Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cell Phone Feature: FInd Me

Problem
Particularly as cell phones get smaller and smaller, they can get mis-placed. The key to finding them is to realize it soon after they have been lost, so you can call it and listen for the ring. But if Murphy's Law is alive and well, you will have mis-placed your cell phone some time when it is in silent mode.

Proposed Features
Find Me
So, the proposed cell phone feature is a password-enabled Find Me mode. You call your phone, and when it answers by going to voice mail, you have the chance to "enter 9, for Find Me option", followed by your 4-digit PIN. This causes the phone to switch to its loudest ringing mode.

Wake Up and Find Me
And what if the phone is not merely silenced, but is turned off? Well, contemporary cell phones have internal functions even when powered off, so that their alarm clock function works relaiably. So I can envision a more elaborate feature that would work this way:
  1. When powered off, the cell phone wakes itself up every 12 hours.
  2. When it wakes up, it "polls" the voice mail system.
  3. If it finds a "special" voice mail, in which the user activated the Find Me feature, it keeps itself awake but silenced, and will now respond to the Find Me feature described above.
Asessment
As I think about it, this second version adds a lot of complexity, and poses some issues for environments in which cell phones must be turned completely powered off (airplanes and medical equipment are the two I am aware of). So I guess there would have to be an override option on the phone, that you set before turning it off. And therein lies mounting complexity--the average phone user will not be aware of the Find Me feature, and even less aware of the need to override in sensitive settings. So perhaps this part of the feature can be filed under the category of "cool idea in theory, but too many complications in practice".

Regarding the basic Find Me feature, I think there are fewer usage-oriented complications. I'm not a cell phone systems engineer, but I am pretty sure that the complicating factor for this feature is creating the ability for voice mail to call back into the handset functionality. I don't think it is anything that is impossible to solve, but I don't think it is how cell phones work. Maybe an opportunity for the gPhone/Android?

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