Fish’n’chips

It’s a very British tradition to have Fish and Chips on a Friday:

Fish’n’chips!
(Taken with my cameraphone in my workplace staff canteen.)

So if your chips are down on this fry-day, just put your faith in cod and you’ll be certain to have a peas-full weekend. And don’t forget to ketchup and spend some quality time with the people that mean the most to you.

Cheers! 🙂 (And thanks to the folks who commented on this picture for the idea.)

Carnival 79 meets Route 79!

Route 79 is extremely proud to host the 79th edition of the Carnival of the Mobilists here this week!

A big welcome to the “mobilists” out there who rarely (if at all) visit here. Although a mobilist by trade, I only occasionally use this journal to blog about things market and tech in mobile, but I jumped at the opportunity to use the 79th edition of the Carnival to bring a little convergence to two different worlds of readership, and so here I attempt to theme this week’s Carnival on the impact that mobile has on art, entertainment and lifestyle.

And how profound an impact our industry has had on our lifestyle. You won’t need to be convinced by the fact that the majority of us (in the UK at least) treat our mobiles like we treat our keys and wallets; we don’t go anywhere without them, and we feel lost or panicky if we do. Not only do our wallets take a significant share of this seemingly essential habit, it pervades almost every aspect of our behaviour, wherever we go, whatever we do. Whilst “white van” drivers jump in and out of their vehicles with bluetooth headsets permanently glued to their ears, the younger ones will be replying to text messages without even looking, usually under the table whilst being lectured to by parents or teachers. We hold them up at concerts where we once held up lighters or other glow-in-the-dark objects, and we personalise them with all sorts of things that mean most to us: the way they look, the way they sound, and the intensely personal and private details that we store in them; contact details, text messages, pictures, games and notes. Some people carry more than one at the same time! And most people change them within 18 months. Whether it be talking, texting, surfing or snapping, whilst working, playing or even sleeping, these things are well and truly embedded into every moment of our everyday lives.

And amazingly, it only took around a decade to get to this stage! And you just KNOW when a “new” technology makes it into the mainstream; it starts to become caricatured in contemporary arts and entertainment. It starts to become the very subject of such things, or even the object of creation of such things. And it abstracts itself in ways only limited by human imagination. (Goodness, am I getting carried away by this or what.)

A decade. It was around a decade ago that I got my very first mobile phone. And although the nature of my work means I’ve tried loads of phones since, I’ve kept every one of the 16 phones I used for any significant length of time. So, to help get this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists number 79 started, click on the green button in the picture below to load a musical slideshow of the last ten years worth of my mobile phones pictured with household objects in situations so ordinary you wouldn’t normally think too hard about them. Wherever we go and whatever we do, our mobiles are always there. Turn up the volume and enjoy! (All pictures taken with the K800i pictured below, except the one of itself.)


At work I have the privilege to work in the same office as a highly-respected captain of our industry: Mike Short, VP of R&D at O2 and Chairman of the UK’s Mobile Data Association. Whilst chatting to him the other day about his thoughts about the future, it became clear to me that just as the last ten years has, for me personally, seen my use of mobile grow from verbal conversations through messaging and surfing towards visualisation and sharing, the next few years will probably see an explosion in the application of mobile technologies and propositions in areas such as health, transport and traffic management, connected cars, connected roads, pollution control etc. Mike’s Applications Anytime, Anywhere article first published in the Netsize Guide 2007 usefully summarises his thoughts, and that article can be downloaded by clicking here.

And so, on to a roundup of articles submitted by mobilists for this week’s Carnival:

Even those of you not well-tuned-in to the cut-throat frenziness of the world of mobile devices will not have escaped to notice all the chatter over the last 12 months about the upcoming Apple iPhone . Well, the day that product hits the streets is near. Yes folks, it launches this week. In North America at least. If ever there was a product that, when talked about, so characterises the convergence of art, entertainment and lifestyle in a mobile device surely it has to be the long-awaited iPhone? We wait upon our mobilist friends from across the Atlantic/Pacific to supply the ultimate verdict later this week.

So it’s particularly timely that Marek Pawlowski over at Mex should offer a bigger picture view of how players like Google, Adobe, Nokia and Apple could be positioning themselves to effect step-changes in mobile applications and user experiences, and that Zec at Zec Online should put up some though-provoking narrative on his belief that Google is the “secret”, “magic carpet” in the imminently-arriving iPhone.

And whilst Nico over at the About Nokia blog discovers some startling new research that reveals just how much of the Finnish population use the radio on their cell phones, Martin Sauter at his excellent Mobile Technology Page highlights briefly how much progress in transmission speed mobile networks have made over the years, so much so that you can do things on the go today that you previously would have waited to do until you got home.

Moving on; a major annual 4-day rock music festival held in London’s Hyde Park last week admitted festival-goers who had their tickets issued solely as 2D barcodes on their mobile phones. For those tracking the increasing use of mobile barcoding check out, Scott P. Shaffer’s article over at The Pondering Primate where he offers a stimulating answer to the question “Why cant they all just standardise on QR codes and be done with it? And since we mentioned music festivals at the start-point of this segway; Helen Keegan of Musings of a mobile marketeer who is probably right about now returning from the mega-huge (and mudded out) Glastonbury Festival wrote recently about her awesome experience at the Knock Knock Future of Music conference in Denmark.

In the product review corner we have Zach at Symbian in Motion who reviews (complete with screenshots) the handy new “multiline” feature in the latest version of the Talkplus “Voice 2.0” app for Series 60. And continuing with the subject of voice, Fraser MacInnes at Pocket Picks discusses how all is not quite what it might seem in a beta product called “IM+ for Skype” for Symbian.

Also, Dennis at WAPReview comes up fairly positive on a review of a fairly seasoned Slashdot-like service called Tribes. I shall be trying that out myself at some point as a result. Thanks Dennis.

And whilst the intrepid Darla Mack the Mobile Diva shows you how to go about customizing the template for the new Nokia Mobile Web Server (yep, you read that right: as in a web server for your phone), Ricky the Symbian Guru (digg the logo!) explores where things could be headed with this stuff.

Finally in this mobilist roundup, as is customary in Carnival tradition, we will try to nominate a “post of the week”. This was particularly tough, as all the submissions touch upon topics we must all take notice of at some point in the lifestyle department, but there were two in particular that caught my “I” in this week of the “I” phone and what the “I” phone stands for (which is more than just the Apple iPhone if you get my jist). So it is with a sense of toil and resignation that I will have to nominate two posts of the week for this week: Michael Mace over at Mobile Opportunity, returns from the Global Mobile Opportunity Roundtable conference with a fascinating insight and commentary on how the industry is treating Mobile Video and Andreas Constantinou’s VisionMobile forum’s well reasoned Five upsell strategies for mobile ISVs. Enjoy!

So, to finish off this specially-themed Carnival, I offer a little linky goodness to remind us mobilists that we can often get so immersed in the world of market, technology and political developments and opportunities of our industry, that it is sometimes helpful to remind ourselves (as well as showcasing to the non-mobilists who visit these pages from time to time) the impact of it all on our lifestyles, particularly in the areas of art and entertainment. For example:

Blog Til you Drop a little while back explored answers to the question: do British consumers really have a ‘relationship’ with their phones?.

What really fascinates me though is how the mobile phone can play a pivotal role in the “work of art” itself. Take for example the case of the 2001 Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria (yes it was that long ago) where the mobile phones of members of the audience were used as part of the production itself. Or in the case of a service called Start Mobile, where if you’re fed up of tacky wallpapers repurposed for the standby screen of your mobile phone, you can choose from works of art made specially for the medium.

Or how about cases where the mobile phone plays a central role in the actual production of art and entertainment? Check out the the movers and shakers at the International Festival of Films Made With A Mobile Phone: the Pocket Films Festival held in Paris earlier this month. The results of these amazing efforts by artists are inspiring and sometimes breathtaking. And be sure to examine SMS-Enabled Interactive Street Performances by TXTual Healing, perhaps coming to a city near you at some point.

And to illustrate how the pervasiveness of the products of our industry can lead to them being caricatured in the fields of sport and entertainment, be sure to pencil the 25th August 2007 in your diaries: for that’s when the Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships will be taking place. Where? In Helsinki of course, where else?!

But it’s when you get a glimpse of what designers and artists come up with when they look into the future that you come across some really exciting possibilities. Yes, concept mobile phones. Open your mind and have a look at these. Or how about this masterpiece of a design concept by Dennis Hopkins – simply brilliant.

With that we close the Carnival this week. Hope you were entertained, and hope you learned something new, or even better, both. Next week’s Carnival of the Mobilists, number 80, will be over at Mobile Jones. Be sure to check it out. And if you wish to submit an article to the Carnival, don’t forget to do so by the end of this week, either by email to the usual address (mobilists at gmail dot com), or using this increasingly popular online Carnival submission form.

Thanks for visiting.

Showtime

The O2 (formerly know as the Millennium Dome) is a new entertainment venue which incorporates a music arena (The O2 Arena), a smaller stage club (The IndigO2 club) and an avenue of bars and restaurants. UK tabloid newspaper The Sun did a report on it the other day.

The O2 is a brilliant new live music venue in London.
(Taken with my cameraphone in The O2 Arena at the O2 Premiere last night)

Now, if I may say so: The O2 Arena and IndigO2 venues are amazing for the quality of the sound and lighting: I think these will be a big hit with live music lovers. Click here for my cameraphone pictures from The O2 Premiere event yesterday evening.

The web on my moby

The humidity here in London is unbearable at the moment. But the seats at the very back of the top deck of the 79 bus are a concentration-point for a vortex of air to provide a bit of cooling relief from the oppressiveness outside. It was in this situation that I decided I’d while away the journey home the other day by painstakingly visiting each one of the top ten websites in the UK: but from my mobile phone. (The top ten websites in the UK according to traffic-ranking service Alexa that is.)

Now, if you ever tried to visit this web-page by typing http://www.route79.com into the browser on your mobile phone, you would get a page that is not exactly like the one you are seeing here on your PC. Instead you will get a “version” of the page which is much easier to see on the small screen of your phone, and designed especially to load as quickly as possible, as shown in the image below. Now, this website is probably not even in the top million most popular websites in the world, but at least I offer a “designed for mobile” page if you go to it on your mobile phone. After all, there are more phones than PCs out there, and increasingly better browsers.

How do you think the websites of the “big boys” look then? Click on the green button below to load the slideshow which shows how the top ten most popular UK websites look like on a popular mobile phone (Sony Ericsson K800i).


When the images have loaded, “hover” your mouse over the red numbered buttons to get a prognosis of that nth most popular UK website as viewed on a mobile phone. (You also get a really cool effect if you just slide your mouse horizontally over the red buttons, from left to right and back again really fast.)

Summary:

Top of the class: Google (for search), Yahoo, BBC News, Facebook, Windows Live
Bottom of the class: Ebay, Bebo, Myspace, YouTube
Expelled: MSN

(This article was created for this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists, a weekly roundup of the best articles about all things mobile. Each week the “Carnivalâ€? is hosted by different bloggers writing about the industry. This week’s Carnival [number 78] is hosted at Symbian Guru; check it out.)

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UPDATE: Over the weekend, Google announced a mobile version of YouTube. (Thanks Gaurav for pointing it out in the comments!). Interestingly you have to go to a different address to get the mobile version (m.youtube.com) as if you go to www.youtube.com on your mobile it doesn’t automatically redirect you to the mobile version. Tut tut. (Also: having subsequently tried going to m.youtube.com and randomly choosing a video to view; my phone just said “connecting to media server” for ages and then splurted an error “failed to connect to media server“. It’s experiences like this which will make the majority (if they try it once) never bother it again unless forced to.

Remembering tape

Sometimes you pull out something from the boxes in the furthest depths of your storage cupboards that makes you sit back, stare and think. A box of audio cassettes in this case. Technically these are Compact Cassettes as originally developed by Philips in the 1960s. I used to have mountains of TDKs and BASFs in the ’80s, upon which I recorded stuff from vinyl records and CDs to play in my Sony Walkman. I even had loads of pre-recorded cassettes that I paid good money for!

Staring at my box of assorted cassettes, which represented a fraction of what I used to have (where are all the rest?) I began to recall fuzzy memory of my parents before me, and the humungous Philips four-track tape recorder/player they used to playback the hits of 1970’s Indian cinema (now known as “Bollywood”) when I was a nipper. I remember my Dad having to load two giant reels onto horizontally-oriented tape deck, and then wind the tape from one reel onto another by hand before pressing the play button!


Memories of tape and my endless rows of TDK C-90s.
(Taken with my cameraphone and then blurred a bit more in Photoshop.)

There is one song I remember the most from those hazy days of the Philips four-track. Click on the green button below to load the tune, and then press play – and turn up the volume.

ALSO: after you’ve pressed the “play” button, click on the label of the cassette in the photo above; “Start flashback” for some accompanying “flashback”.

It’s a real 1970s Bollywood, ear-piercing, humdinger of a foot-tappingly infectious tune called Dum Maro Dum, from the film Hare Ram Hare Krishna from 1971. Literally translated it means “Take another toke” (!) and is sung by Asha Bhosle and Usha Iyer picturised on 1970s Indian Cinema megastar Zeenat Aman who plays a “hippie” in the film. Strangely, this particular song is still hugely popular today in India, most of today’s younger generation who weren’t even born when the song was first popular will know the song very well and several modern hip-hop and Brit-Asian scene DJs and producers have sampled some of the psychadelic guitar bits from the song for use in more contemporary mixes. And if you steal a taxi in the console game Grand Theft Auto (Liberty Cities) edition you will find this track playing on the “world radio” station of the car radio!

I must get round to fixing my cassette tape deck …

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You can watch the song from the original movie in all of it’s gory, state-of-the-1970s-art detail on Youtube. Click the “stop” button above to silence the music here before clicking here to open the vid on YouTube.

Tapas and mobile widgets

At the beginining of March I went to check out a gastropub called William IV not too far away from my neighbourhood. It’s located on the Harrow Road in NW10, technically in Kensal Green but a stone’s throw from the top end of Ladbroke Grove. London bus Route 18 (a bendy one) goes right past it, or if you drive you can park in the nearby Sainsbury’s car park. The food in this pub is implausibly Tapas, and given that I like to think I know my Spanish-style food well, I was pleasantly surprised; the food was ace! It’s a bit pricey for my liking, but if you go on weekday lunch-times (or anytime on Mondays and Tuesdays) you can take advantage of a 3 for 2 offer which makes it more appropriate value. 5 or 6 dishes are more than enough for two at this place IMHO; they come as they come, and I would have to say that if you like your tapas you will definitely like this place! Click on the “click here” below for a couple of images of our visit. The accompanying music is When Tomorrow Comes by Eurythmics (Lennox/Stewart/Seymour) from 1986. I like this song because it brings back fond memories of when life used to be a lot simpler.


Those who are familiar with the style of tapas will appreciate that this kind of eating is a process of exploration and discovery of more-or-less-single-bite morsels of simple, but tastily, prepared bits of meat, fish and veg.

Which brings me nicely along to the subject of “widgets”. Or mobile widgets in particular. Where to start? This could get extremely technical, but I’ll try to maintain some sanity by keping it as simple as poss.

At the core of it all “widgets” are simply computer programs that run on your computer. A bit like your word processor or spreadsheet or whatever you fire up on your computer or laptop. But unlike your favourite word processor or spreadsheet program, widgets are smaller, more single-purposed programs. In other words, if you liken your word processor to a classic main meal consisting of several ingredients combined together to produce a complex combination of flavours in perhaps sufficient quantities to leave your stomach bloated when you finish, then a widget will be like a tiny little appetiser with a simpler, less-complicated flavour which leaves you wanting more. A bit like tapas I suppose.

So, unlike your word processor, which will allow you to typeset a complete book if you want it to, complete with diagramming tools, equation editors, word counts, indexing and grammatical checking tools, a widget will typically do something a lot simpler and more focussed. Like what for example? Er …. like display a little icon that gives you a rough indication of the 3-day weather forecast for your locality for example. Crucially, this example alludes to another feature of widgets commonly accepted in conventional wisdoms: they occupy just a little space on the “desktop” of your computer screen; and are always there to be able to be “glanced” at whenever you wish. Or else they can magically appear on your desktop at the stroke of a button.

In a particular stretch of the Eurythmics slong that’s playing in the background you will hear Annie Lennox singing the following:

Every star was shining brightly, just like a million years before. And we were feeling very small, underneath the universe.

And this nicely (albeit somewhat tenuously) illustrates another aspect of widgets that defines them: there are loads of them “out there”. A universe of small useful little widgets. A universe within which you can go round collecting widgets which you can instantly download to your computer’s desktop to provide you something small, simple and useful to look at from time to time. In order to be useful, widgets probably have to be connected. Connected to the Internet for example. So that you could have a news-ticker widget, a stock quote widget or an Manchester United football team live match-score widget. The possibilities are limitless, such is the magic of being connected to the Internet.

By now you might be excused for wondering what’s new about this widget concept, I mean we already have access to all this wonderful connected stuff through our Internet browsers surely? And we’ve had for quite some time too, no? The answer is yes and yes, but what’s new about widgets is that they run outside your browser. The idea is that this makes them even more convenient because just like you’ve found collecting browser bookmarks and URLs for the last 10 years incredibly useful, widgets are even more useful because you don’t even need to fire up your browser to get at useful snippets of stuff. They’s always just there, on your screen, quietly updating themselves whenever they need updating. You just get on with what you normally do on your computer, and then glance occasionally at your collection of widgets that you placed strategically around your screen earlier.

You could also argue that some “widgets” are also old hat and that you already have them – e.g. the BBC News ticker for example. Well yes, but the BBC News Ticker (which has been around for donkey’s years) was created by the technical folks at the BBC who probably used complicated professional software development practises that go with creating programs for computers. Like using a complex programming language like C++ or Java etc. and managing the creation of the software in the traditional manner of software projects: feasibility, design, development, testing etc. all of which costs a lot of time and money and access to data and systems that only the staff at the BBC have access to – and therefore out of reach of the casual software developer who probably doesn’t do that sort of thing for a living. And this characterises the final aspect of widgets that sets them apart from other small computer programs: they are crafted in the language of the web; i.e. HTML, Javascript, Flash etc. And it’s because of this (being crafted in the language of the web) that there will be millions of them; a universe of widgets.

Because someone, somewhere out there, will have created a widget that does the one thing that they particularly like, and you might like it too.

Those of you familiar with The Long Tail* (yawn) will get this aspect of widgets. Well that’s the theory anyway.

So, to summarise widgets: they’re:

Small
Single-purpose
Simple-to-use
Collectable
Always on your screen
Connected to the Internet
Created in the language of the web
In plentiful supply, new ones are being created all the time

And so, whilst the public at large are still to get used to the idea of widgets making their lives simpler on their desktop computers, the conveyor belt of hype is already churning out the concept of “mobile widgets”. Yep, today you can get widgets on your computer, tomorrow you’ll get widgets for your mobile phone. When tomorrow comes you’ll be able to collect widgets (from a universe of widgets out there) for your mobile phone, using your mobile phone.

And the theory goes that because widgets are small, single-purpose morsels of goodness which don’t take up much room on a screen, they’re much better suited for mobile phones because for anything to work well on a mobile phone it has to be small (there’s isn’t much space on a mobile phone screen), simple to use (like with one thumb and a pair of eyes) and take up zero brain cycles (because using a mobile phone has to be zero-effort). Some people go so far to say because of this mobile phones will actually drive the explosion of the widgetosphere.

Warning: technical bit: The theory says that where mobile web and WAP supposedly failed, mobile widgets will succeed, and everyone will love ’em. I am quietly optimistic. Actually, I’m quite hopeful. But not because there’s anything technically revolutionally or problem-solving about widgets per se, but because the very fact that this stuff is closer in ideological terms to the “Internet way”, the greater the probability of there arising a long term fix to the real problems that have plagued the adoption of Internet applications on mobile over the years, namely a combination of the interdependencies of: bad usability, bad distribution economics and bad platform fragmentation. The bigger the developer community you expose these challenges to (or the more of Google’s PhD-qualified staff that get on the case), the more likely solutions will be found. There’s no guarantee of success, just a higher probability of succeeding.

I hope this explanation was useful and/or entertaining. And even if it wasn’t I hope you enjoyed the pictures and the music. And for those of you who live in London and like Tapas, I hope you might have added the William IV pub to your “must-try” list.

(This article was created as a submission to next week’s Carnival of the Mobilists, a weekly roundup of the best articles about all things mobile. Each week the “Carnival” is hosted by different bloggers writing about the industry. This week’s Carnival [number 75] is hosted at Vision Mobile. Next week’s Carnival [number 76] is hosted at MTV’s Greg Clayman’s Twofones blog.)

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* “The Long Tail” is basically another way of saying that just a handful of really popular websites are used by masses of people frequently (e.g. Google, BBC, Youtube, Myspace), , but the vast majority of the websites out there are those that are visited infrequently, or have only a handful of users. It’s that vast majority that are “The Long Tail”. I particularly like the way that an Amazon employee was said to have described it: “We sold more books today that didn’t sell at all yesterday than we sold today of all the books that did sell yesterday.