UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

This Year’s Technology That Has Blown Me Away

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 Jul 2009

About Bathcamp

The history of the Bathcamp is described by Mike Ellis on the Bathcamp Ning service:

Back on 13/14th September 2008, we ran a BarCamp in Bath called – obviously – BathCamp. It was a fun event and brought together a bunch of local (and some not-so-local) people who talked about a range of interesting stuff. Some of it was geeky, some of it wasn’t. You can read more about BathCamp over on the blog or see some Flickr pics.

After the event, I had a think about what we could do to keep the momentum of BathCamp going, without (necessarily!) having to organise another BarCamp any day soon. I did a survey, and a large bunch of people seemed interested in meeting up more regularly.

Last night’s  Bathcamp, held in conjunction with the Bath-based Carsonified company, was entitled “BathCamponified: 3 minutes, one technology…“. The task which the Bathcamp participants were invited to take was to identify “the  one technology that has blown you away more than any other in the last year, and [describe] why?“. The challenge was  in three minutes or less to “tell us about your chosen technology: why it has changed your life, the way you work or ways in which it has improved the world“. As there was a promise of a free bar and a prize I decided to miss my normal Wednesday night rapper sword practice and summarise the one technology which has changed my life this year. For those of you who weren’t there, here is a summary of the script I’ve prepared.

The Technology That Has Transformed My Life in 2009

As there’s a prize at stake I’ve decided to go for a crowd-pleaser for the geeky Bathcamp audience. It’s a technology that is close to my heart. It is [takes phone from shirt pocket] my HTC Magic Android mobile phone.

And as I’m sure you know it has an open source operating system. I decided to get the phone after reading a blog post about it written by Dave Flanders who works for the JISC. Dave described the features of the phone, and concluded by arguing that you should get the phone for ethical reasons.

Now I have to confess – I’m not as ideologically pure as Dave – or, I suspect, many of you. I got the phone for free, and simply had to upgrade my voice-only contract from £15 to £20, which includes data. OK, the device which has transformed my life this year may be free (as in open source software) but is also cheap (as in the costs of the device and the monthly contract).

And I can download applications from anywhere. I avoid the censorship of the single source for applications. Yes I can download music with rude words which certain other companies will block for fear of offending the sensitivities of the American mid-west. This is a feature which I’m sure Mike Ellis (@dmje to his followers) will warmly endorse (warning, adult content!).

A camera, video camera and sound recorded were supplied with the phone. I’ve also installed GPS software, Shazam, an Augmented Reality browser and the Qik live-video streaming application. OK, I’ll admit, the results from Qik weren’t great. Well, they were pretty poor. Some might even say unusable. But its open source, so let’s not quibble about minor details.

I’ve also installed a couple of Twitter clients – so if I have problems with one I can always use the other. I should apologise, by the way. If you follow me (briankelly) on Twitter and you sometimes see a half-composed or misspelled tweet I’m (probably) not drunk – it’s just the Magic’s virtual keyboard and annoying auto-correct feature. Oops, sorry, I’m getting a bit off-message. It’s probably my fault – I’ve got the wrong size fingers for the phone or I’ve got used to tweeting on my iPod Touch.

I ought to confess that I also own an iPod Touch. It’s easy to use. I can easily install new applications. It has WiFi, so I can connect to the Internet. I can – and indeed have – installed Skype, which I used when I was in Australia earlier this year.

Now it did occur to me that if you were to take the telephony aspect of the Android device and couple it with the usability of the iPod Touch, you could create a market leader. But that, I fear,would be dangerous. The ease of use would appeal to the naive and gullible. But us geeks know about the dangers of walled gardens, single providers of hardware and device lock-in to single network providers. We know we don’t want to unleash a twenty-first century Microsoft into the mobile world.

And although we may be geeks, we also care about non-geeks – so we know that ‘jail-breaking’ isn’t an ethical or scalable solution to vendor lock-in.

So join in with me and rejoice in the technology which has blown me away this year.

Android error messageEmbrace the system error messages which pop up from time to time. These remind you that your phone is a computer and not a fashion accessory! Smile, as I did, when I upgraded the NewsRob RSS reader at the message “Version 2.5.1 Fixed an issue where Mark All Read marked too many articles read“.

Exercise your brain: see if you can work out how to use the Augmented Reality app.

Remember the Android device is for clever people!

Become part of a thriving community: tell me how the application you find cool works and I’ll tell you about the application that I’ve eventually mastered.

Note My slides from last night are available on Slideshare. In addition a video clip of part of my talk is available on YouTube part 1 and part 2 (I’m afraid I was over the time limit as I was so passionate about the technology I described!.

But Seriously

I failed to win a prize last night (but congratulations to my colleague Julian Cheal who won a ticket to FOWD Tour Bristol) – I’d forgotten that most of the people at the event were proud owners of an iPhone!

But seriously, doesn’t the popularity of the iPhone amongst many software developers, including those who are supporters of open source software, tell us something about the limitations of open source software. And it’s not just me who feels the Android device is flawed – Tony Hirst recently commentedA few weeks ago, I got my first “real” mobile phone, an HTC Magic (don’t ask; suffice to say, I wish I’d got an iPhone:-(

As someone said last night, open source software might be fine for server applications, but the user interfaces often appear clunky. Does the open source development community or open source development processes fail when it comes to developing applications to be used by non-techies?

8 Responses to “This Year’s Technology That Has Blown Me Away”

  1. Joss Winn said

    Has the open source development process failed you, despite writing your post in WordPress? :-)

    Have you used a Windows Mobile phone recently? It’s a truly appalling user experience, even the new 6.5 version.

    There’s good and bad software everywhere. The Apple iPhone/iPod Touch is an exceptional device and I’d be reluctant to suggest that open source software development processes have failed because they haven’t yet matched Apple’s device (which runs on an open source BSD-based Darwin operating system).

  2. Hi Joss
    As you know, I’m a fan of the WordPress software, which is a great example of open source software.
    So I’m not critical of open source software per se – I just find myself continually disappointed with various glitches that I come across using various open source applications. I think there’s a need for much more open criticism of flawed open source applications in order to manage expectations and help improve the quality.

  3. Frank Norman said

    After reading this post on my HTC Magic I did try to leave a comment but I couldn’t see the comment box. The web browser on the phone is a bit funny sometimes. So I’ve had to wait till I got home and use my netbook.

    I have seen an iPhone up close and was very impressed. But I decided I didn’t want to be part of the dominant Apple hegemony and would rather be part of the Google hegemony. Also I have a rebellious streak and like to choose the non-conformist option, so I went for the HTC Magic nearly 3 months ago.

    I agree it’snot perfect. Part of that is not technical, but commercial. The music store on Android seems non-existent, at least for the music I like. My impression is that the application marketplace for the iPhone is also much more developed. I hope Android will catch up, but that’s hard o tell.

    I still love my Magic though, and love having a permanent mobile internet connection. And I’m proud to nail my ethical colours to the (mobile phone) mast.

  4. Dave said

    Yeah it’s pretty amazing how fast technology is advancing, every year theres some amazing new smartphone or other gadget I just need to buy.

  5. […] the warning against “rushing headlong’ into the latest open technology I fell into this trap personally in my purchase of my open source HTC Magic Android phone (I use my closed source iPod Touch when a […]

  6. […] made a similar point in a post on “This Year’s Technology That Has Blown Me Away” in which I compared the open environment of the HTC Magic phone and the Android operating […]

  7. […] “Web 2.0: Time To Stop Doing And Start Thinking” at Bathcamp 2008 and another on “This Year’s Technology That Has Blown Me Away last […]

  8. […] two years ago I wrote a post entitled This Year’s Technology That Has Blown Me Away. In the post I described how Bathcamp participants were invited to … identify “the one […]

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