Nokia’s Beta Labs today released a new experimental application called Situations, and it portends a future where context awareness drives the mobile experience, and points to a time when our handsets will do the thinking on our behalf, especially as Internet becomes more and more mobile.


Almost six years ago, while working on a story for Business 2.0 magazine, I remember having a conversation with someone from Nokia about the possibility that one day mobile phones could think and adapt to our environment. For instance, what if the phone — using a location beacon — could sense if we were in the office and change the entire profile of the phone based on that information. What if it could turn off the Lady Gaga ringtone when you were at work? Or read your calendar and see that you were in a meeting and switch to silent mode?

At the time, the idea made perfect sense to me. After all, silicon trends were pointing to that future. Early research showed that chips for location-based services would be in every device, just as radios would keep us constantly connected to the Internet. Cheap sensors and cameras would make the phones see and sense the world around us. The phones could use speech technologies to take commands from us, thanks to powerful processors that would eventually power these mobile devices. The concept of the continuous humanization of mobile phones seemed a bit strange then, but now it is a distinct possibility.

Fast-forward to today, and that future imagined six years ago has started to take shape. Nokia has introduced a little app called Nokia Situations, which essentially transforms the phone based on the situation you are in. As the company described it on the Nokia Beta Apps blog, it is an experimental application which users can “use to define how you want your phone to behave in different situations, like ‘In a meeting,’ ‘Sleeping,’ or ‘Playing with the kids.'”  With the application running in the background, the device “automatically senses the situation you are in (e.g. based on time, day, location, available networks) and adapts to it according to your preferences.”

With this app you can do the following:

Change Ringtones, make the phone go silent or louder, turn vibrate on/off, and all the other profile settings.

Answer missed calls with SMS. Especially when you set your phone to silent, you can also make it reply to missed calls, from contacts in your phonebook, with a pre-defined SMS.

Save Power. Not using phone for a while, like when sleeping? Turn Bluetooth on/off or let your phone change to power-saving mode totally.

Change UI theme / Wallpaper. Want to make the phone look different in different situations? Change the Theme during free time vs. when you are at work.

Open a Web bookmark or application. Want to see weather forecast for the day when you wake up? Look at the calendar as first thing? Or open your favorite TV show discussion page at show time? Or perhaps change the Device Mode when at work? (Nokia Beta Labs)


I have tried it out on my N8 and I have to say, Nokia is onto something. I don’t want to get too excited – there is a lot of work still to be done and often, we have seen Nokia come up with breakthroughs but not capitalize on them. But this application represents context awareness, which becomes part of the core Nokia experience. Some of Nokia’s other recent applications, such as Nokia Feel and Nokia Bots, all point to a more personal mobile experience and that is what they should use to their advantage.

This kind of context awareness is going to become a big deal in the future, mostly because we are entering a world of infinite app options. As the numbers of applications starts to go up on our phones, context awareness could help solve the app-discovery dilemma as well. Most importantly, context awareness would essentially be key to us experiencing the Internet in a more meaningful way on our handsets.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

  1. Is so interesting to see the way the tecnology is turning and especially be part of this.

  2. There’s an app for this already on Android, it’s called Tasker.
    It does all of that and more, it’s awesome and the main reason I bought an Android phone.


    1. Thanks for the recommendation Malcolm. I am checking this out right now.

      1. Tasker on Android is perhaps amongst the top few best applications in the entire mobile ecosystem. Fabulous application that justifies calling Android phone with Tasker as real smartphone!

    2. +1 Awesome app and it has been updated quite frequently to my surprise. I use it to actually tell me the time when I want it to, not every 15 minutes or 30 minutes (and it works unlike many clock/alarm apps) You can set volume settings according to date or time or when you click on a widget. I have also made personalized slide shows that run at the click of a widget, or you can make your own soundboard of sorts (sounds at the click of a widget) You can also do this according to location, I haven’t because of battery sucking GPS.

    3. Wow, this looks to me as a very sensible and great app. The first time that I run into something that my iPhone cannot do.
      Maybe next phone will be an Android? :-)

  3. Definitely a trend with watching, and I wish I still had my N8 review unit to try this out. I’ve noticed others with this approach as well. HTC is adding software to turn your ringer off when you place the phone face down. T-Mobile added My Modes for easy switching of phone profiles in different situations, i.e., work and home. And 3rd party app, Locale for Android, can use a phone’s GPS for certain actions: I’ve used it to automatically turn off my WiFi radio and turn on Bluetooth when it “senses” that I’ve left home. It’s time to make smart phones “smarter”! :)

    1. +1 to that. I think the HT C Incredible has the latest Sense UI (amongst all the phones I have) and I like how the background changes with the time of the day. I am sure there are a lot of other apps. Maybe we should talk, you know phones are actually good for talking ;-)

    2. Kevin, there is software for Symbian called GSM Navigator which works similar to Locale but can also work based on the cell sites you are accessing so that it doesn’t drain the battery like GPS does. It can switch profiles, launch applications, send messages based on your location and when you enter/exit a locale. There’s a lot you can do if you find the right app but there is not just one app store for Symbian.

  4. So what exactly is exciting here? You can tag times and locations and all kind of stuff. Then you make it interact. Simple filter rule.

    For lady gaga you need pills and counseling. A smartphone can’t save you.

  5. [...] releases Ovi Suite 3.0 BetaRethink WirelessNokia Ovi Suite 3.0 opens in betaPocket-lint.comGigaOm -Tech Pinger -IntoMobileall 27 news [...]

  6. Thinking != following pre-defined rules only
    Context != programmed categories with pre-defined attributes

    What you describe is just location based categorization. No thinking from the app required, nor context. In a simple case context augments data to make them useful, not required here since it’s pre-defined.

  7. Great to see Nokia turning into the innovator again.

    Nokia has this working on Symbian^3. I’d assume they must also be looking at running it on MeeGo as well next year, though the open-source nature of that OS would allow other device makers to grab it.

    On a side note, I hope the flopped launch of Windows Phone 7 doesn’t shake Nokia’s confidence at bringing out a new mobile OS. Nokia just needs to learn from where Microsoft went wrong, and not repeat those mistakes.

    This news shows that Nokia still has the ability to innovate.

  8. So after reading the entire post i came up with this,i just starred at my Nokia for a while and smiled a bit.
    I must say that the times have changed a lot,smart phones are getting more smarter than human beings.
    Nokia with its n8 provided a really cool mobile device,its too feature full but Android is having unlimited apps for smart phones,so people are following the path of Android,nokia must beat it.

  9. The technology is very advanced today but thinking phones, I don’t think so. They just do what they are programmed to do.

  10. Tend to agree with Ronald. This appears to be an implementation of ‘situational awareness’.

    What a lot of us want is a trusted personal advisor that we can ask for suggestions as well to ask what it thinks about something. If the system is continually learning then the suggestions (advice) get better. Intelligent learning systems (also called cognitive systems) for mobile are not far off. It may sound Star Trek’ish but that is where we are heading.

    At the other end are intelligent systems that are task-oriented and Siri, which Apple acquired a few months ago, is a good example.


Comments have been disabled for this post