Smartphone with a cracked screen

IEEE wants mobile devices to be more repairable

In the early days of computers, if systems engineers wanted to fix something, that’s exactly what they did. They looked through the manual of operating specifications, broke out the soldering iron and fixed a connection on a circuit board or other component — although they probably didn’t have to break it out, as it was probably still on the workbench from the last time.

With mobile devices, the commonly accepted way to “fix” them is to replace them. The market research firm IDC has predicted that vendors will ship more than 1.7 billion mobile phones in 2013, and that number will only grow. In fact, the number of mobile phones is expected to exceed the number of people in the world by next year.

Considering the disposal rate of old phones, the environmental impact is staggering, especially considering that used phones are not always recycled or donated.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers wants to address this issue, effectively by adding “repair” to the environmental mantra, “Reduce, reuse, recycle.”

According to Kyle Wiens, IEEE member and CEO of iFixit, developers could make a huge difference with some basic changes. “Regardless of size, there are numerous design features that manufacturers can use to improve the repairability of their products,” Wiens said. “Simple things like utilizing [accessible] cases, using screws rather than adhesives, and providing easy access to parts that are most likely to break, like screens, greatly improve the repairability of cell phones and significantly extend their life.” He urged designers to build in sustainable features, “not only to make them last longer but to help promote a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.”

By taking steps to make mobile devices more repairable, manufacturers could not only have a positive impact on the environment -- but also on their corporate images. But will they do it? My guess is probably not, since the upgrade cycle of mobile devices seems to be a big part of profits.

On the other hand, agency admins already worried about securely managing a growing number of mobile devices, might find “disposable” phones a blessing. Devices that are easily taken apart and put back together with a screw driver might make them easy for a hacker to modify, creating an entirely new front of cybersecurity worries. So manufacturers of mobile devices will have to keep this in mind when creating any user-serviceable areas. It shouldn't prevent the IEEE's dream from taking form entirely, but it will likely slow the pace of improvements.

And the idea of making phones that last longer is still a good one. The Federal Communications Commission recently proposed that users should be able to switch carriers without getting a new phone. That would save people money, but it would also help the environment, since it would prevent (or at least delay) a lot of phones from being thrown out.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Apr 25, 2013 at 9:39 AM0 comments

Apps for first responders

Portal promotes public safety apps

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International has launched a new website portal for public safety apps that promotes collaboration between emergency-response organizations and the public. The Application Community, or AppComm, is designed to be a clearinghouse for applications related to public safety and emergency response, for use by the general public and first responders.

APCO represents more than 15,000 public safety communications professionals around the world, and the new website is an effort to get their information out to the public. The launch began with 65 apps developed by various emergency response organizations. They are grouped by type of public safety service and range from safety manuals to crime maps to emergency alert programs.

Some of the apps available bear titles such as Campus Sentinel, 911 Help, Reroute, Quake Buddy and a couple named Emergency Response Guidebook. The site lets public safety professionals, the public and app developers rate and comment on apps as well as suggest ideas for new ones.

Mobile apps can not only allow first responders do their jobs more efficiently, but also keep the general public better informed. Chris Russo, founder and executive vice president of Elerts Corp. and Deputy Fire Chief of Hull, Mass., cited their importance. “Recent events impacting public safety have demonstrated the incredible power of mobile applications, advanced technologies and social media,” he said. “By serving as a central location for fostering development of public safety apps, AppComm will certainly lead to better ways to protect the public at large.”

APCO is also in the process of developing standards that govern the apps and their distribution. According to the APCO website, the proposed standards will address

  • Development of common approach to interfaces
  • Device- and operating system- agnostic applications
  • Integration to both legacy and next generation public safety communications systems
  • Security requirements
  • The critical nature of location information
  • Evolution of voice and data networks in public safety

Once completed, the draft standards will be available for review.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Apr 24, 2013 at 9:39 AM0 comments

Google Glass shows updated flight information

Is government ready for Google Glass?

Google wants the next big thing in mobile technology to be Google Glass. For those who don’t know, Glass is a head-mounted device with a display positioned in front of one eye. This puts images at the corner of the wearer’s vision, which creates a screen-within-screen effect with the real world. Glass also has a camera, responds to voice commands and, if necessary, to a small touchpad that is on the side of the device.

It’s not hard to imagine myriad public-sector uses for Glass. Police, for instance, already are wearing cameras and using mobile devices to access databases; Google Glass could put those functions into one place. The Air Force has adopted iPads over bulky paper flight and maintenance manuals; maintenance crews might benefit from hands-free access.

If Glass does take off the way that Google hopes, developers will have to learn how to make apps for it, or adapt their existing ones to it. To get this particular ball rolling, Google recently put out an application programming interface for Glass. It is called the Mirror API, and with it developers can make cloud-based services called Glassware.

Google has posted information on working with Glass at its developer site. There, interested parties can find a developer guide, as well as several videos explaining each function. These are presented by Timothy Jordan, Google’s senior developer advocate, who demoed Glass last month at this year’s South by Southwest Conference.

Considering that the waiting list for Glass Explorers (which is what Google is calling participants in the advanced developer program) filled up as rapidly as it did, there likely will be government-friendly apps before long.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Apr 17, 2013 at 9:39 AM0 comments