Monday, 28 June 2010

Mobile phones - too many platforms, how can consumers get more apps & developers make money? Living in a Multi-Platform World, MoMo event

From a consumer viewpoint the existence of multiple mobile phone platforms obviously impacts directly on the range of apps available to end users, and therefore affects consumer choice as well as the cost of apps to consumers.

The 14 June 2010 MoMo event "Living in a Multi-Platform World" focused on the fragmentation problem for mobile developers, which in turn affects the availability to end consumers of mobile phone apps - namely, the difficulty of trying to produce software for so many different mobile phone platforms, from Apple's iPhone to Nokia's recently-open sourced Symbian, Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Windows Phone, Google's open sourced Android, not to mention many other manufacturer-proprietary platforms.

Sponsored by Microsoft's Windows Phone, this Mobile Monday event was highly interesting and informative.

This post is a summary of that event, with some final thoughts of my own.

The thrust of the session was, how can mobile developers make money when there are so many different mobile platforms? Which platform (e.g. iPhone? Java?) should programmers concentrate on? Should they be focusing on one platform, or many? What can platform owners do to make their platforms more attractive to developers?

The panel session was ably chaired by MEX Conference organiser Marek Pawlowski, who put several thoughtful questions to the panel and followed up on the points made very cogently; in my view he ought to be offering chairmanship masterclasses to the chairs of most other talks I've been to, and that includes some very expensive supposedly world class conferences!

The line-up of panel members was excellent too:

Microsoft said that with Windows Phone 7 they wanted to make it easier for developers to make software written for desktop computers work on mobile phones with Silverlight etc. There was a Windows Phone 7 developer day on 22 June too, but I didn't have time to attend.

Which platform should you develop for?

It's interesting to note that while smartphones only constitute about 10% of the total mobile phone market, far more developers use iPhone or Android phones.

Lansley pointed out that the advantage of developing for the iPhone was that although relatively few customers have one, you get more publicity, marketing etc because it's a "hero device" like the iPad. (He's since blogged that in more detail, see this post.)

Flirtomatic had wanted to try Java for its supposedly broad user base, but found it was too difficult to do so across a range of mobile devices, especially when their target market were not using smartphones. So they moved to web-based mobile internet, which the majority of their customers today have, and that had proved very successful. With the current significant growth in iPhone usage, though, they might replace other devices.

Hume said he would spend £50 on an Adwords campaign first to see who was interested.

Uvarov pointed out it would depend on who you're targeting e.g. if business users then Blackberry, if hip Londoners, iPhone.

Lansley would be led by what Tesco customers use; housewives tend not to use smartphones.

Ran said if he had £10,000 he would spend it on a platform that's about to launch, so as to be able to ride on the launch publicity. [Incidentally, Internet Explorer 9 will be supporting HTML 5, yay!]

Photo cards company Touchnote went for Nokia 3rd edition because of their knowledgeable user base and Nokia's Ovi store, but they had major problems with the store launch and issues with updates, so they struggled to make money. It was not a lucid easy experience for customers, compared with iPhone / Android.

Lansley agreed that as Ovi doesn't do push updates telling users that apps need updating (unlike Android etc), customers think the app remains continually below par. This is a very important point which those who run app stores need to take on board. The iPhone store do a good job but the [app approval] process is arduously long. Updates should be pushed to customers the same day ideally, notably bugfixes.

Ennis said Flirtomatic's main experience outside the web was with the iPhone, and that was pretty good. They use a wrapper around their normal app, and they don't change the wrapper so they can change the core app without going to Apple for approval. But this means they can't take advantage of certain aspects that they could use were they using the native app.

Interestingly, no one in the audience (mainly mobile developers) had had a positive experience in their first attempt at developing for a particular platform.

Too many app updates…

Helen Keegan raised the issue of how to deal with the problem consumers have of being faced with too many app updates.

Hume said 60 or 70% of Android users do upgrade, and about the same percentage of iPhone users, but it was tougher with other platforms eg Java to get consumers to update.

Lansley suggested when fixing a bug try to offer a new feature too, so that people will think it's worthwhile to do the update.

Uvarov mentioned that he has over 100 updates on his iPhone! 90% of downloaded apps end up not being used, so it's certainly an issue. [Too true, I used to diligently update my Android apps at first, but now I must admit I don't bother. I wish I could set my key apps to auto-update. Or be able to select which ones and update them all in one go.]

A December 2009 Comscore survey on the use of internet sites on mobile phones in the UK found that 70% of consumers went to 10 services including FaceBook, Flirtomatic, Google and Yahoo.

An audience member suggested the use of a system involving red, yellow and green flags for the importance of the update, or ordering updates according to how much the app was used.

Platforms and developers, making money and return on investment, payment systems

Pawlowski queried whether it was sustainable for platform owners to support so many platforms, would there be consolidation? Developers will only support platforms with a worthwhile audience.

Microsoft wanted to know, what could they do in relation to Windows to help developers make money?

One answer was, don't make them use Silverlight!

Another audience member suggested that platform owners should reveal their statistics to developers.

Another said platforms should charge developers less than the "duopoly" of Android and Apple, who both charge 39%; how can they charge customers for apps without massive fees when apps cost only 1 or 2 euros?

Which segued neatly into business aspects.

Usually the spread was 70 / 30. Which platform provides the best return on investment, and how does it compare with the mobile web?

Flirtomatic makes 80% of its money from the virtual currency used by customers to enhance their experience, with the remaining 20% from advertising. But it's mostly very expensive to bill people for buying virtual currency; the revenue share to mobile operators is still 60 or 70%. Credit card is the cheapest way and many people in fact are prepared to enter their credit card details on their mobile phone.

While the main Flirtomatic app is downloadable on iPhones, Apple wouldn't allow the app to be used to enable customers to buy virtual currency, so Flirtomatic had to create another app to add currency to the main app! They would prefer a simpler way to do this through app stores, but the changes required would be too great. Perhaps Apple could charge a higher fee for the first app, but lower fees for add ons?

Hume observed that it was interesting that Flirtomatic were profiting from the mobile web while other companies hadn't made money on the iPhone. It's cheaper to bill people through the mobile web. He'd probably try mobile billing first, then move to credit cards ASAP as that's more cost-effective for developers.

Ennis noted that in the USA mobile operators and aggregators make the payment experience terrible, with a 12 step process just for 1 or 2 dollars. Again, credit card payments would be best.

A major internet brand had told Pawlowski that India was seeing increasing smartphone use because it was the primary internet access device (rather than desktop computers), and it was common for people to have multiple SIMs - one person hotswapped 12 SIMs to take advantage of different rates for different calls. On average Italians have 1.7 SIMs per user, the UK and Germany 1.4, the USA 1.3.

Using different channels

Uvarov said Boxee is an example of an offering with duplication or overlap of different channels, combining tagging on YouTube with using mobile phones as remote controls to watch TV at home.

Tesco's ethnographic research with its customers showed that all of them use different methods for grocery shopping, calling or texting, sometimes sitting down and putting it all together. So Lansley had in mind adding to the grocery basket during the week, but it proved difficult, so they built an API and set up an affiliate scheme for developers. Tesco now have 800 third party developers registered to build apps for groceries on the iPhone etc. He liked the idea of watching a cookery show and adding the ingredients to the basket. He believes in the "little and often" concept, because people get bored with groceries. Every time you put money into something, you're placing a bet that a particular idea or platform will work. So why not farm it out to people who have better ideas etc?

It's challenging just within mobile, and even more difficult when going outside that to other channels.

Hume said that as a developer he was a fan of providing APIs and involving third party developers, but as a provider the idea of having your customers' contacts with you mediated by a third party might not be so palatable. You need to make grocery shopping exciting for customers, so let other developers in; bear in mind that customers still have to register with Tesco and make payments through Tesco. (Tesco have 60% of the grocery home shopping market, but most grocery shopping is still mainly done offline.)

Other issues

There's a lack of decent tools to build apps across different mobile platforms… is Microsoft going to make things easier for developers? Ran said Microsoft's emphasis was on PC to web to phone, and they'd put a lot of work into being able to port code easily from PC to mobile.

Voice interfaces for mobile are on the rise, e.g. Google's voice search. The key to voice according to some research psychologists is to use avatars so that people feel they're interacting with someone rather than just a device. But Ennis pointed out that his daughter used texts and Facebook far more than voice, except in face to face situations! The way people use technology is changing.

An audience member noted that even Apple had given in and was implementing multi-tasking, but that was very power hungry, and he spent a lot of time killing unneeded apps. How was that problem to be handled, that your app was sharing the phone with lots of other apps?

Hume said phone power consumption was a major difference with laptops, and also unreliable networks with connections coming and going. He liked the battery life of the iPad the best (at 10 hours).

There was also a question about whether Microsoft would go the way of Apple in their developer terms and conditions. I think the discussion wasn't clear on this point, e.g. did the questioner mean this or this?


Pawlowski said you could make your app run in the browser, but that wouldn't have all the features or provide the enhanced experience; taking the lowest common denominator approach wouldn't satisfy anyone.

The consensus seemed to be that the user interface and user experience are key.

Do you provide an amazing experience on one platform, or an average one on multiple platforms? Use the best features and functions available for the particular platforms (Uvarov).

Payment systems need to improve, be simplified, become cheaper, with less money going to operators / platform providers (Ennis).

Give the customer the best possible user experience you can; if you must, engineer for different models. Don't try using libraries that claim they're the best but only give mediocre experience across all platforms. People are complaining about multiple platforms, but for years people had complained about Windows being the dominant desktop platform! Learn to program for Android, iPhone etc and provide the best experience possible. (Lansley).

Fragmentation is the price we pay for huge reach and the pace of change (Hume).

Fragmentation won't go away over the next year, we should embrace it (Ran).

Pawlovski noted that the consistent theme was, you can economise on the plumbing - but make sure your bathroom is pretty clean! Do what you can to make things efficient and cost effective in the background where the users can't see it, but when it comes to what the user can see, do the best possible - or else someone else will come along who will do it.

Final thoughts

Although Microsoft had emphasised a few times during the evening that in their view it wasn't (just) about the apps, in my personal view, for consumers, it certainly is.

Sure, it's important to make it as easy as possible for developers to port their apps from desktop computers to web to mobile, and if Microsoft can convince enough handset manufacturers to make Windows Phone 7 phones and mobile network operators to offer them to customers, potentially huge numbers of Windows applications could find their way to Windows phones.

But as the panel and others have pointed out, ease of downloading / installing the apps and updates, and of course getting the right pricing point and payment systems, will be equally if not more important for developers as well as consumers. I'm currently trialling the Nokia N900 Maemo phone, and was immediately put off by having to register before I could download apps - with my Android G1 phone, I didn't have to register.

While I'm not normally an Apple fan (this is why) and have steadfastly resisted buying Apple products (I don't even use iTunes or have an iPod), I've been seriously thinking of getting the iPhone 4 just because of the sheer number of useful or fun apps you can get for it - free or quite cheaply. And I know that would involve "closedness", much as I don't like it. But at least if I bought an iProduct I'd do it with my eyes open. (On that topic I think Tom Morris's brilliant piece on iPhone and iTunes is required reading, by the way.)

In practice, most consumers don't care much about the platform or operating system used on their mobile phone, but they do care about ease of use, having a wide range of good quality software available, ease of downloading and using the apps, and of course pricing (especially in this recession) and ease of secure payment. And, in many cases, they also care about design and fashion (although, to me personally, the most beautiful design is the most simple and usable one).

Despite Cory Doctorow's trenchant points about the iPad, I've even wondered about getting an iPad, again because you can get professional quality music apps for it, for free or for just a few quid, which would cost me hundreds of pounds if I were to try to get the equivalent software for my Windows computer. Microsoft ought to think hard about that angle. This sort of thing can only sell more iPads:

Apple are doing well selling their hardware at a very nice price premium, consumers are getting access to lots of free or very cheap iApps, but most (though admittedly not all) developers are barely making any money from their hard work and creativity. There are network operators and their revenue shares to contend with, but if a platform wants to draw in developers to produce lots of good apps, they may well have to consider reducing their own cut considerably and reward developers more in order to really incentivise them to produce apps for their platform.

It's clearly quite circular - the chicken and the egg, the consumers and the apps. If you want lots of users for your platform you need lots of good apps, but if you want lots of developers to build good apps for your platform, you need lots of users.

I think it's a very exciting time for smartphones. Apple, with their emphasis on usable design and fashion as well as easy access (for consumers if not necessarily developers!) to their App Store, informed by their iTunes experience, have clearly stolen a publicity march on the others. But it seems Android is catching up fast: the near-seamless integration with Google services like Gmail and Gmail contacts and Google Calendar might have something to do with that, I suspect. And for anyone who's not seen it, Black Duck Software's March 2010 report on the top mobile platform for open source developers will also be of interest.

I don't think Apple or Nokia have won yet by any means; anything could happen. Microsoft may yet manage to capture a significant market share if they get the business as well as technology and usability aspects right, who knows?

And, a final note to Tesco and Future Platforms - I don't want my grocery shopping to be exciting, I just want it to be as easy, convenient and useful for me as possible. What consumers want from an app depends on its nature and purpose, and developers should never forget that. "Fun" shouldn't always be the goal; but meeting your consumers' needs should be.

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Friday, 25 June 2010

Regent Street goes Girl Geek!

The recent Regent Street London Girl Geek shopping fest was a big success - many thanks to Judith Lewis and the other organisers and businesses involved.

Swarovski CRYSTALLIZED kindly provided a base for the GG in their upstairs lounge, where registration took place and participants were given their various shop discount vouchers. They also hosted a prize draw at 5.30 pm for those who'd managed to stay the course - not including feeble me.

The day was full of goodie goodness - the photo below is of my own haul. There weren't that many geeky goodies actually, apart from talks at Apple, demos at Bose, and a USB stick from Swarovski CRYSTALLIZED. There was a QR code hunt for those with iPhones or other QR code supporting smartphones. But having heard from others more diligent than me that scanning in the codes just led to the start of an even longer process, I wimpily didn't participate in that aspect, and confess I focused more on going round the shops than tweeting or snapping photos!

Nothing is pictured from tucked away little gem of a restaurant Tibit, but this vegetarian restaurant deserves an early mention because they very generously provided a free buffet lunch worth up to £15 to the first 50 Girl Geeks & hangers on to turn up there, including fresh fruit juice, soft drink or wine and even dessert (if you could squeeze it onto your plate). I could, quelle surprise… See my separate Tibits vegetarian restaurant review, I'm definitely going to be eating there again.

Dessert (or rather more dessert) for me was delicious ice cream from Freggo - now that's what I call ice cream, and you can take my word for it, I'm an ice cream connoisseur, I even prefer it to chocolate, so I would know! They offered Girl Geeks 2 huge scoops, each one tub-sized, and I had a truly wicked dulce leche with banana split, so rich a treat I couldn't finish 2 whole scoops. Again, I'll be back. This is the real stuff.

The schedule officially started at 11 am with a presentation at the Apple Store, who made their presentation area available for talks by Jess Greenwood of Contagious and Vikki Chowney of Reputation Online on "The Internet of Things: Digital Cows and the ways in which online behaviours are influencing the real world".

The presentation was a canter through all sorts of things from The Newspaper Club (DIY newspapers) and RFID tagging of cows in Ohio, to stickybits ("A fun and social way to attach digital content to real world objects", the site says) used by Pepsi in their "official bits", pointinside "indoor smart maps" for people to peek inside stores on their iPhones, Apple's Square mobile payment system, the spread of the "points ecology" from gaming to weight watchers, and Ford's digital dashboard where a virtual plant grows more the more green your driving (see Wired's article and photo on this - from 2008!). They used the cool Prezi presentation software, there's a limited free version available.

Other freebies, all pictured above except the discounted shirts, included:

  1. an interesting 15 minute demo in Bose's special little theatre room, of their elegant compact home system (starting price £2500). Bose also gave away a shoulder bag with silver document case and Bose mug - apparently there was a Bose T shirt too but there wasn't one in my pack, I guess they ran out!
  2. a lovely mug with monogrammed initial from Anthropologie, who offered a choice of large, small or two-layer design mugs to Girl Geeks - dishwasher and microwave safe too!
  3. a glass of champagne, a pair of cufflinks and 20% off their shirts for the day from Hawes & Curtis - a great deal, with 3 decent office-suitable shirts at £70 which after the special discount ended up costing just £50 odd for the 3!
  4. a twinkly crystal 2GB USB stick from Swarovski CRYSTALLIZED, pictured below, plus a membership card for their "Be Unlimited All Access Artistic Club". Whatever that is…

  5. an organic chocolate bar and (I skipped this) a hand massage from The Organic Pharmacy
  6. a chocolate strawberry and 2 other chocs of your choice from Godiva
  7. skincare and bodywash samples from Ren at Liberty's - apparently there was a Girl Geek stampede for those in the morning!
  8. a Crazee Cube game from a pirate standing outside Hamleys. I'd have taken his photo but he took mine first.
  9. a Regent Street shopping booklet and VIP privilege shopping card for 1 year of discounts (mostly 10%) at several Regent Street shops (see scanned list below), even many which didn't offer vouchers for the day, including Aquascutum, Austin Reed & Country Casuals, Bose (5% only), Clarks, Habitat, Hawes & Curtis, Hobbs, Jaeger, Mappin & Webb, Molton Brown, Uniqlo, Viyella, even pan Asian restaurant Cocoon (though sadly not Tibits), Toni & Guy and karaoke at Lucky Voice (not just the online version, on which see my Lucky Voice review!). Click the pic below for a more readable enlarged version.

There's a Regent Street walking tour app you can get from Apple's online store too, if you have an iPhone.

Sadly alcohol makes me feel ill, I feel the cold very easily, perfume makes me sneeze and my nail polish colour of choice is bright red. So I donated to other Girl Geeks my vouchers for cocktails at Hilton's Courthouse Hotel Doubletree and the National Geographic (with its freezing chamber which I wasn't going to go anywhere near), green and gray nail polish from The Beauty Lounge, and scent libraries from Penhaligon's (apparently it wasn't just a "library", they gave away free perfume too).

Putting on this event was a very clever marketing move by the Regent Street Association. The freebies they gave out probably cost them much less than an advertising campaign, and the participating businesses got some 50 or 60 people through the door who in some cases might otherwise not even have known about them (I'd not seen, let alone been to, many of those stores before, myself).

The only small issue perhaps was that limiting the goodies to the first 50 people only (in most cases) meant that people were tending to race around trying to pick up their freebies before the stores ran out. If the goal was to get people to spend some time in the stores, not just run in and out again, it would have been far better to limit the registrations for the event to 50. That would have ensured all participants were confident that they would get their Girl Geek goodies (except in the case of 1 store which only offered 30 items), so they could feel comfortable taking their time browsing and hopefully buying more stuff in the participating stores.

And also, in the afternoon I was wishing someone had provided a voucher for a coffee!

It was a novel idea, very well planned and executed, and I think the day worked out excellently for all involved. I've always preferred Regent Street to Oxford Street, and the day very much confirmed me in my view.

Thanks again to Judith and the other Girl Geek organisers, and of course the Regent Street Association and participating businesses. (The Regent Street Online site search function is broken though, use Google, add a space then your search term(s) at the end of what's in the search box on this page).

I'm definitely looking forward to next year's event.

If you missed out, join the London Girl Geek mailing list or subscribe to the feed to keep up with future events. Guys are allowed, but only if accompanied by a responsible Girl Geek!

There are Girl Geek events in other parts of the UK and indeed the world too.

Tibits restaurant review

I tried the superb Tibits vegetarian restaurant for the first time for lunch at the Regent Street Girl Geek shopping event. I thought it merited a separate review.

Before that event, I didn't even know about the tucked away Regent Street Food Quarter in the horseshoe-shaped Heddon Street off Lower Regent Street, let alone about this excellent restaurant.

I don't normally go for vegetarian food but I must say Tibit's fresh, high quality food was very satisfying indeed, even to a confirmed carnivore like me. Their lunch buffet counter offered some 30 or 40 different dishes, and that was just the savoury courses. They had a good variety of desserts too, from cheesecake to cubes of melon, pineapple and other fruit.

My favourite was the aubergine curry, but their buffet included food to suit all tastes, from salads, Oriental fried rice and other Asian concoctions to Middle Eastern vegetarian cuisine. Plus lots of different sauces and chutneys you could help yourself to.

I tried a little bit of most things. I can't recall all the many different types of dishes I heaped onto my plate but they certainly included several kinds of curries, spinach, potatoes, broccoli, beancurd etc. My favourite was the Indian aubergine curry.

The juice of the day, a mix of fresh strawberry and orange and apple (I think!), was delicious.

All for an equivalent of under £15, including the drink and dessert. A roll was free with the meal too. And as you can see from the screenshot photo, you can sit outside when the weather's nice.

Their pricing system is very sensible and helps minimise waste, involving weighing the food, so you can just take exactly the quantity you want and if you take less you pay less, it's not charged for by the plate or container.

The staff were also very helpful and friendly, attentive and efficient without being in yer face.

Tasty, healthy food, good service, great value for money, what's not to like? I'll definitely be back. (And, whether it puts you off or not, it seems some celebs like Tibits too…)

TELEPHONE 020 7758 4110 (they don't take reservations, you just turn up)
Opening hours
Monday - Wednesday 09:00 am - 11:00 pm
Thursday - Saturday 09:00 am - midnight
Sunday 11:30 am - 10:30 pm

Thursday, 24 June 2010

iPhone 4 deals in the UK have published a helpful table (scroll to the end of the webpage) comparing UK iPhone 4 deals, in order of total cost over the contract period.

Tesco seem the cheapest.

Not that I'm necessarily rushing to get one myself.

I'm not normally an Apple person. Their admittedly very clever marketing and ingenious brand imaging haven't succeeded yet in winning me over as I'm don't care that much about fashion and I don't like Apple's over-controlling and locked down approach, which takes away users' own power and control - from the way iTunes was originally DRM'd to the hilt (despite the availability of some iTunes files now in non-DRM form), to Apple's insistence on vetting all third party developer iPhone and iPad apps to their own arbitrary moralistic and possibly monopolistic criteria (as witness what happened initially with Simon Maddox's excellent and consumer-championing 0870 app) and taking an unreasonably long time to do it in too, to their refusal to support Flash (e.g. for viewing YouTube videos), and effectively trying to stop cross-platform mobile development. I think the US were right to start anti-trust probes into Apple.

But, having tried a friend's (older model) iPhone, whose soft onscreen keyboard is much more accurate and faster to use than the Android G1's soft keyboard, and having seen the huge range of iPhone apps available for free or at very reasonable prices, I have to say I'm just a little bit tempted…

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Cats in the sun

Neighbourhood cats, enjoying the relatively rare British sunshine while they can.

And waking up...!

Monday, 14 June 2010

3 Mifi: internet (almost) anywhere - improved model due out in July - preview

Three UK will soon be bringing out a new improved version of their Mifi device (which will be a Huawei E585), on 2 July 2010.

See my previous blog post on what's a Mifi, for those not familiar with it - basically it's a pocketable device which provides a mobile internet connection, via 3's mobile network, for any computer, iPad or iPod Touch etc that is wifi-enabled. And you can share the connection so that up to 5 devices can use it at the same time.

Last Thursday 3MobileBuzz hosted a demo and talk by 3's Mifi product manager Matt about the new Mifi, to which they kindly invited several bloggers including me. (I was mistaken in my previous blog post, I'd thought we would have trial devices to take away with us but we didn't, so I've updated the post.)

Above is a nice official photo of the new device, from the 3 press releases page (black front, silver-ish back).

And here's a rather wobblier photo of the new Mifi and old Mifi side by side (new one on the right), which I took at the event:

As you'll see, the size and shape of old and new models are pretty much identical.

What's new? The innards, the buttons and the screen info.

Other companies and PR/marketing firms would do well to take a leaf from the books of Three and 3MobileBuzz (run by 1000 Heads). Because they have actually listened to and acted on the feedback on the first device given by bloggers in reviews or via the Mifi Consumer Panel of which I was a member (see my post about their first Mifi model; I didn't blog all the issues with the device but gave them thoughts by email and in a feedback session.)

To try to deal with the main issues raised, which were chiefly to do with usability, they've improved the Mifi so that the E585:

  1. only has 1 button to turn it on and do all the connecting etc, yay (with the current E5830 model you have to press different buttons in order, very confusing and unnecessary) - so they call this model "one-touch", see this pic:

  2. has a much less confusing and more informative screen e.g. (if I'm not mistaken) info on SMS texts received

  3. can be used while it's being charged

  4. has a shorter charging-up time - currently the 1st charge takes about 10-12 hours, but the new device they said can be charged in only 8 hours, and subsequent shorter top-up charges again should take 70-80% the time needed for the current E5830 model

  5. allows access to its Dashboard controls and info via web browser for all main operating systems, which means Linux etc devices can now access it, see pic below which shows the Dashboard called up on a Linux notebook computer:

The pricing plans will be exactly the same as for the existing Mifi (see Three Mifi plans and tariffs). So if you were thinking of getting one, you might want to wait till 2 July.

3 do want to provide an upgrade path for existing Three Mifi users, but I don't have any info on the details yet.

No API yet, but hopefully that will come. And no hot pink or covers, either, sorry!

Added: there's no official specifications sheet yet but here's some specs info on the E585, thanks to 3 Monkeys (who deal with 3's media releases):

Form Factor Dongle-like, no external antenna connector
Weight & size 95.5mm x 49.0mm x 14.1mm, 90g
Radio Chipset Qualcomm MSM7225 (sw: AMSS7625) coupled with QCT RTR6285 RF chip.
Bands 2100/900 WCDMA & Quad-band GSM
Receiver Type 3 (Equalizer + Rx Diversity)
Power Class 3 (+24dBm)
Radio Access capabilities HSDPA cat.8 (7.2Mbps)/HSUPA cat.6 (5.76Mbps). 3G (384kbps), EDGE, GPRS class B (DTM MS-class 10)
WiFi chipset Atheros AR6002G
WiFi protocols 802.11b/g (max throughput limited to 10Mbps)
Storage memory microSD slot (up to 32GB supported)
Connectivity microUSB 2.0 High speed (480 Mbps)
Messaging support Support concatenated SMS (2048 chr)
Display OLED
Battery capacity 1500m Ah

Now for some trivia:

  • bloggers were ferried to the session from train/Tube stations via rickshaw. I have only one wifi device which I can (hopefully…) trust myself not to drop when trying to input a wireless key whilst crammed up against 2 other passengers in the back of a rickshaw that's constantly having to take evasive action to avoid being run over by buses, vans etc, but as I didn't know in advance that they were going to challenge us to actually try to use the new Mifi with a device during the journey, sadly I didn't bring it with me!

  • as well as providing some finger food, they made lovely cakes customised for each of the invited bloggers. Here's the one for ACE, next to one of the Three Mifi cakes. Tasty they were too.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Adobe Reader, Flash, Acrobat security issue - update / delete ASAP

There's been another critical security vulnerability with Flash (SWF) affecting Adobe products like Flash Player, Reader, Acrobat and possibly others like Photoshop and Fireworks, fo all types of computers whether running Windows, Mac or Linux.

It could enable bad hackers to take over your computer, and has been increasingly exploited since it was first announced last week, with malicious websites using it to make the computers of unsuspecting visitors download malware like trojans. See the US-CERT report and e.g. BBC report and TrendLabs.

Given the widespread use of Acrobat Flash (e.g. for YouTube and web animations) and PDF files, this sort of thing is serious - indeed, according to a Symantec internet security threat report published in April 2010, the bad guys are now targeting Acrobat Reader more than anything else these days: 49% of all web-based attacks made use of infected PDF files (next 3 were vulnerabilities with Windows and Internet Explorer).

How to protect your computer

Flash Player, Adobe AIR - Adobe have recently released a security update for these products. You ought to update them via auto-update or downloading Flash Player and (if you use AIR) downloading AIR.

Adobe Reader, Adobe Acrobat - there are instructions here with the fixes or workarounds for the main operating systems, Mac and Linux as well as Windows. Windows users need to delete or rename the Adobe authplay.dll files - one for Reader (which most people have), one for Acrobat (which only some people have).

Note however that doing that will result in a crash or error message when you open a PDF file containing Flash SWF content - which isn't that common, so it seems worth it. Hopefully when Adobe issue an update for these products it'll all be sorted.

If you're a Windows user, to save time you can click on the following links in order to open the appropriate folder fast, then find authplay.dll in it and delete or rename it (if those folders aren't used on your computer, try searching for the filename in Windows Explorer):

Note: if clicking these links doesn't work, such as where your system is set to open URLs in a browser other than Internet Explorer (e.g. I've previously blogged how to get Outlook links to open in Firefox instead of Internet Explorer), you'll have to copy and paste the link into the Internet Explorer address bar and then hit Go or Enter. Don't worry, those links only let you access your own local system, neither I nor anyone else can use them to mess with your computer!

New Windows XP security issue - fix for non-geeks

For those with Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 there's a recently discovered security issue involving Windows Help and Support Center which could allow bad hackers to take over your computer. For this one, though, you're OK if you're on Vista or Windows 7.

Microsoft said "This vulnerability could allow remote code execution if a user views a specially crafted Web page using a Web browser or clicks a specially crafted link in an e-mail message." (See also this Microsoft blog post.)

How to fix the vulnerability

This zero day vulnerability doesn't seem to have been exploited yet, but for non-technical readers, the easiest way to protect your computer is to use this automated hotfix from Microsoft (direct link). That page also contains a link to undo or disable the fix as and when a permanent security update is produced and rolled out by Microsoft.

It's more of a workaround than a fix, and be warned that doing that may block innocuous activity, e.g. some of your Control Panel links may stop working. (You could undo the fix temporarily then re-enable it when you're done, perhaps!)

Incidentally the way this issue was reported by a Google security researcher (full details were published before a fix was found) has raised some hackles at Microsoft in relation to "responsible disclosure" of security vulnerabilities.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Nokia N900, Three's new mifi - have you any questions?

CORRECTION - the Mifi meeting was just a demo, we didn't get any devices to trial, my mistake. If I do manage to get a trial device I'll blog it. But you can still ask questions about the N900 if interested.

I'm going to be trialling, separately:

If anyone has any queries about either device, or about the 3 Mifi service the N900, just post a comment or email me via the email address in the sidebar.

Reviews will be forthcoming in a few weeks, and I'll do my best to address in them any questions you may raise.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Thunderbird not responding? - possible fix

Recently my hard drive had been making strange struggling noises a lot when I was trying to use the free Mozilla Thunderbird email program, and Thunderbird would often freeze and hang, showing "Not responding".

The problem, in my case at least, was solved by closing Thunderbird, then deleting all the *.msf files in my Thunderbird Profiles folder (within both the Local Folders subfolder and the smart mailboxes subfolder) as per this fix (using this to find my profiles folder). Hope this troubleshooting pointer helps others.

Added - try deleting those files in both the Mail subfolder and the ImapMail subfolder.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Blogger: do usability study, get $75

Team Blogger are going to conduct several usability studies of 1 hour each between 17 and 24 June 2010, via phone and broadband computer connection. (Interestingly you have to have Windows 7, Vista, 2000 or XP for the session - not Mac or Linux, despite Google reportedly deciding to stop using Windows internally due to supposed security concerns!)

It seems from the sign-up form that you don't even have to be a current Blogger user. Needless to say, you don't have to live near Google's California offices.

If you'd like to help improve Blogger do fill in the form (for age 18 & up only), and if you get picked to take part they'll give you $75 in Amex gift checks for your trouble. Note that they'll be recording the sessions. More FAQs here. No guarantee they'll select everyone who signs up, of course - they aim to get a mix of people - but no harm signing up!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

How to play Google Pacman - rules, tips

It's excellent news that Google decided to keep their Pacman game going.

You can carry on playing it here (or click the image above). Not so good news for the world's productivity, according to the BBC!

I confess that like this guy I was initially stumped about how to play it as I tried dragging it with the mouse at first. The comments on his video typify a certain approach to technology which I feel is deplorable - rant follows at the end.

So the step by step:

  1. Go to Google Pacman game.
  2. For those who've never played it before (and yes they do exist, like the friend whose question to me triggered this blog post), see the rules on game play in Wikipedia.
  3. In brief, eat up all the dots before you get eaten by the coloured monsters - some move faster than others, watch out for the red and pink ones! You have 3 lives. Eat a blinking pink dot and the monsters turn blue, and while they're blue they can't eat you but you can eat them instead (and get points for that), and their little eyes fly back to the central box to be reincarnated another time. Sometimes the blue monsters flash to warn you that they're going to change back to their original colours, when they can eat you again. For extra points eat (run over) the blinking fruit etc that appears in the middle sometimes. Eat up all the dots, you get to start a new game (but with no extra lives, just the ones you had left before). There are "back doors" on the left and right, run through those and you'll come out the other side. More little fruits on the right stack up when you've won games (you start with one for free). Your score ratchets up in the numbers top left.
  4. To start playing - click "Insert Coin". (You're supposed to be able to wait a few seconds and it'll start, but I found that a bit erratic.)*
  5. To move the Pacman:
    1. Keyboard: use the cursor (arrow) keys.
      1. Tip: just tap once the arrow key for the direction you want it to go; you don't have to keep holding the key down.
      2. Tip: you can tap the key for the next direction in advance, e.g. if it's going right and you want it to go up next, you can tap the up arrow while it's still moving right and it'll take the next up, even though it's not reached the junction at the point when you tapped the up key. Makes it easier that you don't have to time it precisely to tap the exact moment it reaches the junction!
    2. Mouse: click "on the maze", Google said. What they really mean is, click once to the left of the Pacman if you want it to go left, to its right if you want it to go right, etc. But there has to be a clear straight line of movement between the Pacman and where you want it to go (you can't make it go round a corner with one click, you have to click twice!). Whereas with the arrow keys you can tap a key in advance for the next direction you want it to go so control is much better with the cursor keys. So it's really such a good idea to use the mouse.
  6. To mute the sounds: click the little speaker icon bottom left. X next to it and greyed out means it's been muted. Click it again to unmute.


Beating the monsters. As the Wikipedia article points out, the monsters do move in a set way and if you've the time to spare you can probably work out a pattern of movement to maximise your chances of winning and getting the most points! You can lurk near a flashing pink dot till ghost monsters are near you before eating the pink dot, so you can catch the monsters before they can run away too far.

Two players. There's a two player game option as an "Easter egg" - click "Insert Coin" again to get a second "Mrs Pacman" (and separate scores for 1 up and 2 up). To move Mrs Pacman, use the w a s d keys (w=up, a=left, s=down, d=right). So 2 people can sit to the right and left of the keyboard and play at the same time! Be warned, if one gets eaten, both die.

iPhone, iPad, Android. Word is this works on iPhone & iPad too - see this video. I also tried it on my Android T-Mobile G1 phone, and while you're supposed to be able to move it by swiping the screen (particularly black margins at the right and left of the playing area), I found it rather erratic in terms of responding - sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't!

Download. There's a download of the game for offline play too (via The Next Web). Unzip / extract the downloaded file and open "Play GooglePacman.html" to start the game.

Techno elitism - a little rant

I don't think it's necessarily obvious at all how to play Google's Pacman game.

Maybe I make too much of it, but to me this sort of thing smacks of a kind of techno-elitism, perhaps unconscious, which in my view ain't good. As regular readers know, I am very against some techies excluding people. Just because you don't understand tech jargon or unwritten tech rules doesn't mean you're stupid or not as good as those who do; it only means that you haven't learned the jargon or rules yet.

Some non-techies may try dragging the Pacman with the mouse. That of course doesn't work. The j and k keys, which Google seem to use for navigation e.g. in Google Reader, don't work either (they're what I tried first, myself). Yes the Google blog post says to use the arrow keys, but many average Google searchers won't think of looking there.

Remember, when asked what is a browser, most people didn't know - indeed, when asked what browser they use, I've found myself that a lot of people say "I use Google"! They shouldn't be excluded from using the internet - or from playing Google Pacman.