I’m back. Home after a weekend of hacking and mobile tech geek-ery – this was BarCamp weekend, at mobileCampLondon. I would’ve written a post on it on the train home, but I was too busy playing with my new toy. I’ll have to settle with some random thoughts before bed instead
In short, I had a great time – met a lot of interesting people, heard about some very cool projects and technologies, played with some new toys, plus got free food, free beer, free wifi and free T-shirts.
Symbian S60 Web Widgets – The first talk was by someone from Forum Nokia talking about web widget development in S60. I don’t know if it was the iPhone that got people interested in widgets as a way of delivering web services to mobile devices, but whatever the reason, there seems to be some focus on this. The session was a good technical run-through on how to develop your first widget – looks pretty easy.
Location-Based Services in S60 – Another Symbian talk – this time a developer’s introduction to the location API in S60. It was very impressive – it looks much nicer than the Windows Mobile .NETCF API I’ve played with in the past. The aim is to offer multiple positioning methods – not just GPS but other approaches such as network-based approaches, GSM Cell IDs etc. The approach is for the API to abstract the actual method so that as an application developer you don’t need to care – you just write code to “get a location”, without caring about how the API actually gets it. It looks like they’re putting together a really clever stack, and I hope to give it a try at some point.
We also looked at some neat location web services like buddyPing (location based social networking to let your friends know where you are), bliin (social networking service based on proximity with a cool radar-style interface) and locr (a geotags system for organizing photographs using geographical information).
Vodafone Betavine is a site for Vodafone R&D work. I had a chance to chat to some of the guys behind the site, and they seem really keen to use Betavine to engage with the development community and work with them to produce a library for mobile app development. It still seems quite new, but there are already some cool looking resources on offer. You can use the site to develop web based services for mobile devices, sending text messages, pushing web links and accessing Vodafone content. The API is available in a variety of formats including XML, JSON and RSS. And when you sign up for a free account, you get some credits for free SMS messages to deliver your apps – not enough to roll out a professional service for others, but certainly enough to play with as a developer. I’ve gotta think of something to trigger by SMS
Tiki is a data input approach for mobile devices. It’s impressive, and after a little practice, I was able to type pretty quickly with it. There are so many people trying to come up with alternatives to the QWERTY or T9 input approaches, (Kannuu is a recent favourite of mine) but I don’t know how they are gonna get around the fact that people just can’t be bothered to invest the time to learn something new.
Mediascape is an HP research project, aiming to deliver location-specific media. “mediascapes are mobile, location-based experiences that incorporate digital media with the … world around you … [blending] digital images, video, audio and interactions with the physical landscape”. At it’s simplest, this could be a guided tour round a museum, or whole town. It can be more complex though, with some examples showing how it can do more than just play specific media in a certain area – adding context, such as ensuring certain things are played in the right order, and being affected by the location of other people, using it to deliver team strategy activities. (We also got to watch a very cheesy promo video )
Identity and location services was a common theme in many of the presentations and discussions throughout the weekend, but one talk in particular focused on some issues surrounding using mobiles as a form of identification, such as across a network. The talk covered both the technical specifics of how a mobile network operator can help to provide the identity of a user on a mobile web browser to a retailer’s website, as well as a discussion around some possible use cases such as using mobile phones for micropayments.
It also went into how this could be linked with location services – the location and identity information that network operators have about users, and how they could be more than just a traditional ISP for mobile data customers. For example, they can insert a header into the HTTP request from your phone to a retailer’s “Find my nearest store” website with your current location, which the website can use to tell you their nearest store – without needing you to type in a town name. (The talk also featured my favourite quote of the weekend about how smokers and GPS users have a lot in common, as they’re both made to go and stand outside to do their thing ).
otodio is a system aiming at delivering documents and other content to users on mobile devices in audio format. More than just text-to-speech, the system has support for dynamic and interactive content such as location dependent content, or user input like multi-choice. It seemed like an interesting product, and it looks like there might be some more of the talk published here soon.
RFID was the topic for a lot of Sunday morning. A talk on VORTIX kicked off a lively debate about the possible uses and practicalities of RFID in consumer mobile devices. I hadn’t realised how much attention this is getting at the moment – with companies like Nokia already having RFID integrated in mobile phones available now. It seems a lot of people think this will be ubiquitous in mobile devices very soon. VORTIX – visualisation of real-time information at interchanges is a research project being worked on by Transport for London with KiZOOM and Imperial College, to try and provide real-time directions and route-planning to people using London transport, through their mobile devices. It was an interesting presentation, and we got to see what test kit they’ve got set up at Blackfriars Underground Station. The discussion on RFID projects touched a number of other efforts I’d not heard of before – one of my favourites being some work done into usability aspects of RFID projects by Timo Arnall.
TAT – one of the sponsors of the event, TAT demonstrated the products that they use to produce some really slick looking user interfaces for mobile devices. Their approach is to avoid the traditional application driven architecture – where every app has it’s own UI, and it’s own data, logic and UI flow. They aim for a single seamless user interface that is separate from the applications – a single UI that can deliver data from multiple sources, and act as a middleware layer seamlessly directing user input to the right “back-end”. It’s all very closed at the moment, so for a developer like me it’s harder to get excited about a framework that I can’t hack or extend or tweak. But they did say that an API is something they hope to introduce in the future. At any rate, you can’t argue that they produce some very nice interfaces – with menus and screen transitions that beats anything I’ve seen on Windows Mobile (even better than my current favourite, Live Search, although who knows what Silverlight will do about that when it is released!).
OpenMoko is a project working to create an open source mobile platform. There was a fascinating presentation on this, and a few people had OpenMoko phones at the event which I got a chance to play with. I was lucky enough to be able to take a device away with me thanks to a little Windows Mobile/Google mashup I hacked together, so I’ll write a proper post about OpenMoko in a day or two once I’ve had a chance to play with it some more.
Vodafone had a good presence at the event (as did Orange… no O2 or T-Mobile, sadly – maybe next year!) and one entertaining session featured someone from Vodafone’s Mobile Internet team talking about mobile transcoding – where they provide on-the-fly transformation of webpages into mobile-friendly format for their customers accessing the internet using the Vodafone network. They introduced this a few months ago, not without some controversy, so it was interesting to see a group of mobile and mobile internet enthusiasts (including some people responsible for mobile tech websites affected by this) get the chance to grill someone from Vodafone. The talk was as much about the backlash and the response it received as it was about the technical side of how and why they did it – but it seemed well received and he gave a good insight into Vodafone’s perspective.
Fire Eagle is a research project from Yahoo. It’s sort of like a brokering service for location updates – you put your location in (and you can do this from a variety of sources, and in a variety of data formats) and it can hand this out in clever ways. Privacy is built-in to the system well – you can specify the level of precision that people can get your location to – on a per user or per application basis. For example, you could say that your public feed would give your location to the nearest country, while the Fire Eagle Facebook app could show where you were to the nearest town/city, and certain friends can see where you are in as precise as possible – to the nearest street etc. They’ve got some nice things coming up to build on these feeds, too – things that should enable applications that react to your current location. Hopefully, I’ll be getting an invite for this one soon – it looks very cool.
I’m sure there are lots more talks that I’m forgetting now (I’m very tired!), plus lots of very cool people that I should mention – such as a couple of guys from last.fm. It was really good to hear about what they’ve got coming up, plus I got the chance to plea for a Windows Mobile scrobbler and show them the neat mashup that Darren did a while ago.
I also got to play with lots of new toys, like the OpenMoko, but also an iPhone, the ‘One Laptop Per Child’ laptop, the Nokia N800, and more.
I’ve rambled enough for now – there’s a lot more stuff about the event at http://www.mobilecamplondon.org/, including write-ups on talks that I missed (there were just too many places to be at once!). But now, time for bed.