All the best….

23 12 2008

Season’s Greetings!

Originally uploaded by badtimmy800

I hope everyone has a good Xmas/Chanukah/Solstice/Meal and a happy new year! This is one of the most Christmassy photos I’ve ever taken, so I decided to use it as an e-card.



Nokia Home Control Center: are we finally ready for the ‘smart home’?

22 12 2008

Full comment was originally published on Ovum’s Straight Talk Daily, 19 December 2008, and republished on theplatform on 4 February 2009.

On 27 November 2008 Nokia announced that it is developing a new product for controlling and linking together existing ‘smart home’ products from third-party manufacturers. The Home Control Center is based on a standard home gateway, and provides an open Linux-based platform for developers of smart home solutions to build on. Customers will be able to control their in-home systems via a single user interface on a mobile phone or Web browser.
Is now the time for the smart home?

The promise of a ‘smart home’ has been a long time coming, due partly to a lack of standard protocols for coordinating the various solutions on the market. Smart home technologies allow for remote monitoring and control of heating, lighting, home security, garden watering systems, configurable set-top boxes and many other uses, but existing solutions have had difficulty integrating the many possible products and use cases into a single point of control. The advantages of a smart home include significant potential savings in energy use (and associated costs), improved security and convenience for the user.

Nokia sees that the ability to monitor and control the home environment from a mobile device as an unfulfilled opportunity, and may well have picked the right time to launch this product. The combined effects of the credit crunch and climate change awareness give a powerful moral and financial incentive to cut home energy use. Better monitoring and control systems are one method of achieving this.

Ovum’s most recent consumer survey found that 68% of people rated energy efficiency as their main environmental concern when buying devices, ahead of products being made of recyclable materials, at 20%. Clearly there is consumer interest in products that improve household energy efficiency.

The ubiquity of home wireless networks lowers another barrier to the smart home, by eliminating the need for expensive custom in-building wiring, saving installation costs and increasing the flexibility and modularity of smart home systems.

Additionally, the rising popularity of open mobile platforms (not least Nokia’s own S60) and fast 3G devices means that handsets powerful enough to run such a control interface are reaching mass-market status. We expect this trend to continue as open mobile platforms become even more widespread in 2009.

Nokia wants its platform to be technology-agnostic
Nokia’s strategy for integrating the many proprietary third-party solutions is to provide a ‘dictionary’ that can translate the various technologies available into a standard language and provide a simple control interface. It is doing this by building an open Linux-based platform for third parties to build their own solutions onto (although the Home Control Center platform is not open source, rather it provides a number of open APIs). Gaining the support of existing product developers will be absolutely crucial if this platform approach is to be successful, and Nokia is investing in partnership programmes to encourage third-party support.

Nokia’s platform uses open APIs on top of a Linux kernel, which Nokia claims is largely technology-agnostic and allows for future expansion as new technologies emerge. This makes sense: Nokia is building a platform – not just a single solution – and needs to be able to adapt to future technologies, both standards-based and proprietary, if it wants to achieve its aims.

Although the Home Control Center gateway device is not yet ready for release, Nokia has announced some basic specifications: a router with WiFi (802.11n) and multiple Ethernet ports, 6GB of built-in storage and an SD card slot, and several USB ports. Expandability and connectivity are the key features. It can be configured with embedded cellular or vendor-specific radio access (including the common Z-wave home automation wireless standard), and Nokia is willing to explore dual-branding opportunities with partners.

Nokia’s experience with open platforms leaves it well placed 

Despite Nokia’s lack of experience in the smart home space, the company has good experience managing open platforms, which should stand it in good stead. The Home Control Center platform joins Nokia’s existing Linux-based Maemo platform (which runs on the N810 Web tablet) and the Symbian-based S60 platform, which runs on Nokia’s mid- to high-end mobile phones (and which will be made fully open source in mid-2009). Clearly Nokia sees value in building open platforms rather than closed proprietary solutions.

Nokia’s strong brand and existing channels to market, combined with this experience building platforms and managing developer communities, gives it a good chance of realising the smart home vision. Nevertheless, weaving together the many tangled threads of existing solutions will be a huge challenge.

Tim on Bloomberg

20 12 2008

Tim on Bloomberg

Originally uploaded by badtimmy800

Footage of my appearance on Bloomberg TV on 19 December. I was interviewed live on the prospects for the video games industry in 2009. It was my first live TV appearance, and if you know me well you’ll be able to see how nervous I was.

Please note: I have never covered the software market in any professional sense, and I definitely wasn’t expecting any questions on software market outlook!

My research on the games industry is focused on the hardware and services, much more technology-focused rather than the movements of the stockmarket and sales figures.

Anyway, I’ve done my first TV spot now, and it will only get easier from here.

Bad touchscreens and me

16 12 2008

Looks great, until you switch it on.

Looks great, until you switch it on.

Yesterday I tried to test a Samsung Omnia, to get a feel for this “iPhone killer” (uggghhh) and its interface. I haven’t had much experience using Windows Mobile touchscreen handsets, so I thought it would be a useful exercise when comparing to handsets running other OSes.

I aborted the test when I nearly threw the thing at the wall in frustration at such an unintuitive mess of an operating system and UI. Samsung has thrown some excellent features into the Omnia, and the industrial design is clean and attractive (if a little sterile). On paper the Omnia looks excellent: it has all the high-end bells and whistles – in fact it flays the iPhone and BlackBerry Storm for hardware features – 5MP camera; A-GPS; WiFi; HSDPA; plays DivX files, has a resistive touchscreen and Windows Mobile 6.1…. *pause*


Resistive touchscreen and Windows Mobile 6.1.

This non-responsive resistive touchscreen (as opposed to the capacitive type used on the iPhone), when combined with an operating system that wasn’t designed for finger inputs (the touch areas are often too small), is simply diabolical. Scrolling through menus using a finger resulted in a sequence of ignored touches, followed by accidentally launching random applications, followed by hunting around for one of the several randomly chosen methods of closing said application, then repeating.

Using a stylus was hardly any better, because it didn’t seem to scroll properly (although typing required the stylus because the on-screen keyboard is too small for fingers). So you have to guess whether to use your fingers or grope around for the stylus. Guesswork and frustration? Lost touches and hunting for the right way to close an app? Being unsure whether I’d sent an SMS or dialled the person’s number by accident? These are not the makings of a close bond between user and device.

Gentle reader, I was hating it.

The whole user experience is destroyed by the frustrating touchscreen response and inconsistent interface design, and any positive features of the hardware are disrupted by the awful time you’ll have trying to perform common tasks. When simple tasks become a mild form of torture, it’s time to admit that perhaps this device is not for me. This device demonstrates the importance of executing a good user experience, which goes beyond hardware features, in the overall usability of a device.

Within 8 hours of swapping my SIM into the Omnia, I gave up in frustration and went back to my BlackBerry Bold with a new-found respect. Maybe I could learn the quirks of the Omnia’s user interface and dodge the suckitude, but frankly I can’t be bothered. There are much better mobile platforms out there, so I’ll use one of them instead.

Amazon UK MP3 store is alive

3 12 2008

Amazon has finally launched its MP3 download store in the UK. This is good news, as it means there is another major player in the DRM-free music download market.

There are three key things that consumers deserve when buying music online:

  • DRM-free – DRM destroys the value for the purchaser and encourages illegal downloads.
  • High quality – Amazon’s downloads are VBR files encoded at around 256kbps. I would prefer a FLAC (or at least 320kbps AAC) option, but most peoples’ devices can’t play FLAC, so I can’t see this happening on a mainstream site soon.
  • Price – you should pay substantially less for digital downloads than for CDs. There are no manufacturing costs, and distribution costs are much less than for CDs. Some of this cost-saving should be passed on to consumers, as a compromise for receiving a lower-quality and intangible product.
Infected Mushroom - Vicious Delicious

Infected Mushroom - Vicious Delicious

So how does Amazon’s MP3 store stack up? The top-selling album today is the recent album by Kings of Leon – “Only By The Night”.

Amazon is selling the CD for £8.98, and the MP3 album is £3.00. I think an album for less than the cost of a pint at your local is reasonable, and not a bad way to try out music from bands you’re interested in but not a huge fan of (yet).

“Vicious Delicious” by Infected Mushroom is a less tasty £6.99 though, which doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me. Perhaps Amazon is using popular albums as loss-leaders, who knows? In any case, £7 for an MP3 version of an album seems too steep for the discerning consumer.

Amazon forces you to install a browser-based application, the “Amazon MP3 Downloader” to manage the download, but at least it works cross-platform so Mac users aren’t left out of the loop. I would prefer if it just sent a link to a .zip or .rar file but you can’t win them all, and I suppose Amazon wants a way to remind you to come back soon!

I’ll try to download some music when I get a chance, and see how it goes. In the meantime, I’m just pleased that another big player is having a crack at Apple’s dominance (I quite like Apple, but competition is good for us little people).

Technology is evil and must be stopped

1 12 2008
Good versus evil online!

Good versus evil online!

I used to love technology, but there’s been so much bad news recently where tech is the culprit that I think it’s time we gave up our mobiles, games consoles and internet connections for good. It’s ruining society!

Well, that’s not actually true, but there have been a few intances this week that have given me food for thought. I’ve written a series of posts discussing this week’s tabloid evidence:

So technology is responsible for murder, moral decay and the destruction of the environment. Let’s discuss.

The Internet is a filthy cesspit of depravity and moral turpitude (and must be stopped)

1 12 2008
The modern world is filthy!

The modern world is filthy!

There’s been a fairly heated debate recently in Aussie internet circles (follow Stilgherrian and efa_oz on Twitter for continued updates) about the merits failings of the Australian Government’s plot to censor the Internet. Thankfully it looks like Senator Conroy’s idiocy is doomed, thanks to the objections of the Greens and Liberals in the Senate (it’s a rare thing indeed for me to be agreeing with the Liberal Party, but there you go). The numerous technical issues with an ISP-level filter will be fatal to its successful implementation. It’s a colossal policy clusterfuck that will waste millions of dollars and irritate millions of people while degrading network speeds and eroding freedom and transparency (and I value my cognitive freedom extremely highly). Put that aside for a minute.

The debate has been interesting in terms of what it shows about perceptions of the Internet among web-illiterate people.

The discussion around whether or not we should have a filter, as opposed to whether we could implement one, shows that people are very afraid and convinced that the Internet is destroying society. But wait a minute, the Internet IS society! Like any society, it has its dark alleys. But it also has its friendly sharing, helpful teachers and caring communities, and demonising it as some sort of festering cesspit of moral deviance is hardly likely to encourage responsible and productive use of such a powerful resource.

It’s almost as if some people still think of the Internet as some abstract metaphysical “cyber” world that exists as some other layer of reality, spreading its oily terror/porn tentacles and corrupting the youth (remember what Socrates was accused of?) – but it’s not like that at all.

The Internet is real people having real conversations with other real people. In fact this is the problem – you can have a conversation with a real person (or many of them at once) far too easily – without the sanitising intermediaries in the traditional media (newspapers, talkback radio etc). The medium may have changed, but people are still dealing with people, and the dangers are similar (although nobody has yet been stabbed in a fight on an Internet forum). The government doesn’t censor other means of personal communication (the Internet is no longer a mass medium, it is a personal medium), why should it censor the Internet? To protect me from harm? Are we really that risk-averse?

Some key points about safety on the net:

  • Just as in real life, parents have to protect their children from dangers.
  • Just as in real life, you don’t have to visit the seedy part of town if you don’t want to.
  • Just as in real life, blocking a freeway doesn’t stop me driving on other roads (it will increase congestion though).
  • Just as in real life, the government has no right to tell me who I can and can’t talk to.
  • Jut as in real life, broken laws should be investigated and punished by the proper law enforcement officials and the legal establishment.

While it’s a truism that there is some dodgy stuff out there on t’Internet, it’s also true that you have to go looking for it. Just like real life! Sure, protect the children, but we’re not all children. Treating the citizens of Australia like kids that have stayed up past their bedtime is arrogant and offensive!

Clive Hamilton has revealed himself as a goose for not understanding what the Internet is and isn’t. He’s also revealed his sneering lack of respect for the opinions and freedoms of his fellow Australians. Think of the children? Clive, that’s shorthand for “shoddy logic”. You don’t have to be an unthinking libertarian to oppose state-sponsored stupidity.

Senator Conroy’s filter plan is supposed to go to live trials in December. Hopefully the inevitable technical failure of the trials, combined with evaporating political support for the plan (even child welfare groups think it’s a dumb idea), consigns this stupidity to the recycled paper bin.