Would You Pay an Ongoing ‘Entertainment’ Tax to use Your Mobile Device?

An Irish Government minister has recently announced that every home in the country will have to pay a TV license fee regardless of whether they have a TV or not. He is quoted as saying;

“In short, everyone benefits from the availability of these services, regardless of how content is accessed or relayed to the public and, therefore, it is my view that the cost should be borne by society as a whole.”

There are two implied premises to his argument: The first is, that people are watching more programming on their mobile devices or computers to the extent that the relationship between broadcaster and viewer has changed in some fundamental way.

Second, that watching television is not only beneficial in itself but is of benefit to society as a whole.

Dealing with the second point first. For the most part Television isn’t even a benefit to the immediate viewer let alone the public at large.

In particular, no child should be left unattended watching television. Once they are away from “Thomas the Tank Engine” and highly specific programmes of a kind especially produced to aid child development, television is nothing but an outright danger. Indiscriminate viewing does them nothing but harm.

Television is also a major health hazard to those old enough to know where the off button is. It is a clearly identifiable contributor to the obesity epidemic which in turn is the leading cause of heart failure and diabetes in the western world. Never mind a whole host of other nasty side effects.

The far more interesting assertion to discuss is the notion that content is being viewed on mobile devices and computers rather than a conventional TV set.

The evidence from the Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012–2017 white paper would suggest that the Minister’s assertions may have some basis. (The executive summary is well-worth reading.)

Relevant to this discussion are two findings from the Cisco research:

1.) Smartphones represented only 18 percent of total global handsets in use in 2012, but represented 92 percent of total global handset traffic. In 2012, the typical smartphone generated 50 times more mobile data traffic (342 MB per month) than the typical basic-feature cell phone (which generated only 6.8 MB per month of mobile data traffic).

2.) Two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017. Mobile video will increase 16-fold between 2012 and 2017, accounting for over 66 percent of total mobile data traffic by the end of the forecast period.

<img src="https://technologyvoice.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/mobile-usage.png" align="left" vspace="10" hspace="10"The most recent figures from TV Licensing in the UK show that 39% of homes watched TV content on a smartphone while another 14% used a tablet.

However, while there is a certain handiness in being able to view content on mobiles, computers, etc. it is hard to believe that it as remotely a satisfactory an experience as watching content on a proper screen accompanied by proper sound.

Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you have to or that you will.

Not to be a complete killjoy, I do think the world would be a sorrier place without programmes such as; The Wire, Breaking Bad, BSG, Firefly and so on. The rest, however, is junk.

So why this move? As is usual, one has to follow the money. Television is a ubiquitous service and most households in Ireland have a viewing set for which they already pay a TV license. So the additional money raised from properties that don’t have televisions will be trivial in comparison to the amount that is already being raised.

Technically, it is not a poll tax but it is in effect a tax on just living in a house which all of us need to do. It contains within it the pernicious idea that we now have to pay a tax to the government for no other reason then that we happen to exist. This has nothing to do with income or property rights.

More pernicious still for those of us who actually enjoy and benefit from technology is the identification (if only by approximation at this point) of everyday gadgetry such as mobile phones, tablets and personal computers as being liable for periodic taxation as opposed to taxes paid at the point of sale.

The dubious and unsupported argument for such an imposition is based on the idea that these devices can carry so-called entertainment from publicly funded broadcasters and are the practical objects for conveying the wider benefit that the minister refers to. (It is equally likely that he could have been referring to some sort of magical thinking that conveyed this benefit – hard to know with politicians.)

However, with the sort of figures being talked about in the Cisco report it is going to be hard for any government to turn away from such a potentially abundant source of income. It is just a matter of them figuring out precisely how.

NFC: Using your Mobile to Make Natural Connections

Near Field Communications (NFC) is a form of wireless technology that allows users to receive or share information at short ranges of typically 4cm or less. NFC devices can also communicate with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. It is a technology that has been developed especially to work with mobile phones.

The development of NFC-enabled mobile phones such as the Google Nexus S, has led to the possibility of using a phone as a digital wallet for contactless payment such as that offered by Visa’s Paywave or the
London transport system’s Oyster Card.

NFC technology allows the sharing of information between two NFC mobile devices once they are in close proximity, in a similar way to the way Bluetooth operates, but in a much faster and more convenient way.

In order for two NFC mobile devices to connect, they need only to be within range of each other. Both users confirm the operation, and information may be transferred between the two units.

This can allow users to transfer items such as store vouchers between two “digital wallets” but could also have a transforming impact on the way we engage in social networking.

Two years ago, researchers from the Chair for Information Systems at Technische Universität München developed a prototype application called NFriendConnector which allowed NFC-enabled phones to interact with Facebook.

The prototype, which was submitted to the NFC Forum’s, Global Competition in 2009, came from a desire to, “Use Near Field Communications to map your social life much more easily to your online social life on Facebook,” according to the Munich University’s Philip Koene.

His colleague Felix Köbler notes that, “Just using Facebook or any other social network and sitting in front of a PC device will not be the future.”

He continues, “In the past when people came together in virtual communities in precursors to the social networks of today, people connected online and then transferred their social relationships from online to offline. Now it is basically vice-versa. People map their real social relationships into facebook, so we think that any application that is enabling or even supporting this process is of great help to people.”

The application allows users to swipe their phones alongside each other and download each other’s Facebook profiles to be browsed at a later time. It also contains a function that will match user’s profiles, and generate automated status updates.

“All you have to do is touch the cell phone of the other person and you can make a new friend connection, or you can make a new status message that tells your community on facebook that you have now met this other person. We thought it would be a kind of neat way to map your real life on to your online social networking,” says Philip.

He explains that, “The broad idea was that you kind of have data, for example, that you met this other person in real life, that you’re at a specific location in real life. You can gather this data quite easily because you just have to touch something with your telephone, that’s all that’s basically needed. And then you have an app like NFriendConnector where you can map this data easily on to your social network.”

The application is not available at the moment as it was, “Used from a research perspective actually,” says Felix. “The prototype is basically two years old now so that’s quite a long time when the markets are being filled with applications.

“NFriendConnector was developed in a University setting so with developing it, doing research with it and then publishing it; a lot of stuff happened in that time.”

Philip notes that the speed with which mobile technology is developing also presented a problem, “We developed the NFriendConnector for the Nokia NFC-enabled cell phone of the time which was rather a low key device compared to today’s smart phones.”

A version of the app which translates its features to the Google Nexus S phone is in development. “We don’t have a title, just a working title right now. We hope to bring it onto the Android marketplace when it’s finished just to evaluate it when it’s finished, maybe in a few months,” says Philip.

“What we saw is that people see payment as the big application for NFC, but through our presentations we met other people who see social networking as another possible driver for NFC,” notes Felix.

Philip explains why he his optimistic as to the future of NFC-enable social networking thus, “The whole touch metaphor is extremely simple. If you set the application up right, the user won’t have to do anything else other than touch something and that will then be mapped onto a whole range of social networking sites.”

“It kind of had a slow start, but we believe it’s coming. NFC enables, in my opinion, a very natural interaction with your mobile phone. You just have to touch something with it to start an interaction.”

“The guys from industry always tell us that it’s coming and that this will be the year of NFC. NFC really has a lot of potential and we’re hoping that it’s coming to a bigger market and that we can do broader research with it.”

Social Devices Become Social Themselves

Adrian Avendano and Ellen Dudley are Irish entrepreneurs based out of Barna, Galway. Their current venture is Crowd Scanner. An application which not only allows you to share information using a mobile device but also to do so by physically sharing the device itself.

Just one example of its many useful applications would be in a meeting where consensus is being sought. A quick poll question can be set up in the software and then the device, (currently it is an iphone app but ipad and android apps are planned), can be passed around the participants who can enter their choice from a selection. The total of votes are then compiled when the device has finished circulating. Thus a quick, easy and unobtrusive sense of the prevailing sentiment in the room can be obtained in a shared, sociable manner.

Their work on Crowd Scanner is a direct evolution of their personal interests in bringing people together to create new conversations and generate new ideas. Ellen has a bio-medical background and Adrian comes from the world of computer science. As he says; “learning is our crack-cocaine. Everyone has something interesting to say regardless of who they are and meeting interesting people is a fundamental part of our life. That’s what keeps us alive.”

A prior venture to Crowd Scanner, meetforeal. was their attempt to bring people together to share ideas. A speaker was invited to give a talk which was then followed by timed discussions. Attendees were encouraged to switch groups at given intervals to continue the sharing of ideas with a constantly changing set of people.

The events themselves were very successful but required a great deal of organization and promotion and proved to be not very scalable. As Ellen puts it: “What we loved most about the events was the mingling afterwards but the amount of work you had to do was disproportionate to the value derived.”

So a new way had to be found to bring people together to create new conversations Being essentially creators and designers they turned their attention to how technology could encourage greater and more meaningful human interaction.

The idea of Crowd Scanner came when a client of theirs misunderstood an instruction in an application on his iphone. He handed his device to Adrian to complete the process and in that moment the idea of using a mobile phone to connect with someone else was born. Instead of looking and interacting with a screen of a phone the opportunity arose to make the device itself inherently social.

Mobile phones are highly personal instruments and many may feel reluctant to hand over such an important life tool to a complete stranger. But it is all about context and good sense. Ellen: “By giving someone your phone you are saying you trust them, you break through the ice completely. This person has trusted me with their phone and there’s an interesting question on the phone and I’m going to answer it.”

The action of handing over the phone creates the opportunity to bond with people who may otherwise have remained strangers and aids the construction of a more meaningful social experience.

Ellen goes on to say: “It fulfills the need we had with our previous meetforeal endeavour in that we can now meet people anywhere. We don’t have to do all this promotion and organisation. Finding a speaker, finding a location and finding the people to attend. We just have Crowd Scanner on our phone and that enables us to initiate meaningful human connections.”

Adrian and Ellen are now fully engaged in developing commercial applications for their technology. They have trialled the software on trains, on the street, with students and friends, at events they attended and in different cities such as Galway and San Francisco.

The pitch has been fully developed and well-practiced. They got to the final eight (out of forty-two) at the TechCrunch Summer Pitch Battle! in July 2010. They were also chosen for App Circus in San Francisco but were unable to attend because of #ashcloud, (the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volano in Iceland) which grounded flights all over Northern Europe. However, they were able to submit a video instead and as a result they now find themselves in negotiations with an angel investor.

Apart from the small size of the Irish market and lack of a large enough support structure they have found that being seen as entrepreneurs hailing from Ireland to be a distinct advantage. There is no doubt that the Irish are held in high regard overseas. Also, they find it beneficial to be away form the faddish, me-too culture so often pervades startup hotbeds in other locations.

With six hundred downloads a week and rising their focus is now on creating specific use applications in the conference and event sectors where there is the possibility to add a new level of connection for a lot of people who happen to be in the same room. Connections and conversations that could lead to all sorts of new and interesting possibilities.