Wireless SMS/IM/chat by Morse code
Creating a quirky, unique community targeted toward youthful contrarians
Copyright Anthony Lovell, 2003
Document version: 2003Feb26_001
Project status: Unfunded. Prototypes developed for web and Danger Hiptop.
The aim would be to recast the drawbacks of such an interface as a benefit: a user's proficiency becomes an mark of attainment demonstrable on bus, train, or barstool. The mysteriously retro but obstinant character of the interaction places its adopters into a self-selecting echelon. In a world where many kids indulge in body piercing or Trenchcoat Mafia-type affiliations as a expressions of identity, this might be more appealing than many would initially imagine.
Brand values and opportunities
Communicating by Morse would certainly mark the provider and user as dynamic and refreshingly different. However, the refreshing difference is achieved only in combination with the considerable liability of being comparatively harder to learn. But Morse also has a distinctive "spin" which a clever provider can leverage to help consumers see this as a challenge to be embraced in pursuit of -- and part of -- an image.
Morse code possesses a rich aura already firmly established in the minds of a global audience. It enters the scene armed with a compelling reputation: people know what it is, how it is used, and can think of historical scenarios of its use that smack of romance, danger, and intrigue. You don't have to manufacture this aura as you would with other products seeking to leverage the appeal it can bring to marketable brand. It is already pre-sold as an alluring emotional message with a conceptual recognition topping 90% in almost every market.
I envision ad copy redolent of Altoids campaigns: ads touting the selling points that Morse is powered by "electricity", that its messages get through faster than the Bristol packet steamer, and angry refutations of rumors that it is based on out-of-vogue enablers such as animal magnetism, is popular with phrenologists, or is likely to drive the popular carrier pigeon industry out of business (when, indeed, our company regards pigeon service as being complementary to wireless telegraphy).
Is Morse code a viable means of text entry?
From the standpoint of speed, certainly. A novice can send 12-16 words per minute and an expert can manage 25 WPM. A non-scientific time trial conducted in December 2002 asked competitors how quickly they could enter a test sentence into the handheld they used most often for text messaging:
"I entered this text using my phone's keypad, as many users might"The results had a lot of scatter. Availability of a full QWERTY keypad (even though small) offered a real advantage, and features such as predictive text entry were quite valuable when the text was in its dictionary (as this test was) and the user was experienced in its use. Morse entry seemed competitive with the best non-QWERTY entry models.
This chart cries out for more data... specifically a more diverse set of SMS users with and without T9, and using test sentences that are in- and out-of-dictionary. Provisionally, I am comfortable with the competitive speed I demonstrated in my trial, as I am a novice at sending Morse.
From the standpoint of learnability, Morse code presents a challenge beyond that found in phone keypad entry. I am working to develop a "tutor" system on my prototype system to demonstrate how this could be done. To augment this, systems that include a qwerty keypad or a phone keypad can also be hybridized to permit conventional text entry modelessly alongside Morse entry. My prototype does this by allowing users to "type to send" text... others hear the characters arrive as Morse signalling as though they'd been manually entered.
A Prototype Client on an Existing Device
My prototype Morse Chat client runs nicely on the Danger Hiptop. This version is compatible with the Browser-based Java applet (no longer online, as my server is on a LAN) which runs in a variety of browsers running on Mac, Windows and Linux.
The Danger client lets users employ their Hiptops as handheld HAM radios with a global reach. They communicate with other users by Morse code, but automatic encoding and decoding options permit even non-Morse users to participate. The code is easily portable to Java-based devices.
Here is an example recording of someone sending "Hello, I read your test." over the device.
Sadly, since T-Mobile has locked the Hiptops they sell, there is no means of installing and running the application on units running their released firmware, though this may change in future and allow a small test to be run.
Imagining a Dedicated Morse Wireless Device
Refer to the image at the top of this document for a render of what a small "palmable" radio might look like. The primary components include:
The device need not be a phone at all. The relative low bandwidth demands it imposes on the network would ideally be reflected in an affordable tariff for its service, and it would also be nice if manufacturing costs were low enough that they could be sold in our shops or even near the cash register at HMV or Abercrombie and Fitch.
The unique and focused functionality of this device might create the opportunity to gain a foothold in the lives of people who have not chosen to be our subscribers for their mobile phone. This should offer us a new opportunity to impress upon these wayward consumers that it offers a fresher and more appealing way of meeting their communication needs than other wireless providers.
Features and benefits realized in current prototype
Potential features and benefits