Wednesday, December 10, 2008

First steps w/ Android!

Again an unusual post - am aiming to be unashamedly technical this time!

Our shiny new G1 arrived yesterday - now down to me to make something work on it! Lots of other folks have reviewed the device from a user perspective, generally coming to the conclusion that it is a great OS somewhat let down by the HTC hardware. Won't disagree with that view, but my focus here is going to be on app development for the beast.

Guess I am showing my age and deteriorating eyesight but I hate devices whose manuals only come on CD - always prefer paper given the choice. Once the manual painstakingly copied onto my PC desktop turned out to be the usual sort of standard - i.e. doesn't tell you much past the basics.

First challenge is simply to get the pathway worked out such that an app I create in eclipse over onto the G1 and fire it up.

Setting up the development environment under winxp is very smooth:
  1. Download the current (v1.0 r2) Android SDK and unpack in some sensible folder.
  2. Add to your list of eclipse plugin download sites and install everything you find there.
  3. Restart eclipse and in the new Android properties section stick in the path to the SDK directory.
  4. Extend your system path variable to include the SDK's tools directory.
There are various example apps in the SDK itself and some app creation walkthroughs in the online documentation so plenty to get started with. You need to set the debuggable flag in the manifest to allow debugging later on. Once you have an app built you can run it in the emulator and then use the apk generated into the bin subdirectory of the project to upload it onto the device.

To connect the shiny new phone to the PC so the debugger can see it you need to:
  1. On the phone go into settings-->applications-->development and switch on USB debugging.
  2. Connect the phone and when it screams about the missing driver point it towards the usb_driver subdir in the SDK folder.
  3. (Re)start eclipse and the phone should appear in the DDMS perspective.
We also need to setup the phone to allow apps to be installed directly - this is disabled by default - setting under settings-->applications. Now finally we can push our app onto the phone using adb - the Android Debug Bridge with something like:
> adb install HelloAndroid.apk

And there we are:
This was captured with the very developer friendly screenshot capture utility which is provided as part of the DDMS perspective for any attached device.

The app will now have appeared in the DDMS perspective allowing heap and thread viewing etc, and you can then simply fire up the debug perspective and set breakpoints etc - all very smooth - works well.

UPDATE: Of course you can skip the adb bit and transfer and run the app in a single step from and Android style eclipse run/debug launch configuration!

PS. Credits - much of this process was picked up from here and here.
PPS. The latest carnival is up over at Mobscure - and my previous post on the Scottish Software Awards gets a mention.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A fun night at the awards!

Unusually for this blog, which is usually more about things in the wider industry, am unashamedly going to concentrate on our own success today. I hope you will allow me this indulgence!

For those who don't know exactly what Mobile Acuity is all about (and yes we really must update the website sometime soon) the core thing we provide is a mechanism to allow users to interact with a mobile service by taking pictures with their phone, generally as part of brand marketing campaigns. Specifics vary between campaigns but we can then do things like:
  • recognise what the picture is of - e.g. specific promo materials etc. User friendly linkage between print and mobile media.
  • recognise which particular part of the target the user has "pointed" their phone at - image zoning.
  • recognise/extract the colours in the image - colour id.
  • extract parts of the image and rework into media (e.g. video) to return to the user - virtual bluescreen.
Each of these can then drive mobile service activity as appropriate for the campaign.

While Mobile Acuity's technologies and services have underpinned projects which have won a number of awards so far this year, and we have even been allowed to talk about some of them publicly like Vodafone "Shoot and Score" which was succinctly summarised by techgutter, Friday night was the first awards we have contested in our own right since I have joined the company. The project we based our entry on was also the first I worked on after joining the company.

The awards in question were the Scottish Software Awards, an annual bash celebrating the best of the industry in Scotland, held in the Radisson SAS Hotel in Glasgow. Usefull and interesting group of people to chat to over drinks beforehand, and then through to the awards.

Was great to see so many companies shortlisted in the wireless / mobile category - good sign for the health of the sector in Scotland! Other than ourselves the shortlist consisted of:
We were delighted to win the category, with our friends over at Rapid Mobile and Mobiqa being runners-up. Left us sufficiently fortified to survive the last train back to Edinburgh on a Friday night which is always an interesting experience!

Update: A good summary with a bit of a twist in the tail over at Fasterfuture with Richard Marshall as guest contributor.

PS. The latest carnival is up over at All About iPhone - though by Steve Litchfield rather than Matt Radford!

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Future of Mobile?

Among the many interesting presentations at Monday's Future of Mobile conference in London was a wonderfully provocative short presentation by Helen Keegan of BeepMarketing telling us that there may be no future for mobile!

For the details see her blog on the subject, but in short she presented six key issues that need urgently to be resolved ...
  1. The tech rather than the users are the focus.
  2. Silly, unpredictable, and often downright scary tarifs and charges. A regular moan of mine!
  3. Apps and services created by geeks for geeks - what about normal folks?
  4. A culture gap between mobile and web folks.
  5. Western cultural focus of the industry.
  6. The key purpose of the phone - to communicate - is being lost.
While I perhaps won't agree with every detail of what she says the vast majority of it is really stating things that are so "obvious" that it is amazing how little it is taken into account in the design and creation of mobile devices and services.

The fundamental need for communication will ensure there is a future for mobile - but how well the industry deals with the issues above will decide how painful or otherwise it is!

PS. Latest carnival is up on the Mippin blog - and I got a mention!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Beem mobile payment - a fad or the future of cash?

I should come clean straight away and say I do struggle to understand why I might want to make day-to-day payments using my mobile phone - but then I am nearly 40 and so perhaps I am missing the point ;-)!

I was interested to see the new payment service from Beem which was announced recently. This so far allows users to pay for pizzas and taxi rides from some providers in the London area by sending txts from their mobile phone.

Their business model is Oyster-like in that the user's Beem account is charged up via debit card payments whenever it falls below a minimum and so Beem will generally be left holding a credit balance on which they can earn interest. They take fees from merchants as well but these are allegedly significantly lower than for more conventional payment methods.

Unfortunately the whole service is based on users interacting by sending structured SMS messages. Very paypalmobile-esque.This leads to two significant issues:
  1. The user error rate will be very high leading to large support costs and loss of user confidence.
  2. There will be significant moble messaging costs associated with operating the service.
This strikes me as being an almost ideal example of how not to do a mobile payments service. With this sort of service user confidence is everything!

Looking a little more broadly it will be interesting to see the progress of the ongoing convergence between travel passes and contactless payment mechanisms e.g. the barclaycard+paypass+oyster combination card. Perhaps in due course it might make sense for these to converge with the mobile device? I remain to be convinced.

Monday, November 10, 2008

OS aspects of Android start to appear?

One of the big disappointments of what has been written about the T-Mobile G1 so far is that the email client appears to be pretty poor unless you happen to use Gmail - probably a showstopper for me since non-gmail email is one of my core on-phone activities.

I was interested and reassured today to come across the k9mail project on Google Code. This project is based on a fork of the actual email client source code from Android and is working to improve it in a number of ways.

Early days - but great to see that OS self help cycle starting to kick off on a phone platform!

PS. Latest carnival is up over at ubiquitousthoughts.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tidal flow --> Data --> Fruit & Vegetables!

Intrigued to see the Guardian article describing a planned data centre in the north of Scotland backed by Morgan Stanley.

The Pentland firth area has huge potential for tidal power generation but the problem of how to get all that power (plus that generated by the extensive wind and wave resources of the area) from such a remote area down to where it is needed in the central belt of Scotland and beyond has yet to be solved convincingly.

This plan takes the opposite approach and moves one of the key power consumers in the modern economy close to the renewable energy supply. It is after all much easier to provide reliable data connections to a remote location than large capacity power transmission. As a side effect it also brings jobs to the area.

All very worthy so far but there is also an intriguing twist in the tail is mentioned on the main contractor Atlantis Resources' site. The heat generated by the data centre will not just be vented to the environment as normal but will be used to heat the adjacent Mey Selections greenhouses on the Castle of Mey estate.

What an all round excellent idea!

PS. The latest carnival is up over at mopocket.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Yet another mobile browser

Interested to see that well known blogger and ex Mowser teammember Mike Rowehl is now working for Skyfire - the 3rd party windows mobile browser.

I guess in some ways it is questionable whether or not we need another browser choice, but the state of mobile browsers on average is still fairly ropey and a little competition may well stimulate some more improvement.

PS. Registration is now open for MoMo London 3rd birthday party on the 10th of November.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Soon we can all be Mr Bond ...

Interested to see that the concept of using a mobile phone as a remote control for a car (as demonstrated by Bond in The World is Not Enough!) is finally making an appearance as a real product - though only a car show prototype at this stage.

Not quite at the level where you can lie in the back seat and accelerate wildly up the ramp in the car park yet though. Current functions allow only:
  • "Control ambient lightning
  • Control front and rear seat settings
  • Lock the car
  • Open the rear compartment
  • Switch on and off the lights (blinkers, main lights…)"
Of course in the Bond film the phone was a Nokia Communicator so perhaps we need to wait for that version for those features ;->!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

4IP Launched

The Scottish launch event for the 4IP fund was in Glasgow last week.

It is derived from Ofcom's work over the last few years on how public service media will be created by the new "public service providers" of the post-broadcast age.

While much of the current discussion around 4IP is very web focussed, it is clear that mobile will also play a key part in this future, and so can potentially benefit from support from 4IP.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ofcom vs the lifeboats

The register has publised a rather shocking article on Ofcom's plans to massively increase the amounts it charges to the voluntary rescue services. I wasn't even aware that the lifeboats and mountain rescue organisations had to pay for their comms - far less that they were expected to pay commercially realistic rates for it.

As a person who has worked in a number of startups I generally err at least somewhat towards the opportunity and enterprise end of the spectrum, but this seems to be taking the free market principle to a grotesque extreme - and human life obviously doesn't have any value in the models they use.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

To iPhone 3G or not to iPhone 3G

All very tempting - big touchscreen and nice web browsing etc. Perhaps it could be the successor for my current E61i. Having scanned some of the huge amount written about it there are a few concerns though ...
  • No tethered use as a modem for my laptop. This seems to be a deliberate decision to keep the operators happy.
  • No IMAP IDLE support - again I suspect deliberate in order to drive folks towards the subscription based MobileMe service. There is at least one app out there that addresses this though it isn't an official app and so require jailbreaking the phone.
  • Can't mark emails as read without actually opening them - that's a biggy!
  • Uncertain how well it will work with SyncML based OTA sync services such as ScheduleWorld and MyFunambol - though there is now a free funambol client in the app store I understand.
  • To get an ssh client at present requires jailbreaking - OpenSSH.
  • On screen keyboard as opposed to blackberry style physical keyboard - though have generally heard good things from folks who have tried it.
Now just need to find somebody who has one and can confirm/deny the details of the above!

PS. The latest carnival is up over at the Mippin blog.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mowser is now in dotMobi

I am late as ever in noticing but am delighted to see that the Mowser assets have been acquired by dotMobi. Great to see those ideas continuing on as part of a greater whole! It is well described by Russell Beattie, Mike Rowehl and James Pearce.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The feed aggregator approach - Mippin

Following on from the demise of Mowser which went for full on transcoding of sites to allow efficient access from mobile my attention was caught by Mippin. They portray their service in the same way but require that the site provide an RSS feed so in fact what they are is a feed aggregator.

That said they do it very well - all nicely tied together and a nice widget to help people get your site onto their phone etc - Add Reflections on things mobile Mippin widget

Monetisation is via advertising - with some careful validation done to ensure that a user isn't trying to monetize a feed that isn't theirs - and implemented in conjunction with admob so the site publisher gets the primary revenue.

All in all a very smooth experience - though the key question as ever is whether they can get enough footfall to make it all worthwhile.

PS. Carnival #126 is now up.

UPDATE: After my messing around yesterday I got as far as enabling advertising but then didn't have time to go and create an admob account so left it without one defined. It turns out that in these circs Mippin will serve ads from their own account - and a number of them were of the sort you tend to see in late night TV or spam email - not ideal!

This morning I have created my own admob account - with "age appropriate ads" disabled. The short term effect is that no ads are yet appearing but hopefully when they do they will be a little more appropriate!

UPDATE2: This is apparently not intended (see comment below) and they plan to fix it today so that ads don't appear at all until a valid admob id is provided.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Surfing the web on mobile

Sad to see that Russell has had to throw in the towel over at Mowser. Rather emphasises the fragile nature of startups and how they are completely dependent on the belief of their backers, but also, as Russell himself says, it also brings the whole mobile web proposition into question.

Mowser acted as a proxy which reformatted conventional websites for viewing on mobile. It is thus related to, though much less intrusive than, the various transcoders being inflicted upon users by various mobile networks.

These have generally caused problems for mobile content and site providers due to their indiscriminate deployment and lack of any coherent and consistent way for a site to avoid transcoding.

For the last few months Luca Passani of WURFL has been driving a campaign against indiscriminate reformatting and has proposed a standard methodology for mobile optimised/aware sites to avoid transcoding. Recently one of the major transcoder providers, OpenWave, have signed up to this. Hopefully more will follow!

In a few years time everybody will have a device and connection which allows full on web browsing and we will be looking back on all this somewhat bemusedly wondering what all the fuss was about. In the meantime the mobile web sadly must remain a somewhat brittle thing, and thus unlikely to really crack the mass market.

PS. The latest carnival is up at 3-Lib.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Analytics for the price of an ad

Mobilytics have created an intriguing little service where for the price of a small ad on each page of your mobile site you get free detailed usage stats covering referrer, search sources, country, carrier, and handset etc etc.

Even better if you have over 10000 page impressions a month they will share 70% of the revenue they earn on the ad space back to you.

What a nice simple and compelling idea!

PS. The latest carnival is up.

Friday, February 08, 2008

More data charge lunacy

I guess I should start with a small disclaimer. This was reported on the register and they have been known to skew their facts a little from time-to-time. That said - back in December they published a remarkable article on data charging gone wrong.

The problem with this - and other similar stories that do the rounds - is not that the operator can set some rules and then charge based on them. The problem is that the typical end use has no idea when they will be charged or not. There is no warning given - first you know is a five figure phone bill.

*If* vodafone really act like this then they need to look very hard at their processes and procedures.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A very long silence!

Looks like I got out of the habit of this! Only excuse is how busy we have been with rolling out new things like mixibodz - our new mobile and web 2.0 bridging avatar builder.

Now that GSM (sorry MWC - will take a while to get used to that!) is coming round again it is time to get back into the habit of posting. There is certainly no lack of things to say - and will no doubt start off with a rant about how the operators are dealing with mobile data charging before wandering off onto newer ground.

In the meantime I note the latest Carnival is up at Mobile Point View - will worth a look as ever - and that there will be a gathering of mobile bloggers on the Sunday evening before MWC that looks like it will be fun!