Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays from Mobilitics

I wish Happy Holidays and very mobile next year to all of you. I will be back next time at 2009 (unless something very exiting happens).


Usability problem with E71 calendar

Beware: it seems that the improved calendar in Nokia's E71 has an usability problem that will effectively delete your calendar history. This has been reported to me by a couple of independent users and it seems that there is a need for an application that would allow user to recover his lost calendar data. Worse enough, if you don't understand immediately what has happened and you sync your calendar account to your calendar server, data will be lost there, too.

What happens?

You have calendar open with a month view, looking like this:

Then you decide that the visible event should be deleted and you select Options->Delete

Because you have used calendar a lot, you don't look at the options very closely. Normally the first selection item will delete the selected entry and you select that. Unfortunately this time it will delete your calendar history.

Who reads confirmation prompts anyway - yes, I want to delete this entry!

At this point you might get an uncomfortable feeling that things aren't as they should be. Now you'd need an undo-command but that's not available.

Unlike other S60 devices the widescreen E71 displays individual calendar entries also in month view and user gets a wrong idea what he is about to delete. Users are also so bored with confirmation prompts that more experienced people just hit automatically OK without reading the prompt. Either the UI should be changed in E71 or user should have access to undo-command that could recover the lost data.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Last minute travel tip

Here's a last-minute travel tip for those who can visit Helsinki before 6th of January: visit the fine exhibition by Samuli Heimonen, Young Artist of the Year 2008. Exhibition details here. Small pictures of the work from his website cannot reproduce the feeling of the originals. 

Perhaps you are a programmer-minded engineer and don't quite like modern art - why should you care? Because Samuli's works are easy to approach and his works will stimulate your mind. Works are layered in such a way that the longer you watch those, the more you will see new images. First impression is certainly not the last one. In his recent interview he spoke about his working methods and that resembled the way I like to do programming: you must do painting/programming frequently no to loose the touch and no matter how short a time you will be doing it, you never know beforehand what kind of a magic will happen. In fact, programming is very close to art when it comes to expressing your idea in some form. You have an idea and you can make it alive by painting, singing, programming, writing and so on. 

Interesting book to read is Donald E. Knuths Literate Programming where he compares programming to writing a book. Make a test: give a topic and plot to a couple of writers and read the result - every book will tell the same story but in a very different way. Some are better than the others. Give a specification to a couple of programmers and study the result - all programs execute the same task, but some implementations are better than the others. And finally: ask some painters to paint a picture of a bear, and the winner is Samuli Heimonen.


Friday, November 28, 2008

SIM cards are coming back

Well, SIM cards of course have never disappeared from phones, but does anybody remember times when we were waiting for bigger SIM cards that could store something like 10 SMS messages and 50 contacts? Then terminal become the data repository and SIM card was only the token that opened the network subscription for you and nobody seemed to care about the cards anymore.

Years rolled by and SIM card really wasn't something that could excite people.

Last week I had an interesting discussion with a colleague who has been following the SIM-card developments closely and I learned that new SIM cards that implement Java Card 3 specification can do very interesting things, like create a local HTTP-server - running inside your SIM-card!  I still haven't quite figured out what kind of support (if any) that needs from the host terminal, but just imagine what kind of innovation possibilities that would offer for low end terminals in developing countries. SIM card is also a very safe place to save small amounts of data. More information available for example from Gemalto's site.

As if this wasn't enough, I yesterday became aware of a solution that turns your SIM card to a A-GPS receiver - and yes, information is not published 1st of April. BlueSky Positioning has put the necessary software into the SIM card and created a proprietary antenna solution that allows the signal to be available for a card hiding under the battery. This innovation can turn also older terminals into a nice platform for location based solutions and thus enable LBS-services to be delivered to such user groups that can't now even imagine about buying a latest smartphone with GPS-support. If this really works as promised, this kind of an innovation can enable unprecedented solutions in the future.

Must follow SIM-card platform innovations more closely in the future!


Monday, November 24, 2008

Too much plus one

As told before, last week I was invited to Forum Nokia's events at Budapest (see other visitor's diary from here) to see and hear how the platforms are evolving. On my way back home I made a list of different possible environments that could turn your idea into action on a Nokia mobile device. What do you think about this breathtaking list (have I missed something?):
There surely is everything for everybody, I'd even say that some platforms could be dropped and development resources reallocated to make the rest of the platforms stronger.

As if this isn't enough, VMWare launched Mobile Virtualization Platform that soon will allow us to run virtual images in mobile phones. When we will see first Symbian OS terminal running Windows Vista in a VMWare image?

Update 1.12.2008: Links to Forum Nokia site updated.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Innovator's Dilemma

The Innovator's Dilemma is a great book by Clayton M. Christensen where he presents an idea that great companies fail because the too long do the “right” things. This seemingly absurd claim is explained well in his book, but summarized it means that listening your customers and constantly improving your old product will finally kill you. This happens because at the same time new and hungry companies enter the market with their disruptive innovations. Typically these innovations at first seem very bad when compared to the specs of the current solutions; their performance is worse, capacity is smaller and so on. Such products would never be done by the old giants, they could do much “better” and their customers are not asking them to do products like this.

The clue is that new innovations carry attributes that are different compared to the old ones. These new attributes allow in turn new innovations for the customers and possibly enable whole new products to be created. In his book Christensen studies disk drive industry, how new smaller disk sizes have every time been overlooked by the old giants, and industry newcomers have taken the market. Old players have asked their customers and they have told that bigger disk capacity is needed - so disk manufacturers did a justified management decision and didn’t invest into production of smaller disks. After some time there was no market at all for such companies. Can you imagine how would your iPod look like if we only had 14” disks now?

To my great surprise I one day understood that this kind of Old Giants vs. Innovative Newcomers battle is happening at the moment in the laptop industry. When first mini-laptops became available I just couldn’t understand why anybody would like to buy one (in fact, I still don’t understand that but it’s another story). They don’t fit into the pocket like a phone and if you must carry a bag for a laptop, why not carry a normal sized one? Their performance specs are ridiculous and keyboard is small. No wonder that Fujitsu-Siemens or Lenovo didn’t innovate these, at least I wouldn’t have given a permission to invest any money on the R&D project for mini-laptops.

Despite all this, mini-laptops are a very hot thing now, Gartner reported that for EMEA region year-over-year shipment growth for Acer has been 60.9% and for Asus 179.8%! HP also lost it’s No. 1 market position to Acer, thanks to the mini-laptops. There is really a change in the air!

Could same thing happen also in the mobile phone industry? Of course Apple’s iPhone was kind of a surprise when it came out, but I wouldn’t consider it as a disruptive innovation, after all. The device is comparable to the old smartphones, although Apple has weighted slightly different features than Nokia. The disruptive innovation is in the business model that makes the operators to fight for the terminal, compared to the old situation that made device manufacturers to come crawling to the operator’s doors.

So what’s the point in this writing? The same that has happened in many businesses (like hard drive, PC, laptop, etc. industries) will happen also in the mobile phone industry. Someday finetuning existing features, adding more and more megapixels and memory storage is not enough. New player will enter the market and launch a product that at the first sight may look stupid with its small feature set and technical limitations, but after some time we will understand that disruptive and bold innovation has once again entered the market. Who will do this and which of the old companies will survive, I don’t have a clue.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

About Mobile Strategy

Someday you might get caught in a situation that you should be talking about company’s mobile strategy. Quickly Googling around the Internet, gathering some information and telling about present and forthcoming mobile technologies doesn’t make your presentation “strategic”, perhaps only obscure from the audience’s point of view.

In my vocabulary strategy work is about looking into the future so that companies can make decisions and plans in an organized way. If strategy work fails, company will have its back against the wall and it is forced to react. On the other hand a good strategy will allow company to make decisions when there are real options available. Of course “Black Swan” situations will challenge even the brightest strategies - check the book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

For Mobile Strategy paper I think you should cover at least following topics.

Meet the Business
If you have read my writings, you must have noticed that “mobility for mobility’s sake” is one thing that I hate. You should meet the people who run the actual business, don’t only speak to IT department. What applications there are already available, what are the needs in everyday business, where are the worst performance bottlenecks that could be solved with mobile solutions etc. If there is no actual need for mobile solutions, be honest and say that.

Security policy
Company must think beforehand what impact mobile solutions will have on company’s security policy. How access is allowed from mobile networks into company network to fetch data? Who is responsible for all this? Is there some data that absolutely not can be used on mobile device?

If topics like above are not documented, there is a risk of “maverick projects” that create their own solutions - sometimes just because there is nobody who can comment on issues regarding mobile access into corporate network.

Something about the devices
Strategy paper should not handle actual device models as they change far too often. Better way is to comment on platforms and predict their future in a couple of years timeframe. Try to make a reasoned suggestion about which platforms the company should use. Implementing a “pilot project” with every possible platform is not something that you should suggest.

Does some function require special devices? Can devices be categorized for different user groups?

Something about the architecture
Adding mobile device access to a closed proprietary IT architecture can be a painful process. Try to get an overview about the current infrastructure and suggest how mobile needs will affect infrastructure during the next three years.

Getting feedback and learning from the projects
As always, companies should measure the results and get feedback from the projects. If mobile solutions are new to your customer, they should carefully gather data from projects and evaluate the performance. As you probably know, there are many ways how a mobile project might fail. Failing once is allowed but doing the same mistake again is plain stupidity. How feedback data is gathered and how it will be analyzed?

Support and maintenance
Mobile applications require new skills from help desk because solutions include functionalities from many sources; terminal, network, operator, possible new middleware components, company’s own infrastructure etc.. How that will be taken care of?

How mobile devices are managed after they have been delivered to end user? No management at all, user’s are not allowed to change anything or something in between?

Risks and opportunities
Do mobile applications create new risks (business or technical) to company? What is the probability of the risk and what if risk really happens?

What are the opportunities that mobile solutions can create for business, customer service, cost structure, quality, customer satisfactory and so on.

This was a quick list of things that I think belong to corporate mobile strategy. Comments and suggestions are welcome, as always!


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Port forwarding and nice surprise from SonyEricsson

In the current turbulence of mobile business email after Nokia’s announcement about dropping the Intellisync solution from their portfolio I once started to think about new ways of connecting to corporate email accounts. The quick and easy answer is to use IMAP, but many organizations feel that opening direct IMAP port to public network is a security risk. I got an idea about doing port forwarding with smartphones, a trick that is common in the desktop environment: open an ssh tunnel between two computers and route traffic from a local network port over encrypted session to the another network. Kind of a "poor man's mobile VPN". This way we would need to first open an ssh session to the local network, map terminal’s IMAP (or any other) port to the remote site and create an email account that has “localhost” as email server. Implementing this seemed straightforward, as POSIX-libraries are available for Symbian and there are sources available for different implementations, like OpenSSH. The critical success factor would be how easy solution is to use and how well it is productized.

I did some Googling and found that this has already been done, at least by SSHForwarding application. Unfortunately application failed to run on N95, but anyway this application proves that the idea is not all bad if somebody else had already thought about it. Does anybody know other productized solutions that do the port forwarding thing with smartphones?

Nice surprise from SonyEricsson

I haven’t much used SE devices in personal use, just tried those every now and then. Some time ago I started to use SE K800i just to get some real experiences with the device. To my big surprise I found a remote control application from the phone, launched that and application found my Apple laptop. Before I understood what was going on, the application listed a couple of different keyboard mapping options, selected one of those and to my big surprise I was able to control laptop’s mouse and some special keys with my phone, over Bluetooth. Great tool when giving presentations and all this was available for free! I haven’t seen similar feature in Nokia terminals and K800i is an old phone, became available 2006. In addition to this surprise old K800 has been very nice to use - if you have used just smartphones for a long time, try to use something else. You’ll probably be astonished how fast a phone can be.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Electronic voting and mobility

Last weekend Finland had municipal elections and electronic voting was piloted for the first time in three municipalities to get actual feedback and experiences. After the election when results were studied, it turned out that about 2% of all electronic votes were lost, probably because of a usability problem in the system. There hasn't been many good reasons why electronic voting is needed, but one reason I've seen is that it solves the problem regarding hard-to-read handwriting.

Today more statistics were published and it shows that in "traditional" voting about 0.5% of votes were not accepted. Electronic voting lost four times more votes than old-fashioned handwritten tickets. Does this make sense? Why create a new system is old system isn't broken? What if new system is worse than the old one?

The link from Finland's electronic voting to mobile applications is not obvious but anyway that came to my mind in a context of creating mobile applications because it is today's sexy topic. I'll not go listing any bad examples here, but I have a strong feeling that quite a proportion of mobile applications are developed because you must have something mobile today to be a serious corporate citizen. No matter does it make sense, no matter does somebody need it or is it usable. Give me something mobile quickly, please!

I once added a new innovation category to the traditional separation of sustaining and disruptive innovations: a "brute-force innovation". A brute-force innovation is something that doesn't improve old system (like sustaining innovation) nor does it change the business paradigm (like disruptive innovation) - it is an "innovation" that has to be done for some (unclear) reasons -  like "Innovate something blue/mobile/soft/whatever for us". It's like forcing a rectangular brick to a round hole, just hit harder and you will do it.

Why I've started to argument reasons not to do mobile solutions, it is still unclear to me... For clarity's sake: I really like good mobile applications in the right context, but I hate applications that are made just because "we must have something mobile".


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Small example of a bad process

It's been a while since the latest post - I got a nice(?) idea and I've been developing that during the evenings. Let's see if the idea is strong enough to survive...

First some quick notes:
  • I got my Accredited Symbian Developer status renewed. It's nice to see that I was still able to pass the test although I really haven't been involved with development tasks lately
  • I was re-elected as Forum Nokia Champion for third consecutive year
  • I'll participate in Forum Nokia's events at Budapest between 17-20 November. If you will be there, it would be nice to have a face-to-face chat. Drop me an email in case you'll be there.
Sometimes mobilizing the business process would not be a good idea. That came to my mind when a while ago decided to order a couple of new TV-channels from my cable-TV operator. I logged in to their nice web-based self service portal, made the order and thought that was it. Days went by and nothing happened. Then finally I called to the service desk and asked what's wrong; they told me there is some queue at the back office and my order is not yet entered to the system. Luckily the support lady was helpful and she took my order, activated manually new settings to my subscription and sent a ticket to the back office to cancel my initial order - she also advised me to call next time directly to the support desk . Later somebody at the back office hopefully processed the cancel ticket...

Just think how bad the process was from the operator's point of view, by using the self service portal I actually created more work for their staff than if I just had called them at the first place. In these circumstances it would be good idea to shut down the self-service portal - adding new channels like mobile would be plain stupid (assuming that process doesn't work better for other customers).

This is a simple example how adding mobility to the business process is not automatically a good thing. If the process is broken, don't boost it - fix it.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mobility is not speciality

Yesterday Nokia announced that it will focus on consumer applications and drop "behind-the-firewall" products, which includes also Intellisync solution. From business strategy perspective this is a rational move, allowing Nokia to focus on the things it can do the best and create partnerships in areas where it cannot successfully compete.

In article by Helsingin Sanomat (Finnish newspaper) I found a quote from Niklas Savander where he says exactly what I think. I couldn't find this from the original press release, so here is a my quick translation of the comment:
"Mobility has became a mainstream in enterprise computing and it is no longer a speciality. When applications need to be mobilized, companies often rely on their existing partners."

It's no more than ten years ago when it was discussed if something could be done with a browser, whether a browser is good or bad, if we should create dedicated browser versions of old client/server applications etc. Now all this sounds stupid, but replace browser with mobile phone and you'll see my point. Companies don't anymore hire browser consultants (but hire mobile consultants), companies don't have browser partners (but have mobile partners), companies don't "browserize" applications (but mobilize those). Browser is mainstream in business applications, mobile is not - yet. 

Mobile solutions still carry some of the old legacy of being something extremely difficult, but for how long? Can your sales arguments survive when the customer opens his eyes and asks you "what's so different in mobile development that I need yet another partner for that? Why can't I do this with my existing partners?"


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Comment about mobile mail

Frost & Sullivan today published a Market insight article ("Take a Peek at Your Wireless Email: Why There is Still Room for a New Solution Provider") about a new mobile email solution. The presented solution itself is really nothing new, technically it seems to be a new device with a qwerty-keyboard. The innovation in this case (hopefully) lies behind the targeted customer base, not in the technology.

The article gives yet another figures about the usage of mobile email: 15 million users in the US and 32 million internationally are actively using cell phones to manage their emails. Coincidentally Symbian today published their Q2 2008 financial report that states they have shipped 225.9 million devices since the formation of Symbian. Compare that to the number of active mobile email users and think also about the other feature phone / smartphone platforms. How many mobile email enabled terminals there are currently in use vs. how many of those are actually using email. The gap is astronomical.

Why is that? The short answer probably is that nobody owns the convergence and users are not able to see the possibilities that their devices have. Email option is there, but nobody has told the users that just by configuring the email account to the device mobile email becomes reality. There surely is still room for innovators who can communicate to public that mobile email is a commodity that all owners of relatively new mid and high end terminal owners can use. But how to do business with that information?

Read more about this topic:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mobile 1-2-3

I collected material from a couple of my previous postings, combined those to a single document and made some updates. Like before, the focus is not on "how" but on "what".

You can find the paper from here.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who owns convergence?

Last weekend I made a convergence discovery at home. We have an IPTV set-top box that includes many things which most are explained in a language that can only be decrypted by a seasoned engineer. I also have a smartphone that supports UPnP, with customer benefits that the manual so clearly manages to explain:
"Your device is compatible with UPnP. Using a wireless LAN (WLAN) access point device or a WLAN router, you can create a home network and connect compatible UPnP devices that support WLAN to the network, such as your device, a compatible PC, a compatible printer, and a compatible sound system or television, or a sound system or a television equipped with a compatible wireless receiver." (Taken from user’s guide)
Putting these two together means that I can watch the pictures stored in my smartphone from our TV screen. Tried that and it worked (well, it was a little bit slow process with constant content refreshes but let’s put that aside).

Understanding that these two devices can co-operate was a pure coincidence, I just happened to be playing with both devices at the same time and during that I got an idea of sharing content between TV and smartphone. How many end users will find this out? In fact, how big a proportion of current smartphone-enabled features are left unused, because users can’t use them. How could they use those if they don’t know they exist? I doubt that reading explanation like the one above tells much to user who don’t already have an idea what UPnP is, for example.

Well, who owns convergence? Which party in mobile value chain educates users and tells them about such new possibilities that require multiple service providers? Device manufacturers? No, they are interested in device sales and will not care about customer complaints about 3rd party services. Operators? No, they will give support only for their own services. Application developers? No, they will do their best when it comes to their own software but don’t care about other’s solutions. Resellers? Certainly not.

It seems that user is left alone with his device.

To highlight the problem, here’s a real life story. A couple of years ago one of our customers had a problem with his terminal’s connectivity. I investigated the problem and understood that this might be network related issue, so we made a call to operator’s help desk. Discussion was something like this:
We: “We can’t make a connection to server xyz through network port xyz. Can you tell us if there has been reconfigurations in your network that could have caused this and if the change is permanent.”
Support:”Which terminal you are using?”
We: “This is Nokia 7610”
Support: “Sorry Sir, we don’t sell that device. I can’t continue this call.”

Life hasn’t become any easier since those days as new services are moving into mobile domain. More services means more service boundaries which means more problems that users must be able to solve by their own. Well, if they have been lucky enough to find the service possibilities.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What time is it?

Beware all N78 users, the device gives faulty clock information. Take a look at the pictures below to see what I mean (time between the pictures is no more than 5 seconds):

Notice the time? This is easy to reproduce, just open the menu screen (first image) and leave terminal like that. After some time check what time is it:  look at the time, press menu button and check time again. That's it, at least in my device (software version 12.046).


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How many different device models does your company have?

Look at the news coming from Australia, there seems to be some serious thinking if HSBC should change their 200.000 Blackberries over to iPhone. I don't have an opinion whether that would be smart move or not, but I must say that the idea of changing company's all devices (in this scale) is a bold and beautiful.

A weak CIO would handle this process in a different way, "trying to avoid mistakes". He would have a limited pilot group using new terminals for a while. Of course that requires that servers and services are tuned to support new terminals. Because that was difficult with old hardware, new server installations had to take place. Then support process and help desk must be taught to handle requests coming from pilot group and so on. Time passes by and pilot group thinks new devices are "nice" and they don't want to go back to old devices. Because pilot project didn't show "significant cost savings", decision is made to keep the old devices for a while and start a new pilot with new devices. Repeat this a couple of times and you will get a big mess. 

When a company doesn't have a clear strategy covering the mobile solutions, it can lead to a situation where nobody controls which mobile devices are used. Nobody expects that staff could choose their own office furniture, desktop computing environment or some other equipment that is there just to enable the core business. For some reason mobile devices are an exception and often companies can have almost every kind of terminals used in everyday business. This puts an extra burden to support people, necessitates middleware servers between various phones and back-end services and makes dedicated mobile applications look non-economical because they must be implemented to many different platforms.

All this reminds me of an very old project where I used to work. Project had a requirement that relational database engine can be changed at any time. This meant in practice that all the work of RDB must be implemented at the application layer, because otherwise implementation hasn't been database independent. So, lots of work was put to implementing database functionality and the database itself was only a replacement for a flat file. As you might guess, database was never changed - in fact it wasn't ever even discussed. If somebody had been bold enough to stand up and say that project is doing stupid things, all the effort wasted on duplicating database functionality could have been allocated to making the solution better to end users.

This experience often comes to my mind when I see companies struggling with different devices, mobile middleware, frustrated users and so on. Free advice to CIOs: pick a (reasonably good) mobile device that matches with your requirements and give that to everybody. Then you can simplify the environment and new mobile solution projects become possible, because there is not a myriad of devices to support.


Family calendar tip for Mac users

This is a tip I must share with you!

Everyday problem for any family is how to organize hobbies, daycare, who is where with whom, who picks kids from nursery and so on. In business environment this is easy, because everybody is using a groupware calendar (at least in perfect world). However, I haven't been excited about buying an Exchange server for my family, for example.

So far we have been using a shared Google calendar, but I just saw an announcement that makes this easier than before. At least if you are a Mac user with a Nokia phone. Story goes like this:
  1. Make a Google calendar for your family and share it as needed
  2. Get the calendar to your Mac's iCal by following this guide
  3. Sync your calendar from Mac to your Nokia phone as instructed here
It works. Now you have a family calendar that can be used with browser or directly from your Mac desktop and you can also carry it with you in your terminal. Next time you book a meeting to evening, you can see immediately if you should be nursing kids at the same time. Nice.

I wonder when S60 terminals add support for CalDav. After all, S60 3rd edition  fp2 has added support for WebDav and CalDav is an extension to that. Finally we could get an alternative for SyncML.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sweeter dreams with smartphone?

Today's newspaper had a small piece of news at the science pages telling that neurophysiologist and engineers have together created a new innovation for mobile terminals. The idea is that smartphone will wake you up when your sleep is the lightest and only a small signal is needed to wake you up. Software records the sounds you make when you are sleeping and does statistical analysis to determine when is the best time to wake up.

I haven't tested the application and I don't know more about it, but I like this innovation that combines medical research with smartphone development and claims to solve an everyday problem.

Application's homepage can be found here.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Back to work (with Nokia N78)

Oh no, a four week vacation (never had a vacation this long before) is over and office is calling. Normally I walk 15 minutes to office but today it took half an hour to get there. By a bicycle.

During vacation I got myself a new Nokia N78 smartphone. It is a nice device but some things bother me. For example:

Terminal was supposed to come with a free 3 month navigation license. Couldn’t get that working, so I contacted Nokia’s support. No answer yet, but other users seem to have the same problem.

Terminal has a “naviwheel” that imitates iPod’s control wheel. This wheel is less accurate and doesn’t work with all applications.

The keypad isn’t always working precisely. Especially end key (the red one) and clear key (c) are difficult to use and false key presses happen a lot (maybe this is just my terminal?)

Camera application can geotag images (i.e. add coordinates from GPS to picture’s metadata). Photo viewing application from terminal can use this information but when picture is uploaded to Nokia’s Ovi service, location information is lost or not used.

Podcast application still doesn’t remember the position nor does it offer ability to fast forward the episode. Once you have listened a one hour long episode half way and accidentally stopped it, you know what I mean.

FM receiver does strange things. Once it started to have once a minute a five second break. Another time channel didn’t change at all - UI was refreshing, frequency information changed and so on but channel was same all the time. A device reboot fixed these.

With default settings active idle screen has an item that takes you to “Share online” application. That item also has two small icons with a number that probably mean something. However, I couldn’t find from manual any explanation what those are. Maybe somebody knows?

Finally something not actually related to Nokia: because terminal so willingly wants to upload data to Flickr, I also created an account there. To my surprise an account created with default settings published pictures to everybody. When I uploaded family pictures there, those were suddenly shared with the whole world.

What was good with the terminal? New access point handling makes WiFi usage a lot easier than before.

What was exceptional with the terminal? The ability to mount WebDAV disks over the air. With this feature my terminal suddenly had 50+ GB storage space; my previous laptop didn’t have that much.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Summer holiday and Symbian Foundation

Finally sweet summer and holiday are here! Long days and nightless nights take thoughts away from mobile issues, don’t expect many postings during July!

Before holiday, a couple of minor notes about the recent Symbian Foundation news.

Symbian developers available. When Nokia has merged, reorganized and streamlined development process of UIQ, S60 and Symbian there will be bad news for developers. UIQ already started this by announcing to close down two of their three offices and this - I’m afraid - is just the beginning. However, Symbian related development work will not disappear, it will just move to different companies. The resources needed for platform development will be reallocated for application level development.

The return of the user interface. Many years ago Symbian’s former CEO Colly Myers admitted in an interview that Symbian shouldn’t have spent time on UI development because UI has such a strategic meaning to phone manufacturers. Phones had to be differentiated somehow and UI had to pay the price - companies have spent much time and money to create different UI’s on top of Symbian and the results have been...well, you know. Now UI will become part of Symbian and hopefully we will see it improving when best parts of different UI’s will be put together. For typical phone user UI is one of the most important things; having efficient memory management doesn’t help if you cannot easily use your phone to do everyday tasks.

The return of UI will raise Symbian from OS level to platform level.

Symbian will become open and free, is that important? Yes and no.

It is important because it will put all developers to same line. So far there have been 1st class developers who have had access to Symbian internals and then the rest of us who have been told that some things are just not for us. Innovation needs fuel and this is it.

The phone’s success is determined every day at the retail shops. There phones are nothing else but consumer electronics, evaluated by many properties and operating system is not one of those. Phones are like cameras - or do you know which OS your digital camera has and what were the licensing terms? Would it matter?

Have a nice summer!


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Solutions for system integrators

Earlier this year I wrote a checklist to use before a potential mobile project, a tool to verify if the proposed mobile project would make sense. Then later I wrote second question set that you could use after you have decided to create an installable mobile application. This is the third checklist, aimed for projects that want to ensure that their solution is easy to sell, easy to buy and easy to productize as a service. My aim is to remind you that although the mobility issues are important, your solution might also need features that operators and/or system integrators appreciate. Some might say that these topics are self-evident, but I’ve seen that sometimes all development focus is put to mobility and these basic requirements are forgotten.

I like your solution and I want to sell it to my customers. What should I do?

After you have done some serious marketing and customer has accepted your proposal, next thing is to give detailed instructions how to setup the solution’s environment. What kind of server setup is needed? How many users can typical server configuration handle? What happens when the user limit is reached?

Mobile (enterprise) applications are almost always connected to back-end servers and processes. For that reason designing the server side architecture together with smartphone architecture is an important task to ensure successful project completion. Of course there is no single right answer for server architecture, but at least following subtopics should be kept in mind.

Think about the situation that your application becomes really successful and your current server setup is overloaded and customers are getting frustrated as operations are getting slower every day. What would you do? Buy more hardware, I guess, but then what? If you haven't thought about this before, you might experience problems if your application isn't really scalable. Just replacing the old server with new one isn't enough if you cannot balance the load between multiple servers. Remember also that being able to distribute processing between multiple servers increases fault tolerance.

Also remember that scalability must be implemented so that you can explain and verify to the customer that it really can be done. This is an important selling point, because of course you and your customer both believe that this application will become a huge success, right?

Surely you don't code everything from scratch by yourself, but build system architecture using some "building blocks" from various sources. When selecting those components, pay attention not only to technical aspects but also to popularity and familiarity of those components. Developing software is expensive, but maintaining and supporting it 24/7 is even more expensive. If you select verified and common application components, you probably make life much easier for your hosting and training partners. After all, a major part of solutions costs occur after the deployment because support and maintenance are expensive tasks. Check my posting about the cost of mobility for reference.

Is this a service?

If you don’t sell your solution as SaaS (Software as a Service), I’m quite sure that one of your partners will do so. They will then be very interested if they can host multiple customer organizations from a single server installation securely and easily.

Multitenancy may be somewhat unfamiliar term for a very understandable requirement: you should be able to run multiple independent instances of your application using single hardware. Independent instances mean that they have private data areas and instances can be managed separately. This is an important requirement for companies creating applications to be hosted by other companies: if new hardware must be installed for every new customer organization, installation and system maintenance costs become too expensive and your systems is not as competitive as it could be.

Also you should remember to think early about user accounts and billing. Being “easily billable” means that the solution must save auditing data that can be used for billing users. What that data really is depends on your business model, but in optimal solution you would have multiple options for this. Some of your partners can prefer monthly subscriptions whereas some other partner can find charging based on data amount better, for example. Here you can also think that if your terminal application always requires server access, it is much easier to distribute the terminal application freely without license codes, because the application is useless without a valid server license. Implementing licensing and billing is much easier on the server side, compared to solution where you try to do that on the terminal. Also it wouldn’t be a problem if users want to change their terminals as license is bound to user account, not to a piece of hardware.

Is your solution secure?

If you forget security issues, you can say goodbye to customers - very simple rule. Minimum requirement is that you should be able to explain how security is handled in your solution and why customer should feel safe. During solution development you must balance between application’s usability and security; make your decision and be prepared to explain that to customers. Security is also about understanding the potential risks and an important task is to be able to explain the solution’s security model so that the potential customer can do risk analysis - small known risk is much better than not being able to do risk analysis at all.

Especially enterprise solutions must allow hierarchical user model. This means that user management can be delegated to different sub-organizations so that organization’s all user management is not done by one superuser. Add proper auditing to this and you will get solution that can also create a report about who has done what and when. In some cases you will be asked if your solution complies with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, meaning (simplified!) in practice that solution must include auditing and data integrity must be maintained - also with mobile devices.

One interesting aspect of security with mobile devices is co-operation with 3rd party security applications like anti-virus and encryption software. For example, when data encryption application is installed into the terminal, the files might not be readable when you try to access those. Especially with older devices security applications created problems by slowing down the terminal and consuming a large percentage of free RAM.

Finally: encrypt all communications. Always.


Monday, June 9, 2008

S60 optimized Picasa

Remember by old rant about iPhone getting all the attention and nice optimized application versions whereas the rest of the mobile community must beg for support? Now it appears that at least Google's Picasa has become S60 optimized. This can be a good start, I wish. 


Friday, June 6, 2008

Email as SMS replacement?

Those who use GMail with browser might have noticed that there is a new Lab-page available where Google has put some new features for users to test. Nothing spectacular, I must say.

These new features put me into thinking about GMail's strengths, especially in mobile use. One nice feature is the Push Mail feature that works just great. In fact it works so well that sometimes I have wondered could it be used as a cheap replacement for SMS messages. As everybody knows, SMS's are great way to send user quick information, but the drawback is that every message costs real money to the sender. If you send lots of messages, that will have economic importance although cost for one single message is negligible.

Some time ago I was looking for a solution that could alert me by SMS when some important RSS feeds are updated. I can understand that the lack of these kinds of solutions is just because nobody wants to pay the price of sending SMS messages to users. My idea was essentially not about receiving SMS's, it was about receiving alerts to mobile terminal and that requirement could quite nicely be implemented with mobile GMail. What this would mean is that Google team should add feature to Reader that would allow user to request an email alert when an important feed is updated. If user wants, he could redirect an update message to his GMail inbox and if that account/folder is subscribed to mobile phone, we would have a free RSS alert without any SMS's.

BTW: did you know that you can append tags to your GMail address, just write + after your email address, like firstname.lastname+rss@gmail.com. After you have tagged your address like that, it is easy to create filters and it is also a nice way to track who has leaked your email address to spammers.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Old technologies’ last gasp

I found an interesting article by Daniel C. Snow from January 2008 Harvard Business Review. In his article “Beware of Old Technologies’ Last Gasp” he explains what are the reasons behind the phenomenon that it will take longer than expected before new technology will replace the old one and hence it will take longer than expected before the new technology companies will become profitable. I feel that in mobile business this problem is not as big as in some others, because mobility seldom replaces completely the old process. Mobility is both-and; not either-or. Another possibility is that mobility enables something that hasn’t been available before, therefore there’s nothing to replace.

First reason why old technologies survive longer than expected is that new solutions replace old ones first from market segments where the old technology was already poorly suited (“A retreat to defensible ground” as Snow puts it). This gives better position for old solutions to compete at segments where they are at their best. This gives a temporary improvement to their performance and delays the expansion of the new solution.

Second reason for the last gasp of old technology is that old solutions can learn something important from the new ones and sometimes even use parts of the new solution to gain quick improvements.

These observations are important for both parties: new players must prepare to wait a little bit longer before their business projections will become true and the old solution providers must not make the mistake that they believe the “last gasp” to be a sign of successful and sustainable improvement.


New channel to access Mobilitics

Today I made Mobilitics accessible also from Nokia's Widsets solution. If you want to give it a try, just click this button Add to my Widsets and add the feed to your mobile desktop.

Also the good old m.mobilitics.net is still there to access the site from your mobile browser.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Customer oriented device management

Have you ever wondered why such a great thing as mobile device management is so rarely used, at least in smaller companies? After all, when new terminals are deployed to customer, the major problem is how to get the settings configured and applications installed. If end-users are supposed to do that by themselves, you can say goodbye to productivity and finally majority of the users are not able to use the new terminals for any other purpose than making voice calls. This is just the point where device management comes to the picture and customers are ready to buy the solution but...is there anybody to sell it?

Every time I have seen device management solution productized, result has been the same; monthly fixed price subscription. Customer wants to solve a one-time problem and salesman tries to sell a subscription; you want a glass of milk and are supposed to buy a dairy. What if device management were productized from a customer’s point of view, what would the problems look like? I would list something like:
  • how to move data from old terminal to new one?
  • how to deploy settings to new terminal?
  • how to install the corporate applications to new terminal?
  • how to fix the terminal settings if user makes an unwanted change?
  • how to remotely wipe the terminal if it is lost?

If we forget the subscription model we can create new products that technically use device same management protocols like OMA CP and OMA DM but speak language that customers can easily understand. A customer oriented device management offering could sell services like:
  • Move contact and calendar data from old terminal to new one
  • Deploy initial network and email settings to new terminal
  • Install x applications to new terminal, additional installations cost ?€ each
  • Restore initial settings
  • Wipe lost device
  • Create application inventory report form terminal

If you run a device management server, you probably can easily give a price tag for every feature above. Subscription model is a valid business model for companies who continuously make changes to terminals and want to keep device management contract as an insurance for the rest of the terminals - just in case something goes wrong. For other customers a simple pay-as-you-use business model that solves understandable problems really would make sense.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Historic perspective to mobility security problems

When I was reading an excellent performance audit report about Finland’s failed PKI-project (more about that later) I remembered an old project where I was once working. At late 90’s web applications were extremely hot and new thing and the project’s target was to create a browser solution that citizens could use to change their contact details. Somebody had made a decision earlier that the web solution must be very secure and all transactions must be strongly authenticated to ensure that no false data could ever be entered to the system. Because of this security requirement, project had to use PKI solution with Finland’s brand new certificates, identity cards and card readers. Obviously that ensured that the browser solution was very well secured.

However, browser access wasn’t the only channel to change person’s contact data. Instead of using the high-secure browser solution, citizen could pick up the phone and call to customer care center and ask them to change the data. No passwords asked, no certificates needed; just give them new address and change was done.

The thing that I didn’t understand at that time (and I still don’t) was that browser access was ranked very insecure and potentially dangerous, but at the same time the old channel was completely lacking user authentication and still there were no problems because of false data or similar. What made browser so dangerous at late 90’s?

I have a strong feeling that browser was once dangerous because it was a new thing and all risks related to that were overrated. What potentially could happen was interpreted that it must happen. Now ten years have passed and situation is much better regarding browser’s risk assessment; of course the risks still exist but browser itself is not seen so dangerous anymore.

What has taken browser’s place as the very-dangerous-new-thing? Mobility of course! So many times I have been in the situation that the possible mobile solution has been ranked very dangerous to the organization - but at the same time the data is already available in the internet from a password protected browser page. What mobility would mean in this case is that the data would be rendered in a different way to ensure usability in a small device. The risk of loosing the mobile device is real, but properly encrypting local data and/or using mobile browser is a good real life solution. 

Now mobile solutions are suffering from this same “new solution’s handicap” that the browser faced at the late 90’s - if you don’t have time to wait until mobility becomes mainstream you’d better work with your arguments and tell customers honestly what the real risks with mobility are. Perhaps the risk is that the competitor integrates mobility smartly into their processes and performs better than you?


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Phone as a security token?

It is a good thing to notice that other people have got same ideas and even more, implemented those.  When that happens, idea probably isn't totally useless.

This came to my mind when I today started to think mobile phone as a security token that could add "something you have" dimension to the login process of a desktop terminal. In short my idea was that desktop computer could be constantly "pinging" a certain bluetooth hardware address, and when that device no longer is available then desktop will automatically lock itself. Think about following use case and you will get the idea: you are sitting at your office working with your desktop. Your colleague arrives and reminds you that the meeting is about to begin and you must rush. You grab your mobile phone and run to the meeting. Probably you forgot to lock your desktop and now anybody can use your user account. 

An easy solution to this would be that if desktop were pinging your terminal, the desktop would lock itself when the connection is lost. With Google I found  some applications that are able to do this: LockItNow and BTWatcher.

Because the simple use case (locking terminal when bluetooth connection is lost) is already implemented, I began to think about the reverse: unlock desktop when mobile phone becomes available. Obviously that shouldn't be done just by discovering some device (about bluetooth security issues, check this document).

What do you think about this idea: unlock the desktop when identification is done with bluetooth so that desktop sends a challenge to the terminal, terminal signs that challenge with PIN-locked client certificate and sends the response back to desktop. This way would be possible to implement a "poor man's secure id" system that adds an additional security to desktop environment. In addition to username and password, user must also carry a bluetooth device with a known hardware address, that bluetooth device must be able to accept and sign desktop's challenge and user's client certificate must be correct.

Did I just reinvent the wheel - has this already been done?


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mac OS X, parental controls and disabled network

This is kind of an off-topic posting as this doesn't have anything to do with the "standard" mobile issues. Nevertheless, I still feel this must be documented somewhere because I guess my kids are not the only ones who can't go online because of this bug/feature.

If you don't use Macs and/or you don't use parental controls you can ignore these notes.

Mac computer running Mac OS 10.5.2 with user accounts that have parental controls enabled.

Suddenly network connection ceased to work with accounts that have parental controls enabled. Network works OK for other user accounts.

What changed when problem occurred 
I got a new xDSL modem box from by network operator.

What has happened? 
Warning, nerdy stuff will follow!

When I investigated this issue I understood that web content filtering is done by Apache proxy server that gets started if user account has parental controls enabled, regardless of the web content filtering setting. In this case Apache proxy failed to start, effectively disabling all network connections for users under parental control. From console listing I found entries like "com.apple.familycontrols: httpd not running". From apache2 log I found etnries like "nodename nor servname provided, or not known: mod_unique_id: unable to find IPv4 address of "Macintosh", which indicates a problem that prevents Apache from starting. My guess is that mod_unique_id tries to do reverse DNS request to my new xDSL modem and that fails to give valid response; hence Apache doesn't get unique identity and quits. Discussion about the same issue can be found from Apple's support site. More info about mod_unique_id is here.

How to fix this?

Warning: messing around with root identity is potentially dangerous and you can do bad things if you are not careful!

Open terminal window and gain root identity by giving command
sudo su -
and give your password when prompted to do so.

Then change to another directory by giving command 
cd /Library/Application Support/Apple/ParentalControls/ContentFiltering/

From that directory edit file httpd.conf with vi editor
If you are not familiar with vi, you perhaps should Google for vi tutorial first.
Locate this line: 
LoadModule unique_id_module libexec/apache2/mod_unique_id.so
and comment it out by adding # at the beginning.

At vi that goes like this:
  • position cursor at the beginning of the line
  • press i
  • type #
  • press esc
  • type :wq
Now try to login to the system as user that has parental control enabled. Network should work now - at least this helped for our two MacBooks.

Final words
I have very mixed feelings about this workaround/fix. I'm happy that I can open terminal and play around with configuration files. However, I have bought these Macs because I don't want to do that!


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Finland, strange(?) market for mobile solutions

There is a nice study available that draws an interesting picture about Finland's mobile environment. Study is highly interesting because of the quantity of data and the method used: data has been gathered directly from operator's systems for over 4.000.000 subscribers.

Here are some highlights from data:
  • Nokia's market share is >86%, first non-Nokia terminal ranked 57th
  • Nokia's market share in smartphones is >99%
  • Symbian penetration is 18%
  • Most popular terminal is Nokia 3310, N70 most popular smartphone
  • 1000 different terminal models used in mobile networks
  • 54% of S60 terminals are 3rd edition
  • 70% of terminals support Java
  • 17-19% terminals generate data traffic weekly
  • 92% of mobile data traffic comes from computers that use mobile phones as modems
  • When browsing with mobile terminal, content is mostly local
Is you are planning to do mobile business in Finland, this report might give you something to think about.


Compiled iPhonesque packages

Quick update: after several requests from readers I have compiled some versions of iPhonesque application and uploaded those to my website

The most important use case for this application seems to be avoiding operators' terminal type checks.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Mobile audio guides

I like to visit museums, exhibitions and other attractions and I have noticed that there is nothing in common when it comes to audio guide systems. If the guide system exists at all, it is typically as close to chaotic as it could be: staff is too busy to help visitors, devices are not charged completely and visitor runs out of power, one wrong key press and language changes to something far too exotic, volume level is going up and down without any reason and so on. In short: systems are unstable and they require way too much support from staff. 

Why not use mobile phones instead?

Replacing museum audio guides with mobile phones is something that could make sense. There are many possible ways how to technically implement this: people could make a call to museum’s audio guide number and then “press 1 if you are at the first floor” and so on. Another possibility is that people could download audio files to their phones and listen those with built-in audio player. As you might guess, there are lots of obstacles for this scenario (but none of those impossible), not least that people are uncertain about the costs of such a system and hence they might not want to use it. Well, this will change over time.

Where could people then find the downloadable audio guides as there is no default start page for museum visitors? This is a job that someone talented web 2.0 guru could solve by creating a site where museum community could post data and promote their offerings. Consider also that today museums try to get more revenue by selling small souvenirs and memorabilia to visitors; this site could be a new sales channel for museums and hence switch old money consuming audio guide system to a new source of income.

I saved the best part to last: this new portal&audio guide solution would open up the possibility for community created museum related content. No matter which museum you are about to visit, you can be sure that there is a very devoted group of people that knows everything about some special topic presented in museum; whether it is pots, pans, sticks, dresses, paintings or whatever. Their voice can be made heard by solution that would allow “community created museum audio guides accessible from global museum portal”. That would give museums a Long Tail (if you are fed up with long tail -talks, I apologize. I couldn’t resist mentioning it here, because long tail this is).


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Roaming is dangerous (to your budget)

Last week a Finnish newspaper wrote about a poor customer who had subscribed to a fixed price data plan and thought that it is valid also when abroad. Result: his phone bill had 2.300€ data costs compared to normal 14,90€. Earlier this year there were a piece of news about a user who had used roaming data worth 25.000€. 

Although in cases above the reason might had been that user didn't know about the subscription details and was using data connections intentionally, it is highly probable that users use data connections abroad without understanding that. Many applications ask permission to use network connections automatically and sooner or later poor user don't know anymore how many applications there are that keep on pulling updated data from the network. When user is having fixed-price data plan and he is using his home network, there is no problem but when terminal connects to a roaming network problems will begin.

I feel I have to remind about a simple trick I presented last summer at Nokia's site. It might even make sense to productize "safe traveling with smartphone" solution and add also other features that people need when traveling; for example whenever I'm abroad I turn off all the unnecessary power-consuming receivers like Bluetooth and WiFi because I cannot be sure where and when I can recharge the battery next time.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Some things I don’t understand

Today I visited an event where Microsoft was promoting their new Windows Mobile 6.1 platform and Mobile Monday organization delivered first “Most Mobile Enterprise” award. At that event I noticed some things that are either funny or embarrassing, depending on your views.

I’m not a Windows Mobile expert, but I got an impression that a great new feature in Windows Mobile 6.1 allows users easily enable out-of-office email alerts from their mobile terminals. This feature was listed in two different presentations, just after a long story how Windows Mobile 6.1 allows users to continue work with mobile devices almost as if they were at the office. I understand that in some situations out-of-office messages are handy, but in most cases those messages are needed if you don’t have a powerful mobile device. If you have state-of-the-art Windows Mobile 6.1 device with all the goodies, wouldn’t that just make out-of-office messages obsolete. Instead of turning easily that message on, just use your device!

Microsoft’s Unified Communications solution was presented and it has features like user’s presence information, real time chats for both one-to-one and group meetings and so on. Unfortunately the demonstration failed twice and I didn’t quite get the idea about what was so great about the new product that allowed chatting between PC-client and Windows Mobile terminal. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention to the presentation because I was doing realtime group chat with my Nokia E61 using Fring, like we have done in our company for a long time. By the way, our chat didn’t fail, although the bad network conditions were blamed for the demo effect. If you are about to invest in Microsoft’s solution, use the free services first and test if it fits to your business; if yes, then do the investment. (I admit, this is not a fair comparison because Microsoft’s solution is much more than just chatting and it also has manageability options that are very important for enterprises, however the failed demo compared to my live chat session gave some perspective)

At the event Most Mobile Enterprise title was awarded to Helsinki public transport system, because they use mobile possibilities in many ways to give better service to public. This is yet another initiative to make public transport better option to private cars and hence limiting the pollution originated from traffic. Ironically enough, the event was held in a car megastore located in an area where nobody could arrive without a car because public transport connections are not adequate there. While public transport system was awarded I could have bought a nice little Hummer H3, carbon-dioxide emissions just 346 g/km. 


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

More questions for mobile developers

You might have read my posting about the questions you should ask before a mobile project and still you decided to create a downloadable application for your customers. You probably have to support a use case that requires offline operations or user interface must be better than browser can provide with your target devices. Here is the next list of questions to think about.

Does installation package include configuration?

When your application gets installed to terminal, it must get configured; application must know the server address, username, port number, security scheme etc. Technically oriented people will ask correct settings from administrator, open settings screen, input values to right fields and start using the application. Unfortunately that is not enough. When application is delivered to hundreds or thousands of users, it is not likely that all of them are "technically oriented". Your help desk will get flooded by basic questions about correct settings or people will ask local guru how to do the settings, trying desperately to understand what is wrong with the application. Some users will make it, others don't. That's why you must create installation packages so that "installation includes configuration" or if that is not possible, create a startup-wizard to guide the user through the basic settings. If application is ready to use directly after the installation, you have done good job.

Can you manage the application after the installation?

Sooner or later something goes wrong and your customer will call the service help desk telling that “I didn’t change anything, everything was working OK but now all I get are error codes that I didn’t write down. Can you help me?” If you haven’t thought about this during the development I guess your service people will be clueless and frustrated quite soon. On the other hand, if you have some mechanism to remotely query the state of the application or you can ask the user some relevant questions, then the problem solving task is very much easier. Supporting device management (DM) solutions can be your life-saver.

Most probably installing your application using standard device management tools is not an issue - application installation is one of the basic tasks that those systems do. However, there are some other device management tasks that can be enabled or disabled by design. Can your application be configured with a configuration file? If yes, is the file stored to directory where device management applications can read and write it? If you put that file to a DM writable directory, you can find good ways how to fulfill requirement "installation includes configuration". Some device management solutions support plugins for 3rd party applications. Check what DM systems your primary customers use and try to find out if such plugins can be implemented.

If you feel that device management solutions are out of scope, then at least include feature that checks from your server if there is an upgrade available, something like what application inventory service suggests.

Is your application brand-aware?

If your business strategy allows, make your application "brandable" by design. That means that when large customer asks you to make them a special version with their corporate branding, you should feel safe to answer "yes". This might include things like changing the application caption, icons, about-boxes, or almost everything that can be used to promote company's brand. Branding questions may not be asked very often, but when that happens you will be happy when you know that it can be done.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mobile Mail != Push Mail

I guess it is not a big surprise that you can read mail with your mobile device and there are multiple ways how to do it. You can use browser, POP, IMAP, different 3rd party applications and so on. All this is simple and technology is well established.

What bothers me here is that the concept of "Push Mail" keeps on appearing as a synonym for "having access to your mailbox using mobile device". Maybe I'm thinking this a little bit from a technical side, but I think "Push Mail" is just one attribute of mobile mail solution; if solution has "Push Mail" attribute it means that server component actively signals mobile terminal about changes in mailbox state. I must emphasize that this is just my interpretation about the deeper meaning of "Push Mail" - which is also problematic; is your "Push Mail" same as mine? What do your customers understand with "Push Mail" when they ask you to give a tender about delivering such a system?

Many companies and organizations seem to think that mobile mail system without "Push Mail" feature is not an option, messages must be delivered to mobile terminal without any delay or solution is useless. I disagree on that. Global email system is a collection of store-and-forward servers that are suffering under increasing number spam messages. When you send a message to somebody you really can't be sure that the message will ever reach the recipient's inbox and when that happens. Why should somebody put a huge effort on building a system that optimizes the very last mile of email delivery? When the message has travelled across the world for tens of minutes or hours, is it really important that the message takes the last jump in one second or less; I don't think so. By the way, if "pushing" the messages is so much better than "pulling", you better make sure that your desktop email client get "pushed" when new messages arrive - have you verified that? Or are you like me and you care more about the easiness of email handling and don't care about the byte-level communications protocol when the message finally arrives. After all, you typically don't know that you will receive an email and you are not actively waiting for it. If there is a very urgent issue, mobile phones have nice ability to receive voice calls and SMS messages, too!

If "pushing" is not important, what is? If you are considering mobile mail system, I'd check at least following things before signing the contract:
  • Can I read messages from different folders?
  • Can I send messages from mobile terminal(sic!) and are the message copies also saved at my email system?
  • Is message handling at "normal" level: messages can be replied, forwarded, sent to multiple recipients and so on?
  • When you don't read your email for a while (I hope you have vacations, too!), can you clean your inbox before you start using mobile mail again, or will all the spam messages arrive to your mobile phone?
  • Is the solution secure enough? Enough security means that you understand the solution at such level that you can assess the potential risks and feel comfortable with that information.
  • How can you manage the system? As soon as somebody gets mobile access to mailbox, he will start experimenting with different settings and before you understand, the settings are all messed up and nothing works anymore. How would you solve this?
  • Last but not least: remember that spam messages are annoying, but when spam messages hit your mobile terminal they will drive you crazy


Monday, March 31, 2008

Can you speak now?

Observe people around you to find out what they ask when they have made a call to somebody: I'd bet that you will hear something like "Can you hear me?", "Where are you?" and "Can you speak now?" I've always said to my contacts that they are free to call me anytime, it's my responsibility to turn off the phone if I don't want to be disturbed but sometimes we all make mistakes...

When everybody was using fixed line phones people were merely making calls to some location and hoping that right person is present and available. Now at the era of mobile phones people are making calls directly to the right person but the location keeps changing. This is fascinating but also disturbing if you have travelled to other continent and you have just waken up to an innocent friend's call - how could he have known that you are at the other side of the world? Yes, how could he have known that? I made a quick search to find a solution that would allow me to share my clock with my friends; if I'd be able to see that somebody is at a place where it is currently midnight I would think again whether it is a good idea to wake him up just now. I didn't find such a solution.

This kind of a solution should of course integrate seamlessly to terminal's address book and updating the clock info must be automatic. The difficult part in this solution would be how to make service widely known and get all members of the contact list to share their information. Maybe this could be a part of services like Dopplr or some other cool information sharing solutions?


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What if phone could speak?

Lately I have been reading Alexander Manu's excellent book The Imagination Challenge: Strategic Foresight and Innovation in the Global Economy and I must say I like his idea to imagine what would happen is familiar things could speak - what would you ask from your toothbrush? To summarize the idea of the book: try to create strategic innovations that really change the way we live our lives and disrupt familiar patterns. As a contrast to strategic innovation Manu identifies tactical innovations that are merely about doing same things as before but only better. If you want to know more - and you really should - read the book.

So, let's try this method. What would you ask from your phone if it could speak? I'd like to make a very generic question: "Can you help me?". While I'm in the middle of a conversation with a friend I'd like to ask help from my phone, for example to get information about the local services. To make this service feel even more personal, I'd like to give my phone a name, "Jim" for example. Now we can imagine following discussion:

Me: "Let's have a dinner tonight, where could we go?"
Friend: "There is a new restaurant in Helsinki I'd like to visit, I think it's called FooBar."
Me: "OK, sounds great. Let's ask Jim if they have a table for us. Jim, Helsinki, FooBar."
Jim: "FooBar found. Do you want me to connect?"
Me: "Yes"
(FooBar joins the discussion)
FooBar: "FooBar, how can I help you?"
Friend: "We'd like to have a dinner tonight at 8 o'clock, do you have a table for two?"
FooBar: "Yes, that's OK. You are welcome."
Me: "Thank you"
(FooBar leaves the discussion)

So, what happened here? I took the opportunity to jump over the "innovation gap" which is the distance between what we have today and what we believe is possible. Here I assumed that phone could have speech recognition (I guess some phones already have that support, but is it available to 3rd party developers, don't know) and that can listen an ongoing call. If that was possible, teaching the speech recognition solution to find keywords ("Jim" in my example) should be fairly simple. Then the new solution could initiate a conference call to some voice guided search service and here you are, there is a bridge over the innovation gap and solution becomes possible. If you are located in US you might want to take a look at Google's solution (unfortunately only available in English at the US) and try to create this solution.

By the way: why Goog-411 is free, wouldn't it be just fine to have a premium priced number to collect some revenue from the users? Latest issue of Wired magazine has the answer: by letting the service run free Google will loose $144M revenue by 2012. But because the service is free, people will use the service now and Google can collect data from usage patterns, different voice accents and phrases. When they are ready, they can start selling ads to the service and that way the projected revenue from this service in 2012 becomes $2.5B. Nice.


Investment tip of the week

Here is the investment tip of the week: if you have some extra 20 minutes, invest those to watching this video and you will see education and creativity in a new light.

If you don't have those extra 20 minutes, have a vacation ASAP and then watch this video.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Mobile Linux will surely come next year...

...as it has done so many times before.

Last week I happened to have the annual "do you think mobile Linux will replace Symbian next year" discussion. That discussion has become quite a tradition over last 5+ years and the plot is safe and predictable. It goes like this:

The Insider: "Harri, do you think that mobile Linux will replace Symbian next year?"

Me: "Based on what I see happening today in mobile industry, I don't think so. I don't see why that would happen, because current Symbian ecosystem is finally working quite well and the investments that all stakeholders have made to that are big. Why throw that all away just now?"

The Insider: "Because of money, of course. Can't you see that Linux is free?"

Me: "Yes, Linux is free but the human work to make a mobile phone isn't. Did you know that Symbian license is $2.50 per phone, not bad I think if you compare what you get for that money."

The Insider: "But Symbian is bad! It isn't open and I can't do whatever I want to do. There is also this stupid signing system. Think if you had a completely open terminal without any restrictions. Wouldn't that be just cool!"

Me: "Yes, that would be cool but unfortunately the Linux phone wouldn't be any more open than Symbian phones are now. The restrictions and signing requirement are not there because of Symbian, it is because the operators want so. Operators will not allow that kind of openness in their networks, because that would just explode the amount of support calls coming to their helpdesk. There is already at least one operator in US that has cancelled a bunch of subscriptions just because those people misused their helpdesk. And please think about this: operators really aren't willing to support any new platform at the moment. If there is a new platform coming, something old must be thrown away. Mobile Linux is not adding one more platform, it is replacing an old one." 

The Insider: "I can't understand why I should learn a new language to implement stuff to Symbian, I just want to write applications like I do for my Linux desktop. And where is the open source development for Symbian?"

Me: "You don't necessarily need to learn anything new to implement something for Symbian, there are lots of different runtime options available and there is also OpenC/P.I.P.S plugin that allows you to run posix-stuff in Symbian. Just take some open source project and try that like I did when I ported Loudmouth to Symbian. It is not difficult at all. What your mind can imagine, your hand can implement - also for Symbian"

The Insider: "Maybe so, but I will not do that!"

Me: "Why is that?"

The Insider: "Because Symbian is dead, just dead! You see, I have top secret classified information that manufacturer X will this year drop support for Symbian and replace it with Linux. Of course I cannot tell you more."

Me: "Yeah, right...you said the same thing last year, do you remember?"

(The Insider walks away. Play fades out, overtaken by music and darkness)

I guess some commenting words are needed here.

First of all, this mobile-Linux-will-come stuff has been around in mobile industry as long as I can remember, at least seven years. Of course, some day that happens but until then I will just wait. When I can go to local store and buy Linux-phone and my customers can do the same and they want to do it, then mobile Linux is here in a way "The Insider" wants and I will care.

Symbian is not perfect nor ultimate endpoint of all mobile development. It just happens to be here with 188 million phones sold, 77 million of those sold last year with 50% growth compared to last year.

Mobile Linux doesn't necessarily need to "come", it is hear already. The problem for enthusiasts seem to be that it is not used in the volume models for the largest terminal manufacturers.

The Insider is not an actual person, don't get mad if you think you recognize yourself.