The East African Data Handlers Co. (EADH) recently unveiled two solution offerings – Ujanja Mobile and Ujanja Laptop – that enable a user to track the geographical location of one’s mobile phone and/or laptop in the event that it gets stolen. Not only is there no reference of the services on the company website as of this writing (update: site now appears to be live), but also I can’t help but think that these ideas were not that well though out.
First, on how it works
So lets say you’re into the idea of tracking your GSM phone. You pay the annual KSh. 1,999 to EADH and have the tracking software installed on the phone. You enter a preferred number to which the tracking info will be sent in the future in the event of loss. For now, it runs as a background service so you don’t even notice as it lays low like a crouching tiger, hidden dragon. I digress. Your phone gets stolen(!). As soon as the perpetrator replaces your SIM with theirs, it springs into action, grabbing the crook’s phone number from their newly installed SIM and sending it to your previously setup contact number. That’s it.
Outwit. Outcall. Outlast.
‘Ujanja‘, by the way, is Swahili for craftiness. Symbolic? Perhaps, but not exactly the most appropriate product name. Will it gain traction? A marketing FAIL in my book.
So what is the main thrust behind this product? It gives you, the subscriber, the unfettered power to literally bug your snitch into submission by repeatedly calling them to the point they call truce and arrange a meet-up to return the gadget. Ok, my interpretation, but apparently, the measure of success of their product lies in the level of your confrontational skills, over the phone! I can only imagine the testimonials to be made of these..
More pertinent questions
What if I need to change SIM cards on my phone, like I sometimes do with my old phone – will the alert trigger?
Who pays for all the alert text messages – if the preferred contact, for how much per text? Or if taken out of the subscription fee, what if I exceed KSh. 2000 worth of texts over the year? You’ll be losing money, now won’t you?
Finally, why would anyone go to that much trouble to track a phone? Well, the only plausible reason that comes to mind would be to retrieve valuable contact information stored therein. However, that only goes to show that the owner did not perform due diligence and backup this data prior either old-school on the good ol’ rolodex or using phone management software like Motorola Phone Tools (that I use for my RIZR).
How can this service be improved?
In the vast majority of cases, a phone that’s stolen is more than likely irretrievably gone. Write if off. You’re not going to get it back by wearing down the crook with phone calls; on the contrary, the only thing you’ll be running down is your airtime balance. A healthy dose of pragmatism. Tracking information is good only if it’s in real-time because the phone and it’s bearer are likely mobile (duh).
So can this service be improved? Yes. By making this information available in real-time using, say, a Google Maps mashup with location awareness. What’s more you can actually do this for free using Google Latitude. This works on higher-end mobile phones like the iPhone, Blackberry, HTC and Android-powered phones. More value needs to be added to the bundle, like remote data retrieval.
Then again most commonly phones in the region are either not 3G-enabled for the bandwidth or the network infrastructure in the area is not elaborate enough. Further, if the perp knows any better and disables data services on the device, the whole recovery effort goes up in smoke.
I think this is a great service in theory and in fact it’s been done before in other parts of the world, for instance using BuddyWay. But like most things African, the solution needs to be localized for the region. For instance one really can’t rely on law enforcement to help you retrieve your phone once you have the thief’s phone number.
Do subscribers need to pay $$ for this software? Methinks not. You’re better off calling Safaricom Support and having them deactivate your SIM and/or block your phone for free. Then even the crook will find no use for the phone and maybe, just maybe, will return your gizmo.