Tag Archives: Shozu

A Week of iPhone 3G

I’m just coming to the end of my first week with an iPhone 3G. Unlike some I didn’t sample the whole queuing and activation chaos last Friday. I managed to get one of the limited stocks that O2 had available online last Monday by getting in within the first hour before they had all sold out. That’s not to say that getting the phone out of DHL, the courier O2 used, was without incident. Beth was in Reading anyway, so said she would pick it up on the way home, the key thing being that she didn’t have the card as she wasn’t going home first. No problem, all she needed was the parcel number which we could get off the tracking site, and then we looked up on the DHL site and got the address of their depot over in an industrial estate near the Madejski Stadium, and looking at their opening times they were open until 7pm. So Beth went in on the way home, and handed over the parcel number – “Not this depotâ€? came the response, all the inland deliveries go through a separate depot on the Basingstoke Road, and that one closed at 6pm. Beth had just enough time to nip across and pick it up, and brought it home.

If you’ve been reading the computing sites you’ll I’m sure realise that activation was a bit of a problem, and it was much the same here. Although I could connect to the regular iTunes store the special activation service was totally snowed under, as a result activation had to wait until Sunday when we were back from our weekend away, where it connected first time. The one final part of the jigsaw, porting my number across from 3 was pretty painless too, although there was the inevitable attempt to try to tempt me to stay despite me repeatedly saying that I was moving for the iPhone 3G, not because of their prices. The number swapped over smoothly on Wednesday, and seems to work fine for incoming and outgoing calls.

So what is the iPhone 3G like in general use? I can’t really compare it with the original iPhone as I’ve never used one, my primary comparison is with my old Nokia N73. The expectation was that the iPhone 3G would be a similar experience to browsing on my iPod Touch, which it is as long as you can get good reception or a Wi-Fi hotspot. The internet experience is streaks ahead of what was possible on Nokia N73, and is actually usable for more than just simple page browsing. For example I ran through the Royal Mail parcel redelivery site on the iPhone 3G this afternoon and everything worked fine – I doubt you’d be able to do the same on the Nokia N73! Phone call wise the iPhone 3G is fine, although if you were making a lot of calls I suspect some sort of proper headset would be essential. Text message wise it is pretty good too, giving you an iChat style conversation screen. Although the touch screen puts some people off, having got used to it with the iPod Touch, I haven’t had any problems and certainly have no issues doing what I need. If anything the lack of the keypad gives the screens much more space to use making them much more straightforward than the usual nested menus that have to be navigated with up/down cursor keys on a more traditional phone.

Stability wise the iPhone 3G is way better than the old Nokia N73, which even after a couple of firmware updates still crashed or locked up with depressing regularity. So far with the iPhone 3G the only problem I have seen is one which the iPod Touch exhibits from time to time whereby the browser crashes.

But what about the new features? The App Store and the GPS? Taking them in reverse order, it is important to note that this is an Assisted GPS – as such it’s not going to replace a proper specialist device like a Garmin eTrex – it occasionally has problems getting a fix, and there is precious little feedback compared to a specialist device. Accuracy wise on some informal testing it managed to place me pretty accurately in our back garden, although not exactly. Trying it out at the church it was also in about the right ball park, but not spot on. Having said that, it does what it is intended to do, and allows location based apps such as Vicinity to come up with it’s local information – great if you’re in a strange town and need to find a convenience store. I’d be intrigued to see how a full blown navigation system works in a car – my thought is that the reception isn’t good enough to work accurately enough.

This brings me quite neatly to the applications, and certainly from what I’ve seen there are some good little applications around. The aforementioned Vicinity is certainly recommended, especially if you’re often on the move and need to find your way around a strange town. Another fabulous little app that makes use of the Assisted GPS is Exposure Premium (also available in an advert supported version) which provides a nice interface to access Flickr pictures, but it’s real party piece is the way it uses Assisted GPS to pull back pictures taken close by.

Various established services have provided free applications to access their services, so we have a nice little Facebook application, versions of Shozu and Shazam, and a version of the fantastic Evernote that will quite happily allow you to photograph documents with the camera on the phone and then search the text in it – handwriting included!

There are one or two novelty applications amongst the freebies too. Check out iPint which uses the accelerometers in the phone to simulate a pint glass. Another novelty is one for all the budding JediPhone Saber – which turns your phone into a light saber. Both are pointless but fun, and do show what can be done with the accelerometers in the device.

Not all the freebies are novelty applications. Apple themselves have produced a little tool called Remote that gives you remote control over either your copy of iTunes or your Apple TV. There are also some free games, Tap Tap Revenge for example will be familiar to fans of Guitar Hero

Gaming wise, the accelerometers are seeing a lot of use. Some, like Cro-Mag Rally use them a simple game controllers. In others, such as Motion-X Poker they are being used to simulate a real experience, in this case throwing dice. Finally you have games like Trism which takes a familiar puzzle game concept, and turns it on it’s head – literally – by the addition of monitoring which way up the phone is being held.

So was it a good upgrade? Definitely. As a phone and mobile internet device it is fantastic, streaks ahead of anything else in usability, especially for mobile internet. The addition of the App Store really opens things up and shows what can be done with the platform – certainly putting it up there as one of the best mobile application platforms around.

Good News from Shozu

I had a great e-mail from Andy Tiller at Cognima today, as part of my ongoing discussion with him over Shozu:

Hi Richard

Thought you might like to know that we plan to make the change you suggested in our next ShoZu release (due February). The Java app will then work with an ‘ask once’ policy.

Thanks for helping us clarify our thinking on this.

Best regards

Andy

It’s really great to find an IT company that is happy to listen and open to discuss their product with their customers. Whilst most people would think that was a pretty obvious idea, you’d be surprised how many times I’ve put in bug reports or feature requests and not heard a thing!

Also it was great that the positive response means that next month I’ll finally be able to give Shozu a go. A somewhat better outcome than this example given by Hugh McLeod, where although the guys at RememberTheMilk responded, ultimately they couldn’t solve this guys problem.

Testing Beta’s

TechCrunch today published an interesting article giving tips for tech companies, particularly those involved in the latest online developments on how to make the best of their beta programmes. Whilst in the past most people would never see beta releases unless they were signed up to specific beta programmes, but now, with the ease of distribution offered by the internet, companies such as Microsoft and Google offer beta releases of upcoming products on free download. The article also makes interesting points about the kind of people who will participate in such beta programmes will be, and what technology they will tend to be using, and the importance of blogs and bloggers to the whole equation.

That reminded me that I was planning on posting another update on how my experiences with Shozu had been going, as although the possibility of actually using it had come to an end thanks to issues with my phone, as I mentioned at the weekend, I’ve carried on chatting over e-mail with Andy Tiller since then. Certainly I’m not alone with other bloggers commenting on how open Cognima are about their product, and Andy popping up to answer questions. We’ve actually had a good discussion about how I was looking to use Shozu in relation to how it works, and it is certainly a good example of how to run a beta programme.

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Following on from my posting on why Shozu wasn’t working, Andy was curious as to why on exactly the same phone, I wasn’t having problems with Opera Mini. My conclusion was that this was primarily because Opera wasn’t checking on the Java permissions. When I fire up Opera thanks to my lack of certificates I get a message from the operating system of the phone saying that Opera is attempting to access the internet, and giving me the option to allow this or block it. If I allow it then Opera has access to the internet for the duration of the time I am using the browser. If I subsequently exit the browser and go back in, I then have to reauthorise Opera. The difference with Shozu is that in order to provide specific features, such as the automatic resumption of transfers if the GPRS signal is lost, the application needs full access – as the loss of the connection and resumption would result in an annoying series of dialogs repeatedly asking for permission to connect. As a result, Shozu checks it’s level of permission and if it doesn’t have what it requires, forces you to exit. The argument I offered Andy on the subject was that Shozu doesn’t actually need this level of access, and could work at the reduced level I have available on my phone, so it would be better to offer a warning that the reduced level of permissions could adversely affect the user experience in Shozu but let the user use the application anyway. I also highlighted that if Shozu were an application on a PC I’d usually be careful about handing it full control of a connection until I was happy it wasn’t going to connect without my permission and clock up a vast bill, and as such giving Shozu users the option to use the phone operating system to restrict Shozu was helpful.
It is worth mentioning at this point that I don’t think I convinced Andy of my point of view, but at the same time I certainly felt that he was open to discussing other ways of doing things. This again makes a refreshing change, as sometimes you get the feeling that software developers (and I’m sure I give the impression at times too) take anything that seems like criticism of their product pretty personally, when in actual fact the users are only trying to be constructive.

It also kicked off a discussion at work, over some of the occasions when despite a whole series of requirements documents, user workshops, and even sitting watching users work it transpires that the users are actually using your application in a totally different way from how you originally envisioned it. Sometimes this could be as a result of a bug, or that having been given a new application they realise that they can use it to do more than they originally thought. However there are a number of occasions we’ve had some incident reports that appear really obscure until you work out what the users are doing. Equally some feature that seemed massively important, and that we spent ages developing, for some reason is now totally ignored and the users are doing the same thing in a totally different way (usually involving an Excel spreadsheet).

Certainly when I get a phone that is capable, or the guys at Cognima produce a version that doesn’t insist on specific permissions, I’ll take a look again. With the other options being the frustration of trying to get MMS to work reliably, or e-mail, that increases the size of any picture transfer by about 40% (the overhead on Shozu is only about 4%) it certainly seems a great way to send pictures on the move. Also, if you want to see a good example of the kind of mobile photo-blogging that Shozu aims to support just take a look at some of the more than 13,000 Flickr pictures tagged with Shozu! (And you can even see pictures of the guys who work at Cognima in amongst them too!)

Shozu Support Round 2

After my first exchange with the Shozu support team yesterday, I wasn’t expecting a reply until next week. However I was most surprised when a reply popped into my inbox early this afternoon, together with another nice e-mail from Andy Tiller.

Anyway, Gerard, the support person confessed to being mystified as to why it wasn’t working, and made some more suggestions, again none of which worked. However alongside this I did some more experimenting, one experiment being to use my PDA to download the relevant files, both of which came down without a problem, despite using the same connection on the phone.

I also succeeded in getting the Shozu application installed, but it produced an error on it’s first screen because it didn’t have unrestricted access to the internet, despite my having given it the highest settings available. All of this rang a few bells with issues we’ve had at work with getting .Net applications to work – basically weird behaviour for no apparent reason.

After this I did some digging around the Mobile Java sites, and also took a look at Beth’s Sony Ericsson phone too. The main difference proved to be buried deep in the internet settings, on the Java Certificates page. On Beth’s phone, she had certificates from GeoTrust and Thawte, whereas I had just the one – marked SonyEricsson. I’m now pretty certain that this is the source of the problem, as a looking at the .jad file that Shozu uses reveals that the application is signed, so the Download Failed error is actually somewhat misleading – in actual fact the signed file has failed validation, and it is this same problem that is stopping the manually installed copy running too.

At this point I thought I’d see about manually installing the certificates myself – as both the required certificates are available from the relevant sites. Both were recognised by the phone when I transferred them, but both only installed into the trusted certificates folder, without appearing in the Java certificates. A bit more reading and I found the answer in this SonyEricsson support posting:

As specified in MIDP 2.0, it is not allowed to download new root certificates to the device. New root certificates can only be added to the phone at production/customization. A firmware upgrade of the phone can include new root certificates specified by Sony Ericsson.

So, if at this point you’re wondering why my phone doesn’t have the relevant certificates, if they’re so common, you might like to take a read of this blog entry I posted last June – basically O2 were sending out K750i’s that wouldn’t connect to the internet, so faced with not having the phone, or replacing the firmware, I de-branded the phone and installed the standard, fully working firmware. However it looks like the firmware image I used to fix the phone was lacking the relevant certificates, so in order to get it to work, I need to find a firmware that includes them, or the relevant customisation file – neither of which I can find.

Anyway, since re-flashing the phone costs €10 a go, and currently aside from Shozu everything else works fine (indeed I can still upload pictures from the phone to Flickr – just via the Mac instead) I won’t be loosing much sleep over it, just one of those things I guess. Having said that, it will probably be a bit of a disappointment to Andy Tiller who aside from his e-mail, also looked me up on Flickr. Although there is now only six months to wait until I’m due another phone upgrade anyway, and by that point the fantastic looking SonyEricsson P990 will be about. 🙂