Thursday, March 31, 2005

On forums and their moderation

Some of you may know that I am active on many different internet discussion portals-some of them are moderated very well, others aren't. Sometimes, users ask about what makes a good forum moderator-lets try to compare three pages: 1src, PalmGamer(german) and another german one(I just escaped a bloody, long flamewar with a blogger there-one more post and we would have ended up in court-so no name).
1src definitely is the biggest of the three, and PalmGamer is by far the smallest. Both of them work very well though-its the one in the middle that has the high fluctuation rates, etc.
First of all, lets look at flamewar and swearword handling. You should know that I have a strong tempranent which expresses itself with an occasional four-letter-word or two when a spammer is sighted. PalmGamer has no problems with these-they are accepted as something that happens. At 1src, morals are stricter and the words get filtered. Also, a MOD emailed me. His email was friendly and polite-read for yourself, please:

Hi. No need to put in those words with asterisks
Just report them ASAP and I'll do the rest.
Thanks!
Joel

As you see, his intent was to save me work. That definitely is a mod to give a kudo to.
On the middle-sized page, moderators do nothing. They usually let the situation escalate and sometimes even participate(!!!) in flaming.
On to the next thing-closing and moving discussions(sometimes called threads). All serious bulletin boards have a category structure to simplify finding posts. Users tend to ignore categories and post where they want to-and mods should move topics if needed. This is no problem at 1src, as hyperlinks remain in the original place and moving occurrs once a week. PalmGamer has no problems either-their simple category structure is easy to grasp. And nobody really needs a structure for 10 threads a week imho. When a thread gets stuck(happens rarely)-it gets closed. No problem here.
But our friendly, fellow moderators at the third page act differently. They close threads if their favourite users whim(!!!) for closure or anyone begins to argue about one of their decisions. Also, moving happens once a day or so. A friend of mine once said:"When I see this board, words like totalitary dictature, police state, etc come to my mind". He definitely wasn't happy. And unhappy users like to flame...
Tune in on Monday to read about how the owner of the middle-sized page reacts to complaints. Also, read about troll management, an analysis and-last but not least, the value of the user.
What is your favourite forum? Do you have any experiences?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

On the beauty of the CommonDialog

Recently, a discussion at Nexave led to the question if it is good if there are lots of functions integrated into an OS. Of course, most Palm OS adventists said no, have the developers implement what they want.
My answer is-not always.
Having been a Visual Basic programmer for quite some time before getting Palm addicted, I can tell you that OS features are really nice to have every now and then. Lets take the Common Dialog as an example. This object provides standard dialogs that every Windows user knows for sure-the Open File and Save File dialog are good examples. If a developer needs such a dialog, he uses the OS component. Thus, all programs have the same interface, which leads to higher satisfaction at the user's end. Compare this to the Palm OS world-each program has a different kind of dialog. The one lets you use the 5way nav, the other doesn't-and the other is stupid enough to not even use HiRes+.
But user satisfaction isn't the only reason why a core component is good-it also leads to smaler program sizes. My Palm handheld contains at least 6 different forms, etc for selecting files-so this is about 6 times the data that we would need if the dialog would be part of the OS.
The last advantage is faster time to market. Creating a file selection dialog takes a lot of time-if there is an object, you can save the time needed for writing and debugging.
Now, some people will say that it is too late for Palmsource to integrate this into their OS-as downward compatibility always was very important for a Palm OS system. This also mustn't be IMHO. A library could contain all of these forms-offer it for free over at palmos.com and see how users will go for it once developers start to use this library. The approach worked well with MathLib and ZLIB-so why won't it work here?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Why Cell phones sometimes have crippled IRDA/BT support

I had a Sagem My-X5 for a long, long time. It was a good stable brick of a phone and even had an IR port-but that was it. Its IR port was not working at all, it was impossible to transfer a JPEG image to the phone for use as background/MMS content. A friend of mine currently owns the Samsung cameraphone with slider-it has an IR port but cannot beam images. However, each of these things could be done via the serial data cable.
Recently, I looked at the prices for data cables-oh damn, thse are expensive! Now, most mobile phones come without data cable(my SX1 came with one, thank god) but have an integrated camera, limited memory and no external media support. Users will make many photographs-and will want to back them up eventually as they run out of memory!
And this is where operators and manufacturers gang up. Most people purchase cell phone accessioires at their carrier's store-and I am pretty sure that the operator has a nice cut of the sales prices. So, if a data cable is purchased, the operator earns some loot-and so does the device manufacturer.
If the user does not buy a data cable,. he is not out of trouble though. If he wants to empty his storage, he will send the files via GPRS or GSM-generating loads of cash for the cell phone operators. Personally, I tend to see GPRS as the biggest theft in current history-but this is another story.
The last option that he has is going to a store. Some stores have a photo printing facility and a few data cables/a special retreiving software. There, the user can store his photos, but needs to pay an extremely high price per photo/per CD.
Concludingly, hindering wireless access is not the only reason for crippling a phone's connectivity. When you see IR on a phone the next time, think before you buy.
What do you beleive?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Checking the infrared sender of a Palm OS handheld

We all know this-sometimes, a Palm handheld just refuses to beam anything to another one. If the devices belong to two different people, immediate dispute arises usually-its your fault, your goddamn Palm V is too old, etc.
While I do not know of a way to check the infrared receiver currently, the sender can be checked easily-if there is a cameraphone close-by(not a digicam, as many filter IR).
The steps are easy-just launch the camera app, have the handheld beam something and watch its infrared window through the seeker! These photos show a Palm V, IIIc, Vii-Prototype and TT3 attempting to beam a file from the launcher:

Please keep in mind that the led isn't on all the time-it flickers and usually is on only about 1/5 of the time. It indeed took me quite some time to get these four pics done with the slow shutter of my SX1.
Here is a little 3gp video(about 400k) that should demonstrate what I mean. It will play in Kinoma 3EX, but without sound...
How do you check your infrared devices?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Slider, slider-why art'h thou gone

We al can emeber the Zire 71. Its camera was protected by the housing, only to be actviated by sliding the unit open. Also, there are theb TT,T2 and T3. These machines were smaller than a Palm V, but still had screens bigger than any Palm OS handheld ever had before(TT3).
many people(including me) were annoyd by the sliders, as they were not firm enough. A slight push, and the unit contracted, and a slight pull and the unit was open.
Luckily, I know a professor of applied machine engineering. The slider was demonstrated to him-and his only reaction was: OMG what a stupid way to build it.
He suggested a button that was required for moving the slider. A simple steel knob could hold the slider in place firmly, pushing the button would pull it back and permit the slider to move. 100% firm.....
Lets now forget about how PalmOne's implementation was-the sliders are gone from the Zire 72 and the T5. But, other companies adapted the concept-these images show a Samsung camera phone that reveals its keyboard and camera when opened:

And one last, miscellaneous thing-did you ever wonder where PalmOne got the idea for the logo orb from? Here is an old Erricson phone-look carefully at its bottom!

Did you like the slider?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Sony PSP, an upgrade, or not??

This is a short follow up to Tams article on the PSP. It shall also focus on the differences and similarities between CLIE and PSP.

Looking at the PSP, there are a lot of features that stick out immediately. As Tam mentioned, it has WiFi, a physically large screen, and a fast processor. The screen has a fairly high resolution. I am not sure why they didn't opt for a HVGA screen which could certainly make scaling of programs and other things easier in the future-if they ever decided to to let the PSP have PDA or similar functions. 16.77 million colors is extremely high. For the non-techies out there, this is 24bit color, which is a little less than most PC monitors can handle-but far above what a Palm device is capable of. However, everything above 16bit is pretty hard to see.

The second new feature: WiFi is nice, but for now it has a large drawback. It only has one use right now- multi-player gaming. Possibly, software upgrades will also be done over the WIFI system. As CNet reports, this may change, but a WiFi enabled device is usually assumed to have better capabilities out of the box.

As for media, it has some ups, and some downs. The ups are that it handles MP4, and can decode both Atrac and MP3 audio onboard. The downs would be that i've heard that even pre-packaged UMD videos don't always have the best framerate (and even become pixellated), and I know that its MP4 playing ability (from the memorystick) is flawed by a limitation on the resolution, which I believe is limited to QVGA.

A quick media comparison to the newer Clie models (UX, TH, VZ) will show that it is better in some areas, and not in others. As for the audio, I believe that the PSP is better-the Clies have no album management at all. Also, the Atrac support on Clies, though it existed, was limited to low capacity mediums due to the data protection used by Atrac. The video capability, however, is a different story, and I personally believe that the PSP's is heavily flawed. On a Sony TH-55 with VZ-90 codecs installed (1src for codecs, FMP for the player), it is easily possible to have MP4 videos that run at HVGA quality, at 24fps and at 768kbps. Im not sure of the performance of the UX and VZ models, but I believe since landscape is their native orientation, they work better (the videos must be rotated to play fast on a TH).

On the whole, the device is very impressive, and no doubt handles gaming better than any PDA, even the Zodiac (sorry guys). It, however, is not a PDA, and lacking a touchscreen, can never replace a the PDA in your side pocket. Handheld devices out right now are not going to be top in the video arena, but they can try. I never regret having a device with that capability, and in the future, it will get even better.

LedManager promo for TamsPalm readers

Hi raders,
as you might already know, LedManager should have been distributed at the German PalmUserMeeting. Since this was not possible, Tamoggemon Software now has a new offer for you:
The code 2OFFLED allows you to purchase LedManager over at PalmGear's for just 1.49$-thats 2$ off the regular price-instead of 3.49. This offer is valid until end of march! Use your LED as torch-regain control of system activity-now the LED works for you!
Find out more about LedManager and device compatibility at Tamoggemon.com

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Sony PSP-new news available

It sometimes really pays out to receive hundreds of newsletters a day! CNET today sent me all kinds of info on the PSP-find links to the pages at the end of this post! This article is intended to bring both a quick overview of the machine and a look at the differences and similarities-especially from a Palm OS user's point of view.
Quick look at the unit's specs
First of all, I see a huge similarity to the Tapwave Zodiacs-ame landscape orientated system, and the controls seem pretty equal too. And here we are at the first point of discussion-the screen. It has a resolution 480x272 pixels and can display 16.77 million colors at the same time-a huge step up from the 65000 colours our Palms manage. Lets now leave aside if one actually needs so many colours-there is a number on the price tag, and thats what counts for most people.
CNET took a look at the video and audio capabilities-they look pretty palm-esque to me. WIFI is in there-loks as if this CLIE fature made it to the PSP. The hardware is better than the one of an average CLIE, a custom 333MhZ CPU and 32 MB of RAM. the baterylasts about 5.5 hours and the battery is replaceable. Respect to Sony for taking this step! Data ships on a DVD-like format called UMD, and there is a MemoryStick slot.
The launch titles don't sem too impressive to me, and most of the PSP acessoires CNET mentions look like rebranded IPOD stuff to me.
And the looser is:Tapwave
And here we are at the second part of the post-what impact this announcement will have on the Palm OS world. Up to now, Tapwave was the only copmpany that had a console that could also play video and MP3-these times are now over. Tapwave an of course resort to ogg-but that will not save them on the long run.
Long ago TamsPalm had an article about how TapWave should start to see their Zodiac as a workstation-and thats more true than ever today. WIFI drivers are coming out, and an office suite is bundled-at least thats some kind of good news for Tapwave. If they manage to reposition their Zodiac as portable working tool with gaming features, they will prevail. If not, I feel that they will be washed away.
Further information:
CNET PSP info
What do you think?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Why Cobalt will come soon

Recently, many Palm OS market commentators state that most existing licencees will not switch to Cobalt so soon. Many enthusiasts were unhapy due to this anouncement, and indeed, the commentators are wrong IMHO.
The reason why I am so sure that Cobalt will hit the market very soon can be seen at the top of this post-external memory cards! The current VFS manager has been critizised much and for many diverse reasons-but few people considered that it runs a FAT16 file system and cannot accept more than one partiton per medium. You might remeber FAT16 from Windows 95 times, it does not suport partitions of more than 2GB. And since our VFSmanager does not suppot more than one partition per medium-2GB is the top that one can go.
And this is where my argumentation kicks in. Palm Os licencees will soon want their handhelds to support more than measly 2GB memory cards, and the development of microdrives will also lead to harddisks in handhelds on a long term. Harddisks will probably be partitioned-and here we are, at the core of the problem!
As mentioned above, the current VFS manager is extremely limited, and the file system library interface that allows to add new filesystems is said to be removed in Cobalt. Thus, a licencee investing into a FAT32 library is basically investing into a dead system-into a corpse. Also, new peripherals will get cobalt drivers only-so, a licencee will need to switch eventually if he wants to keep his handhelds competitive.
What do you feel? Will Cobalt ever make it into our hands?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

On realism in games

Indeed, games tend to get more and more realistic as technology gets better. It was impossible to display a full scale pool table on a lowres IIIc-the balls would habe been 1px each. Now, HiRes+ makes this possible-but is more realism always leading to a better game?
Today, lets take Pool Deluxe from Deluxware as an example. Altough the game is still in alpha, it was released openly on 1src without an NDA-thus, there seems to be no problem with these photos!


What do you see here? The balls are extremely small! When you compare the ball size to other games like MegaSofts Biliards, the balls are much harder to see. A tester even said that he needed TealMagnify in order to identify if the ball was full or not. The developer stated that Delux's balls are realistially scaled down.
To cut a long story short-this is a perfect example of realism hindering user experience. A realistic game definiely has its merits and is interesting for all of those who want a 100% accurate gameplay, but most users just want one thing: FUN!
When we keep fun in mind, playability definiely gets smaller when you need to use TealMagnify everytime before you shoot!
Of course, a game with a totally unrealistic engine, etc will not be sucessful either-or would you want to play a pool game where balls would always hit, etc? Or would you enjoy a flight simulator where you could stop dead in the sky without stalling? No, you aren't likely to enjoy it-at least from my point of view.
Lets conclude it for now-realism is another one of these things where you need to find a sweet spot-just like features are. Too little realism, and your game sucks. Too much, and it sucks too. How do you handle realism in your developments?

Monday, March 21, 2005

Platform advertising with the competition

Yesterday, I discussed why the PalmOne Treo "670" may just have been a techdemo and not a commitment. Indeed, Palm OS testing is very dificult, as you need to get a Palm OS lience first, then you need to negotiate everything with PalmSource, etc. There is no real information available on the Palm OS homepage either. So, getting a Palm OS tech demo device out is almost impossible!
But lets now take a look at Windows CE embedded. As you might already know, I attend semiconductor conferences every now and then. At the Freescale evening conference, I received the following card (images are pretty lowres, I know-click for bigger version):

As you can probably see, this card contains a code. If you know this code and enter it online at MicroSoft's, you an get a free evaluation version of either Windows CE embedded or Windows XP for embedded devices. MicroSoft even pays for shipping and handling costs!
But this is not an exception-RIM is also quite smart at marketing their BlackBerry platform. when you request a strategic information kit from them, tghey mail you a letter and the following CD to your house-also for free:

The CD contains developers tools and infos, and also lots of strategic whitepapers for the enterprise. This really simplifies using the platform.
And now-lets compare all of these offers with PalmSource. If you want to get an OS licence, there is no info on their HP whatsoever-just a stupid comment form. Same thing with developers-registration is needed for most services. And if you really want to do serious development, you need to register at multiple places in order to get all the SDK's.
Concludingly, I feel that Palmsource does not support deployment/development/hardware design as optimal as it could be. Indeed, their developer mailing lists, etc do a very nice job-but you need to find them once and get started into all of the community! What do you beleive?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

We have a new author

Hi Readers,
I am sory for not announcing it earlier-but we now have a new TamsPalm author-please give a warm welcome to Brad Green! I was travelling up to now, and thus couldn't post this earlier. Please accept my apologies!
Brad is a very talented Palm Os user and knows quite a bit about the Clie platform. He has the view of the user, and this should complement my developer's perspective! In total, this will led to more and better content beeing available on TamsPalm.
However, please be considerate of him. This is the first time that he is writing on a blog, and he naturally is very anxious. You can for sure remeber my first, clumsy attempts on TamsPalm-please do not flame or derogate him! Give us constructive criticism, and have fun on TamsPalm!
Best regards
Tam Hanna
P.s. What do you feel about this move. Are you concerned? Unhappy? Plese tell me about it!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The future of the ???? OS, its hard to see.

Before reading this article, note that it was not written by Tam Hanna, but by Brad Green, known as JJesusfreak01 on the 1src forums. You can always look at the bottom of the post to see the author.

Seeing the current situation of the Palm OS, and looking at the ongoing trend of Palm's PDA releases, it is becoming increasing difficult to see where the Palm OS is heading. Some say Cobalt, and some say Linux, and I say who knows, who cares, and good riddens.

Some may ask why I say good riddens. You will have to wait til the end of this article to find out, but I assure you that there is a good reason. There is also a summary at the end if you do not want to read the entire article.

Looking at the current situation, we can come up with two questions. What is likely to happen with the Palm OS, and what do we want to happen? Unfortunately, the first of these is unlikely, and the latter is not very pretty to behold.

What I personally would like to see is a good, stabile OS, with memory protection, advanced graphics features, and better connectivity. Now, seeing this, you may be thinking, "isnt that what Cobalt is designed for?". Well, the answer is yes, and no. In one sense Cobalt does exactly this. It provides a secure memory environment that prevents crashes that we often see now. It also increases the limit of RAM that the OS can handle, doing away with the strange memory configurations seen in the T5, as well as the Sony UX series. As for the graphics, it provides a new programming environment (which they title "Protein"), as well as other enhanced graphics features. As for the connectivity, it greatly improves on this. It has support for broadband wireless connections (this includes future wireless protocols), and Bluetooth built into the OS (though I beleive this feature is also in many OS5 devices). Cobalt devices will likely include a new browser based on Netfront (the browser currently on some Sony PDAs, made by a company called Access).

If this OS is was as great as it seems though, there would be devices with OS6 already out now.

Obviously, and unfortunately, there is a problem. As our friend Jeff Kirvin outlines in one of his Podcasts featured at 1src, we dont really want Cobalt. The simple reason is that it makes our "good" type of hacks much more difficult to do, because of some of the OS changes. There is also the problem that both users and developers fear change, and new programming environments give them more work to form a stabile program that spans multiple versions of the OS. This said, Palm has built a road block in front of themselves. What I mean by this is simple. Right now, Palm is sticking with Garnet (an updated form of OS5, on all recedently released devices that run OS5, such as the Treo 650, and the T5), because they are not ready to change, and more importantly, because we are not ready to change. When they do eventually move to Cobalt, it will in a way alienate alot of the hardcore Palm users, and we will, no doubt, continue to use our old, innovation happy, Garnet and OS5 devices. Depending on how good the Cobalt devices are, we may buy them anyway, but knowing how Palm tends to stick with low to mid-end devices, this may never be the case. We can only hope that someone like Tapwave may devise a completely innovative device.

Back to the roadblock analogy. What I would love to see is a short lived OS6, and a quick change to OS7, which hopefully will focus more on new features and innovation, and an easy way for users to customize their experiences as much as they would like. It is very likely that either late into OS6, or at the switch to OS7, Palm will be running on top of a linux kernel. At this time I will probably stop complaining. This will essentially be going around their own roadblock.

Now, what you all want to hear, and probably scrolled to the end of this article to see. The reason why I might say, good riddens to the Palm OS, is that some of us may decide to travel to the "dark side". Im sure the journey will be painful, but looking at some of the devices out right now, such as the very powerful Dell X50v, you have to wonder that maybe innovation is traveling alot faster on the other side of the fence. Their 2003 OS did not originally come with the ability to use VGA displays. When the demand became overwhelming, what did they do? They released an update to their core OS that did support VGA screens. What do I want Palm to do in the future, now is even better, is release OS updates that give important feature updates. This is the Windows Mobile example that Palm needs to take a look at, and needs to act on, for our benefit, and their survival.

Ill sum up my thoughts here. I love the Palm OS but there is a problem. Cobalt is a roadblock on Palms way to success. It has alot of great features, which I would love to see on a device, but it has some fatal flaws. No-one is developing Cobalt devices, though I believe with good reason. I wish that Palm would come out with a version of Cobalt with the memory protection features, VGA capability, and other tweaks, that did not destroy the "event loop" that is used for most types of hacks, such as YAHM. Where is the Palm OS heading, the future is still unclear.

Note: I dont support WM, but its a good example of a heavy duty OS, that supports very powerful hardware.

By the way, this is my first post on Tam Hanna's blog (thanks for letting me on), so any criticism, comments, and responses are welcome. Of course, you are always welcome to criticise, comment, and write whatever you please. Happy Palming, or whatever the verb is for it.

Treo 670-Tam, the sucker revisited

Recently, image specialists took a closer look at the rumoured Treo 670 images-and zoomed in on the photographed screen! Indeed, an X can be clearly be seen on the right, and a windows mobile logo on the left!
Bump... Windows CE on a Palm OS handheld. Treason, catastrophe-how many hours PalmOne must have invested in orer to get this thing running. And oh boy, this is definitely the end of the Palm Os platform.
Bump. Time machine whiz.
We are back in 2004. A scandal journalist named Mike Cane wrote an article named We, the suckers-and TamsPalm answered him with Tam admitting that he was a sucker. A flamewar was fought, and the real argument was forgotten. Nobody quite noticed that Palm OS handhelds and PocketPC's are now running on the same processor architecture, and even have the same endian sorting! Gone are the days of the DragonBall processor, that no WinCE ran on-and gone are the assemblers with the big endians.
Thwe ARM standard widely accepted, and all major OS'ses except Windows XP support it. There's Symbian, Linux, RTOS'ses and so much more. Palm OS and PocketPC of course are there too.
So, lets conclude for the first time in this article. PocketPC's and Windows smartphiones are very similar when their hardware is concerned. Now, what does that mean for us? PalmOne didn't have to put all that effort into getting Windows CE run on their Treo-they just got a Windows CE platform builder(these were distributed for evaluation purposes at many semiconductor presentations, I still have the promo card actually) and hit build. And alas, there was a working Windows CE for the Treo. While this may indeed oversimplify the story a bit, there can't be much more effort involved. If my interpretation is correct, PalmOne now has a PocketPC Treo and can evaluate how it would fare. If they like it, they boot it out into their market. And then-the competition will decide......
What do you beleive?

Friday, March 18, 2005

Handling network brownouts-this is how we like it

Recently, T-Mobile's danger network failed-disabling the email and web options of their sidekick machines. Users could still phone and possibly also send SMS, but that was it. The glorified data features of the Sidekick/hiptop machines were dead.
Most companies would send out an apology letter afterward, and then go on to the next story. Sometimes, they won't even fix the problem (see the buzzing screens, etc). But T-Mobile went a different way. They distributed a letter among their customers containing of course the due apology-but that wasn't it. The customers were also granted a 20$ credit on their next phone bill.
As if this isn't customer service!
Generally, companies do not seem to understand the value of customer care yet. The Danger brownout spread all over the web quickly, and let people into beleiving that T-Mobile was a stupid, uncapable enterprise. Actually, users were right to think this while their Sidekicks were offline-after all, T-Mobile chose to pair up with Danger.
But now, the customer care seems to have worked-users see the 20$ discount and are happy again. The negative image has been more-less repaired!
I don't want to know if they lost more than a select few customers due to this incident-it isn't too likely now that the rebate is out....

About discontinuing wireless services

Yesterday, SMS were broadcasted to T-Mobile customers stating that the t-email service will be discontinued in a few weeks of time. Indeed, I never really used my account-but the message still has perplexing effect.
An email account is something you get to last! Some people use their emnail accounts for years, Tamog@gmx.at is more than 3 years old. Multiple providers already offered an account-but the effort of migrating is simply too big to accept any of them. Palm.net users faced a similar problem last year-PalmOne deciced to discontinue the proxy service, leaving the units rot as useless scrap.
And here we are-at the core of the problem. Each service has to be killed once, as it has a successor with better technology. Users also tend to accept this as the "pace of nature"-unless of course, you fuxate them with a few a$$ actions like these below. Read them and laugh at what can happen:
Close a service in order to drive users to the new service
this is what happened at Palm.net. Cingulars data service is still working-but PalmOne decided to close the proxies for whatever reason. And the email about the Treo 600 discount was pretty obvious!
Do not help users keep the network operating themselves
And we are at Palm.-nets once again. if the company could only have released the proxy server software, users could have made a new deal with Cingular and get the proxies running on old PC's/whatever.
Don't give users enough time for reacting
Yes, our service is going down in 30 days-see what you can do. Purr-fect way to keep your client happy. deciding for a new system will definitely take more thanm 30 days-so give your users the time that they need!
Generally, there will always be a little blickering when closing a wireless service. But if you help your users along the way, there is a high chance that they won't be too pissed off. What do you beleive?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The series 60 market-and why its so different to ours

Some of you may recall that your author recently purchased a Siemens SX1. Indeed, I never wanted to program it-but the inner geek won against the logic mind.
The PalmOS market is more-less saturated and mature. Most applications are stable and work well-and users expect just that. Businessmen cannot accvept an app that crashes once a day-and they also don't want nice flashy graphics that munch up loads of CPU power.
However, most Series 60 users are sold to teens and other more-les hip users who want a device that gives them bang for the buck-and coolness is more important to most of them than function is. My PPC crashes and your IIIc doesn't-so what, my PPC can play p0rn!
And here we are at the core of ther Symbian app-it must be cool. There is no need for advanced, useful features like one can find in a program like Agendus of Docs 6-if there is cool UI, the program is good and thats it.
Teens are especuially motivated to shell out loads of cash for their mobiles-ringtone business in germany is said to amout about 180Mio€. And now imagine games-they have much more value then ringtones and could be sold for 5€ each-if you could only use the same retail channels (ads on MTV, ordering via SMS, etc) as the big boys in the ringtone sector use!
So, lets now get back to the Palm OS sector. In order to appeal to Series 60 buyers, the OS needs to be changed radically. There is a need for 3d buttons and widgets, for nice, polyphonic system sounds and for backgrounds and skinnability.
Thats it for today-what do you beleive?

Audio codecs-the trouble of the ogg

The ogg codec is very popular among opensource lovers and audiophiles with limited VFS storage. Indeed, it offers incredible audio quality at low bit rates. However, no PalmOS licencee currently supports ogg out of the box.
Supporting ogg has a few benefits for licencees though-number one advantage is the capability to use external storage in a more effective way. But third-parties can do that too-so no real market advance here.
But think of the DSP's than are embedded into most processors. Software using these can consume considerably less power than it processor-based peer products. And third parties are unlikely to do this-too big are the differences between the implementations.
But this isn't the only reason-TamsPalm covered the whole DSP thing a few weeks ago.
So-to cut a long story short: DSP-less codec's always have worse cards than ones support by a digital signal processor. But here is the next problem-if a codec isn't supported by players, it has little chance to get used. If users don't demand a codec, licencees are unlikely to support it-a perfect circulum vituosum.
What do you think?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A new way to input data

Irecently had the opportunity to play around with one of the new Nokia communicators(the one without touchscreen). after only having it for two minutes or so, an interesting thing struck my eye-the device displayed a mouse pointer on the screen:

Indeed, the pointer could be moved with a little "trackpoint" in the unit's keyboard. At the beginning, this looked stupid-but beleive it or not, it got comfortable after a while. When I have my T3 sitting in its now broken keyboard, touching a control on-screen requuires me to grasp the stylus, move it to the screen, etc. In this process, my hand covers the screen for a short time, etc-lots of fuzz involved!

A tiny trackpoint on the keyboard could solve the problem-at least for me. Take a little analog "joystick" or just a plain trackpoint from IBM, and off you go. Cobalt definitely needs mouse support-now that I have experienced one, I definitely feel different!
But-these tests were done sitting at a table! If the machine would have been tested on the go-oh boy, that would have been difficult to do. Overall, I still don't want a PDA with a trackpad. But integrating one into the portable keyboard would be a great idea!
Here are a few size comparison photos:

What do you think?

Monday, March 14, 2005

PalmOne and PocketPC=death

Recently, rumoured pictures of a PalmOne Treo running a version of Windows CE have caused a craze in Palm OS forums and polls. This is the end of the Palm OS/the Treo line/whatever.
Actually, I beleive that it will only end the PalmOne Treo success story! PalmOne has recently produced devices with lots of hardware flaws-may it be "el cheapo" rivets, hissing screens, non-working sliders, bad cameras, etc-I cannot remeber a flawless PalmOne handheld that didn't need a patch or that didn't have some kind of hardware bug.
The reason why the company gets away with this-they are the only Palm OS manufacturer that is available worldwide and that was more than one or two devices (forget Tapwave on that one until they have a small business machine). But PalmOne definitely won't be the only PocketPC smartphone maker!
Thus, there are three possibilities:
PalmOne improves build quality with Dell's help
Most users know Dell for solid, well-working products. If PalmOne is really working together with Dell on this one, the engineers of the latter company will definitely attempt to give their child a bit of the Dell precision. PalmOne's engineering guys will hopefuly learn more about engineering there(hopefully they include riveting connections;-)), and this knowledge should flow into the Palm OS devices too.
PalmOne produces a usual Treo with WinCE
If this happens-olay. Palmone will not be able to score a single point with this one, and it will possibly stop the rest of the Treo's dead in the water too. But I bet that PalmOne's management knows this too-and thus will not want to take any risks!
All of this is a hoax
Recently TamsPalm talked about how the TE2 might just have been an test for customer reactions. Who knows if this isn't another one?
Each of the possibilties is plausible somehow, but also has something against it. Dell definitely wouldn't want to help one of its fiercest competitors. Also, they definitely don't need PalmOne's help in getting a Palm OS handheld working. PalmOne itself has proven stupid many times, but who knows-everyone eventually learns his lesson!

Regardless of what happens-TamsPalm will keep you informed! What do you beleive?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

My personal thoughts about the Tungsten E2+Zire 73 blurb

Today we will take a short look into the TamsPalm crystal "kugel" and theoretize about PalmOne's future devices. Lets start with the Zire line: We all already saw images of the rumoured Zire 73-I am pretty sure that the images are faked. However, when you look at the image, you begin to see a tendency in PalmOne products. The Zire 31 basically was a Tungsten E which basically was a Zire 71, etc. Planars are recycled over and over again!
The Tungsten T5 can now be seen under an entirely new light-it may easily be the future of the Zire line. There is everything Zire in it-cheap plastic housing, no slider, etc! Now, what tells us that PalmOne won't recycle the T5 planar and transplant it into a Zire 72 housing?
Actually, PDA's with sqaure screens are dead-and even PalmOne is starting to see this. So, their next machine must have a non-sqare screen-and there should be little engineering involved. The T5 is already developed-so transplant it and the party goes. Lets now get to the predecessor of the TE.
The Tungsten E2 has been finished months ago-but it still hasn't hit the market. PalmOne has recently had lots of rumour problems-it would be very unlikely for them to keep the appearance silent for so long. But what is if the E2 was never intended to hit the market?
PalmOne has already registered a trademark "Veld" in order to distract columnists from their Tungsten and Zire trademarks-with little success. But people get smarter, and maybe this time their fake E2 was successful in evaluating the market. Loads of people discussed the articles at Daves PDA and TamsPalm, and even more bickering and moaning happened in forums like 1src or PalmInfoCenter. Now what if a PalmOne insider would be reading all of that and reporting it back immediately? There is a PalmOne employee at 1src(Novotny), and rumors say that there are ppl at Nexave(huge german board) and PalmInfoCenter as well. Thats what one calles a market study, boys!
What do you think?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Object ID's replace elbow grease

All of us know these god-damn blocks of the same instruction, over and over again for a different form object. May it be the adjustment of visibility, the setting of a background color in VB or whatever, columns like the one below can be seen everyday:

FrmHideObject(FrmGetActiveForm(),FrmGetObjectIndex(FrmGetActiveForm(),ObjA));
FrmHideObject(FrmGetActiveForm(),FrmGetObjectIndex(FrmGetActiveForm(),ObjB));
FrmHideObject(FrmGetActiveForm(),FrmGetObjectIndex(FrmGetActiveForm(),ObjC));

The objects in the example above are called ObjA, ObjB and ObjC-not the kind of names that one should see in real-world programs, but o.k. nevertheless!
In most languages, the user has little choice. He can opnly refer to controls by their name-and names cannot be used in an array. Howeverm the Palm OS allows the programmer to access controls by their resource ID-which is a 16bit integer from 1000 to 9999. Does that make the bell ring? If the controls are lined up in an intelligent way, one can simply use a for loop to iterate through them.
Lets say that the ID's of the our objects are 1000,1001,1002. Then, one can easily take the following code to do the task mentioned above:

int i;
for(i=1000;i<=1002;i++)
FrmHideObject(FrmGetActiveForm(),FrmGetObjectIndex(FrmGetActiveForm(),i));

The benefit may not be visible with three objects, but when you have a block of 30 adjacent ones-trust me, you will feel the difference! Changing object ID's usually is no problem-unless there are hard-coded references, but these are getting rare nowadays.
What do you think?

Friday, March 11, 2005

The benefit of GSM-why europeans get Smartphones first

Recently, a new Licencee called ITM Technology entered the Palm OS market with a-well-rebranded version of GSPDA's XPLORE M68. Palminfocenter commentators immediately began to bicker about why europeans get the stuff first-most thought that europeans have more cash or are more willing to spend it on mobile phones.
While the latter may definitely be true(180Million€ for ringtones) for Germans, this is not really valid for mobile phones. Rather, one should blame the provider architecture of the US. Europe is an all-GSM continent, the continent of the US has multiple different systems. And not systems with a different transfer frequency-entirely different aspects of bandwith management, network structure, communication protocols, transmitter hardware etc. There is Mobtex(yes, I know that it is for pagers), GSM, CDMA, ... .
Now think about smartphone sales. Smartphones sell best when subsidized by a carrier. Without carrier subsidies, a phone may sell well-but the mainstream goes for the carrier's stuff! And most smartphones try to target the mainstream!
So here we are at the neuralgic point of the US market. If you optimize for a non-GSM network, you limit your choice of carriers-sometimes even just to one or two. And what happens if this carrier says nay and refuses to subside the machine-lots of R&D cash wasted, and you have a few thousand units to scrap! However, when targeting GSM you literally have hundreds of carriers-and there is a high chance that a few of them will take your device! Less risk involved for the licencee->business plan looks better->share prices raise - you know what I want to say, don't you?
Concludingly, I feel that the US is a less attractive market for a smartphone manufacturer. So, move to europe or get a GSM version imported. What do you beleive?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The T3 fliplid falls apart-looks as if there is a construction deficit

There are some things that a civilized engineer cannot do wrong-riveting connections are among them. Even a rock-bottom austrian electronical engineer learns about riveting and is capable to design such connections. However, it looks as if PalmOne has not yet grasped the traditional technique of riveting when the fliplid of the T3 is concerned.
Recently, the lether flip lid of my T3 started to act strange. It didn't attach wel, fell off many times and genrally made an unstable impression. Eventually, I took it off and found this piece on my table:

This is the head of one of the "rivets" that kieep the fliplid together-this image shows my lid with some of the rivets going off already:

Apparently, PalmOne chose to glue the heads onto the other side of the rivet instead of doing it the traditional way (insert rivet, pull out so that matereal deforms). Eventually, these heards solved off and led to the lid slowly peeling off the T3:

Now, this is indeed a description of stupid engineering. Either they are to lazy to think about it, or they are just too stupid. After ten exchanges/repairs, I actually favour the second thing. Has something similar happened with you?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

An open-source bluetooth device scanner

Sometimes we all need to search for bluetooth devices in out proximity. May it be for reasons of personal interest (has that chick got BT on) or for evil-minded cracking(lets bluesnarf our teacher), one always needs to find the devices that are close to you. The traditional apporach for Palm OS bluetooth finding is via the prefs panel-open the prefs panel, bluetooth and then start to add a new trusted device. Voila, all devices are shown. This is fine if you do it once a month-but if you need it once a day, it can get annoying. Volia, enter Discovery!
This 10k program was developed by Palmsource as a bluetooth sample program and can be obtained from their website for free. You don't even need to register in oder to start downloading! The archive also contains the source code and a few other programs. Find out more about the package at:
http://www.palmos.com/dev/tools/bluetooth/codesamples.html
But let's get back to Discovery now. Here are a few screenshots of the program in action:

The interface is straightforward-you click the button Discover Devices, and a black rectangle starts to grow in the bottom of the screen(see Image 1). Devices that were found are displayed in the list box, clicking a device offers more details!
This nifty tool may not have a hundred features, but it is small and useful. Definitely a thing to keep on my handheld-but will it stay on yours?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Tapwave-the zgames are your friends

There is a lot of fuzz about three little programs released a few hours ago-I am talking about zDoom, zHexen and zQuake. These three programs will allow users to play Doom, Quake and Hexen on their Palm OS 5 handhelds. Immediately, there was a huge fuzz about the programs-and most important of all, success stories were posted. This is important, as I could not get zHexen working myself.
Some commentors asked about what will happen with Tapwave's Doom 2 cartridge now. Indeed, it will have a hard stand against these products-but Tapwave could make an easy buck with these programs. The main problem with the open-source files isn't quality or stability-it is the need for wad files. The problem with the wad files is availability-the games that the program emulates are very old, and thus can not be registered anymore. In order to get the programs working, one needs to get into the underground-something that many people do not like doing-lets now leave legal troubles aside!
Now, here comes the great opportunity for TapWave. They get a deal with id software for the wad files or they cook up some of their own, and pack them all on a SD card for the Zodiac. The user does not need to fight around with configuration of sound, etc and the Zodiac wins a new, attractive game title! If they offer the whole package for an attractive price-the show goes off for sure! Or even better-make a good wad file on your own and offer it for free to all Zodiac users. This would hit the market like a bomb-ther Zodiac coming with extremely attractive, known titles! I have heard that the PSP will not ship with any games-same thing with the Gameboys, etc. If this isn't a competitive advantage, what is?

Regardless of this will happen or not, take a look at the program at:http://yoyofr.fr.st/ It didn't work out on my T3, if you have 8MB of free dynamic RAM, get the program working and talk back please!

Monday, March 07, 2005

New PalmOne ad in Austria- madame Zulma's prophecy

A good columnist suscribes to all konds of newsletters-let there be Lockergnome, my.TI, MaximIC Mailing Lists, Analog Semicon's post, ITworld and many others. Reading these keeps you top-notch informed about all kinds of important stuff!
I like mailing lists that have lots of infomrational content-and the PalmOne newsletter today carried an astonishing, german ad. Click the image below for a bigger version(the innards of the bubble were animated).


Translated, it says as much as:
Madame Zulma's prophecy for 2005. You will not need a computer for checking your email. You will find out in 3 days why this is not as crazy as it sounds.

This funky statement is followed by the usual palmOne legal gibberish. And that was it! No links, no info, no nothing.
This move astionishes me. What are they advertising for? Well, IMHO there are three possibilities:
Treo 650 ad
This is plausible, PalmOne has announced the Treo to be available on the 11.3 in Austria(according to nexave.de). This would fit in very well-but hey, its the 7th today, and not the eigth. Since PalmOne is a bit bonkers sometimes, they can have an all-now kind of counting days, but 11-7 is still 4 for me. Concludingly, this possibility sounds logical-but who knows.
New handheld
This would be less plausible, but also possible. Is this the original T5 we expected months ago? Is it an entirely new handheld? is it an entry-level Treo? Is it the successor to the aging TC? All of these handhelds are expected and some of them have even been announced-but well, why wouldn't they be introduced in the US first? Also, we have loads of mystery around here...
New wireless service
This ad has not been distributed in non-german countries. Who knows-maybe PalmOne is preparing something like a palm-net-relaunch there? This would explain why the ads haven't yet surfaced in the US-but what carrier will they use, etc. So, also loads of mystery here!
BTW, the words 2 days and 1 day are grayed out in the image-lets see if I get another email tomorrow. Each of the three possibilities has its pros and cons. I personally favor the Treo 650 theory-what do you think?

Sunday, March 06, 2005

First cobalt device==Licence for printing cash

We all anticipate the release of the first Cobalt powered smartphone or handheld. However, different people have different views about the success it will have on the market. Some beleive that it will fail miserably because most people will wait, while other people predict terrible sales in the first week. I belong to the second group-IMHO the machine will sell way faster than the V series.
Well, there are two groups of users that will really jump on the machine:
Developers
developers always need to ensure that their app works well with the latest versions of the Palm OS. Since OS5, Simulator testing alone is no more sufficient(ARMlets cannot be tested in the emulator, etc)-real devices are needed. And here lies the potential of the first devices-the developers will buy one or more in order to allow testing, etc.
Enthusiasts
Well, we know this group too well. These are the people who want to always have the latest stuff-and Cobalt will definitely be cool for them. Some members of this group even buy the IMHO way to expensive Pentium 4 Extreme editions and other crap... . So-a Cobalt handheld will definitely be good value to them!
Lets conclude for now-there seems to be a nice amount of market area for the new device. Also, think of the enormous amount of free advertising it would get-reviews would be written, and the licencee would be celebrated. So, I see nothing to loose here-and you....
Something else-TamsPalm is currently moving away from Blogger to the Tamoggemon Homepage. The migration is basically done, I am currently in the process of writing a new theme and stylesheet! Tune into the process at http://www.tamoggemon.com/wordpress/

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Read the code, bro's

Artists study the work of others to improve their skill with the brush. Writers read each other's novels and MCs/DJs(I don't know which word fits here, altough each of my schoolmates could tell....I really dont know) listen to each other's groove. Looking at the list above, we clearly see that most creative workers look at each other's work to improve.
But coders? Do they look at each others stuff too? Can they? Would they?
A few years ago, most source codes were considered confidential, only accessible to employees of the company that owned the program.
Dick Gabriel once said that coding is one of the few creative professions in which writers are not allowed to read each other's work(quote from:code reading by Diomidis Spinellis).
While opensource movements have improved the coder's situation, PalmOS programmers always had a huge advantage. Palm's SDK contained the sources for the core apps of the pilot. Maybe this openness inspired other coders. The PalmOS programmer can access hundreds of sources(e.G. www.palmopensource.com) for different kinds of applications. Nice code, clear code, buggy code, code with dynamic UI...
Now, you may wonder why a skill as simple as code reading warrants an article of its own. Many programmers(including myself) haven't yet understood the potential that lies before them. Why always reinvent the wheel? Even if you can't copy the code 1:1 for licence reasons, looking at it will save you looking up API and algorithms. And even if you don't need the stuff today, it may just save your a$@ another day.
So, lets bring this to an end. Look at open-source code for ideas. If you need a button-press trap, look at traps from other programs (McPhling, thanks to Ben Combee for the tip). Don't feel bad about looking at other's code-it is a smart way to save time. And no developer has too much of that!
Tell us your oppinion-feel free to comment(anonymously)!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Whining screens-how not to solve the problem

Many TamsPalm readers own PalmOne handhelds-and many of these machines whine loudly when powered on. This sound emission has already become a huge problem and has loed to a software developer announcing an expensive software patch to fix the problem. Also, some non-whining hardware has been developed, etc!
Users are very happy to take thesde patches and fixes in order to solve a problem that shouldn't be there at all! They forget that they do not help the situation like this!
Well, PalmOne is a company that wants to make a profit. Whining screens have a low quality, and thus are cheap. If users cope with the screen whine, PalmOne will see no reason to stop using whining screens-and the screen whine will never die. Also, PalmOne engineers will become less sensitive to product flaws-a third party will fix it for me, so why bother!
My personal way involves a bit of elbow grease-but it doesn't cost me a cent. Since I own a second machine(an old, battered but trusty IIIc which I can repair myself in case of emergency), I send in the unit whenever I find the smallest mistake! PalmOne even covers the postage for me-so huge loss for them and little effort for me. When a refund is offered, I would cash my machine immediately. Also, whenever a rep calls me, I always give them the number of my mobile phone and talk slowly, etc-inflating costs even further!
If evey user would return his whining machine, PalmOne would see an explosion of customer care costs. This would lead to working units on the long run...
What do you beleive?

The PUG Vienna met today

Some of you may already wonder about why TamsPalm hasn't been updated yet. The reason is simple-I was at the vienniese palm meet. The meetings always happen on the first thursday of a month-click the images for bigger versions!
First of all-our organizer Alex couldn't resist his treo fetish and bought a Treo 600. I was indeed impressed with its small size and the pretty good screen-it reacted extremely fast for a DSTN model-impossible to compare with the 270.

Afterwards, we went over to discussing ways to enhance battery life. Circuit ideas were swapped(most of us have electronics experience)-the craziest idea is shown here. The first power to go charges the Tungsten, while the second feeds power to the first:

Then, we went on to discussing the Sony PSP-and also how it would stand against the Nintendo DS. My collegues had an interesting point of view-he beleives that the Nintendo will take the U16 market-and Sony will munch the rest. This is indeed plausible-Nintendo's offerings for young children are unbeatable. All one needs to say is Pokemon-I dunno why, but it is hell addictive! Sony has better offerings for older teens and grown-ups, they will port their Playstation Blockbusters one by one. And I bet that parents wont be happy if their toddlers play rainbow six.
Slowly the conversation switched over to nostalgic devices-C64 et al. Nothing new here-except maybe the S40 phone which has a very interesting history. It was developed by a german company called Bosch-but Siemens purchased Boschs Mobile Phone division. The phone was rushed to market afterwards-and it took months to fix all of the bugs in the firmware! If that isn't similar to the Tx.....

After that, we discussed various other things closely and not so closely related to the Palm OS and mobile phones and had a good pizza each.
And here we have a few random shots:

The S40 owner trying to protect himself from the prying eyes of our cameras!

Herwig trying to photograph me while I was photographing him

A photograph of me..... . I had to put it online....

Peter experimenting with the different kinds of system reset-and always asking for developüer explanations as needed(e.G. what is a launch code, how does it work,..).
Ovwerall, it was a very interesting meet-up and definitely paid out! Go to your local PUG-it will do you good;-P..
How are the meetings in your area?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

About the merits of customer care

Most developers see their customers as animals that can be-well-more less sucked out once and then left alone. While this approach definitely works, it leads to loads of unsatisfied customers. The effects of these may not be immediate(just tell PalmGear not to accept any refund-and byebye)-but on the long run it pays off to keep customers happy. Here are a few ideas that motivate developers into offering excellent customer care:
Power users are valuable
Usually, absoloute beginners or power users tend to hit the email lines. While the first can usually be handled quickly, the latter sometimes need lots of time and devotion in order to be happy with the experience. Power users are a minority-but they pay out on the long run! Their less-geeky friends usually listen to their oppinions and take it as a more-less verbatim truth. Now imagine the power user sittting with his friends-and all he does is rant about how bad his T3 is and how CustomerCare sucks(exchange number 5 or so). Are they gonna be motivated to buy a T3? and think of the contrast example-a happy user chitchats about how well LedManager works...
A happy user buys again
A user gives you his hard-earned money and wants one thing: performance-and this fast and flawless. When a user is happy with one of your programs, there is a high probability that he will be posetively-biased towards your next offering. This biasing will definitely not help if your program is simply inferior-but in a par situation, it can definitely give the nudge.
Unhappy users rant-happy users are silent
Happy users rarely express their gratitude and happyness. Unhappy customers rant-and the rants can be found on Google. When a potential new customer googles for reviews, he will find a lot of rants-as if that would be good for the product....
What do you beleive?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Qualifying and quali-dieing resolutions

PocketPCs currently have VGA screens. Palm OS enthusiasts wait eagerly for the first VGA handheld and expect a smooth transition. The change from Lores to Hires was a more-less easy one-pixels were doubled and bitmaps could be preserved. However, it looks as if the switch to VGA will be a hairy one.
The problem that arises with every resolution change is legacy-there are literally hundreds of legacy applications that need to be adapted before the new toy will become useful! The adaption of LowRes apps to highres apps was easy because one could pixel-double all the graphics(a pixel became a 2x2 rectangle). However, the switch to VGA will not be as easy, as the factor is a number with a decimal part. Since one cannot divide a pixel in two(to accomodate for the 1:1.5 Ratio), special trickery is required. Handera already did this on their 330 and was pretty successful with it-as long as users didn't want any games and applications didn't contain any bitmaps!
When bitmaps got involved, the show started to get funny. Aliasing effects, uneven borders, lines not hitting each other and not beeing straight, the unit had loads and loads of ugly things on board for its users. The same thing is currently happening with the Qool QDA700. When an application is optimized for the device, all problems stop dead though.
Lets conclude for now-VGA is possible on the Palm OS, but it will definitely lead to compatibility problems. Application developers will eventually adjust to the new screen system-but the transition will not be as easy as the last few have been. The next natural resolution for the Palm OS would be 960x640-but who makes such a LCD? Eventually we need to take the step-the sooner, the better!
What do you think?