Saturday, March 31, 2007

From The Creators Of The 6600 v3.41 Firmware Comes...

... a new book, "S60 Smartphone Quality Assurance - A Guide for Mobile Engineers and Developers". Reading that title for the first time did make me laugh out loud - and apparently it's going to be a serious book with more than 5 pages saying "don't do it like this". It is certainly unfair to complain about the occasional glitch in very complicated electronics released to tight deadlines in a fast paced market, but I think the S60 team can safely lay claim to more than the odd glitch - the 6600 is the worst example, but there are plenty more. You have to wonder which niche they are targetting with this effort :)

Monday, March 26, 2007

World's 1st Dual Slider. By World We Mean USA. By USA We Mean Officially Announced By A US Network. Oh Just Stop Being Pedantic.

Helio today introduced the Helio Ocean, the world's first dual-slider combining a traditional numeric keypad and a separate full QWERTY keyboard in a single device.

Note the qualifier - whilst the Nokia N95 has a dual slide mechanism it's along the same plane, and doesn't cover QWERTY.

However, this announcement does rather ignore the Samsung F520, announced back at 3GSM this year offering... a dual-slide mechanism with traditional numeric keypad and a separate full QWERTY keyboard. Guess Ocean's PR droids missed that one when they were writing up the release, or felt that "world's second" or "a phone a bit like the one Samsung announced a while ago" just didn't carry the same punch.


Friday, March 23, 2007

OK OK, Music Will Never Make Us Money... But We Like Hanging Around Popstars

I do like Guy Kewney's ability to actually see what a statistic is saying, rather than to go cross eyed and start spouting rubbish (like an audience of Applistas listening to Steve Jobs lie).

So it's nice to see (somewhat belatedly) he has injected some reality into the mobile music debate: SMS Revenues are projected to be $70bn by 2012, and entire music industry is worth $35bn - so any revenue kick operators expect to get from their misguided belief that they have a big role in the music value chain can only be tiny compared to their core business. Yet another hole in the fallacy that they can significantly offer shareholders growth potential through data, rather than fade into the background as a bitpipe.

And, it has to be said, he also has a lovely accent.

5 Things You Didn't Know About Me

Hmmm, you know you've been too busy recently when you completely stop reading your RSS feeds for over a month... I appear to have been tagged to tell you 5 things you don't know about me by over at Everything And The Mobile Universe. Many apologies for not picking up on this, among many other things the Crossbow team have been keeping me up at night :)

This leaves me with two problems. One is that the point of this blog is you never know anythign about us except what we think about the mobile marketplace, and the other is that I haven't followed any other people that might read this blog enough to know who has already been tagged and who hasn't...

Well - the first problem I can deal with, so here we go:
  1. I think the random text generators used in spam have reached the level of poetry for me - prose that breaks all the rules, is awkward to read and ultimately doesn't make much sense and yet sometimes can be quite captivating.
  2. According to World66, I have dated girls from 6% of the world's countries (damn, there are just too many countries ;) - I've only lived in 3% and visited 12% though. Best get depleting the ozone layer whilst it's still somewhat socially acceptable.
  3. I have a theory that Italians can only fight effectively in an army if they're wearing skirts - witness Rome controlling most of the known world vs the amazing range of retreats they pioneered in WW2. I'm still working on the reasons behind this, but it's almost certainly something to do with chatting up girls, which can be pretty effective in the army's current regulation camos (check out the army recruits 'guarding' Ciampino airport by selflessly flirting with every girl that comes past). Given my pacifist leanings I'm inclined to see this as a good trait in Italians, not a bad one (Andrea please don't get upset - you're the only Italian I know who has read this blog ;).
  4. My favourite music video - you just can't beat breakdancing fluffy sharks.
  5. I've been to the most expensive karaoke bar in Tokyo. Didn't sing though.
The second problem is somewhat harder, except for #1 - I apologise if I'm tagging people who've already taken part, I did my best to search blogs and find people I read, who have at some point posted on the blog, who've never taken part:
  1. Thelf. I know he reads the blog and in theory he ought to post to the damn thing as well...
  2. Pondering Primate, who I've robustly discussed things with enough in the past that he might possibly read the blog. Hopefully you're not too busy Chief Innovating mate :)
  3. Andrea Trasatti, mastermind behind the WURFL.
  4. Gustaf Erikson, occasional scrivener.
  5. Michael Mace, in honour of the fact that he wrote a particularly amusing sarky post today which is a break from his usual insight. My vote's on #4.
That's my best shot, now to find out if anyone still does read this thing... and again, apologies if I've tagged people who've already done it etc :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I'm An Artist Because I Say I Am

Orange are now touting the special edition Julien MacDonald designed Sony-Ericsson K510i. I have three competing theories as to who exactly Julien MacDonald is:
  1. A primary school child of an Orange or Sony-Ericsson employee who went a bit mad with some luminous coloured paints;
  2. A made up name invented by the Orange or SE marketing department to try to make it sound cool (I know the names of a lot of good designers, but somehow very few of the names of designers asked to design custom editions of phones like this);
  3. A real designer who just isn't very good, or sold his name and got the work experience student to do the design.
OK, OK, I can look him up, apparently he is real and he's Welsh and tacky. This is eminently believable, even though the source is Wikipedia, so 3 it is. But this seems to be a growing trend which is more miss than hit to me. It shows the marketing departments are trying to cash in on the premium that a 'designer' tag can get, yet like so many of these attempts there is no quality control to ensure that the designing is actually adding value and improving the product. Too often it's a muppet who has questionable taste, getting to play with all the wrong toys to mess up a product in a space (s)he simply does not understand - and 'design' is really not the right verb to describe this process.

Monday, March 19, 2007

How To Screw People For No Reason, Whilst Trying To Be Helpful

Windows Mobile IE has long been a pain in the arse when it comes to device targetting through UserAgent detection - almost as bad as the various mobile Operas, with the sole saving grace that for all the millions of Windows handset variations HTC kick out hardly anyone buys them.

Handset manufacturers set a very low standard with their utter lack of consistency - take a brief skim through the WURFL if you need examples. In the end though even Samsung sticks to a core set of patterns you can latch on to, once you understand your SPH from your SGH.

Windows Mobile however sees things differently. From an application programmer's perspective, you probably need to find out a couple of key things about the device:
  1. Screen size - currently that can be 176x220, 240x240, 240x320, 320x240, 640x480, 480x640, 800x600 and probably a few other rehashes of those figures, which makes quite a difference to the graphics you send.
  2. Input device(s) - devices on the PocketPC side (now, inexplicably, Windows Mobile 6 'Professional') use touchscreens with a handful of keys, devices on the Smartphone ('Classic') use phone keypads.
It would also be really nice to know if you're expected to rotate a rectangular screen whenever the optional keypad is pulled out - for some games that makes a major difference and when delivering content OTA you want to minimise download size... the actual presence of that keypad would also also nice to know, but not essential at deployment time.

Traditionally a Windows Mobile UA would look a little like this:
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 4.01; Windows CE; PPC; 240x320)
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 4.01; Windows CE; Smartphone; 176x220)

Both those useful bits of info I mentioned are immediately available from this UA, so the standard code that all mobile developers running deployment servers are cursed to rewrite can easily select the right content and send it out. It's not perfect - we are rarely told if a JVM is present (and it's rarely integrated well enough to do an in-browser OTA installation smoothly either), and we rarely get enough info to know whether to expect the screen rotation and the QWERTY keyboard, but enough basics are there to get us where we need to be.

Apparently, however, this is not good enough. For the sake of tidiness or somesuch, some idiot over at Microsoft decided to remove both the screensize and the core platform name from the UA as of Windows Mobile 6.0 because "Since the capabilities of the Pocket PC and Smartphone versions of the browser are identical, and they're built from the identical code base, there's no reason to differentiate them any more".

For web sites being browsed, arguably might be true (though optimising AJAX just got a bit harder if you don't know what will be clicking on your bits) - but for OTA deployments you just made things way harder. This is what happens when people decide it's safe to break backwards compatibility for the sake of "tidiness" without having any clue what the consequences are, and it really annoys me.

We do now have some extra headers giving the screen size etc, and yes it is possible to adapt deployment servers everywhere to handle this - costing many months of work across the world, because the many independent solutions to the mobile deployment problem that exist were all designed to sniff just the UA.

Apparently M$ "really appear to have got mobile with Crossbow" (sorry, can't remember which hack lifted that from a Microsoft PR bot) - I beg to differ. If they really got mobile they'd know people depended on these things and just leave them the hell alone, and while they were at it put a standard well-integrated JVM on the OS and ditch .Net Compact; I fail to see how (from a 'getting the mobile marketplace' point of view) some totally random non-standard environment can be totally core and yet a JVM could be seen as an optional extra for 3rd parties to worry about, but then that's politics.

Anyway, rant over. I shall resist the urge to go and explain that I would rather see the IEMobile Team's heads removed from their bodies because, hell, it won't affect my life and go back to preparing the two big posts I've been meaning to write for ages which will be loads more relevant and interesting than this one. Grrrr.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

When Technology Goes Bad

Just found this highly amusing Guardian article (via Small Surfaces) which hilights everything that was wrong with the LG Chocolate weird button system, which Samsung then slavishly copied for the E900 adding some extra insult with their weird font selections and the like.

Those buttons are absolutely terrible, and on both phones the patht he user has to take through the UI is suspect at times. No arguments there.

The comments on the Orange portal did make me wonder though - I've definitely noticed, and complained, that all operators want you to go to their portal and make it an essential destination just when starting the browser, even when you tried to follow a bookmark. This must massively inflate their front page hit count allowing them to easily lie about numbers to the content companies who pay for that front page space - but that's an aside.

Given that the operator has my age, and in theory the ability to profile all sorts of other things about me, why do I always get presented with such unappealing rubbish on the front page? The article clearly shows that I'm not the only person who feels this way. Are operators throwing out the possibility of tailoring a service to what users actually might want because they'd rather take even more of a content producer's money to push the same content at everyone? Probably.

Anyone who starts spouting 'long tail' stuff tends to get on my nerves, but in general tailored content (given sufficient protection of the data that led to the tailoring) is a good thing especially on phones with limited real estate. It's a shame to see an opportunity ignored, or possibly just wasted because the tailoring tech is too rubbish to actually work.

On a vaguely related note, I guess I'm also pleased to see that Google's new Blogger system didn't just upset me: the often amusing battery fetishists over at Idiot Toys took a break from covering breaking Thing Holding news to bitch about it as well. You never know, maybe complaining will do some good and prove the blogosphere isn't largely a hot air generator - if bloggers can't influence blogging software providers, who can they influence...