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... 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, 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.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Feature missing from S60 contacts application

I was visiting an event this week and because of my mobile addiction many E90 users started to complain to me about an missing feature. The story goes like this: in older Communicators (9300/9500) contacts application had a feature that allowed users to search contacts by matching the search criteria to selected fields. Those fields were last name, first name, company and email address. The new E90 communicator has standard S60 contacts application that allows user to search contact items only by name. These die-hard communicator users were really missing this feature that allowed them to search people by company name, for example. Nokia's embedded Search application is not enough.

Luckily this feature is not that difficult to implement, what needs to be done is to  
If anyone is interested to implement an application like this, go ahead.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Mobile is just a new locale

Lately there has been quite a vivid discussion about the future of mobile applications, whether they dead or not. Personally I'm somewhere in between; mobile solutions have their market but the time is over when mobile application development was the wizard's work. Or maybe the same applies to mobile applications that was the case when Frank Zappa characterized jazz-music:
"Mobile applications are not dead, they just smell funny"
My top reason why mobile applications should be considered dead is that developing the mobile application no longer differs from development for other platforms. You are able to create the mobile solution using the same methodologies as "normal" web applications. In case you haven't noticed, there has been a huge improvement on usability of mobile browsing - you can forget the native application development unless you have a very good reason not to use a browser. In fact, the native application development becomes analogous to device driver development in desktop world. Somebody must do that to keep the wheels spinning, but does it have to be you? Just in case that web development isn't enough, there is an increasing number of runtimes available in mobile terminals - the same runtimes that you would use in desktop development.

On the other hand, mobile applications are alive and kicking because of the nature of the device. Unlike a desktop browser, mobile browser is with user all the time and everywhere. Clearly the use cases and needs are different in mobile world, but isn't that more psychology than engineering? When the required solution features are identified, the implementation is very much as the desktop browser development.

Some time ago I realized what the "new" mobile (browsing) development resembles: mobile versions and localizations are very close each other, because:
  • In desktop world browser implementation is the first assumption and if it is clearly not feasible, then an installable application will be created (when was the last time you wrote an installable PC-application?). In mobile world the order should be the same.
  • You wouldn't create a new solution just for one locale and language, would you? You wouldn't create a new solution just for one screen size, would you?
  • If you don't design the implementation with new localizations in mind, you must do extra work when localizing your application - the following localizations are easier. If you don't design the implementation with mobile devices in mind, you must do extra work when mobilizing your application first time - supporting new devices is then a lot easier.
I have a feeling that I must write more about this topic...


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

RSS2SMS, how and where

Being an RSS addict I began to search for a solution that would allow me to subscribe the most important RSS-feeds directly to my phone, over SMS. To my surprise this wasn't an easy task, Yahoo! seems to have such a service but that is only available to US subscribers. I also found a new site - Pingie - that offers similar service, but that is also available only in US. 

As a frustrated EU citizen I checked latest mobile statistics from the Netsize guide and noticed that
  • there are 261M mobile subscribers in US but 525M in EU
  • there are 41M 3G subscribers in US but 80M in EU
I want new services, too!

Action Points
  • Viviane Reding, please continue your work to create EU a single marketplace for telecom industry so that new services are not only available for US consumers.
  • Mobile Developers, please consider a new solution that would allow people to subscribe RSS feeds to their SMS inbox. Think about mobilizing the news items with Mowser (or something similar). Think about sending targeted SMS advertisements to your subscribers, for example at most one ad per day per subscribed RSS stream.

New frameworks in town

Quick note to all people who are struggling with architecture decisions - be quick and pick your choice ASAP! Today two new frameworks became available to mobile domain and in the future architecture decisions will be even more complex!

Nokia will bring Microsoft's Silverlight cross-platform, cross-browser plugin to S60 and later to S40. Read the press release.

Google will bring Google Gears to mobile devices. Currently the only supported mobile platform is Windows Mobile but more platforms will follow.