Saturday, April 1, 2006

Just how clever can a cellphone be?


By Mick Moignard

I passed by the desk of one of my fellow workers the other day, for a chat about something that's completely irrelevant to this little story. Sitting on his desk was a nice, shiny, well, nearly, new Motorola RAZR 3i phone. And his old Nokia phone. So I started a gentle pisstake on how important he must be to have to have two cellphones. And it turned out to be a much better story -- far to good to let it lie.

"A cellphone with no battery is like a fish without a bicycle."

It goes like this. The Nokia, a venerable 7100 model, so last year's model, just didn't cut it any more. He wanted a new, phone, wanted to get something cool. He got the Motorola RAZR. Nice piece of kit, he thought. Small, light, lots of functionality, reasonable amount of bling.

It has a mini USB socket on the side to connect to the charger, a great idea. This means that all you need to carry is a USB cable to charge the phone, and the phone designers were clever enough to use the same cable to talk to the laptop, exchange data, backup the SIM card, send SMS, that sort of thing. I mean, USB phone chargers are just the thing, aren't they? Saves us busy people from having to lug that charger around along with all the other kit we carry: laptop, PDA. You get the picture.

Except this time, someone has been just a wee bit too clever. You see, the phone, for some probably very good reason that I and my colleague have completely failed to grasp, has some sort of intelligent conversation with its charging device. It works just fine with the charger that comes with the phone, no problems. But then you'd expect that, wouldn't you? But with a laptop?

No way, or not, as my colleague found, until you buy the extra software from Motorola, at up to 50 UK pounds. Nice software, too, apparently, does all the things that phone/computer software normally do, down this USB cable. Great. Charges the phone, too. The phone and the software have the required chat with each other, decide that they like each other, and only then will the software turn on the charging circuits or the USB power or something. He felt that 50 quid was a bit steep just to be able to charge the phone, but then what are expense accounts for? (Just hope my accounts guy doesn't read this). I mean, who does backups of a mobile phone?

Then he ran into the snag.

As I said, the phone likes to have a chat with the laptop to decide if they like each other. I mean, you can't charge up from any old laptop, has to be one with the stamp of approval, that you gain by spending #50 on the software. And what if the phone battery is so flat that it can't actually power up? You got it. It can't have that nice little fireside chat with the laptop, so no chargeup. And as the man said, a cellphone with no battery is like a fish without a bicycle. Or something like that.

And that was why the two phones. The Motorola sat there, looking good and being completely useless, while the SIM card was back in the old Nokia.