Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Android Launch Press Videos

Well, today was the big Android press conference in NYC that all the big bloggers have been talking about lately.

I unfortunately couldn't attend, however I followed the progress remotely... I was actually surprised to even find a few live feeds from the event made public via QIK.com (GREAT software, by the way, more on that in a future post).

The most interesting bit?

Google is offering over-the-air-sync with a supposed full two way push with Google Apps. That's right, push Gmail, Google calendar, contacts and Google Talk, all built right in.

This is the sort of thing people pay tons of money to have a Blackberry Enterprise Server for, or Microsoft Exchange with a WM device. Heck, even Apple has been trying to offer this with Mobile Me for a yearly premium, and it doesn't even work properly.

Google is just giving it away, and let's face it, who doesn't have a google apps account already?

That's just the tip of the iceburg. Check out more in this informative video:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Joss Wheadon deems the iPhone "Horrible"?

I think Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog is becoming one of my favorite short films of all time.

I was slightly amused to find a scene in the first act in which Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) uses an iPhone as a remote control to drive a van.

Does this mean Joss Wheadon and his brothers (who wrote and created the internet phenomenon) consider the device "horrible" enough for their evil character?

Well, as I wrote on MoPocket, there is a later scene in which he answers his phone, and it is NOT an iPhone, but rather a simple looking flip phone. So, are they trying to say Dr. Horrible uses an iPhone or not?

After doing a little curious researching, it turns out co-star Nathan Fillion owns an iPhone, and someone had decided it was a good idea to use it as a prop for a remote control.
The fact that it was recognizable may have been a technical goof.

What do you people think? Did the writers perhaps think this was a clever gag (a character who sings about anarchy and social change uses the most overhyped social status device ever), or is it just that the iPhone makes a pretty darned cool looking capacitive remote control?

Read more here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

For the sake of development, stop stealing other people's work!

The Development Community is arguably one the biggest reasons Windows Mobile is still a popular platform.

Forums such as XDA-Developers and PPCGeeks.com are teeming with brilliant minds who create applications that not only add new features to a WM device, but even change the interface itself.

Lately, one of the most buzzed about projects is the s2 series, developed by an XDA regular who goes by the username A_C. The s2 series started with a simple screen-unlocker, S2U2, which was clearly inspired by the iPhone's "Slide to Unlock" screen.
However, it mutated into much more than a simple lock screen, and now offers customized real-time information as well as integrates with his media player, S2P (slide to play), which is a graphically beautiful finger-friendly music player and browser. A_C then went on to create S2V (Slide to View), which is an image viewer in the same graphical vein as his other S2 applications.

Although all of the S2 applications are still considered unfinished "works in progress", many users claim that they are more stable and have better features than some commercial applications on the market.

It should also be recognized that A_C never planned to make money from these applications. He does not it for a living, rather he creates them in his spare time because it is how he beleives a Windows Mobile device should work. As such, he has clearly stated numerous times that his applications are totally free.

My opinion is that A_C is a good guy. The problem is, good guys often get taken advantage of.
According to this thread, A_C was appalled to find the s2 applications have been bundled and sold as part of "iPhone themes for Windows Mobile", without giving him a penny or even asking permission.

Many sites, including www.iphonethemeforppc.com, as well as countless ebay auctions are trying to sell the s2 software for their own profit, which of course is very frustrating for A_C to see.
In vain, he has tried to report every auction to ebay, contact the authors of the sites selling it, etc... however they seem to not care, offering petty excuses or ignoring his requests.

The end result? A_C has decided to halt all development of the S2 series for the time being.

Nice work, fellas. It looks like a couple of unscrupulous idiots have ruined it for everyone else.

Spread the word. Boycott sites that are selling this stuff, send them angry emails, etc. This is not the first time such a thing has happened, but in order for it to end everyone must voice their opinion. For the sake of the development community and coders/users everywhere.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sprint HTC Diamond and Touch Pro Official Release Dates!

Well, the speculation can end now. Sprint has made the announcement official on their web site.
Also, the pictures that appear in their image gallery (which can be found here) confirm the color situation that we mentioned earlier, as well as the official launch names of the devices (thankfully not Herman and Victor, as speculated).

In a nutshell:
Sprint Touch Diamond: Will be released on Sept. 14th for $249 with a new contract. Device is two-toned, with a burgundy back side.

Sprint Touch Pro: Qwerty-version will be released on Oct. 19th, for $299 with a new contract. Device is solid black.

There, that settles that. Now let's see how they are in person...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Chrome: The color of world domination.

I wrote this to appear elsewhere, however it was not ready so I'm just posting it here instead.

Well, it certainly seems Google is no longer satisfied with simply living inside your web browser.

No, Google wants a more serious relationship with you than that.
Sure, they've virtually led the pack as far as Web 2.0 and application-driven websites (Gmail, Google Maps, Google Docs, etc), but now they want to also BE your web browser.
Google Chrome is a new open source and powerful web browser that is the first to be designed around JavaScript and Web 2.0 applications. In other words, instead of offering an HTML text-and-image based browser that has support for higher-end application driven content, Google has actually designed a mini-platform the other way around- designed for running content first, that happens to also support plain-old html.
Its all explained in this nifty comic-book style write up, quite effectively I might add.
The concept is quite simple: Google has been trying to play nicely within the limitations of current web browsers, so why not just invent your own that runs your applications smoother?

Flash back to the mobile industry for a moment. If you recall, Google has always focused on being mobile-web friendly, offering special versions of their Gmail, Google Maps and search engine pages optimized for mobile web browsers or WAP. However, since mobile web browsers are so severely limited in features, Google decided to break free of the browser and write stand-alone applications for Google Maps and Gmail that run on compatible phones.
However, since not all phones offer the same features or APIs, the Google applications differed slightly from device to device (some devices don't support satellite imagery, others support voice-recognition for search).
So, Google took the next bold step and challenged the entire mobile industry by creating its own entire mobile Operating System, Android, instead of conforming to what is already out there.

That makes many people such as myself wonder- how far will Google go with this on the desktop? They've already created a Google Earth downloadable as well some other apps to break free of the confines of the web browser. Now, they have their own browser.
Many conspiracy theories emerged years ago that Google is planning its own desktop OS to rival Microsoft and Apple. This has mostly been dismissed as rumor long ago, however that was before Android and Chrome were announced. This could change things.

If Android had never become a reality, I would have said that Google doesn't have the gall to attack the desktop market. But Android is already a big slap in the face to popular Smartphone platforms like Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian, Linux Mobile, and Apple, all of whom Google has actually written applications for in the past. The announcement of Android left these folks in a state of denail and/or confusion... If I were them, my thoughts would be "but I thought we were friends?"
The desktop market COULD be next.

The interesting thing about all this is that I think this marks the first time that the desktop industry can look to the mobile industry for a possible taste of things to come. Chrome team consulted with the Android team about their use of the Open Web Kit system when designing the engine for their browser. If Chrome and Android hit off with the success that they have potentially, I'd say a Google OS is around the corner.

Google. First you lived in my webbrowser. Tomorrow, you may own the world. Lookout...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The problem with Windows Mobile

WM fanboys, be still! This post is part of a bigger article which I will go up when finished. To get straight to the point, start at the line which reads "Too many cooks".

Windows Mobile, love it or hate it, is still one of the most popular mobile operating systems to date. Looking at the specs on paper, this OS has every reason to be great; Not only does it have an integrated familiar set of Microsoft productivity tools (Outlook, Word, Excel, etc), it is also a versatile and open platform that is capable of running virtually infinitely complex and advanced third party applications.
It also has to its advantage a legacy of mobile operating systems dating back to the 90's, which means that countless seasoned developers and applications already exist for it, as well as a bit of a cult following. Combine this with the size and scope of the OS, and Microsoft should have a clear winner here.

However a large percentage of first time Windows Mobile users return their handset after trying it out, and market analysts say WinMo is far from "winner" material. Some even predict its impending doom. Why?

A few moments with the stock OS is all takes to understand. For all the words people can use to describe Windows Mobile, the adjectives you won't hear are "easy" or "user friendly". In fact, for every WM user that loves the platform, you're bound to find ten others who found it confusing, unstable or downright maddening.
The hardcore WM fanboys will tell you that Windows Mobile is far too powerful and therefore too complicated for some to comprehend. It would seem that the users who prefer standard feature phones or Blackberry OS fit that theory, since RIM spoon-feeds the user basic features such as messaging without much support for a real mobile computing platform.
The same could be said about Palm OS, since palm does not support as much development or even basic multi-tasking. Less features theoretically equal an easier to understand phone.

I don't think that's the case. Personally, I think Symbian and the upcoming Android OS at least match if not outshine Windows Mobile in power and function, as well as support for advanced development and UI tweaking... yet average folks who've tried it don't find it as maddening as Windows Mobile for daily use.
While we're at it, even the iPhone OS (which officially reached the status of Smartphone with its app store) has some fairly advanced features, especially when "jailbroken", and people absolutely LOVE that UI- in fact, they love it even more than simpler phones with less features. The iPhone, while not as versatile and developer friendly as other smartphone operating systems, showed the world that clearly you can have a phone with advanced features that is still easy for the masses to use.

So what is is that keeps Windows Mobile from being great?

Too many cooks.
I beleive that WM suffers from "too many cooks spoil the broth" syndrome. In other words, there are too many different people with different goals involved from the moment the software is designed until it reaches the user's hands. This leads to a complicated web of counter-intuitive interface design.
Take this example of a typical WM handset:
-Microsoft designs a general use OS based on a vague set of hardware.
-Hardware OEMs target a specific audience and create a device with hardware capable of running windows mobile.
-Software development team writes drivers for hardware, and tweaks parts of the OS to properly utilize their hardware configuration, often in ways Microsoft didn't anticipate.
-Carrier gets a hold of device, pre-installs certain software applications and tweaks certain features and UI to support their services.
-User buys devices, and gets thoroughly confused with what he/she is presented with.

A practical example of this is the microsoft X button. They decided, for one reason or another, that the X-button closing applicaitons would make the device harder to use. So they made it minimize instead. The result is that people who think they've closed the media player by clicking the X still hear music playing in the background. They frantically try to figure out why and eventually pull their battery. Now, let's say a third party designs their own media playing application, and decides to do users a favor by hard-coding it to close when someone presses on the X are instead of minimizing like the system would by default.
Meanwhile, phone manufacturer HTC steps in to solve that problem on its own, and introduces their HTC X-button software, which changes the behavior of the X button system-wide to what you determine (close, minimize, press-and-hold, etc), and gives you a list of what is running on the main screen so you can close something that didn't close like you thought it would.
What is going to happen to that media player when they press the X if someone is running on an HTC device with their X-button software pre-installed, such as the HTC Touch?
The user may be presented with some unexpected behavior other than what they think will happen.

Then there was the Palm hardware running Windows Mobile- they added their own threaded text messaging system, which was signature Palm until Microsoft decided to add their own and have it built-in to the OS in version 6.1. However, the Palm version was a little bit different, and when they embraced 6.1 for the new devices, they were faced with a user interface decision: Keep their threaded app on the phones so that people who enjoy how it works or are used to it can continue to, OR switch to the new standard threaded app for compatibility. Some people like the new native one because it seems more integrated into the system. Other people preferred the functionality of the old one. Either choice you make, Palm is going to annoy and/or confuse one set of users.

In contrast, take a competing device like a RIM Blackberry- designed completely by RIM, core OS, hardware and software, and RIM hosts its own servers for messaging. Then, they offer the device to be sold through a carrier for service. The end result is a smooth and consistent interface because this single company was responsible for quality control the entire time. The same can be said for Apple.

Now, that doesn't mean Windows Mobile is doomed to be always be difficult, however it just means that you won't get that polished experience out of the box- you'll have to work for it. Thankfully, since WM is an open platform, there's no shortage of third party applications and customized UI tweaks that the end user could install to make their device work better for them. Once you've learned your way around the OS, you'll actually find it very efficient, powerful, and even surprisingly stable. The problem is that you shouldn't be expected to learn all this in the first place. Ultimately, the perfect OS would be one that is as open and powerful as Windows Mobile, but with the finesse and user-experience quality control of Apple's.

My hope for the future is that Windows Mobile 7 will introduce a platform that is more user friendly out of the box, leaving less that needs to be modified by third parties. It'll be difficult, but if MS plays its cards properly, it's possible. In this world of open-source startup mobile OSs and Apple's UI dominating the market, MS needs to find a way to do this.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Windows Mobile Must-Haves

Every hard-core smartphone user has a list of applications that they wouldn't be caught dead without.
As a mobile enthusiast, I don't actually have such a mental list- I keep a directory of installation files on my storage card so that I can share my list with other enthusiasts that I meet from time to time.
The problem with this is that since any good list will change with the times (new apps come out, others become obsolete), my directory has become an awful mess.
So, I've decided its time to go over it and write up a quick list of what I consider essential for my Windows Mobile devices. Note that since I am currently using a "Professional Edition" device (aka, Pocket PC edition), many of these links are for touchscreen Pocket PC's only. Sorry, Standard (Smartphone) Edition users!

Perhaps some of you will find something new and useful here.
If you find anything essential to add to this list, please let me know!
  • TCPMP (+ Flash Video Bundle) - TCPMP (aka The Core Player Media Player) is the free, open-source predecessor of the commercial CorePlayer app. This relatively low-footprint app can play just about any audio/video format that you throw at it. The fact that it is open source means that people are always adding new formats and developments to it. My personal favorite is the Flash Video Bundle (linked to above), which acts as a Pocket IE plugin to recognize a link that contains embedded flash video (such as YouTube, GoogleVideo, Megavideo, etc) and gives you the option to play it in TCPMP. So, in other words this package enables your device to play divx, xvid, mpeg4, etc, as well as streaming web-based content. And its free. That puts it at the top of my list.
  • Quick Menu - A running application manager/enhanced start menu. Qmenu addresses one of the biggest problems plaguing WM devices- controlling and closing your running applications. Microsoft decided, whether they had good reason or not, to do away with the taskbar concept that desktop windows uses to show you what's open, and further complicated matters by making the X button minimize your program instead of closing it. This created an OS that is infuriatingly confusing to use out of the box, and I'm fairly certain this is one the biggest reasons people return WM devices after trying one out for the first time. Luckily, there are dozens of third party applications to give the user control over what is running, switch to different programs and close them when done. I found QMenu the best personally, because it places the running tasks on your start menu, so they are accessible from anywhere without taking up any space on your screen. It also takes over the X-button and changes its behavior (short press to close, long press to minimize, or vice versa, etc), gives you a cascading start menu (sometimes useful, but you can actually choose to have the old start menu come back when you prefer), and places some useful tools on its start menu such as bluetooth toggle, and memory hibernate command (run this to force apps to release any held memory when available RAM is low- VERY USEFUL!).
  • FtouchFlo - Finger scrolling throughout the entire OS. This is great for those that prefer the iPhone-style flick of the finger to scroll around the screen without having to tap and hold the scroll-bars. The problem with this, however, is that some apps offer finger scrolling of their own (such as google maps, opera, etc), and ftouchflo will need to be disabled to use those properly. Luckily, you can rather easily add programs to exclude from ftouchflo using Schap's Ftouch configuration tool.
  • MochaFTP - This is a real gem that many people are not aware of. It turns your device in to an FTP Server. Yeah, you heard me... a SERVER, not a client. I blogged about this one over here.
  • WMWiFiRouter - If you have a cellular data plan and your device supports WiFi, this nifty little app will turn your PDA into a portable WiFi router. Great for road warriors who want to connect their laptops, skype phones, PSP, or anything that supports peer-to-peer wifi networking. The latest 1.0+ verions of the application are commercial, however pre-1.0 versions work well and are available as freeware.
  • Opera Mini - The fastest desktop-view web browser there is currently- loads full scale web pages that you can zoom in and out of in a matter of seconds. How? With the help of a little server-side compression. In other words, when you request a page, Opera's servers render it first, then compress the result and send it to your phone where it is rendered the way you'd expect it to look on your desktop. This means even a 2G phone can offer an experience similiar to browsing on a desktop with adequate speed. I should just add that many who are concerned with privacy aren't fond of the server-side model, since your data is going to someone's third party server first. Personally, I find this browser too good to let pass- but maybe avoid using it for bank accounts, etc. NOTE: This program runs in a Java Environment, and needs a runtime such as Esmertec Jbed to run. If you don't have Java, and/or don't like the idea of server-side compression, there is also Opera Mobile, which is a native WM app, and is very nice. However, it is not free nor as fast.
  • Palringo - Instant Messaging, supports all the regulars (AIM, MSN, Jabber, Gtalk, Yahoo, ICQ, etc) in addition to offering their own voice client as sort of a Push-to-talk. Best feature? Insert a live pic taken with your phone's cam into an IM. Better than trying to describe something you're seeing in text...
  • MS Voice Command - A commercial voice recognition app that goes far beyond dialing contacts. Without any prior training, VC allows you to ask your phone to play music by artist name, for example. Or, you can ask it when your next appointment is, and it will read it to you, or allow you to launch any program in your start menu by name. Heck, you can even ask it what the time is if you're too lazy to check your watch and have your headset on. This is roughly the same technology MS developed for their new MS/Ford Sync that is coming with new Ford stereos in cars. The Problem: MS seems to have stopped selling the PPC version, although it is still being developed and comes built into the rom of very specific devices. You can still buy the older obsolete version for $40, however it has compatibility problems with newer handsets and does not work properly with Bluetooth. The updated versions which worlk FLAWLESSLY have been extracted from the few Windows Mobile devices that come with it (the HTC Diamond, for example), and spread around all over forums and blogs for free. However the fact that MS still sells the old version for $40 means the distribution of the newer extracted versions are questionably software piracy. Therefore, I prefer not to link to it, however a good Google search will probably find you what you are looking for. I seen some people who want a clear conscience buy the $40 version and install the extracted update. I recommend you do what you feel is right.
There are many, many more applications that I use on a regular basis (slide2play, skyfire, mapopolis, Total Commander, etc) however they are not "essential", and some of them are still in beta and not worth posting about until complete. I will try to update this list or add another list of Recommended (vs Essential) Apps in another post.

But before I finish this post, I would like to add one more thing that I consider essential however did not list with the others because it does not apply to everyone.
As a "good Jewish boy" (in addition to being a Mobile Enthusiast), having access to a digital Siddur (prayer book) and Chumash (Bible) for Windows Mobile are essential. These and much more Judaica are available for free from http://jewishcontent.org/. The software there is very simple, however, and actually requires you to install your own fonts for it work.
Thankfully, this is actually really easy- just find a unicode compatible font (I picked Arial), and copy it from your desktop windows/fonts dir into the windows/fonts dir of the Windows Mobile device. Then run the application. Done.

Have anything to add to my list? Leave a comment...