Saturday, 25 December 2010

Missing integration

My Nexus 1 has succumbed to a common problem - the power button has stopped working. This is the one on the top that also serves as the first step in unlocking the device. I was only able to unlock by phoning myself and hence gain access to my messages which was inconvenient but effective. I called Vodafone on Thursday and spoke to a friendly and helpful chap called Neil.

Unfortunately Neil needed the IMEI so I had to take out the battery, and of course I couldn't turn the device back on again. So Neil orders me up a swap-out replacement for the following morning with the warning that given the weather it might not arrive in time before Christmas. It didn't, and I've no idea when it will arrive.

So here I am wondering who has been trying to contact me. At least with HulloMail I know when anybody has called as I get an email with any voice message as an attachment. I'm now so used to using cloud-based email that it seemed immediately obvious that I should be able to access SMS service via the web. But you can't, or not on Vodafone anyway. Surely I should be able to see pending messages and send new ones when I am logged in? And how about a nice on-line backup of the ones that are on my phone that I now can't rescue? Nope, they are siloed off into telco space.

Surely an opportunity for someone?

PS Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Usability must take priority over design

I'm a big fan of Spotify and I have a first-generation iPod Touch which does pretty much nothing but connect my vintage hifi to the modern world. It generally works well, especially now I've figured out how to charge the device at the same time. When I'm on the move I use Spotify on my Nexus with the tracks offlined.

However there was one big issue: turning off shuffle on playlists. I was reduced to searching on web to find out. Turns out that you tap the track that is playing to get a new screen and if the Shuffle box is grey then it is active, and white when inactive. That is the only indication. Usability failure - as witnessed by the long list of relieved users who couldn't find that.

I am reminded of a previous iPod challenge - finding the track and album repeat option. In early versions of the iPod touch software this was only visible when you tapped the region at the top of the artwork. This has since been updated to make it visible all the time which is just so much better.

As touch interfaces become pervasive this triumph of design over affordance will have to stop. It's not as if there aren't plenty of simple, elegant graphical solutions that make the options obvious to the user.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

A Neat Feature

A small but very elegant feature of Android is that it recognises when the person whose voicemail you have just reached is calling you back. I'm sure everyone knows the effect of calling someone and as soon as you hear I'm sorry, but I can't take your... they call you back. Accepting the new call hangs up the old one.

Simple and obvious. Why did it take until 2010 for phone makers to do it?

A Lumpy Android Update

Last week Vodafone UK finally released Android 2.2.1. It wasn't the smoothest of updates. Everything seemed fine until the following morning when everything started crashing with messages about insufficient storage. I mean literally every process on the device, from the dialer to obscure processes.

After a lot of irritation and mucking about I was able to delete a particularly large app (Skype, as it happens, which is 13Mb), restarted the phone and normality returned. It was scarey and I missed a number of calls and messages. For a normal user I can image that it would be very worrying indeed.

Shipping software releases is not a new process but it remains a very tricky one as this just demonstrated. Even with cloud computing, the client software still needs updating so this is a skill we cannot afford to loose.

In this case some form of check for available storage would have prevented the problem. I'm guessing that what was consuming the storage was the downloaded system images. It is easy to envisage a mechanism whereby the update itself checks to see if there will be enough space to install itself then remove its download without causing everything else to fail.

Let's hope that the next Android update includes just such a check or another mechanism to make it smoother. It would be a shame to damage the good progress this nicely comfortable system has made in the market place.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Social Media as Spam Magnet

I've spent some time this morning clearing various junk messages out of various of the smaller social networks that I signed on for when they first launched. The only messages I had on them were those junk ones. All the messages had in common that they were from genuine-looking people that I didn't know.

I say smaller networks as they don't seem to have such good control over junk - they either have good processes in place, social tools to spot spammers or vast numbers of moderators. Twitter clearly makes good use of automation to spot inappropriate activity and had beaten down the wave of junk activity.

LinkedIn is an interesting conundrum as it effectively offers a very expensive license to spam. You can spam who you like if you pay enough, and a few companies actually do this. Typically offshore development or testing shops, I regularly get very polite messages somewhat crafted for my profile. Recognising that they come from people who are just doing a job that I've done too - selling software and services - I tend to take the time to explain I'm not a good target and won't be buying.

But the fact remains that the power of the network effect attracts those who spam and we don't yet have the tools to stop it automatically.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Clouds and Timezones

The idea of the cloud really works for me, but I've stumbled over a simple technical issue: timezones. I added a meeting to my calender while I was in CST, but the meeting is in the UK and I used the UK time on my Android device which is set to switch automatically to the local timezone. Net effect: the meeting ended up in my diary an hour early.

Looking at Google Calendar on the web I can select the timezone for my booking, which is neat, but the Android app doesn't offer that facility as far as I can see. Not an unreasonable simplification for a mobile interface, but still a potential source of error.

It so happened I realised well ahead of time, but it's an interesting example of how physical travel and its vagaries can impact the homogeneity of the cloud. After all I have no idea and seriously don't care where the server that stores my Calendar data. But somewhere along the wires something does need to know.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Android Fragmentation

I've been reading a lot about fragmentation of Android - multiple devices, form factors, versions, operators, certificates. This is nothing new, it's exactly the same as happened with Java and Symbian. And it's a solved problem.

At Rapid Mobile I automated the whole fragmentation solution with ThinkPhone Deliver, an intelligent provisioning system. Other people adopted conditional-compilation solutions such as J2ME Polish, Wurfl and no doubt other approaches. Yet many of these new entrants building mobile apps for the first time are running around wringing their hands and wailing. It's a solved problem guys, learn from our early adventures!

No need for the iPhone fanbois to look smug either. Loads of fragmentation between all the different models, ranging from API support to plain performance issues. Older devices, such as my first generation iPod Touch, are no longer being updated and most of the recent apps I've tried fail or are so slow that they are painful.

Plus รงa change...

Monday, 22 November 2010


Having decided to concentrate on this new domain name,, I had to establish some way of linked from the old domain, to this one. Sounds easy, but it isn't because the Blogger/Google Apps interface that this is running on only allows one domain name to point at it.

So I tried various solutions to come up with intermediate stages that would redirect automatically, but they all came up needing some payment, which is irksome. Not so much because of the money, we all have to eat, but because of the requires further on to renew and all the rest of that. So I was looking for a free solution.

In the end I created a personal Google Sites instance associated with my normal Google account and put a simple text link in. While this incurs an extra click, it has the advantage that people get to see that I've moved; an automatic redirect doesn't do that. Eventually I can just stop using completely when there is no traffic left.

However the real reason is that I can find no way of adding JavaScript to the Sites, or at least not the kind I wanted to use. Maybe I'm missing something. Let me know!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Moving Host

This is the first post in a new Blogger-based blog as part of a general migration of services to the cloud.

Something more material will appear later, and hopefully an archive of the old material too although the Wordpress-to-Blogger converter is reporting an error deep in the XML which I haven't fixed yet.