The idea is to get mobile phone manufacturers to add a USB Host Interface to fairly cheap GPRS mobile phones, so they can control peripherals, such as cheap PC Keyboards, flash drives, etc, and more expensive devices like printers, where the cost is shared among many people in a village, business, school, medical centre, etc.
With the ability to connect to peripherals, the phone becomes an open, expandable system. People can use phones as the heart of a computer system, in a similar way to a laptop or PC. They are no longer limited to the phone keypad. They can write emails more easily, type messages for discussion groups, enter text into web-forms, etc. The ability to download information from the web and print it out will benefit the wider community, not just the actual phone-owner. It could be useful for web-pages, health leaflets, teaching material or anything that people currently print using PCs.
With a USB Host Interface, people can use cheap $5-$10 PC Keyboards, etc, that are already available in developing countries. They don't need an expensive smart-phone or expensive $60 Bluetooth/Infrared Keyboards.
I suggested adding USB Host capability, for basic text-entry, ahead of expensive, luxury features like camera-phone capability. The competition doesn't have a prize. It's just for people to submit socially-useful ideas that will benefit a lot of people. Google allows you to suggest an organization to implement the idea, if it's a winner. I suggested they submit the idea to a major phone manufacturer, if it's one of the 5 winners.
Closing date for entries is October 20th, 2008. 100 shortlisted ideas will be published on January 27th, 2009.
Brad Templeton, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, suggested this in 2004. He imagined hooking up one's phone with one's automobile. Air bags could trigger emergency calls. Several people liked his idea, but felt phone makers were too greedy to standardize.
The USB port might be used for charging the phone. Indeed, Kevin Kelly wrote in 2003 of a $9 cable available to hook up a mobile phone's power jack to the USB port of a computer or other device. There is also a hardware hack to convert a phone's car charger into a USB cable for use with BitPim software.
There is a US patent for Mobile Phone with USB Interface. Is that an obstacle?
Device makers now use a variety of mini-USB connectors. In January, 2007, the USB Implementer Forum advocated use of a standard micro-USB connector.
Bill Ray reports that the Open Mobile Terminal Platform of network operators proposed to phone makers, in September 2007, that there be a universal USB cable connector to connect and charge mobile devices.
Vincent Palicki designed a mock up of a Sony Ericsson phone with a USB port, as reported by Yanko Design in November, 2007.
HongKong Kenxinda Technology, Inc., makes a mobile phone with dual SIM cards that supports USB flash disks. I imagine these are expensive phones with features that are relevant for wealthy people in poor countries - a market that may foster the innovations we'd like to see.
Ricardo's idea is that the developing world may be just the context where the phone's brain power might gain arms and legs. Instead of having the smallest phone, it may be cool to have one large enough to plug in to whatever lets one get things done - a keyboard, a camera, a printer, another phone - or all of the above. Google and Android might convince a phone maker to make just a phone - a brain with a USB neck for a body of peripherals - that might live as an Includer.
Thank you to Kevin Parcell (emergency community currency), Edward Cherlin (electricity and broadband infrastructure for OLPC) and all for sharing ideas for Google's competition!