Making Phones Smarter
By Carlo Longino, Tue Nov 11 21:45:00 GMT 2003

Researchers at the US' National Institute of Standards and Technology are developing systems for context-aware mobile phones, while a developer's software allows users to make their phone geographically sensitive.

The NIST developers hope to create systems that would allow users, or phone networks, to dictate a phone's behavior depending on its environment. They cite the example of a worker programming their phone to go straight to voicemail whenever they're in a conference room, or even just within the vicinity of their boss (presumably they mean the vicinity of his handset), or a hospital using the technology to call the doctor by role and location, such as the nearest cardiologist to the emergency room.

Those sound good, but what I'd really like to see is something so that people's phones would automatically go silent in movie theaters or quiet restaurants!

Developer Psiloc's MiniGPS software for Series 60 phones already let users do some similar activities by setting up phone events based on network cells. For instance, you can set the program to sound an alarm when it comes within range of a certain cell, so you could have your phone wake you up at the same point along your commute each morning. You could also set your phone to turn off in certain places, like hospitals or churches. The program can also change your phone's personal options like ringtones and backgrounds based on location, so you could have it act and look one way in the office, and another outside it. That's pretty damn cool, though it just acts on cell sites, so it's probably not incredibly sensitive.

Howard wrote yesterday about "Presence", a related feature some mobile device makers are working on that would let users change a setting on their phone that would indicate their current situation to others, much like on IM programs -- "available for chat," "bored," "in a meeting," and so on.

All of these bring more context into phones, and definitely make them smarter -- and more useful. It would be great to allow phones or networks do some thinking for us, particularly on little things -- like remembering to turn off our phones in movie theaters :)