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Archive for the ‘Industry Commentary’ Category

The Hidden Complexity of the Cell Phone Market

Posted on: August 7th, 2006 by Craig Rairdin 11 Comments

In the latest PC Magazine, Michael Miller writes about the cool new things happening on mobile phones and opines that “consumers should be able to pick applications regardless of phone or carrier.” This is a wonderful idea, but is idealistic to such a degree as to be laughable.

This fact doesn’t escape Miller’s attention. He adds: “There are multiple impediments: a bunch of different platforms that developers write for, a bunch of different phone makers, and four big national wireless carriers that want to control the applications on your phone.”

But the scope of these impediments is wider than one might imagine. To illustrate, I looked at the only the phones offered by Nokia, and only those Nokia phones available in North America, then specifically only those offered in the United States.

Nokia phones come with one of three different operating systems. Each of these operating systems has had more than one edition. Some editions break compatibility with prior editions. That is, programs written for edition 2 may not run on edition 3. Between the three current major operating systems supported by Nokia (Series 40, 60, and 80) there are eight editions. Software written for one Series does not run on the other Series’. In some cases the programming languages supported on one Series are not supported on the other Series’.

Within a Series there are variations on the services available to programmers, and as I mentioned before, between editions there can be major changes that make it so programs written for one edition will not run on the next. This is equivalent to Microsoft making it so that no program written for Windows 98 would run on Windows XP. There are already enough apps that break for some reason even though Microsoft tries to maintain compatibility between versions. Imagine if they intentionally broke all apps when they released a new version. This is unimaginable on the desktop, yet it happens all the time on mobile phones.

Continuing with the Nokia illustration, Nokia offers 123 models of phone in the United States. They have a huge market share and hundreds of millions of customers. However, only about 1/4th of those phones are programmable. The vast majority offer limited capability for third-party additions beyond ringtones.

Of the 30 or so phones that are possible targets for programmers, half are running an older version of the Series 60 operating system that is incompatible with programs written for the latest version. And of the 15 models that are thus targetable for software developers, only one or two have been picked up by any carriers here in the US. As a result, even though hundreds of millions of people are carrying Nokia phones, only thousands are carrying phones that are potential targets for current developers.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m picking on Nokia. I’m just using them as an illustration. The rest of the industry is similar: There are thousands of models of phones each running some highly customized version of some proprietary operating system, making it impossible for the sharing of programs or even data beyond a very limited subset of particular models of phones.

So the dream of running any cell phone software on any cell phone is a long way off — unless Microsoft or Palm comes to dominate the cell phone market and establishes their OS as the standard. And furthermore, the dream of seeing a big uptick in a broad range of software applications for these devices is severely hampered by the inability of the cell phone manufacturers to adopt a standard operating system (or even two or three). Without that, it’s difficult for developers to commit resources to the mobile phone market.

This should not be interpreted as a position statement from Laridian with respect to the direction of its development. We were developing for Windows CE long before it had a measurable fraction of market share, and it could be argued that the BlackBerry is an inhospitable platform for Bible software because so many of them are controlled by corporate IT departments which restrict the installation of third-party apps on the devices. This is merely a commentary on the sad state of the mobile phone market from the perspective of independant software developers.

Laridian Blogs on Your PocketPC

Posted on: August 5th, 2006 by Craig Rairdin No Comments

If you are reading these blogs I can probably make two assumptions about you: 1.) you are technologically literate, probably above average and 2.) you use a PDA. As such, what I’m going to say here may not be anything new.

If you’re using Internet Explorer on your PocketPC, our blogs don’t display well.

But, there is a really nice solution to that.

Our friends over at Ilium Software have a very nice program for PocketPC and Smartphone called NewsBreak that handles RSS feeds very nicely. Laridian’s blog site is available as an RSS feed and can be viewed using NewsBreak on your PocketPC or Smartphone.

Once you’ve purchased NewsBreak and installed it on your handheld tap New and then select “I know the Channel’s URL (RSS)” and tap Next. In the first field (“Enter the URL for the new Channel”) type in

http://blog.laridian.com/?feed=rss2

If you’re connected to the Internet tap “Download Default Name” and “Laridian Electronic Publishing” will show up in the “Enter a name for the new Channel” field. If you’re not connected to the Internet, simply type it in. Tap Finish and you’re done.

You can also add the comments from the Laridian blog to NewsBreak by going through the same steps but putting

http://blog.laridian.com/?feed=comments-rss2

in the URL field and “Comments for Laridian Electronic Publishing” in the name field.

After refreshing your channels you will now have Laridian’s blog on your PDA in a more readable form.

Enjoy!
Jim

When is a Smartphone not a Smartphone?

Posted on: July 31st, 2006 by Craig Rairdin 7 Comments

We’re for the most part fans of Microsoft around here, but every once in a while they do some things to really irritate us.

The continuous rebranding of their PDA operating system is an ongoing problem. First it was Windows CE (the “CE” didn’t stand for anything, or so they said), then it was Pocket PC OS, then Windows Mobile. So now your Pocket PC is a “Microsoft Windows Mobile-Based Pocket PC” or some such nonsense.

One of the major points of confusion right now is the new smartphones like the Motorola Q and the Treo 700w. While these are similar looking devices, one (the Q) is a Windows Mobile Smartphone and the other (Treo) is a Windows Mobile Pocket PC. This is despite the fact that both claim to run Windows Mobile 5. The truth is that the Treo does and the Q does not. You can thank Microsoft and Verizon for that bizarre lapse of marketing oversight.

The easiest way to tell at this point is to check whether or not the phone has a touch-sensitive screen. At least to date, if it has a touch screen it’s a Pocket PC. If it doesn’t, it’s a Smartphone.

Microsoft claims that the two brands are merging. In the future you’ll buy Windows Mobile devices and won’t worry about whether it’s a Pocket PC or a Smartphone. This is fine — we’re all for simplification. The problem is that the marketing horse seems to have gotten ahead of the development cart. Until the two separate operating systems are actually one — so that software can be targetted at one operating system for any kind of Windows Mobile device — they need to do a better job keeping the two brands separate.

In the meantime, tap your screen. If something happens, buy PocketBible for Pocket PC. If you just hear the sound of fingernail on plastic, buy PocketBible for Windows Mobile Smartphone.

The Q and Me

Posted on: July 27th, 2006 by Craig Rairdin 8 Comments

So, Motorola has released its Moto Q and it is receiving generally favorable reviews. But just what is it? It is a super-thin Smartphone running Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0.

There is a lot to like about the Q. My favorite part of the phone is the gorgeous display. It is bright, clear and sharp. The processor seems fast enough for typical Smartphone tasks, such as running Laridian’s PocketBible for Smartphone Finally, it is indeed very thin, though its north & south dimensions are closer to a traditional Pocket PC than a phone.

Like most anything, however, there are some flaws. For example, no WiFi. This is to be expected, as the carriers (currently only Verizon) really want the consumer racking up the minutes. Just imagine all the revenue that would vanish if web access was possible via a wireless network. But my biggest non-technical objection to the device has to be that it doesn’t have a touch screen. The thing looks like a PDA and it just begs you to tap the screen. But no, it is just a humble phone and restricts your interaction to the Smartphone way of doing things. Of course, the QWERTY keyboard makes it much easier to input data than its Smartphone predecessors.

Oh, but that full keyboard, what problems it caused for us here at Laridian! Without getting bogged down in the technical details, let me give you an idea of what we faced. First, some background: Microsoft’s original vision for the Smartphone was device which excelled at accessing data, not data entry. To make it as easy on our customers to navigate through Bibles and search them, we offer guesses based on what you have input to this point. For instance, when the T9 input is enabled, typing an “A” in the Go To dialog leads the app to guess that you are perhaps intending to go the the book of Acts. The “guessing” which takes place in the search dialog is even specific to the Bible you are currently looking at, it only offers suggestions based on the words found in that particular Bible.

This seemed to be a nice feature, something liked by the Laridian staff who have a Smartphone and our customers. Then along comes the Q. Suddenly, there is no standard phone keyboard, no “ABC” on the 2 key. However, it is very easy to type an “A” using that snazzy QWERTY keyboard. Unfortunately, that input looks different from the previous Smartphone input for the letter “A”. But our app has no way of knowing what kind of keyboard the device has – you can thank our friends at Redmond for this! Here is where I skip over lots of technical information to tell you that it isn’t possible to do the suggestions on the Q like we do for all other Microsoft Smartphones.

So what is our solution? We can allow the user to just use the QWERTY keyboard. On the Moto Q that actually works well, since that device has a built in auto-complete facility which learns from your previous input, so that typing “Acts” once means that it will suggest that to you the next time you type an “A”. But even here, PocketBible runs into problems. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t know the type of keyboard the phone has, so we can’t know when it is appropriate to expect QWERTY input. What to do, what to do? We opted for defaulting to our normal helpful behavior of offering our suggestions. Owners of the Q will need to toggle through the input modes until they get the phone into “abc” input mode, which allows use of the QWERTY keyboard but without our suggestions. From now on, this edit box will remember this mode. This seems to us at Laridian to be as close to the best of both worlds that we can get, given the hardware and operating system limitations.

We will be releasing an update to PocketBible for Windows Mobile-based Smartphones soon which includes the changes to accommodate the Q, along with a few other enhancements.

I hope that if you have a Microsoft Smartphone, you will try PocketBible. I use it all the time and believe that, on the Q or other Smartphone, you’ll really like having the Bible with you.

On the Road with Pocket PC

Posted on: July 25th, 2006 by Craig Rairdin 4 Comments

I’m currently in Hungary on a short term missions trip. Craig asked me to talk a little bit about how I’m using technology during this trip.

It’s been a lot of fun actually.

I brought my PocketPC (iPAQ rx3715) with me along with the power cord, the appropriate outlet adapter (“B”) and my keyboard. The camp that I’m working at is WiFi equipped.

I’ve been able to keep in almost constant contact with our family, friends and other supporters while we’re here (about an hour east of Budapest in a small village).

I’ve been using “Messaging” (included on every PocketPC) to handle email. We have a group set up using Google to broadcast the emails and individual team members are also sending and receiving email from their families.

I’ve been using a program called AudioBay to post “podcasts” on the Internet right from my PocketPC. We use these to let our supporters hear some of the Hungarian praise and worship music and now and then I have the team members give audible reports.

I’ve also been using Skype to call my family. I had my Cingular phone unlocked so that I could buy a SIM card for it when I got here, but Skype works well enough and costs only two cents a minute (versus 99 cents plus the $6/ month for Cingular international).

Some of the other things that I’ve been doing with my PocketPC include watching movies on the plane (using DVDtoPocketPC), and translating words from the Hungarian students and learning basic phrases in Hungarian (programs from LingvoSoft). I even wrote and sent in my next article for Christian Computing Magazine. Of course I’ve been using PocketBible for devotions and devotional preparations. It’s great having multiple translations immediately available.

It’s pretty cool to be out in the middle of Hungary and still be connected to all this computing power using a device smaller than a paperback book (which reminds me…I’ve also used it to read some books that I bought in MS Reader format before I left).

Browsing with Firefox

Posted on: July 24th, 2006 by Craig Rairdin 9 Comments

I’m a pretty die-hard Internet Explorer fan. In fact, I’m what you’d call an IE bigot. I know there are a lot of problems with IE from a security standpoint, but I refuse to see it. (more…)

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