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Tag: cell phone

Improve your cell phone reception AND easily use your cell phone even in bright light with this new incredible fashion accessory: the cell phone cowl!

The issue:

Using a cell phone outdoors can present two main problems, as shown in Figure 1. Specifically, you may be far from a tower (and thus, get poor reception) and the harsh light of the noon sun may make it very difficult to read the text on your phone, especially with the recently-popularized “dark mode” user interface themes.


Fig. 1: A) This cell phone is far from a tower, so it gets bad reception (and the battery drains faster). B) the harsh glare of the sun makes it hard to read the screen. Pros and cons of the sun: PRO: allows life to exist on Earth. CON: makes it hard to read Internet comments.


This new fashion accessory, the “Cell Phone Cowl” (Figure 2, A.K.A. “cell phone hood,” or “cell phone wimple”), allows the outdoor phone user to always have a shaded area for using their cell phone.

Additionally, the hood can have a built-in antenna (shown here as an external antenna, although it would probably be possible to run the antenna along the perimeter of the fabric instead). This will allow for better reception even in such remote and cell-phone-inhospitable locations as Downtown San Francisco.



Fig. 2: C) The external antenna (plugged into the cell phone by an old-style phone cable) allows this cell phone user to get 5 bars of reception, despite their remote location. D) The hood / cowl provides shade, allowing the user to read Internet posts while cowering from the harsh light of the sun.


You should pre-order your cell phone cowl before the waitlist gets too long!

PROS: Brings fashion and technology together at last in a way not seen since the incredible future predicted in “R.U. a Cyberpunk?” (1994 image from Mondo 2000).

CONS: An external antenna might hit door frames if you forget to collapse it before going inside, but an internal antenna would make it difficult to machine-wash the cowl. The horrible price of progress!

Stop impulsively using your cell phone, thanks to this one amazing deterrent that is also GUARANTEED to make you way smarter and well-educated! Guarantee void.


People are often glued to their cell phones at all times, thanks primarily to the ease of finding an amusing distraction on the Internet.

The issue:

There have been various proposals to mitigate the scourge of “phone addiction,” for example, setting your phone screen to black-and-white / grayscale in order to reduce its appeal (https://www.google.com/search?q=set+phone+to+black+and+white).

However, no proposal currently tackles the problem by making the phone-unlock process a mentally-taxing exercise.


In order to unlock your phone, you have to solve some sort of vaguely challenging puzzle, or perhaps learn a new fact about the world.

For example, to unlock your phone:

  • You must win or tie a game of Tic-Tac-Toe (Figure 1). Your AI opponent could just make moves randomly, so that it isn’t always a tie.
  • You must win a game of Go against the phone. This could take substantially longer than the Tic-Tac-Toe example; perhaps decades or more.



Fig. 1: Perhaps you would need to win some sort of strategy game in order to unlock your phone. Other candidates include chess, checkers, and other popular board games. Since the computer will almost always be better than a player at these games, it could start with a handicap (e.g. no queen in chess).

An alternative approach would be to attempt to educate the phone user in some way (Figures 2 and 3).



Fig. 2: High school or college students who are studying for standardized tests could replace their unlock screen with a practice test question. This phone’s owner will undoubtedly become very familiar with the format of the “analogies” section used in some standardized tests.




Fig. 3: You’d definitely read a lot more classic literature if you HAD to in order to unlock your phone. Even War and Peace (shown here) would fly by in no time!

Alternative proposal that would help you maintain social connections:

Instead of requiring you to solve a puzzle, the phone could require you to send a message to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, or call someone on their birthday. This synergizes well with the amazing not-yet-real app Friend Neglectr.

PROS: Combats phone addition AND enriches your life at the same time.

CONS: People would probably try to unlock their phones while driving, and having to read an entire chapter from “War and Peace” on a 5-inch screen would probably greatly increase the risk of a catastrophic car accident.

Get exercise and improve your self-control with this new eco-friendly hand-crank-powered cell phone!

The issue:

It is frequently asserted that people are addicted to cell phones. If only there were a technical solution to this problem!


Here’s a simple solution to discourage casual cell phone use: a cell phone with two features:

  1. A strict limit on the amount of time you can use each program. (This feature already exists.)
  2. A hand crank on the side of the phone (Figure 1) that lets you circumvent the limit while you turn the crank.
    • (Turning the crank also charges the phone battery, which makes this an eco-friendly idea as well.)

Fig. 1: The crank-powered phone at left has reached its daily limit of unmetered browsing. In order to keep using it, its owner must turn the charger crank (shown at right). Note that the manufacturer of this phone has slavishly copied the 2017 iPhone X notch.

Alternatives to the crank could also be employed: foot pedals, a bellows, or The Wheel of Pain from the 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie.

The crank could also be useful in other situations (Figure 2).


Fig. 2: The charger crank would add verisimilitude to this slot machine app.


This eco-friendly idea is guaranteed to be a staple of future phone / tablet / laptop design.

Alternative Version:

An alternative formulation of this idea would be to not meter usage by time, but just require a user to turn the crank 50 times before an app will launch or a web page will load.

PROS: Discourages casual phone use out of boredom / habit. Provides a good arm workout, especially if you remember to flip it 180º occasionally to work out both arms.

CONS: Might not actually reduce phone use, but now there would be an annoying grinding sound of people turning cell phone cranks everywhere. Would increase the frequency of dropped phones.

Upon seeing this cell phone and realizing it is not for sale, you will gnash and grind your teeth in rage. Dentists hate it!


Nearly all modern cell phones have the same touch-screen form factor.

Except for a few buttons of low importance (e.g. volume adjustment, power, camera shutter), all interaction is done through the screen itself.

The issue:

This style of interaction makes use of only one finger, and leaves the remaining four fingers with nothing to do (except hold the phone).

It can also be difficult to reach across the entire phone with one thumb. Finally, one’s grip of the phone is significantly diminished when interacting with the phone, making it easier to drop it during interaction with an app or web page.


Fig 1: Modern phones typically have a form factor similar to the one at left. Right: when holding the phone, the thumb (labeled “5”) does all the work, while fingers 1–4 flop about uselessly on the opposite side of the phone.

Proposal: additional hardware keys on the phone edges

In order to improve phone-handling characteristics, we can add easy-to-press hardware keys to the edge of the phone.

Let us assume that this phone will be intended for right-handed operation. See figure 2 for the proposed button layout.

buttons default with slide or scroll wheel

Fig 2: On the left edge of the phone, four keys (one for each finger) are added.

On the right edge of the phone, a slideable switch is added. This acts as a scrollwheel; it can be pressed in to click, or slid up or down to scroll a web page. This is an old idea seen most notably in the “thumb scrollwheel” in Blackberry phones ~2000–2010.

Slight downside: these new features are unusable when the phone is held in the left hand.

chorded keyboard

Fig 3: The new buttons on the left (numbered 1–4) would allow for typing in the fashion of a chorded keyboard (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chorded_keyboard). With 4 buttons, we have (2^4 – 1) = 15 possible letters.


Fig 4: If full typing ability is desired, it would be possible to make the buttons into rings instead, allowing the buttons to be pulled out instead of just pushed. Now we are up to (3^4 – 1) = 80 possible combinations of letters when typing in a chorded keyboard fashion. This is more than enough for any alphabet.

(Note: the thumb ring in this diagram would need to pivot in order to allow a comfortable grip.) would have to be rotated almost 90 degrees to allow for a comfortable grip.)


Although this new interaction style could take some time to get used to, it would greatly improve phone interaction efficiency.

PROS: Makes phone interaction faster. Makes it easier to hold the phone in a secure grip.

CONS: If no one drops their phones anymore, phone case manufacturers may go out of business.

Never forget where you left your car again, because your phone knows! Also your car is probably worth thousands of dollars, so you should be keeping track of it anyway!

The issue:

When parking on the street or in an enormous shopping center parking lot, it can be easy to lose track of exactly where one’s car is parked.

Since cell phones constantly record a person’s GPS location as a standard feature (if you are not familiar with this, look up “iPhone Track location”—the images are quite striking), we can use this same data to reconstruct the car’s location when it was parked.


Fig 1: Your phone typically does not make this data easily available to you, but it is constantly recording (and saving) your location. This is a low-resolution zoom-out of tracking signals of a phone taken to Las Vegas. Each dot on the map actually represents dozens or hundreds of specific location “pings,” which are just not visible at this zoom level. The black point cluster is Las Vegas itself.


It would be useful if your phone could always tell you where your car was parked—without requiring any user interaction or planning ahead of time.

Luckily, this is possible!

The car location will can be inferred using two sources of data:

  1. By using the accelerometer of the phone (as a pedometer):
    1. When the user is driving, the pedometer should register no (or very, very few) steps.
    2. After parking, the pedometer should suddenly see activity.
  2. By examining the speed of travel between GPS coordinates.
    1. Data points that have an associated speed above 20 miles per hour are practically guaranteed to be in a car (or other form of motorized transportation).
    2. Car data points will still have interruptions (e.g. stop lights) and low-speed sections (e.g., traffic jam) that need to be accounted for.
    3. At some point, the driver will get out of the car and walk to their destination. This can be easily detected by the slower movement and non-zero pedometer data.

See figures 2 and 3 below for an example of integrating these two data types (top of figure = pedometer activity bar graph, bottom of figure = map and GPS “pings”). Try to figure out the parking spot on the diagram below.


Fig 2: Here is some fake sample data. The blue bars along the top (“Number of Steps Detected”) show pedometer / accelerometer activity from 9:02 AM to 9:10 AM (the more a person walks, the higher the bar). The yellow-to-orange-to-red rectangles at the bottom indicate the GPS locations at these specific times. Try to figure out where the user parked the car based on this data. See Fig. 3 for the algorithm’s guess.


Fig 3: Here is the algorithm’s guess for the parking spot—see if you agree with this guess! This is an annotated version of the data in Figure 2.


This feature should definitely be built into your phone!

PROS: Automatically lets you know where you (probably) parked your car, and doesn’t need any data that a modern cell phone isn’t already collecting.

CONS: Might not work very well in underground parking garages. Try to remember where you parked in those situations!