STOCKHOLM, Sweden Even more than in most countries, it seems that life simply can't be lived here without a mobile phone. The industrious Swedes continue to come up with new ways to use the cell, ranging from helping the blind find their way to outgunning the BlackBerry in delivering mobile e-mail.
A whirlwind tour around Stockholm, its bustling suburbs and one of Sweden's technology hubs to the south, Norrkoping Science Park, revealed a hotbed of development– some of it disruptive, some of it in the category of technologies searching for a solution.
A recurring theme here is moving the Internet to the mobile phone. But that requires squeezing
busy Web pages down to tiny, hard-to-read displays. Currently, most pages have to be reworked before they can be displayed on mobile phones, and most look lousy when compared with PC or Mac pages.
One startup (and there are an impressive number of tech startups in Sweden), Mobizoft, has come up with a way to improve the rendering of Web pages on mobile-phone displays.
Founded in 2005, Mobizoft claims its Publish2Mobile tool improves the delivery and presentation of mobile Web pages by leveraging device- and browser-specific data. The tool also offers image compression and conversion. Another Mobizoft product, Content-4Mobile, is being promoted as allowing users to post videos to the Web directly from a mobile phone.
On the road
Scandinavia has been a good test market for the tools, said Mobizoft board chairman Jorma Mobrin. Nevertheless, he and company CEO and tool developer Maria Christensen recently completed a U.S. road show to demonstrate their products to large but unidentified content developers. Those developers are searching for ways to stream video to cell phones in a manner that will approximate the viewing quality of a PC.
Swedish technology companies are also at the forefront of efforts to incorporate navigation into mobile phones. But those efforts go beyond merely guiding a tourist to a restaurant, for instance. The local government in Stockholm wants to replace, or at least augment, the seeing-eye dog with wireless devices that can guide the blind around this exquisite but, in some places, cramped city.
One effort, overseen by a startup called Mobile Sorcery, seeks to combine navigation technology with audio to deliver location-based services for the blind and the elderly. While the challenges faced by the blind in a large city are obvious, Henrik von Shoultz, Mobile Sorcery's vice president of business development, noted that about 10 elderly or disabled citizens get lost in the city on average every day.
The company tapped into the local government's large database, developed under its Intelligent Transportation System program, to come up with a mobile-phone-based prototype of a system that could help guide the blind from their homes to, say, the grocery store. Users enter a key on a handset to determine the best route to a destination. A mobile-phone earpiece tells them in advance when and how much to turn, alerts them to obstacles, and updates them on how far it is to their ultimate destination.
Developers Tomas Upgard, Mobile Sorcery's chief executive, and Antony Hartley, its CTO, quickly realized that GPS navigation can't cut it in modern cities as a tool for guiding pedestrians or bike riders. An accuracy of 4 meters or less is needed to determine, for example, the side of the street on which a pedestrian is walk- ing. That's too precise a measurement for GPS.
Company engineers found that, when used in large cities, consumer GPS data is plagued by multipath problems, causing GPS signals to drift. Their solutions included filtering and a dead-reckoning system to provide users with better position data.
Using an off-the-shelf dead-reckoning system developed for the military by Honeywell that incorporates a gyroscope and compass as a "step counter," Mobile Sorcery engineers tweaked the prototype with internally developed algorithms to make the system more accurate.
Von Shoultz said 12 users are currently testing the prototype system as part of Stockholm's e-Adept program. A product is scheduled to be ready by 2009, he said. The company is also touting a mobile-phone development application called MoSync, a collection of tools designed to ease the growing problem of developing and porting software to mobile devices.