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30 June 2012

My reasonably smooth upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

Filed under: Android, change, compatibility, Google, Samsung, WordPress — David Wood @ 9:42 pm

I’ve been looking forwards to the new experiences that would be unlocked by installing “Ice Cream Sandwich” (Android 4.0) in my Samsung Galaxy Note, in place of the Gingerbread (Android 2.3) it originally contained. But I’ve been delaying the upgrade.

I’m a big fan of new technology, but my experience teaches me that upgrades often bring disruption as well as progress. Upgrades of complex software systems often unintentionally break functionality, due to unexpected incompatibilities with the old platform. And even when functionality is improved, it can take some time for users to learn a new interface: old habits have to be unlearned, and new “intuitions” acquired. That’s why I’m sometimes a technology laggard, as well as a technology enthusiast.

But today is the day. The new platform is mature, and is no longer “bleeding edge”. It’s been on the market for a few months. Several of my Accenture work colleagues have already upgraded the Galaxy Notes they use, without reporting any issues. And some of the applications I now want to test (applications developed by work colleagues) rely on functionality that is present only in the newer platform – such as improved Bluetooth. So this morning I resolved: let’s do it today.

In summary: the experience was smooth, although not without glitch. So far, I am pleased with the outcome, although I’ve experienced surprises along the way.

The first surprise was that I had to go looking for the upgrade. I had expected I would automatically be notified that a new version was ready. After all, a similar system works fine, to automatically notify me of the availability of new versions of the apps I’ve installed. And – see the following screenshot – my phone had the setting “auto update: check for updates automatically” enabled.

However, my experience was that I had to explicitly press the button “Check for updates”.

That button helpfully recommended me to ensure that I was on a wifi network. Good point.

The update would happen in two stages:

  1. First, the new version of the software would be downloaded – all 349.38MB of it
  2. Second, the new software would be installed, in place of the old.

The download system estimated that it would take 16 minutes to download the new version. It told me I could keep on using the device in the meantime, with the download proceeding in background. Having kicked off the download, and watched the first 10% of it complete fine, I switched tasks and started browsing. In retrospect, that was a mistake.

As the download proceeded, I read some tweets, and followed links in tweets to Internet pages. One link took me into someone’s Google Plus page, and another link from their took me to yet another page. (By this stage, the download was about 60% complete – I was keeping an eye on it via a notification icon in the top bar of the screen.) I then tried pressing the Back button to undo the stack of links. But as sometimes happens, Back didn’t work cleanly. It took me “back” from one page to the same page, with a minor shiggle in between. This kind of thing sometimes happens when a link includes a redirection.

This is where personal habit took over. In such cases, I have fallen into the habit of hammering the Back key several times quickly in succession. And that seemed to work – I ended up back in the Twitter application. But a few minutes later, I realised that the upgrade notifier icon had disappeared. And the download was nowhere to be found. I think that one of the Back buttons must have ended up going to the download window, cancelling it. Woops.

No problem, I thought, I’ll restart the download. It will presumably continue from where it had been interrupted. But alas, no, it started at the beginning again.

The second time, I resisted the temptation to multi-task, and let the download complete in splendid isolation. Around 20 minutes later, the download was complete. I thought to myself, Now for the more interesting part…

Before completing the installation, I ensured the mains power lead was plugged in, to avoid any complications of a battery failure half-way through rewriting the operating system part of the phone. At all costs, I did not want to end up with a “bricked” device (a device that cannot restart, and has as much life as a brick).

The upgrade proceeded. The screen changed several times during the process. At one stage, a progress indicator seemed to become stuck at around 80% complete for ages – so that I wondered if the system had crashed – before finally slowly inching forwards again.

Once the phone restarted, it run through yet more steps of the upgrade. It told me it was “Optimising application 1 of 82” … “Optimising application 82 of 82”. Then it said it was “Upgrading Contacts database” and “Upgrading Agenda database”. Clearly a lot was happening behind the scenes.

Finally it showed the familiar SIM unlock screen. Except that it wasn’t exactly the same SIM unlock screen as before – there were small but noticeable changes in the layout. Likewise with the device unlock: the ‘OK’ button is now in a different position from before. My fingers will need to learn a slightly different physical sequence, to unlock the device.

A bigger surprise was that all my customisations to the seven different home screens were lost – they had all been reset to defaults. It’s no big deal – I can gradually change the screens back to what I personally find convenient. And a good clean out is probably not a bad idea.

There are lots of pleasant surprises too. For example, there’s a handy new “Restart” addition to the dialog that is shown when the power switch is held down:

Here’s another example of an unexpected change: I found by trial and error that screenshots are now stored in a different directory on the phone – \phone\pictures\screenshots rather than \phone\screencapture – and are (it seems) stored in a different way: they’re not written to disk until some indeterminate time after the screen capture has finished.

That change caught me out twice over: first, because I could not find the screenshots (as copied into this blogpost) in the place I was accustomed to finding them, and second, because the files I tried to upload into WordPress were zero bytes in size. (WordPress helpfully advised me to “upload something more substantial”.)

In case this sounds like a litany of complaints, let me hasten to clarify that I find the entire process highly impressive. A huge quantity of software has been transferred wirelessly onto my phone, including countless changes from before. It’s a technology miracle.

What’s more, I didn’t pay anything for this upgrade. It’s a free technology miracle.

But I am glad I waited until the weekend before embarking on this upgrade, rather than trying to squeeze it into the middle of a busy work schedule. Significant change deserves significant time.

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9 April 2012

Six weeks without Symbian

Filed under: Accenture, Android, Apple, applications, Psion, Samsung, smartphones, Symbian, UIQ — David Wood @ 10:58 am

It’s only six weeks, but in some ways, it feels like six months. That’s how much time has passed since I’ve used a Symbian phone.

These six weeks separate me from nearly thirteen years of reliance on a long series of different Symbian phones. It was mid-1999 when prototype Ericsson R380 smartphones became stable enough for me to start using as my regular mobile phone. Since then, I’ve been carrying Symbian-powered smartphones with me at all times. That’s thirteen years of close interaction with various Symbian-powered devices from Nokia, Ericsson (subsequently Sony Ericsson), and Samsung – interspersed with shorter periods of using Symbian-powered devices from Panasonic, Siemens, Fujitsu, Sendo, Motorola, and LG.

On occasion over these years, I experimented with devices running other operating systems, but my current Symbian device was never far away, and remained my primary personal communication device. These non-Symbian devices always left me feeling underwhelmed – too much functionality was missing, or was served up in what seemed sub-optimal ways, compared to what I had learned to expect.

But ahead of this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, held 27th Feb to 1st Mar, I found three reasons to gain a greater degree of first-hand experience with Android:

  1. I would be meeting representatives of various companies who were conducting significant development projects using Android, and I wished to speak from “practical knowledge” rather than simply from “book knowledge”
  2. Some of my colleagues from Accenture had developed apps for Android devices, that I wanted to be able to demonstrate with confidence, based on my own recurring experience of these apps
  3. One particular Android device – the Samsung Galaxy Note – seemed to me to have the potential to define a disruptive new category of mobile usage, midway between normal smartphones and tablets, with its radically large (5.3″) screen, contained in a device still light enough and small enough to be easily portable in my shirt-top pocket.

I was initially wary about text entry on the Galaxy Note. My previous encounters with Android devices had always left me frustrated when trying to enter data, without the benefits of a QWERTY keyboard (as on my long-favourite Nokia E6 range of devices), or fluid hand-writing recognition (as on the Sony Ericsson P800/P900/P910).

But in the course of a single day, three separate people independently recommended me to look at the SwiftKey text entry add-on for Android. SwiftKey takes advantage of both context and personal history to predict what the user is likely to be typing into a given window on the device. See this BBC News interview and video for a good flavour of what SwiftKey provides. I installed it and have been using it non-stop ever since.

With each passing day, I continue to enjoy using the Galaxy Note, and to benefit from the wide ecosystem of companies who create applications for Android.

Here’s some of what I really like about the device:

  • The huge screen adds to the pleasure of browsing maps (including “street view”), web pages, and other graphic, video, or textual content
  • Time and again, there are Android apps available that tailor the mobile user experience more closely than web-browsing alone can achieve – see some examples on the adjacent screenshot
  • These apps are easy to find, easy to install, and (in general) easy to use
  • Integration with Google services (Mail, Maps, etc) is impressive
  • I’ve grown to appreciate the notification system, the ubiquitous “back” button, and the easy configurability of the device.

On the other hand, I’m still finding lots of niggles, in comparison with devices I’ve used previously:

  • It’s hard to be sure, but it seems likely to me that I get a working network connection on the device less often than on previous (e.g. Nokia) devices. This means for example that, when people try to ring me, it goes through to my voice mail more often than before, even though my phone appears (to my eyes) to be working. I’m finding that I reboot this device more often than previous devices, to re-establish a working network connection
  • I frequently press the “back” button by accident, losing my current context, for example when turning the phone from portrait to landscape; in those moments, I often silently bemoan the lack of a “forward” button
  • The device is not quite capable of one-handed use – that’s probably an inevitable consequence of having such a large screen
  • Although integration with Google services is excellent, integration with Outlook leaves more to be desired – particularly interaction with email notifications of calendar invites. For example, I haven’t found a way of accepting a “this meeting has been cancelled” notification (in a way that removes the entry from my calendar), nor of sending a short note explaining my reason for declining a given meeting invite, along with the decline notification, etc
  • I haven’t gone a single day without needing to recharge the device part-way through. This no doubt reflects my heavy use of the device. It may also reflect my continuing use of the standard Android web browser, whereas on Symbian devices I always quickly switched to using the Opera browser, with its much reduced data transfer protocols (and swifter screen refreshes)
  • Downloaded apps don’t always work as expected – perhaps reflecting the diversity of Android devices, something that developers often remark about, as a cause of extra difficulty in their work.

Perhaps what’s most interesting to me is that I keep on enjoying using the device despite all these niggles. I reason to myself that no device is perfect, and that several of the issues I’ve experienced are problems of success rather than problems of failure. And I continue to take pleasure out of interacting with the device.

This form factor will surely become more and more significant. Up till now, Android has made little market headway with larger tablets, as reported recently by PC World:

Corporations planning tablet purchases next quarter overwhelmingly voted for Apple’s iPad, a research firm said Tuesday [13th March]

Of the 1,000 business IT buyers surveyed last month by ChangeWave Research who said they would purchase tablets for their firms in the coming quarter, 84% named the iPad as an intended selection.

That number was more than ten times the nearest competitor and was a record for Apple.

However, Samsung’s success with the “phablet” form factor (5 million units sold in less than two months) has the potential to redraw the market landscape again. Just as the iPad has impacted people’s use of laptops (something I see every day in my own household), the Galaxy Note and other phablets have the potential to impact people’s use of iPads – and perhaps lots more besides.

Footnote 1: The Galaxy Note is designed for use by an “S Pen Stylus”, as well as by finger. I’ve still to explore the benefits of this Stylus.

Footnote 2: Although I no longer carry a Symbian smartphone with me, I’m still utterly reliant on my Psion Series 5mx PDA, which runs the EPOC Release 5 precursor to Symbian OS. I use it all the time as my primary Agenda, To-do list, and repository of numerous personal word documents and spreadsheets. It also wakens me up every morning.

Footnote 3: If I put on some rosy-eyed glasses, I can see the Samsung Galaxy Note as the fulfilment of the design vision behind the original “UIQ” device family reference design (DFRD) from the early days at Symbian. UIQ was initially targeted (1997-1999, when it was still called “Quartz”) at devices having broadly the same size as today’s Galaxy Note. The idea received lots of ridicule – “who’s going to buy a device as big as that?” – so UIQ morphed into “slim UIQ” that instead targeted devices like the Sony Ericsson P800 mentioned above. Like many a great design vision, UIQ can perhaps be described as “years ahead of its time”.

13 June 2009

Monday night is demo night

Filed under: applications, demos, Mobile Monday, Samsung — David Wood @ 4:12 pm

Mobile Monday London is at a new location this Monday (15th June). Most of the MoMoLo events I’ve attended over the last few years have been at the CBI Conference Centre in the Centrepoint building near Tottenham Court Road tube station. But on this occasion, the venue will be the 10th floor of the Blue Fin Building, 110 Southwark St, SE1 0SU. This venue is south of Tate Modern, and nearby tube stations include Blackfriars, Waterloo, Southwark, Cannon Street and London Brige. The event is being hosted by IPC Media, who are based in the building.


Blue Fin building has its own significance in the Symbian world. The second floor of that building is home to the UK branch of SOSCO – which is an acronym for “S60 on Symbian Customer Operations”. Prior to Nokia’s acquisition of Symbian Ltd last December, the unit was known by the simpler name of SCO – “Symbian Customer Operations”. It’s a descendent (via several renamings) of the Technical Consulting (“TC”) department which was created on the initial formation of Symbian Ltd back in June 1998. I was responsible for TC at that time, and several of the people from the early days of TC still work in SOSCO. Among other claims to fame, SOSCO engineers recently ported a version of the Symbian platform to run on an off the shelf Atom based motherboard from Intel.

This Monday’s event is a demo night. At the last count, the following mobile demos are lined up:

  • Vopium – like Skype but fully integrated into your mobile’s phonebook
  • Peepr.TV – webcam streaming to mobile
  • 0870.me – standard rate calls instead of 0870
  • Photofit – photo mashup application
  • Total Hotspots – Rummble your nearest wifi hotspot
  • Audioboo – audio micro-blogging as much loved by Stephen Fry amongst others
  • Artilium – making LBS easy for developers
  • Proxama – the latest in NFC wallets
  • Ookl – mobile learning
  • Singtones – karaoke on your phone
  • Masabi – rail ticketing
  • Corebridge – CRM on the go
  • Spoonfed – London restaurant finder

It will be a fine chance to weigh up some innovative mobile applications and services. There will presumably be some of the latest mobile devices on show too – given that the co-sponsor of the evening (along with IPC Media) is Samsung Mobile Innovator.

The word on the streets is that Samsung Mobile Innovator “will be making a special announcement on Monday evening” – which is another reason for attending. (OK, full disclosure: let me confess my source for this info: it’s someone who used to work for SOSCO, but who is now employed by Samsung Mobile Innovator.)

As the official site for the event explains:

  • Doors will open at 6pm for a prompt start at 6.30pm;
  • There’s a LOT to get through;
  • Please allow enough time to get through security on the ground floor and take the lift up to the 10th floor;
  • Also please make sure you are registered well in advance so you can whizz through security;
  • There is no guarantee of entry unless you are registered in advance.

To register, please visit the event website.

The venue has capacity for 155 participants. As I write this, there are 38 places still available.

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