Drupal + Nokia templates = GREAT mobile theme

Nokia has always had great resources for developers and designers and I am very pleased to note that they keep being ahead of the competition. Forum Nokia recently released some nice templates to help inspire designers and also make it easier for new comers to get started. This is all great, but what about the site owners? Creating a mobile presentation for their sites isn’t THAT easy. So, which are the most popular Open Source CMS platforms? Easily said, Drupal and WordPress.

Here I am today showing you a fully functional preview of a nice mobile theme that I designed based on the official Nokia templates. It comes with two design implementations one for low-end devices (will work on all Nokia devices, but should be good for any XHTML-capable browser) and one for high-end devices such a Series 60 (Symbian) and Maemo, but also iPhone, Palm Pre and Android – all running webKit!
Also, we have provided buttons and images in 4 different colours so you can personalise your design easily via the standard theme configuration menus.

The theme relies on an existing Drupal module called Mobile Plugin, so you will need to isntall that along with the plugin.

What should you do with this theme? Well, if you are lazy and all you want is to turn your Drupal site into a mobile-friendly site, just install the plugin and the theme and all your mobile visitors should be very pleased. On the other hand, if you agree with me that mobile is the future and that it’s the most exciting thing happening in technology today, what you should do is download the templates and see how you can further extend the theme and make it better and more the way you like it.

The project is Open Source and should very soon appear on drupal.org, so you are more than welcome to send feedback and improvements. In the meantime you can download a preview.

PS: If you use WordPress you might want to take a look at the WordPress Mobile Pack that has just implemented the same templates!

DISCLAIMER: This project was kindly sponsored by Forum Nokia

UPDATE: link to the preview has been removed, see the official project page for the final release.

Apple headphones are crap

I got my first iPod many years ago (even if I was not an early adopter at all!) and the headphones that came with it were crap. They were the classic plastic headphones that you can buy anywhere for 2 Euro. I don’t know about you, but when I use them for more than 1 hour they hurt my ears.

Later I bought the first generation of Apple in-ear headphones and while they never hurt my ears they actually never worked properly. I expect them to remain in my ear for more than 10-20 minutes without having to keep pushing back in. Yes, I tried the other plugs that came with it and no big change.

Following a friend’s recommendation I bought some really expensive Shure in-ear headphones. While the Apple’s in-ears costed me about 50 Euro, that was money thrown down the drain, while the Shure have been rocking for more than 2 years now and I am really satisfied.

When I got the 3GS a couple of weeks ago it came with the original plastic-headphones. I had seen some presentation that explained how better they were, so I gave them another opportunity and the result is, I’m afraid, that they still hurt. 😦

If you are planning on buying headphones, please, consider buying some good ones, Shure, Sennheiser, Atomic Floyd all make great ones. It will seem like you are spending way more, initially, but if you use them regularly it’s a well worth expense.

Maps and navigation innovation

For quite a few years in-car navigation has been a very good business. Companies kept improving their hardware and selling every other year (if not within a year) a new device to their customers. I am talking about the navigation systems like TomTom and Garmin, not those that you buy integrated in your car, of course.

The interface had, over the years, small improvements and refinements, but hardly any major change. While Garmin was the leader up to 5 or 6 years ago, at least in Europe TomTom has taken a clear lead both in pricing and UI. Some might argue Garmin has better accuracy, but it’s not SOO much better, in my opinion. Companies like Navigon have tried some innovation, but they haven’t conquered enough market share, at least until now.

Then mobile devices entered the game. It happened in various small steps like the introduction of GPS chips and Nokia’s acquisition of NAVTEQ.
Also, Apple has proven that people LOVE maps on their phones and need something that is not necessarily a navigation system while driving. See for example slides 5 and 11 from this great presentation by Skyhook (the technology providers for location services on iPhones and other devices).

Nokia has come with some interesting application, service and business model, see the Ovi Maps and these 2 demo videos. It is very interesting, it is definitely going to hit Garmin and TomTom, but it’s still a paid service, so it will not kill the other businesses.

Apple has quitely acquired a company called Placebase. This confirms the interest of mobile device makers in location and maps services (and probably also adds to the current Google-Apple competition). Obviously, relying on Google’s Maps wasn’t good enough for Apple, hence expect some innovation here. It will have to be seen what they can achieve when competing with Nokia’s technology acquired from NAVTEQ and Google, it cannot be just eyecandy.

Now comes in Google with Android 2 and the new maps service. There’s a good quick look from TechCrunch, Google Redefines GPS Navigation Landscape: Google Maps Navigation For Android 2.0. Google’s service is going to be free to use and comes in an Open Source OS. Not only, it comes with some very interesting innovation in the UI and service such as the use of Street View, the ability to search for Points of Interest on your route and traffic alerts. Yes, points of interest have been there for a while, but how good are they? It doesn’t seem to me like they can be compared with Google Maps on the web. I expect this on-device service to be as good.

OpenStreetMap proves that you can create a good map with crowd sourcing and if Google is going to be in millions of phones within next year, it will not be hard to add a small button that makes you share “anonymous” data to Google so that they can track a lot of information with minimal effort (it’s not hard to guess there’s a motorway when you’re traveling at 150km/h on a straight line).

What is the future of companies like TomTom, Garmin, or even those that sold maps? Who can provide the level of detail that Google will have?

Speaking of crappy User-Agent strings

I am normally a fan of Opera Mini and I use it quite often on my V640i, but yesterday we stumbled on a very wierd string.

A Samsung SGH-E740 (on Device Anywhere, so you can probably try it yourself) has Opera Mini installed and the User-Agent string is Opera/8.01 (J2ME/MIDP; Opera Mini/1.1.7621/hifi/tmobile/uk; Motorola V3; en; U; ssr).

Now WHY is that “Motorola V3” string there? Surely this is not a Razr V3, surely Opera Mini aspires to be a better browser than the one pre-installed on the Razr V3, so WHY?

I don’t have a clue, of course.

PS: The X-OperaMini-Phone-Ua header is there and has the original User-Agent string.

Predictions on the Apple Tablet/Netbook

Here I am, on a nice Samsung NC10, according to a personal survey one of the most popular netbooks these days (every single netbook at dotMobi is an NC10!). I really wanted an Apple netbook, but it’s not coming and Apple seems reluctant to release one or at least according to their public announcements, the last one just a few weeks ago.

My own take on this is that they are still not happy with what they have and certainly they have no plans to compete with the 200-300 USD products such as the Dell Mini 9 (AMAZING price for a whole laptop).

If I look at the general Apple trends and the technologies they rolled out in the last year or two, I have a list of features that I think they will (or would) include in a netbook if they ever released.

Let’s start from the display which of course determines the overall size and is often identified as the main battery-eater. In line with the latest Apple products, it should be an LED monitor and should be 10 or at most 11 inches. Smaller than that you should use an iPhone, bigger you should buy a 13″ MacBook or MacBook Air. I am not going into the reasons why you would want a 10″ laptop, I’m using it just now and I know a lot of users that are happy with this size. Even though admittedly very small, it is VERY portable.

The hard disk will not be there or rather, it will be SSD memory. The MacBook Air had it since launch and even if expensive it has a number of advantages such as that it’s not a movable part (very important in an ultra-portable), uses less battery, weights less. Apple has already leveraged the technology and know exactly how to use it and what the downsides might be. The Dell Mini 9 has a ridiculous 4GB SSD, Apple should do something better, the Air has 128GB, for a netbook 80 or 100 might be enough even though these days space is never enough.

Now think about the experience Apple has with engineering design, casing of the new 17″ MacBookPros and the MacBook Air, you can expect that it will be VERY light and very thin. I doubt it can be much thinner than the Air, so I would expect it in the range or 1.8cm in the thickest point and the weight should be around 1.2kg VERY attractive.

The small details: no ethernet, wifi 802.11n, bluetooth, 1 USB. Pretty much like the Air.

I think the new Ubuntu Netbook Remix has an interesting UI, clearly optimised for such a small laptop with limited resources. I would not be surprised if Apple came with a version of OS X optimised for these power CPUs and small screens. It would be slick as usual, simple and effective, as Apple has got us used to. Could be touch screen, but I think it will not be, if you want tactile feedback it needs to be thicker than what you can get with an LED display and they will want to be able to say it’s the lightest and thinnest of all. I would expect a comfortable keyboard, or at least as much as it can get in such a device. I repeat, a comfortable keyboard and this should rule out a large multitouch trackpad that also acts as a keyboard, users still need tactile feedback while typing (did I mention how impressed I am by the NC10 keyboard?).

If you factor in all these specs, add the Apple premium price, it is going to be in the price range of 1000 USD (or Euro as they are pretty much the same at least in Apple’s mind). It’s a high price for a netbook, but Sony has already done that, they paved the way, consumers will not be so surprised by the price and I can see them queuing to get one. 1000 is still a reasonable price for a computer, do you remember how much we used to pay for laptops 2 years ago?

Sorry, your HTTP headers are incomplete

You might know by now that over the years I have developed a little fetish for HTTP request headers of mobile devices. At dotMobi this is a common reason to make fun of me, they let me discuss them for a little while and then either all walk away or just point out that I’m the only one who cares. Obviously, this is not helping very much my mental issues, so I’m here telling the world.

We all know how Apple is sometimes evil and how they tell everyone that the iPhone has a “full web browser” and is not mobile and bla, bla, bla. We know this is not really the case, but we certainly don’t want to ruin the only one thing in 10 years that might be making the mobile web take off!
The headers the iPhone sends do not provide a UAProf URL and all iPhones (2G, 3G and who knows next) all send the same User-Agent string where the only difference is the firmware revision. It is good if you want to know if it’s OS 1 or 2, useless if you want to know if it’s 3G, has GPS and so on.

Unfortunately it looks like Android is following the same path and not really helping developers. The G1 was the very first GooglePhone and everyone implemented a G1-specific UI or site. Hopefully more Android-based devices will come in the next few months and we will see much more activity on our websites, now, if this is true, be prepared for a new device detection nightmare. See these two User-Agents that we recorded in DeviceAtlas:

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 1.5; de-de; HTC Magic Build/CRA86) AppleWebKit/528.5+ (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.1.2 Mobile Safari/525.20.1
Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 1.5; en-gb; HTC Magic Build/CRA71C) AppleWebKit/528.5+ (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.1.2 Mobile Safari/525.20.1

You might have guessed they come from an HTC Magic, the device that Vodafone should be releasing any day now. If you know how most device detection algorithms work you will know that they normally just walk the User-Agent string from left to right and try to match it with known strings. Notice how “de-de” and “en-gb” are before the string “HTC Magic” this will either break that search algorithm or make us record all possible combinations of languages.
But don’t panic, YET, the User-Agent string is not the only HTTP header that a browser will send when requesting some content. Since this is a mobile device (it IS a mobile device, right?) you might expect a UAProf URL. Even though UAProf has not solved all our issues, it was still one of the very few things we KNEW every mobile device would provide since probably year 2002 or so. It was not the case for the iPhone and the G1 and you will not be so surprised to discover that it is also missing with the HTC Magic.

I am sure I can thank HTC for this, not sure how much Google is responsible, surely they haven’t done much NOT to make it happen. I guess we’ll have to wait for some other vendor to come up with an Android-based device.

One last bit of my rant is about a NEW header that is added, instead of the Referrer, the browser sends a header called Origin, which is EXACTLY like the referrer, but with a different name! Good idea, isn’t it?

New Gmail mobile built on HTML5

I was very pleased to read an article from Alex@Google that describes how they have decided to develop the new gmail mobile web interface.

There are at least two reasons why I liked this article, one is that, as Alex mentions, the team originally developed a J2ME application (that I used quite a bit on my old Sony Ericsson W810i) and then decided they needed a web application to serve slightly different needs (and probably slightly different users). The second reason is that it seems like if you don’t create an application for the App Store you are going to fail, while Alex explains quite a few reasons why developing a web site was better than a native application.

Bottom line is, of course, that users get multiple options and an opportunity to choose what suits them best.

I think the article is well worth 10 minutes of your life, if you still haven’t read it, hurry up to check HTML5 and WebKit pave the way for mobile web applications.

Google crawls and converts WML pages

I knew the Googlebot Mobile visited and stored results for XHTML-MP and WML pages and I assumed they would be used as results to mobile users.

It looks like not only mobile users get “desktop” results, but also the other way around.

I was searching, as usual, for some strange User-Agent string and I found this result:

The converted page looks OK in my browser, of course, but I have no clue what it says! 🙂

Safari 4 like Chrome lets you kill unresponsive windows?

The other day I had some background process taking up a lot of CPU while synchronising some data. I knew it would be slow and so I decide to read some news on the web. One of the pages I opened had some flash in it and after a few seconds a popup appeared asking if I wanted to kill that window. I assume that the background processes PLUS the greedy Flash player were making everything too slow.

It is interesting though that this is clearly a feature that appeared first in Chrome and apparently has propagated to Safari. A good feature, of course!

Hosted apps available on SourceForge

I have started using SourceForge many years ago when we decided to host WURFL there. At that time, the choice was easy, SourceForge was synonym of open-source and everyone who wanted to host his project would go there. Over the years (and after the dotCom bubble burst) many competitors came into play (Google’s Code, BerliOS and more), but SourceForge is still there.

For quite a while my impression has been that they did not add many services to developers. I have to admit that it must be very hard to keep their systems up and running with all the needs developers have, nevertheless the forums, the mailing list and other bits of SourceForge, in my opinion, would have needed a revamp. Of course, being them in the open-source business as a hosting company, it seems strange to develop things in-house and not take advantage of existing software (and hopefully contributing!). It looks like SourceForge agree with me, in fact in yesterday’s newsletter they announced changes in their online help (moving to Trac’s wiki) and most of all the availability of a number of open-source software for use to their developers.

A number of updates are available here on the official Site Status page.