It’s been a good week in Finland. Bright sunshine, walks on the ice, great food, friends with interesting new ideas. I had a chat with Chris about the various crazy ways how people are personalizing their mobile phones. Having thought about it for a few days now, it seems to me that clearly some of the personalizing works to give the gadget magic powers (to quote HobbyPrincess) by turning it from a standard commodity into an object with hidden personal meaning. Another form of personalizing is the ‘bubblegum fix,’ e.g. taping phones that are falling apart. Then there’s the ‘extra functionality’ category. I became aware of this when I spent a month loitering in Den Den Town in 1999. That’s where I first saw things like mobile phone antennaes that flashed when the call was active. Another such eye-opener was when a friend of mine taped a mic to his glasses to record interviews for his radio programme.
In my case, the ‘killer’ functional add-on would be a little pager on the key chain, with which I could locate my phone, wallet, moleskine, PowerBook charger, and Nokia ID badge. I seldom manage to leave home without forgetting at least one of the above but oddly, I never misplace my keys (perhaps because they’re always in my pocket).
Clearly, the demand for such an ‘object pager’ is growing. A few years back all we had to remember was the designers’ holy trinity of wallet, keys, and mobile phone. But now there’s also the iPod, the digital camera, and the Blackberry… people even forget their laptops: BBC News reported in 2001 that
Hurried travellers have left as many as 62,000 mobiles, 2,900 laptops and 1,300 PDAs in London taxis over the past six months …. Businesses now risk losing valuable or confidential information stored on handheld devices through the carelessness of their employees.
The problem with the existing key-finders etc. out there is that the firms who are making them think they’re in the gadget business. They’re not: they’re in the gadget personalizing business. The pagers look horrible and the fobs are totally uncool. Someone should do to the key-finder what Apple did to MP3 player: make it cool. Here’s one rough proposal (these slides are from spring 2004):