Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Phone as a computer

Am having a lot of fun with my phone: a Nokia 6600. It's an ancient model by the lightspeed standards of the market, but very interesting in that it supports Flash Lite, a stripped-down version of the Flash player that drives so much of modern web design. While Flash is well-known in the filmmaking circle as an animation tool, the fact that it also supports actionscript --a proprietary programming language with the power to create interactive graphics-- is not as well known. So far, I've coded a little ping-pong scorekeeper, a simple egg timer, and a phone version of Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies: Press a button, the phone screen flickers, and the oracle speaks: "Honor thy error as a hidden intention" and so on. The same program could be altered to make a version of the I Ching, but I confess to finding Eno much more readable.

I put the Oblique Strategies swf (shockwave file) on Divshare. Those who are interested can download it here:


Making these little utilities has made me aware of how generally unfriendly our phones are. "Personalizing" a phone is essentially an act of digital scrapbooking. And yes we can make calls, chat, play games and shoot video, but think of this: Most phones these days have more power than the computers on board the space shuttle. They are in fact, very small computers, equipped with wireless capability and multimedia peripherals, yet they behave as though they were hardwired appliances. There must be any number of tools/functions that would handy or fun to have in a computer the size of your wallet, that are within the coding powers of a resourceful high-school student. (Phrasebook, remote control, flashcards, custom calculator, map, beatbox) And yet something as simple as creating a macro is a major, major deal for most existing phones. Google tells me that there are sites devoted to developing the open-source phone, but Flash Lite is the small room in a user-unfriendly phone universe that makes it possible to program existing phones today.

If anybody is interested in what phones support/are preloaded with Flash Lite, Adobe (which now owns Flash) has a list here:


Most phones listed support Flash Lite, but do not have it installed. You'll have to do that yourself, ie by finding a copy of FL and downloading it into your phone via something like Nokia's PC Suite, (which you should already have anyway, if only to back up your phone book). Flash Lite-compatible SWFs can be created in Flash 8.


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