Over The Air – ideastorming

It’s ridiculously early. And I’m awake. And on a train.

Unusually, I don’t mind too much, because I’m heading to ‘Over The Air‘ – a mobile development event in London. Yay 🙂

Looking at the schedule, there are lots of interesting talks that I want to go to. Too many… in several places there are two or three talks I want to go to at the same time. 🙁

Also on the agenda is a development competition. It’ll probably work out to somewhere between 8 and 12 hours to hack something together (depending on how many talks I go to and how much sleep I want to get!)

Between paternity leave and the joys of coming back to work after a five week break, I’ve not had time to think about what I might create.

So I’m using the train journey to come up with a few ideas – and this is as good a place as any to ideastorm.

Here we go… Bear in mind that it’s early and I’ve not had any coffee yet!

First idea: Twitter client for Windows Mobile
On the plus side, I don’t think this has been done before. (Well, if you don’t count TinyTwitter, a Java midlet which I’ve never really got on with). And it’d be useful.
On the down side… not earth-shatteringly innovative. I suppose there are bells and whistles I could add (like choosing how to send tweets – by web API or SMS… perhaps offering to failback to SMS when twitter.com is down?). Still… a bit boring?

Second idea: Windows Mobile quick-data-capture widget
I spend too much time waiting for apps to start on my phone staring at the spinning hourglass. And it’s often overkill – what if you just want to scribble down a phone number or capture an idea? Even waiting for the ‘Notes’ app to start up seems clunky. I’m thinking of a really lightweight C++ ‘Today’ screen widget with a text box that dumps the contents to a specific place: a text file? Outlook post-it note? or into some other note-taking app?
It wouldn’t need to do anything clever with it… as long as you could rely that it’d put it somewhere safe for you to process later, then I could scribble a quick note without needing to even launch an app (and wait 2-3 seconds!). Kinda like a digital back-of-an-envelope scratchpad.
Again, it could be useful. But, still feels a little small. I do want something small enough to code in a single evening, but even so – I need to think bigger!

Third idea: “Mobile Quicksilver”
Here’s where I show my Mac-related ignorance. I know squat about Macs. But I do hear Mac-owning friends rave about Quicksilver – a swiss-army knife-style app for smart searching and app launching. If it’s as great as people say, would a mobile equivalent be useful?
I guess it could be text based – take the previous idea for a ‘Today screen’-hosted text box, and instead of just writing the contents somewhere, try and parse the text and treat it as a sort of smart command-line?
Or what about trying to do a graphical touch-screen menu approach more like the real Quicksilver? It could display a list of nouns, then once you select that offer a contextual list of nouns. Something more like the Quicksilver idea of offering sensible choices for what you might want to do with something? It could even use FlowFX (the Windows Mobile library for animated menu transitions that got a lot of talk after winning the OpenNetCF Coding Competition last year). That looked pretty easy to use, and would give a nice polish.
Not sure about this idea… will need to see what has already been done in the app launcher space – I get the feeling there might be stuff like this out there already. I’ve been meaning to try PointUI which I’ve heard good things about. And what I’m thinking of might be a little similar to the custom Windows Mobile UI that was done with Vodafone last year. Not sure though, as I’ve not seen that running, just a handful of screenshots.
Still… it could be an interesting thing to try?

Fourth idea: Syncing… something
An ideal of mobile computing is being able to work wherever I am. I can do a piece of work on my computer. Or I can do a piece of work on my phone.
What is better is when you can start a piece of work on your computer, and finish it on your phone. Or vice versa.
This is possible for lots of tasks… I regularly work on Office documents that are synced between devices. And my notetaking app lets me work on other stuff between devices.
But what other work could be synced?
What about syncing a bigger task – a more complex ‘workflow’? Something that you’re in the middle of doing on one device, that you can pick up where you left off on the other?
What about web browsing – syncing your browsing history? If I’m halfway through reading a webpage at my computer and have to leave my desk, it’d be very cool to have the page I was looking at on my screen available on my phone so I can finish reading it.
Or recently opened documents? Instead of just the contents of a specified sync folder, what if some sort of FileMon-style code identifed when you work on a doc and sync it to your phone. If you’ve recently worked on it, it might be useful to have it with you.
All a little fluffy… but it’d be interesting to try and pick a task and come up with a possible way to break down the barriers between transitioning between desktop computer and mobile – so you can switch between them seamlessly.

Fifth idea: Mobile translation
I read recently that Google have launched a translation API for language detection and translation. Could this be useful on the go? What about a mashup that combined an OCR webservice with this translation API? Then you could take a photo of some foreign text using a cameraphone, upload it to a webserver which can return the text from it, and let Google translate for you.
You could translate foreign newspaper articles or roadsigns or labels on the go – that would be very cool.
A quick search turns up LEADTOOLS as offering a possible OCR webservice, although I’ve not heard of them before.
Hmmm… I’m liking this idea.

Sixth idea: Location based reminders
I’ve been meaning to try this out after playing with getting the cell ID from my phone: something which extends the phone’s PIM task manager to remind you of things when you are in a specified place rather than just at a specified time.
One possible twist could be to extend the concept of locations beyond just GSM Cell ID and GPS coordinates, and include Bluetooth. Something Gareth mentioned about playing with Bluetooth notifications got me thinking that you could set up reminders based on when you are near a certain person. E.g. I could set my phone so it reminds me to ask Gareth something when it sees his phone’s bluetooth id within range.
A problem is location-based reminders is an old idea. Place-Its is a good example of work that has been done in this space, and a quick search reveals a handful of startup companies that are trying variations on this theme.
I recently saw an interesting presentation on Slideshare (by someone from my old employer, Motorola) which looks at case studies where location can be used as a context on mobile devices. I remember it got me thinking about what new twist could be tried out in this area… Unfortunately, I can’t view the slides on the train (no Flash support on my phone 🙁 ) but will have to have a quick look while I’m at Imperial to see if it sparks any ideas.

Seventh idea: Windows Mobile FireEagle / Plazes client
Still in the location-based theme… I played last year with writing my own app to track my location in real-time. Since then, I’ve seen new APIs released such as Plazes and FireEagle, and it might be interesting to try writing something using one or more of these.
Again… interesting, and possibly useful, but not massively original. Mologogo have already added FireEagle support to their app, and Plazes have been talking about a Windows Mobile client for years.

Eighth idea: Something with Google Gears for Mobile
Okay… starting to get vague now. But I was playing with the new Picasa Web Albums for Windows Mobile which uses Google Gears to let you view your photos offline. And it’s really neat. I’d love to come up with an idea for something which made good use of this technology.
Mobile Google Docs using Gears is probably already on the cards, but what about a mobile wiki that you could edit offline?

That’ll have to do for now… train’s gonna be at Paddington soon. This is a start. With any luck I’ll come up with some better ideas after I start chatting with people at Over The Air!

Watch this space… 🙂

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9 Responses to “Over The Air – ideastorming”

  1. Simon says:


    I’m liking the mobile translation idea! Would that work cross platform, or just on Windows Mobile? 🙂

    See you at OTA.


  2. dale says:


    Not sure… it’s a bit of a vague idea still. I’ll use any API that lets me use a web service and the camera… will have to search and see what my options are.

    Hope to meet you in person!

  3. Simon says:

    “Hope to meet you in person!”

    You already have…MobileCampLondon. TV Shows 🙂

  4. […] dale lane fan of all things mobile, father of small girls, IBM code monkey, youth charity trustee… « Over The Air – ideastorming […]

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  8. Geek Ant says:

    Over The Air: Phone Phight n95 Software…

    Over The Air went ahead as planned providing 48 hours of mobile development, this planned event took place at the South Kensington Campus of Imperial College.

  9. Benjamin says:

    Syncing….. remotely.
    Setup dyndns at home for the static IP. Then somehow setup remote either syncing or download of pictures, video, contacts and calander.

    This is done from any wifi hotspot. So (best example) if you are on holiday you are snapping away all day with the phone and take a few vids. Hook into the hotels wifi and automatically save all the media for that day on the PC back home.

    A lot of phones nowadays come with remote wipe. This feature is there because phones get stolen. Fact. So why be bothered about all the cool photos and things you saved. They are already backed up at home.

    ………. or instead just auto upload to flkr like the eyefi card does.