Battle of mobile platforms is taking off

After Apple launched the Iphone 3G last summer, T-mobile will begin rolling out the Android platform in The Netherlands. Within weeks the HTC G1 will be available (the phone has been out in the USA since October and in the UK since November). And now, to the surprise of the whole industry Palm made a strong comeback with the Palm Pre, running their brand new OS called webOs. It has been announced at CES just last week, but yet has to get reviews and into the market.

So, it seems that we have at least 2 strong players with an outsider (Palm) ready to bring mobile computing to the next level, and really change that thing in our pockets and hands into a computer with a small screen instead of just an apparatus to call and text with. It’s not about that anymore, it’s about all the applications that you can run on.

What will determine the success of these platforms?

  • user experience: usability, seamless integration, slick looks: Apple with having one device, one manufacturer has controls hardware, OS, store has created a complete package with eco-system around it. And of course it’s experience with good user interfaces and design for Mac and Ipod has given it a head start. Android is not a complete deal but a platform, that hardware manufactures have to run on their phones that will come in many shapes and forms.
  • good apps that can easily be purchased:
    • developer support: good language and good tooling. Apple offers Objective-C with a number of UI libraries, together with their IDE Xcode. Android is for 95 % Java, that is supported by Eclipse plugins. This means that all those Java developers out that can start creating Android apps in no time, while much less Objective-C developers are out there. Learning Objective-C and XCode will take some time for developers from other platforms.
    • easy app stores to browse, look, buy and download applications. Apple’s app store has already proved to be a success. Android’s app store has yet to kick in. Maybe multiple app stores will become available, that certainly will be more open but also more fragmented than Apple’s.
    • the creation of an ecosystem that makes it profitable for developers to create apps for a platform is crucial for turning phones into a mobile computing platform. Until now the Apple app store has been a success, offering free and paid apps. Selling an app is just submitting the app to the store, although Apple has rejected apps for unclear reasons. This means that you do not know if your investment will make any money untill you submit the app, which is definitely a bad thing. Also installation of apps should not be limited by telco settings or anything.
  • good availability of devices. For now Apple has chosen to sell the Iphone in most countries only together with a subscription plan with a mobile operator. For instance, if you are with Vodafone.nl but want an Iphone, you’re stuck. Of course the device is expensive (you can get it simlock free in Belgium for 650-700 EUR), but why not let users buy it simlock free? Android devices when on the market will soon be available in all kind of forms, and with or without subscription packages.
  • pricing: Apple is and will always be a brand that focuses on quality and less on competing on price. Android is open source and free, so let’s see if any manufacturer will create a cheap but powerful Android phone.

And oh yeah, where are the mobile manufacturers? Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson? Motorola apparently is getting ready to move over to Android.  Nokia still hangs on to Symbian, but that OS never got the leverage Iphone OS and Android seem to get. It will take a while though before Nokia admits that Symbian is dead, and that is has to switch over. So apparently it took computer companies to move over to the mobile industry to really make phones a success as a computing platform. Let’s hope they do not turn Android into a fragmented market that brings no value to end users and developers.

More reading:

I got a Macbook!

OK, I have to admit: being in charge of my own finances and knowing the difference between buying hardware as a company compared to buying stuff as a private person has turned me into a person that eh well is slightly more likely to buy stuff:). So only a month after getting my Asus EEE I got an Apple Macbook. Yihay!

So why? Well, not to replace my Dell XPS machine, which has been my faithful companion for the last 8  months I have worked as a freelancer. With 4 GB memory it runs Vista just fine. No, for 2 reasons I wanted to get a Mac: first, to be able to test my web sites on a Mac, as more and more users have Macs. Second, to be able to develop Iphone apps. As mobility is important to me, a laptop was a natural choice. A 15 inch Macbook pro would have been a more productive option, but equally more expensive. So I settled for a Macbook 13 inch.

So what is my first impression? I never owed a Mac, but worked quite a lot with Macs like Apple Classic at the universities I studied. So I have some experience with them, but not too much recently. So getting to know the specifics of Mac OS X will get some time. For instance I am used to type blindly, so doing Apple-C instead of Ctrl-C etc. will take some time. Also Ctrl-Home doesn’t really seem to have a Mac equivalent. Of course operating the new trackpad will take to get used to, but is already fun. Increasing the font size by just swiping two fingers is a breeze, haven’t tried apps that allow rotating images yet. Resize/minimize/maximize buttons are located at the left top hand corner, not right as on Windows. And maximizing works differently.

Of course under the hood is a real Unix (FreeBSD) operating system, so within 15 minutes I was having a go at the terminal. Quite a relief to type in a command like  locate java | grep -c class. There is a lot preinstalled, like Java, and even Maven (although not the version I need). A root account you need to activate first, but after that you can change what you want, su-ing to root first.

What does it look like? Well perfect of course, it’s Apple. The aluminum case is perfect, and so is the LED screen. Quite sharp, but a bit shiny/reflective.

How does it perform? Pretty good, Eclipse runs just fine with 2 Gb of memory. Hard drive is not too fast, but still pretty fast. But what is really remarkable to me is battery life: 4-5 hours. My XPS does 1-1.5 hours, what a difference. I don’t know if it is because the laptop is so efficient or the battery is so good, but it is impressive. Also it is pretty cool, perfect to have this machine on your lap.

Overall, I am quite happy with my machine. I downloaded the Iphone SDK and am anxiously awaiting my Iphone. Will be a lot of fun!

More reviews:

http://gizmodo.com/5063492/macbook-and-macbook-pro-dual-review

http://online.wsj.com/video/mossberg-reviews-new-macbook/5143CE13-603E-438B-8E39-5FDE666726E3.html

http://www.obsessable.com/news/2008/10/16/warhammer-online-on-a-macbook-2008-running-xp/


Asus EEE PC 900 review from the trenches

I like being connected at a conference, for instance to watch the twitter flow during presentations. I wanted something in between my Dell XPS 1530 laptop and Nokia N95 mobile phone, so I was thinking about a socalled netbook. After some research, I bought an Asus Eee PC 900. This netbook that practically defined this category is a 9 inch Linux based laptop with a screen at 1024 x 600. It has a 20 GB SSD disk and 1 GB memory. I took it to the test at Future of Webapps conference in London a couple of weeks ago. There have been some reviews around, but I wanted to share with you my personal experience.

First my requirements for a netbook:

  1. dispensable: so cheap and not containing any vital information (which rules out bringing my main laptop)
  2. light: easy to carry around
  3. proper keyboard: typing long messages on a N95 phone becomes difficult after some time..
  4. Standard browser installed that can show web sites in a normal way.
  5. Good Wifi
  6. Good battery life

So how does the EEE hold up in practice?:

  1. Dispensable: at 300 euro’s yes I say it is dispensable, and as it is not my main laptop I do not store important data on it. That’s a yes
  2. Light: less than a kilo, so yes. Of course it can’t fit in a pocket, but that should speak for itself
  3. Proper keyboard: party. Yes it has to fit a 9 inch netbook, so of course it is smaller than a normal keyboard. I am used to typing blind with 10 fingers, well I can’t on this machine. Although I have pretty small fingers that is not possible, so I have to type with 4 fingers, and look a lot at the keyboard. That’s a yes/no
  4. Standard browser: yes. It has Firefox 3 installed with Flash.
  5. Good wifi: well, I can’t connect it to Airport networks. And although everybody was suffering from less-than-perfect wifi at the Excel convention center, my machine seems to be outperformed by others. That’s a yes/no
  6. Good battery life: at 3 hours it’s not bad, but also not excellent. The adapter is not heavy and the cord is long enough though.

Overall rating: a 7 out of 10. It’s dirt cheap, light and runs Firefox in a pretty normal resolution. Typing you have to get used to though, and the wifi could be better. Performance is ok, although Youtube videos are not as smooth on a real machine. Normal browsing performance is perfect. It has more than enough input/output like USB and VGA, for me the webcam wasn’t necessary.

Hyves OpenSocial Hackaton

Tomorrow (wednesday august 13th) I will be attending the Hyves OpenSocial hackaton. About 30-40 programmers will get together to try out the new OpenSocial platform and create some cool gadgets soon everybody will be able to put on their Hyves page.

Hyves will support version 0.7, the version with Javascript but without REST support. So why am I attending? Well, I helped Hyves out integrating Shindig, the java implementation of OpenSocial at Hyves. So I am there to see if all works as intended:)

For more info, check out the Hyves API hyve.

New site live on d17.nl

As you might have noted, this blog has a new design since a week or 2. Not the standard WordPress layout, but a funky yet tasteful design. Took me about 4 hours to get this done.

Of course I didn’t do the visual design myself. The design of the blog is inspired by the design for my corporate web site that I was working on lately. This great work was done by my friend Johan van der Woude from Studio Joyo. So last week I finished everything, and my D17.nl corporate web site as officially been launched. After running my freelance business for 5 months with a web site place holder (formally know as Under Construction page), now finally I have a decent web site.  The timing was good, as quite recently my first freelance project went live, www.kpnglasvezel.nl. It’s a site by the biggest telco in the Netherlands KPN supporting their new product, fiber connections at home.

So what’s that corporate web site about? not that much, just shows you the projects I have finished (not so many yet) and services I provide. And it just looks good:)

I build it of course In Java, using just Hibernate. I created my own very SEO-friendly filter to retrieve pages from my custom CMS (only contains pages, which have 3 text fields, that’s it:)).  Still thinking about a mobile version, but the site already looks good on my Nokia N95, and I think the Iphone does even do a better job at displaying it.

So what do you think about the new site? let me know.

T-mobile subscription plans with Iphone 3G for Netherlands

The Netherlands is one of the last countries to get (legitimate) access to Iphones. Of course, as the first generations lacked UMTS support nobody was bothered by that. But now on july 11th T-mobile will start offering Iphones in The Netherlands.

As their press announcement is in Dutch and Euro, I thought let’s translate and convert also to USD. Below are the prices in Euro and USD, assuming 1 euro = 1.48 USD, and 2 year contracts.

SMS = short message service = text message for you americans.

minutes SMS price/m () $ 8GB model () $ 16GB model ()  $
150 150 29.95 44.33 79.95 118.33 159.95 236.73
300 300 44.95 66.53 1 1.48 79.95 118.33
500 500 64.95 96.13 1 1.48 19.95 29.53

Including unlimited Internet usage (2048/384 Kbps), Visual voicemail.

It seems a good deal compared to the AT&T pricing :

“iPhone 3G will be available for $199 for the 8GB model and $299 for the 16GB model. These prices require two-year contracts”

Engadget has a better overview.

And even the subscriptions aren’t that expensive compared to normal no-phone T-Mobile NL subscripton plans:

Plan minutes Price/m Price per minute Price per SMS
Relax 100 100 € 14,50 € 0,15 € 0,25
Relax 200 200 € 24,50 € 0,12 € 0,25
Relax 300 300 € 34,50 € 0,12 € 0,25
Relax 500 500 € 49,50 € 0,10 € 0,25
Relax 1000 1000 € 94,50 € 0,09 € 0,25

Who’s owner of your social data? you?

Again a big debate is evolving about who is the owner of your data in social networks, what can you or a third party that you authorize do with the data. A couple of months ago Robert Scoble was banned from Facebook for using an unreleased feature from Plaxo, to scrape info from his contacts on Facebook and import it into Plaxo. Now Google launched a new tool last week called Google Friend Connect. It let’s you grab content from one site and publish it to another. Again, the whole service was blocked by Facebook. The guys at Techcrunch do not agree but say this is really about control of user profiles, and therefore where the users go.

Not really a surprise, that Facebook is not allowing them, no?

As social networks will always want to make you use their web site for advertisement purposes, they will not be inclined to let you easily export your data. So a (or a few) big central trustworthy authority would be best, something like OpenID.

One of the major problems with this approach: if they just keep the data and provide API’s, where’s their business model? Advertisements is not going to work, so the only way would be to let users pay for centralized storage. Will they? Maybe they might, but it will take some time before the users start to get used to this idea and become willing to pay. In the mean time, cat fights will go on, between major networks with tons of user profiles and little (social that is, Google is quite big otherwise) guys that want to tap into that information.

USA not biggest country in internet usage anymore

Now that China has more than 220 million Internet users, it has surpassed the USA with 216 million Internet users. Also today the news arrived that in Europe we have 250 million Internet users. For both areas there is a steep increase in usage compared to USA. Of course, the USA can be seen as the place where most of the Internet was invented, but has reached pretty high numbers compared to inhabitants already. In China and also India there is still a large number of the population that is not online, so the room for growth is still there.

Ergo, the Internet is becoming more and more non-USA. So all businesses online should pay attention to non-American and non-English users, not only in language, currencies and fulfillment, but also in all cultural aspects like ways of communication. One thing that puzzles me is that most of the businesses online still stem from the USA. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL are all american companies. Where are the european and Asian companies? In the mobile world there are a few, but where is the european version of Amazon? The asian Google? Or should I ask that question again in 2-3 years?

Google App Engine in preview

Google is competing with Amazon’s S3 and EC2 and launched their own Google App Engine service today. With currently only support for Python but more scripting languages to come you can access their own database system called BigTable. You will have some limitations in data, CPU cycles and traffic. These limitations will be lifted in the future but then you will have to pay for it. This will make it even more easy and cheap than with Amazon to deploy and host your webapp.

For me, I’d like to see other languages added like Ruby on Rails, which it even easier to use than Python with lots of out of the box functionality. But the good news is that it’s coming some time soon. Also, finding cheap python or RoR hosting is pretty difficult, as all the shared hosting companies only offer .NET or PHP languages.

Sounds really excited no? So I tried to sign up for one of the 10,000 preview accounts, but they were already gone:(

Not too bad, no?

Google docs going offline

A small note about something I am really excited about the news that Google is making its documents available for offline usage. Google is using Gears for this. So although Internet access is ubiquitous nowadays, it is not always present. Want to work on your documents in the train? Quite difficult until now. Its not available on my accounts yet, but I hope it soon is! Same for the plans to not only make docs and spreadsheets available, but also GMail messages.