Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Make your PPC-phone a portable WiFi Router!!

...or, yet another use for your WiFi-capable PPC phone!

So, its great to have those WiFi HotSpots in the airport or local coffee shop when you've got that laptop and time to kill, but what if you could have a portable hostpot? One that follows you wherever you go?

Well, if you've got a high speed data plan on your Windows Mobile phone, and happen to also have WiFi, you can turn that little device into exactly that!

Its an ingenius little app that some folks have developed called WMWiFiRouter.
Gotta respect the simplicity of the name, right? What it lacks in creativity it makes up for in doing exactly what its name describes.

Now, this is not exactly a new concept- after all, road warriors have been able to get online from their laptops for a while now, whether by installing a cellular data card, or using bluetooth to tether to their phone.

But this is just too easy... and has some advantages over the other ways to get online with your cellular data.

Why is this better than a laptop data card?
-No additional hardware to buy
-Can use existing phone plan (most cards require their own service plan)
-Connection can be shared with multiple devices
-No software/drivers to install on Laptop or device

Why is this better than tethering using Bluetooth?
-Faster! Bluetooth 1.2 (which a majority of devices still use) maxes out at around 700k for data. If your 3G connection is faster than that, you'll be bottlenecked by bluetooth's transfer rate.
-WiFi laptops are far more common than BT enabled ones.
-Range of distance is far better with WiFi
-Integrates into your data connections like any other WiFi connection (no bluetooth configuration of dial-up networking or anything)

Oh, and the best part... with this, your connection is Multi-Platform!
Let's not forget about all those WiFi enabled devices that aren't laptops, such as PSPs, Ipod Touch, other PDA's, VoIP devices, etc...

Read more about it over at XDA-Developers in this thread by TalynOne.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sprint allows non-branded devices on their network - Not all its cracked up to be?

UPDATE: This article was based on information from reputable sources, including MSNBC and CNET, as well as countless blogs and tech forums. However, there is speculation now that this information is based on a misprint from their legal settlement.
See the bottom for more details.

Quick background:

Here in the US, there are two leading cellular technologies- GSM and CDMA.
GSM (Global System for Mobile communication): A global standard that allows device portability using SIM cards to swap devices on a whim.
(Examples: T-mobile, AT&T)

CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access): A faster and arguably more powerful network (at least as far as deployment in the states), that identifies each device by a unique number called an ESN.
(Examples: Sprint, Verizon, Alltel)


History of the "Problem"
One of the biggest advantages of GSM service was always that your phone number and account are identified by a SIM card as opposed to a particular device. This means that you are free to use any device that you wish (and swap as well), as long as it is compatible with your card. CDMA, however, identifies your number and account by device. This makes swapping devices tedious, and also greatly limits the number of devices available to you since most providers will only allow a device that they recognize as their own to log onto their network.
In other words, if Sprint picks up a particular device exclusively, you can't bring it over to Verizon with you because Verizon will not recognize the ESN number as one of their own.
Sprint, in an apparent effort to receive some positive press for a change, decided to mix things up a bit...

Recently, Sprint made a bold move by allowing any CDMA device to connect to their network.
This means that if you had a particular device on Verizon or Alltel and wanted to switch to Sprint, you could bring your old device with you. Or, if you can't find the perfect phone for you on Sprint's selection, you now have the option to buy it from another carrier and activate it on Sprint!

CDMA users who have been jealous of GSM's freedoms are undoubtedly pleased to hear this. After all, now you have the choice of any CDMA phone in the world!

But is this really as big of a deal as it seems?

Why its not all its cracked up to be...
This doesn't really open up that many doors to Sprint users... There are VERY FEW unbranded CDMA handsets in existance. Why? Because CDMA is inherently a "locked" technology.

Quoted from a Message Board post:
While its nice that Sprint opened up this option for us, it really doesn't mean that much since available CDMA handsets are far more limited than other "open" technologies, such as GSM. Sprint may allow us to use VZ's handsets now, but their lineup is very similar (with the exception of a select few exclusive handsets on both sides).

GSM devices are sold left and right overseas because you can use a SIM card in ANY GSM phone in the world, whether your provider sold it to you or not. Its recognized as a global standard and its portability allows anyone to mass produce a phone on a whim and sell it to GSM users all around the world!
CDMA is sadly not like this... if no carrier picks up a particular CDMA model, the manufacturer usually drops it like a hot potato. HTC has announced many CDMA devices that never saw the light of day since no carrier signed a deal with them, whereas almost ALL of their GSM prototypes became a reality through third party vendors such as imate and dopod.
In fact, many high end phone companies make a living selling ONLY unlocked GSM handsets, and indeed many of their models can't be found by any carrier anywhere. Yet, any GSM user is free to pop in their SIM card and use it.

CDMA, sadly, is not like that. The only models available are ones that someone, somewhere, decided to carry on their own network, and are usually only ones that are profitable to market to large demographics. Meaning the interesting and rare phones often don't make it to CDMA at all.
CDMA devices, unlike GSM, need to be activated by the carrier, and while its nice that Sprint is allowing ESN's outside their database, just having this "freedom" does NOT mean all that much.

Honestly, I use Sprint for now, and it'll be nice to be able to have a few VZ-exclusive devices, but in all truth I don't see their lineup (or any overseas CDMA models for that matter) to be any better than what we already have. That is to say, they all fall short of offerings. This is CDMA.

I could see it becoming more like GSM sometime in the future, if Verizon follows suit and creates a market for unbranded devices, but for now, well, its just not all its cracked to be.

NOTE: This entry, while still possibly providing an interesting point of view regarding different cellular technology, is based on information that is yet to be confirmed.
Sprint was brought to court in the state of California regarding a policy in which they would lock their handsets to prevent customers from activating them on another network.
Sprint has settled the dispute by announcing that they will provide the information to unlock the devices upon request.
The Rumor:
One of the lines on their official settlement website states that:
"Sprint has agreed to provide customer service representatives with information to help respond to questions from customers or potential customers about activating a non-Sprint phone on the Sprint CDMA network."
This line, however, seems to standout as irrelevant to the case at hand. Just because they will unlock their handsets doesn't mean that they have to allow everyone else's in! Many speculate that it is a typographical error, and that it really should read along the lines of "
Sprint has agreed to provide customer service representatives with information to unlock devices for use on other services when requested".
However, the argument for the legitimacy of the sentence is that the CDMA carriers can still be considered "anticompetitive" for not accepting phones outside their network, even if they unlock their devices. Sprint may be doing this to cover all their bases in the settlement... or, its just a big fat rumor that made it into the news. Only time will tell.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Look out, T-mobile! Here comes Airave!

Move over T-mobile! SPRINT is also offering (better?) VOIP alternatives!

Back in June, some of us may recall T-mobile's launch of @home service, an add on that allows you to use your broadband router at home to suppliment reception and/or minutes.
This was a real treat for those of us that had spotty reception inside a building, or wanted to use our phones as the primary unlimited line at home (since it doesn't use your regular minute allotment).

The problem? You needed to have a special WiFi enabled @home compatible phone!
Windows Mobile enthusiasts such as myself found this useless since no @home smartphones were planned (and if you had included WiFi on your smartphone, you could follow my article here, and do roughly the same thing).

Well, according to this source Sprint has been testing and is positioned to release the Airave service.
Airave, like @home, plugs into your broadband connection and routes all calls from connected Sprint phones over IP instead of the cellular towers, thus offering better signal and saving you minutes.

But what makes this more interesting than @home is that apparently no special phone hardware is required!
All you need to do is plug the Airave box into your router, and it will supposedly mimic a Sprint tower, allowing ANY normal Sprint phone to connect to it!
This is very interesting indeed...
I have recently begun playing with Sprint because of T-mobile's lack of 3G, and I must admit that I like how ambitious they are. Between this and the rumored WiMax, they might be a powerful position very soon... (too bad their customer service is rated so poorly!)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

All you ever wanted to know about using your phone as your primary mp3 player... (PART 1)

...or, why your Windows Mobile device is better than an iPod!

Music phones aren't anything new anymore. Virtually all current phones have some sort of mp3 player, even if only to play ringtones. Many of the later ones support expandable memory cards and have advanced controls and equalizer settings for optimal sound.
Yet, most people don't shop for phones as music players.

My guess is that many people beleive that the quality of a standalone device (iPod, Zune, Sansa, Archos, etc...) is somehow superior. The truth is, every combination of sound processor and amplifier will sound slightly different to the trained ear, but how many people can tell the difference between an iPod, Zune, MiniDisc or even CD player when music is played on the same set of speakers? The audible difference in quality between these, if any, is only noticeable to the keenest of audiophiles (Do you know which one has the best quality? leave a comment if you do!). While its possible to have a sub-par sound processor, any half-decent PDA or music phone will have the same quality components that the standalone audio players have. The truth is, the quality of the speakers / earphones make much more of a difference than the quality of the device output- a Pocket PC with high end Sennheiser earphones will sound worlds better than an ipod with the stock white earbuds.

The problem is, most Windows Mobile phones don't have the standard 3.5mm stereo jack for using your own headphones!
So how is one to rock out to our favorite tunes in High Fidelity if we can't attach the good quality headphones?

There are many ways to attach a set of 3.5mm headphones (or home stereo) to your phone's tunes. The most common is the:

2.5mm to 3.5mm adaptor
The most common connection found on any mobile phones is the 2.5mm headphone jack. These smaller siblings of the standard 3.5mm mini-jack exhibit the same shape and format as the standard ones, only 1mm smaller. If you've got a music phone with one of these, all you need is an adapter such as the one pictured here to plug in your full sized speakers or headphones.

But be careful! Not all 2.5mm jacks are created equal!
Many music phone early adopters found this out the hard way. Some adaptors would work well, while others would only give you sound in one ear unless you pull it out slightly. It seems that there was an argument between device manufacturers as to what the pin readout should be on these plugs.
In order to understand why this is, you have to take the evolution of these plugs into consideration:
Before cell phones had stereo, all audio component stereo jacks of various sizes had the same basic pin layout:
The tip would be the left channel, then a ring separating the next surface which would be the right channel, followed by another ring separating the rest of plug for ground. (See image on left)

Full sized audio equipment would use this configuration on 1/4" plugs (guitar amps, studio headphones...), standard sized consumer electronics used a smaller 3.5mm mini-jack (iPods, CD players, computers...), while some very few smaller devices decided to use an even smaller 2.5mm sized plug with this layout (ipaq 19xx series, some mini-disc players, portable audio recorders, some chinese keychain-sized mp3 players...).

When the first mono headsets for phones started coming out, they adopted the 2.5mm micro sized jack, and swapped the left audio channel at the tip with a microphone channel (since these headsets only operated in one ear). This was cheap and easy to manufacture, and was quickly adopted by other manufacturers as the standard. This wasn't much of a problem for stereo equipment because it was generally obvious not to mix and match components- stereo music equipment had no mic for the phones, and phone headsets had only one ear for music.
The problem is, what do you do when you add stereo sound to a phone? Now, instead of needing only 2 channels (1 speaker, 1 mic), you need 3 (Left, Right, and mic)!

This is where things have become a horrible mess. Wanting to be backwards compatible with older 2.5mm equipment, most cell phone manufacturers decided to add a 3rd pin before the ground one. However, Motorola, Samsung, and LG (to name a few) decided to add the left channel as the new 3rd pin, leaving the tip for the mic in case you wanted to use your old mono phone headset.
HTC, who makes my favorite WM devices, decided to follow the original stereo pinout of Left being the tip in case you wanted to use older stereo equipment!
The end result is that if you buy a 2.5->3.5mm adaptor, you might get sound in one ear only since it thinks the other ear is a microphone!
Pulling it out slightly will remedy the problem because it is connecting to different contacts on the jack, but it won't stay in the plug like that.

Bottom line:
Not all 2.5mm plugs are the same, so make sure the adapter is compatible with your device before you buy it!

In general, many adapters will say "for cellular phone stereo" versus just plain stereo. HTC devices will work with the plain stereo (such as the adapter pictured here from radio shack), while other phones need the ones marked "cellular".

Of course, if your phone has a proprietary connector (such as the new HTC mini-USB stereo port, or the Nokia pop-port), than you are less likely to encounter compatibility problems when searching for an adapter.

NEXT ISSUE: Forget adaptors, connect your speaker system or favorite headphones wirelessly!!
In part 2 of this entry, I'll review some wireless solutions which have worked really well for me. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Truth About the iPhone

The following is copied from an entry I wrote for something else.
More information and personal opinions will follow when I find some more time.

I had the unique opportunity to be here in Silicon Valley (home of Steve Jobs and birthplace of Apple Computer) for the release of the much hyped Apple iPhone.
There was in fact a line forming from the local AT&T store down the street, waiting for the doors to open at 6:00, and a local mall was so swamped in front of the Apple Store that Wozniak himself showed up on his Segway Scooter to keep the crowd in control (gotta love the Woz).
All this so that these hardcore fans could be of the first to drop $600 for the latest piece of the Apple Pie (oy, puns).
But is this really the "Jesus phone" that its been hyped up to be? Can anything really be worth the aggressive marketing, countless press releases, and of course the outrageous price tag?

Well, now that its out, I'll tell you what I've learned of this coveted gadget.

As an ipod this will not disappoint you. It is said to be the best interface yet, and that's saying alot since the ipod is known to be the standard in user friendly audio players. I'll admit that I'm not the biggest ipod fan personally, but I'll also admit that Apple has always had a very well designed interface for all of their products. One over-enthusiastic fan describes the new interface as "designed by angels". Yes, its very pretty.

But since it is called the i-PHONE, the cellular phone features must be considered as well. Sadly, this is where the iPhone begins to disappoint.
The early adopters have reported that the call quality is actually not so great, not deal-breaker awful but still worse than your average motorola or nokia phone. Also, surprisingly missing for a $600 behemoth are some music features found in standard phones, such as the stereo bluetooth profile (for wireless music) and being able to set an mp3 as a ringtone. Many users have reported that the text entry has a very steep learning curve, however that may be a complaint that will smooth itself out as people get more acquainted with the device.
Another surprisingly missing feature for a device that claims to have a revolutionary web browsing experience is high speed internet (aka 3G data). AT&T has had 3G phones for a couple of years now, with speeds approaching broadband internet, yet the iPhone is only capable of EDGE (2G), which translates to speeds comparable to dial-up in a majority of the country. This is very disappointing since most of AT&T's lineup supports 3G, especially devices costing more than $100. While the zooming in and out of webpages may be pretty and fun, some users have reported that average websites take over 2 entire minutes just to load. (2 minutes may not seem like much, but try counting to 120 before you can view your site and you'll understand how that can be excruciatingly slow)
Other would-be-nice-to-have features are a removable battery so that you can swap a spare when travelling (iphone's battery, like the ipod, is serviceable by Apple only), and a couple of physical dedicated buttons for call control (other touch-screen phones have at least a FEW real buttons so that you can easily jump to certain screens without having to tap your way through menus. Some online reviewers complained that the lack of buttons on the iphone at all means call controls were buried in menus, making it difficult to jump from music playing to placing a call).
Once again, these aren't deal-breakers, but one should expect more from a device with so much fanfare.

I would like to also express my biggest pet peeves with the hype surrounding this phone- it is being touted as "the most revolutionary smartphone to date". Ok, let's set something straight- the iPhone IS NOT A SMARTPHONE! It may be smartly designed, but the definition of a smartphone is a phone with PDA-like features, capable of installing 3rd party software and totally customizable.
Examples of a Smartphone include the Palm Treo line, Motorola's Q, the HTC Windows Mobile Handsets, Nokia's Symbian S60 phones, and Sony Ericsson's P900 UIQ series. These devices allow you to install software that directly accesses the hardware of your device, and effectively allows you to make your phone the perfect fit for YOU. Don't like that web browser? Scrap it and install another one. Want a better media player (perhaps to play DivX video)? Install one and make it your default media player! Want to turn your phone into a webcam? well you get the picture- the iphone can't do any of that, and thus is not worthy of the term "Smartphone".
Devices such as the blackberry and sidekick are NOT smartphones because they do not have operating systems that allow you to install your own software like a computer. Basically, they have many features, but you are limited to whatever it does out of the box and will never be able to add new features to it. This is the category that the iPhone falls into.

Now, that's not to say that the iphone is without its own merit... The Apple fanboys out there (the type with posters of Steve Jobs in their bedroom) will argue that the "missing" features are not must-haves for a cellular phone. After all, you can still buy many non-PDA phones with slow internet 2G speeds that don't have any mp3 ringtone support, or any music support at all. However, keep in mind that these phones are usually $50 or less. For the amount that they are asking for this device, you should expect more. Heck, for this price I'd expect it to mow my lawn and put my kids to sleep!

If you've been waiting for the next generation of Ipods, this is it. Its a work of art, has a great interface and sports killer audio and video functions. That is, assuming 4-8GB's is enough room for you!
If, however, you're looking for a full-featured top of the line phone, this is nothing more than an expensive toy. Is has sub-par call quality, lacks a customizable operating system, and is missing features that other much cheaper phones have.

For the money, you'd be better off buying a regular 30gig ipod AND a decent windows or even palm powered smartphone. Or better yet, a small laptop!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How to never miss a call with your smartphone! least as long as you have WiFi or any other internet connection.

Almost everyone with a cell phone will tell you they have that one frustrating spot that seems to never have a signal. This usually happens in the center of a building, or a basement, where the RF waves just never seem to reach.

Recently, I found myself in this situation since I moved desks at work from a window seat to a larger office in the center of the building. Just as I feared, my desk is now devoid of almost all cell services, and I haven't been able to get a single bar there with T-Mobile.

I tried calling T-mobile and reporting a weak reception area, but we all know that probably won't do anything, at least not for several years. Oh, what to do!

Well, I'm happy to say that having a smartphone has paid off again...
I am now able to receive all my regular calls, on my cell phone, and the best part is it doesn't actually use my minute allotment for the month!
How is this possible?
Well, I've got 4 words for you: Skype for Windows Mobile.

In case you've been living under a rock, Skype (click for more info) is the one of the biggest internet-voice services existing. The basic premise is that you can make free PC to PC calls without the hassle of a telephone. While its not exactly VOIP, they do offer VOIP-ish services, such as Skype-In which assigns a local telephone number to ring into your skype account.

So how does this help?
Here's what I did:

I bought a Skype-in number.
I then installed Skype for WM Smartphone.
I then set my call forwarding if unavailable number to my Skype-In number (this can be set in start>settings>phone>call forwarding. By default it is the T-mobile voice mail number).
I then make sure I have an internet connection at work (WiFi or activesync, I will explain why activesync may be better below).

That's it!
How does it work?

Simple: When my phone is out of service, it registers as unavailable to the network. When unavailable, it will forward my calls to the skype in number which DOES ring on my phone (through skype) and then I can talk to the person.
This is different from busy or unanswered calls, which will still go to my T-mobile voice mail as long as my phone is on and has service. Basically, this will only happen when I'm out of service.

Doesn't Skype-In cost money?
Yes, it does.
However, it is VERY inexpensive... it adds up to about $3 or $4 a month, depending upon the plan you purchase. For me, its worth the few bucks to have my calls come in. Also, I'm considering using the skype-in number as a seperate business line as well... I could give people that number instead of my cell phone for privacy purposes. Its a worthwhile investment, especially if you consider that you're getting "extra" minutes (see next item).

Doesn't call forwarding still use your minutes?
Not exactly.
Yes, you use minutes, but not your regular minutes, at least not with T-mobile.
Most people don't realize that you get an additional 1000min for call forwarding (different plans may vary), which doesn't come out of your regular minute bucket. These are like free minutes from a separate bucket which I would never otherwise be able to use! Being that I don't use that many regular minutes in a month, I doubt I'll EVER make that many when just out of service!

Doesn't leaving WiFi on all day eat your battery?
Most smartphones that have WiFi also don't keep it on when there isn't any activity. So, you could either set it to stay on, and kill your battery, or you could connect it to activesync when you're at a desk, and then just use WiFi when roaming around the office. Remember, Activesync not only passes the internet to your phone through the computer, but it also charges through the USB cable.

What if my smartphone doesn't have WiFi?
Ha, and you call that a smartphone?
Seriously though, all you Moto Q, Blackjack, and users of smartphones from yesteryear can still do this without WiFi.
As I mentioned above, you could always use the activesync solution, or use a bluetooth connection (AKA WiFi mini) if you'd rather not be tethered.

Isn't this similar to UMA?
Yes, sorta.
UMA stands for Unlicesned Mobile Access. Some providers, including T-mobile, are currently testing the prospect of allowing WiFi phones to make VOIP calls when available to save minutes and help poor reception areas.
The difference is that UMA will be a seperate charge from the carrier, and uh, it doesn't exist yet. You'll also need new phones to use it since no current phone supports UMA.

Good luck, and contact me if you found this usefull!
Feel free to ask any questions...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Wireless Stereo!

Ok, we've all heard of Bluetooth, and should be relatively familiar with what it is.
Its a way to connect devices without wires, right?

Well, bluetooth is only as good as the devices that are released to take advantage of it.
The most common use is in wireless phones, where it can be used to connect to a handsfree headset, or sync with a nearby BT-enabled computer. But the potential goes far beyond that...
One day in the future, it would be nice to not have ANY wires on my desk at all... my monitor, speakers, printer, keyboard, mouse, scanner, webcam, etc... But that day has not yet come. While many of the devices on my desk can (and some are) wireless, they still haven't perfected the technology to a point that it can replace EVERYTHING, at least not easily. As of yet things like a video monitor feed over bluetooth aren't practical, and until recently, the audio quality of Bluetooth wasn't on par with wired stereo speakers.
Luckily, they're always adding new profiles, which are basically standards to attach to new kinds of devices.

The latest buzz in Bluetooth has been a serious upgrade to audio quality. Originally designed to carry little more than a monoraul phone coversation, people have expressed a great interest in having HiFi digital stereo sound over bluetooth. They call this profile the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile, or A2DP for short.

This allows for music lovers to be free of the wire tangles that many enthusiasts hate to deal with, not to mention you don't have to actually have your music player on your body... rather simply be in the same room as it. *

This also opens up new doors to convergence devices... many A2DP headsets such as the Motorola pair pictured here support both A2DP and the older audio profile designed for phone calls. With its built in microphone, you could listen to music and not be afraid of missing a call that you couldn't hear... the music will automatically pause as the headset switches profiles to allow you to hear a ring and answer the call. When you are finished, it will go back to where you left off.

Now, for you Windows Mobile enthusiasts who are reading this and wondering why I bring this up, here's my good news / bad news.

The good news: Microsoft started adding the A2DP profile to their bluetooth stack in newer versions of WM5 (aku 3 and up), and there are hacks available which will enable it in the older AKU's as well.

The bad news: MS's encoding algorythm stinks!
A2DP requires the sound be encoded using a system called SBC. For some reason, the way MS programmed their encoding, it creates an awful distortion on certain frequencies that are clearly audible with certain headsets.
For example, an I-tech R35 headset will play a very irritating hiss/ringing over vocal sounds when using a Windows Mobile device. However, these things sound great when paired to my PC's bluetooth which uses the Widcomm Bluetooth drivers.
Many headsets play the distortion differently, it may be more apparent in some versus others. Some won't even exhibit it at all, as is the case I found with a pair of Logitech Ipod headphones (designed to be used with an ipod adaptor, but can be paired with another BT device easily).

This is a serious problem for those who spend a lot of money on wireless headphones to find the quality is sub-par. Stay tuned for updates... hopefully MS will fix it in a future service pack.

* Theoretically, you only need to be in the same room (within 30 feet) of a Bluetooth device to stay connected. However, in practicality, many people find that a2dp requires you to stay a bit closer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


This shouldn't really count as a seperate post... its more like follow-ups from previous topics.

T-Mobile, T-zones, T-mobile Web and the Internet Myth...

Right after I blogged about T-mobile's internet plans, something kind of surprising happened. They starting giving stuff away.
The big difference between the cheaper plans and the expensive plans has generally been that the cheap ones were more restrictive- most ports were blocked and required a proxy for any web browsing.
Now, as long as you have some sort of basic internet plan (as far as I know this still won't work for free), you have FULL UNLIMITED ACESS to all ports, no proxy or anything required. No one quite knows why this is or how long it will last, but its been going on for long enough now that I wouldn't consider it a temporary fluke. Don't be suprised, however, if they turn it off tomorrow again.
Bottom line: There now seems to be no difference between any web/internet plan. So, choose the cheapest one if you want to save money, choose the expensive one if you want to ensure it won't be turned off tomorrow (or if you want to be "fair" and pay full price for your services!).

Windows Mobile Crossbow
For those of us following Microsoft's OS codenames...
It appears that Crossbow has been spotted on some prototype units, and it seems now that the original rumors are wrong concerning the numbering scheme of the Operating System. Apparently, word on the street now is Crossbow will be WM6.0, and Photon, still unnamed officially, is to be released sometime in 2008.

That's it for now, check back soon for more mobile news and thoughts.

Oh, and feel free to click any of the sponsored google ads on the bottom right of my blog... I'm not in charge of what they advertise, but google will help pay for my time to write this stuff.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How to run Pocket PC applications on your WM smartphone

...or, how to make your Windows Mobile Smartphone device do just about ANYTHING!

Yes, your Smartphone is just as good as a Pocket PC if you know what you're doing!
A lot of Pocket PC fans out there are afraid that they may be giving up some functions when switching over to Smartphone Edition. Well, I can honestly say that after some initial skeptism and a lot of tinkering, I've been able to do everything my older PPC's did and then some!

As I wrote about earlier (see What is smartphone Edition Anyway?), Windows Mobile Pocket PC and Smartphone Edition are almost identical internally. The primary difference is in the input method that each device uses, to be more specific a touch screen interface on a PPC versus a joystick/keypad on the Smartphone.
  • Does this mean that they will run the same software?
Yes and no. All Windows Mobile devices (Smartphone, PPC, PPC phone edition, etc) can run the same actual executable code (.exe files) as long as it has been written for a Windows Mobile device. However if you actually try to install PPC software on a Smartphone (or vice versa) using Activesync, you might get an error message stating the device is incorrect and it will refuse to do anything.

  • So how can you run the software if it won't install?
Well, this is the tricky part. There are a few ways to do this, some are easier than others depending upon your situation. Your options are:
a. Attempt to install on your computer using Activesync. Sometimes this will just work beleive it or not. Certain .net programs can even be designed for BOTH devices- it has code built in for both types of input methods and offers the correct interface for your device. An example of this is the VNC dot net viewer (To the right and left you should see images of the same code running on a PPC and Smartphone, respectively). Other times, when Activesync complains that you have the "wrong" device, it will stop the installation. However, the files will already exist in a directory on your PC, sometimes just waiting to be copied over to the right device. A quick search of C:\Program Files\Microsoft Activesync\ may provide some .cab files that can be copied over and installed on your device. This may work for some apps, but others may still stop you when you install the .cab file.
b. Extract the files from the .cab installation file manually on your PC first. Most unzip/decompression utilities (as well as Windows Explorer's own built in Zip) will be able to open a .cab file to view its contents. You can try right-clicking on one and selecting open with -> Explorer and see if that works. The problem with this is that the files have the wrong extension names. If you are able to determine which file is the .exe and any other necessary files (on simple programs, the .exe should be the largest, and sometimes the only, file in there), then you can extract them, rename it to the proper extension, and you're golden with this method.
c. Copy from a real finished Pocket PC installation. What I've done for some programs is used an old pocket pc to install to, then copied the files I needed off of it. Don't have a Pocket PC handy? Well then you can run a virtual PPC (I beleive Microsoft itself even has some PPC emulators for developers) on your own computer, then copy the files off of it. I'm not going to go into great detail on how to do this now, but you may ask if you'd like more info. There's also the option of finding someone else who has a Pocket PC and wouldn't mind helping you out. I've found people on message boards over at and who had even posted extracted files for the Smartphone community. That's nice of them.

  • Why do they make this so darned complicated?
Well, I'd like to think that MS had the best intentions when all this started. Its basically to prevent you from installing an application that might not work right because it was designed for a different device. You see, even though the .exe file will run, it doesn't mean it will run CORRECTLY. Pocket PCs all have touchscreens and at least a QVGA (240x320 pixel) display, while Smartphones inheirently lack the touchscreen and until recently didn't have QVGA*(see below) resolutions either. The end result is that you may try to run a Pocket PC app on a Smartphone and find that you can only see a portion of the display and not be able to "click" the OK button or navigate the program at all without a touchscreeen! Vice versa, if you installed a smartphone application, it might take up an akward little corner of your display, and wait for a numeric keypress that you don't have on the average PPC.
Sounds like a legitimate concern, right? That brings us to the next question:

  • If Pocket PC apps won't run properly without touchscreen input, what's the point in all this?
Well, the truth is most of them will work just fine without a touchscreen. Some programs like the .net one mentioned above actually were designed for people like us to use, however not all programmers are so considerate. Luckily most PPC applications have mediocre navigation using the PPC directional pad for one handed use. Its clearly not the best way to use certain programs, but with enough keypresses you might be able to navigate around. Sometimes, as in the case with Skype for Pocket PC, you NEED to click an area of the screen in order to do anything. This can be very frustrating.

  • So what about programs that require a touchscreen (such as Skype)?
Luckily, there is help available. There is an ingenius little app called SPHelper, which as the name suggests, was designed to help us Smartphone users out. What this does is it places a mouse cursor on the screen which can be moved around using the joystick. You can then press the joystick in to "click" on something. This little app is amazing, it even has a built in task switcher so you can quickly jump from program to program, and a simple press-and-hold of the zero button will bring the cursor up for you. The program is Shareware which means that it will work fine for free, or you can purchase the program for about $10 and get rid of the annoying message asking you to register that pops up when you hide or close the program.

  • So is there anything missing that a full Pocket PC can do?
You mean aside from the bulk, fragile screens and lack of casual one-handed use that comes with a PPC?
All joking aside, yes, there are still some things to address. One is that bizzare fact that for some odd reason Microsoft left out copy and paste functions. Why, mighty Bill, WHY??
Well luckily you can add those features back with another simple little free application called Vito Copy Paste. Its pretty simple and does what its supposed to fairly well when you need it.
I'd like to add that there are other options such as Xbar and even SPHelper above also includes some sort of copy and paste function (but I haven't gotten it to work properly). Vita Copy Paste is simple and free, so I recommend it if you need those functions (I'm surprised how rarely I need it honestly).

Then there's the all important suite of Office Apps that's missing from the Smartphone. Yes, most devices come with at least a document reader (such as ClearVue), but come on- we all want to be able to EDIT them as well as view, right? Once again I have no logical explanation for why they left it out, but I'm excited that Windows Mobile Crossbow is finally going to include Mobile Office. In the mean time there are several office apps that can help you along. Here's some of my favorites:
Vieka WordPad - Simple word processing. Similar to notepad in Windows, with some nice features like html tags. FREE!
Ptab - This a Spreadsheet program that also has PC and PPC versions, fully compatible with MS Excel. Some say this one is actually better than Excel, but as far as I'm concerned whatever works is good enough. This is commercial software, but I use it regularly and I can
Documents to Go - This is not officially released yet. This should be the perfect document suite when it comes out because it includes EVERYTHING (Word, Excel, PowerPoint & PDF). In fact I heard from some Pocket PC users that they are hoping this gets released for PPC as well since it comes with more than MS Office Mobile does, and has something called InTact which lets you edit a document while leaving the format as it is on the PC (Word and Excel mobile sometimes lose some of the formatting when converting to mobile and back to PC). But, as of now DataViz is only making it for us Smartphone users. Sorry PPC fans!

Well, that's it for now. Good luck and let me know if you have any comments or if I left anything out!

Note for Landscape devices:
Users of the Dash, Moto Q, Blackjack, etc... Some Pocket PC software does not display properly in landscape orientation. So, even though you have a QVGA display, some programs may run off the borders of your display.