Archive for July, 2007
There was a lot of excitement in the mobile device camp after the release of the apple iphone. Most people will agree, it has a wonderful ‘looking’ interface although its terribly lacking in the feature department. So what can other mobile devices take from this?
One of the major things to take from the iphone interface is that kinetic scrolling is the way forward. The problems are obvious. A small screen coupled with an even smaller scroll bar can only end in trouble. Too many times have I tried to scroll the page on my Nokia 770 only to either completely miss the scroll bar or worse, click a link close to it. Even on the gargantuan screens that we posses on our desktop PC’s today, the scroll bar is becoming obsolete. How many people don’t have a scroll mouse these days? How many people actually click on the scroll bar arrows or drag the slider to move the page? I bet its not many. The scroll wheel has replaced a somewhat cumbersome interface element on the PC.
To keep up with the ‘less buttons = cool’ brigade a more interactive scroll method is needed, hence ‘Kinetic Scrolling’.
The video above, by Kenneth Christiansen demonstrates what can be done on the Nokia N800 with a just a small amount of code and a great set of tool kits, namely Edje, Evas and Python.
A better input method
Another problem which many users of small touch screens experience is the somewhat cumbersome ‘virtual keyboard’ that is available which these kinds of devices. The main concern is the size of it. Make it two large, large enough for say finger input, and you lose a lot of screen real-estate. Make it two small and you lose the ability to finger type and maybe even type with a stylus. So where is the happy medium?
The video above demonstrates what can be done with only “230 lines of Python, 1110 lines of Edje, including comments and blank lines”. What you get is a really easy to type on keyboard, reminiscent of the iphones figure board.
Another thing that the iphone has over many of its rivals in the mobile device category is ‘bling’. You know, it just looks good. It scrolls nicely, it transitions between screens with easy and treats the eyes to some well needed candy. But where does that leave us non-iphone wielding mobile device lovers? One project that aims to bring a rich and fulfilling interface to the Nokia 770 and N800 is the Canola Project. In its current incarnation, its a very functional and rich user interface bring media such as photo’s, music and video’s together in a easy to navigate form.
The next version of Canola is currently in development but already boasts a much improved user interface due to the use of Edje, Evas and Python. A great post over on Marcelo Eduardo’s blog outlines where the project is going and explains in detail the video above.
Exciting times are ahead for the future of mobile interfaces with Edje, Evas and Python blazing the way on the Nokia internet tablets. But it won’t be confined to just these devices. The smart money, taking in to consideration Ubuntu’s love of Python, is that the newly announce mobile partnership with Intel on the The Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded project will be using these very same toolkits and with Ubuntu’s continuing dominance on the Linux desktop, all I can say is watch this space!
To set it up first download
- bashpodder from http://lincgeek.org/bashpodder/ (I got Brian Hefferan’s version at http://www.lincgeek.org/bashpodder/user_contributed/brian_hefferan/)
- wget from http://armin-warda.de/maemo/dists/mistral/user/binary-armel/wget-1.10.2_armel.deb
Save the 3 bashpodder files on your flashcard to ensure that they are preserved after any future flashing of the 770 and edit the bashpodder.shell file if you wish.
Bashpodder uses a bp.conf file which lists all the urls of the podcasts you wish to download. For example, a snap-shot of mine is:
http://www.cnet.com/i/pod/cnet_buzz.xml http://feeds.ziffdavis.com/ziffdavis/crankygeekspodcast http://feeds.feedburner.com/Talkcrunch http://www.morningcoffeenotes.com/rss.xml http://feeds.feedburner.com/43FPodcast http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/downloadtrial/worldservice/godigital/rss.xml http://leoville.tv/podcasts/twit.xml http://leoville.tv/podcasts/itn.xml http://leoville.tv/podcasts/floss.xml http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheLinuxActionShow http://www.lugradio.org/episodes.rss
To run bashpodder you need to type at the xterm (if you haven’t installed xterm do it now http://770.fs-security.com/xterm/):
bashpodder.shell needs to run with the sh first because its is running off of the FAT32 filesystem of the memory card and unix permisisons just do not exist for sh to check.
Now heres the clever bit. To get bashpodder to check your podcast feeds regulary for any new episodes (I get it to check once a day at 3am in the morning) you need to set up a cron job. Add the following line to your personal crontab or if you don’t already have one make a new one by running
00 03 * * 1-5 sh /media/mmc1/bashpodder/bashpodder.shell
With this setup I always have my regular podcasts available for the commute into work each morning. At the moment I use Canola to play back the podcasts in the car which is a great piece of software but one problem I found is that it doesn’t auto rescan the media directory if you add new files. To do this I use another cron job which looks like (runs at 4am):
00 04 * * 1-5 canola-conf-rescan.sh
And there you have it. Podcast heaven.
So, like me you’ve just bought your shiny new Nokia 770 and thought ‘ooh that built in rss reader is cr@p but I love Google Reader so it’s not a problem’ Wrong!.
Google Reader is my main source of news these days, basically the digital newspaper that only contains articles that I am interested in. To my dismay, after buying the 770 I was disappointed to find that Google Reader doesn’t work with the version of Opera that is installed but here comes readermini to the rescue. A description from the home page sums it up nicely,
“Reader Mini is a light-weight alternative to Google Reader. Reader Mini uses the Google Reader API to access your feeds. It is a compromise so mewhere between the power of the main interface and the too-limited mobile version.”
If we can’t make Google re-write Reader for the 770 then I suppose this is the next best thing.
Find it at https://readermini.com/
Why oh why am I having so many crashes and reboots with the Nokia 770? I’ve had it less than a week and the amount of times I’ve had to reboot it or kill processes must be up around the 100 mark.
For example, accessing pownce seems to hang the tablet half way through displaying some aspect of the page (I get the pretty mug shot and even the template background but then it dies).
Another one that doesn’t fail to kill it is gPodder. I’m really looking for a podcast client that works nicely on the 770 so I can get rid of my ipod (I only listen to podcasts) but nothing is even coming close. gPodder promises everything, the interface is nice, it has scheduled downloading, and is exactly what I need but I haven’t been able to download a single podcast with it yet
I’m starting to think I may have a hardware issue with this? RS-MMC card or even the 770 itself or maybe its just the crappy software that people put out for this device. I’m very tempted to write my own ‘podcatcher’ at this point and start entirely from scratch but would it be worth it!?
Does anyone have any success with the latest gPodder release or is it just me?
Just another one to file under the ‘tips’ section (and to make sure I don’t forget these things!) I managed to get a remote desktop connection to the 770 by using x11vnc. First install the x11vnc server software and start it up (I used xterm and typed x11vnc &).
As I was sat in front of a Windows box at the time I used tightvnc to connect. Looking at this webpage will show you something like this on the right.
Just a quick one but a feature that I stumbled upon which really hasn’t got the web-time it deserves is the ‘Optimised view’ switch in the Opera browser. This is great for times when you use the zoom keys to make a web page’s text bigger. With this set every web page’s text is scaled to fit to the zoom level you currently have the device set at. So instead of zooming in, only to be presented with an unergonomic horizontal scroll bar, the text layout is adjusted accordingly. Wonderful.
Find this setting in Opera under View->Optimised view.
At home I have a Microsoft Vista Media Center PC purely because I haven’t had the time or sadistic inclination to install and configure mythtv yet but rest assured I will do at some point relatively soon. Anyway, I stumbled apon a great looking Nokia 770 app called MCEGuru that is a front end for media center. It looks fantastic, enough so to get me to install and play with it. So after having it installed for the last hour, what do I think?
Well, the interface is very slick and on the surface it looks like a killer app. Unfortunately, and this is where the alpha version tag is most appropriate, its buggy as hell and a pig to use. I’m sure that when all the bugs are ironed out this is going to be a must have app for all media center and 770 owners but for now, its just a distant dream but a promising one at that.
As I was working at the time I didn’t have time to play with it during the day but once home, I quickly paired it up with my wifi router and started surfing the net.
I must say that initial impressions of this device are very favorable. It looks good and the general size of the device is nice although I would sacrific that a little for an inch or so more of screen space but, at this price I can’t complain.
One thing I can complain about though is the terrible decision to go with the Opera browser. Why oh why did Nokia go with Opera and not choose a Gecko based browser, specifically firefox or some derrivative instead. The Opera browser that is bundled with the 2006 OS edition of the Nokia 770 doesn’t support one of my fundamental requirements for any internet device, that I can browse my online mail and calendar data, which in my case is google mail and google calendar. As both sites are heavly Ajax’ed they don’t seem to work correctly.
One answer to this, which Salvatore Carini pointed out to me on Pownce (see Pownce comment), was to install minimo. I had heard of minimo and figured this was the way forward for my google loving needs but I failed to install it last night after much fiddling. Salvatore came to the rescue and I now have a device that I envisaged when I bought it, a mobile internet tablet that lets me get at the information that I want the most. A device that can sit on my kitchen worktop, always connected to the internet, which everyone in the family can pick up and use, that everyone can add and check calendar data to, and that everyone can get their emails on. Ah, happy days ahead I think.
I will be keeping a log of my experience with the 770 as I get more familiar with it and hopefully soon, I’ll be developing and porting apps to it, because, well, thats what I do.
After much head scratching and many a cross word spoken, I’ve finally ditched RemoteCalendars. I had no end of problems with RemoteCalendars and in the end it didn’t even appear in the Outlook toolbar no matter what I tried to do. A pitty as I saw this as a product that could really make a difference but development seems to be slow and I need a syncing tool now so I’ve switch to gSyncit.
gSyncit ‘just works’. I’m still trying to figure a few things out, like why its not the syncing the categories as well as the entries, but from the short time I’ve used it (about a week) it’s doing great. I’m still using the free version with the annoying evaluation box that needs to time out whist I’m evaluating it but I will be spending the $9.99 if it proves itself over a longer period.
I’ve offically been Pownced!