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The Present and Future of Mobile Phones
September 3, 2009 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Jan Chipchase is employeed by Nokia in the "corporate anthropology" field, but he considers it "design research," as he's not an anthropologist by training. His work covers researching how people modify their phones in China, India, Ghana, and elsewhere, adding features or extending battery life. He also tracks how cellphones are associated with personal identity and how they are playing roles far from urban and suburban centers. In some locations, cell phone numbers are written above doorways for identification, when there is no official map or organization for streets. He also blogs about his experiences, and his most recent post, he covers the rise of "Super Fakes."

The term "super fake" is often applied to designer goods and can refer to counterfeit money. But in terms of fashion products, imitation goods are more than an attempt to dupe the unknowing end-user to maximize profit. Chipchase's question, "What happens when a large % of your target market wants your brand cachet but is happy with a decent-enough quality fake?" is about branded technology, but the question can also be applied to knock-off purses.

Knock-off electronics have their own following, with some websites devoted to such items. Such sites can do more than detail the successes and feature sets of imitation products, they may also add background details to news stories (the original story didn't detail that MediaTek is only now shifting to legit production, starting in production of knock-offs). Shanzhai, previously.
posted by filthy light thief (16 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Amusing tribute to super fakes: "Canal Street" Air Force Ones, sold at Tribeca's Solefood shop.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:38 PM on September 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


*sigh*

Let me just get it out of my system early.

Homer: Look at these low, low prices on famous brand-name electronics!
Bart: Don't be a sap, Dad. These are just crappy knock-offs.
Homer: Pfft. I know a genuine Panaphonics when I see it. And look, there's Magnetbox and Sorny.
posted by Skot at 2:46 PM on September 3, 2009


Skot - the article by Jan Chipchase, and the reviews from Engadget and Shanzai.com point out both the flaws and the merits of the knock-offs. Chipchase's point is that some knock-offs are getting to the point where they can match the original product, and as seen by the street hacks he has seen, they may surpass the originals. Thus, "Super fakes."
posted by filthy light thief at 2:54 PM on September 3, 2009


FLT, I'm actually still reading the article. I was just fulfilling my deep, puzzling need to apply a Simpsons quote to every single situation in life.
posted by Skot at 2:58 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Skot - I understand. Those Stimpsons are indeed excellent.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:02 PM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Chipchase? Great name.
posted by box at 3:17 PM on September 3, 2009


FWIW, most of these "customizations" (or dare I use the word, "hacks") sound more like the legitimate attempts by people who probably can't afford cell phones to stay in touch with the modern world.

Wow, things like repairing broken phones and avoiding arbitrary cross-network fees by having multiple SIM cards... Revolutionary!

Then again, I write this as an American, where "broken phone" means "sign up for a new 2-year contract", and phones come carrier-locked and without a SIM card at all. A recent trip to the UK really opened my eyes in this regard, in that I bought a non-vendor-locked cellphone, which worked just about anywhere (compared with the "Tracphones" we have in the US that work nowhere), including enough airtime to last my entire two weeks there, for 25 GBP. In the US, I can't even replace the battery in my less-featureful, US Cellular locked, now 1.5 year old cell phone, for that much.
posted by pla at 3:26 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Around here, some days I feel like we are in the future. So many phones/digital music/thingies come with MP6, MP7, or even MP8. The other day I even saw someone offering a second-hand MP9 in a sign at my university. Take that, Nokia!
posted by Iosephus at 3:45 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Skot - I understand. Those Griffins are indeed excellent.
posted by bitteroldman at 4:11 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


but the question can also be applied to knock-off purses.

I think that question was answered long ago, else you'd be able to walk a block on Canal Street on a weekend in less than 20 minutes.
posted by spicynuts at 4:11 PM on September 3, 2009


Pla, you can get provider unlocked GSM phones in the U.S, they'll work with T-Mobile. I think they'll also work with AT&T as well. The thing is, though, if you don't get the contract, you still have to pay the same monthly rates, even though you don't get a subsidy on the phone. So it's kind of a ripoff.

Also, U.S. Cellular is the wost.
posted by delmoi at 4:19 PM on September 3, 2009


Love his blog.
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:40 PM on September 3, 2009


Then again, I write this as an American, where "broken phone" means "sign up for a new 2-year contract", and phones come carrier-locked and without a SIM card at all.

While I'm not a US cellular apologist, you should be aware that if the phone doesn't have a SIM card, it's because it doesn't use the GSM standard--not because your cellphone company is evil (although it probably is, for other reasons). GSM is unique amongst the phone standards in having the subscriber's identity be separate from the phone's identity. All the other standards just use the IMEI (electronic ID) of the phone as the subscriber's identity.

GSM is what most of the world uses. And it's what T-Mobile and AT&T use. And, indeed, if you buy an unlocked GSM phone, you can use if on any of those networks. I can take my BlackBerry most anywhere in the developed world and slap a local SIM in it.

However, the GSM phones in America usually are carrier locked. But, again, this isn't because of some evil conspiracy. This is because your phone's price is subsidized by the cell company. We get cellphones for radically cheaper in the US, as compared to elsewhere in the world. For instance, here's the T-Mobile BlackBerry Pearl in Germany, priced at around €400. I got mine for around $40. Neat thing is, in another six months, I can call T-Mobile, and have them unlock my phone--I will have paid for it fully, and they're real obliging about it if you make up a fake foreign trip to, say, Japan.

If you want, you can absolutely buy the unlocked version of the phone in the US. It will then work on any GSM network. But, as delmoi points out, you're going to pay the same month-to-month service price... so unless the two-year contract really rankles that much, why not take advantage of the subsidy?
posted by Netzapper at 9:52 PM on September 3, 2009


So WhyTF, if I've just signed a two year contract, does the phone still need to be locked to the network? The two year contract is what guarantees that they get their money back. Why... How... What...

Stupid US Cell Providers...
posted by inparticularity at 10:48 PM on September 3, 2009


So WhyTF, if I've just signed a two year contract, does the phone still need to be locked to the network? The two year contract is what guarantees that they get their money back. Why... How... What...

You have a point there. I'm certainly not going to defend the practice. Trust me, after a few months working in cellular software development, nobody will defend the carriers or the handset manufacturers.

I suspect, however, that, aside from evilness, it has to do with people signing up for the 1 year, $15/mo, 60-minute plan to get a cool phone and then skipping carriers for a better value plan. I haven't worked out all the hedges possible for an unlocked-but-subsidized phone, but they almost certainly exist.
posted by Netzapper at 11:28 PM on September 3, 2009


out all the hedges arbitrage possible for

FTFme.
posted by Netzapper at 11:29 PM on September 3, 2009


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