Why the Nokia 3310 reboot will struggle to do the original justice

Nokia’s 3310 will be rebooted at this month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, according to VentureBeat, and will launch as “a homage” to the original. HMD Global, which purchased the rights to the Nokia brand name in December, will release the phone for a comparatively moderate price of €59.

The Finnish company will allegedly announce four phones in total at the event, including an entry level Nokia 3 and a mid-tier Nokia 5, becoming the first series of handsets released by the Nokia brand in Europe since 2014.

The original Nokia 3310, which was launched in 2000 and sold 126 million units globally before being discontinued by its parent five years later, is still a benchmark for mobile phones and continues to be touted as such for reasons other than pure nostalgia. Here’s why.

The 3310 was a big tough cockroach of a phone that would’ve eaten the Note 7 for breakfast. It was my very first phone, and I held on to it for as long as possible before upgrading to a Samsung E330. It finally conked out after about eight years. Its successor, the 3410, was just as long-lasting, and continues to be used by my mother to this very day after nearly 13 years.

In my view, the crux of what makes a great mobile phone should be measured on two simple fronts: Mobility, and whether it makes phone calls.

My current Microsoft Lumia 950 — incidentally part of the line that was rebranded from Nokia’s handsets division when it was sold it 2013, now discontinued — has all the bells and whistles in terms of features but it lacks a fundamental aspect of what makes a phone mobile: It’s too big, just like 90 percent of smartphones on the market today.

Some of us don’t want a mini laptop-sized device to make a phone call on the go, nor do I want to walk up a flight of stairs as if I’m wearing a leg-brace because I don’t want to crack the screen. The mobile concept was never supposed to be like this.

The Lumia also has a weak battery life in comparison. The golden rule of a mobile phone, with an emphasis on mobile, is you don’t need to have daily access to a power point, and this was an area where the 3310 truly excelled. It was perhaps the phone’s most memorable feature, said to be up to 260 hours in standby and nearly five hours of solid talk time for a 1000mAh battery. I remember going almost a whole week before having to charge up; now I have to keep my phone charging every single day, as if it’s a landline.

The 3310 also boasted legendary durability, which continues to be parodied in a variety of memes and social media posts, and possibly the greatest mobile game ever in the form of Snake II, which is rumoured to be included on the reboot.

But most crucially, the 3310 kept close to the concept of a real phone. It had a keypad. It could fit comfortably in one hand. You could reach every button with your thumb. These should all be on page one of the smartphone maker’s manual, yet are something that models such as the iPhone 7 or Oppo R9 fall short on.

The 3310’s extra features were also kept to a modest minimum: SMS Chat, calculator, stopwatch and quick dialling among them. Granted, this moderation was only because of the relatively limited tech available to smartphone makers at the time, but the 3310 now serves as a snapshot of a time when phones were allowed to be phones rather than all-in-one life-savers. The more features you add and enhancements you make, the greater the likelihood of things going wrong, as demonstrated by last year’s Note 7 debacle. In an age where smartphone makers are searching for an eye-catching feature that puts it ahead of the pack in a saturated market, news of a 3310 relaunch is a welcome relief.

The original 3310 was by no means perfect, and for the reboot I’m chiefly hoping for two minor modifications: A slight weight reduction and an upgrade on the 84 x 48 pixel monochrome display. It will also need to maintain its durability, or even improve upon it taking into account the hardware advances since 2000.

Details about the reboot are limited, but it surely won’t be a straight-up recreation of the 2000 version. It will be a fine balancing act for the company to both respect the original and offer something that suits today’s network standards and consumer demand.

To make it commercially viable, HMD Global will simply have to offer features such as 4G access, and front and back megapixel cameras for today’s selfie generation. At that point it will essentially become a brand new phone, and the 3310 moniker would surely only exist to capitalize on a nostalgic tech-buying public.


How drones are steadily advancing Australia’s environmental industry

In early October last year, a planned burn in the Australian localities of Lancefield and Cobaw, Victoria, broke containment lines. As part of an investigation into the incident, recommendations were made to the Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DELWP) to develop improvements to the effectiveness of how to conduct planned burns.

A year on, the DELWP completed a successful 12-week trial that tested the capability of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) or drones, for more effective monitoring of planned burns — the process of burning flammable materials under controlled conditions to reduce the spread of bushfires. The drones were also tested for tracking of koalas, deer, penguins, and seals; environmental and coastal management, such as coastal erosion; and cultural heritage mapping.

While the last five years have seen an increased uptake of drones by businesses — some instances with dubious consequences — DELWP’s trial marked a first for the use of drones in an official capacity for Australian land and environmental management. For an ecosystem as varied as Australia’s, drones could allow the industry to acheive previously unobtainable goals.

In terms of their technological capability, DELWP’s drones boasted several added advantages as part of the trial period. Their LiDAR capability — which measures the distance from a target using a laser — can see through the forest canopy to determine the fuel density on the ground, as well as accurately plot coastal erosion; while its high resolution camera is ideal for creating 3D photomosaic images for cultural heritage mapping and coastal erosion monitoring. Its thermal and infra-red cameras, aside from detecting fires, can find wildlife in dense forests.

As well as monitoring the planned burns while they’re taking place and post-process mapping, their drones evaluated an area prior to the planned burn taking place in terms of topography, hazardous trees, nearby infrastructure, and vegetation types and densities that could lead to the crossing of containment lines.

Victoria’s Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio told TechRepublic that for planned burns, the drones assist in covering large or inaccessible areas where the data collection used to be done on foot. Not only this, she said the UAVs enable better communications for people on the ground, especially in remote areas, which in turn means increased safety for staff.

But a hugely important aspect for DELWP in their use of drones for planned burns is the improved ability to survey areas that were previously inaccessible. An advantage of the drones for surveying koala population sizes at sites in Victoria’s Barwon South West is they are much quieter than traditional aircraft, making the animals less likely to be disturbed and therefore easier to count.

Mobility is a huge factor across the board. Sydney-based Ninox Robotics, which started commercial operations this year, is an environmental management startup that commercially deploys UAVs throughout Australia for missions such as biosecurity, pest control, and infrastructure management purposes. Managing director Marcus Ehrlich told TechRepublic the company was established as a response to the problems brought on by the introduction of European species into a biosphere as unique as Australia. It was the benefits of UAVs over manned vehicles for pest management that helped enable the company to start operations.

“All the weaknesses of pest management today — fencing, shooting, tracking over vast areas — were some of the strengths of drones. Drones could cover huge amounts of territory cheaply, safely, and efficiently. So I thought: ‘Let’s try and fix this weakness by using this new technology’. And that was the original idea. As we progressed down the line we realised we could do a whole heap of other things quite seamlessly.”

The methods involved in deployment were easier, although Ehrlich admitted that speeds of deployment differ from job to job.

“For our systems we don’t need a lot of aeronautical infrastructure, so we launch with a catapult and we land with a parachute, so we don’t need a runway; we can get to spaces as long as we have road access. Other technologies such as planes need to either fly there expending a lot of fuel, or can’t get there at all.”

Other companies started to switch to UAVs when their advantages became clear. Western Australia-based environmental services company Astron uses drones for tasks including mine rehabilitation monitoring and species detection. Before remote sensing, the company’s rehabilitation monitoring was time-consuming and expensive, and field measurements were prone to subjectivity, according to Sam Atkinson, manager for Geospatial at Astron. It had been operating for over 30 years before integrating remote sensing tools into their methods in 2012 to cover much more ground.

“Traditional ecological methods use manual sampling approaches that typically measure less than 1 percent of the area being studied,” Atkinson told TechRepublic. “UAVs give quantitative data across 100 percent of the study area, enabling a step change in the information available for our clients.”

Atkinson said that the wider scale of terrain that their drones can cover also takes the risk factor out of the equation.

“A lot of our work is conducted in remote areas and sometimes features very difficult terrain with little to no established vehicle access,” he said. “Certainly the ability to fly a UAV mission to collect environmental data across areas such as this, rather than sending in people on the ground, can reduce the exposure of those people to potential hazards. We have had clients come to us for this very reason, for example to do inspections of elevated cave entrances, to search for rare flora along ridge lines or to evaluate vegetation health along rivers or drainage channels.”


Astron’s drone reading. (Image supplied.)

Atkinson added that their UAVs’ multispectral sensors, advanced machine learning, and computer vision developments enabled the company to identify, map, and analyse natural phenomena that could not been possible with just the human eye.

Despite these advantages, it is still early days. For businesses like Astron, it takes time and investment to turn a process into something commercially relevant. And with any technical advantage that the drones might have comes with an increased amount of technical understanding required to capture more sophisticated data, all the time working with Civil Aviation Safety Authority expectations.

For DELWP, the use of drones could potentially save on costs, but a report is due to determine their value for money over other data collection techniques before a full rollout is considered.

D’Ambrosio admitted that the drone industry is still quite immature compared to existing aircraft and satellite data collection industries, and this can hamper the approval process.

“RPAS are a new and rapidly developing technology that is still finding its niche,” she told TechRepublic. “The large RPAS, particularly those that fly above 400 feet and beyond visual-line-of-slight, require a long approval process by CASA for each mission.

“This approval process is limiting to the types of work we intend to use the RPAS on, when compared to traditional aircraft which can be deployed at a moment’s notice.”

D’Ambrosio also said that at the moment, the system’s 3D mapping is also limited, and it takes a high amount of computing power for a small, mobile device such as a drone to process and receive a 3D image within 24 hours. Such factors are partly why there will still be a place for existing aircraft and satellite technologies.

DEWLP is currently undertaking a 12-month trial, part of which will be to assess the safety considerations, including the privacy and security of data.

For Ninox Robotics, more sophisticated hardware will never replace strict safety procedures, especially when the new tech can fly higher for longer. In fact, drones bring fresh safety concerns that need to be addressed just like any new tech, Ehrlich suggested.

“It’s a new regulatory environment — when we first started [it was] in a very sort of embryonic stage, and so that poses challenges as to the extent of what you can do,” Ehrlich said. “Particularly given that our capability has the ability to do things like fly really high, beyond visual line of sight, and do night flights.”

“There are [increased safety factors] in the sense that some areas they are ‘flying blind’ and they can’t see where they’re going,” said Ehrlich. “But we have some incredibly well-trained crews and very stringent protocols and regulations around us that mean we do things incredibly safely. And we don’t take any risks.”

While drone adoption in some industries is in an effort to be seen as technologically aware and up to date, Ehrlich said at least for environmental management, drones will play a long-term part.

“When you talk about drones you’re talking about a big scale. Some systems will be quite faddish and tokenistic and good for things like taking photos for property in metro areas, but you’ve got stuff down the other end that can cover a good percentage of the state in a single flight, so I see there’s a lot of use for that, now and into the future,” he said.

“Australia is a country that is vast in size that’s always required high levels of automation due to one, the fact that the country can afford to automate and two, the workforce is not huge and we can do with our machines a lot of the dumb and dirty work that people shouldn’t be doing. I wouldn’t even say it’s the way of the future, I would say it’s the way of the present.”

Atkinson at Astron corroborated this view by saying UAVs will undeniably play an important part in the future of environmental management; however, they are only part of the toolkit.

“It’s easy to fly a UAV; it’s not easy to reliably capture high quality data,” Atkinson said. “We still need and value the skills and experience of well-trained people to turn the data into information and to make effective management decisions. The data captured by UAVs enables us to work smarter rather than harder.”

For all the hype surrounding drones and their ability to take on any workforce autonomously, environmental management marks one sector where for now at least, humans still have to meet them halfway.

How virtual reality is transforming dementia care in Australia

There are currently more than 353,800 Australians living with dementia, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics. It’s a figure that’s expected to increase to 400,000 in less than five years, and without a breakthrough, it could be as high as 900,000 by 2050.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics cites it as the second leading cause of death in Australia. Depending on the type of dementia, various treatments are used to help with symptoms, but most do not slow down the condition’s progression. Until a cure is found, the kind of care and support patients receive from carers, family, and friends to improve the quality of life is key. This is where virtual reality can help.

Virtual reality (VR) is already being used in certain areas of healthcare for robotic surgery, medical personnel training, phobia treatment, and as a diagnostics tool. For people living with dementia, VR can offer relief by triggering memories and positive emotions, even for those in the later stages who are often responsive to very little.

Build VR, a Victoria-based company that specialises in VR, virtual tours, and 360-degree video and photography, recently released their Solis VR unit, a Gear VR handset for care homes that marks a big step forward in the quality of care for those living with dementia in Australia.

Marc Pascal, co-founder of Build VR, told TechRepublic that the company’s work in aged-care was a result of his and fellow co-founder Sally Darling’s personal experiences of the difficulties of having a family member who needs professional care.

“Her father passed away some months before her and I met. We’d been to these facilities, especially the one where her father was staying, so she had a lot of personal insight. It’s traumatic for everyone in the family. These facilities — they’re kind of out of sight, out of mind. They’re beautiful facilities but the residents are bored.”

The company was touring facilities with their VR demonstrations, before eventually leading to plans to develop a unit that was more specifically for people living with dementia.

“Our first demonstration was about 18 months ago,” Pascal said. “We went to a facility, we had a dozen residents try it and most of them had dementia — we didn’t know that before we arrived. So everyone was a bit apprehensive as to what the reaction would be, but the reaction was amazing. All the staff loved it and it pretty much became a hit, because we have all these residents now communicating with each other, talking about what they’re seeing and even sharing some stories.

“We went to a number of facilities across Victoria, often the same trial, the same demo, to get the feedback based on what content they would like, what they don’t like … we went through over a hundred VR experiences and then we settled on five.”

Solis VR lobby
(Image: Build VR)

Those five VR experiences now form the five categories of video scenarios that the handset offers users: Travel, adventure, animals, aquatic, and relaxation. The user starts in a computer generated atrium in front of a wall with five paintings, each one reflecting a VR experience. When the user looks at a painting, a 360-degree video begins, which could be of anything ranging from scuba diving, canoeing, or a trip to Bali.

“Another thing we did was figure out how to sync a tablet with the headset, so a staff member can actually see what the resident is experiencing in real-time — that’s proven very popular too, they can help guide them and see what they like and what they don’t like.”

Pascal said that one of the many positive effects of the handset is offering a distraction if dementia patients are experiencing boredom or displaying repetitive behaviour.

“In terms of dementia residents it’s more about how they’re behaving before they try it,” he said. “There’s one woman in particular I remember: She had been making a repetitive moan every few seconds and was really not reacting to anything. We got her to try Solis and within about 10 seconds she just stopped, she was just fixated with what was she was experiencing, which was a canoe trip. She didn’t [make the noise] again until I left. And she was in high-care.”

It can also affect users in some quite profound ways. Pascal shared a story where an elderly Italian gentleman cried when they removed the goggles from him. When asked why he was so emotional, he said that he had given up ever returning to Venice, and he had felt like he was there in a gondola.

“Words like ‘beautiful’, ‘paradise’, ‘Garden of Eden’ continue to be used in every presentation. The other thing they really like about it is that it’s the newest technology; they feel special. I say, ’15-year-olds would love to have this technology and you get to have it’ — and they love that too.

“And the response from carers is emotional. They want so much to be able to provide more for their residents.”

In terms of the uptake of Solis VR, some facilities are initially wary of new tech such as virtual reality that could be possibly seen by some as gimmicky or irrelevant.

“There are a lot of technophobes in this world and a lot of them are carers,” Pascal said. “When they first see the tech they’re a bit intimidated, and once they get used to it, they love it. There are some [companies] that just sell [their products to the facilities]; try and make quick cash and leave, but we didn’t want to do that. We’re about the long-term to help.”

Alzheimer’s Australia, which estimates that 1.2 million people are involved in the care of a person with dementia, has taken a slightly different route to improve dementia care through the use of VR. Rather than an experience tailored to the person with the condition, Alzheimer’s Australia Vic last month released a free app in collaboration with Deakin University that allows anyone with a smartphone and Google Cardboard to see through the eyes and experience the challenges of a person living with dementia.

The app, Educational Dementia Immersive Experience (EDIE) provides an experience from the point of view of EDIE (Eddie), who has dementia. The user gets a first-hand experience of how a seemingly simple task like going to the bathroom in the middle of the night can be affected by the diagnosis. The intended result is an increased sense of awareness and empathy towards what dementia actually means, and what it’s like to live with it.

Like Build VR, Alziemier’s Australia had previously conducted demonstrations and training workshops before rolling out something that was both more accessible and more mobile.

Tanya Petrovich, manager for Business Development at Alzheimer’s Australia Vic, told TechRepublic the organisation was looking to update their training after doing much the same thing over the last 30 years.

“Our first foray into virtual reality was with our virtual dementia experience, which we have here in Parkville. We projected the game onto the wall and people can come into the room and experience what it might be like to live with dementia, and we used that in a workshop scenario,” Petrovich said.

“We wanted to make it more widely available, so we were looking round at mobile platforms. One of the first ones we looked at was actually Oculus Rift, which is a fabulous platform, but it’s a bit clunky in terms of mobility. So we started looking at Google Cardboard and Gear VR.

“The Cardboard obviously is really affordable platform; we’ve gone with that for getting the message out to as broad an audience as we possibly can.”

VR gave Alzheimer’s Australia Vic the opportunity to show, rather than tell, what dementia is. Petrovich stressed the idea of empathy and a shift in perspective was the big focus.

“We had [the app] evaluated by Swinburne [University] — we did the same workshop with the VR and without the VR; everything was the same apart from the VR elements. And we found that with VR, there was a threefold increase in empathy developed by the participants, so there was a greater understanding of a person living with dementia. When they were interviewed, they spoke from the point of view from the person living with dementia. Whereas in the other workshop without the VR, they spoke more from the point of view of the carer, so there was a shift in perspective, and that’s really what we’re after.”

Next year, Alzheimer’s Australia Vic’s ‘Enabling EDIE’ workshops will introduce more scenarios with Gear VR. The headset user will be able to experience more scenarios and navigate around EDIE’s house while receiving instructions from EDIE’s wife. From there, the organisation will evaluate all feedback before looking at a possible second version of the smartphone app.

“It’s been really successful; VR certainly has great potential in getting people to understand perspective of the person living with the disease,” Petrovich said. “There’s lots of things we can change in the environment and supports we can put in place to make it a lot easier for the person [with dementia].

“The potential for it I think is huge. I do see lots of other uses for it and I do hope that, particularly healthcare, people use it more so.”

For Build VR, customisation and interaction is the big focus for the future. Pascal envisions an interactive profile for each dementia patient as part of their very own CG atrium. More personalised video content, such as a grandchild’s birthday party, could be uploaded on the same day it happened, allowing less active patients to experience the event as if they’re there.

“You could have, potentially, in the near future, an old man connecting with his grandson and doing a trip through his hometown together,” he said. “In terms of dementia, it’s really being about doing everything we can to bring back those memories.

“Now you’re not just sitting and experiencing; you’re interacting. And your actions will have a reaction, which will have another reaction. And that’s really what virtual reality should be and that’s where it’s going. The desktop PC version of VR can do that; mobile just needs to catch up. And it will, I see in the next 12 months you’ll be able to do that.”