While backing up my hard drive, I stumbled upon the following piece I wrote for The New Paper’s Tech section in 2005. I can’t remember if it was ever published, but it’s a fascinating look at how fast technology has moved in four years. Today, our smartphones are leaps and bounds beyond what was available back then, 3G has long been replaced by 3.5G and few people could have imagined what an iPhone or HTC Diamond 2 could look like. HP and O2 XDA are no longer key players in the smartphone scene here, and Motorola is a faint shadow of its former self. And I’m no longer writing technology columns, but working for the Xbox team I’ve always admired. How things change!
My 3G Phone Wish List
By Ian Tan
My boss asked me to write a piece about 3G phones, but let’s not get elitist.
There’s nothing really special about 3G phones except that you can use them on the newfangled, high-speed phone networks in Singapore and around the world.
To me, the best thing is that any 3G model available here works perfectly well on the older GSM (2G) network.
So even if you have no desire to go 3G, they are your best bet if you are looking for a new and power-packed handphone.
For example, 3G handsets usually come with megapixel cameras, very good music playback capabilities, PDA-like functions and of course, a big mother of a LCD screen.
What about the high-speed Internet downloads? The ability to watch television shows, soccer matches and movie trailers in your palm?
Surely a tech writer should be on the mobile information highway right?
Well dear reader, you are asking me to be an early adopter.
And we all know that early adopters pay a high price to be on the cutting edge.
3G handsets need to be further improved before I decide to fork out more money each month for my handphone bill.
3G – WHAT I’D LIKE TO SEE
To be honest, some of the current 3G handsets are already pretty good even though they are first and second generation products.
However, when I tested several 3G phones from Nokia and Motorola recently, I realized there are certain key things phone-makers need to take note of.
Firstly, 3G handphones need a really loud loudspeaker and microphone
When you go shopping or take a crowded train, you don’t want to spend time shouting into the handphone and trying to hear what the caller is saying.
In really noisy places, the loudspeaker for 3G handsets simply isn’t loud enough and not enough of your background noise is filtered away.
Okay, maybe it is rude to have a blaring handphone in public places. We learnt that lesson with Ah-Beng ringtones.
But I hear there is a technology that could help us talk better on 3G.
Our local boys at Nanyang Technological University have been working something called Audio Beam for several years.
What it does is to transmit soundwaves in a straight line rather than radially, so you only hear the music when the speaker is pointed directly at you.
Think of it as an intense beam of sound that nobody else can hear.
Audio Beam is similar in principle to HyperSound technology developed by American Elwood Norris.
Now, whoever can put their audio technology onto handphones first is going to rake in a lot of dough.
Second, we need really bright screens
Most handphones screens are plain hard to read at when you stand under our searing sun.
Can you imagine trying to squint at your girlfriend’s fuzzy image while flying kites at Marina South?
Nokia’s latest 6680 3G handset will adjust its screen brightness automatically, depending on the amount of ambient light, but it is still not bright enough for me.
It’s going to suck batteries, but handphones need LCD screens as bright as those on the latest generation digicams.
Next, smaller but stronger batteries please
Talking about batteries, it is no secret that 3G handphones very power-hungry.
Not only do they have to keep making sure they are on the most efficient network (be it 2G or 3G), they have larger screens, stronger handphone microprocessors and there are extra burdens like swappable memory cards.
One hope lies in upcoming technologies like fuel cells, but it looks like the latter just suffered a major setback.
According to BBC News Online in March, Nokia announced that it had dropped plans to develop handphones with fuel cells over the next few years, claiming that “the sector was not mature yet”.
Fuel cells can be refilled like a lighter, and offer longer and stronger charges.
But you cannot have fuel cells without fuel (in this case, methanol), and remember, you cannot even bring a lighter, much less a fuel cell onto an airplane now.
Other tech companies are also researching fuel cells, so let’s keep our fingers crossed they make one that does not threaten to blow up in our pants.
Four, and for the geeks….
Nobody has brought in a 3G PDA-phone yet but you can be sure it will happen soon.
T-mobile in Germany recently unveiled their 3G MDA IV handheld device which runs on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile.
While the rest of the world is content with their tiny designer handphones, there is a growing number of geeks and business users who are snapping up all-in-one PDA-phones.
PDA-phones like HP’s 6365, O2’s XDA IIs and II Mini, are generally mini-computers first, then 2G mobile phones.
Size and weight is compromised to put in a huge touch-screen and powerful microprocessor to allow everything from viewing movies to keeping track of the stock market.
Actually, I believe most people only use the advanced address book and calendar functions. But it is a pretty good excuse to spend more money and reduce the number of geek devices in the bag.
And of course, nobody really likes to surf the Internet with their PDA-phones using the slow 2G network.
Most of the best PDAs now come with WiFi that allows you to connect to the Internet in hotspots and at home in you have a wireless network.
But until the whole world goes WiFi, you don’t always have hi-speed Internet on your handheld.
Always on, always available 3G Internet access should drive all of mobile geeks absolutely wild.