Traffic news and views on your GPRS phone
Jam today -none tomorrow?
In a week when the operators of the first private motorway in the UK announced its toll rates, it's comforting to know that technology can provide some alternatives. At least alternative things to pay for.
When the new toll road opens in January 2004, car drivers will be paying £3 to miss one of the busiest sections of motorway in the UK, the M6 around the M5 interchange. But what if the 27-mile long toll road is clogged up, and the M6 isn't? If you commute that section daily, you could be looking at £120 per month, and for that you could buy plenty of mobile traffic gadgets to advise you of a better route, or at least alleviate the boredom while waiting.
For instance, Integrated Mobile Technologies has launched a mobile traffic information service called Traffic-i. The service will provide visual traffic information in real time, using a GPRS network, initially only for the Sony Ericsson P800, but with developments for the Nokia 7650 and Nokia 3650 in progress.
It covers over 8000 miles of motorways and trunk roads in the UK, and works with all UK phone networks. Using the well-established Trafficmaster information network, it enables you to zoom around the map, spot traffic delays, and alter your route plans accordingly.
As for costs, if it saves fuel and journey time, they won't seem that painful. The software is sold as an annual subscription of £39.99 for one user. GPRS traffic overheads should average around 3kb per use, so it won't eat heavily into an inclusive data tariff, and only cost a few pennies if you're paying by the kb.
The Sony Ericsson P800, along with other emerging smartphones, are aimed at busy professionals on the move, and with journey times set to increase, and perhaps more toll routes appearing, this is a service well targeted at its intended audience.
What a shame then, that it doesn't know where you are.
Although you can store and retrieve 'bookmarks' for frequently visited locations, and specify a default starting point - perhaps the M5/M6 interchange? - there is no location awareness built in. The Traffic-i team says they are investigating the area of auto location and cell based information, but sadly it's not in the current product.
The dangers caused by using mobile phones when driving just increase dramatically if you have to navigate even an intuitive user interface, as well as look for traffic speed icons on the small screen. Location awareness and perhaps direction awareness would significantly enhance the utility of the service, permitting alerts in advance for necessary route alterations.
It highlights the issue that services delivered to users on the move have to take into account not only of form factor, but modus operandi of the user. Devices such as mobile phones should demand no more than one eye and one hand for effective use - any more than that, and they've become a PDA.