Tag Archives: Nokia

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.

The Problem for Nokia

This morning, Robert Scoble, who is currently at LeWeb in Paris published this picture to his Flickr stream.

It is a shot taken by him of the audience, and is the answer to a simple request, for people to hold up their iPhone – just take a look at the full sized shot and count quite how many there are.

Back before the iPhone launched, Nokia and the other big players in the market were bullish. The mobile phone market largely consisted of largely similar devices, and Apple coming in with something that didn’t conform to what everybody else was doing wasn’t going to make an impact was it? They seemed to think that doing it different meant that the iPhone wouldn’t sell – everybody had been doing the same thing for years and the consumer would stick with them.

From a personal point of view, I had spent years being largely dissatisfied with what the established players had been producing. I’d bounced back and forth between Nokia handsets, Sony Ericsson, and even a Motorola handset at one point, my general feeling is that despite promising much, they’d generally failed to deliver, with annoyingly quirky user interfaces, buggy firmware, and a generally frustrating experience all round, hence why I’d ended up changing phones pretty frequently. The best mobile device I’d owned was still the venerable Psion 5mx

When I eventually got my hands on an iPhone, it proved to be a game changer – finally someone had actually managed to produce a mobile phone that was nice to use, and one that was a reasonable substitute for a desktop web browser. With the later addition of applications it became even more of a useful device.

The impression I get in tech circles is that I am not alone. At a couple of tech events I’ve attended recently by far the largest number of people had an iPhone – people who had been die hard Nokia fans, or had developed Windows Mobile apps for years had bought one, and weren’t planning on switching back. Now the numbers being used by non-techie friends is impressive, and the competition is struggling.

Check out this article in the Independent about the effect on Nokia, or this article about the recent Sony Ericsson Saito problems, with both the rise and rise of the iPhone, and the other new kid on the block Google Android it’s going to be very interesting to see what the second decade of the twenty-first century will bring for the old market leaders like Nokia

The iPhone users at LeWeb originally uploaded by Robert Scoble.

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!

New Toy

iPod Touch

So this morning at work a small package turned up on my desk containing my new toy, an iPod Touch.

Depending on your point of view, this is either the ultimate touch screen and wi-fi equipped iPod or it’s a cut down iPhone with loads of functionality missing. Needless to say I’m thinking of it more in the former category, and thinking that I could use it for all the things that my short lived Nokia N770 – which produced a white screen of death a couple of weeks ago – was doing, so as a general media device with a bit of internet browsing. With the news that Apple are going to open up the platform it certainly seems like an iPod Touch will in the future become a good platform for that sort of thing – and probably a lot easier to sync up with my desktop than the Nokia N770!

As is traditional, I’m just waiting for it to sync large amounts of my music and pictures before I’ll get to play with it – I guess it will be tomorrow before I get a chance to seriously try it out!

N770 – Nice Tablet – Lousy Quality

Faulty Nokia N770

A month or two ago I was raving about the Nokia N770. Unfortunately tonight I am somewhat less enamoured having been greeted with the pictured screen.

It didn’t come up with this first mind you. Initially it booted normally – but then it announced that the battery needed charging before shutting off, and this is what it produced on reboot after an apparently white screen. Based on the sounds it was booting properly, and certainly if I tap the screen where icons should be it sounds like they are working. Looking at the screen at a very low angle I can just about make out the screen, so it seems something weird has happened to the screen.

As always with technical problems, the first port of call was an internet search where I turned up a good deal of other people with the same problem – indeed it seems I got off lightly with the usage I’ve had – other peoples units did this within days! The problem or “White Screen of Deathâ€? as the problem has been christened seems pretty common. The cause is described as ‘un-clean’ power cycles by some users, so they recommend minimising the number of times you power the unit on and off. Certainly it seems like my booting up with no battery may have caused the problem.

Considering the numbers of still working Nokia phones I have sitting around it is decidedly disappointing that the company doesn’t seem to be able to produce an internet tablet that can last more than a couple of months without the screen packing up. It’s also going to be an interesting series of exchanges as Expansys were shipping out US N770’s over the summer – mine included, so although all the machines are manufactured in Estonia, Nokia may well try to avoid replacing the unit. Expansys policy seems to be to pass any faults onto the manufacturer after 21 days…

Are You Going to Get an iPhone?

Much as expected, this mornings ‘surprise announcement’ from Apple revealed that in the UK the iPhone would be exclusively on O2 and available through the Carphone Warehouse.

In terms of pricing the handsets will sell for £269 and will not be subsidised. Users will have to sign up for an 18 month contract which will cost either £35, £45 or £55 a month. All the contracts will include unlimited data, plus free access to the 7500 wi-fi hotspots operated by The Cloud. Other important points to note are that this is the same iPhone as in the USA – so no 3G. The phone will operate on the older GPRS system, making use of EDGE where available – currently only about 30% of the country.

That is certainly going to make things interesting over how the phone will sell and who will buy it. The majority of phones in the UK are subsidised, so comparatively the iPhone is a big outlay. The free wi-fi is nice, but in comparison to the high speed connection I can get pretty well anywhere using my 3G phone it is a definite step back. Certainly a quick straw poll around here has found that the lack of 3G is a definite sticking point for the UK techie. However much the funky touch-screen attracts them, over here 3G is a big issue.

However, where it might sell is with the fashion concious who are only after a phone. Certainly the hype and the unique look may well find a lot of users going out just to have the latest and greatest phone. Even without 3G it is still perfectly able to make phone calls, and works fine as a music player – it’s just that I don’t think you’re going to find too many of the techies queuing up for it come November 9th. I’m sticking with my Nokia.