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.