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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Merry Methods to the Mobile Madness


With Christmas some nine days away, and precious little inspiration for a present, Ghanaians might be prompted to go for a mobile device. With all manner of shapes, sizes and sorts available, you cannot go wrong in bringing a smile to your loved one’s face. Here are some humble suggestions to guide you on what’s out there.

There are smartphones, which are considered “voice-centric mobile devices”, and are very portable. It does not necessarily have to have touch-screen functionality; its ability to handle corporate email, connect to the internet—just to name but two—are sufficient. Of the most popular ones, BlackBerrys and TREO are to-die-for; they have full QWERTY keypads. You can also find some that are slimmer, less bulky, and more of a phone. These have more letters and symbols per key; HP’s iPAQ is one such phone.

Generally, smartphones have wide-area connectivity, such as GSM and GPRS/EDGE or 3G/HSDPA capability. Smartphone pundits like to refer to the BlackBerry for its landscape-mode screen and QWERTY keypad; its ability to connect to the internet makes it all the more attractive. However, uneasy lies the crown for BlackBerry, for there are, newer pretenders to its throne; these include newer devices, such as HTC’s S710, which offers a slide-out QWERTY keypad. Off late, smartphones come packed with integrated Wi-Fi, allowing them to connect to a landline via Wi-Fi in the office, whilst using a mobile network elsewhere.

Secondly, there are the regular mobile devices, provided by the SAMSUNGS, NOKIAs, and MOTOROLAs (to name but three popular brands). These are coming packed with a number of integrated applications, such as MP3 players that are Windows Media Player-compatible, such as the MOTOROLA Z6. If you are just into sending text messages and making voice calls, you cannot go wrong with any of these. Buying a phone that comes with a camera and/or video is de rigueur these days, but if you rarely use the camera, you might want to cut down costs and go for one that just takes pictures—and cut out the video, as rarely do these two applications work optimally side-by-side.

In looking for a phone, you might also want to consider one that has “Bluetooth” connectivity. This is a low-power; short-range technology that supports lower data transfer rates (721 Kbps for Bluetooth 1.2 and 2.1 Mbps for Bluetooth 2.0+EDR) over shorter distances. Like the so-called “camera phone”, most phones come Blue-tooth ready. If you ever wondered where Infra-red went, it was pretty much killed by Bluetooth.

With mobile providers of ONETOUCH, MTN and TIGO providing GPRS capabilities, you could be forgiven for thinking that Ghanaians are capitalising on them. My far-from-scientific survey indicates that unlike my Western counterparts, Ghanaians rarely patronise these services, feeling they will be ripped off their units even more than they already are! A humble voice of experience can safely say that the prices are relatively cheap – if you just need to check your mail, and browse the odd BBC news story.

If you thought patronage of GPRS services in Ghana is low, you haven’t heard the latest from the New York Times that claims that mobile web, and 3G networks in particular, are flops. The article maintains that data accounts for only 12 percent of revenue for mobile phone operators; another survey indicated that only 13 percent mobile phone users use their phone to browse the Web more than once a month.

Three main points are highlighted for this failure: displays, which are too small to read effectively; difficult user-input, due to lack of a keyboard; and the billing method by most operators that allow you to pay per byte.

The GPRs-optimists among us would say that all that may be true—except when you are using a better and more efficient phone, like the Nokia E90 smartphone, which screen is sufficiently big to enable a satisfying web-browsing experience. Even the ever-popular-in-Ghana RAZR models of Motorola, like the L7i and flip-phone V3, enable you browse seamlessly without having to fork out twice a salary.


Has Mobile Video Been Killed by BlackStar?
A Ghanaweb report of 16 July 2007 indicated that ONETOUCH would be providing its subscribers television on their mobile phone. According to the mobile provider’s website, “this service which will be provided by Black Star TV will be commercialised in October, 2007 and will be available only on the Onetouch network”. Two lengthy calls to ONETOUCH’s hotline indicated that the service will be rolled out as soon as it’s ready.

Mobile Video Recording Soon
While we are keeping our fingers crossed for that, we can probably place faith in a Reuters report that says that video recording our humble mobile phones are set to reach “high-definition quality in a few years.”

Predicted by an executive from industry leader Nokia to be a reality “in a couple of years”, it was also predicted that this development would be associated with profits as better quality could “boost sales of pricey multimedia phones…” Beyond the NOKIA N95 being able to record such high-quality video, prospects for this latest technological convergence might fall flat, considering the acknowledgment that “increasing the video quality affects the quality of the still camera.”

Nokia—Still Connecting People?
With predictions that it will be embedded in upcoming Nokia S60 3rd edition devices, you might need to go beyond the Greek around the models to accept that if you don’t own a high-end Nokia phone, you will not be getting Nokia’s Internet radio anytime soon. This would be a pity, for reports say that it makes “music discovery effortless”, in the sense that the whole experience is made seamless (easy browsing; hourly updates of the top ten most popular internet radio stations; creating a list of “Favourites”).

Ready for download from the following mobile phones—Nokia N82; N91; N95; N95 8GB—the rest of us – using neither Nokia nor such high-end ones—will have to accept something less: our humble earphones connected to our radio-enabled mobiles!

Where’s That Payphone?
USA-based AT&T has announced that come 2008, it will nip the provision of payphones fairly and squarely in the bud. This comes in the wake of a steady decline of payphones from about 2.6 million phones inn 1998 to an estimated 1 million phones today. One wonders whether they might feel tempted to introduce a talk tax on mobile phone users as a result!

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