Bunhill: A nightmare vision of the mobile of the future

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SO YOU'VE just got out of bed, you're wearing a vest and a pair of white Y-fronts, and it's already clear you're in for a bad hair day. Then the phone rings. You curse and pick it up. "Hello," says the voice at the other end. "My God, you're looking rough."

It's a terrifying prospect, isn't it? But that's progress. The telecommunications company that promised us "the future is bright, the future is Orange" is now bringing us a future altogether darker: one where your mother catches you with a fag in your mouth when you pick up the handset. I'm afraid it's true: the video phone is coming.

Orange took the country by storm when it first launched its mobile phones, but it has struggled to maintain its momentum since floating on the stock market in 1996.

So now the time has come to pick up the pace. Orange has cut its off- peak rates to 5p - a reduction of 66 per cent - and doubled its investment budget for 1998 to spend pounds 800m on improving signal strength and introducing access to the internet. But most significantly out of all this, it is working with researchers at the University of Strathclyde to devise the first ever video mobile.

Primed for launch some time next year, with a projected retail price of between pounds 300 and pounds 500, these phones will offer something more than the standard video nasty where you can see the person at the other end of the line: they will also be fitted with mail boxes and video information services.

What this means - as the company demonstrated to Tony Blair at a presentation in Darlington on Friday - is that the phones will be wire-free, portable versions of the internet. Say you've called your partner on a mobile and you're discussing what film to go to this evening. You don't just toss ideas around, you call a cinema and it then sends over live film clips to your video mobile; you then transmit these excerpts to your partner as he's strolling down the street, and he walks straight into a lamppost.

Orange also suggested another potential application, and this one has got end of the world written all over it. It's called the "postcard from granny" and it envisages a nightmare scenario where she can phone over "real time" holiday snaps from the beach. Bored to death by other people's photo albums? You soon will be.

But there is a solution if you don't want your private space invaded, or you value the fundamental freedom of being able to gesticulate at your phone while miming obscenities: let it ring.

TALKING of technology, readers of last week's Bunhill may recall Philips' introduction of voice-recognition software for personal computers. Now, it seems, the Dutch company's boffins are working on something arguably even more life-enhancing.

This is voice recognition for video recorders. No more baffling instructions, just tell your video to tape a programme about porpoises on Channel 1 between 9.30pm and 11pm; then find out your wife has taped over your message to save Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman for posterity, and your four-year-old son has gone in after her to record Psycho. Just like remote-control panels, a little power is a dangerous thing.

Tyred and emotional

FOLLOWING my appeal for tales of garageland grief, David Lord writes from Dunfermline to tell us of another faulty diagnosis by the car doctors.

To recap, I'd got caught with a flat, taken my car to the garage and been told the tyre was beyond repair because the puncture was too close to the edge of the tread. Later on, I'd had another new tyre fitted which I was informed was second-hand. The thought then occurred to me that to get reusable rubber, there must be thousands of "dead" tyres out there which have staged Lazarus-like recoveries.

Like me, Mr Lord had suffered a puncture, so he drove his car to the local Kwik-Fit to get it fixed. As you can imagine, the damage was "in an unsuitable place" (damage often is), so Mr Lord had to fork out pounds 75 for a new one.

Later, he told a relative what had happened, and he suggested that maybe the tyre could have been repaired through a process known as "vulcanising", which is garage speak not for sticking pointy ears on your wheels but hardening rubber by treating it with hot sulphur. Mr Lord had another puncture a short while later, took it to Kwik-Fit and got the same diagnosis. But this time he sought a second opinion from another garage: no problem, they said, the tyre could be vulcanised and it would cost less than pounds 6.

There are plenty of morals in this story, of course, and one of them is that if you speak fluent car mechanic, you'll get more respect. So next time you're down the garage with a flat, tell them to "vulcan me rubber"; you know it makes sense.

A SMALL amendment to the Private Member's Bill that will allow employers to check the records of minicab drivers for previous convictions: that, by law, they must either know where they're going or listen to you when you tell them.