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Saturday, September 25, 2010

What the phone companies don't want you to know

Every few years, what was once an augmented product would become a commodity. And then, manufactures must look for the next new feature, that could help them sell.

Take the case of cell phones. When mobility was no longer novel, they were being sold on grayscale displays and slimness. Then came color, camera, mp3 playback, video recording, touch screens, not necessarily in that order. Guess what - all of that has been commoditized. (Except for the touch screen, where more can still be done, not on hardware, but on interface).

So one thing that phone's are still being sold on and one feature that has not yet been milked to its full potential is positioning (or GPS). You could argue that GPS has been around for quite some time now, but I would counter argue that the phone GPS is yet to become a tom-tom replacement, in ways that most phone's have mp3 players that could replace iPods. More so in India. Location bases services are still in infancy, and except for one or two cases, turn by turn directions are still not available.

So even as cell phone companies try to extract their piece of flesh from early adopters of GPS, and the iPad version with GPS sells for an extra $129, the fact that you can add a bluetooth GPS to your phone(s), iPad(s) and other devices with only $25 in hardware cost is hidden in obscurity.

With a $25 Bluetooth GPS receiver, you get better positioning, because external GPS works better than the internal ones, which have to be cramped to fit in a phone, and which must be made to work on low power. You get improved battery life. You can use them for multiple devices, as the need may be. And you don't lose on Mobility, because they are small enough, and you are anyway going to put them in your car.

But wait a second, not so easily. Phone companies would do everything to prevent you from doing this. So Google would go to the extent of removing bluetooth support from their Maps software, as if it was never there, and Apple would cripple its own bluetooth profile to stop you from using a bluetooth GPS. Same with Android.

But there is hope. You can jailbreak the Apple iPad/iPhone, and run a $5 app from Cydia (BT-GPS). You can run Bluetooth Mouse on Android. And you can revert from the latest version of Google Maps to version 3.2, the last version with Bluetooth GPS support. And in doing so, save yourself a lot of cash. Trust me - I have learnt this after paying a lot of premium for being an early adopter.

We need Free Software for our phones and tablets, not cripple ware. Is FSF listening?

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