iPhone “unique” motion sensor

There have been many posts about the iPhone announced by Apple. Some are saying that it’s the beginning of a revolution, some are saying that it is very stylish, but will not resist falling on the floor or getting hit. Some others are saying that Jobs is a great entertainer and made the iPhone look like something new while it is not.

My own opinion, being one of the few millions that saw the presentation, but never had a chance to hold the phone and use it for real, is that it will actually be a device for a niche market. It will most likely fall in the same space as PDA‘s and smartphones and not be really a mass-market device.
That’s also how the iPod was born. A device for music enthusiasts. The mass-market was reached with a lot of good commercial, good design and a bit of luck. It became mass-market when everyone thought it was cool to have it no matter how big and heavy it was compared to the tiny flash-based devices.
The iPhone will be the same in the beginning, with the exception that Apple is in a very good position right now. The future will tell us if it can be a real revolution.

It is obvious that the 2 year contract with Cingular, the delayed distribution for Europe and the high price will actually keep it away from the hands of many of us.

But going back to what is nearer to my experience (which is not marketing or sales), while cleaning up my inbox I noticed a newsletter from Nokia promoting the newly released SDK to access the motion sensor API’s of the 5500 Sport.
It doesn’t look so much different from Apple’s system with the advantage of being on the market today and with an SDK ready to use. Visit the Forum Nokia to know more, there’s a page for it, of course: Nokia 5500 Sport.

More WURFL jobs

I have written in the past about a job posting in which WURFL was a reason of preference (you can read about it in WURFL means real money).

Now James Pearce, the new CTO of mTLD, has posted a message on the developers’ site blog. .mobi is seeking developers that know WURFL, that have experience with adaptation, mobile sites and have done something outstanding.

If you think you fit or are interested in working with .mobi, you should check out this post, Technical genius sought.

Samsung Developers Club

The Developers Club is Samsung’s developers site. It’s been around for a few years now. It was on my list of sites to be reviewed here, but I’ll wait a little more. The overall vote would have been negative. There are some decent resources for J2ME development, but there is nothing about all the rest. Also, the site is accessible only using MSIE, not because it’s particularly complex, it’s very basic with a really bad forum and a list of downloadable file, but because the login page only works with MSIE. Firefox seems to login, but then you’re not.

I am going to wait for my reivew because I just received a newsletter that describes an overall rebuild. Here’s the original text, I’m sorry I can’t link to a web version of the newsletter, but I could not find it.

The renewal process of the Samsung Developers Club is nearing completion.

The new site features a comprehensive device information database and an enhanced forum in which you can create your own message-boards.The design of the site is based on the new Samsung Fun Club look and feel which is much more in keeping with the current brand guidelines and corporate image of Samsung mobile.

Further improvements include direct access to the device information from the front page. The database also allows users to compare different models as well as exporting data to Excel. This is surely a first for any developer support site. We hope to have ironed out any bugs before launch but ask you to bear with us in the first weeks as some glitches may take some time to be uncovered and resolved

Premus update!

A little bit of publicity and links are worth much more than bare money.

I wrote a short Premus review here the other day and now David has updated the online demo to the latest development version that includes the validator, better source view and syntax highlighting.

He also squashed a few bugs here and there.

Bookmarking has been disabled due to spammers immediately using it to publicize their sites. The current version shows how bookmarks can be used, but you are not allowed to create new ones. If you make a local install you will be able to use them, of course.

See the updated Premus live, or read the CHANGELOG for a few more details about the changes.

Message to David: you need to practice your communication skills, the changelog is too short! 😛

Premus

“The name Premus comes from PRoxying EMUlator Service. It is a mobile browser emulator that converts WML, XHTML MP, cHTML and Vodafone’s PML (c. 2004) into standard HTML that you can browse in your normal web browser.”

This is what David Johansson says on the site as a short description of the software. David has been developing mobile services for many years now and he was among the early supporters of WURFL.

Premus was born from the need of testing mobile sites, WML in WAP 1 in the beginning and later many more markups. I would not call it exacly an “emulator” as David does, but rather a testing tool. In two words, Premus lets you pick a user-agent (from WURFL, of course!), define a URL and specify extra headers, if you’d like. The software makes the request and reformats the markup so that it renders well in your web browser. It’s not a Java application or applet, it’s not a real emulation engine or and SDK. It’s a web-based tool that lets you easily test your sites and make sure that all the links work and the pages look as you expect.
You should not expect a faithful representation of how it will look on the mobile device; it does not show alerts if you picked the user-agent of a WML device/browser and the remote site returns XHTML. It is intended for programmers and authors that have developed a site or a complex service and need to check that everything is OK.

Since real device testing is ALWAYS suggested, this is the perfect light-weight tool to make a general test before going with the mobile.

More in detail, while browsing with Premus, you always see the general page layout, but you can also see the original source, you see, edit and force cookies and headers. By default you have a some input fields on the top of the page for the user-agent, URL and manage all the proxy features and see the page in a dedicated box. De-activating the “frame” checkbox you can see the page layout in a window on its own, more similar to the mobile browsing.
A very helpful feature is actually on the bottom of the page. It shows a list of external resources (normally images) and the size of each. Also provides the time needed to download the markup and all external contents. The time is calculated on the fast internet connection of the server, not calculating the mobile networks latency, but will be useful to compare different pages and sites.

Premus will help you save a lot of time.

Premus is now released as open-source so you are free to download and adapt it to your needs.
If you look at the version in development you will see some new features that are not in the online demo, yet. These are features that I have strongly suggested to David and actually it really took him a few hours to implement them, but I think they will make a big difference.
Syntax highlighting has been added for the source view, very useful when you need to check your markup. Also the spacing has been changed for better readability.
Even more important to me is the markup validation. It’s disappointing when you build a big site, get ready to test with your mobile (take it from the drawer, put the correct SIM card, check the WAP profile, go online) and discover there’s a typo in the XML declaration. Checking that your markup is validated will certainly guarantee the best interoperability with all browsers. When you want the best possible support you really want this. Well-formedness is the first thing! Look what happens if you validate http://m.gmail.com/ :

Premus validation resulf for mobile Gmail
All the code is Python and should be easy to install on most modern Linux disto’s.

Some other minor things could be cleaned up and improved. Nevertheless this is a very good testing tool. If you are a mobile sites developer, I suggest you try it out, especially the development version that adds those 2-3 features that will actually ease your work a lot.

MOTODEV, useless?

In the last couple of months I wrote posts about developers’ sites around the planet. I mostly wrote of updates or new sites that I found. Today I’m talking about a developers’ site that has been around for quite a few years, at least 3 or 4, I’d say. The site I’m going to talk today is MOTODEV, by Motorola.

While it’s been around for a long time and I have known it for a long time, I hadn’t felt like talking about it, yet. Why? Because there’s not much to say. Why? Because there’s nothing interesting to read or download!

Info about WAP capabilities is reduced to the VERY minimum and by minimum I mean that on most device spec pages (and files) you get something like “WAP 1.0” or “WAP 2.0”. Links generally target to OMA’s homepage or even the WAPForum’s.
Multimedia is sometimes described with very generic terms such as MP3-support, but nothing about other formats.
In general you can’t find accessory information about e-mail client, MMS (other than “supported”), messaging, IM.

The site in general is very poor.

Many devices are missing.

Downloadable spec files are generally a PDF version of the web page you were reading. 99% useless considering that you could save-to-file the page you’re reading.

Only thing that is decent on the site are specifications about J2ME capabilities, API’s and so on. This is decent, but not all devices have the documents available.

My overall vote to the site 4 out of ten and only because there’s J2ME information, otherwise it would have been a 2.

Something that clearly demonstrates the quality of the site. I tried to update my profile as it’s outdates, this is the result:

While writing this post I browsed the site looking for examples and re-check what exactly is available. The site has slightly changed the layout and some extra information has appeared. Looking at the device spec of the Motorola RAZR V3 we can now see the browser vendor that was not available in the past. As pointed out before, resources about J2ME are decent. The rest is mostly very similar to the end-user site, information about the generic support of SMS, EMS, MMS and IM. What IM, for example? OMA’s? AIM? ICQ? I have a V3 and I know it’s OMA IMPS (or Wireless Village), but data is still lacking.
I can see for example another V3 with CLDC 1.1, how do I distinguish the two models?

What I find disappointing in general is that all around the site there are very few details and it seems like the Motorola devices are 100% adherent to the standards and all the links are to the official documentation, while we all know that this is not entirely true, that all devices and implementations have their own peculiarities and in most cases this will not even put in evidence extra features the devices might have. Something you should actually put in the spotlight if you want developers and content providers to be able to provide the best for your devices.

I have to admit I have seen a slight improvement in the site and see new filters to search for devices that were not available 10-15 days ago when I had to do some research on them. Two weeks ago, in the handsets page there was a filter only by year. Now that filter is gone and new ones, more detailed and more interesting for a developer are present.

Related links:

Motorola open-source

I wanted to make this post about fifteen days ago, but then other things took over and this was left behind.

While doing my daily news-reading and “siteseeing”, I found a site that seems to mean that Motorola is into the open-source. Reading more deeply it is clear that they have open-sourced some parts of their J2ME implementation for mobile devices and the full software for some linux-based devices!

opensource.motorola.com offers a number of downloads. The most active, according to the published statistics are JSR’s in general and more specifically JSR 271 (Motorola ‘s JSR 271 implementation or the JCP JSR 271 specification).

Even more interestingly, there are links to access parts of device kernel, drivers and applications that are developed as open-source. You can access kernel and packages for the ROKR E2, A1200 or A780 and E680.
This is very cool.
The community is not very active also because it’s a very specific topic, but still it’s an initial effort. It’s incredible how much traction Linksys got after they released the full firmware of their WRT54g and later.

As a test I downloaded the firmware of the A780/E680, 72MB! It’s all RPM. There are many packages included and other packages are stored outside of the “firmware package”. It seems like there’s everything.

Why should I buy a greenphone, now that I have discovered this?
Hackers wanted to test these files and play around.

opensource.motorola.com announcement to the press.

bluepulse 2.0 – review

A few days ago Bluepulse v2 was launched. I had given it a first try with V1, but honestly, with the RAZR V3 I had more problems than other, so I gave up almost immediately.
I don’t think it was a problem to the bluepulse itself, but rather to the poor capabilities of the V3 (not really a good phone for anything other than being slick, thin and cool).

Now that I have a cool and shiny Sony Ericsson W810i I can give a try to all these nice applications.

First things first; installation was fast and smooth. I got on their site with my mobile phone (http://get.bluepulse.com) and downloaded the MIDlet. Tech note: the download consisted of only a jar file, no jad.
In 2 minutes I was up and running. I already had an account from my first try with the RAZR V3, so I simply configured the login and password and I was in.

My Place
bluepulse is first of all a community. “My place” is basically a guided menu that lets users describe themselves, their interests and so on. This is obvsiously central to the community. When searching for friends you can see their profile, read about them, see pictures and videos. None of the fields is required, but if you use bluepulse for chatting and meeting people you will certainly want to fill these fields. Available fields range from Age/Sex/Location to free text fields, pictures, video. You can pick an icon from a list of available images or get one assigned automatically. Details go down to your e-mail address and phone number.
I have browsed a few people in the community. Most users wrote a good amount of text and provided their A/S/L. Very few provided images or videos. If the MIDlet allowed users to use the camera to take a picture or record a video it would have been easier in some cases; on the other side you have to specify a URL and the application will download and store it. Considering that this application also relies a lot on Web 2.0 concepts, it’s should be noted that it also provides the ability to use Flickr.
I am not a usability authority, but I am certainly a user, so I have a remark here: Age/Sex/Location is all menu-driven, so much menu driven, that I think it would be easier to dial in my birth date rather than pick it from multiple menus (first select a year range, then year, then select month, then day all using the joystick).

Community
To start you need to find people. Search is easy, pick age/sex/location, SEARCH. Would be nice to have an automatic suggestion of the same age and location as my profile (if set) and then pick the sex. If wanted, change the other settings. We all know why people use this to kind of tools. 😉
Search my nickname or e-mail is also available.
After searching you may see the user’s profile, add as a friend, browse his/her friends. While most users have written a lot about themselves and their interests, I often could not find pictures or videos. The menu items were always present and often resulted in a “user did not upload an image”. A bit disappointing. It would have been nicer to only list items that contain something. It would also save time (and money).
Exchanging messages is quite easy. You should first add someone as a friend (you send the request and the user is allowed to accept of reject). Once the remote user has accepted your request to become a friend you can send him/her a message. When logging in the application you get an alert if new messages are available. All common mailboxes such as “inbox” and “sent” are available. Messages can be stored or deleted. Sending a message is much like an SMS, so anyone can do it quite easily.
I tried the online chatroom, but they were empty, so I can’t say much. Looked like an IRC channel.

Widgets
Bluepulse can be seen as a container of plug-ins or widgets. Its power layes in the ability to add a lot of custom widgets according to your needs and pleasure. Pre-installed you can find a feed reader and the full messaging and chat system that is part of the “community feature-set”.

Add a widget
Managing Widgets is certainly a major functionality of bluepulse and installing a new one is quite easy. Search among the available plug-ins selecting by category, popularity or more recent. Click, read a short description and install.
Installing a new widget really takes a minute. Once installed you find a new icon in the starting page. A breeze.

RSS feeds
I tried to add my own feeds to see how they would look on BP. I thought it would be better to check feeds I know. Unfortunately I had to type the exact URL of the feed, quite uncomfortable while on the move. During the tests, anyway, I was near my computer and could get them. Once gotten the exact URL (not always very short to type on a mobile) it worked as expcted. I encountered some problems, anyway. I tried the atom feed from Mobile web planet, at first it seemed to work and showed me all the headlines, but then I could not see any contents.
I tried the pre-defined Flickr feed and this time it worked, but I could not see any of the images of the 3 different posts I tried (3 random posts from the first page).
Another pre-difined feed was Yahoo! sports. News were OK and contents were present. I was not able to see any images, again. I guess this is a rescaling problem. The W810i should be able to display most image formats. I think the server-side application (of bluepulse) should convert the files into a supported format, anyway.
Overall results were a bit disappointing. It’s OK if some remote feed does not work, but you would expect the pre-defined feeds to be widely tested.

IM
I installed MSN as a test. Installation was smooth as with other widgets. I looged in at my first try and all the online buddies were downloaded and shown in a list. I hadn’t thought it would have been so easy. 😉
I could exchange messages with a friend easily. The page looked like a standard chat or IRC, all text, not buddy icons. It worked well. The page is refreshed every 30 seconds or so, a good time considering that it’s a mobile application. Sometimes the refresh seemed a bit annoying, maybe because it’s a page refresh and was very visible. Quite acceptable, anyway.

Overall results
The client in general works smoothly. I received an SMS and later a call while playing around; in one case the application kept going without a glitch, after the call I saw an error message (something on the lines of “connection error, try later”), reloaded and everything worked fine. This is certainly a demonstration of solidity.

While Opera Mini was born as a browser, it has a few features such as the RSS feed reader that are in direct competition with bluepulse. I have to say that Opera is much more advanced in this field and that I was a bit disappointed by the results that I obtained in the tests I made with bluepulse.
Opera also takes advantage of the left and right joystick moves to scroll quickly. I think bluepulse should take the suggestion and do the same to make the scrolling of long lists of widgets and contacts faster.
Last one thing is the use of the camera. Opera was really smart to integrate it. If you want a real 2.0 experience, the camera must be part of that.

Pageloading was in generally a big issue that I noticed, as a user. Every time I wanted to do something “Loading 0%” appeared, then jumped to “Loading 100%” and eventually displayed the page. It’s useless to see a “0-100” excursion and it’s annoying to keep re-loading every page. Opera Mini seemed to be faster, I don’t know why. Maybe Opera Mini uses sockets and bluepulse uses HTTP?

The application is very solid, the basic features such as messaging and chatting are good and work smoothly. Installing a widget is very easy and fast and the developers’ community provided a ton of plug-ins aside from the ones developed by bluepulse. The overall result is certainly positive, but not an A. It certainly still has some rough edges and should make the general navigation smoother. It’s a bit frustrating to use it and I think it will make some users walk away due to this.

Related topics:
Opera Mini 3.0 – review, by me
bluepulse website
Bluepulse 2.0 is Bigger, Slicker, Broader and Deeper (and may be the ultimate mobile media platform) on MobileCrunch

Mobile Linux, ever taking off?

I was reading this not-so-new post on Mobile Open Source entitled Mobile Linux going up the stack with Trolltech Greensuite.

The Greensuite Initiative should ease the development of linux-based devices. This should speed-up the development and lower the costs. Fabrizio Capobianco is very confident that this is the way to go and that Linux will eventually win the race against Symbian and Microsoft.

I think this is a very optimistic view. I have been looking for a linux device to be successful for quite a few years now and all those devices have been selling very low numbers to a very tiny slice of the market (think of the Zaurus, so cool, but so little devices sold).
Seeing Linux become a player in this space would be really great, but I think that it needs a lot of money and the development costs of a mobile device, today, are still too high to open the doors to this. I am always amazed at how Apple could take freeBSD and Mach kernel and build such as great GUI on top of it, while the open-source community has been developing X11 and other Window managers for so many years with so little success.

I really hope that someone puts some serious money and development time on Linux for mobile devices and make it real. I am just not sure that this is the event (or initiative) that will change things drastically.

Motorola has launched quite a few devices running Linux, but actually the latest smartphone/PDA that was lunched with lots of commercials and hype is the Q and is Windows-based, not Linux.

J2ME device features recognition

Manufacturers of mobile devices and operators are not always good at providing device descriptions. When they are kind enough to provide them, they often provide them the way they like it. Sometimes it’s a webpage, sometimes is a PDF, sometimes a spreadsheet. Nothing bad, but they are all in a different format and most likely provide different info using different metrics and level of detail.

For these reasons, a number of J2ME applications have appeared to try to track device capabilities and try to put them all in the same grid in the same format.
Going back to my memory, I think the first of this kind that I saw was JBenchmark. It’s been around for a long time and certainly lists A LOT of devices, probably the site and resource with the highest number of J2ME devices. It’s amazing how many devices were tested and how many features. It checks for MIDP 1.0, MIDP 2.0, 3D, audio features and more. Device features are sometimes in integer numbers (such as screensize), boolean (library support) and “stars”. Yes, stars, which means that the feature in question has a vote about it’s performance. Votes range from 0 to 5. This is very good if you want to know which device is better.
The bad part is that you don’t know the real results of the tests. Since they are shown as stars, you will not know the real results.
The software is not open-source, as far as I know, and this means that nobody except for the JBenchmark team, knows for real what it’s measuring and how.
Data is provided by users. Kind people that downloads the MIDlet, runs it and uploads the data to the server (automatic). All results and balanced and the final result is an average of all the results received from users. Quite a good idea, I think.

Next comes to my mind TastePhone. It’s an open-source MIDlet developed by a very good French student. He developed it for a school project, but then kept it going on his own. Really nice MIDlet. The concept is the same as the one from JBenchmark, you download it, run it and upload the results on the main server. The pros are that the MIDlet is open-source and all the results are available from a web page. The cons are that the development stopped a couple of years ago and while the server is still up and running and receiving updates of data from time to time, the development of the software hasn’t had any progress. This was a very good start, would have been good to see it progressing, even as part of other projects.

J2ME Polish has been running for years now. In two words, it’s an open-source framework to develop J2ME MIDlets running on a lot of devices (hopefully ALL). Part of the project is, obviously, to collect device descriptions to be able to optimize MIDlet builds to single devices or device clusters.
Originally developed by Grimo Software, J2ME Polish included SysInfo into its standard release.
Just like TastePhone and JBenchmark, SysInfo is a tiny MIDlet that you download and run on your device and it tests for capabilities. You later see a report and can provide the data to J2ME Polish (or keep it secret if you are so selfish!).
The MIDlet hasn’t seen much development in a long time now and does not provide the ability to upload the results to a central server.
As far as I know, a lot of work is supposed to happen, but I have seen no updates in more than 1 year now. Too bad! (browse CVS here)

So the reason why I originally thought about writing this article is because I found a new kid on the block. All the above softwares have been around for quite some time. A few days ago (I would say a couple of weeks) I stumbled on this site called Mobile Zoo. The site provides a MIDlet that you can download on your device, run it and it uploads the results to the central server.
I downloaded both the MIDP 1.0 and MIDP 2.0 version on an old Nokia 3120. MIDP 2.0 did not even start (as expected), MIDP 1.0 ran for a few seconds (5-10 I’d say) and then started trying to upload the results to the server. Unfortunately the upload never worked. I checked the configuration and it is supposed to be correct. Too bad it did not work.
Apparently, according to the site statistics, they have a lot of contributions and recorded a lot of “device DNA’s”, as they call them.
As per JBenchmark, the MIDlet is not open-source, but the data that is collected is pretty standard, and don’t need much comparison as with the “star-system” of JBenchmark.
I am not a J2ME developer, but I have to admit that I had never seen this site and I had never heard of DSEI, the company behind it.
They apparently provide API’s to developers. If you have any experience with it and would like to share it, you’re welcome.