred of your cellphone (cursed device efficiency-obsession). This bit hit a nerve for me:

Understanding [stuff] requires forgetting for a moment about your own love-hate relationship with your cellphone, or iPhone, or BlackBerry. Something that's mostly a convenience booster for those of us with a full complement of technology at our disposal — land-lines, Internet connections, TVs, cars can be a life-saver to someone with fewer ways to access information. ... Jan Chipchase and his user-research colleagues at Nokia can rattle off example upon example of the cellphone's ability to increase people's productivity and well-being, mostly because of the simple fact that they can be reached. There's the live-in housekeeper in China who was more or less an indentured servant until she got a cellphone so that new customers could call and book her services. Or the porter who spent his days hanging around outside of department stores and construction sites hoping to be hired to carry other people's loads but now, with a cellphone, can go only where the jobs are. Having a call-back number, Chipchase likes to say, is having a fixed identity point, which, inside of populations that are constantly on the move displaced by war, floods, drought or faltering economies can be immensely valuable both as a means of keeping in touch with home communities and as a business tool.

On the incredible value that can be provided by something so simple, like SMS:

"... public health workers in South Africa now send text messages to tuberculosis patients with reminders to take their medication. In Kenya, people can use S.M.S. to ask anonymous questions about culturally taboo subjects like AIDS, breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, receiving prompt answers from health experts for no charge.

On Microfinance and the bottom of the Pyramid:

... A cellphone in the hands of an Indian fisherman who uses it to grow his business which presumably gives him more resources to feed, clothe, educate and safeguard his family represents a textbook case of bottom-up economic development, a way of empowering individuals by encouraging entrepreneurship as opposed to more traditional top-down approaches in which aid money must filter through a bureaucratic chain before reaching its beneficiaries, who by virtue of the process are rendered passive recipients.

Now you have to read the whole thing.

Chipchase mobile phone talk tomorrow

Apr 11 2008

Very much looking forward to this Adaptive Path event (San Francisco) tomorrow:

Street Hacks and Long Wows - An Evening with Chipchase, Burns, and Schauer

How long have you been using your current cell phone? And what happened to your previous model? If you live in a country like India, China or Ghana the answer is likely to involve the vibrant used phone market and, somewhere along the line the informal repair cultures - guys on the street who appear able to fix pretty much anything using little more than a flat surface a screwdriver and knowledge. This presentation will highlight the mobile phone hacking skills available on the streets of cities from Accra and beyond, the sophisticated ecosystem of reverse engineered repair manuals and highlight how it challenges our thinking about what it means to make, distribute our products. The presentation will introduce Remade - a phone made from upcycled and recycled products.

Here's the link on Upcoming: http://upcoming.yahoo.com/event/466964/

Via Peter Merholtz and AP.

Cellphones FTW

Feb 2 2008

I am obsessed with cell phones right now. Mostly I bloody hate them. I haven't had one for six months, but work made me get one last week. So since they made me get one I am lobbying to get into some cell-phone-type research, partly to figure out my personal issues with cellular voice communication, most mostly because, clearly, undoubtedly, they are the most important technology in the world: they are the network of the developing world. As a BBC article put it a couple weeks ago: ""it's time that we recognised that for the majority of the world's population, and for the foreseeable future, the cell phone is the computer, and it will be the portal to the internet, and the communications tool, and the schoolbook, and the vaccination record, and the family album ..."

"It's time that we recognised that for the majority of the world's population, and for the foreseeable future, the cell phone is the computer.The Invisible Computer Revolution

My question is: where the hell are the tools for people who use cellphones in this way? (In particular, where are the banking tools and educational tools?) In the first world we've got $600 iphones that can read your freaking mind. But a simple flashcard application for learning a few of the 62 languages spoken in Kenya? It's not quite as sexy.

So this is the part that I am really obsessing over, as a developer. It just seems to me that there is huge opportunity to really do some huge good by, essentially, hacking on SMS. Or, sure, wait a few years and use cell phones as a proper thin client. (But im more interested in the ultra ultra thin approach, something that would work with one of the classic Nokias, which are used everywhere in Africa . Design for maximum constraints, right?)

In the last few years I wrote a couple of posts on cellphones, one about "the powerful effect that even a slight improvement in communication can bring" (wrt africa) and another about badass Iqbal Quadir. Oh and a technical/usability one about developing +designing reliable, readable sites for really, really small screens.

Anyway, new content. Here's a fantastic video from Jan Chipchase at TED, a hero of cellphone ethnography. My favorite line: ""if you want a big idea you need to embrace everyone on the planet.... With another three billion people connected, they want to be part of the conversation. Our [rich people] relevance is about being able to listen."

[http://static.videoegg.com/ted/movies/JANCHIPCHASE-2007_high.flv]

Static link: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/190

Chipchase is a GENIUS blogger; pithy observations on behavior/expectations/norms from all over the world:

http://www.janchipchase.com/

please. read. subscribe. its almost certainly my favorite blog.

Online banking = overdue leapfrogging technology

May 13 2007

Seems like Paypal is one of those "leapfrogging" technologies that could help entire regions skip the process of developing a banking infrastructure, which apparently takes about 200 years of war (judging from how the West has done it).

Good as it sounds, it is important to note that users in all the African countries covered by Paypal, can only send, but cannot receive money. They cannot receive payments online even if they are online merchants. -Oluniyi David Ajao

So news about Paypal's international expansion is a great development.

but ...

Out but not in?! How horribly ironic ...

I am sure that there are major obstacles to the inexpensive, reliable, worldwide transaction of money, but it seems like exactly the kind of thing that a web-based market should be able to work around. I guess that there aren't too many open source geeks that are into high finance.

Mobile Web Design: Tips & Techniques (Technical)

Dec 20 2005

Web Designers everywhere are taking a break.

Sometime about 5 years ago people began to realize the frustrating limits of web development because the existing standards were so poorly followed by existing browsers. It was something like what Frost said about "poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis without a net."

Which is to say, no fun at all. Online communication has progressed steadily since then, and now we have wonderful fruits like "AJAXy goodness" and other Web 2.0 technologies to reap. So take a break from griping about Netscape vs. Internet Explorer.

But Google Maps (etc.) being accomplished, we're looking for ever greater technologies. The next frontier of web development is the mobile browser — the web in a cell phone.

The concept of the mobile web has been huge this year, and it is now taken as a fact that most internet users in the next 5 years will be getting online for the first time through their cell phones.

And so, with that in mind, here's a great series of articles from designer Cameron Moll that looks at the background of the mobile web and explores the specifics of developing +designing reliable, readable sites for really, really small screens.

How do we designers and code slingers cope with the current state? What slings and what doesn'? This article attempts to present technical advice on a superficial level.

Mobile Web Design: Tips & Techniques ~ Authentic Boredom

Cellphones in Africa

Aug 25 2005

Today's New York Times carries a front-page article about the growth of the cell phone industry in Africa.

The article is as well-written a summary of the communications crisis in Africa as I have ever read — though it is an undeniably, perhaps inexplicably, upbeat assessment of the curent growth trend in cell phone use.

The article begins by describing the difficulties faced by a rural farmer in Johnanesburg:

On this dry mountaintop, 36-year-old Bekowe Skhakhane does even the simplest tasks the hard way.

Fetching water from the river takes four hours a day. To cook, she gathers sticks and musters a fire. Light comes from candles.

But when Ms. Skhakhane wants to talk to her husband, who works in a steel factory 250 miles away in Johannesburg, she does what many in more developed regions do: she takes out her mobile phone.

africa Author Shanon LaFranierie did a great job of putting this together, I think, but again the upbeat assessment tends to make the issue more of a spectacle than an outrage. Which it is. Take, for example, the fact that the woman described in the lead actually has the money for only five minutes of calls per month — a pretty slim communication system indeed.

There is also the fact that while Africa now has the highest percentage of cell phone users relative to land lines, that doesn't mean much when only one in 30 people has a land line. And the fact that less than 60% of Africa can get any cellphone signal at all is rather sobering.

And yet, there is an undeniable fact of real growth — economic, social, educational — that is occuring because of the powerful effect that even a slight improvement in communication can bring. At least when the context is dire poverty, the impact of just a few cellphones can be dramatically disproportinate.

Andy Carvin, a guru of the Digital Divide Network also has some interesting thoughts about this article on his blog.

Andy writes that:

No doubt, mobile phones will be near the top of the list [of development technologies] — but that list also includes $100 laptops, wind-up electricity generators, low-cost community radio transmitters, and the timeless ham radio. So let's not make policy decisions under the assumption that mobile phones are the only tool necessary for bridging the digital divide.

The entire article is online for a little while in this section of the paper: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/25/international/africa