Mobile phone retail shops are under-utilised today. They could be used to sell not only phones, but mobile data services as I argued previously, as long as these services are presented in a visually familiar and ‘tangible’ form. Another idea for making a difference at retail shops is this: the mobile phone health index.
The idea struck me when I was using my new Nokia N73 without a hands-free and was worried about how much I was microwaving my brain. I wasn’t sure what is the SAR index of the phone (SAR = Specific Absorption Rate, the quantity that describes absorption of handset radio waves by the head) and I thought it would be nice if I had known that before buying the phone. Turns out that the N73 emits a maximum SAR value of 0.92 or 1.13 watts/kilogram (depending on the version) according to Nokia’s website, compared to the maximum value of 2.0 permitted in Europe and 1.6 permitted in the US. It’s not that bad, but it could be worse.
What if I could find about the SAR values before buying my phone? What if the retail shop where I bought my phone showed me information on the health index of all the phones ? Most people I ‘ve spoken to about their phone use are concerned about the health risk from a micro-microwave next to your head. It’s not that easy to find the information and interpret it. All handset manufacturers certifying their phone through regional authorities (e.g. FCC) are required to compute the SAR index. From a quick search, both Nokia, Motorola have dedicated webpages listing the SAR value of all handsets. CNet has a section of its website dedicated to cell phone radiation levels, including SAR levels for phones from major handset manufacturers selling to the US and a list of the 10 phones with the highest SAR values. The Health Protection Authority in the UK also has an excellent explanation of what SAR is and what it means in layman’s terms.
By displaying the mobile phone health index (based on SAR values), handset retail shops could indeed make a difference in the eyes of the consumer. If I ‘m concerned about my health when using my phone, I ‘ll go to the retailer that can educate me about what phone is safest for me to use. Here’s a sketch of what it could look like: an information card next to each phone, displaying a ‘mobile phone health index’ (the higher, the safer the phone is), based on the inverse of SAR values. Naturally, the retailer can never tell you whether your phone is safe or unsafe (they ‘ll need to hire many more lawyers for that), but they could indicate how safe your phone is based on the internationally agreed and readily available SAR index.
The health index would make a major difference to retail shops (both operator-owned and independent shops), which currently have little differentiation among them beyond price and brand colour. Over time, displaying a health index for phones may become commonplace, but for the first 6-12 months it would make a major difference in the eyes of consumers, and a major ‘first’ that a retail store chain can brag about.