Busy making things: github, links, photos, @mc.

This whole number reuse thing has gone too far

Posted: May 4th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile | Comments Off

This madness needs to stop!

Espoo, Finland – Nokia today unveiled a trio of mobile devices that balance stunning and sophisticated looks with the latest in mobile functionality. All three devices, the Nokia 6600 fold, the Nokia 6600 slide and the Nokia 3600 slide present a smooth, minimalist design and an appealing array of easy-to-use features. The devices range in price from 175 EUR to 275 EUR before taxes and subsidies and are expected to start shipping during the third quarter of 2008.

I know that Nokia have a finite set of product names when we’re talking about 4 digit numbers. Aside from the Nseries and Eseries and a handful of other products, Nokia are pretty keen on assigning 4 digit numbers as product names. While often confusing, at least it avoids product names like RAZR or ENv. I don’t quite get the naming of the 6600 fold and the 6600 slide though. Either someone in Espoo has the attention span of a goldfish or they expect that S60 consumers do.

Us S60 owners are a pretty loyal and knowledgeable bunch. We do our research and know our history. I may be wrong, but I’d venture that a good number of S60 users could name a dozen or more S60 models from the 7650 to the N-Gage to the N95. Surely a good chunk of us would rattle off the 6600 in the process. We might also remember the 3600 as the awkward American cousin of the 3650.

You know, that business phone from 2003 that brought significant hardware and software upgrades to the table compared to the 7650 and the 3650. I sure remember it as if it were yesterday.

Every once in awhile someone raises a stink about Nokia reusing a product number. Usually it’s a product number from the 80′s or 90′s and the word “Classic” is attached to the new phone. I’m OK with that. I just think that it’s a little early to be reusing a product code from 2003 in a market segment of geeks and power users.


Python for S60: back in the saddle

Posted: March 28th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile, Python | 3 Comments »

I had the opportunity to meet Jürgen Scheible and Ville Tuulos, authors of the Mobile Python book at PyCon a few weeks ago. They graciously gave me a copy of their book, which is an absolutely fantastic guide to writing S60 apps in Python. It seems like every time I look away from Python for S60 it gets better, and this time was no exception. Everything is just a little more polished, a few more APIs are supported (yay sensor API!), and the community and learning materials available have grown tremendously.

While I didn’t get a chance to hang out too long during the sprints, I did pull together some code for a concept I’ve wanted to do for a long time: a limpet webcam that I can stick on something and watch it ride around the city. Specifically I thought it would be cool to attach one to a city bus and upload pictures while tracing its movements.

So here’s my quick 19 line prototype that simply takes a picture using the camera API and uploads the saved photo using ftplib copied over from the Python 2.2.2 standard library. It’s called webcam.py. I haven’t run it since PyCon, so the most recent photo is from the PyS60 intro session.

Working with PyS60 again was absolutely refreshing. I write Python code (using Django) at work but writing code for a mobile device again got the creative juices flowing. I’m trying to do more with less in my spare time, but I definitely need to make more time for PyS60 in my life.


Web Browser for S60: If only I remembered the shortcut key

Posted: November 22nd, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile | Comments Off

I was reading a post on the (unofficial) Nokia Blog detailing the shortcut keys for the S60 Web Browser. I was instantly reminded of my own frustration and how often I had looked at that page of the user manual.

Web Browser for S60 is easily the most powerful app that ships with new S60 devices. It renders real websites well and quickly using my favorite rendering engine. It packs more features, options, and actions on one screen than any other app that I can think of.

It comes at a price though. Aside from the two softkeys there aren’t any keys on the device marked specifically for browser actions once you’re in the app. Even better, I usually use the browser in full screen mode to maximize screen real estate, so those two softkeys are now gone.

It’s still an amazing app, I just distinctly recall the constant remembering and forgetting and looking up of shortcut keys as a big pain point in my enjoyment of the S60 browser. It’s something that I’d love to see addressed, but I’m not sure of an easy way to do so without resorting to touch interfaces or keys (physical or virtual) that change labels given different contexts.

Mobile browser shortcuts are a lot easier on a device like the N800 or N810 that can dedicate keys to it full time. Or you can go the no-keys approach that seems to be working well for the iPhone.

I know that those smart Finns will figure it out.


Maemo blows me away again

Posted: October 17th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Linux, Mobile, Open Source | Comments Off

Nokia N810 Internet Tablet

My wife and I just bought a house and I’ve realized that there isn’t any room in the budget for major gadget purposes, so I’ve been trying not to get too excited about things coming down the road. It’s not suprising that I’ve been following the recently announced Nokia N810 Internet Tablet in a much more detached manner than usual.

That is until I saw Ari Jaaksi holding a prototype in his hand. Holy crap that thing is significantly smaller than the N800 and packs quite a punch. The slide-out keyboard is killer, GPS is a no-brainer these days and is included, the browser is Mozilla-based, the UI got a refresh… I could go on for days.

The other thing I really like about the new tablet is that the Maemo platform is moving to be even more open than it was before (which was about as open as the lawyers at Nokia would allow). The quite good but closed source Opera web browser has been replaced by one that is Mozilla-based. This is yet another major component that is now open instead of closed. The major closed-source components (if I’m remembering correctly) are now limited to the DSP, various binary drivers that Nokia licenses directly, and the handwriting recognition software. That’s definitely a smaller list than it was before, and I applaud Nokia’s efforts in opening up as much as possible. It’s also worth noting that the Ubuntu Mobile project is basing a lot of its work on the work that Nokia has done with Maemo (most notable Matchbox and the Hildon UI).

So yeah, I’m now paying much closer attention to this new device that I was doing my best to ignore. Job well done.


You had me until I saw the stylus

Posted: October 16th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile | 2 Comments »

I got pretty excited when Rafe posted a video about S60 touch on allaboutsymbian. I’ve been using S60 since the 3650 days and continue to love it, despite its quirks and shortcomings. There have been rumours of touch capabilities for S60 for years now, long before the announcement and shipping of the iPhone. I’m also pretty sure that Nokia have been working on S60 touch capabilities for some time now (pre-iPhone) too.

Everything was going great: the video showed a nice N-Series-style phone with a big touchable screen doing things that you’d expect an N-Series phone with a big touchable screen to do. And then about two minutes in they lost me. That’s when they showed the S60 touch interface being used with a stylus.

Come on Symbian. It’s not the 90′s anymore. My Palm III rocked because of its stylus and glorious grey screen, but that was almost a decade ago. Now that the iPhone has launched, there’s a certain expectation level for new mobile UIs.

Touch is one of those expectations. Having to use a stylus is not.

It’s also interesting to see this latest battle in the one-handed vs. two-handed war play itself out. It has always struck me that there is a split between these two factions within Nokia (and by extension within Symbian) but the public rarely sees it. I tend to lean toward the one-handed side myself but do see the merits that some two-handed devices have to offer from time to tim. I have both a 9290 and an N800 but the bulk of my mobile purchases have been one-handed devices.

I also think that S60′s one-handedness is one of the reasons that S60-based devices have been so successful. Nokia sold approximately 1.5 million N95′s in Q2 2007. Compare those numbers with a flagship device like a high end two-handed UIQ phone and I’ll bet that the two-handed numbers are significantly lower. Once you start including the entire one-handed range of Symbian devices, you have a force to be reckoned with.

I’m hoping that showing the stylus was meant to demonstrate that Symbian can support a stylus, not that most or many devices will. I’m encouraged a bit since S60 has recently taken on QWERTY capabilities and it makes sense to tout its versatility from single-handed to touch to stylus to QWERTY.

We’re still at the press release stage not the technical documentation stage, so there’s a lot of room for change. Lots of things mentioned in the press release strike me as good things: tactile feedback, backwards compatibility, in-browser flash support and a continuation of S60′s various sensor mechanisms.

But Symbian, here’s a bit of advice for you: downplay that stylus! Nobody wants to see it and it totally kills the mood when you use it on an otherwise sleek and sexy device.


Newton 2.0?

Posted: October 1st, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Mobile | Comments Off

Every time I refresh my feed reader and see a new slick third-party app for the iPhone, I wonder to myself if a few years down the road we’re going to be talking about pre-1.1.1 iPhones like we talk about Newton’s today. Third party apps and unlocked iPhones are essentially a dead end street unless someone figures out how to work around it.

Of course 1.1.1 might have also started a cold war battle between Apple and hackers that sounds almost exactly like the moves that Sony pulled on the PSP. The latest move is very different than the Laissez-faire attitude Apple has taken toward hacking the Apple TV and the early iPhone. I never thought I’d see the day that Apple cribbed something from Sony’s playbook.

Perhaps it’s the difference between an indie/niche product and something mainstream like the iPhone. Perhaps it’s the added pressure of the carriers wanting super-locked down devices on their networks. (I doubt that though. Just grab a Symbian device and do with it as you please.) Perhaps it’s Apple realizing that it’s big enough that it can do as it pleases.

Then again, maybe they’re biding their time while they polish the official non-web-2.0 SDK. We can all dream, can’t we?

Pull up a chair and bring it close to the fire. Let me tell you about the golden age of the iPhone…


Those annoying AT&T “free reminder” SMSes

Posted: August 28th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile, Web Services | 5 Comments »

ATT SMSI’ve recieved an AT&T “free reminder” SMS twice now in two days. I know I’m not paying for it, but these messages amount to SMS spam to me. It may not be a big deal to most people, but for me most of the time I recieve an SMS it means a server is down and needs my attention. There’s a certain stress level associated with my incoming SMS sound, so it really irks me when I check the message and it’s spam from my carrier.

The first one I ignored, but I called up customer support as soon as the second one came in. I let them know that these messages, while I know that I’m not paying for them, amount to spam in my inbox and that I never received any such messages while I was a Cingular customer and that these messages made me very unhappy. I was as polite about it as I could be, because the person on the other end of the phone deals with a lot of angry customers during the day.

She asked me if there was a long code as the sender of the message, and after checking my phone I confirmed that yes indeed it was (in this case it was 1 111 301 000). After looking that up in her knowledge base she let me know that the easiest way to unsubscribe from these messages is to reply to the message with the word “stop” or “unsubscribe”. There were a few others, but these are the two that I remember.

My phone UI (S60 2nd edition) didn’t allow me to directly reply to this message, but I composed a new text message to “1 111 301 000″ with the word “stop” as the message body. We’ll see if this works. If it does I’ll be happy. If it doesn’t, I’ll be quite unhappy.


The state of the US 3G market

Posted: August 20th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile | 3 Comments »

Last week there was an interesting discussion about 3G penetration in the US on the mobiledesign yahoo group. I put a bit of thought in to my response and defense that the 3G market here is further along than we’re given credit for. I thought I’d cross-post it here because I think it’s interesting.

I don’t have any numbers to back this up, but my gut tells me that 3G has more penetration in the US than this, but not in the smartphone market.

In the US the featurephone rules, and I wouldn’t expect any different in terms of 3G sales and availability. Right now AT&T has about 8 different models (some with color/configuration variations) that are 3G capable. I’m guessing that’s a mix of UMTS and HSDPA but I haven’t checked too closely.

In-store they seem to be pushing the RAZR (4 colors with 3G), Sync (4 colors with 3G), and other featurephones such as the Samsung A717, A727, and the LG Trax. Also in the lineup are a few smartphones: the N75, HTC 8528, and Samsung Blackjack. All of these devices support 3G data.

The bottom of the line is still dominated by EDGE devices, but there are several 3G options at the free to $100 price range on contract. All of the in-store RAZRs are now 3G, and I have a feeling that they’re still selling quite briskly.

I’m personally holding out for the US N95 and my wife just picked up an N75 at the store with a contract renewal, but from what I’ve observed most US customers are concerned with which color RAZR they want or what their favorite phone in the free to $100 range on contract is.

I haven’t spent a significant amount of time in Verizon or Sprint stores lately, but I believe that you would find a similar selection of EVDO-capable devices in those stores. Their branding gets in the way a bit, but for Sprint I believe that you are looking for “PowerVision” and for Verizon you’re looking for “BroadbandAccess.” Again, I’m guessing that you’ll see a handful of featurephones and a few smartphones.

As Gautam mentioned, T-Mobile are still rolling out their 3G network but the top 3 carriers all have 3G networks in many (most?) areas and at least in AT&T’s case a solid selection of devices that take advantage of them.

–Matt


The all-S60 family

Posted: August 13th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile | 8 Comments »

Newest member of the phone family

Today we became a completely S60 family.

I’ve been an S60 (previously “Series 60″) guy ever since I grabbed myself a 3650 on T-Mobile a few years back. Actually, S60 had me the first time I heard Russ talk about his 7650

After that 3650, I picked up a taco for $60 at GameStop and I’m currently using a 6682, though it’s getting a bit long in the tooth. We had set aside money for me to pick up an N95 a month or two back, but we’ve temporarily funneled that money in to the “we’re buying a house” fund. I think I’ll end up on the winning end of that, though, as now I’m saving for a US-HSDPA N95.

This isn’t a story about me and my somewhat unhealthy obsession with mobile technology. This is a story about how today we became an S60 family.

A few months back my wife’s tried an true Motorola v551 went for a brief swim in her cup of water. After a few days of trying to dry it out, we declared the phone dead and went on a hunt for a replacement. Of course we were some 18 months in to our Cingular contract which meant that even the cheapest of phones were running upwards of $100-200. After a couple of missteps, we found a refurbished Nokia 6030 gophone online. A few days later we popped her SIM in the 6030 and she was on her way.

This is where we get to the point about S60 being a bit of a hard sell for normal people. My wife appreciates a phone that can, not surprisingly, make a call. She also appreciates phones that look and behave like phones. Needless to say neither the circular keypad of my 3650 or the “you do what?” talking configuration of the N-Gage were very appealing to her. She did borrow my 6682 when I was playing with the N95 and seemed to get along with it pretty well. Over the weekend she realized that we were now 20+ months in to our contract and it was time to look closely for a replacement for her really-low-end 6030.

After looking on line for a bit, her decision came down to either a Nokia N75 or a Samsung Sync. The Sync seemed to have darned good specs but the N75 was a S60 flip phone with a solid camera, a combination that’s been too long in the making. Both phones were free after rebate on a new contract at letstalk.com. Armed with that knowledge we hopped in to the car to check out the phones in person at our local AT&T dealer.

We were expecting to take a look at the Sync but were surprised to see the N75 on the shelf too. The N75 beat the pants off the Sync when we looked at them side by side. We scooted home expecting to order a pair online.

This is the part where I get really annoyed at AT&T in particular and wireless carriers in general about how poorly they treat customers that hurl a hundred or more dollars at them every month. The same N75 that was free after rebate on a new contract was $199 on a contract extension through letstalk.com. My wife and I grumbled for a bit while I recalled the number of $300-400 Sprint phones I had purchased over the years. Then we decided to double check the in-store contract extension price on the N75 that she had already fallen in love with.

It turns out that the N75 was $150 after rebates at the AT&T store. That was just cheap enough that I was able to talk her in to it as a birthday present. We made another round trip to the AT&T store, this time coming back with an N75.

I have to say that it’s a sleek little phone. The size is not-too-big-not-too-small, the screen is huge, and there’s a decent sized external screen that acts as an itty bitty S60 UI via the external softkeys. I was pretty blown away after we figured out that you can use the external screen as a viewfinder for the camera. It’s another evolution of the phone being a particular type of device depending on how you use it. When you plug headphones in and use the music player softkeys, it’s a music player. When you open it up, it’s a phone. When you hit the camera button and use the external screen as a viewfinder, it’s a camera. I’m really glad that Nokia have figured this out. Some of the first attempts (such as the 3250) were a good concept implemented poorly. These days Nokia has pegged it.

One thing that I’m constantly reminded of is that S60 and Symbian fall down completely during the configuration and setup process. Finding which sub-sub-menu a particular option is on is a complete nightmare. I can’t remember how many times we said something along the lines of “I know I saw that option somewhere” or “I was just there!” Ease of seatup and configurability is definitely something that Symbian/S60 can improve on.

After getting the basics set up, we spent the afternoon entering contacts and playing with the phone. It seems quite capable with excellent fit and finish.

I’m quite happy to finally be able to buy an S60 flip-phone for my wife, and I hope that she’s not too embarrassed at how excited I am to be an all-S60 family.


Is LG making the RAZR mistake?

Posted: July 17th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile | 10 Comments »

Last night I saw an ad on television for “The All New LG Chocolate.” At first glance at the spinning 360 degree shot all I can see i that perhaps it’s just a little thinner. Other than that there doesn’t seem to be any major changes to either the hardware or software from what I can tell. It looks like they’ve simplified the buttons on the front of the phone (good for them) and are going for the iPod wheel look. It’s laden with all of the newest Verizon mobile TV technology and also features a “it’s definitely not an iPod” music UI. Verizon’s music identification service sounds novel but seems to be one of the few new features on this version of the Chocolate. From a hardware standpoint, it can handle up to 4 gigs of MicroSD memory instead of 2 gigs, but the internal memory (128 megs) remains the same.

Many companies have made the RAZR mistake in the past. A few years back, Sony Ericsson rode the T610 form factor for much longer than they should have. For a year or two, 610′s and similar were all I saw in the US. Sony Ericsson hasn’t put together a phone with US mass market appeal since, though they have made some excellent phones. Now, for the time being at least, everything’s coming up RAZR.

Rewind 10 years and everyone was clamoring for the Motorola StarTAC and the Nokia 8200 series. Give it another year, and we’ll be dumping our RAZRs for the next new thing (whatever that is) that hits critical mass.

Please excuse my US-centric analogies above. While I’m a total mobile geek and keep track of mobile trends throughout the world, my real world experience with “normal” non-geeks is limited to what I can observe around me.

Perhaps it’s time to start treating mobile phones like the fashion accessories they are. Phones are subject to the same trends, fads and knockoffs that the fashion industry is.

“Have you seen the fall Nokia lineup?”

“I can’t believe she’s wearing those boots and using last years’ phone!”

Fashion or not, trend or not, there’s no excuse for riding your success and market share in to the ground instead of innovating. Even if you don’t get it right, don’t have “The Next Big Thing,” you at least have to try.


Getting the most from your N95

Posted: June 26th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile | 3 Comments »

Nokia N95 image gallery

The folks at WOM World have let me borrow a Nokia N95 for a few weeks. I’ve been very impressed with it so far, but I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve learned over the past few days:

Read every bit of Steve Litchfield’s top Nokia N95 tips. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. This contains everything from obvious tips for new users to subtle nuances that even an experienced S60 user might overlook.

Also worth mentioning are Steve’s S60 freeware listing and S60 essentials. There are some tried and true apps that have been around since the 1st and 2nd edition days as well as some newcomers.

Fire up the download app from the main menu. This makes downloading several apps that I’m excited about extremely easy: Nokia Podcasting, Nokia Sports Tracker, Gizmo for S60, and Widsets, which didn’t work on my locked 6682.

If you spend as much time as I do in IRC, grab mIRIGGI. I truly miss WirelessIRC which I’ve used more than any other app on my 1st and 2nd edition devices, but mIRIGGI seems to be improving steadily with each release.

Start memorizing those Nokia Web Browser shortcuts, they’re a lifesaver.

Don’t forget to customize! In particular setting up the menu items that are displayed when you hit the Multimedia button (Multimedia button -> Options -> Menu items) can provide you quick access to the apps you use a lot. Another crucial customization is the standby mode apps (Application button -> Tools -> Settings -> General -> Personalization -> Standby mode -> Active standby apps and Shortcuts. This is crucial for those apps that you use on a daily basis. You get to choose a total of 8 between the 5 up top and the two softkey apps on the bottom.

Don’t forget those apps tucked away in the corners. You can set up your N95 to use VoIP calls in additon to GSM calls by following these instructions (or by using Gizmo for S60). You can look up your location using the GPS data app in Tools -> GPS data. This is handy if all you want to know is your lat/lon. Don’t overlook the Video centre app in the Multimedia menu either (don’t forget to add YouTube videos by selecting Add new services).

The Nokia Podcasting app also has some great audio and video content. I’m a big fan of the Marketplace podcasts as well as some of the video podcasts availble in the Directories menu of the podcast app.

You have a 5 megapixel camera with an amazing f/2.8 Zeiss lens, so make use of it! See Steve’s notes about sharpness on the different scene modes. So far the N95 has been taking great pictures in mixed-light conditions indoors and the flash is great for closer indoor photos too. The lens is pretty wide-angle so don’t be shy: fill the frame with your subject! The only gotcha that I’ve noticed so far is that if you’re taking landscapes don’t forget to the Landscape scene mode which seems to set the auto-focus to infinity as well as tweak other settings. For just about every other type of photo the Automatic mode has been working perfectly for me.

I can’t wait to dig deeper in to the N95 but I’m having a blast so far. Stay tuned as I take a look at the N95 from a couple of different angles.


Accessing iPhone built in services from Safari

Posted: June 12th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Mobile | 45 Comments »

During the iPhone demo at yesterday’s WWDC keynote, we saw several examples of accessing the iPhone‘s built in apps and services. I thought I’d go through the demoed features and break ‘em down a little:

Tap on a phone number to call

This technology dates back to the wtai:// pragma from the WAP/WML dark ages and has since been codified with the tel: uri scheme as outlined in RFC 3966. The tel: scheme is used with XHTML MP and existing mobile browsers (here’s an example from one of Brain Fling’s presentations). I would hope for consistency sake that Apple makes use of tel: but there’s a chance they might go for the unstandardized-but-used-a-lot callto: instead. The callto: scheme is used by Microsoft Netmeeting and Skype on most desktop systems.

Tap on an email address to invoke the native mail client

It’s mailto: folks, let’s move along.

Tap on an address to launch the Google Maps app

I’m assuming that this is being handled via a proprietary URI scheme which the Google Maps app is registered to. I can’t tell you if it’s going to be gmaps:// or something else, but it’s going to be as simple as creating a link to gmaps://q=20+Infinite+Loop+Cupertino,+CA (or something very similar). This functionality is the most intriguing to me as a geowanker, but my gut tells me that it just boils down to a URL scheme.

During the demo, leaving the Google Maps app returned to the home screen instead of going back to Safari, so an extra click was required to get back to the Safari webapp. No big deal, just an interesting tidbit.

So what’s the takeaway for a developer looking to target the iPhone? The long and short of it is that nothing’s really changed since before WWDC. Write yourself a webapp and target the iPhone. What about access to all those built in services and apps? The good news is that it’s nothing special, it’s stuff you’re used to dealing with, and (with the exception of a new uri scheme for Google Maps) there’s really nothing new here. The bad news? It’s nothing special, it’s stuff you’re used to dealing with, and (with the exception of a new uri scheme for Google Maps) there’s really nothing new here.

Update: Apple has released developer notes for the iPhone. The winners are tel:, mailto:, and (interestingly) they’re just hijacking calls to maps.google.com and sending them over to the google maps app.


All DECT out

Posted: June 5th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile | 4 Comments »

A few weeks ago my wife and I decided to replace our 5.8GHz two-handset cordless phone system. We got them for a great price but didn’t realize until after we had trashed the packaging that only one handset could be used at a time. That was a pretty big showstopper as it means one of us is tied to the corded phone in the kitchen.

While ambiently looking at phones at our local Best Buy, I came to a wonderful realization: DECT has finally made it to the US mainstream. I have friends in Europe, so I’ve known about (and been envious of) DECT for years. DECT has more in common with a GSM phone than it does a microwave. There are specs that deal with audio codecs, and there’s a Generic Access Profile which allows for at least a chance of interop between different manufacturers’ devices.

We eventually settled on the Panasonic KX-TG1034S with a total of 4 handsets, and we absolutely love them. I’ve used higher end Panasonic multi-phone systems over the years and I’ve always been happy.

Some of the things I’m particularly pleased with in our unit is the ability to edit the phonebook on one phone and synchronize it to all other phones linked to the base station. I can’t tell you how much time that will save us in the long run. I also like that I can check voicemail from any handset rather than trip over my junk in the den in order to hit the play button. I can also clear the caller ID of a missed call on one phone and that will propogate out to the other devices. These are (I believe) proprietary features that probably won’t work on a non-Panasonic system, but they’re quite nice indeed.

Like every wireless device in the US, DECT phones here run on a different frequency than everywhere else in the world (are you suprised?) They run at 1880-1900MHz in Europe and 1920-1930MHz in the US. It looks like DECT was approved at that frequency range back in 2005 but I’ve only noticed devices on the shelves for a few months now. DECT devices in the US are labeled “DECT 6.0″ which seems utterly silly given that 6.0 has nothing to do with frequency (like 2.4 and 5.8 do), it’s just simply a marketing tactic (6.0 is clearly better than 5.8).

I’m glad that we’re slowly catching up on yet another wireless standard over here and I have nothing but good things to say about our new phones.


Forum Nokia Remote Device Access

Posted: March 30th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile, Web Services | 682 Comments »

I’m really excited about Nokia’s new Remote Device Access program for Forum Nokia members, including free members.

A similar service has been available from Device Anywhere for some time now, but the service isn’t free (but definitely a lot cheaper than purchasing half a dozen test devices). I’m excited that Nokia have opened up a device testing service with a wide array of devices from the 5500 to the N95 to all developers including shareware and open source developers. It looks like I have 40 credits and a half hour with a device costs 2 credits, so it looks like I have the potential to test for up to 20 hours with my free Forum Nokia membership.

Here are some screenshots from the Java-based interface:

RDA List
Nokia Remote Device Access device list

RDA N95
Nokia Remove Device Access N95 information

RDA standby
Nokia Remote Device Access N95 standby screen

RDA home screen
Nokia Remote Device Access N95 home screen

RDA S60 browser
Nokia Remote Device Access S60 browser

RDA maps
Nokia Remote Device Access maps

By default the bit-depth isn’t quite the same as the device (see Heikki’s comment below), so there’s a bit of dithering and as expected there’s a slight delay, but it’s definitely the next best thing to having a device in your hands. I was a bit disoriented when I put the S60 browser in horizontal mode and continued to use it with a vertical keypad, but that’s to be expected.

I think it’s a great testing tool and can’t wait to make use of it in the future.


A mobile take on SXSW 2007

Posted: March 13th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile, Web Services | 4 Comments »

With SXSW Interactive 2007 winding down I’ve started reflecting on SXSW from a mobile perspective. First of all I found myself using sxsw.mobi from my phone quite a bit in the beginning of the conference as it allowed me the same overview that the pocket schedule did but also allowed me to drill down in to panel details. As I had more time to research my panel selection later in the week I found myself using my annotated (analog) pocket guide more and the mobile site less.

One of the most invigorating sessions was Brian Fling’s presentation entitled Everything you wanted to know about the mobile web (but were afraid to ask). His slide deck is chock-full of information but only as much jargon as absolutely necessary. There wasn’t a lot of new information in it for me, but I think he’s doing exactly the right thing by firing up this group of alpha designers about mobile design and showing them that it’s not that hard. In fact XHTML-MP is still just XHTML and while there are lots of limitations, CSS is still CSS. He also mentioned several great resources in his presentation including the brand new .mobi mobile web developer’s guide. Also worth reading is the Mobile Web Initiative’s Mobile Best Practices document.

I also caught a mobile panel on Monday called “Mobile Application Design Challenges and Tips.” Dan Saffer took some great notes on the panel which focused on the trials and tribulations experienced when developing a mobile app. It was nice to hear that several apps were quite successful operating “off-deck” or outside of carrier portals. It was great to hear Matt Jones talk about lower level UI bits and revel in the success of ZoneTag, but my biggest takeaway from the panel was from John Poisson of radar.net. His advice was to not worry too much about details. Get it out there as quickly as you can, even if it’s simpler than you plan for it to be. Gather feedback from your users and continue to improve the product. This also seemed to jive with my takeaway from the turning projects in to revenue panel: fail early, fail often.

The other mobile panel that stood out was called There’s no Such Thing as the Mobile Web (Or Is There?) I found a great set of notes on this panel at Eran’s blog. The panel started off discussing if there was a seperate “mobile web” or not and in the end it was hard to come up with a solid answer. It is significant to note that what a user does or expects to do on a mobile device is somewhat different than what a person needs when sitting in front of a computer. Context, location, creating content and retrieving information quickly are essential. It was interesting to get several different viewpoints on the issue: Dan Applequist from the standards and carrier viewpoint, Carlo from the industry analyst side, Michael Sippey from the blogging/content creation point of view, and Dwipal Desai who is focusing on mobile for a little company called YouTube. I was fascinated at how well Six Apart know their users: They focus on richer apps on higher end devices for a service like Vox but emphasize text messaging for LiveJournal because those users tend to be younger with cheaper phones, limited data capability, but usually have unlimited messaging plans. Vodafone are also in a unique position to offer a rich environment with asynchronus communication built around SVGT. Looking forward it’s obvious that there’s a ton of potential for the mobile web (or connected rich applications, or whatever you’d like to call it) but it’s unclear exactly which path we’ll take and what it will be.

I truly hope that the topics discussed at SXSW this year will encourage these alpha designers, UI experts, and coders to take a closer look at mobile apps and push the limits of the mobile web.


Nokia N800 and camera.py

Posted: February 4th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Linux, Mobile, Open Source, Python | 43 Comments »

Nokia N800 and camera.py

I received my Nokia N800 yesterday and have been enjoying how zippy it is compared to the 770 (which has been getting faster with every firmware upgrade).. I got a chance to play with the browser while waiting for my wife at the airport and have been poking around to see how Bora is different than Mistral and Scirocco.

One of the bigger physical differences between the 770 an N800 is the onboard camera. I haven’t set up Nokia Internet Call Invitation yet but I looked around for some camera code samples and was pleasantly suprised. Luckily Nokia is one step ahead of me with camera.py, an example program to show what the camera sees on the screen. It looks like some bindings are missing so saving an image from the camera is off limits at the moment but this is a great start.

To run the above example on your N800, grab camera.py, install Python and osso-xterm, and run camera.py from the console.

It’s time to dust off the Python Maemo tutorial and get my feet wet.

Update: I’ve also been playing with the c version of the camera example code and have managed to get it running and taking pictures after building it in scratchbox and running it with run-standalone.sh ./camera.


iPhone and the new mobile web

Posted: January 10th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Linux, Mobile | 17 Comments »

There are a few things that excite me about the newly announced iPhone (and a few details that I’m unclear on). One thing I’m pretty sure of is that the coming of the iPhone is the tipping point for a new kind of mobile web.

I call it a tipping point more than trailblazing because there are already several devices out there that are just waiting for a new mobile web. These are fairly robust devices that have “real” browsers in them. These browsers are fully capable of reading the desktop web, but just because they can doesn’t mean it’s ideal. I’m specifically talking about Nokia’s internet tablets (the 770 and N800), current and upcoming mobile phones from Nokia that include the S60 browser, other mobile devices with advanced versions of Opera and even non-mobile gaming devices such as the Nintendo Wii.

So what about this new mobile web thing? It’s quite simple. These devices fall somewhere in between the desktop web and the traditional mobile web. It’s sort of a Goldielocks and the three bears situation. Yes, you can view the regular desktop web on this new generation of devices, but you end up having to zoom in to actually read anything or blow everything in to a single column layout (killing the design in the process) if you’re going to read longer passages. The opposite is true when viewing traditional mobile web pages on this new breed of device: the sites look stripped down and barebones in a stark “All we want are the facts, ma’am” way.

There is a middle ground between the desktop and traditional mobile web just waiting to thrive on these new devices. These new sites will feature more visually rich content and design from the desktop side but will also contain the immediacy and usefulness of the traditional mobile web.

Developing for the mobile web has never been easy, and I don’t think it’s going to become as simple as creating a myspace profile any time soon, but there are a few things now and on the horizon that are going to make it a lot easier. First of all, there are more mobile browsers supporting more aspects of CSS and Javascript. Specifically the S60 browser, the versions of Opera on many of these new devices, and the version of Safari on the iPhone all support CSS and Javascript quite well. It is also quite nice that while the Nokia N95 and the Apple iPhone are very different devices, they both have at their core the same basic rendering engine, KHTML. The specifics may be different (Safari vs. S60 browser) but I’m hoping that the core rendering behavior remains relatively consistent across these devices. Writing for the iPhone, S60 browser, and Opera will hopefully become as (relatively) easy as making sure a site renders properly in Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. I definitely think that making the same site look good with KTHML and Opera is going to be a lot easier than making a site look good in Safari and IE.

Welcome to the tipping point, folks. It’s going to be a helluva ride.


MobileHCI 2006 Roundup

Posted: September 16th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile | 4 Comments »

I felt a certain disconnect between the academic world and the blogging world while trying to find coverage of MobileHCI 2006 in Espoo, Finland last week. The conference schedule [PDF] looked amazing, and I would totally have gone except for those 5000 miles between Kansas and Finland. Luckily there were a few people there blogging, snapping pics, and posting links. Please let me know if I’ve forgotten something.

While checking Technorati and Feedster for blog posts I stumbled upon a few gems that were not directly related to MobileHCI 2006. I’ll be catching up on Fabien Girardin’s thesis blog and reading about the future of Mobile HCI at ACM Queue over the next few days.


Acknowledging the Mobile Web with Django

Posted: July 26th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Django, Mobile, Python | 11 Comments »

KTKA breaking news homepageI was reading up on HowToProvideAlternateViewsForMobileDevices on the Rails wiki this morning and couldn’t help but notice how much easier it is to set up a mobile version of a Django site. At World Online we have stripped-down barebones no frills “all we want are the facts ma’am” versions of all of our sites. They prove extremely useful during KU basketball games or when you’re in downtown lawrence and want to know what restaurants are open. Since our mobile sites are just alternate templates on the same views, setup goes something like this:

In main_site.settings:

TEMPLATE_DIRS = (
'/path/to/templates/mainsite.com/',
'/path/to/templates/default/',
)

In mobile_site.settings:

from main_site.settings import *
TEMPLATE_DIRS = (
'/path/to/templates/mobile.mainsite.com/',
'/path/to/templates/default/'
) 

The first line imports all of the settings from your main site. We then overwrite the TEMPLATE_DIRS setting to point to the mobile version of our templates (and fall back to default templates if there isn’t a mobile specific version). Because every app that we write also gets a default template we can have a complete mobile site up and running by creating just one or two mobile base templates.

While Django can’t help you debate internally the “one web” versus “two webs” philosophies, it can definitely help you produce lightweight mobile-friendly content with minimum effort.


PyS60 1.3.8 Released

Posted: July 7th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile, Open Source, Python | 7 Comments »

Python for S60 version 1.3.8, released specifically for S60 3rd Edition is now available for download. See the release notes for more information. Special thanks to Jukka and everyone else for pushing this release out the door just before Finland shuts down for the summer.