Archive for the ‘Mobility’ Category (feed)

Google Voice is really cool

I was somehow invited into the Google Voice beta, and I am loving it. It works, it’s cheap, and under some circumstances it can make telephony cheaper for some people, e.g. college kids.

Having a single number to be called in and never miss a call since it rings on all of your available phone numbers, having spam detection, free SMS, free Voicemail (accessible via the web, either with speech-to-text or via direct audio), and even free call-in on VoIP, well, all these features are really cool. Especially since a few years ago I left VoIP behind. I have now paired my Gizmo5 SIP number to Google Voice, and it works wonderfully well. I have a free call-in from around the world, without paying a dime. And if I want to call out, I pay nothing for calls in the continental US, and only $0.02 per minute for France/Greece. This is dirt cheap, cheaper than any VoIP operator, let alone actual carriers!

In the past, one had to use IPKall if he/she wanted to use a free call-in number with VoIP SIP, but this didn’t always work well, as they delete your account if you don’t use it after a few weeks. With Google Voice, there’s no such fear.

I believe the following plan could work for many poor people or college kids. Here’s how:
1. Get an unlocked cheap Nokia S60 smartphone with VoIP SIP WiFi support. You can get one for $200.
2. Get a free Gizmo5 VoIP SIP account/number.
3. When you eventually get your Google Voice invite, “pair” it with your VoIP SIP number (follow the instructions on Google’s page, you must not include the +1 prefix in order for this to work).
4. [Optional] Get a $25-per-3-months “pay-as-you-go” SIM card from either T-Mobile or AT&T, so you can call out too if you need to. Alternatively, you can buy call-out credit from Gizmo5, which is much cheaper ($0.04 per min), but that would mean that you can only call-out when connected to WiFi.
4. Give everyone your Google Voice number. Your VoIP # will now start ringing (and your cell # too, if it’s also paired).
5. When you are visiting others who have a landline, e.g. your old folks who might not have WiFi in their home, you can temporarily pair their phone number with your Google Voice too, so you won’t have to use your cellphone at all (Google can also ring your incoming calls on both phones).

The only thing I would like to see from Google Voice is an actual VoIP SIP protocol that they host themselves. This way, I would be able to call-out with their dirt cheap rates without having to go through Gizmo5’s (somewhat crazy sometimes) servers and higher rates. If this ever happens, I would like Google to make absolutely sure their SIP servers work with the Nokia VoIP phones. And why not, write a good Android SIP client too (not third party, but part of Android, so it’s well integrated).

Another feature I would like to see is the ability to say to the system “if I receive a call between 11 PM to 11 AM, put it straight on voicemail” (update: the option exists in the advanced menu of each paired phone). I might then put up my Google Voice number on my blog, and ask people call me directly with their video editing questions. I get about 10 emails daily about video tech support, and honestly, I rather talk than write… 😉

No data with my iPhone

This is NOT cool.

I just realized today that upgrading to firmware 3.0 with my iPhone 1st Gen, it killed my data connection with AT&T. I am on a PayAsYouGo plan since I use my phone very rarely. I don’t need to be paying a full contract when I do 1-2 calls per month (sometimes not even that). What I do a lot though, is use WiFi for my various data needs.

Not that I was using their EDGE connection much, which costs $10 per 1 MB (I am not that rich to throw away money at that pricing rate), but it was nice to know that it was there if I needed it. My iPhone was originally an unlocked device, but since AT&T doesn’t require activation anymore for its PayAsYouGo customers, I don’t bother unlocking it or otherwise hack it. I just use it, locked to AT&T’s service.

But this is not enough for AT&T it seems. They now disable the GPRS service altogether to those who don’t have an iPhone-specific account. They try to do what they do with Blackberry: if you don’t have a Blackberry-specific account, you can’t use their data service (and T-Mobile does the same shit as well btw), not even if you do want to pay them the crazy $10 per 1 MB rate.

The iPhone is a fully capable phone and this restriction is simply artificial and unnecessary. I find all this very disturbing, and I can’t wait for a time when people will be able to buy unlocked phones by default, like in many European countries.

There is a workaround to re-enable EDGE, but I don’t want to have anything to do with their stinky service anymore, so I won’t even bother. I will just use my phone even less now.

Battery expectations

Some people are whining online that their smartphone doesn’t last for more than 1-2 days without recharging, while their 5 year old phone could last over 5-6 days before need any recharging. This is a fallacy. The new phones have better battery life than the older ones.

Consider this: Phones like a Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Symbian, etc. come with many media and internet-heavy applications. It’s now customary to check for email, to check Twitter, to check the internet-updated Weather app, to check stocks, sync between the phone and various online accounts many times a day, to check some RSS or web pages, to use Y! or Google maps. And on the side, play some music, quickly visit youtube, and maybe even watch a small TV episode while waiting on the bus.

All these things are features that you couldn’t do 5 years ago. At least not in a way that would be pleasurable. 5 years ago, you would check your voicemail, your SMS messages, and just do voice. And that was about it. No wonder you could do over 5 days in battery life.

What changed is HOW we use these phones. We now use these phones as mini-laptops. And yet, we expect them to have the same battery life as they had when they were dumb bricks. I am sorry to say that battery technology doesn’t move as fast as software tech does!

And then there’s the other thing. On platforms that allow background apps, the third party application designers only care about their little app and not the whole device. As long as they can invoke a network ping or connection when you are not looking to sync something, they are happy. Very seldom these app developers think what would happen if there are 5 (or 10) background apps installed and doing their own thing whenever they damn want. The user will see a big drop in battery life, and will place the fault at the phone manufacturer instead.

In conclusion, be objective when you are damning a manufacturer of bad battery life. Maybe there’s something you can do to better the experience (short of inventing a new kind of battery altogether).

Congratulations to Apple for its iPhone’s success

The iPhone is indeed the most successful phone or PDA model ever, it seems. Apple now has 16.6% of the worldwide smartphone market, and almost 10,000 apps in their AppStore. That market share chart is very old (pre-iPhone 3G), and I expect that the iPhone by now has well over 25% of the smartphone market.

This applications point is very important too. 10,000 apps in just 6 months in unprecedented. Think that it took Windows Mobile 6 years to get to 20,000 apps, and PalmOS about 7 years for 30,000 apps. And if you want to laugh a bit, think that it took Nokia 3 years for its S60 3rd Edition platform to get… 600 apps. Remember, S60 phones are actually very popular, but there are not many apps for them! And the reason why 3rd Edition S60 has such a low number of apps available is because, as I have said many times in this blog, Nokia broke binary compatibility with S60 2nd Edition (that already had 2,000 apps at the time). Binary compatibility is very important and Nokia is paying for it for these stupid decisions that continues to make. They seem to never learn, and this is why they will go bye-bye eventually from this market. Their new touchscreen platform is a bit of a joke too, as I blogged in the past.

Google’s Android has quite a few apps too, possibly in the hundreds by now, and it’s already deemed successful. But this fragmented “app market” that doesn’t have a single store, is a terrible idea in my book. Personally, while I like the idea behind Android very much, I don’t like the Android UI and the current HTC phone at all. The funny thing is that our landlord’s office manager couldn’t wait for the G1 to come out, only to sell it a few days after he got it. He also hated the UI, and he couldn’t deal with the shitty HTC phone design (he couldn’t type correctly because of the oversized right side). He got a Blackberry right after that, he sold it within 3 days, and he’s back on the iPhone. The iPhone offers the best user experience hands down indeed.

The only thing bugging me is the kind of apps that Apple doesn’t offer us in the iPhone and third parties can’t fill in these blanks. And because of the various SDK limitations, the iPhone apps are mostly games and other useless crap.

UIQ is dead

Best news of the day. I have being blogging and reviewing for over 2 years now in various cellphone articles about how bad UIQ’s performance and UI was and is. Sony Ericsson said that UIQ “didn’t attract the operator, manufacturer or consumer interest needed to stop it from failing.” Well, how was it supposed to do that when consumers were ready to throw up on the phone with that appalling UI?

Update: Ooooh! Look at the fanboys! My blog post made them angry! Bwahaha!

Well, look guys. What I wrote above is what comes out of my heart. I don’t lie. I don’t try to make things sound better than they are just so I be more likable. I don’t care if you like me or not. I simply write exactly what I feel. Please be advised that I’ve owned not one, not two, but THREE UIQ devices over the last 2.5 years. The UI just sucked and I always regarded it as the worst of the major phone OSes. The UI felt like it was designed by 10 year olds. The usability simply suffers at all levels compared to most other touchscreen smartphones.

And you know what was the last beating UIQ took for me? Let me tell you. For a year now my brother in Greece was asking me for a touchscreen phone. I told him I had the P990 (with the latest firmware in it and some additional commercial software in it too) and that I would give it to him. He couldn’t wait for it. In August, at last I reunited with my little bro and I gave him the phone. Two days later, his reaction was this: “Eugenia, you wouldn’t be angry if I give the P990 to my friend Alex, would you?” I asked him “why?”, and he said that he would have preferred either Windows Mobile or PalmOS. And get this, my brother was already familiar with UIQ (he used to own a UIQ 2.1 phone in the past), so this wasn’t a bad initial reaction on his part. He just didn’t like the interface.

This was the last nail as to how unfriendly UIQ was. At this point it became apparent that it wasn’t just my idea anymore, it was real, and it was spreading. Others hated its suckiness too. UIQ just didn’t inspire anyone to use it religiously more than a few hours after the initial curiosity. The UI just never felt right. And so I write about it. Deal with it like grown up men, instead of how Ares, owner of the UIQblog, deals with it. He wrote on his blog that I “need serious treatment”, and he earlier wrote on my own blog that I am a retard. Yep, that was his insightful reply, that I am a retard. My guess is that Ares hates seeing his little pet blog project going down because Sony Ericsson is killing the product. It pisses him off. And he takes it on me. It’s easier that way instead of facing the truth about UIQ I guess.

The consolidation of the mobile industry

Yesterday Nokia bought all of Symbian and today LiPS and LiMo joined forces. We live in the most interest and most difficult of times when it comes to cellphone operating systems.

To make it more clear: today is nothing but 1985 in PC operating system times. Apple has just introduced the Macintosh (iPhone), an OEM-based Windows OS is about to come out (Android), while the developer friendly Amiga is currently have more users than anyone else (Symbian), while the older Atari (PalmOS) and Amstrad (Windows Mobile) are still fighting for a while more. And of course there are myriad other smaller OSes that are not based on the older command line doctrine (“feature phones”), that will almost eclipse in a few years.

The point of my analogy above is that while we don’t know who will finally make it and get that same 95% market share in the mobile industry (as Windows 98 managed to achieve for PCs), that day is coming. It’s unavoidable, because as these devices mature and do “more”, people will rely on them more. And when you have too many people rely too much on these devices, then these people need compatibility between all these devices. And this eventually creates the “monopoly”. We are 10-12 years away from such a “monopoly”, but it will eventually happen. Either through elimination or consolidation.

The real question is: will Apple redo the same mistake with the iPhone as they did with the Macintosh by not opening it to OEMs?

Third party apps for phones

Maybe I am old. Maybe I just don’t get it. But I really don’t need “location based” apps and “social networking” apps on my phones. And I definitely don’t need “social networking location based” apps either.

I am talking about the apps currently available or soon-to-be-available on Google’s Android and iPhone’s Take a look (.pdf) at Android’s top-50 third party apps. I personally need zero of them. And while my iPhone is jailbroken, out of the 150+ binary apps currently available for it (no AppStore yet), I have only installed just in case in the future something shitty happens and I need to fix it manually. In other words, I see nothing that changes the way I do things in my life with these apps. Maybe because I don’t want to change my life. But I definitely need features that I take for granted on the desktop.

What I need is the kind of functionality that can’t be brought by third parties but require strong integration with the system and the hardware. I am not interested for example in a non-integrated random third party IM application, because that lack of integration would be more glaring in the mobile environment than an equivalent third party IM app on a desktop OS. Namely, on my phones I always need these:
* Multi-IM (ICQ/AIM/Jabber/Y!/MSN/GTalk) with full A/V support.
* VoIP SIP with A/V support (not Skype, preferably GizmoProject).
* A2DP/AVRCP/PAN/LAP/Obex Bluetooth support.
* Video recording and more still camera settings.
* Cut/Copy/Paste support and Text Select support.
* Adobe’s Flash Lite 3.0 browser plugin with video support.
* File manager/picker that system apps support automatically, e.g. Mail.
* T6 support like this one.
* UPnP server/client support and internet radio integration.
* Laptop tethering.
* Sound recorder (this can be done by third parties without integration repercussions).

The only third party app I am interested in seeing, and use only a few times a year, is possibly Skype. Nothing else. Ok, and a few games. But the BULK of what I need, they HAVE to be fully integrated with the system so they don’t behave like poor cousins, and therefore, it has to be Apple’s (or Google’s) job to implement and not the developer’s community.

The only phones that do a lot of what I need are Nokia’s Symbian S60 v3.1 phones and some of the newer Windows Mobile ones. Problem is, I am not willing to go back to a non-touchscreen phone environment (and the new touchscreen Nokia phones don’t inspire me at all), while Windows Mobile’s interface is The Suck.

So I am on “the waiting”.

Nokia’s S60 4.0

A few years ago I said that Nokia’s Symbian-based S60 platform will definitely go touchscreen for its 4.0 version. I saw the trend back then, and it’s coming true now.

Now that Nokia has released some video and screenshots of their upcoming interface I can only say (without having used one) that it’s nowhere as good as an iPhone. If you look very carefully you will notice that their new interface is nothing but their old interface, re-arranged and with touch support. It still has what it feels to be touch-based soft-keys (jeez), it still uses a stylus for many operations including input (I type much faster with my iphone than any traditional full keyboard stylus-based input), while the overall look and feel just doesn’t seem as clean and straight forward as an iPhone’s. Plus, it’s so easy to walk on Apple’s patents, that would make it impossible for them to innovate in any big way interface-wise.

It is my opinion that when it comes to interfaces and feel-good vibe, Apple has zero competition. Just zero. I have yet to see any touchscreen device from either Motorola, Samsung, LG, MS or Nokia that even touch Apple’s superiority in usability and looks.

And I am not even an iPhone fangirl. I guess this chart of mine won’t change a lot for the years to come.

The new iPhone 3G

A year ago I wrote my little wish-list blog post about the iPhone 2.0. In there, I listed a number of features that I needed, and according to online discussions some of these features are wanted by everybody (e.g. file picker, cut/copy/paste, Flash, etc). At the end of my blog post, I wrote: “Overall, I am impressed so far with the iPhone, for a v1.0 product. I will have my bar higher for v2.0 though.

And the time has come to rate the new iPhone 3G. This is a product that doesn’t meet my expectations. Absolutely none of my software needs were met, and only two out of my seven hardware requirements were met. Heck, Apple didn’t even bother upgrading their 2 MP camera which is shitty and its controlling software is under-featured for a luxury phone like the iPhone is.

And no, the upcoming “App Store” won’t fix these needs that I have because either many of my needs require true integration so they need to be delivered by Apple, or the restrictive license agreement for the SDK prevents the creation of such apps from third parties. In other words, it fucking sucks.

This is not to say that the new iPhone 3G doesn’t have some nice additions, like Exchange (which I personally don’t need), MobileMe Push (which I personally don’t need), 3G (which I personally need only occasionally as EDGE/WiFi are more than enough for my needs), GPS (twice a year need), little additions here and there. So where are the things I need daily, like cut/copy/paste and Flash?!? The iPhone 3G’s software still feels like a fix v1.2 release rather than a real v2.0. This Apple announcement today was very underwhelming for me. There is no way in hell I will be upgrading my iPhone hardware, and I will think twice before going in to the pain of upgrading the software (especially as my unlocked iPhone will get locked if I do). There is nothing for me there.

Update:Apple shares fell 4% after the iPhone announcement, as some investors were left wanting more from the gadget maker,” reports CNN. Good to hear that there are others who felt the same way as I did.

The death of the mini-browsers

A few years ago I became infatuated with writing cHTML mobile sites. I saw it as a challenge. Develop a website that can render on a 120×120 screen and be considerably usable. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as it has to render correctly to over 25 browsers and their (buggy) iterations, and have an actual design (rather than being a bunch of text on a white background like most mobile sites are).

But these days are gone. There is no point doing that anymore for the future browsers and handsets. Most phone manufacturers these days use either the Safari engine, or license Opera or they try to fake it by licensing Netfront and not give it enough RAM to play well with big sites (Sony Ericsson, this was for you). Most manufacturers now want next-gen browsers. Teleca went out of the mini-browser game last year, while today Openwave, the most popular mini-browser company on the planet, laid off 200 employees today, and they put a stop to further development of their browser (they’ll only do maintenance now, I guess). Thank God my JBQ left this company in time.

This is not to say that mini-browsers won’t be encountered anymore. Nokia still has their own S40 browser, Motorola has their terrible little P2k browser, while LG/Samsung fluctuates between Openwave and Netfront these days. Truth is, no one uses these mini-browsers. The halt of Openwave’s browser today is a testament to that, as Openwave once had 52% of the mobile browser market, and right now are below 20% just a few short years later. Besides, if someone was unlucky enough to get such a low-end handset for free from their carrier, they are much better off by installing the impressive Opera Mini instead.

This is not to say that we should not be writing mobile sites anymore. There are BILLIONS of people still who don’t own a smartphone but they still use one of these micro or mini browsers. Heck, even the mobile IE/Opera/Safari-based browsers DO need a simpler desktop-version site layout with not too much CSS and Javascript to render fast/well-enough. But the point is, the world is going towards a mobile system that can’t be characterized as “limited mobile” anymore, but a mini version of anything desktop. The keywords here are “full-featured browsers”.

A few years ago I said that 2010 will be the time that I will start using CSS and XHTML for my mobile sites instead of cHTML. My estimation seems to be good. Thing is, I don’t have the enthusiasm to do that anymore. I am seriously thinking of giving away my mobile autodetection script, the one that powers OSNews and Gnomefiles.