Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Nerd Society

I just spent a couple days in Finland, and it provided an eye-opening view of where commercial mobile technologies are going. The realization kept coming up via a series of uncanny experiences.

For example, yesterday I was walking down the street with one of my associates. On the way to his car, I noticed three metermaids ambling down the street ahead of us, all of them fiddling with their cell phones. I say "I noticed" this, but really that's too strong: it was more like this odd coincidence registered for me in some semi-conscious way. Then we get to my buddy's car. He whips out his phone, and starts to key in some digits. He explains to me that he is "logging out" of his parking space.

It turns out that the way "parking meters" now work in Finland is via SMS. You key in your car's license plate number as well as the "street code," and SMS this information into some number. This logs you into a system that charges you for however long you stay in the parking space, until you log out, with the charge showing up on your cell phone bill. Conversely, metermaids "check" the parking meters by simply walking around and keying in license plates, to see if the cars have registered online. (Soon, they'll simply snap photos of the license plates, and MMS those into the server.) From the POV of the consumers, this system is cool because you only pay for the minutes you're actually parked; there's never any leftovers. For the state, it's cool too, because there's no problem with defective meters or fraud, and people in violation can also be charged continuously, rather than a flat rate.

In America, this system would undoubtedly raise privacy concerns, but hey, this was Finland.

And this example is only the tip of the Finnish mobile-network iceberg. All over the place you can find videophone barcodes, supplying realtime information about the location you're at. This works as follows. Say it's freezing cold in January, and you need to take the bus home. You don't want to wait out in the cold, so instead, you take a picture of the videophone barcode on the side of the bus stop, and send it in. In response, you get SMSed information about the next time a bus is about to arrive. Just time enough to go grab a Starbucks!

I also saw one of my colleagues pay for a gasoline fill-up with his cell phone. (Who first foresaw that cell phones might replace credit cards?) I was also told about a service where, using a GPS-enabled phone, you can enter an address, and the phone will start giving you instructions on how to get there from where you are. You get the picture. This stuff is already on-line and massively available throughout the country.


zachawry said...

Many of these technologies are available, if not as widely adopted, in Japan and Korea.

Why do you think that the US is so far behind in this regard?

Anonymous said...

If Americans knew how other people actually lived, they'd be even more pissed off.

Jay Jamison said...

The US is further ahead with ATMs /credit cards on relative basis v. these other countries.

Japan, e.g., remains massively cash based; micropayment will likely leapfrog ATM / Debit payments.

Vodaphone I think views their micropayment infra as the true asset they're selling long-term. The fact that the thing you pay for stuff with happens to make / recieve phone call is nice/throwaway benefit that makes it supreior to a credit card.

purpleprose said...

As long as there are goods that people want to be able to purchase without having those purchases tracked, there will always remain a need for cash