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Nokia going Windows. Share price going south. February 11, 2011

Posted by CK in IT, Mobility.
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Not much to say about this. One only needs to read the comments of developers following the announcement that Nokia completely "changes strategy", hand-to-hand with Microsoft. I guess most people expected that, ok, Nokia will test the waters and develop some Windows devices. Or at least that was my assumption. Unfortunately, such close partnership is quite reasonably expected to kill Symbian (which would be ok IMHO), Qt and Meego altogether. Microsoft is not known for its affection towards competitors. The PR talk by Nokia is not convincing.

I guess, it’s not only developers who are not convinced. During the day, Nokia’s share price in the DAX fell by some 14%:

Nokia DAX share price diagram

At NYSE, as we speak, the share price falls by some 16%:

Nokia NYSE/NASDAQ share price diagram

Clever move to go Microsoft, guys. Everyone has lots of faith in this, as you see.

The upcoming WebOS ecosystem February 10, 2011

Posted by CK in IT, Mobility.
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I was particularly impressed by the HP announcements yesterday, that in addition to a couple of new phones and a tablet based on WebOS, it is also planning desktops/notebooks with the same OS. The main reason being, HP seems to be the second behemoth in a few days that realizes the obvious: Offering a complete ecosystem attracts developers; and a large range of applications attracts users — given, of course, a decent OS in the first place. Apple did this and has been winning the race so far. Microsoft does offer an ecosystem as such, but it doesn’t seem capable to capitalize on it, presumably because the platform/OS itself is not good enough. Android is apparently managing very well on the mobile world, but Google’s proposal on the desktop, ChromeOS, does not integrate on a development level (even though Google’s services make up for that to a large extent). Although this does not hurt Android-phones sales, I believe it is only due to the fact that Android is an open system, so phone manufacturers feel safe to base their businesses upon it.

I really think that WebOS can remain (become?) one of the big players in the future, given this new strategy of HP, its deep pockets, and the system’s quality. If I was a developer, I would be more than happy to create applications for this platform — especially if they have "write once, run everywhere" properties with as little customization as possible.

Hopefully, Nokia will also build on a similar strategy with Meego — even if it must divert towards Windows/Android for a while, to keep the stock holders happy. It would then have the additional advantage of offering an open platform (like Android is) to attract other manufacturers, but compete on device quality where it shines. Revenue from desktop H/W sales would be a bonus.

Who’s the next Apple? March 13, 2010

Posted by CK in IT.
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Seriously, if Apple continues providing its customers with all the reasons to hate it, I can well see a large amount of people moving away from it. Apple made a real difference a few years ago when it started providing systems that not only “just worked”, but they were also a pleasure to use. Marketing and good products made people almost religious about the company and every little gem that was coming out of its labs (and Jobs’ mind, I presume).

But in the last year or so, Apple became greedy. It is turning into the new Microsoft, only worse in the sense that they *do* have the best offerings. I have already decided to move away soon, and I know a number of other people who are considering or even have already taken the same decision.

So the question comes naturally: Who’s the next Apple? Who is the company who will offer secure systems that “just work”, painlessly and effortlessly? Who will grab this opportunity, to build a proper interface around a proper kernel and get a bunch of early adopters on its side? Sure, various Linux distributions are getting better and better, but the lack of coherence is almost dramatic. I’m making the experiment these days on a virtual machine, and there is honestly nothing to compare. My contempt for GNOME is well-known to many, as is also my admiration of KDE. The latter (which I am using), although great, it still does not integrate properly with the underlying system. I assume that the non-centralized development of the three layers (kernel & base system, X server, desktop), great as it is in offering choice and nurturing all those different options, it is also the Achilles’ heel of Linux (ok, GNU/Linux) systems. The same applies to *BSD. Certainly, the lack of control on hardware and Microsoft’s strong-arm practices on all vendors doesn’t help either (see for example what happened to netbooks).

My prediction is that there is now great opportunity for someone to invest in a properly good interface on top of a BSD kernel (or Linux, if licensing is not a problem). KDE is technically sound and can be the basis as it is also offering excellent APIs, but would have to integrate much better with the underlying system — and that, I guess, means getting rid of X. If someone does it though, and strikes a few deals with vendors such as Acer, Asus, and the like, I believe there’s a big market ahead. It would have to be someone big, who has the expertise and the marketing power.

So let me ask: Why not Nokia?

They are the largest seller of mobile devices. They bought Trolltech. They are moving to Linux for their phones. They are now partners with Intel on Meego. Is there anything that really prevents Nokia from making the step into desktop and tablet operating systems?

[E71|S60] disappointment January 3, 2009

Posted by CK in Mobility, Productivity, Software.
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For the last three years, I’ve been living with a Palm Treo 650 in my hands. I was a loyal PalmOS user already for 7 years when I bought it, so I knew what I was getting, more or less. As a matter of fact I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was getting more than I thought. The Treo 650 was a rock-solid device with a perfect, sensible interface. I could handle it in one hand as I was walking or even driving, when in need to make that urgent phone call without looking at the phone but just clicking on a button or two. Granted, there was no WiFi, GPS or other such recent goodies, but I’ve been using it happily until a few days ago. My only regret was the looks; it was fat and ugly-ish, with that big external antenna. Almost an embarrassment these days. So I thought it was time I move forward, time to buy a new smartphone. My requirements where:

  1. Embedded hardware keyboard
  2. If possible, monoblock (i.e. no slide-out)
  3. WiFi
  4. GPS
  5. 3G
  6. Decent camera (anything more than VGA is fine)
  7. Doing video
  8. Using an OS with proven record
  9. Possible to sync with MacOS addressbook/calendar etc
  10. Costing less than an arm and a leg (i.e. not what I had paid for that Treo).

On top of this:

  • I wanted to avoid Windows Mobile if possible. I know they are better than they used to be, but I’m still biased.
  • I was sceptical about going for PalmOS again. PalmOS has not seen major innovation (like it used to) for many, many years now; only bug-fixing releases. On the same time, interfaces have gone a long way forward (see: iPhone) and PalmOS is stuck to how it looked in 2003 or so.
  • I can live with the slide-out keyboard of G1, but Android is still in its infancy and I’ve learned to avoid first releases of anything.
  • RIM Blackberries are popular in the US but from what I saw the add-on software options (from ISVs) are limited. I need something that can be heavily extended.
  • Finally, there are a few non-mainstream phones running Linux variants, but as I have also learned the hard way, you have to stick with mainstream in such cases if you want to get enough software to customise your phone to your exact liking.

So, at the end of the day, my only option was the Nokia E71 running S60. I had never used a Symbian phone before, although I was the owner of a Psion Revo (that’s how I found out about the “abundance of applications” principle, back then SymbianOS was nothing close to mainstream although the 5MX was considered a business-man’s dream). I thought, however, that right now Symbian is running on most of the smartphones out there (something like 50% according to a study I read recently and have no quotation for :)). Therefore, it should be great and do everything, right?

No.

I paid those sweet hundreds of euros, went back home and started playing with it. I knew I was not getting a touch-screen and was willing to accept it, assuming that S60 provides smart ways to avoid too many keystrokes. Gravely wrong. So here’s a list of what frustrates me, and please, let me know if I’m wrong on something (the manual doesn’t shed any light on these):

  • Doing pretty much anything on this phone means I have to hit a number of keys. I am looking for a way to assign phones I call too often, to keys. I could be missing something, but something tells me it cannot be done — I have to start writing the name. With accented Greek letters, this means pain most of the time. This is just an example though; the 10 shortcuts to common applications offered by the two start-up screens (“business” and “personal”) are just not enough. You have click your way through to the application you’re looking for, somewhere in the menu(s).
  • The menu is completely unintuitive. I was always listening to raving reports about the Nokia menus — well, someone has to use a PalmOS phone for a few days. Ok, this is a feature-rich device and of course there’s many settings and options to set, but still, how come I could do everything quickly and easily on the Treo from Day #1, but now I have to search through countless menu directories? It just doesn’t work for me.
  • Data plans are expensive. if I am near a WiFi spot, I want to use *that* access point for *all* operations in need of internet connectivity. This is not possible; there’s a lot of incoherence and different applications have a different understanding about the facility they should use. In the web browser you can set it uniquely (i.e. can’t say “I want to use WiFi, any of them”, but must select a specific wireless network, which means to change every time you change location). In other applications you can’t even choose, it just goes ahead to use the phone’s data packet relay. You can’t even set a preference in the relevant list of data network access points, which could be used by the OS and all applications.
  • The keyboard. Oh, the keyboard. I kept reading and reading how with the E71 keyboard Nokia got it exactly right, and how perfect it is although so small. People, just grab a Treo and right a short message or something, before you write that review. I won’t spend more bytes on this one.
  • The agenda. This is supposed to be a business phone, for crying out loud. The PIM functionality is laughable, in comparison to the one from PalmOS. I cannot set categories for meetings and TODOs (there’s also “reminders” and “anniversaries”, but that’s not useful). I have spent time and money to create a classification system on my desktop, and one of my primary reasons to change my mobile organiser (i.e. the phone) was to reflect this accurately from the desktop. I am now sorry to realise that PalmOS is better at it, and really sorry that I didn’t do my research but only assumed it would be possible on S60. Having a really long list of TODOs and seeing them all, independent if I’m out and about shopping or in my office shooting down business tasks, is just not helpful. Also, I need to categorise contacts. How is it useful to have a huge list (amounting to the hundreds) and not be able to break it down to pieces somehow?
  • There’s many more, but I’ll close the list with something that bothered me in Missing Sync for Symbian, which I bought to sync with the Mac. I was using the same product for PalmOS and was extremely happy with it. When syncing your calendar, there’s an option to select how much time in the past and future to take into account. I was surprised to find out that using 6m in the past and 6m in the future fails, because “the phone’s memory gets full” in the process. This is a top-notch device, how is it possible that it fills up with a few recurrent concalls and some trip dates? I assume that Missing Sync for Symbian treats recurrent events as distinct events, wasting bytes. But this is only my uneducated assumption.

This post got much longer than I intended to. I now have to start looking for a solution to my TODO categorisation problem. Something tells me it is not possible even with add-on software.