Grant McWilliams

Tech Gadgets

Gadgets

I have a weakness for various gadgets. I'm usually the person that has the imported phone before they're available locally. 

Yet another Linux Smart Phone OS enters the market

A week or so ago I blogged about the future domination of Linux in the smartphone market. I mentioned that Palm spun off it's OS division into a company called Palmsource which was bought and renamed Access. Access then started working on a Linux replacement for the PalmOS to be used in Palm hardware devices. They took so long that Palm (the hardware company) created their own Linux based OS called WebOS which you can try out in the Palm Pre and Palm Pixie. Thought to be dead in the water without a hardware vendor Access just resurfaced on the First Else from Else Mobile. The interface is very interesting and new, a word that doesn't get used often in the smartphone industry these days. It seems since the iphone changed everything and became a sales hit everyone wants to mimic the iphone. Makes sense from a commercial standpoint but at some point you might want to be called "better than an iphone" instead of "as good as an iphone". Else is risking a bit but I welcome the diversity nonetheless.  I don't just blog about smartphones for the heck of it considering I don't even own one! I'm blogging about the Else because it's based on Linux. If this thing takes off we will have 4 major Linux platforms in the smart phone market - Android, Maemo, WebOS and Access Linux. This doesn't count the LiMo phones which never seem to materialize. I belive Access Linux is LiMo compatible though since they're a member.

The First Else has roughly the same hardware as an iphone/n900/Palm Pre/Droid which puts it on par with the best. The interface is really where it's at.  There's a video interview of Else Mobile's CEO at  TelecomTV.

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Google Android and Palm WebOS - mobile Linux

Linux has taken the mobile world by storm. About 5 yearas ago I mentioned in one of my classes that at some point Linux would dominate the entire embedded devices world. A student (who was an ameteur embedded developer) laughed out loud and when I asked him if he didn't believe me he replied "It's not that, I'm a realist and this is never going to happen".  I'd like to dedicate this post to that student and I hope wherever he is he's decided to join my reality.

Years ago there was a group of Cell phone manufacturors that joined to make the LiMo foundation - an organization for a unified Linux OS used for mobile applications. Members of LiMo include NEC, DOMOCO, Orange, Panasonic, Vodophone, Samsung, LG and Ericson. With a member list like that you'd think they would take over the world. Palm at the time was making their ancient 16 bit OS still but had decided to spin the OS portion of Palm into another company to focus on making a replacement for the PalmOS. That company, ACCESS announced that it's replacement would be based on Linux and they in turn joined LiMo. Intel on the other hand decided to go it's own way and created a Mobile OS called Moblin. The Moblin project is now under the Umbrella of the Linux Foundation which has members from all over the world. I'm not going to list the Linux Foundation members because that list includes virtually every major Tech company that you've ever heard of.

Nokia is missing from all of these lists because they had invested heavily in their own mobile OS - Symbian which came from the EPOC os of the 90s. Nokia dominated the smart phone market with about 80% saturation so they had no intentions of changing OSs just yet. About a year ago Nokia was down to about 35% saturation and released Symbian to the open source world thinking this was going to help developement. They also started working on Maemo a Linux based Mobile platform for Mobile Internet Devices (not phones).

Palm in the meantime was getting tired of waiting for ACCESS to create their new Linux based OS so they created their own - WebOS. At about the same time ACCESS announced they had finished their Linux based mobile OS but apparently nobody cares.

The big announcement was when Google decided to enter the Mobile Phone OS market with their Android. There was much fanfare and HTC released an Android phone then things got quiet again.

Windows Mobile continued to suck, Symbian continued to lose marketshare and the iphone continued to take that share because it was just awesome (even though it couldn't do copy and paste or multi-task, two features of just about every other OS out there).

Enter fall 2009. Palms new WebOS is amazing but unfortunately saddled to a lackluster phone. Nokia decideds that they will afterall release a Linux phone using Maemo 5. Verizon decides to sell a phone that someone actually wants and goes with the Motorola Droid - the first Android 2 device.

To summarize. The market leader in smart phones uses nothing but open source operating systems (Symbian and Maemo), the second place finisher that's eating up the market is using an mobile OS based on BSD (iphone), Google's Android is a steam roller destroying everything in it's path and will probably be number 2 in as many years and Palm will probably survive thanks to WebOS.

In 5 years I see all Smart Phones having a BSD or Linux OS. Who would have every thought that a 40 year old mainframe OS would become the market leader Cell Phone OS?

I'm currently running Android and WebOS in virtual machines on my desktop. I'll say it again, I love WebOS, they just need to put it on a phone I want.

 

 

 

 

 

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I'm sold (maybe)

A great "preview" of the forthcoming Nokia n900 has been posted at my-symbian.com. I say preview with quotes because after you finally get to the bottom of the page you'll reallize there's 3 more!

I've been using a Nokia n800 for several years as many of you know. I've really liked it but have had reservations with recommending it to others. First, if you use only Nokia software it's a stable device but with the plethora of Linux apps out there who would do that? I sure didn't but in order to have room for everything I wanted to run I had to move the OS to the flash card so I'd have more room. After installing about 200 really unstable apps I finally got my list down to about 30 things I use and even then those things aren't completely stable. So my complaints about the n800 was size, maturity of the apps, worthless hardware buttons, size, bad connectivity (with wifi only) and size. You'll notice that I'm a bit unhappy with the size. This is why I'm posting this photo and a link to my-symbian.com's review of the Nokia n900. How it stacks up to the Nokia n800 and iphone 3GS. -

 

 

  n800 n900 iphone
CPU 400 mhz omap2411 600 mgz core8 600 mhz core8
DSP Not used 430mhz 430 mhz
GPU
Not used PowerVR 430mhz PowerVR 430mhz
Storage
256MB (+64GB flash) 32GB (+16GB flash) 16/32GB
RAM
128MB 256MB w/500MB swap 256MB
Camera
640x480 5.1 MP 3.0 MP
Video
640x480 848x480 640x480
Screen size
4.18" 3.5" 3.5"
Screen res 800x480 800x480 320x480
Keyboard
onscreen Slideout/onscreen onscreen
Wifi 54Mb 54Mb 54Mb
Cell Net none 10 Mb HSDPA 7.2 Mb HSDPA
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Read more: I'm sold (maybe)

Nokia n900 live

I've been a maemo MID user for several years and when I bought my Nokia n800 I was amazed at how easy wireless networking and bluetooth were. At the time Linux was very difficult to setup in this area. Times have changed and the Maemo OS has pretty much stood still. Each successive release we got a new set of bugs and not much else. Things have gotten slightly more stable but for the most part the n800 is underpowered and the UI is aimed at desktop users but with a 4 inch screen. The new Freemantle is supposed to be a drastic change from the past and by this video it looks like it. From the beginning Nokia wasn't committed to the Linux based mobile Internet devices and put all of their resources behind the Symbian OS they own and the Linux OS always seemed more like an experiment than anything. I guess the experiment is over because they've done a ton of work on Freemantle. I've read that it's the first of the next gen Linux MID OSes but it isn't the final one. Freemantle will have a GTK gui and the next one after that will be QT which Nokia now owns. The one improvement that I think they need is to stabalize the software. I don't know if a Communist/Apple approach is best but you have to admit that iphone apps generally work and maemo apps don't. Anyway check out the video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrYqemylpIo
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Nokia n900 live

I've been a maemo MID user for several years and when I bought my Nokia n800 I was amazed at how easy wireless networking and bluetooth were. At the time Linux was very difficult to setup in this area. Times have changed and the Maemo OS has pretty much stood still. Each successive release we got a new set of bugs and not much else. Things have gotten slightly more stable but for the most part the n800 is underpowered and the UI is aimed at desktop users but with a 4 inch screen. The new Freemantle is supposed to be a drastic change from the past and by this video it looks like it. From the beginning Nokia wasn't committed to the Linux based mobile internet devices and put all of their resources behind the Symbian OS they own and the Linux OS always seemed more like an experiment than anything. I guess the experiment is over because they've done a ton of work on Freemantle. I've read that it's the first of the next gen Linux MID OSes but it isn't the final one. Freemantle will have a GTK gui and the next one after that will be QT which Nokia now owns. The one improvement that I think they need is to stabalize the software. I don't know if a Communist/Apple approach is best but you have to admit that iphone apps generally work and maemo apps don't. Anyway check out the video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrYqemylpIo


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Nokia n900 in motion...

It looks like the Freemantle version of maemo that the new n900 is using is much nicer and more finger friendly than the Diablo that I'm running on my n800. As much as I like Linux I've always thought that the Bora/Chinook/Diablo line of the Maemo OS were very crude and not always stable. It's funny that when I got my n800 I thought it had the slickest wifi and bluetooth configuration of any Linux OS but now times have marched on and my frequent lockups and applications that don't work have gotten on my nerves. Granted I'm using my n800 for way more than what it was designed for. Also Nokia has never been serious about the Maemo devices. It's largely been a community run project with Nokia making the hardware. The freemantle OS and n900 seem to be a break from that trend. I predict (and you can quote me) that at some point Nokia will be making more Linux devices than Symbian.

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Looks like the Nokia n800 might end up on ebay

I've been pondering a smart phone since they've been getting better and it's not because I want a phone but I want a MID (Mobile Internet Device) that connects everywhere so I have constant connectivity to IM, email, web etc.. With the n800 you have to be near an open wifi access point which gets irritating to say the least. Using DNS tunnelling you can connect through many access points that are open but require monthly fees but since AT&T opened their access points at Starbucks and Barnes & Noble this is less useful. I was really excited about the n810 wimax edition but Nokia pulled it because of a lack of wimax network. Now I see Sprint advertising 4G with their Palm Pre which is wimax. We still don't have access in the Seattle area although it's coming. So I've narrowed my choice down to an Android phone (not the G1) the Palm Pre or Nokia's new MID/Phone the n900.

To be honest the Maemo OS on the n800 isn't that great but it gets the job done. It can be unstable, the apps are amateurish and it needs to be reloaded every so often so I wasn't that excited about the n900 but it seems that Nokia has actually gotten serious about Maemo. The screenshots look wonderful and it looks like they've decided to actually make an interface for a small device instead of a tiny computer Desktop.

 

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Read more: Looks like the Nokia n800 might end up on ebay

Mobile 3G wifi hotspot

When I'm in an airport for work I have my work laptop which has a 3G cell modem and I can connect to the internet fine (sort of thanks to poor 3G coverage). This is a great thing and allows me to become "untethered" from wifi hotspots. However if I'm not lugging my laptop around I'll have my nokia n800 on me which only has wifi. I was really excited about the n810 WiMax edition because that would allow me to have internet access in metropolitan areas but unfortunately WiMax rollout was way too slow and Nokia figured their next device the n900 would be released before people could connect with the n810 WiMax edition so they pulled it. Some time later I think this was a wise decision because WiMax still isn't available outside a limited area of the US and there are problems in the way it works with treating it as a mobile service. The Nokia n900 just got submitted to the FCC so I figure by Christmas it will be out with wifi, smaller size and 3G access. However if you have a device like an n800/n810, ipod touch, laptop or any other Mobile Internet Device that relies on wifi then the MiFi may be of use to you.

Introducing the MiFi series of mobile wifi hotspots. They come in several flavors (EVDO, HSPDA US, HSPDA EU) but all work the same way. They connect to the 3G network and act as a wifi router for wireless devices. You can only connect 5 wireless devices to it at a time but considering the intended audience I don't think that's a problem. It's so small too that you can just place it in your shirt pocket and become a mobile hotspot yourself. I was just thinking how fun this would be to walk up to someone with a laptop and let them connect to the access point but then slowly move away to see if they would start to point their laptop in different areas to get a better signal.  The real fun part would be getting them to move closer to you as they figure out which direction the signal is coming from. If you were bored you could lead them around all afternoon.

Enough of my demented mind. Here's the skinny..

 

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Read more: Mobile 3G wifi hotspot

The coolest Nokia n800 hack

This was shown in Linux Journal 2 years ago but I just ran across it a second time. I think this is a very cool use of a very cool device. The Nokia n800 has a decent cpu, a decent screen and a webcam built in so why not use it works great as a robot head.

 

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkV4kMBUVjw 400 283]

 

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n810 wimax discontinued

I have been a long time user of the Nokia Mobile Internet Devices (MID) and but have always had a few complaints with them. I wish my n800 was smaller, faster, more stable and had better internet range. The OS and applications are getting more stable with time but I can't do anything about the speed factor. The n810 wimax would have taken care of the the size and range issues. That is if Nokia hadn't discontinued it.

According to Nokia the U.S. rollout of Wimax is taking longer than expected. My first thought is to sell it anyway because it's barely more expensive than the n800 but I can also see there point. They sell a device that can access internet anywhere in a city but it only works in 6 cities. Wimax is coming to Seattle in March I believe through Clearwire so I was waiting until then to buy it. If it takes another year to roll out Wimax in all major U.S. cities then Nokia could have another device out by then. Rumor has it that the next Nokia MID will have a 3g cell connection. At that point I hope Nokia finally invests some time into the OS because it's not up to iphone, Palm Pre or Google's Android phone OS. It's not a "Linux isn't good enough" thing because the last two in the list I mentioned are Linux, the first is Unix based. Who would have thought the 50 year old server Operating System would dominate the Smart Phone world?

So I guess I hang out and keep using the n800 until I know more. Or God forbid start looking into a smart phone. I will NOT go down the iphone route because I don't want anyone telling me that I can't install something on a device I bought nor do I think using one application at a time is adequate. I'd like a Palm Pre but after using a 4.13" screen I'm not sure I could browse the web on a 3.1" screen. Maybe in the coming months more Android phones will come out. I'll wait.

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