UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for the ‘Gadgets’ Category

Buying a New Tablet (Useful for #BYOD4L)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 Jan 2014

The BYOD4L Online Event

On Saturday I bought a new tablet. On the same day I read Sheila MacNeill’s blog post on Getting set for #byod4L – what Sheila will be doing this week in which she described how this week she will “getting back into the MOOC saddle again with #byod4L“.

The BYOD4L (Bring Your Own Device For Learning) web site describes how this online event invites people with an interest in the use of one’s own mobile device for learning over the next five days to “bring your own devices for learning: an open course for students & teachers (facilitated, stand-alone, for other groups/courses)“.

My New Device

Before Christmas I had decided to get a new tablet device. I read about developments in the tablet marketplace and decided to get one in the January sales, as I read suggestions that after vendors announcement on new devices at the CES show we would see a reduction in the prices of current versions.

I had no particular platform in mind. I currently have an Android phone (a Galaxy Note 2) which I am happy with (despite my misgivings over the first generation of Android devices and the operating system).  But I also have an iPod Touch, which I was also happy with until it fell out of my short pocket while gardening in the summer and the screen was smashed). In addition for the past six months or so the desktop PC I use in my home office runs Windows 8 – and so the new generation of tablets running Windows 9 was also an option.

I kept an eye on the Hot UK Deals web site and was interested in deals for Android devices such as the Galaxy Note 10.01 (similar to my mobile phone), the Nexus 7 (good reviews) and the Sony Xperia Z 10.1 (waterproof, so I could tweet from the bath!) as well as Windows 8 tablets such as the Dell Venue 8, the Toshiba Encore 8.1 and the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2.

In the process of reading the reviews and identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the different models I realised that I was indifferent to the platform. The operating system functionality was similar across devices and the applications I intended to use (a web browser, a Twitter client, a note-taking app, a camera app, an app for storing content in the cloud, iPlayer, etc.) were available across all platforms; indeed my preferred apps (e.g. Chrome, Evernote and iPlayer) were also available across all platforms.

This reminded me of a tweet Mike Ellis posted a few weeks ago during a discussion about the merits of Android versus Apple mobile devices “Not sure about the “future is Android” thing. I think the future probably is “it doesn’t matter”“. I think I’ve shown that, for me, Mike was correct!

One significant decision I had to make was whether I wanted a 7/8″ or 10” device. In the end I decided I wanted a smaller device which was easier to carry and use in bed.

In the end I bought an iPad Mini which was being sold off at PC World. Ironically I spotted this on sale on Boxing Day and took my girlfriend to PC World where she bought the 64GB model for only £300. A few days after seeing the device I decided it was the one I wanted. Unfortunately PC World had sold out, but on Saturday I found that they had one on sale, although this was the 32 GB, WiFi plus cell model. But I’m happy with the device.

Creating Content

If the tools I intend to use are similar across platforms, the differences across the platforms seem to be how I create content. It was for this reason that I looked into the Windows RT platform, and devices with built-in keyboards. However these devices were expensive and I decided that, despite my comments that I am platform-agnostic, I did not want to purchase a Windows RT device since this seems to be an evolutionary dead end, with the low volume of sales leading to a reluctance for software developers to invest effort in developing apps for the platform.

I decided to purchase a Bluetooth keyboard and case for my iPad. But I wonder what other approaches to creating content will be relevant. I decided that the quality of the tablet’s camera wasn’t a factor (my phone has a decent camera and I also have a camera that I can use as a camera :-) But I’m wondering whether to get a stylus – I’d welcome comments on how useful a stylus is, how it could be used and which one to purchase.

I also decided that voice recording wasn’t a factor in selecting a tablet as I suspect that they are all much-of-a-muchness. But what of voice control of a device, such as Siri and equivalent approaches on Android devices? Although I have tried out these technologies I haven’t used them in anger. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has found voice input to be important.

Selection of Apps

If my decision on selection of a tablet came down primarily to price, the more difficult decision is probably which apps to install on my tablet.

Facebook question on_ipad appsWhile waiting for the iPad to charge I asked for advice from my Facebook network.  I was pleased to receive 30 responses, which include the following recommended apps:

Adobe Reader, ArtRage, Blipfoto, Browzine, City Mapper, Evernote, Facebook, Feedly, Flipboard, ForeverMap, Goodreader,  Good Beer Guide,  Google Drive, Google Authenticator, Google+, Instapaper, iPlayer, iSSH, Kindle, LinkedIn,  Movie Vault, Notability, Pheed, Photosynth, Pocket, Procreate, Puffin (for Flash), Rebelmouse,  Tripit, Tuneln Radio, Simplenote, Skitch, Snapseed, Train Times, Triposo, Tweetbot, Units, WhatsApp, Wikipanion, YouTube, Zinio and Zite.

These are all free, I think, so making my tablet a useful device does not appear to mean that there are any additional costs. And it was thanks to my Facebook connections that I was able to get these suggestions.

Your Thoughts

Is my platform agnosticism, unusual, I wonder, or are Apple and Android ‘fanboys’ still in the majority? Will Windows 8 grow in popularity and am I correct in my thoughts that Windows RT will not gain significant market share? These questions may well be relevant for those involved in mobile development work, in choosing which platforms to provide apps for. What are your thoughts?



Posted in Gadgets | 8 Comments »

How can universities ensure that they dispose of their unwanted IT equipment in a green and socially responsible way?

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 26 Dec 2011

Christmas is a time for sharing and thinking of others. In this guest blog post I’m pleased to provide a forum for Anja ffrench, Director of Marketing and Communications at Computer Aid International. I met Anja at the recent Computer Weekly Social Media Awards and we discussed ways in which the importance of universities could ensure that their unwanted IT equipment could be disposed in a green and socially responsible way. Whilst I’m sure most universities will have appropriate policies and procedures in place, I would like to use this opportunity to raise the visibility of the Computer Aid International.

The Environmental Cost of using Computers

At every step of the PCs product life-cycle carbon footprints are left behind, during the initial extraction of minerals from the environment; the processing of raw materials; production of sub-components; PC assembly and manufacture; global distribution; and power consumption in usage.

The production of every PC requires 10 times its own weight in fossil fuels. According to empirical research published by Williams and Kerr from the UN University in Tokyo, the average PC requires 240kg of fossil fuels, 22kg of chemicals and 1,500kg of water. That’s over 1.7 metric tonnes of materials consumed to produce each and every PC. PCs require so much energy and materials because of the complex internal structure of microchips.

Why it is better to reuse rather than recycle

Given the substantial environmental cost of production it important we recover the full productive value of every PC through reuse before eventually recycling it to recover parts and materials at its true end-of-life. A refurbished computer can provide at least another three years productive life.

How does the WEEE directive affect UK Universities?

Since July 2007 the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive has been in force. The WEEE directive is an EU initiative which aims to minimise the impact of electrical and electronic goods on the environment, by increasing reuse and recycling and reducing the amount of WEEE going to landfill.

The WEEE directive affects every organisation and business that uses electrical equipment in the workplace. The regulations cover all types of electrical and electronic equipment including the obvious computers, printers, fax machines and photocopiers, as well as fridges, kettles and electronic pencil sharpeners. The regulations state that business users are responsible, along with producers, for ensuring their WEEE is correctly treated and reprocessed. The regulations encourage the reuse of whole appliances over recycling. When you are disposing of your IT equipment you must ensure that it is sent to an organisation that has been approved by the Environment Agency to take in WEEE who will provide you with Waste Transfer Notes for your equipment.

Do I need to worry about data security?

Under the Data Protection Act 1998 it is your responsibility to destroy any data that may be stored on the machines. Just hitting the delete button is not enough to wipe the data. To ensure you are protected make sure any organisation you use to dispose of your IT equipment uses a professional data wiping solution that has been approved by CESG or similar.

An environmentally friendly and socially responsible solution to your unwanted IT equipment

Donating your unwanted IT equipment to a charity such as Computer Aid International is both environmentally friendly and socially responsible. You will be fully complying with the WEEE directive and benefiting from a professional low cost PC decommissioning service, which includes free UK Secret Services approved Ontrack Eraser data wiping.

Computer Aid is the world’s largest provider of professionally refurbished PCs to the not-for-profit sector in the developing world. It has been in the business of IT refurbishing for over 14 years. The charities aim is to reduce poverty through practical ICT solutions.

To date Computer Aid has provided just under 200,000 fully refurbished PCs and laptops – donated by UK universities and businesses – to where they are most needed in schools, hospitals and not-for-profit organisations in over 100 countries, predominantly in Africa and Latin America. In order for Computer Aid to continue with its work it relies on universities and companies donating their unwanted computers to them.

Schools and universities in the developing world using a PC professionally refurbished by Computer Aid will enjoy at least 3 years more productive PC use. This effectively doubles the life of a PC halving its environmental footprint whilst enabling some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the world to have access to computers.

Anja ffrench

Director of Marketing and Communications
Computer Aid International
10 Brunswick Industrial Park
Brunswick Way, London, N11 1JL
Registered Charity no. 1069256

Tel: +44 (0) 208 361 5540
Fax: +44 (0) 208 361 7051

Twitter: and


Computer Aid International is the world’s largest and most experienced not-for-profit provider of professionally refurbished PCs to developing countries. We have provided over 185,000 computers to educational institutions and not-for-profit organisations in over 100 different countries since 1998. Our aim is to reduce poverty through practical ICT solutions.

Posted in Gadgets, Guest-post | Leave a Comment »

Was I Wrong About Android?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 Aug 2011

Problems With Android Phones

Over 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 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“.

I took an ironical approach and described my frustrations with my HTC Magic Android phone. Although I was excited when I first purchased the phone in June 2009 I quickly became disillusioned with its poor usability, as also did Tony Hirst who commented “A 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:-(

A few months later, in November 2009, I wrote a post on Signals from CETIS09 and was rather sceptical about Bill Thompson’s enthusiasm for the Android operating system:

I have (fairly rapidly) gone through a period of excitement over my open source (Android) mobile phone (the camera application kept crashing on me a few days before the CETIS conference) and so felt Bill’s belief that the benefits of an open source environment would inevitably (within about 2 years, Bill suggested to me) deliver a better tool that the closed environment of today’s market leader, the iPhone.

I found myself agreeing with Mike Ellis’s post on Quality, functionality and openness which he wrote in May 2010 in which he told his readers:

I wanted to love Android. I wanted to embrace openness, turn my back on Apple’s rejection of free markets, join the crowd of developers shouting about this new paradigm.

I can’t.

Mike’s post generated an interesting discussion including comments from developers who felt they should prefer using an open source platform on their mobile phone but acknowledged Android’s limitation. As Richard Osbaldeston put it:

A long winded way of saying the Android phone felt like it’d been designed by a search engine company rather than one that’d spent the better part of 30 years making desirable, innovative consumer electronics and software?

This reflected my experiences of having used two Android phones and an iPod Touch. On occasions I ended up using the tethering capability on my Android phone to create a WiFi hot spot so that I could use my iPod Touch to access online resources rather than access them directly from my Android device!

Have Things Changed?

Having a blog can be valuable in providing a record of one’s views in the past and, potentially, in being able to demonstrate one’s foresightedness.  On the other hand old blog posts can also be embarrassing if your prediction for the future proves to be wrong!  So having acquired my third Android phone a few weeks ago  am I still in agreement with Mike Ellis regarding the undeniable ease-of-use of the iPhone or should I tell Bill Thompson that he was right and, two years after his predication, the Android phone has caught up with – and perhaps even surpassed, the iPhone?

The HTC Sensation

imageI recently intended to change my mobile contract from my current £20/month to a £10/month deal which provided the same amount of data but with less free minutes and text messages as I tend not to use much of my existing monthly allowance. However I found myself being offered a deal on the  HTC Sensation which meant I continued on my existing contract and , as I signed up for an additional deal, I didn’t have to pay anything for the phone :-)

The phone itself is a delight.  As described on the HTC Web site the phone is large (4.96″ x 2.57″) with a 4.3″ touch screen display. It is also powerful with a 1.2 GHz dual core CPU and 768 MB of RAM and 1Gb of phone memory.  I’ve added a 32 Gb microSD card and have been taking photos and videos of the recent Sidmouth and Bath Folk Festivals and of a recent evening visit to the Roman Baths.

The phone is running the Android 2.3.3 operating system and the HTC Sense 3.0 GUI. This has provided various tweaks (including support for Flash) which, in conjunction with the increase in processing power and storage capacity over my previous HTC phones, makes the phone a delight to use. I’ve also noticed that the increased size of the screen makes my iPod Touch screen look tiny.

I’ve had the phone for about a month now and I’m now embedded it in my daily working practices. I’ve subscribed to the Guardian and the Observer on the Kindle app which I now read on the bus travelling to work.  I’ve also purchased a couple of additional chargers which I use in the office and when travelling as the battery life of the phone is one if its weak points.  I also bought a portable battery pack so that I’ll be able to recharge the device if no power supply is available.

The phone does have some weaknesses, however.  I’ve not yet found an RSS reader which is as good as the Netnewswire app I’ve used on the iPod Touch and the lack of consistency in the user interface of the applications I’ve used compared with the iPod Touch can be irritating.  In addition the phone has crashed on me: after installing an application launcher which appeared to have conflicts with the HTC Sense GUI I was forced to open up the phone and remove the battery before the phone would reboot.  This reminded me of the days when the MS Windows operating system would crash. But, just as that no longer happens, I suspect that once I’ve installed  a stable set of applications on the phone this problem will disappear.


Was Bill Thomson right, has the Android phone surpassed the iPhone?  I think he may be right, but not because of the superiority of the Android operating system.  Rather, for me the improvements in the phone are due to the speed of the CPU, the increased size of the phone’s memory and the size of the screen.  The availability of the Android operating systems on multiple devices will have driven the competition, as can be seen by the comparisons between the HTC Sensation and the Galaxy S2.  In addition to the improvements in the hardware I also like the phone since it was free, unlike the hundreds of pounds I would have to pay if I wanted an iPhone on a similar contract.

In many respects it seems that Android’s battles with the iPhone have parallels with Microsoft’s battles with Apple in the desktop market  over the past 20 years or so: while Apple have continued with a policy of lock-in to their hardware, the Android operating system can be used on multiple platforms – subject, sadly, to ongoing patent disputes).

But will I look in envy when colleagues get the iPhone 5 later this year, I wonder?

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Gadgets, Mobile | 4 Comments »

Openness? No Thanks, I’ll Have An iPad

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 Jan 2010

Apple IPadAfter month’s of speculation the iPad was announced yesterday And after a day in which many  Twitterers were responding to Steve Jobs’ announcement today we say the headlines in the press. The main photograph on the front page of The Daily Telegraph featured Steve Jobs with Apple’s latest creation and in an unusual display of agreement the technology correspondents of The Telegraph and The Guardian were in broad agreement: Claudine Beaumont, The Telegraph’s technology editor  described how her “first impressions of the device are largely positive. Apple has once again built a product that looks good and feels great in the hand, and the familiar user interface, borrowed from the iPhone and iPod touch, is perfectly suited to the bigger screen“. Meanwhile Bobbie Johnson, the Guardian technology correspondent felt that “For anyone who loves new technology, getting the first touch of a new Apple device is a little like laying hands on the Shroud of Turin, or seeing a unicorn: the first experience of a mythical object imbued with miraculous properties“.

We are now starting to see the blogging community giving their views. One of the first I saw was from Chris Sexton, IT Services director at the University of Sheffield. Her thoughts can be summarised in a few wordsyes, I am lusting to get my hands on one”.

So it’s a feel winner for the sector, then. And we can start to make plans for how we can exploit the potential of this device when the early adopters bring it into work and, a later date, how we can provide insitutional support for the device.

Or should we?  The Case against the iPad was made in a blog post by Timothy  B Lee.  Although Timothy is an Apple fan he is opposed to the closed nature of the iPad, in particular the app store which must be used to download new applications:  “The store is an unnecessary bottleneck in the app development process that limits the functionality of iPhone applications and discourages developers from adopting the platform. Apple has apparently chosen to extend this policy—as opposed to the more open Mac OS X policy—to the iPad.

I 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 system with the closed nature of the iPhone.

However the post, which summarised a talk I gave at a Bathcamp meeting last year, was a tongue-in-cheek commentary of the Android device which has many flaws – I use my iPod Touch whenever a WiFi network is available and only use my Android phone if I have to use the 3G network (or need to make a phone call).

So although I’m not a regular Apple user I do find my iPod Touch a great device which I use every day – andI also recently bought a second hand iMac which I now use as my main machine at home (and which I’m using to write this post). And I can understand the reasons why Chris Sexton is lusting after the iPad and appreciate the similar reactions which I have come across from various techies at work and on Twitter.

And yet these tend to be the same people who talk about openness and open source.  Perhaps those words are just used as code when seeking to knock Microsoft and aren’t meant to be applied as general principles. Or they might be felt to be regarded as important in an institutional context but are not felt to be relevant for personal choices.  But what does this mean to the users; those who aren’t early adopters but may feel that comments about openness, open standards and open source are used to suppress use choice?

Posted in Gadgets, openness | 18 Comments »

Viewing a WordPress Blog on a Mobile Device

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 Oct 2009

WordPress, in a post somewhat confusing entitled “The Hero Is In Your Pocket“,  have recently announced that they have “launch[ed] a couple of mobile themes that will automatically be displayed when your blog is accessed with a compatible mobile phone“.

Blog viewed on an iPod Touch mobile deviceThe new theme is now enabled by default on blogs, such as this one, which are hosted by And yes it does make blog posts much easier to read as the mobile interface has a less cluttered interface which, although unlikely to provide significant usability problems on a typical desktop computer, can be irritating on a mobile device, such as a iPhone or iPod Touch (which was used to capture the image of the blog which is illustrated).

Best of all is that this enhanced interface has been provided without the need for me to do anything – no software to be upgraded or new themes to install.

Posted in Blog, Gadgets | 3 Comments »

We Need Evidence – But What If We Don’t Like The Findings?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 Sep 2009

The Need For Evidence

We know that technologies have the potential to provide many benefits, but this potential is not necessarily also realised. We therefore need to gather evidence in order to inform our policies – perhaps to help us recognise that what seemed to be a great idea has actually not been delivered in practice, perhaps to make us aware of a need for greater advocacy and user engagement or perhaps for refining the approaches we initially took.

Usage Statistics For Mobile Devices

Such issues came to mind following a recent discussion on the website-info-mgt JISCMail list. The discussion began by addressing the question of whether institutions should be developing iPhone applications providing, for example, resources of interest to new students.

Following a discussion as to whether we should be developing generic applications for mobile devices and whether this could fail to exploit device specific features, especially features which might be particularly valuable for students with disabilities, David Bailey (Bath Spa University) put the discussion into context by providing statistics on access to his institutional Web site from various platforms.

His statistics revealed that 80.55% of visits to the Web site in the past month came from an MS Windows platform, 17.84% from the Apple Macintosh and 0.66% from a Linux platform, The figures for mobile devices were iPhone (0.44%), iPod (0.11%) and Symbian (0.10%) with the figures for mobile devices such as the Palm, Blackberry and Android and gaming devices such as the Wii and Playstation being less than 0.1%.

In response to this sharing of evidence a number of follow-up posts provided additional statistics:

Heriot-Watt: MS Windows (93.51%), Apple Macintosh (5.05%), Linux (0.67%), iPhone (0.34%), Symbian (012%) and iPod (0.11%) (see email).

Sunderland: MS Windows (92.4%), Apple Macintosh (5.7%) and Linux (0.7%). The figures for other devices were all less than 0.1% (see email).

Imperial College: MS Windows (91.69%), Apple Macintosh (6.9%), Linux (0.87%), iPhone (0.3%), Symbian (012%). The figures for other devices were all less than 0.1% (see email).

University of Warwick: MS Windows (89.19%), Apple Macintosh (8.4%), Linux (1.85%) and iPhone (0.25%). The figures for other devices were all less than 0.1% (see email).

Before reflecting on the implications of this evidence we need to be aware of the limitations of these figures: it reflects the experiences of only four institutions; the data is not necessarily based on institutional data and may reflect usage for departmental Web servers and the data reflects usage in the summer vacation. But having acknowledged these caveats, what might the implications be if this evidence does prove to be indicative of the wider higher educational community?


Ironically although the discussion on the website-info-mgt list began over access to institutional Web sites from mobile devices the data provides little evidence of significant usage by mobile devices. But the data does reveal patterns of desktop usage which are worthy of further consideration.

I suspect many of the Web and IT developers and support staff who have been critical of Microsoft over the years will be disappointed at the overwhelming popularity of the MS Windows platform for accessing the institutional Web sites described above. Should we now accept that MS Windows has won the battle for the desktop operating system environment? And at a time when, if the predictions are correct, we may see a reduction in staffing levels, do these figures suggest that the time and effort in testing Web sites on the Linux platform may not be justified? This isn’t to suggest that Web sites should be designed for the MS Windows platform, rather that the effort in testing and tweaking for little-used platforms may not be justified.

Of course an argument could be made that the figures suggest that there is no point in developing services for the mobile Web as the current levels of usage are very low. But the difference is that the desktop and laptop computer environment is now mature, whereas the mobile environment is new.

I think there is a debate to be had – and there is also, perhaps, the need to ask “Where did it go wrong? What happened to the diversity of operating systems? Where have the Mac users and Linux users gone?” Or perhaps they are still around, and simply aren’t visiting institutional Web sites. What do you think?

Posted in Gadgets | 14 Comments »

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?

Posted in Gadgets | 8 Comments »

The Ethical Mobile? (No, not the iPhone!)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 Jun 2009

Dave Flanders recently published a blog post which gave an Independent UK Hardware Review of HTC Magic (Vodaphone) vs HTC G1 (T-Mobile). The blog post (and embedded video clip)  made a case for the HTC Magic mobile phone (which uses Google’s Android open source operating system) in preference to Apple’s iPhone for several reasons and concluded with an ethical argument:

Ethical computing! <–! Last but certainly not least (IMHO)–> In an age of global financial crisis and corporate bastardising the technology we decide to spend our money on says a lot for how we want the world to turn out for the next generation.  In my opinion using an Open Source phone (like Android) says you want a world where we as a global community decide what we want, NOT one where a company decides how we want it.  Choice is yours, but this phone proves without a doubt that you can have both the ethical openness of Open Source while still having all the functionality and services of a proprietary company.  Truly, this could be the first time Open Source is the top of the stack and I can only hope it will stay this way (for a month or two anyways

Now a debate of the relative  merits of the iPhone and the Google Android device took place following my post on Google’s G1 Phone: “Innovation For Tech Heads” in September 2008 and a follow-up post on The Wow Factor, The Openness, The Developers Environment, … published the following month. That debate appeared to conclude with a concensus of the benefits of the usability of the iPhone, which outweighed the closed nature of the platform, the centralised Apple Store and the costs of the the iPhone.

Well I have now got myself a HTC Magic Android device. And have I selected this device based on the ethical considerations which Dave has raised? Of course not! I chose the HTC Magic phone as wanted a device which meant I could be always connected, and not tied to a WiFi network. And I was out of contract I was able to obtain the HTC Magic free-of-charge, with an increase of my monthly tariff from £15 to £20, which included the data rate.

And having had the device for a few days I’m enjoying it.  I’ve installed a variety of Android applications (all of them free) included an email client (K9), an RSS reader (NewsRob), a couple of GPS applications, a Twitter client (Twidroid), a barcode reader (to experiment with), Quikipedia (for cheating in pub quizzes), Skype, Shazam and Last.FM.

For me the deciding factors were the cost and usability – and the iPhone’s better usability isn’t enough to outweigh its costs. And although this might not be a fashionable comment to make in developers’ circles, the ethical issues which Dave has described have IMHO little to do with the selection of mobile phones. You just need to ask an iPhone user to see the truth of this.

Now where are the other HTC Magic users to chat to and discuss the cool apps to install?

Posted in Gadgets | 1 Comment »

The Wow Factor, The Openness, The Developers Environment, …

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 Oct 2008

It strikes me that the recent set of comments made to my post on “Google’s G1 Phone: “Innovation For Tech Heads” have wider applicability to the networked development environment.

To summarise some of the issues which were highlighted in the original Guardian review which I cited and have been expanded on in John Naughton’s Google’s Android could smash iPhone’s locked gateway” article published in Sunday’s Observer (28 September 2008):

The Wow factor: Yes, the iPhone clearly wins with its ‘wow’ factor, As the Guardian review admitted the Android phone lacks the “wow factor of the Apple device“.

The usability: The iPhone, like many Apple devices, also has its strengths in its ease-of-use. As Paul Walk has commented “I want a device which ‘just works’“.

The openness of the application environment: As John Naugton describes in his Google’s Android could smash iPhone’s locked gateway article, a strength of the Android device there’s “a row brewing inside Apple’s cosily walled garden“. It seems that “developers are beginning to resent what they see as the company’s dictatorial attitude”. As one commentator puts it: ‘Trying to discern ahead of time [and of development expenditures] what Apple will or won’t accept has become close to impossible, not only because Apple isn’t talking about it, but also because it won’t let anyone else talk about it. All apps store dealings with developers are covered by a non-disclosure agreement“‘.

The potential for power users: Now the geeks will argue that the iPhone’s walled-garden is a non-issue as it’s possible to ‘jail-break’ the device to allow the installation of applications which may not be available via the Apple store. However this approach is clearly not one which the majority of users would be happy with, and conflicts with the need for a device which ‘just works’.

The hardware environment: The iPhone, like Macintosh hardware, is only manufactured by Apple. The Andoid phone, in comparison, can be made by any manufacturer. This competition should help to bring down prices, which will be beneficial to the consumer (as Stuart Smith pointed out to make use of a ‘free’ iPhone “you are still looking about £810 over 18 months“). So much for social inclusion and widening participation!

Now as Mike Ellis argues “most users couldn’t give a stuff about the closed nature of their devices, applications OR data. Facebook, iPods, iPhone, any gaming console – the list goes on. These all seem to be pretty popular, however much us IT types continue to shout about the dangers of closedness.” And I think he’s right – the IT development community tends to focus on the backend development processes and policies which are not necessarily of great concern to the majority of users. But even if we accept John Naughton’s premise that ‘Google’s Android could smash iPhone’s locked gateway’ we need to emphasise the importance of word ‘could‘. It was not so long ago when people argued that Google’s Open Social widget environment would blow away the closed development environment provided by Facebook. But that, I would argue, hasn’t happened (and, indeed, Scott Wilson wrote a blog post back in November 2007 in which he described why he was singularly unimpressed by Open Social).  Let’s be honest and recognise that both the iPhone and Facebook are very popular with large numbers of users – and let’s acknowledge that the development community can learn from the popularity of these closed environments.

And let’s remember the point Mike Ellis made when he said “I find it sad when developers seem to think that any real users actually *care* about what’s under the hood ;-)“.   But why do I think that Mike isn’t just referring to the mobile phone debate when he makes this point?

Posted in Gadgets | 7 Comments »

Google’s G1 Phone: “Innovation For Tech Heads”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 Sep 2008

Yesterday’s Guardian (24 September 2008) contains an article on the release of the Google G1 phone. An accompanying review, entitled “Innovation For Tech Heads” describes how the technology is “as good if not in some cases better” than the iPhone, and mentions G1’s strengths in its camera and download speed. Most importantly, though, the article describes how “The real difference between the two devices … is likely to come from the openness of Google’s operating system, Android, which allows tech-heads to design ‘widgets’ for the phone.” The article does concede that the phone lacks the “wow factor of the Apple device“.

Now I’m sure that most readers of this blog will understand the benefits provided by openness and the dangers of being locked into a proprietary system – whether this is Facebook, Microsoft or Apple’s iPhone. Some readers with a pragmatic view of the world may have bought an iPhone as at the time there wasn’t an equivalent open system. But now that the G1 device is available, which provides, unlike the iPhone, an open environment for accessing widgets, that argument is no longer valid. So we’ll soon be seeing those iPhone users who have strong beliefs in open systems and have criticised the closed nature of various Web 2.0 services seeking to move their contract, won’t we?  And this should include many of the people I follow on Twitter who became very excited when they purchsed their iPhone.

Is this a likely scenario? Isn’t it the case that IT professionals and policies makers can be impressed by the ‘wow’ factor  – this isn’t restricted young people who we sometimes accuse of being impressed by the latest ‘fad’.  And don’t we all have to make judgements about openness, cost, functionality and, indeed, personal preferences.  So if the iPhone, G1 or whatever other new device comes along and provides a valuable personal learning environment, personal research environment, personal work environment and personal social environment for the owner of the device, then shouldn’t we accept that?

And if we accept that argument for the device that we have in our hand, then doesn’t it also apply to the equivalent service which we have accept via our fingertips- whether this is our preferred social networking environment or aggregation tool? Or to put it another way, when should openness trump personal preferences?

(Disclaimer I’m the owner of a Nokia N95 with a short battery life!)

Posted in Gadgets | Tagged: , | 13 Comments »

Baggy Trousers

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 Feb 2008

Yesterday in a post on Is That A Pistol In Your Pocket? I wondered what type of mobile devices we would be carrying on our person in 5 years time. James Clay “wonder[ed] if the devices will get bigger rather than smaller?” as the screen size is a factor for viewing images and watching movies and Mike Ellis suggested that “we’ll probably laugh at the number of devices we carry now“.

Paul Walk has admitted to a change in his views over the years:

I had a long running argument with a previous boss where he argued that we just needed all our gadgets integrated into one device, while I argued for smaller, focussed gadgets which could inter-operate with something like Bluetooth. The other day I bought an iPhone. He was right. I was wrong. I’m happy -)

A very interesting comment. In a technical environment I suspect James, Mike, Paul and myself see the advantages of the coupling of dedicated devices (as with networked applications) which could be coupled – and I suspect that was our view when we purchased HiFi separates rather than a music centre when we were younger (for example I still have my NAD amplifier, Dual turntable, Technics cassette player and Vision loudspeakers).

But Paul, who is a Mac fan, has changed his views. I can see the advantages of the single system (and I now listen to my music on my Sony combined DVD/CD player). But in other respects I prefer the flexibility of buying new devices as they come available and upgrading them as needed (I suspect a GPS device may be next).

But how will I carry all of these devices? I suspect I’ll be wearing baggy trousers in the future. Paul, on the other hand, may be wearing the tight-fitting Star Trek uniforms which, in the 1960s, we predicted would be the norm in the 21st century. Madness? Perhaps, but it’s interesting to speculate on how mobile devices and pervasive networks may affect what we wear.

Posted in Gadgets | 6 Comments »

Is That A Pistol In Your Pocket?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 Feb 2008

Mae West asked “Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?” Last night when I went out rapper sword dancing around the pubs in Bath the bulges in my pocket were due to my Casio Ex-Z1080 digital camera, Nokia N95 phone and iPod MP3 player.

My mobile devicesIt struck me that the processing power, storage capacity and functionality that these devices would have been in the realm of science fiction when I was younger (Star Trek comes to mind). I was carrying around in my pocket a iPod which has an 80 hard disk drive, a camera with a  2Gb SD card and a mobile phone with a 512 Mb micro SD card. All three devices play videos,  display photos and play music, the phone and the camera are content capture devices which can be used for taking photos and recording video and sound.  In addition, as Phil Wilson has described recently, the Nokia N95 phone is also has WiFi, GPS support and provides a Podcast client and can be used to watch TV and listen to the radio (if you are prepared to pay the network charges).

When, I wonder, were the processing power, storage and functionality of such devices only available on expensive, state-of-the-art desktop computers?  And what will the bulges in our pockets be capable of providing in 5 years time?  Any suggestions?

Posted in Gadgets | 13 Comments »

Using Your WiFi Network Whilst In Your Pyjamas

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 Oct 2007

You have a WiFi network at home. You also have a mobile device which supports WIFi – perhaps a PDA or a mobile phone? How can you exploit these two technologies before you’ve set off to work?

I have started to get into the habit of, after getting up, switching on my mobile phone and refreshing the RSS feeds I’ve subscribed to. As I don’t intend to use my mobile for serious blog reading activities, I have subscribed to the RSS feeds for the comments for this blog. This enables me to spot if there any comments I need to respond to while I’m on this bus into work.

Am I unusual in using my network while I’m still in my pyjamas?

Posted in Gadgets | 15 Comments »

The Future As Today, But More So

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 Sep 2007

My Background

When I was young we didn’t have a TV and it wasn’t until I was 7 or so that my family caught up, and I discovered why my school friends were so excited about Doctor Who. And at that time we didn’t have a telephone, so when my parents wanted to ring their friends, it involved a trip to the public telephone kiosk opposite our house, until we got a phone installed (which, of course, was initially was on a shared party line). But we never had a family car.

In more recent years I can recall being dismissive of yuppies and business men and their very large mobile phones.

Nowadays, of course, the TV, the landline, the car and the mobile phone are mainstream consumer products, and households without them are in a minority.

And I find myself in a position in which I’m no longer behind the times, but am an early adopter of various examples of the current generation of technological innovations. I was an early adopter of digital TV (when Freeview was known as OnDigital) and I now have an iPod and a Nokia N95 mobile phone, which can be use as a digital camera, a video camera, a sound recorder, a music player, a GPS device, a radio, a TV, and, last but not least, a telephone. Truly, it seems, Star Trek technology has arrived as a consumer product (well, the Star Trek communicator at least).

So just as, as a child, I eventually caught up with my peers with their 405 line black and white TV, I think we’ll see the devices I am currently using becoming ubiquitous in a few years time, as the prices come down, features become even richer, interfaces simpler and, hopefully, battery life improved.

Envisaging the Future

Envisaging the future as the same as today, with the general population catching up with the early adopters, what might we predict?  Let’s look at some of the things that I can do today and extrapolate their use (and the implication of such usage patterns) in a wider context: perhaps at school, at college and by the general public.

The first point to make is that capturing content is easy, at least for sound and video. I’ve heard that recording/videoing lectures in Universities in the US is common (or at least in prestigious Universities in California).  So rather than “can I borrow your notes for this morning’s lecture; I slept in” the updated version may be “beam me this morning’s lecture“.

But we should remember that the old slogan that “content is king” is no longer necessarily true. Rather it could be argued that “communications, not content, is king“.  Many of us, myself included, were surprised by the takeup of SMS text messaging, which, despite the poor user interface, has become incredibly popular, in the UK at least, and this takeup is reflected in the popularity of instant messenger applications such as MSN Messenger.

Applying this approach within the content of more sophisticated mobile devices, we might see a growth in micro-blogging (as exemplified by Twitter) and podcasting / videocasting from one’s mobile phone. Indeed we can envisage how a voice message left while using a phone could easily be syndicated and accessed via a variety of platforms, in a manner similar to podcasting, without needing to be encumbered with the microphones and PC equipment which is normally associated with the creation of podcasts.

And anything you can do with sound can also be applied to video, with the mobile phone acting as the camcorder. But rather than paying expensive rates using 3G technologies, a WiFi network with enable videocasting / videoblogging to be affordable – and even free in environments in which the user has access to an organisational WiFi network, such as is the case in many universities.

So the content creation side of things is getting easier – and the services for accessing such resources is not longer restricted to the desktop, with, for example, Twitter, Jaiku and Facebook all providing access from mobile devices to their services.

The popularity of Facebook will also lead to changing expectations regarding use of applications.  We are finding with Facebook that users are treating applications as disposable: they are easy to install  and, if you don’t find them of use, you thow away, like an unwanted toy.  And this click-to-install, click-to-remove approach to applications is becoming the norm for mobile applications too.

We seem to be rapidly moving towards both a blended environment (content can be both captured and viewed on a variety of platforms – and I’m conscious that I haven’t mentioned games machines) and a disposable environment, in which the application is no longer the important aspect.  In this environment, we will find that the technology vanishes – with many users having little interest in the technological features for applications used on a daily basis; rather many people will make their purchasing decisions based on other factors, such as how cool it looks (and maybe David Beckham is still the style guru).

And we shouldn’t be concerned at such developments.  After all, we no longer regard the television or telephone as ‘technology’ and, for many, interest in purchasing hifi separates has disappeared, with the choice between buying a Sony or Philip HiFi system at Dixons being based on marketing and aesthetic considerations.  Rather software developers should pat themselves on the back and say “job done” (except in niche areas and in the necessary back office functions which, like keeping the London sewerage system flowing, will still be needed but will be largely invisible).

Will This Happen?

Will the future pan out like this?  Probably not! Indeed, when I speculated a few years ago (July 2004) that the Netgem iPlayer (a digital TV box I use at home) will be a forerunner of Internet access via the TV, I was clearly wrong (or at least very premature in such speculations!)

And the notion that software development will not continue to grow in importance will clearly be regarded as heresy by many readers of this blog (and has been predicted on many occassions previously, not least when The Last One application was released for the Commodore Pet in the early 1980s, if my memory is correct).

And the notion that the future will be a simple extrapolation of currents trends has also been shown to be false (the streets of London are not covered in horse shit as was predicted in the nineteenth century).

But, on the other hand, the blacksmith and related occupations have (almost) disappeared once the new technology of the internal combustion engine became popular.

And, since I first started writing this post I have come across an update to the Nokia 95 article in Wikipedia which describes the Nokia N95 8GB device (increased memory and longer battery life) and read Apple’s announcement about the iPod Touch device which has WiFi support.

So maybe the future is closer to realisation that I’m expecting. Although I’m sure that the future won’t be a linear progression based on what we have today.

Note: The image of a Star Trek Communicator, taken from WIkipedia, has been removed following the deletion of the image from the Wikipedia Web site. Brian Kelly, 10 Nov 2008.

Posted in Gadgets, General | 12 Comments »

Vonage V-Phone – phone on a stick

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 Nov 2006

Vonage V-Phone

I’ve read a number of articles recently about the Vonage V-Phone – a VoIP phone application which runs from a memory stick. The device costs £19.99 with a £7.99 monthly rate which gives free local and national calls to landlines.

Some thoughts:

It runs directly from the memory stick (no software installed on the PC). So you should be able to run it from any PC (but not Apple Macintosh) with a USB. This has the potential of freeing the user from the limitations of the IT Services provided.  Or, from another perspective, portable applications like this have the potential to degrade the network by letting users run potentially disruptive applications.

This is the first device of its type which I’ve seen.  We can expect the price to go down  as competitors release  similar products (or, alternatively, the feature  set may become richer) .

I have a memory stick which runs Portable Firefox and Portable Miranda.  I’ve used Portable FireFox on a couple of occasions, when only IE was available. We are seeing a growth in the number of portable applications. In the future will the student carry their preferred applications around on their memory stick (as a key ring, or bracelet, perhaps) leaving the institution to provide the monitor, keyboard and operating system environment?

Posted in Gadgets | Leave a Comment »