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When it comes to information technology, the United States is something of an outlier. For a variety of reasons, Americans are far more likely than residents of much of the rest of the world to rely on computers as their primary information devices. In most other places, the mobile phone is the main platform for info services. While this has both advantages (mobility) and disadvantages (editing documents), the ubiquity of the mobile telephone as information appliance has led to some novel regional variants.

Gizmodo reports on the latest and most intriguing (for now) mobile phone information device: the Ilkone i800 mobile handset for the Islamic market. The name "ilkone" is derived from the Arabic word for "universe," and the manufacturers expect that the device will keep the users in touch with said Islamic universe. Features include:

  • Date Converter, to automatically convert between Hijri and Gregorian calendars.
  • Qibla Direction, to allow the user to know the direction towards Mecca for prayer.
  • The Quran complete text, in both Uthmanic Arabic font and English, with search engine.
  • Prayer Timer, with 5,000 cities pre-set, to alert the user when it's time to pray; this can be done with a standard alarm, or with the "azan" voice calling to prayer, with Cairo, Mecca, and Medina variants.

    And, of course, the usual run of mobile phone features, including polyphonic tones and "exciting action games."

    Part of trying to think seriously about the future involves keeping alert for "early indicators" -- data points which may not mean all that much in and of themselves, but when put into a larger context, begin to form an image of where things are going (a process Alex & I half-jokingly refer to as "data pointillism"). The i800 is just such a data point. The actual device may thrive or fail, but its existence tells us something about what the coming years may look like.

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    Comments (7)


    Why dont they just join the modern world and use regular phones like the rest of us.

    Um, you *do* realize that these are otherwise standard GSM phones with the full range of features that you might have on your phone, right? The Islamic information aspects are in addition, and provide a kind of regional customization that we'll be seeing more and more of in time.

    Zaid Hassan:

    People in the Islamic world have managed to memorise the Koran, know when it's time to pray and in what direction for 1400 years with an environmentally damaging industrial-complex churning out rather pointless machines.

    Maybe we could learn something from them? There's a radical though eh?


    I don't want to make this a political debate, but isn't the chief income of muslim regions Oil Wealth, the very fuel wich is running these "pointless" machines. The Clerics, our President (Bush) , there all on the same team. They use religion and fear to keep us under control. Believe what you want but don't let them use you!

    Zaid, your point is well-taken, but I saw the advent of these phones as representative of an Islamic world which is more global, more mobile, and more tied-in to the *current* manifestation of the infosphere (recognizing that, for centuries, the Islamic world *was* the infosphere, carrying on a pattern of intellectual curiosity and experimentation which had died in Europe; it's sad that this is largely no longer the case). It may well be that the modern Muslim doesn't need the added features to the mobile phone s/he already carries -- in which case, this company will rightly close shop.

    Fred, you should note that the majority of Muslims do not live in oil-rich areas (and the largest majority-Muslim nation, Indonesia, is nowhere near the Middle East).


    Look-I should'nt have said "regular phones"- but there is an interesting debate in the brewing here. Should technology be adapted to fit ancient religions? It seems paradoxial. If anything, its not an advacement for the islamic world, and jews and Catholics to in other areas, its their barrier to marketplace. In the changing world, there will be a price point where the market changes for you, or you for the market.

    - Not that I agree with Fred, I dont, but Petroleum is the #1 natural resource of Indonesia.

    Jamais Cascio:

    Is it an "ancient religion" if it's widely practiced in the present day? Religion isn't going away; it's how a very large number of people on this planet construct their identities. Adapting a technology to fit cultural/religious identity isn't limiting a market, it's adapting to a market.

    Just as a point of reference, Indonesia has about 7 billion barrels proven reserves of oil, a little bit more than Canada. In the Muslim world, Kuwait (as a comparison) has 93 billion, Libya has 29 billion, and even Egypt -- not considered an oil nation -- has 3.3 billion. Oil and natural gas may well be important Indonesia exports, but it's not nearly to the same degree as in the Middle East.


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