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):
Download objectpager.ppt


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March 27th, 2005 at 6:16 am (#)

*giggle* It’s good, you’re doing the work for me :)
A very good idea… I’ll email you when I get back.
(oh, and my link is wrong ^_^ )

March 29th, 2005 at 12:12 am (#)

Cheers… the link’s now fixed! sorry about that :)

March 29th, 2005 at 7:19 am (#)

Loved your idea. What about a system that performs a preemptive scan before you leave home, work, taxi, etc.. The object finder would be programmed with a list of things to check for before departing. A sort of memory aid.

March 29th, 2005 at 10:51 am (#)

Yeah I agree that it would be useful to have a device that sounds an alert when you’re about to forget an object. Gaetano Borriello at U of Washington has worked on the pre-emptive aspect (they use the expression ‘technological string around the finger’–check out this post on Roland Piquepaille’s blog: It gets a bit tricky if the system should infer the context by making observations ‘behind your shoulder’: on leaving out the door in the morning, are you going to need your laptop and ID badge or is it a holiday? I don’t have a solution, but I’d vouch for something extremely simple where the user is in full control. The U of W prototype also uses a RFID reader installed at the door, which presumably scans every tag that passes through its range. This raises privacy concerns, and I’m personally in favor of designs that work the other way around, by placing the active element (i.e. the reader) in the hands of the user.

Han Cao
April 7th, 2009 at 9:07 am (#)

I am always amazed by the fact that so many research gaps in our everyday life received little attention, such as the gap you mentioned here.
When I started PhD research at 2005 which focusing on indoor navigation, I found that one of the potential application was very similar to your idea.
I agree with your opinion of “placing the active element (i.e. the reader) in the hands of the user.” But why you need to employ additional device such as keyring instead of embbed this object pager function (scanning, object selecting interface) into the available computing device such as mobile phone?
If I cannot find my keyring which means that I can not find other objects either. Although the same problem could happen to my mobile phone, but I and my girlfriend always use this way — to use another mobile phone to call my lost phone …
Just a in-depth thought:
As you mentioned in your slides, there is trend that we have to carry more and more personal belongs whenever and wherever we are. Therefore we may need to reverse this trend, making people carry as few objects as possible.
—Hope one day, we do not need to carry anything with us, just our consistent mind and body.

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