Tag Archives: mobile

Minimum viable smartphone

aka #firstworldproblems

Three weeks ago, as I was leaving Tokyo after my first trip to Japan, I accidentally abandoned my iPhone in the back of a cab as I ran into the airport. The sinking feeling crossed with panic as I realised it was no longer in my pocket, was compounded by the fact that it carried my electronic boarding pass, TripIt itinerary with flight details, my Apple Pay wallet, lots of podcasts and music for the flight, and of course my main means of communication with home via iMessage, email or phone.

When I went back to the kerbside, the taxi had already left, and I quickly resigned myself that it was probably a lost cause.

The only other time I’d managed to leave my iPhone somewhere while travelling, was on the top deck of a late-night bus in London. When I got home, I used Find my iPhone to make it ring loudly, and the bus driver was good enough to take it to the bus station for me to collect in the morning.

This time, I was more limited — although I could still use Find my iPhone, I didn’t have time or means to do it before take-off, and my phone itself had data roaming disabled, so unless it made it back to the hotel where it had last connected to wifi, it was pretty unlikely to receive the messages to disable itself or wipe my data.

When I got back to the UK, I did go ahead and set everything as lost in iCloud, and also Tweeted, and posted about my loss on Facebook. Several people commented “hey, this is Japan… you might be surprised!”. A colleague I’d been travelling with had me send him a photo of the taxi receipt via direct message, succeeded in contacting the driver, and recovered my phone! 🙇 After that, it was a simple (!) matter of colleagues passing it between themselves until I arrived here, in São Paulo Brazil, to meet the person who was currently in possession of my device.

Backup solutions

By the time I realised that my phone wasn’t lost forever, I’d also decided that I could avoid an insurance claim (although I probably would have used that opportunity to upgrade from an iPhone 6 to a 6S Plus, so the silver-lined cloud of Japanese kindness wasn’t as shiny as it might have been!).

I needed my phone for SMS. Most of my online accounts are protected by two-factor authentication, so I needed a way to receive text messages. I also needed to be able to do a bunch of things on the move (more on this in a moment). My initial stopgap solution was to cancel my Three SIM, get a new one, and shove it into an older iPhone 5 that we had laying around at home — annoyingly though, it was locked to a corporate Vodafone contract and my new SIM wouldn’t work! So, although I could pull down a bunch of apps and use the older iPhone on wifi, it wasn’t going to help with that SMS issue. The other solution I came up with there was to use the nano-SIM in an adapter inside my older Nexus 5 — which meant I had mobile data and SMS available, but it would be on Android. I’d be dual-wielding my mobile weapons for a little while.

Three weeks, two phones

My regular iPhone 6 has 438 (!) applications installed. No, I’m absolutely sure I don’t use most of them regularly; and yes, I really should get around to clearing that down; but hey, 128Gb is a lot of storage, and I use my phone for lots and lots of things on a daily basis.

I wasn’t about to restore my entire device onto a smaller, older iPhone 5, but after a fortnight, here’s what I came up with as my minimum viable set of apps I needed.

IMG_0004.jpgIMG_0005.jpg

Almost the very first thing I did was to drag the majority of Apple-installed apps into an “Apple” folder, to get them out of the way (how I wish they could be removed or fully hidden).

After that, getting the Google suite (Gmail, Chrome, Calendar) installed and then back up-and-running by coordinating 2FA challenges with my Android phone, got me a long way back towards where I wanted to be. I’m a social kind of guy, so Twitter, Swarm, Facebook, Instagram and Periscope were instant re-installs, too.

In terms of other apps worth calling out here:

  • Citymapper is probably the #1 essential app I use daily, in as many cities as I can, where it is available and when I’m travelling. One of the best pieces of technology in my life. Use It.
  • Solitaire is basic, but to be honest, one of a relatively small number of games that don’t maddeningly insist on network access, meaning that I can play a quick diverting game on the Tube.
  • Evernote is my external brain — I love it — and I automate a lot of the contents using IFTTT recipes as well.
  • 1Password is another essential install, and part of my workflow across my devices. I try to never know my passwords.
  • Spotify. I use iTunes Match and have a lot of content of my own music library over in there, but I don’t subscribe to Apple Music and haven’t even tried the trial yet. Spotify. Is. Awesome.
  • Mondo is an incredible new banking app that I absolutely love. As soon as they get a full license for current accounts, I can easily see myself moving much of my day-to-day banking over there — this is fintech disruption done from the user perspective.

The other pain point I encountered in this three week digital wilderness trial, was what to do about my Apple Watch! As soon as I lost the original iPhone, I found myself unable to change the timezone on my Watch — in the Watch UI, it only locally offers the option to put the clock forward, not backwards. In the end, the only good solution I could see was to reset the Watch, re-pair it as new with the older iPhone, and then set it up again. Today, once I got the original phone back, I had to go through the same dance, although I restored from the most recent backup on the iPhone 5, so the setup wasn’t quite as annoying. Still… this doesn’t seem well thought-through, Apple please take note.

What about Android?

Android remains interesting and useful to me, and in particular the Lollipop and Marshmallow releases have moved it forward a long way in user experience. I support developers on many platforms, and it is important to me to have a Nexus device in my life, even as a secondary device. I’ve loved using my Nexus 5 more during these past few weeks, but I still find the plethora of messaging apps, inconsistency in finding settings, and annoying UI differences between apps outside of the Material redesign ecosystem, to be hugely irritating.

Another thing that annoyed me on both of my fallback devices was the lack of that magical Touch ID! I’m so used to just holding my phone and being able to use it, that the screen swipe / PIN dance was a big challenge to adjust back to. Amazing how quickly technology becomes part of the daily wallpaper when it is simple and useful.

That being said, it might even be time to update my Nexus to a 5X or 6P to make use of some of those newer features on that platform, as well…

Moving on!

Thanks to Aman, Lia, the Japanese taxi driver, and the corporate donor of my backup phone…

I just installed 138 app updates on my iPhone 6.

Modern life is good-ish.

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Two weeks with a Nokia Lumia 920

Just in time for Nokia to announce the Lumia 925 (and 928), I’m belatedly posting my review of a Lumia 920 (d’oh!).

As a techie and long-time disparager of Microsoft technology, the Xbox 360 was the MS product which turned my head. I won mine in a competition (having been a PlayStation and Nintendo gamer), and from the very first experience I was impressed – it was easy to get up-and-running, get online and pull in my social contacts from Facebook, and it was generally a smooth and impressive device. Since then I’ve also gotten to know some of the folks at Microsoft who are focussed on working with the Open Source community, and my opinions have distinctly softened and changed.

I’ve played with both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 on display in stores, so when the nice folks at Nokia Connects offered me the opportunity to trial their flagship Lumia 920 for a fortnight in March, I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in the experience. The last Nokia phone I’d owned was the slider  7650 model from way back in 2001 – I’d been a loyalist through the 1990s until then, but wandered into BlackBerry land for a couple of years after that. I’ve also had every iPhone model since the 3G and have in parallel tried Android devices running 2.2 through to 4.1. So, from both a hardware and software perspective, I guess I’ve got a fairly broad experience, and was intrigued to find how a Windows Phone from Nokia would suit my “power user” habits!

A couple of notes. Firstly, if I’m mixing tenses here it’s just because I’ve now returned the device per the trial arrangement. The other thing to point out is that I really did do road test of the phone for two weeks, to the extent of popping my nanoSIM into a microSIM adapter and using it for as much as I could. More on this to come.

The first thing to say is that the bright red Lumia 920 looked and felt fantastic in the hand, although it is substantially larger than the iPhone 5.

The Nokia 920, customised to taste

The Nokia 920, customised to taste

One tiny issue I felt that wasn’t considered was the central positioning of the camera lens and flash in the back of the device, which meant I’d often have my hand across it and needed to wipe it, but I suppose a case or skin might have reduced that. The screen was a visual treat, it looks stunning in day-to-day use, and was also very nice for watching the couple of videos I looked at while I had the Lumia. The iPhone took over most of my photographic life for many years (which is sad in many ways, I realise), and I’ve got thousands of photos stored on it. Coming back to the camera on the Lumia, apart from the seemingly more-frequent need to clean the lens, it produced some great results – although I did miss the HDR capability which might have levelled out some of the contrast in a few shots I attempted.

no HDR

HDR would have helped with this early-morning shot

One particularly innovative feature of the camera on Windows Phone 8 is the concept of “lenses” – apps which can extend the basic function of the camera application itself. I also appreciated the way in which the Photos app enabled me to both browse my own Facebook and other social network albums, but also to see the latest content from my friends. Clever stuff. Oh, and SkyDrive let me get to the images straight away across different devices and on the web. +1 for sensible functionality. I vaguely missed Instagram for a couple of weeks, but I imagine that app will materialise for the platform before too long (and since the Instagram/Facebook “ToS-gate” I’ve largely moved back to Flickr or to dual posting anyway).

Rounding out the hardware commentary, I’ll add that the battery life was acceptable (I tended to pop the phone on charge whilst in the office and overnight, but it seemed on a par with my other device). I was also very happy with the performance of the phone – everything was extremely fluid and I didn’t encounter any hangups or freezes. Very slick.

Live tiles

Live tiles

Time, then, to talk about Windows Phone 8. I’ve admired the rebooted and reimagined Windows Phone UI from afar for a while now. After all that came before it in Windows Mobile efforts, it’s a bold and stunning revolution of a user experience – and I believe it is one that works.

It’s an interface that is alive, glanceable, and easy to use. The live tiles in particular are a game changer. The resizable tiled UI lives up to the selling point of true personalisation. More than that, the list of apps is one swipe away, and not only is is searchable, it’s super fast to jump to any lettered section of apps (sorted alphabetically – crazy, right?). I am a definite fan. I’m not yet convinced of the Modern UI / tiles in Windows 8 the desktop experience, but that’s more because of the janky need to switch between old and new paradigms to get some things done – for Xbox, tablet and phone, I think this is a useful approach.

The alphabetical list of apps is useful

The alphabetical list of apps is useful

I was pleased to be able to get back to my content and online services quickly, at least in relation to a subset of the apps I use regularly. Amazon (Kindle and Shop, plus a handy barcode scanner tile shortcut), Evernote, Last.fm, Spotify, Netflix, and Paypal were all present and correct. Twitter is covered by multiple apps (I chose Rowi), as is Facebook – although in the case of the latter most are fairly poor mobile web wrappers. There’s a giffgaff app already too, for all you giffgaffers out there!

However – and you may have seen this coming – the key missing parts of my daily workflow were all essentially app deficiencies. No 1Password, no good route planning apps for bus and train, no TomTom, no Feedly or Flipboard, no Instagram, no Google+ or Google Maps, or anything decent for YouTube.

Petty arguments between technology behemoths aside, I’d love to see more organisations taking Windows Phone seriously as a platform, as it does involve rethinking existing UI strategies, and I believe that the Modern UI is something here to stay across Microsoft devices. A few apps do exist for other things I use like BBC News, Github and Flickr, but all could do with an update or an “official” app to come along. I genuinely believe it is a mistake for organisations to ignore this platform.

Finally of course we reach “the prison I knowingly built myself” – and that is called Apple iCloud. The majority of my music is now stored there, and whilst the Windows Phone app for OS X was very effective at enabling me to sync iTunes playlists, I couldn’t just grab things from the cloud when I wanted. Messaging was particularly frustrating too, as I barely have any Windows Live or Skype contacts compared with the folks I interact with daily via iMessage. Messaging was annoying, as iPhone users tended to end up getting half of my conversations, some via text, and then missing things as they were logged in via their email address. I could see some great stuff in the Windows Contacts world, having groups of contacts whose updates I wanted to follow, but I wasn’t immersed enough for it to immediately work for me.

To round off on a high note – let’s talk about online management. Both Google and Microsoft seem to have this right, and Apple are living in the past. Using the My Windows Phone portal was great, and a better experience than even Android’s ability to send apps from Google Play to the phone – I liked the integrated view of SkyDrive, Xbox Live etc.

Thanks Nokia for a chance to play with your lovely device – definitely something I’d recommend to those looking to commit to a change and wanting a modern device. A few more apps, and a way out of my prison, and I’d be there myself…

Footnote:

A last, personal and slightly unrelated note – Microsoft are very lucky to have hired the man who persuaded me to leave IBM, Patrick Chanezon – Pat’s blog post about his choice in many ways mirrors my experience of dealing with Microsoft over the past few years – there’s a much more heterogeneous and open approach there now, and I wish him very well in the future, I had a great year at VMware working with him!

Geekery in 8-bits and more

In which I get misty-eyed and nostalgic, geek out over electronics, and think about mobile and the cloud.

Then

On Saturday I went along to the Horizons 30th anniversary of the ZX Spectrum event, organised by Paul Squires and Leila Johnston and held at the BFI in London. The event ran on both days but I wasn’t able to stay on the Sunday, so I missed at least half of the fun!

Steven Goodwin reads Sinclair User

Although I’m full of nostalgia for the 8-bit era, I have to confess I never actually owned a Speccy or any Sinclair hardware. My friends did, but I was primarily an Acorn enthusiast and our first home computer was an Electron (although the first computer I used at primary school was a Commodore PET).

I fondly remember some of the hacks I did on/with/to the Electron, including soldering a pair of headphones into the motherboard to avoid annoying my parents with the music from various Superior Software titles 🙂

Regardless of “allegiance”, Horizons was a really great day. Highlights for me included a fantastic history of computing by PJ Evans from The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park (if you haven’t been there yet, you should visit!); Spectranet, an Ethernet adapter for the Spectrum which had me wanting one for no good excuse that I can come up with; and the mind-blowing live composition of a chip tune by Matt Westcott which I saw, but I struggled to comprehend. Matt’s ability to reverse engineer a tune in his head was remarkable.

Oh, and if you haven’t downloaded or bought MJ Hibbett‘s Hey Hey 16k yet, or at least streamed it, you really should.

aside: since Horizons was part of SciFi London, I tried to get Micro Men director Saul Metzstein to drop some hints about his upcoming S7 Dr Who episodes. All he would say was that the western episodes were filmed in Spain (knew that), and that the script for the Christmas episode hasn’t been written yet (didn’t know that).

Now

Components

After the event on Saturday evening, I found it a real struggle to avoid crazy, nostalgia-fuelled eBay purchases, but I did manage to resist! Instead, I resolved to finally get around to building the Fignition I’d picked up at the Hack to the Future event a couple of months ago.

For those who are not familiar with it, the Fignition is a credit card sized build-it-yourself 8-bit computer based around the ATMega chip (the same one used in the Arduino and Nanode Open Source hardware boards). It’s really a remarkable little device – I guess it took me about an hour to assemble and solder, although your mileage may vary. The build guide is excellent and very clear. After performing a couple of power on tests with and without the ICs inserted, it was time to connect up to the TV – and it worked first time. It boots into a simplified Forth environment, which was reminiscent of that BBC BASIC> prompt I am so familiar with from my childhood. The only real downside is that the keyboard – built from 8 clicker buttons – is a bit fiddly to get to grips with, but hey – I just assembled a complete 8-bit computer including video out and keyboard! It’s hard not to be excited.

The board I built was a RevD – the new RevE board has onboard audio in/out (get ready for some fun loading stuff from audio cassettes, again!), and is also slightly modified so that in principle, it is possible to add Arduino-footprint shields. That’s kind of cool, as it means that it might be possible to add a PS/2 keyboard or a network interface.

Ready to test!

What’s “the point” of something so simple, by today’s standards? Well, actually – the simplicity. I went from a bag of components, to a fully working computer in the palm of my hand – no surface-mount components – to a programmable device. It’s “primitive” by the standards of today’s machines, but it’s not that hard to understand how an 8-bit “brain” works, in comparison to the 32 or 64-bit mulitcore CPUs and GPUs in modern laptops and mobile phones. In my opinion, the Fignition, Arduino and Nanode fulfil an important role in helping youngsters to understand the basic principles of electronics and computing.

Next

Last night I headed along to the fantastic Mozilla offices in London.

Mozilla Space, London

The main LJC event was Simon Maple from IBM showing off the new WebSphere 8.5 Liberty Profile running on a Raspberry Pi. I’d hooked Simon up with Sukkin Pang recently so that he could get one of the smart enclosures he provides for the Pi. It was pretty cool to see a full Java app server running on such a small computer – actually almost exactly the same size as the Fignition, only considerably more powerful of course.

The whole talk was live streamed on Mozilla Air – but if you missed it, there’s a video available (complete with semi-professional heckling from yours truly!)

Boot 2 Gecko

What stole the evening for me, though, was two other glimpses of what lies ahead. First, Tom Banks from IBM Hursley came on stage after Simon and showed off the Liberty profile running on a mobile phone. Let me clarify – he was running Android 2.3 on a Nexus One (an “old” phone), running Ubuntu Linux as a virtual image inside of that, and WebSphere inside of that. Kind of mind-blowing! A proof-of-concept and arguably not very useful… not sure when I would want to put a full JEE app server in a phone… but extremely cool. Finally, @cyberdees let Tom and I have a play with Boot to Gecko – Mozilla’s new mobile play. B2G was something I’d heard about, but not touched. I have to say that even in an early form, it’s looking very slick, boots extremely fast – much more quickly than any Android or iOS device I’ve seen – and the device integration (GPS, camera, access to hardware settings, etc) was impressive.

With the Open Web as the platform, ubiquitous mobile devices, and increasingly sophisticated cloud-based backends to interact with, the future is looking pretty cool.

What a week for MQTT!

Part of my role as WebSphere Messaging Community Lead involves IBM’s MQ Telemetry Transport protocol. I spend a chunk of my time talking about how MQTT relates to building a Smarter Planet, and explaining how it can be used to build some very cool new applications and solutions.

MQTT logoFolks from IBM and Eurotech may have jointly authored MQTT, but it has been published online with terms enabling royalty-free use and implementation of the protocol. The next stage is to put it forward for standardisation. Last Friday, the call for participation in a standards discussion was published on mqtt.org. It’s open to anyone to join, and given the excitement I’ve personally seen in the developer community, I’m hopeful that we’ll see plenty of interest.

Friday saw even more big news, from an entirely unexpected source. As I stood chatting to people arriving at the OggCamp party that evening, my Twitter alerts and email went crazy with MQTT chatter… Facebook announced that their new Facebook Messenger application (a result of their acquisition of the Beluga team earlier in the year) uses MQTT! I’d been aware of different mobile app developers using MQTT for a while now – in fact we recently highlighted what a great match the protocol is for Android applications, on the mqtt.org blog – but had not known about Facebook’s interest or usage. In their post talking about how Facebook Messenger works, they call out the characteristics that make it a strong protocol for a mobile group messaging application – low bandwidth, low overheads, low power cost… all of the things that have made MQTT successful in sensor networks and solutions, make it ideal for these kind of applications as well.

Well… as I said, a big week, with some exciting news. So it seemed only right that I should give a talk about MQTT and all of these latest developments at OggCamp this past weekend – the event which three years ago, resulted in Roger Light creating his mosquitto broker.

You may recognise the slides as a remix of the talk I gave at LinuxConf in January, but I’ve updated them to highlight the OggCamp dimension and to talk about the recent news. There will be more to come during the coming weeks, so join the chat in channel #mqtt on Freenode IRC, and keep an eye on mqtt.org!

 

iPhone 4 and the accessories conundrum

Apple took the decision to change the physical design of the iPhone in the latest revision (also known as iPhone 4, or, “ahmmmmm shiny WANT”). It’s a good move as the 3G/3GS was lovely but a tiny bit dated. The fourth-generation model sits beautifully flatly on a tabletop and it simply gleams in its glass-and-aluminium glory. And when you start to read text on that retina display – woah – it’s beyond crisp.

One issue I did foresee before picking mine up was the accessories problem. iPod owners are used to this, of course, as every model of the nano has had a different form factor requiring a new case, or whatever. One particularly smart thing Apple have done all along, though, is retain the universal dock connector so that cables and things are all interchangeable.

For my 3G and 3GS (yes, I went through both generations) I’d had a Mophie Juicepack Aira Mophie Juicepack Air case which acted as a second battery, handy considering how much I tended to use it as a mobile computing device during the day. I’d also made the significant investment of a TomTom mount for the car. I more-or-less knew that the Juicepack wouldn’t work on the iPhone 4 as the shape of the device is so different, but I was moderately hopeful that the TomTom kit would work since I’d just had a new car stereo fitted and I use the mount (and TomTom app) all the time.

Well. It turns out that the iPhone 4 is exactly the same height as the 3GS, so it does indeed fit neatly into the TomTom mount. However – I found that it wouldn’t charge. It turned out that this was an issue with the way in which the base of the TomTom mount used to be pushed backwards by the converse curved shell of the older model… and there is now a tiny gap between the body of the phone and the back of the mount.

A trip to a local craft store and just over £1 spent fixed that particular issue for me and I now have a working mount. I made a quick video (using the camera and iMovie on the new iPhone) to demonstrate the fix. Take a look.

I’m guessing there will either be a whole new mount, or an “official” fix/patch from TomTom in the future – but this is working brilliantly for me. Tell all your friends!