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Archive for May, 2009

Where will a new Maemo device fit in today?

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All the talk (and sometimes ranting) about Nokia’s so called next tablet got me thinking about the state of the potential market for a device like this today.

First lets go on a trip down memory lane.

History

Nokia released their first Internet Tablet towards the end of 2005. It was announced at the LinuxWorld Summit earlier that year and was a curious device. Not quite a phone and not quite a laptop, the 770 came before the current wave of netbooks had begun descending upon us and was met with some resistance. Many complained about its apparent slowness, but looking beyond this one could see that it had potential.

The N800 came next at the beginning of 2007 to a better reception. A faster processor, more memory and greater expandability meant that the adoption rate was much higher for this device. An improved N810 came later that year which added a keyboard and GPS but by this time other devices had joined or were about to join the party.

Elephants in the Corner

June 29th 2007 saw the release of the Apple iPhone. With its tablet like dimensions and pretty UI, Apples juggernaut redefined the mobile web experience. In contrast, Nokia’s tablet seemed somewhat pedestrian. Whist the Maemo based device gained a small community of devoted followers, the iPhone market exploded.

Now lets get this straight, the iPhone isn’t a direct comparison to the Nokia tablet; they do different things but where they overlap is in the core activities of the devices and this means they are competitors. Sales figures and blogs alike prove that the iPhone was hurting Nokia’s tablet sales.

Towards the end of 2007 saw another behemoth enter this space, namely Google with their Android platform. Arguably more of a competitor than Apple, Android is designed to run on a plethora of hardware from phones to netbooks. It has since seen a wide adoption rate with many manufacturers promising or postulating on bring out devices of their own.

A little later came the netbook revolution. Cheap and small sub-notebooks with small screens and even smaller storage designed to browse the web among other things. Two things happened in respect to Nokia’s Internet Tablets when this happened, one, Nokia now had a serious problem price-wise. These netbooks are cheap, typically well under £200 ($320) which put doubt to Nokia’s £300 launch price for the N810 (it has now dropped below £200 but only because of its impending successor). The second thing that should set the warning bells off at Nokia’s headquarters is the value for money aspect. Consider this. Joe user, which I’m sure Nokia would love to sell their hardware to, walks into an electronics shop with £300 in his pocket. Does he buy the ‘mini-laptop’ with 10″ screen, 40GB SSD, 90% size keyboard and all the bells and whistles you could ask for or a nice little ‘Internet Tablet’ that runs a quirky Linux OS, a small amount of storage and a 4.1″ screen? You could argue that they serve different markets but again, the use of such devices overlaps so much its hard to dismiss these as a serious threat to the Internet Tablet.

Worried Yet?

This alone should have Nokia worried without even mentioning the likes of the iPod Touch (maybe a better comparison?), Moblin’s recent efforts in conjunction with Intel, Canonical’s (the guys funding Ubuntu) efforts with their netbook remix designed for mobile hardware, and maybe even a smudging of the Palm Pre that just screams to be put on hardware outside of the phone space. Nokia’s next tablet enters a very different environment from the one it pioneered in 2005.

Reading Between the ‘Leaked” Lines

There is a lot of talk following the ‘leaked’ information detailing the next Nokia tablet. Most of this information you would already know if you followed last years Maemo Summit coverage but here for completeness is the list in full:

Dimensions: 59.7mmx111mmx18.2mm
Weight: 180g
3.5″ 800×480 (WVGA) touchscreen
OMAP3430 500/600 Mhz processor (Fun Trivia: Same CPU as the Palm Pre)
Bands: GSM Quad-Band 850, 900, 1800, 1900. WCDMA 900, 1700/2100, 2100
5 megapixel Carl Zeiss camera with dual-LED flash, autofocus, and sliding cover
Though the renders we’ve seen show two lens-like circles near the screen, we’ve got no word on what’s behind them. However, we feel safe in assuming that its a proximity sensor and a front-facing camera.
1GB total virtual runtime memory (256MB physical RAM, 768MB virtual memory)
Wi-Fi, HSPA
32GB internal storage, expandable up to 48GB via external memory
Keyboard variants: English, Scandinavian, French, German, South European, Italian, Russia
In the box: Connectivity cable, headset, charger, battery (1320 mAh), Video-out cable, microUSB adaptor, cleaning cloth

There are a few surprises there though, one of which is the mention of a change in screen size. Some have argued quite vehemently that a smaller screen will turn them away from the device but it has to be noted that the iPhone uses a similar sized screen and others in Nokia’s smart phone line-up do aswell.

Another thing that was a little surprise was the inclusion of a 5 megapixel camera, previously a 8 megapixel had been promised but obviously something changed since then.

All in all the new specs indicate that the device will be very similar in size to an Android G1 albeit with a slightly bigger screen (3.5 inches as apposed to the G1′s 3.2 inch) and very similar to Nokia’s own N97. So are we just seeing the Linux/Maemo version of the N97?

How can it Succeed?

Well, this is a tough question. Obviously Nokia are pretty excited about this device which indicates they have something up their sleeve yet to show us. But with the impending new device from Apple widely touted to arrive July, new Android based devices on the horizon along with version 2.0 of the software, and new netbooks being released daily it seems, how can the Maemo 5 based tablet make its mark in an already impressive market?

Well the hardware specifications don’t hint at anything special so it seems we are relying on Nokia to release some exceeding good software to go along with it. Software that makes this device compelling to buy, makes the consumer want this over what the competition has to offer, and keeps evolving to meet the ever demanding needs we as consumers are placing on the mobile industry. Most importantly, will the new Maemo device succeed or become the last in a line of good, but not quite good enough mobile devices?

I guess only time will tell.

Written by Jamie Bennett

May 26th, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

oFono – The future of Maemo and a few predictions

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A few days ago Intel and Nokia announced that they are collaborating on an initiative to develop what seems to be an open source telephony platform named oFono. This raises a lot of questions, Why are Nokia helping to develop another open platform when they have Maemo and the newly opened Symbian OS to contend with? Why are Intel interested in anything in the open source world outside of Moblin and their netbook strategy? And in the face of the ever expanding world of Android, what does this mean for Maemo?

Well, the future isn’t exactly clear but it could mean a boost for Maemo. Exactly why is clouded in mystery somewhat.

oFono.org

Lets be clear, oFono isn’t a new operating system, it is an initiative to develop telephony solutions in an open manner. From the oFono.org about page:

oFono.org is a place to bring developers together around designing an infrastructure for building mobile telephony (GSM/UMTS) applications. oFono.org is licensed under GPLv2, and it includes a high-level D-Bus API for use by telephony applications of any license. oFono.org also includes a low-level plug-in API for integrating with open source as well as third party telephony stacks, cellular modems and storage back-ends. The plug-in API functionality is modeled on public standards, in particular 3GPP TS 27.007 “AT command set for User Equipment (UE).”

OK, with that out of the way, what does this mean for Nokia, Intel and Maemo?

Commonality

Traditionally Maemo has had nothing to do with telephony outside of implementing ‘everything but the phone’. The internet tablets have GPS, Wifi, Bluetooth, in fact one of the most common questions I get asked when I’m in public with the Internet tablet is, “what kind of phone is that?”. But with the new collaboration between Intel and Nokia there is a consensus that maybe, just maybe, the drive between the two companies could produce something special.

But the something special part is what is currently under debate. Intel are primarily a chip designer and producer. Although they have many fingers in many pies they signaled their intent by backing Moblin, a project, from their own website, described as an initiate to produce an operating system for “netbooks, MIDs, and automotive”. What does this have to do with Nokia’s Symbian phone software or their Internet tablet software? Exactly nothing. So where do the two companies potentially overlap?

Well, with a little give and take they could be shoe-horned into one other. Nokia’s internet tablet could be considered too small for a netbook but with a couple of inches screen real-estate and a better keyboard could be considered a reasonable netbook? Moblin’s OS on stripped down internet table hardware in the dashboard of you next car purchase? The heavy-weight status of Intel behind Nokia’s struggling platform ensuring a rosier future for both? Lots of questions without a lot of answers at the moment.

A Bright Future?

In the undertones of the Nokia community they see the potential. A car based solution called Canola is the perfect solution for many a car journey. It’s just waiting to be picked up by the likes of Ford or Audi. Nokia’s strides with Maemo 5 and an OpenGL ES/Clutter based interface would be wonderful on a netbook or MID. Nokia’s experience with the ever present Symbian OS gives them a huge share of the market already familiar with what they have to offer. So what is the answer and is there such an answer in existence yet?

Predictions

Here are a few bold statements. If they are wrong then its a case of 2 + 2 = 5, if they are right, and I suspect there is a lot of truth underlining this here, then a clever connection of the dots has already spelled it out. So what will happen to Nokia and Intel’s foray into the telephany, MID, automotive, internet tablet, and netbook arenas?
Crystal Ball Predictions
Here are LinuxUK’s predictions.

1) Nokia release Maemo 5 on OMAP 3 hardware. Slide out keyboard and slightly smaller but clearer screen. Clutter based interface is an instant success as Nokia demonstrate the power of 3D effects on a small but very functional device. HSPA interface is first treated with contempt as people are tied into a contract with no phone services. Nokia brag about Skype and hope the concerns go away. Camera is amazing BTW.

2) Nokia soon after announce Symbian and Maemo live happily together. Based off of their efforts with QT, they bring cross-platform to a thorny beginning with apps designed for both targets.

3) Nokia announce a partnership with a major car manufacturer to produce in-car entertainment devices using Intel based chips. Appeasing both Moblin and Maemo camps, announces that its an open platform for both parties. Open source car tech, wow!

4) Meanwhile, Intel announces a MID based on its own hardware but utilizing hildon and various parts of Maemo software. oFono telephony software slips into the MID form factor.

5) Nokia announce, in partnership with Intel, they are looking at bringing telephony to their Maemo platform. Early adopters of the Maemo 5 based hardware rejoice. They may get a phone after-all.

6) Telephony stack is ported to Maemo 5 hardware, Intel and Nokia bring out a sexy phone, much sexier than the internet tablets based on Maemo, for the masses. Internet tablet users convince themselves they bought their tablet because it didn’t have a phone but quietly admire the new device.

7) Android, looks on in disgust, quietly scared.

8) …?

Reality

I believe the the major clout of Android and Google means that they believe they will win the phone OS war. In their targets are iPhone, Blackberry and the act of converting the dumb-phone Nokia users into smart phone users. For Nokia’s sake, I hope they are wrong. I truely hope Nokia and Intel can combine to produce a platform to rival Android. Yes, internet tablets are cool, but they don’t sell units. Shifting units is what is going to win this war. Lets not forget <a href="http://www.limofoundation.org/"LiMo. An effort to bring an open source operating system to phone users. I would bet my bottom pound that most LiMo users have never hear of, let alone read the GPL.

There is a fear that Nokia will die in the age of the smart phone although Nokia has been producing smart phones for longer than any competitor. I hope for Nokia’s sake that their foray into open source, namely Maemo, combines with Intel to bring them out the other side firmly holding an open source phone/tablet to rival Apples and Google’s emerging dominance.

Update: It seems that Intel is indeed looking at the mobile space as a way of expanding its business model. A post on UMPC portal has good commentary on Intels road map which has just been leaked (Intel even use pictures of Nokia’s phones in the material).

Written by Jamie Bennett

May 17th, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trim trailing spaces in GEdit

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One item from the list of good coding standards which always seems to catch me out is that lines of code shouldn’t have trailing white space. Some editors offer functionality to prevent this, GEdit doesn’t by default. A quick search took me to a page of plugin’s including the ‘trailsave’ plugin. When enabled, this plugin trims off all white space from the end of lines; exactly what I want. One small gripe is that it trims off the last line of a file if it is empty, not ideal.

In the spirit of open source, I modified the code slightly and you can now get the remove-trailing-white-space-but-not-the-last-blank-line plugin from here.

Unpack the two files into your ~/.gnome2/gedit/plugins directory (create one if its not there) and start up GEdit. Select ‘Plugins’ from the Edit->Preferences menu and enable the “Save without trailing space’ plugin from that menu.

Written by Jamie Bennett

May 8th, 2009 at 9:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Recent Reading – March/April

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Ok, as promised I’m trying to read more. Here is the list for the last two months reading.

    1. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
    Well, as this is one of the most read (and often lied about being read) books I though I should take a look. A tour-de-force of writing skills that paints an amazing picture of a bleak future (for the time). A book that you must read but don’t expect sweetness and light. Starts off good, lulls a little in the middle and finishes with a strong surge. The last few pages left me a little wanting at the time but on reflection, they did exactly what they were supposed to do.

    2. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
    I started this with little expectation and despite the books simple message; successful people are the ones born with quite a bit of intelligence, work extremely hard and have some extraordinary breaks in life, I really liked this. Written well with a good if steady pace, another book I’d recommend.

    3.The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Reg Keeland
    Well, this book has got a good reputation and without knowing anything about it I though I would pick it up based on that. For me, its slow to start and I admit that at times, I lost track of the various characters names as the story unfolded but the final third of the book had me hooked.

    4.The Undercover Scientist: Investigating the Mishaps of Everyday Life by Peter J. Bentley
    This book caught me by surprise. Another one that I had no idea about before I picked it up but it wasn’t what I expected. The book is written as a day in the life of an unfortunate person who has his unfair share of problems. Where the science comes in is in the explanation of what is actually going on in each of these scenes. A lot of the science behind this I already knew, but being in the science field already its to be expected. All in all an entertaining read in a format that makes you smile once in a while.

    5.Bell labs, the jewel in the crown by Narain Gehani
    I don’t like to criticize books too much so I’ll leave it at dry, dry, dry; avoid.

    6.7.8.9. Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer
    Now a 30 year old man and teenage vampire/werewolf romance saga’s don’t usually go together but I can honestly say I’m unashamed in liking every one of these books. I started the 4 four books wanting to know what all the hype was about, I didn’t manage to put them down until all four books were read, cover to cover. A great tale that appeals to all ages although I do feel I’m well in touch with my teenage girly side ;) For the sceptical (like I was) read twilight and I dare you not to read the other 3 books (breaking dawn was my favorite BTW but probably because there’s more action in it than the others).

    10. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray
    Umm, ah, I .., ah shit, read it because the other half recommended I should read it. As always, she got it wrong ;) Terribly obvious and utterly boring book. Before I get flogged by the feminists that say all men should read it, I did read it, assimilated the contents, rolled over and farted after drinking a beer. OK (it was entertaining at times though I admit).

Written by Jamie Bennett

May 1st, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized