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Spillikins 149. Delete Me Not

One week left before the New Years fuss. The Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show starts January 9 and instead of the New Year holidays I will be going to this expo for a week. A few days ago I gave a speech in Nizhny Novgorod on digital inequality in Russia. I came prepared as I have collected extensive data on this issue and I will later release a podcast on this topic too.

Sony has finally announced that the Sony Ericsson brand will be dismissed in mid-2012 instead their phones will have only the Sony brand on them. The SE brand is done and I really feel bad for this formerly innovative company.

There have been a lot of going on but I want to wait and see the big picture. As for now, I want to share a few thoughts on the role of the mobile phone in our lives.


  1. Delete Me Not Modern magic
  2. Russian Protests Myths about Networks and Scramblers
  3. Vertu: Near the End of the Road
  4. Another Nokia Flagship Store: Hong Kong Story

Delete Me Not Modern magic

I was watching an unassuming Hollywood comedy the other day and there was a scene where a teenager deletes his girlfriends phone number from his phone. We see a close up on his hands, he looks on the screen pauses and Deletes her from contacts.

This scene struck me and I think it represents the whole human history and the history of human relations. I remember reading George Frazers Golden Bough when I was a kid. Back then I laughed at beliefs of primitive men who endowed proper names with so much meaning. I would like to quote chapter 22 of this book: UNABLE to discriminate clearly between words and things, the savage commonly fancies that the link between a name and the person or thing denominated by it is not a mere arbitrary and ideal association, but a real and substantial bond which unites the two in such a way that magic may be wrought on a man just as easily through his name as through his hair, his nails, or any other material part of his person. In fact, primitive man regards his name as a vital portion of himself and takes care of it accordingly. Thus, for example, the North American Indian regards his name, not as a mere label, but as a distinct part of his personality, just as much as are his eyes or his teeth, and believes that injury will result as surely from the malicious handling of his name as from a wound inflicted on any part of his physical organism. This belief was found among the various tribes from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and has occasioned a number of curious regulations in regard to the concealment and change of names. Some Esquimaux take new names when they are old, hoping thereby to get a new lease of life. The Tolampoos of Celebes believe that if you write a mans name down you can carry off his soul along with it. Many savages at the present day regard their names as vital parts of themselves, and therefore take great pains to conceal their real names, lest these should give to evil-disposed persons a handle by which to injure their owners.

If you are not familiar with this book then I strongly recommend it as well as reading late critique of Frazer a few weeks of excellent reading are guaranteed.

What do aborigines of Oceania have got to do with phones? I am getting there. Some other superstitions like Christmas time future telling, curses are closer to my point. In some rituals people write a name on a piece of paper and then depending on the result they are looking for they either burn it (to hurt someone) or drop it on water (to see what the person thinks of them depending on whether the paper floats or sinks). You have probably heard of the Voodoo cult and its rituals that use a doll of a real person to manipulate him through it. The name has always had sacral meaning to many people.

In any bookstore you can find a book entitled something like The mystery of the name, Names compatibility and similar rubbish that works on a very primitive level of consciousness. Our beliefs transform as the time passes and I suppose sometime soon people will have superstitions about phones and other gadgets too. There are a lot of predispositions for that in the mass culture like the 2007 French dark comedy Hellphone. This movie is an excellent demonstration of phones acquiring cultural coat. Cinema is already using some contraptions as symbols like elevators that often become gateways into other dimensions or deadly traps. There are also a lot of urban legends about devices we use every day and some of them leave traces in our minds and beliefs. Although, no one can tell what will become a superstition tomorrow and what will be forgotten.

There are both psychological and physiological aspects to the cultural status of the phone. Phantom calls are one of them and most people regularly receive such calls. I am sure you can remember a few times when you tried to answer a ringing phone only to find its black screen saying no one called. Phantom calls may represent our psychological state.

Now about deleting someone from contacts. In the first decade of the mobile phone history you were could only have a limited number of contacts usually a hundred of them. Nowadays you can store as many contacts as you wish: thousands of contacts with tons of additional info for each of them. I remember big discussions back in the 90s about how many contacts should an address book be capable of storing. There were flagship phone that could store as many as 250 contacts some even 500. And people used to argue that 250 was plenty while others begged for more space.

But since then phones have become really affordable and many users have two or more handsets and we almost never sort out our contacts and simply transfer them all to the new phone. I have phone numbers I have not called in over a decade and if I do I usually hear that the number does not exist or someone else picks up the phone. Only then I delete those contacts. I have over 2000 thousand contacts but there are only about 30 people I call regularly and I suppose its the same story with most people. Just compare you recents or favorites with the total number of contacts and you will see what I mean.

A few days ago I learned that one of my friends died about six months ago. We rarely met but I was always happy to see him. When I call his number I hear his voicemail message he recorded saying that he has died. At first I thought it was a tasteless joke and did not believe it. In his message he specifies people the caller might want to contact for business reasons. i had mixed feelings about this message while dying from cancer he decided not to leave any unfinished business and he even prepaid his phone for several years ahead to make sure all people concerned get the message. I dont know what to think about this. But it is hard for the family and friends to hear the voice of the deceased.

For a few days I was thinking whether I should delete his number. Logically I was sure I would never need it again but my feelings were telling me to delete this number would mean a lot more than just clear a few bytes from the phone memory. It would be an act of removal from my memory. I left the number be. It is a sort of a memorial engraving for me.

I asked people around and found that most people dont delete contacts because there is plenty of space in the phone and they dont want to spend time sorting their contacts. Upon further inquiry I learned that people do delete contacts when they are associated with some negative memories when they wanted to forget. Bingo. I cannot speak for every person on the planet but I assume for most of us there is a direct psychological connection between our relationship with someone and deleting someone from the phones address book or from friends in a social network. We try to eliminate those people from our lives. Before phones we could only cross someone out of an address book as my wife did with the name of my ex in my old paper notebook. She was probably jealous but I found it out only a few years after we got divorced.

There might be psychologists reading this and I would like to read a serious research on this topic someday.

I would like you to share your thoughts on this issue or simply tell how often you delete someone from contacts or friends. Are you sorting out a mess or do it on an impulse. And also how many contacts do you have and how many people you contact regularly.

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Russian Protests Myths about Networks and Scramblers

Thousands of people took part in protests across Russia following the parliamentary election. From 20 to 40 thousand people gathered on Bolotnaya square in Moscow alone. Of course, numbers of protesters differ depending on the source and the methods. The cellular networks were down due to such a large concentration of users in one place which spawned talks about government conspiracies and censorship. I want to clarify what happened on Bolotnaya as far as mobile networks are concerned. There were too many speculations by people who dont understand and did not care to learn how mobile networks work. Instead they come up with ridiculous conspiracy theories and groundless accusations.

People learned about the upcoming demonstration on Bolotnaya a few days in advance. Among the Moscow carriers only Beeline and Megafon have mobile base stations but the companies had no chance of getting the permissions to use them in time so there were no extra base stations in the vicinity on D day. Anyway, even if all the available mobile stations got there on time the network still would not be able to deal with all the phones in the area. They could only improve signal quality but not increase max network workload.

The rally was scheduled to start at 2 p.m. By that time the number of people on the square was growing rapidly. Its funny that Megafons network went down the first as it is considered to be the most advanced and have the best coverage in the Moscow region in terms of 3G, mobile Internet and other services. But Megafon was the first to go down nonetheless which spawned speculations about government intervention to stop people from coordinating actions on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. But the reason of the network failure was not a government agency but humble Apple iPhone.

By the beginning of the rally there were so many Megafons iPhones that you could no longer twit, browse webpages etc. as all the carriers channels were overloaded. The software that sets the traffic priorities and creates the traffic queue was inundated because every minute 500 new handsets showed up on the square.

In such cases, carriers turn off services in a specific order to keep the networking going. Firstly, they turn off 3G and channel traffic through EDGE. If thats not enough than they turn all data channels off leaving only voice calls and SMS. Many people in Russia have encountered this problem on the New Years when everyone calls everyone to congratulate causing many networks to go down temporarily. Every year networks get more and more advanced and today carriers deal with the New Years overload relatively fast while just ten years ago networks could be down for many hours. In this situation no one blames Santa for scrambling cellular networks people understand that networks struggle to pass all the calls and SMS. But if you toss a political factor in the very same situation then everyone gets mad with conspiracy delusions.

Technical illiteracy of some of the protesters is another cause. Not only did not they turn off data traffic (mail sync, weather apps etc.) but they were trying to see what the world thinks of the protests in Russia so they were constantly trying to browse creating a huge influx of requests that the network could not handle. The networks suffered the most from smartphones obviously. And even though Megafon has fewer subscribers in Moscow than MTS it has the most smartphone users including iPhone which led to their network going down the first.

Beeline and MTS soldiered on for a little longer then they also turned data off. They hastily reconfigured the base station in the area to increase bandwidth on the square. It increased their networks capacities by about 15-20% but they could not possibly handle all the handsets in the area.

Each of the carriers was fighting the problem on their own and there was no cooperation between them. And when an issue comes up so quickly there can hardly be any cooperation as all the networks were down in the area within the first 45 minutes of the protest leaving only voice calls and SMS available but not to a full extent incoming calls could not get through because the carriers set outgoing calls as priority. The SMS was oberburdened the most there were delays up to 25 minutes both for outgoing and incoming messages.

The networks were also heavily loaded due to protests in the areas of the Polyanka, Biblioteka Imeni Lenina metro stations and around Krasniy Oktyabr but did not go down.

Protesters on Bolotnaya aggravated the situation by continuously trying to call even when it was obvious that the network was down which was additional workload for the carriers. It is a good example of how a tenfold workload can kill a network.

None of the carriers managed to handle this workload and anyone who knows a few things about telecom or has visited a big match on a stadium could have predicted that. It has happened before many times and it is very mundane no matter how hard some try to find government hand in all this.

Lets now get to the scary stuff many users dont know about. Firstly, the carrier i.e. the government knows where your phone is every single moment. On December 19 last year a series of protests took place in Minsk. Later in January everyone who took part in them was summoned to Belorussian KGB. Apparently, the carriers gave away the information on their subscribers and their locations at the time. This is possible in any country as it is legal for law enforcement agencies to demand such info from carriers.

Changing the SIM wont give you privacy as IMEI remains the same and the phone can always be traced. So if you want to go somewhere incognito youd better not take your phone with you. There was a bank robbery not so long ago in Estonia and the police simply summoned everyone whose phones were in the bank at the time of the robbery.

So whenever you have your phone on you should be aware that your privacy is compromised. Some can learn where you are and whose phones are around you and make conclusions. Telecom has given a whole lot of new measures of control for the government and in most countries there isnt any legislation that limits the use such information by the state subsequently depriving you of privacy.

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Vertu: Near the End of the Road

Financial Times reports that Nokia is ready to sell its Vertu subsidiary. The manufacturer of luxury phones sold for 4,000 Euros and up was not doing well lately, which was caused by troubles in Nokia itself. Low popularity levels for Nokia destroys the sales of Vertu, because people want to get Android or iOS inside an expensive phone and not an old-fashioned Symbian. Nokia says that Vertu will become independent in the second quarter of 2012. There is no official data for Vertu sales, but the parameter is around 200 300 million Euros, which means they sell no more than 50, 000 handsets, but I think that true figures are 20,000 25,000. 20% of models are sold in Russia, but in 2011 sales decreased by 30% and the fall is continuing. Vertu failed to offer new products, while the target audience prefers a democratic iPhone with more superior characteristics. The status is now expressed by a car and not a phone. I think bad sales are the main reason behind the decision of Nokia to ditch Vertu. During the next 2 years the company will be under severe pressure, while its top managers are trying to save the brand name.

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Another Nokia Flagship Store: Hong Kong Story

If the company opens flagship stores worldwide it must be doing well, mustn't it? Last week Nokia made a splash by opening its flagship store in Hong Kong. Engadget has already reported about it.

Our follower Howard Chu sent a message, which clearly describes what is really happening.


Nokia gotta love the PR spins enhanced by the bloggosphere these days! Pieces regarding Nokia To Open New Flagship Store In Hong Kong start to show up. But I have spotted only one so far has mentioned about the "new" perspective.

The Hong Kong flagship store has been in Causeway Bay on Russell Street since 2006. The reason why they are going to open a "new" flagship store in Mong Kok (Kowloon side) is the expensive rent making Nokia move, according to the Apple Daily report (run by the NextMedia). The British iconic brand, Burberry, is going to pay HK$6.5M per month at the 2-story Causeway Bay prime location, which is 2.5 times more than Nokia has been paying for! Russell Street shopping area has been among the most expensive retail locations in the world. Moreover, the new location in Mong Kok is relatively smaller and frugal at HK$0.98M for the 1500 sq ft. unit (The previous tenant was a fashion boutique, paying HK$0.70M per month there). In any case, the landlords of both locations should be really happy with their new tenants ;-)

Another perspective is about the image of "flagship". After reading your recent Spillikins #146 - No Time for Flagships: Devalution of the Term for the hardware, I think this move of the retail presence has also got paradigm shift of the Nokia brand itself... it has lost its prestigious status.

Sure, Nokia has been so diverse with its product portfolio from cookie-cutter to luxury series. But not anymore. Paying the most expensive rents for the "flagship" as part of the multi-billion advertising budget no longer effective. Nokia has also got other retail locations in Hong Kong - including one at the upscale IFC mall, where the  Apple Store has stolen the thunder from the Nokia Shop there... in terms of floor space, foot traffic and sales volume.

On the other hand, the "new" Mong Kok location is situated in the busiest stretch of Sai Yeung Choi Street shopping district. It is well known for the electronic gadgets, clothing, cheap deli, snacks and bargain hunting... To have a retail presence there for "connecting the real people"? Thank goodness, there are thousands of my comrades from the Mainland may find the Nokia "flagship" presence there as a seal of confidence! But once get into the "bargaining mode", I do not know how good the staff can handle that against their "neighbours".

If Nokia is going to call it the "flagship" store, it would devalue the brand by several notches down further. It is not Causeway Bay among the iconic luxury brands or inside some upscale mall. On the practical side, I believe it is not the best place to set up a "flagship" store either. All the network operators have at least got one store in the same area, so as the 3 biggest electronic retail chains in Hong Kong with 3, even 4 locations along Sai Yeung Choi Street.

Thank you for you time.

The letter describes the events clearly and accurately. The store was moved to another location, which offers the same floor space, but much lower status. There is no way back for Nokia as it tries to save everywhere it can, but it tries to keep symbols of former glory. During the years Nokia accumulated various unnecessary assets, which the company will have to shed now, but it will be very painful.

Additional reading:

P.S. Have a nice week. I hope winter will start in earnest and it will snow. If you live in warmer countries enjoy the weather anyway!

Do you want to talk about this? Please, go to our Forum and let your opinion be known to the author and everybody else.

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Related links

Spillikins 146. No Time for Flagships: Devaluation of the Term

Spillikins 147. Chinese Phones Semi-prepared Meals

Spillikins 148. Gadgets and Glamour

Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
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Translated by Maxim Antonenko (maxantonenko@ukr.net), Robert Mugattarov (mugattarov@gmail.com)

Published — 14 December 2011

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com



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