Back in the UK

I’m back in the UK after almost 10 days in Spain. We held the Mobile Web Initiative Best Practices meeting where much good work was done. I sampled the famous cider of the Asturias region. I drove to Bilbao and visited the Guggenheim (and met with our great Spanish R&D folks). I spoke at Fundamentos Web on the topic of the Mobile Web and as a bonus I got to meet lots of Internet notables, such as Ben Hammersley, Chris Wilson and Dave Shea (I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy). All in all, not a bad trip. Lots of photos on Flickr (uploaded using ShoZu, of course) and more thoughts later after I have a chance to recuperate.

Posted in Travel, Web

Madrid’s Beautiful New Airport

This is the 2nd time this year I’ve traveled through Madrid’s beautiful new airport. It’s still wowing me. For my trip to Oviedo to go to W3C Mobile Web Initiative meetings this week and speak at Fundamentos Web next week, the sting of having to transit through Madrid as opposed to taking a direct flight was greatly alleviated by knowing that I would be going through the new airport. It’s beautifully designed. It’s efficient. It’s well signed. It’s spacious. It’s comfortable. It’s modern. It’s usable. It puts Heathrow’s dark, cramped, grimy corridors to shame. When I first came through here, after having traveled through Madrid’s old airport many times in the past, I wondered if I had been delivered to the right city. It’s a great start to what will hopefully be a great trip.

Posted in Travel

Mobile Web Kerfuffle

It’s been an exciting week in the blogosphere for the Mobile Web. First Barbara Ballard posts part 1 of an article on “What’s Wrong with the Mobile Web.” This is followed up on by both Andrea Trassati and Mike Rowehl and then Tom Hume picks up on those posts. With so many respected individuals piping up on this issue, I could hardly have stayed out of the fray…

Actually, I’ve been saying for some time what Barbara essentially is saying in her post: mobile-specific user experience is essential the growth of the Web on the mobile platform. My vision of the “One Web,” however, encompasses this idea through the notion of (ta da) “thematic consistency,” which has been articulated nicely by the Mobile Web Best Practices working group. Thematic consistency does not mean you have to have the same page displayed across different devices — it allows for different user experience across different devices but asserts that the same URI when viewed on different devices should provide thematically similar results (for example, the same news article or blog post).

So — even though I hold Barbara in very high regard, I disagree with the articulation of the “two camps.” From my perspective, the two camps might be closer to “the browser can do it all” vs. “the content authors need to do something too.” Clearly, I’m in the second camp: Web sites need to start factoring in Mobile users when they design and build their services, not as an after-thought. I think this is already happening. Take a look at PinPPL — here’s a site that’s designed to work well on the Blackberry browser and on desktop browsers. The site itself, a social network for Blackberry users, also exploits device capabilities by providing direct access to Blackberry PIN messaging from user profiles.

By the way, Barbara will be speaking at the next Mobile Monday London event here on October 2nd. Don’t miss it!

Meanwhile, BBC News ran a great article on the rise of the Mobile Web. I think this article does a great job of capturing the user attitude towards the mobile Web: they just want it to work. (This article also reinforces my view that cost transparency is a key issue when it comes to take up.)

Posted in Blogs, Mobile Monday, Mobile Web

What is “Mobile 2.0″?

The terms “Mobile 2.0″ and “Mobile Web 2.0″ are being thrown around these days quite a bit, but nobody has really put together a concise definition of what Mobile 2.0 is and how it differs from what has come before, such as exists for “Web 2.0″. Ajit Jaokar and Tony Fish are doing a great job describing some aspects of “Mobile Web 2.0″ but I still think we are missing such a clear, consise definition. Well, I figured I’d take a stab at it.

For one, closed mobile application and services, available only through one operator, are Mobile 1.0. Mobile 2.0 applications and services are open and available to anyone to download, install and/or put to use via the mobile Web. In my mind, the Mobile Web is a big part of Mobile 2.0. Mobile 2.0 also builds on the ideas voiced by Tim O’Reilly and extends those to the Mobile platform and its capabilities. Here are some rough extensions of the O’Reilly Web 2.0 set of examples applied to Mobile 2.0:

SMS -> IM (e.g. Yahoo! messenger for mobile)
MMS -> Media sharing (e.g. ShoZu)
Operator Portals -> Mobile Web and Search
Operator chooses -> User chooses
Premium SMS billing -> Mobile stored value Accounts (e.g. Luup)
Java Games -> Embedded Applications (e.g. Blogger application)
Presence & Push-To-Talk -> Embedded VOIP applications
WAP sites -> .Mobi sites
WAP push -> RSS readers
Wallpaper -> Idle screen applications
Location services -> Google maps application
Time or volume-based pricing -> “All you can eat” data charging
Content consumption -> Content creation (e.g. mobile blogging)

In short, Mobile 2.0 takes the Mobile platform to where the Internet is today, and shows us how the mobile phone can become a first class citizen, or even a leading citizen, of the Web. What Mobile 2.0 does not mean, at least in my mind, is more sophisticated, but still essentially closed, mobile applications and services. Openness and user choice are essential components of Mobile 2.0.

Some of these ideas are controversial, I know, and some of them probably don’t go far enough. I’d appreciate your comments, additions, ideas on this topic. What does Mobile 2.0 consist of and what makes it different from what we have now?

Posted in Mobile Web, Mobility

N73 Sample Picture

Flowers at Embankment GardensJust to underscore my previous post, here’s a quick picture I snapped this morning on my way to work. This was taken one-handed while carrying a cup of coffee, by the way. The close-focusing is great. You can’t argue with the color either (I switched to manual white balance). There’s nothing to stop this from being a really nice image. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see tons of compression artifacts and edge effects caused by excessive sharpening. These are even more apparent on the original 2048/1536 image. For comparison, take a look at this image I captured with my Canon S50. Now I realize that this is comparing apples and oranges to some degree, but I maintain the image quality of the N73 doesn’t have to be this bad. If at “high” quality, it were compressing less, the image output would much better looking.

Posted in Mobility

N73 Update

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Well, it’s been about two weeks since I wrote gushingly about the Nokia N73 on this page. Has the bloom come off the rose? Well – in some small ways, yes, and I will detail those here, but in the main I am still very impressed with this device.

My biggest pet peeve is picture quality. For a device that prominently displays the fact that it sports a “Carl Zeiss” lens and a 3.2 megapixel sensor, I would expect higher quality images. The problem seems to be in the software. Even at its highest image quality setting, the JPEG compression is jacked way up. A typical highest-quality image out of the phone comes in at around 500k. My old 2-megapixel Powershot S100 used to produce images around the same size, for comparison. Considering you can now buy 1GB cards for this thing, I think it ought to be possible to squeeze some higher quality photos out of it. The auto white balance is also pretty wonky. My sense is that the sharpening algorithm is also jacked way up but it’s kind of difficult to tell with all the compression artifacts in every picture. It also takes a while for the camera to get ready to take pictures and there is too long a delay between the time you depress the button and when the picture is actually taken – resulting in many missed shots, especially when your subjects are fast-moving children. Don’t get me wrong: for a camera phone, it is pushing the envelope. But Nokia really markets this phone as a digital camera as well as a phone and in my view it needs some tweaking in order to make good on this promise.

My second area of frustration is with the Bluetooth support. I had expected some improvement over the N70, but unfortunately I find it still craps out quite often. The only remedy is to go in to the control panel and turn Bluetooth off and on again. This usually fixes the problem, but when you’re trying to make or receive a call on the go, or connect to the Internet to quickly send/receive email, this can be very frustrating.

Both of these are software issues so they could potentially be addressed by firmware updates.

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Posted in Mobility Tagged with: , ,

Lifeblog Usage Notes

Is the N73 with Lifeblog the ultimate blogging device? As I write this, standing up on the Tube on my way home. I’m tempted to say ‘yes.’ It certainly provides a content creation environment where you can quickly jot down thoughts, and with the predictive text input, it’s not that painful, for short entries. It’s especially well suited to environments like this where pulling out a laptop is just not an option. Composing blog entries with both text and photos though is not as straight-forward as I’d like it to be. Likewise for inserting links or text involving lots of words not in the predictive dictionary. The PC counterpart application also is a bit bewildering as to its intended use. I’d rather have a great mobile-only app than a half-way there PC-mobile suite. What features would I most like to see? Well, the lifeblog app neatly collects all your messaging traffic and presents it in a neat timeline (presumably for you to draw on while blogging) but then presents no easy way for you

…and that’s where it stopped accepting input. Apparently, the Lifeblog text note object has a hard limit of 826 characters. So… we’re not there yet, but I honestly do see big potential. To finish these thoughts now that I’m sitting in front of my Powerbook, Lifeblog needs to make it easy for me to filter all of these messages and photos, and it needs to be easy to associate items together. Three images, for instance, might all belong together, along with a text note which incorporates comments received in 3 text messages. This all needs to be put together and uploaded as one chunk a the push of a button. Right now it looks like Lifeblog only supports fairly rudimentary photo blogging, but you can see the potential there. The interface is really slick. I eagerly await an upgrade.

And by the way, one of the comments to my earlier post on the N73 pointed me to some documentation on Flickr about how to post through them to Blogger from Lifeblog. Great, except it didn’t work and also it’s a hack. Maybe Google needs to get their act together and write a Blogger client for S60, but honestly I’d rather just have clients and services that work together using standard protocols and APIs.

Posted in Mobile Web, Mobility

The Web, only Smaller

There’s a great article in CNET today about the growth of the Mobile Web (with a focus on the U.S. market). Good balanced coverage except that they missed out any mention of the Mobile Web Initiative. Still, they’ve mostly reached the right conclusions. They’ve said more-sophisticated handsets, improved mobile browsing technology and increased coverage of high-speed wireless networks will improve the Internet mobile experience and attract many more regular users. I agree, but I also think content that is specifically adapted for mobile use (according to the Mobile Web Best Practices guidelines) will be an essential part of making the Mobile Web a success. Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I — I’m chairing the group. But if anything, three days with the Nokia N73 and its super-de-duper advanced browser has reinforced my belief. Yes, it’s great to be able to bring up any Web site even if it hasn’t been adapted for Mobile browsers. But it’s a much better user experience when the content or service has been adapted and, for example, you don’t have to scroll horizontally to see the whole page, or encounter AJAX coding that makes frequent http requests (even over 3G this is a real killer), etc.. etc..

In short, the Mobile Web will not be a success if it’s The Web, only Smaller. Content and services must adapt and take into account the specific needs of Mobile Web clients and users, even on advanced devices, even on fast networks.

Posted in Mobile Web, Mobility

Mobile Advertising in the News

There was a great article in today’s Herald Tribune (my “lifeline” to the US) on the very timely topic of Mobile Advertising. Why timely? Because the next Mobile Monday London event (run with and Sponsored by the MMA) will focus on this very topic. I especially liked this article because it focuses on companies that are going beyond SMS advertising and bringing Web-style banner ads and other innovations to the mobile. You may ask why, as a technologist, I am so excited about the prospect of mobile advertising? Well — look at it this way: advertising is the engine that is powering innovation in companies like Yahoo! and Google right now. If we can bring more targeted advertising to the mobile platform, in a way that preserves user privacy and choice, I believe it will lead to greater investment in the mobile platform by content providers and therefore more sophisticated applications and services being available over this platform.

Posted in Mobile Monday, Mobile Web

Nokia N73: Finally a Series-60 You Can be Proud Of

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N70 and N73It’s been a day since I’ve taken delivery of my brand-spanking new Nokia N73 (pictured at right). And I have to say, I am pretty impressed. It’s not that it’s some huge revolution in usability and design. It isn’t. It’s a step up from the N70 (pictured at left) which I’ve been using for a few months. But what a step up! It is just a little bit better in almost every aspect of operation and use. Build quality is better. Industrial design is better. It’s lighter. It’s smaller — not by much but just enough that it now fits comfortably in my pocket where the N70 was uncomfortably bulgy. It’s balanced and has a flat bottom — it doesn’t sit precariously on the desk like the N70 did. The materials it’s made out of seem higher quality — maybe it’s just the lack of (or at least minimization of) finger-print-showing chrome accents. Its battery lasts longer. It doesn’t get as hot as the N70 did during long calls. The camera features a real (glass, auto-focus) lens and takes measurably better pictures (though still not up to the quality level of dedicated digital cameras, they are more than usable for most on-line applications and could even be suitable for decent, if small, prints). The lens cover is easier to slide back. The screen is higher resolution and brighter. On the N70, you had to wait a few seconds for things like the call register or address book to come up. This delay is gone on the N73, making the experience of using it as a phone much much much less painful. The PC sync software was a snap to install and get working and synced my 800+ Outlook contacts very quickly over Bluetooth. In short, it’s just that little much better in about every single way and that adds up to a real difference in terms of usability, operation and, yes, sexiness. To borrow a catch-phrase from Oldsmobile, this is not your father’s Series-60.

Special mention has to go to the Web browser (which is built WebCore and JavaScriptCore that Apple’s Safari is built on top of). It is really really good (with a couple of caveats, see below). The browser operates like a PC browser, complete with a little pointing hand cursor that you move around the screen with the 4-way rocker switch. The hand moves semi-intelligently from link to link and, because the screen is smaller than most Web pages, you get a zoomed-in view which shifts around as you move the cursor. You can get a page overview and then zoom into the part of the page you’re interested in. And when you go “back” or “forward” a page, you get neat little page thumb-nails which animate back and forth until you find the page you’re looking for. The result is an amazingly usable Web experience, even for pages that do not adapt for mobile browsers (a bit more on that later). Nokia also recently open-sourced a significant portion of their own work on this browser, which should spur yet more innovation around this platform.

My minor qualms list:

  • The built-in web upload application for photos (which is supposed to provide out-of-the-box Flickr integration) did not work. It kept rejecting my username and password and provided no easy way to diagnose the problem. I downloaded ShoZu which worked right away (although ShoZu didn’t have the N73 in its list of supported phones).
  • The Nokia S-60 Web Browser works on most sites, but things falls down on things like drag-and drop Ajax applications. Nothing you can do here unless you could add a bluetooth mouse (which you can’t, and in any case that’s hardly “one-handed operation.”)
  • The Web browser does not appear to support CSS media queries (or at least doesn’t load stylesheets marked for media type “handheld”). So if I go through the trouble to create special CSS for small-screen devices, this is work is lost on the S-60 Web browser. I think this is a big problem and I hope they fix it in future releases.
  • There are two browsers — one for “Wap” and one for “Web.” They even share the same (or a very similar) icon. This doesn’t make sense.
  • Final browser nit: when I tried to demonstrate how cool the browser was to my wife by bringing up IMDB while we were out at the pub to answer a question on so-and-so’s filmography … the phone crashed. Oops! It hasn’t done the same since but still — some points knocked off for bad timing.
  • Settings are difficult to change. It took me the better part of 20 minutes to figure out how to turn off keypad beeps. That’s a lot of beeps. (It’s in “Profiles”).
  • The Lifeblog application holds a lot of promise, but seems to be limited to working with the Typepad software. I would love to use it, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work with Blogger.
  • It takes yet another kind of micro-flash-card format (MiniSD), which means the card I bought for the N70 is now useless.

That’s about it for now. The long and short of it is — great device. As for the Web Browser — it’s a real innovative leap for mobile browsing. Like any 1.0, there are some problems, but Nokia re clearly on the right track here. My wife has yet to be convinced, though.

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Posted in Mobile Web, Mobility Tagged with: , ,

Who is Daniel K. Appelquist?

I'm an American Ex-Pat living in London. I'm a father of two and husband of one. I am the Open Web Advocate for Telefónica Digital, focusing on the Open Web Device. I founded Mobile Monday London, Over the Air and the Mobile 2.0 conference series.

The opinions expressed here are my own, however, and neither Telefónica nor any other party necessarily agrees with them.

My books:
Mobile Internet for Dummies
XML and SQL

For more info, see my Linkedin profile.

More (probably than you ever wanted to know) about Torgo.

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