This is an essay on the future of the desk top phone, Java powered. Since I wrote
this essay many years ago I am glad to see some of these ideas are being incorporated
When I was a kid growing up in West Vancouver in the 1950s, phones had no dials. You picked up the phone and said
I’d like to talk to Robbie Jones please and the
operator connected you. Modern technology is eventually going to get us back to the
level of convenience we used to enjoy.
Java makes possible intelligent telephones. Here is a description of an
user-friendly phone dubbed the JPhone.
- variable fidelity. You pay only for the bandwidth you need. This means that you
can hear every nuance when your loved ones overseas kiss you over the phone, but
save money with low fidelity when they have to take a bathroom break.
- It has features first pioneered by the MiniTel system in France. It replaces
the paper white pages and yellow pages for directory lookup. Customers look up
numbers themselves. It becomes not only a phone, but a cheap computer terminal for
- It has call blocking for long distance, 900 numbers etc. without the
appropriate password. This lets parents have a little more control over their kids
and lets businesses protect themselves from employees or walk-in customers. With
Java-powered monitoring, more flexible rules are possible, e.g. allow you to phone
a 900 number consulting service, so long as the bill stays under $50/day. You might allow houseguests to make calls up to
$50 in total during their stay. You might allow a
homeless person staying at your place only $10 in
long distance. If you are on a bulk plan, you might limit by time.
- You can order fancy features by downloading Java software into your JPhone. It
is a fully functional little computer, capable of running Applets/Weblets
downloaded from the party you call. You might use it for something as trivial as
selecting which pizza you want off a menu. Downloaded Weblets are an opportunity
for companies to entertain callers with novelties.
- The BusTel (pronounced buzz-tell) button is white with a red heart symbol. When
you press it, it exchanges electronic business cards
with the other party and displays the information on the electroluminescent panel.
You initially program in the electronic business card by phoning a service bureau
computer. The electronic business card looks very much like an Internet email
header with named fields followed by a colon, e.g. Surname: GivenName: BusName:
HomePhone: WorkPhone: DayPhone: NightPhone: Fax: Email: Apt: Street1: Street2:
City: Postal: Country: Web: etc. etc. The BusTel/Heart key could also be called the
trust key. You tap it once to exchange business cards.
You tap it twice and key a P.I.N. number to also include charge card or debit card
- You can program the memories, caller id associations and ringing sound while a
recorded/synthesised voice talks you through the process. For simple tasks you
follow the insntuctions on the electroluminescent panel. You can also phone a human
who will patiently ask you questions about what you want to do then set up your
phone for you remotely. This way even techopeasants will be able to get full power
out of their JPhones.
- Assign phone numbers to individuals, not residences. When the phone rings, the
distinctive sound lets you know who it is for. The traditional call forwarding
redirects all calls for everyone using that phone; the JPhone service would track
individuals and allow selective redirect.
- It has a built-in phone directory of alphabetical names and numbers. This way
you could dial by using the up/down arrow keys to
select, or by hitting a 4-digit code short dialing code. This long list would be
backed up by your phone provider and could be updated using a separate computer. If
you redirected your calls to someome else’s phone, your calling list would
follow you automatically.
- The configuration information stored in the phone is kept alive during a power
failure by a battery backup. Service providers would also automatically
backup/restore for you so if your phone loses the information. The number of your
service provider would live in EAROM, where it could not get lost. Having some of
the services come from outside the JPhone encourages evolution of new
- Various custom features currently only seen in PBX (Private Branch exchange)
systems now become possible for the standard residential JPhone. Instead of
memorising arcane codes, the JPhone guides you step by step through menus. These
menus adapt to your usage so the things you do most commonly are easiest to get
Money is like manure, it’s no good unless you spread it around.
~ Thornton Wilder
(born:1897-04-17 died:1975-12-07 at age:78)
and Jerry Herman
Horace Vandergelder in Hello Dolly
- An Ethernet port that allows your computer to automate any function you can do
by hand from the phone’s keypad. A lawyer could use the information that the
JPhone provides for automatically generating time billings. The phone knows the
start and stop times and who you are talking to. A clerk at a catalog store could
use the Jphone to request the caller id or BusTel information and instantly bring
up your record before the clerk even answered the phone. The port would also allow
your phone to act as a cable modem.
- The JPhone may run off the usual copper wire to the telephone company CO
(Central Office) using ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line technology), or it might run off a coax cable modem to an
ISP (Internet Service Provider). In either case, it can does routinely does advanced
compression (for efficiency) and encryption (for privacy).
- The more expensive versions of the phone would have various sizes of flat panel
colour displays. The most basic version would likely use a blue electroluminescent
display. Without sufficient resolution, some of the features below would not be
- The display has four main functions:
- Displaying menus, phone numbers and other textual data.
- acting as a whiteboard on which you can scribble. Your combined scribblings
are visible to both parties. You can also think of it as legacy
FAX (Facsimile) receiver.
- acting as webcam.
- acting as a GUI (Graphic User Interface) display for
- The JPhone displays the last number dialed. In case you dial a wrong number you
can check that you dialled correctly and avoid the embarrassment of phoning the
same number again. The JPhone display the digits as you hit them, to let you check
you got them right. The panel also shows a list of numbers you recently dials out
and a list of recent incoming calls. You see name and or number.
- Various models come with various sizes of display. This is transparent to the
software. Users with small displays just do more scrolling.
- You see a running call duration and a running cost of the call. This could be
useful to both businessmen and people at home, who sometimes lose track of the time
when they are on the phone. This makes it easier to pay your host fairly when they
let you make a long distance call on their phone. Alternatively, you could pay by
billing the call to your own number. Such third party calls would be password
- 900-type service on any phone. A consultant could set up a telephone tech
support service where people call with questions and get billed just by hitting the
heart key a couple of times. Consultants could afford to take on one-shot phone
clients since billing would be totally automated. The customer could even see the
time and money meter running on his display.
- Big buttons. This helps avoid misdialing and makes it easy even for old folks
to see the numbers. Buttons are labelled both with numbers and alpha, with numbers
much bigger. Even young people can benefit from such a phone with faster and more
- No overloading of buttons. One button, one function.
- Perhaps the keys should have distinctive shapes and textures so you could even
use the phone in the dark or if you are blind. In any case, the distinctive shapes
or textures would give subliminal tactile feedback that you had dialed correctly.
Possibly the keys should have Braille patterns, particularly if various designers
insist on being creative with the standard key
- Red 911 button labelled 911 — with no confusing symbols. The 911 button
should be at the top of the phone set off from the rest of the buttons.
- A green redial button is labelled again.
- The quick rapid dial select key should be blue and
placed next to redial. It should have a little lightning bolt symbol on it. To
rapid dial, you hit quick then a digit.
- The violet setup configuration menu key should be
set off by itself. It is violet to subliminally discourage people from accidentally
touching it. Most people don’t like that colour.
- Perhaps it is time to add check digits to phone numbers which are checked
locally by the JPhone. This helps prevent misdialing. You can avoid unpleasant
confrontations when you dial a wrong number.
- Unlisted numbers could have a password to make it harder for telephone
solicitors or patient paparazzi to get through by random dialing. If your number
and password leaked out, you would just need to change your password, (which you
could do yourself) not get a new phone number. I always thought it odd that you
must pay extra to persuade the phone company not to make a million
or so copies of your name, address and phone number (but no postal code) on slips
of paper and deliver them to people who have no intent of ever telephoning
- Optionally, you can dial, then wait for a confirming display of the name of the
caller you are about to call before you confirm the call and allow ringing to
- Even local calls should be allowed to be dialed with full area and country
codes to support standard-format computer databases of phone numbers since there is
no way end users or even portable computers can be expected to know which exchanges
are considered local.
- Yellow button labelled flash to provide a timed
hook flash for handling a call waiting.
- Up down arrow keys are used for scrolling the display. The line in the center
of the display is automatically the selected line.
Sound and Ringer Features
- Adjustable volume would be nice for older folks and the hard of hearing. It is
also useful where background noise is high.
- choice of 10 interesting organic ringing noises
selected by twirling a rotary dial on the bottom of the phone. This way there would
be no confusion which phone is ringing in a multi-phone situation. These noises
would be distinct from the noises used by convention for phones on TV, movies or
VR (Virtual Reality). You could also download
custom sounds as AU files. You might use the
call of a loon when you are outside, or a waterfall sound when you are inside.
These sounds would be less startling than the traditional. Ideally you could
download and install any sound you wanted off the Internet. You might select frogs,
insect, birds or other non-distracting, but distinctive sounds for multi-phone
- Variable ringer volume.
- Some people startle easily, especially when sleeping. Every time the phone
rings they get a nasty jolt of adrenalin. Optionally, the sound should start out
quiet and gradually get louder.
- Distinctive ring depending on who the call was for, see programming features
for more details. Rings sounds may also be coded in other ways — e.g.
emergency, or low priority.
- If you don’t want to accept calls, you can disable the ringer easily.
There should be visible feedback the ringer is disabled so that you don’t
forget to turn it back on. The display flashes when there is an incoming call to
further help you notice and to make it usable by the deaf. "do not
disturb" mode can direct your calls immediately to an answering machine on the
first ring without making any sound. The answering machine may be a virtual one
provided by your JPhone service provider. If you tend to ramble on and on in your
greeting message, telling everyone all the news about all your relatives, somebody
without time to hear all the juicy details can interrupt you and leave a message. You can, of course, leave
different greeting messages for different callers so you don’t tell just
anyone the latest news.
- You can program which calls can get through to your pager.
- You can configure every caller to be handled in a custom way.
- Your service provider lets you look up numbers given whatever information
you’ve got e.g. old phone number, street address, rough area of the city,
- Available in 10 decorator colours.
- desk or wall mount.
- non-tangling, springy cord so you can wander off to the bathroom with the phone
should the need arise.
- Ask the designers to read Donald Norman’s
Book referral for The Design of Everyday Things
||recommend book⇒The Design of Everyday Things|
||Donald A. Norman
|Though this is not particularly about designing GUIs, I love this book. It was like meeting somebody else who understood my frustration with the ineptness in the design of user interfaces for computer programs, household appliances and just about anything mechanical. He grabbed ill-formed ideas out of my mind and laid them clearly on paper. A classic. The principles behind creating simple, useful, easy to understand appliances. Much of this thinking also applies to computer programs. This is a great read, highly entertaining. This book is sold under three alternate ISBNS: paperback:978-0-465-06710-7, 978-0-465-05065-9, 978-0-385-26774-8.|
|Greyed out stores probably do not have the item in stock. Try looking for it with a bookfinder.|
- Hone the design by using a prototype and log any confusion, awkwardness or
error in using it. These dissatisfaction points need to be honed.
- Have a fresh supply of JPhone virgins to use to
test the JPhone. Give them no instruction on how to use it and see what features
they can discover and use without fumbling.
- Check that people after a little experience can use the JPhone
- Let testers take the JPhones home and use them in real life situations. Give
them a pad to put next to the phone and pay them for every noted irritation they
- Drop the phones off desks and pour cups of coffee on them to ensure they are
The JPhone will create many new entrepreneurial jobs where you directly work for
more than one client, not jobs that require any great financial daring. For
- Receptionist/butler to screen both telephone and physical callers. With JPhone
technology, you can work for dozens of people out of your own home. With the
JPhone, anyone can afford a human butler or receptionist.
- Operator to help technopeasants, those who are infirm, idly rich or mentally
challenged, deal with the complexities of the phone system. All they need do is
talk to you. They may be technically adept, but simply prefer the human touch. Your
job is something like a conventional waitress namely to make lonely people feel
better with a little casual contact.
- In comp.lang.java.programmer
we discussed the way you could use GPS (Global Positioning System)
positioning, integrating accelerometers, miniature video cameras and voice
activated cellphones to let you keep track of the whereabouts of your pet
Dalmatian Fido and to trigger a call if he barked repeatedly or whimpered
excessively to report a potential security threat or injury to himself. Somebody
else needs to screen these calls or he will drive you nuts just to get attention.
You can find old newgroup postings at Google Groups.
I often used to answer a phone call in a spitting rage because the sudden ring
interrupted my train of thought at a crucial point and I would lose the idea forever.
The poor caller had no idea why I was so curt with them. Stephen Hawking, author of
A Brief History Of Time attributes his success at thinking about physics
to being unable to receive phone calls or other interruptions. I think it was Michael
Smith who noted that if you win a Nobel prize, you have almost no chance of winning
another because you will be driven nuts with phone calls and can’t get any work
Strangers would not dream of barging into my home and demanding my attention by
banging on a bell. That would be incredibly rude. Yet they think nothing of doing the
same thing with the telephone. We need to find ways to make the JPhone behave like a
butler to gently inform that a caller craves an audience at the earliest
People who would not dream of shoving others aside to get to the head of a queue,
think nothing of it if they use the telephone as their instrument. The moment the
imperious telephone rings, the shopkeeper drops all the real
customers to cater to some potential one. This infuriates the paying
customers. Phone callers should wait in line like anyone else and perhaps wait until
all the real customers are dealt with.
The phone caller should have some way of knowing how long the queue is and be
able to go off and do something else and have the phone ring when their turn in the
queue is just about due. Making people wait on hold, tying up bandwidth all the
while, to listen to low fidelity elevator music is not only boring, it is mildly
sadistic. Surely we will find ways around these problems with an all-digital
With the traditional telephone, callers cannot appreciate just how irritated you
are. You can’t get rid of them, even for a pressing bathroom emergency. They
see none of your visual body language clues and continue to babble on inanely,
blissfully unaware of how badly you want to disconnect. Perhaps with a video
connection as well, your body languge will telegraph your discomfort.
Young children love to play with telephones. They can make a
nuisance of themselves calling the operator. The phone should have a child mode you
can enter/leave with a code. In child mode, the child cannot dial anyone, other than
911 or perhaps grandma, if she has entered a code saying she is willing to accept
calls from the grandchildren. The children can dial her by hitting 8. (Don’t
take the specifics too seriously. I am just trying to show an example of how simple
it could me.)
A more elaborate child mode might offer a selection of sounds or games when you
dial different numbers.
The Phone Store
Retail phone stores of the future might have the following features:
- You pick up the handset to listen to a recorded voice describing the
phone’s features. This let you get an idea of how good the quality of the
- You can speak into the telephone then hear your own voice played back, so that
you can judge the quality of the microphone/mouthpiece.
- You can try out the various programmable features since the phone is plugged
into a simulated miniature phone system. If you can’t figure out how to use
them in the store, you will have even less chance at home without the salesperson
to assist you.
- The demonstrator models are labelled with the date they went into service. This
will give you an idea of how durable each model is and how easy it is keep
- There is a computer terminal the public can use. It guides you through a
multiple choice list of questions about how important various features are to you
and your budget range. It then shows you a list of models that fit your criteria,
highlighting the differences from your ideal specification. It shows you which are
in stock, which can be shipped from warehouses and which can be built on special