Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Scifi ninja phones

In a couple of weeks I'm going to Japan to visit my older brother and his wife. How fitting that NTT Docomo just announced some new phones, including three that run Symbian. I look at these pictures, close my eyes and float away into dreams of pink, yellow and green robots, blowing plastic bubbles, filled with some kind of incomprehensible magic electronic fluid. I'm absolutely convinced that if the people who designed these things are from earth, they must be from the future. Just compare these beautiful objects with the clunky things that Nokia call "multimedia computers". People are enthusiastic about the iPhone and the Prada phone, but these Japanese works of wonder make those devices look like they run on gasoline.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Letter from America

Okay, after reading another excellent blog post by Tomi Ahonen, I realized why push email and the Blackberry are so popular in North America: they're using it as a replacement for SMS, which they still haven't understood. I'd heard of how the American operators had sabotaged SMS, but I thought those problems had been sorted out and SMS had caught on like it has here by now. It seems it hasn't, although the service actually works now.

But there's no reason for me to keep going on about this. Read Tomi's post, it has lots of interesting info.

[np: Letter from America by Proclaimers]

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Software quality

The P990 has been around for quite some time now, but just a few weeks ago the firmware upgrade that actually makes it reasonably stable was released. Or so I'm told, I'm happy about the fact that I don't have a P990. The P990 probably wasn't a very good idea from the start: too many new features in one single device is never a good idea, and as a consequence it started selling much later than originally planned, and was buggy in a way that makes Windows 95 look like a mature product (well, that might be an exaggeration...).

The P990 might be a bit worse than other smartphones, but it's not exceptional. To differentiate your phones from the competitors' products, you need new features. If you spend two extra months testing and fixing, one of the competitors will release a phone with the same new features, which means customers who want those specific features will buy that one instead.

Quality doesn't mean the same thing in commercial products as it does in non-commercial ones. I have a background in free software, and getting to terms with "quality" in the commercial sense is a bit hard. A defect is a problem if it has negative economic consequences, ie. if it's cheaper to fix it than to handle it with support, lies ("it's a feature!") or just ignoring the complaints.

The result of this interesting view on quality and the race for new features is that cutting edge phones are never stable. But smartphone customers don't want last year's products, so I guess we'll have to live with our buggy phones. At least you don't have to go to a service center to upgrade your firmware anymore...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Widgets in S60 and new devices

With S60 3.2 you'll be able to to go "beyond web browsing with widgets". People react to this in different ways. I can't say I'm all that interested, but widgets might actually be more useful on mobile devices, as it's quite fiddly to search the web with their limited input capabilities.

I'm a bit old-fashioned, so I'm more interested in new S60 devices. And Linux ones. And less impressed with Intel's new concept of a "new" device category, somewhat more advanced than a surfboard like the N800 and somewhat less so than a UMPC.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The S60 Quality Assurance book

"S60 Smartphone Quality Assurance. A Guide for Mobile Engineers and Developers" by Saila Laitinen is not a good book. It's not even a finished product. Ironically, no quality assurance process at all seems to have been applied. Typos, spelling errors and grammatical errors make me lose concentration when reading, and they're all over this book. As the author is not a native English speaker, it's unbelievable that it hasn't even been proofread. The structure of the book is also quite strange: it starts with a few chapters on S60 phone development before it goes on with the main part, which is mostly about testing, and closes with a final chapter about the build environment. The last chapter quite obviously belongs to the first part. It might have been intended as an appendix, but doesn't read like one. The book also lacks a conclusion or summary. It just ends.

On the positive side, the actual information provided is quite interesting. The introductory chapters, on developing a smartphone, are good, but if you're interested in that, you're much better off reading "Symbian for Software Leaders" by David Wood. The main part, on quality assurance, contains a lot of good information, both general and Symbian/S60 specific. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a clear focus on the level of detail. Some parts read almost like a reference, eg. the lists of required material for testing specific applications in a phone, while the rest are much less detailed.

There are lots of other problems as well. Most of them aren't the author's fault. The problem seems to be that she did all the work, and the publisher did nothing. If a good editor had been involved in the project, this book would have been much better. Obviously, the only editor that was involved here was the text editor used to type the text.

Friday, April 13, 2007


In the news: Sun acquires SavaJe Technologies, whose product is a Java-based embedded OS. The combination of the words "Java" and "mobile" normally makes my stomach turn, but SavaJe Mobile Platform is supposed to have better performance than regular mobile Java implementations, as the whole OS is built around the Java VM. The Java API is the native API. It'd be interesting to actually try out a phone running SavaJe OS and see what it can do, but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be more than one handset that uses it at the moment. This could potentially be a competitor for Symbian, Linux etc., but in this day and age I think it might be a bit problematic to persuade phone manufacturers to try out yet another OS. But if it performs as well as they say, developing the whole system in Java might make the whole process easier. And they support JSR-209 (Swing), which almost makes mobile Java seem like a good idea. Those who have written UI:s in both AWT and Swing know what I'm talking about.

Now I'm just wondering when there will be a Flash Lite OS. :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Dis da Symbian blog

Well, I expected it to be mostly about Symbian stuff, anyway, as that's what I work with, but it seems Linux is taking over more and more, not just in the mobile world, but also on this blog. The latest news is that Palm are launching their own proprietary Linux based platform.

As for the Symbian news, today I received my copy of S60 Smartphone Quality Assurance (thank you, Forum Nokia!). I'll get back with a review as soon as I've read it.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Surfin' Bird

I finally got around to trying out the wlan on the N93. I took the train from Stockholm to Malmö, which takes four and a half hours, and SJ are kind enough to offer free wlan access (and free coffee) to those of us buy first class tickets.

Getting connected isn't a problem. Just login with the code on the ticket and start surfing. The connection feels pretty slow, but it did when I connected with the laptop too, so this doesn't have anything to do with the N93. Rendering big pages is also pretty slow, but that's to be expected, as I didn't focus on mobile optimized sites.

The browser is really good, except for some stability problems. It crashed on me twice: once when I was trying to login to my gmail account, and again when I logged out. My frequent changes of screen orientation (reading is more comfortable in landscape mode, but typing text is much easier in portrait mode) also seemed to make it a bit confused now and then. Another problem was that I couldn't figure out how to open new windows, although it happily opened a new window when I logged in on the SJ site.

All in all it was a positive experience, and I'll definitely bring the N93 the next time I'm taking a long train trip. It's not like I'm going to bring my 3kg laptop just to surf for a few hours, but the 200g N93 isn't a problem.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Linux on mobile and on the desktop

ABI Research has released a new report called "Mobile Linux", where they, unsurprisingly, predict that Linux is going to grow immensely in the mobile space during the next five years. Linux will be used both in smartphones and as an RTOS replacement in mid-tier phones.

The evolution of Linux on mobile devices seems to follow the same path as Linux on the desktop: it started out fragmented, with lots of separate bits and pieces, but is now in the phase where these components are either being replaced or compiled into complete solutions, just like gtk/gnome and qt/kde have unified the X desktop. Of course, there are still two different desktop environments, but I'm not sure if that's a disadvantage. The competition should keep the developers of the respective systems on their toes. It seems likely that there will be a similar division on the mobile side, between gtk and qt(optia), and possibly also some proprietary alternatives. With projects such as OpenMoko, there's no need for a phone manufacturer to build everything from scratch anymore. The basic components, including apps, will be there, and all they'll have to do is to customize the platform and add the stuff that makes their devices different from the competitors' offerings.