Category Archives: Symbian

Symbian related posts.

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.

Google Maps Mobile – My Location

News today that there is a new version of Google Maps for Mobile alongside there now being a Symbian native version it also includes a ‘My Location’ feature that triangulates an approximate location based on the cell towers the phone can communicate with. So away I go downloading it – runs great, aside from the ‘My Location’ feature which produces an error that my location is temporarily unavailable. Anybody managed to get it to work on an N73 running X-Series on 3?

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.

Predictive Text

A little story here for anybody who has ever struggled with the T9 predictive text facility on their mobile phone. Whereas some people struggle with it, an Italian commuter has, over the course of seventeen weeks of commuting used his Nokia 6630 to write a 384 page novel! The result of his labours is now available on Lulu.com – sadly only in Italian.

A New Gadget Holy War

It is mere days since the Apple iPhone hit the streets in the States, and the simmering holy war has well and truly burst into life, particularly with avid Nokia N95 fans evangelising their platform.

Perhaps one of the most interesting places to observe the current skirmishes is over on Scobleizer, the reason being that Robert Scoble has been using and enjoying an N95, but having queued with his son to get an iPhone, and then compared the two phones, is coming down in favour of the Apple.

Check out the reaction to this post where he begins:

Let’s just stop here. The iPhone is superior in almost every way to the Nokia N95. The battery life is better. The contact management is better. The Web browser is better. The photo taking experience is better. The screen is better. The wireless management is better.

After that, he does then take a pot-shot back at the Nokia fans.

However, what is happening is what has happened with the iPod before, the fans of other smartphones are quoting feature lists – highlighting that there are a number of key missing features with the iPhone – things like a GPS, 3G support and so on. The thing is though, that as with the iPod the purchasers (of which there have been over 0.5 million in the first weekend alone) are going for looks and basic usability over the feature list.

The iPhone scores highly by being cool, and by doing a few things and doing them well. True the Nokia N95 has a better camera, but the software that drives the camera, which is the same as on my Nokia N73 is lousy – certainly there is no chance of taking a decent picture quickly as you have to fiddle with all the settings every time you open the camera as they always reset to default. Based on comments around the internet, as expected the iPhone is scoring points in usability, an area where the current crop of smartphones often fall down. However much the fans of the other phones quote feature lists, whatever toys a phone has, basic usability is where it matters – I know numerous people who have never worked out how to use even the basic features of their phone – even changing a ringtone.

As to whether I’ll get one, without 3G or the ability to take a decent picture, I’m not keen. Get that sorted out and maybe I’ll take a look – of course it could all go out the window when I eventually get to play with one. Whatever happens though, I’m hopeful that having Apple at the party will give the competition a good kick in improving the usability on their models too.

MyStrands in the iPhone and in the N95 originally uploaded by MyStrands.

Birthdays

There are a couple of significant computing anniversaries this year. Firstly, it is twenty years since version 1.0 of Powerpoint was released – initially only for the Apple Mac, the PC version came along a few years later once Microsoft bought out the original company. Presentation Zen not surprisingly has an article on the anniversary linking off to a Wall Street Journal interview with the original developers who ponder what their creation has become and the effects it has had on business. This quote from Robert Gaskins is particularly telling:

“A lot of people in business have given up writing the documents. They just write the presentations, which are summaries without the detail, without the backup. A lot of people don’t like the intellectual rigour of actually doing the work.”

The other anniversary is that this week marks ten years since the Psion 5 was launched. The Register have done a great article telling the story of Psion and the people involved from the birth of the Psion 5 until the present day. What is amazing is how many ex-Psion staff have gone on to be part of market leading companies working on gadgets that Psion weren’t able to produce themselves. There is also a good deal of discussion as to the reasons that Psion ultimately withdrew from market, which in part seems to be blamed on existing customers who stuck with their Psion 3’s. Interestingly although Psion may be gone from the the PDA market, it is interesting to note that their belief in their operating system, Symbian was well founded. It does sort of leave you wondering how things might have been different if Psion had the finances to produce all the gadgets they had ideas for.