collects stories and ideas from John Kelly

Phone Feature Request

Wired has a story about an Android app called ‘No Text While Driving’, which is designed to automatically reply to incoming texts when you’re driving. According to the inventor, the reason people text when they drive is because texting is such an immediate medium of communication, and people don’t want to be seen as being rude by ignoring texts. An automatic text to say “Driving. Can’t text” is better than no text at all. Great idea – in theory. The major downside that I can see is that you have to remember to launch the app before you start driving. To me, this seems like a step in the wrong direction. If you’re the kind of person who has enough discipline to remember to launch an application before getting into the car, then you’re also the kind of person who probably knows not to text while driving. In other words, you’re not the audience for this application.

Back in 2004 or so, when I was a happy little sysadmin filling my days with all sorts of nerdy things to keep myself amused, I hacked together something to make my life a little easier. Using Bluetooth, I was able to have work computer detect when my crappy Sony Ericsson phone came into range and automatically start a bunch of processes for me. Some of these were work-related, such as launching my Nagios dashboard and pulling up my to-do list for the day. Others were just for show. Like automatically playing ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC, essentially giving myself a soundtrack as I walked into the officeThis didn’t last very long - awesome as it is to have your own soundtrack, it’s also incredibly annoying for people working around you. This seemed like the kind of thing we’d be seeing of a lot more, the idea of using your phone as a sort of electronic passport to the computers and gadgets around us.

For example, my car has Bluetooth and is paired with my phone. So wouldn’t it be great if I could hook it into ‘No Text While Driving’ and automatically activate it for me? But wait a second, Bluetooth is, like, sooooooooo 20th century. Let’s go all 2010 on this: GPS. What I’d really love is complete location awareness using my phone’s built-in GPS. By this, I mean being able to define certain GPS coordinates as ‘home’. When the phone realises it’s within this area, it automatically switches on wifi, turns off 3G etc. Likewise, there could be a ‘work’ location, where it automatically switches to ‘silent’ and ‘vibrate’.

I think this would be terrific. Imagine the possibilities! We could mark cinemas as sections where our phones are automatically switched to silent! Our phones could automatically pull up our shopping lists!OmniFocus sort of does this - you can define a location as significant and have it pull up a particular to-do context for that location. So a shop would pull up your “errands” context. It’s genius Then again, when we can’t even be bothered to make the effort to switch our phones manually, then we’re just one step closer to the future predicted in Wall-E.