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 in cellphones.
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
- 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
- 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 everyone.
- 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 info.
- 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 services.
- 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 at.
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 (born: 1931-07-10 age: 82),
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 possible.
- 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 Applets/Weblets.
- 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 validated.
- 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 accurate dialing.
- 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 layout.
- 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 proceed.
- 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 office use.
- 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
- 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, postal code…
- 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 The Design of Everyday Things.
||recommend book⇒The Design of Everyday Things|
||Donald A. Norman
||1935-12-25 age: 77
|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.|
|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 blind-folded.
- 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 jot down.
- Drop the phones off desks and pour cups of coffee on them to ensure they are sufficiently durable.
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 example:
- 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 groups.google.com.
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
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 system.
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 earphone/loudspeakers is.
- You can speak into the telephone then hear your own voice played back, so that you can judge the quality of
- 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 clean.
- 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 order.