Category Archives: PocketPC

PocketPC related postings.

Late to the Party – Windows Phone 7 Series

Yesterday afternoon the internet was buzzing with details of the launch of Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Series in Barcelona. Only it wasn’t really a launch, it was more a demonstration of a preview version of the platform. It’s predecessor was only launched last autumn, and this pretty well complete rewrite of the Microsoft mobile phone platform isn’t going to be available to buy until around the same time this year.

Whilst it certainly seems to have innovative features – a user interface that does things rather differently from the current favoured multiple pages of icon design that is almost ubiquitous, along with an XBox Live tie up to link your mobile and console gaming – it does seem a pretty brave move to show your rivals what you’ve got planned months and months before anything is going to be released. Even when you take into account that Microsoft are often much more open about showing preview releases of upcoming products than Apple for example, it still seems very early to be showing.

However, when you think about it, if Microsoft wants any part of the rapidly growing mobile applications market, it had to do something.

Microsoft, just like Nokia, Sony/Ericsson and all the rest were caught massively on the hop three years ago by the launch of the iPhone. Smart phones were very much of a niche market, and most regular consumers used a phone to make calls. It was possible to add applications onto smart phones, but again it wasn’t something that many people did.

Roll forward three years and the iPhone has really gone mainstream, it still surprises me how many people have them, and who they are. Many of them, even relatively non-technical are comfortable with the idea of adding applications, reading e-mail, browsing the web and playing games from a phone handset. On top of this Google has moved in on the market making waves with it’s Android operating system. Established players like Nokia have found their market share falling after years of failing to ignite the smart phone market.

Then we get to Microsoft.

They had a niche in corporate markets, and certainly I’d come across techies from time to time using (and more often than not cursing) their Windows Mobile handsets. The ability to program applications in the same languages as desktop applications certainly helped adoption. However they largely dropped the ball. Whilst they have carried on releasing updated versions of their platform they’ve largely been left behind, giving the impression – intentionally or not – that they weren’t interested, that they were happy to relinquish their market share to Apple and Google. In the corporate space Blackberry has grown, certainly in our company those users who are issued with a smart phone are issued with a Blackberry, and many of the executives ask for one by name. Any mobile applications would have to be developed for Blackberry, not Windows Mobile now, and Blackberry provide the tools to do that.

As I’ve said, the iPhone seems to have really gone mainstream, introducing a growing range of people to a smart phone, and the techie space seems to be being filled by Google Android. The iPhone is selling by the million, and producing billions of application downloads.

What Microsoft were showing looks interesting, and if they can sort out the reliability and stability problems that established wisdom say plagued previous versions it would be a good platform, but it would be a good platform if the phones were on the market now. Between now and release Apple, Google and the rest will certainly be releasing updated and new versions of their phones and software. The Microsoft gamble is that having seen the show yesterday, people will be willing to wait, and that come the autumn they will be willing to put aside the previous reputation for being buggy, put down their iPhones, Blackberry and Android phones, write off the money they’ve spent on apps for those platforms – or in the corporate environment infrastructure, and switch over to a Microsoft phone. I’m sure there will be a good few techies who will do so, but the average consumer or the corporate user? It remains to be seen.

Where Have All the Colours Gone?

I hate it when software upgrades stuff things up. A new 2008 release of Pocket Informant, the diary software I’ve got on my PocketPC to replace the frankly woeful Pocket Outlook has just been produced, and whilst the upgrade went smoothly, and the application itself works fine, all the category colours on the Today screen plug-in have vanished. Oddly enough the plug-in thinks it’s getting the colour details – just seems they are all coming out in white…

iPod Touch First Impressions

iPod Touch Web Browsing

So having had an iPod Touch to play with for a couple of days, I thought I’d give my first impressions.

Firstly, being an Apple device, the integration between the iPod Touch and the Mac is great. Effectively all you have to do is plug the iPod Touch into the computer and you can sync music from iTunes and pictures from iPhoto straight down onto the device. Needless to say, in my situation where both databases are much larger than the capacity of the device you need to take some level of manual control, but compared to getting stuff onto the Nokia N770 it’s a lot more straightforward. By way of comparison, putting music onto the Nokia involved a bit of care with file formats – and also remembering that anything protected probably wouldn’t work, putting on pictures you’d have to manually ensure they were the right dimensions – with the iPod that is all automatic.

Once loaded onto the iPod the slick experience continues. You can browse through music either in familiar list form, or alternatively turning the device to a landscape orientation automatically activates cover flow mode where you can flip through albums via their album art. Pictures are similarly presented, again allowing you to flick through the images.

All of the interface operates through a touch-screen – in total the device has only two buttons, the ‘power’ button on the top, and a home button that always takes you back to the main menu. Unlike almost all similar devices there is no stylus – you operate the interface with your finger. Flicking through photographs or songs is all carried out by sliding your finger across the screen. Surprisingly there isn’t too much of a problem with finger marks on the screen either – although the metal casing shows them up, the screen is readable even after quite heavy use of the screen.

The other great feature of the interface is the momentum. When you flick, much as if you push an object in the real world, it carries on moving and slowly decelerates. If you are scrolling down a long list of tracks for example you can also catch the list by touching the screen, which brings the scrolling to an immediate halt. Comparing this to other interfaces where you’re repeatedly pressing an arrow key to scroll down, or that come to an immediate halt, it is much more intuitive, and even though I have over 2000 songs loaded onto it is still relatively quick to locate them.

The momentum in the interface also extends to the built in web browser, which in part goes towards making the iPod Touch far and away the best mobile browsing experience I have come across. The Nokia N770 may have the best screen (well at least until it failed), but the iPod more than makes up for it with the ease with which I can move around a web page and zoom in and out onto content. Hitting links accurately with a finger rather than a stylus takes some work, as does typing on the on-screen keyboard, but it is still streaks ahead of anything else.

Perhaps the only disappointment is the YouTube application. Whilst it does manage to make videos from YouTube look considerably better than they do on the web, it has one major flaw – when it is running it hogs the machine, and if the flow of data from the site stalls, so does the application. It doesn’t actually crash the iPod, but it does render it unresponsive until the data stream settles down again.

Looking at other things you can do with it, one of the big criticisms when compared to the iPhone was the lack of an e-mail application. Whilst you can add mail by copying the app over from an iPhone, you can do it without hacking the device using a site called Mail Coaster. This very simply provides an iPod Touch style web interface to whatever mail server you specify. It’s not the most feature rich application, but for a simple mail check it is fine. Google Reader is also among the sites that now also have an iPod Touch friendly user interface.

By far the most impressive thing about the whole device, especially having used Windows Mobile, Symbian and the Nokia N770 is how rock solid the whole device feels. That’s not to say there aren’t bugs – the aforementioned problem with the YouTube application for a start, and on one occasion it has inexplicably lost the wi-fi connection – but it has yet to properly crash, unlike the multitude of mobile devices I’ve owned from the other stables. It also doesn’t suffer from the annoying and inexplicable pauses that those suffer too, aside from the YouTube problems everything moves along at a nice responsive speed.

It may be being marketed purely as a music player, but alongside this Apple have converged enough with the features of the PDA that they’ve produced a pretty good stand-alone PDA too!

Stephen Fry – Devices and Desires

I blogged a couple of years ago about an article about Stephen Fry that appeared in Mac Format and about his addiction to the Mac platform stretching back twenty years.

Recently Stephen has started a blog and the topic of his first posting – Devices and Desires – which discusses another technological addiction, mobile devices and Smartphones. Not surprisingly he has an iPhone, but this looks at the competition, most of which he has tried.

Style wise this is a bit different from your usual technical article – very Stephen Fry (so it does have a couple of more adult comments) – but it is a great read, and pretty funny in places. Incidentally as an example of the quirkiness, the title of the article is taken from the General Confession in the Book of Common Prayer (“I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heartâ€?)- not a common point of reference for a computer article, but somewhat appropriate!

Looking at his history, it seems he is a Psion 3 fan whereas I only came in when the Psion 5 was launched. He’s tried Palm devices, but is very frustrated with the way they seem to regularly try to commit corporate suicide. He is particularly damning about the Palm Foleo, a mobile device even he did not want.

As an aside he also mentioned Markspace Missing Sync as a good way to synchronise a PocketPC with a Mac – not surprisingly after my nightmare with the product I can’t agree. Despite it’s numerous updates over recent months, I’m still not sure I actually trust it not to scramble my diary!

According to the article, he has tried a number of Symbian smartphones, and has some harsh words for Sony Ericsson:

What a crushing, lowering, fury-inducing disappointment. Just how dumb are the software engineers, designers and marketeers at Sony E?

On the other hand, he seems to quite like the latest Nokia offerings.

Moving on to the iPhone, he has many of the same criticisms as other techies and industry commentators – but again like quite a few in the US he is using the phone anyway.

What is quite impressive is that for a blog with only one article, Stephen Fry has so far had 140 comments – hopefully that will persuade him to write more as I for one will certainly be reading.

Thank Heavens for Sprite Backup

This morning I had one of those real sinking feeling moments. I got to work, pulled out my Dell Axim PDA and plugged it into it’s cradle hooked up to my PC and rather than the usual screen was greeted with a big error message stating that there was memory corruption and asking me to press one of the buttons to continue. Pressing this caused the PDA to reboot, and then go through the first start-up screen calibration routine before dumping me at an empty today screen.

Now this isn’t the first time this has happened. The first time I had to reinstall all my applications, fix all the configuration – basically it was a long job. After that experience I looked around and bought a copy of Sprite Backup a bit of software that does a significantly better job of backing up a Pocket PC device than the included option. Every morning when I plug in my PDA it automatically takes a backup of the contents of the device – this morning I was very grateful that it did.

The only thing I had to install back onto my PDA was the Sprite Backup software, and then I just had to configure that to use the ActiveSync connection to talk to the other part of Sprite Backup on the PC. Then I just had to select my last daily backup and click the start button. Twenty minutes later after replacing all the missing files and putting back on all my settings the PDA rebooted and everything looked as it should. Then you only have to wait a few minutes whilst ActiveSync, which unfortunately decides that all the replaced contacts and calendar entries are new sorts itself out (just a question of letting it replace the data – the stuff in Outlook is probably more up to date than the backup anyway), and then everything is back to normal.

Seriously, if you’re running a Pocket PC PDA, something like Sprite Backup is an absolute life saver. True if you’re syncing your calendar and contacts to a desktop your information is relatively safe, but even then it still does take a lot longer to rebuild if you have to manually reinstall all your applications – Sprite Backup does the lot. The backup each morning is a bit annoying at times, but I’ll happily take that instead of the frustration when invariably the Pocket PC crashes.

iPod Touch – A MacOS X Based PDA?

Yesterday I had a slightly strange experience -after being decidedly unenthusiastic at recent Apple Keynotes, I found myself getting decidedly excited at the new range of iPod’s that Steve Jobs announced yesterday – even finding the whole Starbucks thing exciting (until I realised that it was US only… 🙁 ).

The revamp of the existing range was pretty impressive, with more video support and a revamped user interface, and increased capacities across the board. The ringtones for the iPhone seemed pretty cool, but of course totally irrelevant for anybody outside the USA. Even if we did have it here, I’m not sure I’d be using it as a phone anyway as I much prefer a separate phone sized and shaped phone and PDA.

However, in the search for the ideal PDA, the iPod Touch did seem to be ticking a lot of boxes.

In simple terms, this device is an iPhone without the phone bit, so it retains the high quality touch screen, and also has the same software for playing songs and videos. This means that unlike any of my other portable devices it should play all my music. It also retains the Wi-Fi, and includes the same version of Safari found on the iPhone so web browsing should be an experience comparable to the N770 rather than being the usual cramped screen mobile experience. We won’t even mention the woeful excuse for a browser on my PocketPC device…

Looking at the icons in the demo the suite includes both the contact and calendar applications from the iPhone – although the big unanswered question is whether these are the full applications or read-only as on the other iPod’s.

The most notable absence is the e-mail application, although you can get around this using webmail applications. The reason for e-mail being missing is obviously to steer carefully around upsetting the phone networks, so in that vein there is no mention of the ability to hook up to a phone with Bluetooth.

So a real possibility as a PDA? I guess the jury is still out – will just have to wait and see, and head down to an Apple Store when they get released next month.

iPod touch originally uploaded by bvalium

Just to Clarify…

With regards to the iPhone, exciting release – Yes, interesting product – Yes, big news for the mobile phone world – Yes, possibly purchase for yours truly – No. As to why, it’s too big for a day to day phone. If they did a MacOS X based PDA, then that would be attractive, but I’ve done the smartphone thing before and it doesn’t work for me. Having said that, even if the iPhone is more Newton than iPod I don’t think the competition can afford to wait to find out, so I’m expecting to see a good deal of innovation from them as they try to square up to Apple.