Thursday, 24 July 2008

SMS, the ultimate Normob service

This week I've been writing on SMS Text News about SMS and questioning why businesses and other organisations don't do more to exploit its potential.

Today I return to the world of Normobs. Everyday there are announcements about great new mobile services, many of them picked up here at SMS Text News. However it puzzles me that one of the oldest and most mature mobile applications still seems to be overlooked for what it can deliver to the whole mobile (and possibly fixed line) community. The humble SMS, or text message to the Normob community, has been massively successful for person to person communication - 6.3 billion SMS were sent in the UK in January 2008 alone. However, the opportunity to use SMS for machine to person (M2P) communication seems massively under exploited.

A few months ago when my wife placed an online grocery order with Ocado she was offered the opportunity to receive a SMS for each future grocery order reminding her when her order would be delivered - simple but very effective. But how many organisations use this type of reminder? Not many, in my experience, which is curious when you consider the cost of missed appointments. Is SMS just too technical for business? There’s no shortage of SMS providers in the market including SMS Text News sponsor Clickatell.

A couple of weeks ago I had to visit the dentist and the day before I received a call from the dental practice reminding me of my appointment – from a person. How much would that have cost? Our local GP practice uses a wallboard to advise patients when their doctor is ready to see them. In between appointments, it scrolls a message showing how many missed appointments there were the previous month – 234 for June. That’s massive wastage and a simple SMS would remind patients to keep or cancel their appointment. It wouldn’t guarantee that everyone would turn up and some patients, particularly the elderly would not be comfortable with a SMS reminder but it would work for many. I had a browse around the web and found a company that specialises in the health market for patient reminders and health promotions. Great idea! iPlato Patient Care Messaging is a solution designed for NHS reminders which is used by a number of GP practices and primary care trusts but not mine. Why doesn’t my GP practice make use of SMS to remind patients? My wife represents ‘young people’ in the community on the GP practice’s patient forum and as they seem to be an ideal target market for SMS reminders it’ll be raised at the next meeting with a suggestion the practice looks at the costs and logistics of such a system.

Another solution I’d like to see would be SMS notifications of credit card transactions over a specified value to provide an early warning of fraudulent transactions. These need to include specific details of the transaction merchant and value, unlike the SMS alerts from the online bank, Cahoot that are generic and merely advise of a deposit or a withdrawal – what use is that? Some banks offer mini statements by SMS but I want to know about specific transactions as they happen – at the time of authorisation, not settlement. I’d even be prepared to pay for a customisable SMS alert service that worked in real time.

These are just a couple of areas that would benefit from the ubiquity of SMS. For a technology that’s been around for so long businesses are only just starting to scratch the surface of SMS.

Will It Blend? - iPhone3G

Wondering what to do with your new iPhone?

Instant conference calls

I've mentioned FleXtel numbers a few times because there's so many neat things you can do with them. Any FleXtel number can be turned into a conferencing number with no charges apart from the cost to call in.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Truphone keeps getting better

Truphone goes from strength to strength. So what's been happening over the last few months?
  • Support for Nokia S60 WiFi handsets has been extended to the iPhone. 
  • Truphone over 3G as well as WiFi.
  • Tru Zone worldwide pricing - same rates everywhere.
  • Truphone Anywhere provides international calls charged out of your regular mobile call bundle plus a small Truphone charge - much cheaper than using mobile operator international rates.
  • SMS alerts advising balance and how to top up.
All I'm waiting for now are fixed price monthly tariff options for unlimited in-country, unlimited international landlines and whatever else Truphone can come up with - inclusive mobile calls?

Firefox 3.0.1 upgrade improves stability

Since upgrading to Firefox 3.0.1 as soon as it was released, I've noticed a significant improvement in Firefox stability with far fewer browser crashes. If you haven't already upgraded, either manually or automatically, I'd definitely suggest doing it now.

And if you haven't yet switched from Internet Explorer to Firefox, now's a great time with version 3.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Protect yourself from voice phishing

This week's post from SMS Text News.

Everyone knows about email phishing and increasingly we’re being warned about the threat of voice phishing. So what is voice phishing? Your phone rings and the caller says he’s from your bank and needs to verify some transactions on your account. But first he needs you to confirm your date of birth and password. Well it might be a call from your bank but there’s no way of knowing. You’re thinking ‘you called me so why should I give personal data to someone I don’t know?’ You could hang up and call your bank direct but will you get the right department and do you even have the number to hand? From my experience these fraud prevention calls happen at awkward times and you need to react immediately.

One way to raise the level of trust in this situation is to give your key trusted contacts, like your bank, a unique phone number to call you on, rather than your usual home or office number. You can do this by signing up for a free FleXtel number and setting the Dialled Number Display (DND) feature to display the CLI (phone number) of that FleXtel number when you receive a call on it, rather than the CLI of the caller. So your phone rings, you see 0870 xxx xxxx on the display and you know that’s the number you’ve given to your bank (you can save it in your mobile against the name of your bank). No one else has it, so unless it’s a very random call from someone who correctly guesses you have an account with XYZ bank, the call is likely to be a genuine call from your bank. It’s not a guarantee but improves the probability of the call being genuine.

FleXtel offers a range of number types. I use 0870 and have it routed to a landline that diverts to my mobile if I don’t pick up the landline. If you use a 0701 number the call can be routed direct to your mobile but the caller pays a bit more. Whilst lots of companies offer 0870 and 070 numbers, the additional features from FleXtel make their numbers unique. There are lots of other uses for DND like differentiating between personal and business calls or different types of business call. Another trick I use is having a unique FleXtel number for my home alarm system to auto dial me on if it’s activated. I’ve stored the FleXtel number in my mobile with a suitable name so if I receive a call I know instantly it’s the alarm and not someone else at home calling me.

Using DND means you don’t see the CLI of the caller but the FleXtel Call Notification feature means you receive an email from FleXtel showing the number of the caller which you can check later. Even ‘withheld’ numbers display part of the caller’s number (minus the last three digits) allowing some identification (e.g. approximate location) of the caller.

This strategy can be adapted to work with both mobile and landline phones by selecting the most right FleXtel number and diverting calls as appropriate.

Friday, 11 July 2008

SpinVox, the future of Voicemail

This week's post on SMS Text News is about SpinVox and how it transforms Voicemail.

Fellow SMS Text News contributor (and mobile geek extraordinaire) James Whatley (aka Whatleydude) recently organised some SpinVox accounts for my family. I know I wouldn’t be without SpinVox but what about the rest of the family? Is SpinVox really just for mobile geeks or does it have appeal to Normobs (normal mobile users) too?

So what is SpinVox? SpinVox Voicemail replaces your mobile operator’s voice mail with a speech to text service that converts the caller’s voice message into a text message which is sent to your mobile as a SMS, plus an email to your PC too if you choose. It’s so much easier reading the voice message than having to dial in and listen to it. Of course, if you do want to listen to it, the original message is only a phone call away! The caller either hears your voice as usual or the ‘SpinVox lady’, asking them to leave a message.

I’m a big fan of SpinVox. I’ve used SpinVox instead of regular voice mail for over a year now and there’s no way I’d go back to voice mail. But what do Normobs make of SpinVox? Well my wife started out a bit sceptical. ‘Why would I pay extra for something I get for free now?’ was the initial comment when I asked her to test out SpinVox. However, after a few messages she was very impressed and agreed that it greatly improved the voice mail experience. She particularly likes receiving a text message when mobile coverage is poor – difficult to make calls but sufficient for SMS.

I also put SpinVox on my teenage kids’ phones. Whilst they both thought it was quite good, they said they wouldn’t be prepared to pay extra for it. Because they both tend to communicate by SMS, the idea of an enhanced voice mail service was of less appeal. The verdict was they would use it if it was available as part of their existing mobile package but it didn’t merit paying for as an extra. SMS is a more important communication medium to them than voice.
Inevitably speech to text transcription suffers from a small degree of error, particularly if there is background noise like street noise or traffic. Whilst I can accept a few errors, Normobs have a high expectation of transcription accuracy (like 100%!) and don’t appreciate the nuances of the technology. My take on this is that their expectation is based on text messages which of course exactly reflect the accuracy of the sender.

Pricing is an interesting area. We mobile geeks are much readier to accept that an extra service like SpinVox has its own price point and be prepared to pay for it. For Normobs this seems to be more of a barrier. I think this could be overcome by integrating SpinVox into the mobile operators’ packages where the additional cost could form part of the overall package. The customer still pays for SpinVox but the additional cost is not obvious. This approach would extend the reach of SpinVox and create a much simpler customer experience. Selling an additional third party service to customers is always a challenge but if it can be included in the operator package – job done!

What enhancements to SpinVox Voicemail would I like to see?

  • Support for multiple mobile numbers within a single SpinVox account would be great for those of us with several handsets.
  • The delay when a call diverts before the caller hears the SpinVox message seems longer than with regular voice mail.
  • I got a couple of comments that messages were slow to arrive. I would agree they take a little longer than a regular voice mail SMS alert.
  • Pricing seems a little on the high side at 30p to 20p per message, depending on the tariff. Whilst mobile geeks may see this as a reasonable premium for the service, it reduces the appeal to Normobs.

One little extra which is one of my favourites … SpinVox Voicemail subscribers also get free access to SpinVox Memo. This allows you to call SpinVox, record a short note to yourself & the message is sent to you as a text email. Useful when you’re out and about and think of something you must remember. I’ve set up a rule to forward these emails to my Evernote account so I’ve always got them.

Since I wrote the first draft of this post, there’s been a lot of debate online about voicemail being dead. To me, SpinVox neatly bridges the old world of voicemail with the world of text.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Roaming tips for both Normobs and geeks

 This week's article from SMS Text News.

This week I’m returning to the theme of Normobs and some ideas for saving money when using mobile phones abroad. Last week an email from Ofcom dropped into my inbox. It linked through to a PDF that Ofcom has produced offering consumers (Normobs to us!) advice on how to get the best out of their mobile on holiday. It’s great to see Ofcom taking the initiative here because managing your mobile bill when roaming has always been something of a black art! Unlike our friends across the Atlantic the idea of being charged to receive calls has always been a shock.

Ofcom’s advice is a good start but it doesn’t highlight services that can make a real difference. Here are a few tricks I’ve used to save money on trips abroad.

• Replace your operator’s voice mail service with Spinvox. It’s much easier to receive your voice mail as a text message wherever you are, so this is one to use both at home and abroad.

• One of the benefits of being a 3 customer is access to 3 Like Home. With 3 Like Home you use your regular inclusive minutes and messages, on the local 3 network in Austria, Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy or Sweden. Plus, it’s also free to receive calls. Pity that Vodafone, with its huge family of networks, doesn’t do something similar.

• A second benefit of being a 3 customer is that their Tru Zone rates and elsewhere Truphone Anywhere allows you to make calls via a local in-country number.

• If you don’t mind changing your mobile number when you’re away and are travelling to a number of different countries then a travel SIM is a neat idea. Companies like SIM4travel provide you with a new SIM card that allows you to receive inbound calls free and make outgoing calls at lower rates. This can be a better alternative to buying local SIM cards for each country because you don’t end up with different numbers for each country. Of course you do need a handset that isn’t locked to a specific operator.

• And the best tip of all. Just leave all those phones and gadgets at home or at the very least keep them turned off and enjoy your holiday!

What are your tips for cutting the cost of mobile use abroad?

You can find Ofcom’s brochure here.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Evernote - keeping your notes in the cloud

Recently I've started using Evernote as the main repository for my notes. As it's browser based Evernote can be accessed from any PC or mobile phone that has a browser. There's also a Windows desktop client that syncs with your notes in the cloud for offline use. You can assign tags to your notes to make them easily searchable in the future via a simple drag & drop process. Evernote also gives you a unique email address you can email notes or forward emails to. This is great for quickly dumping stuff into Evernote from anywhere.

Evernote's developers describe it:
Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime, from anywhere.

What do I use Evernote for:
  • Odd notes
  • Ideas for blogging about
  • Web clippings
  • Snippets of imformation
  • Notes I regularly refer to
  • Photos of stuff I've seen that I might want to refer to later
  • Forwarding emails I want to refer to again
The list is endless ....

The great news is that Evernote is now out of private beta and available to everyone. The standard version is free or you can pay a small monthly charge for a bigger upload limit. So far I've found the free version more than adequate.

Probably the best way to get a feel for Evernote is to look at the video.

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