Thursday, June 10, 2010

A smartphone as a computer's "system unit"

I've been thinking about using my smartphone (currently the Nokia N72; bought Jan'08) as a "system unit" ever since Apple announced the iPhone. The idea goes like this:
  • Display (with inbuilt microphone and speakers): I should have a ~6-7 inch, 352*416 pixels LCD on my table, powered by a standard AC outlet. This shall connect to my N72 via cable
  • Keyboard: A full-sized keyboard, which connects to my N72 with a cable or bluetooth
After the connections are made, my N72 should transmit display and audio signals to the external display, and should accept keystrokes from the external keyboard (its own display and keypad should turn off). This setup will allow me to perform activities such as SMSing, Web browsing, music playback, etc., on a larger screen, and using a full-sized keyboard. The display should either upscale the 176*208 pixels signal coming from the N72, or merely copy each pixel's color in four pixels.

I have a strong belief that the experience of surfing the Web on N72's tiny screen with improve significantly on this setup. While I'm at my desk, I can keep the N72 connected to this setup, and when I'm done, I can place the phone in my pocket and get going.

I have an even stronger belief that the current generation of smartphones (significantly more capable compared to the N72) are even more suitable for use in the setup mentioned above. For example, the iPhone 4 has a 640*960 display (rotatable), which means it can support a ~11-12 inch external display (960*640 resolution). I'm 100% sure that using the iPhone 4 as a system unit will be successful from a user experience standpoint.

More generally speaking, I see a time when our smartphones are the only system units we own - we merely connect them to larger devices (display, keyboard, speakers, etc.) when we want a more complete experience. Otherwise, when we're on the move, we use the smartphones themselves for all our computing.

Update (3-Aug-10): As another example, imagine a souped-up future version of Sony PSP acting as both a pocket computer, as well as the system unit that plugs into a TV using the composite AV cable.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Facebook's 'Reset Password' page has potential for privacy violation

I'm not happy about the way the password-recovery procedure works on Facebook.
  1. You clear the captcha
  2. You supply the email address associated with your Facebook account
  3. If existent, Facebook displays a Facebook account against that email ID
  4. You confirm the account to receive further instructions on the email ID
  5. Etc.
It's step (3) that I believe has the potential for misuse - like violation of someone's privacy. By returning a Facebook account (avatar, name, and a snippet) upon entering an email address (if existent), Facebook's password-recovery webpage effectively acts as a reverse lookup directory, allowing someone to supply email IDs and obtain two pieces of information:
  1. Whether or not any Facebook account is associated with that email ID
  2. If yes, the avatar, name and a brief snippet of the Facebook account
The following screenshots demonstrate how I was able to obtain the Facebook accounts against two different email addresses (private information has been blurred):

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Why do pan-India cellphone service providers charge for roaming

I'm increasingly concerned about the roaming charges levied by pan-India mobile phone service providers (Airtel, BSNL, Reliance, Tata, Vodafone, etc.). Why do Indian cellular service operators charge customers to make/receive calls even when roaming on one's own network? If I'm a Bharti Airtel customer whose hometown is Ludhiana, and if I visit Delhi for a few days, and if I continue to stay on the Airtel network while I'm in Delhi, then why should I pay an extra amount to make/receive calls? From an operational point-of-view, my sense tells me that Airtel probably does not incur any extra expenditure on the calls that I make/receive while I'm in Delhi, then why am I made to pay more?

Case in point: There's no concept of roaming in South Africa (at least for nationwide operators such as Vodacom, to the best of my current knowledge). Whether one's in Pretoria or Cape Town or Durban or Nelspruit, one can make/receive calls at the same rate as one would from/in one's hometown (say Jo'burg). Makes complete sense to me.

PS: It's possible that I'm currently unaware of any interconnect/regulatory cost(s) that pan-India cellular service providers incur when they allow a roaming customer to make/receive calls. However, if there are no such costs involved, charging for roaming appears completely unjustified.