mobile blogging, part 3

It’s almost one year ago that I published three (1, 2, 3) articles on mobile blogging – and nothing has really changed since then.

Back in 2007, both the Nokia N95 and the Apple iPhone were released – two completely different phones that were only compared on numerous blogs due to setting new standards on each segment: the N95 being a true multimedia phone with a decent 5mp cam, 640×480 @ 30fps video (albeit a mono mic), a (slow) internal GPS module and a really nice multimedia player. With the latest firmware, it even plays flash videos (YouTube & Co.) and has different applications run at the same time (sort of multitasking). The iPhone on the other hand provided a compatible device that suits Apple users – a nice user interface and all-in-one device like the N95 which unfortunately still missed some basic phone tools (MMS, Bluetooth exchange, etc.). And although both phones aren’t the only cool devices out there, they sold quite well. Even if the iPhone doesnt feature all these special goodies the N95 comes with, Apple’s phone still has the best browser on a mobile phone.

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GoogleReader on my N95…

Back in 2007 I had bought the N95 because the music player on my Nokia 6230i had constantly failed (due to a bug in the firmware) and because I urgently wanted to have a new, sexy phone. Something that enables a better mobile blogging experience.

And that’s exactly the basic point here: until now, no mobile phone has actually delivered this *sweet mobile blogging* experience so far.

Back in 2007, I argued that it’s a software issue. And still believe it is. So instead of buying new phones, a systematic adjustment between the phone’s software (firmware & single programmes) and your blogging platform (WordPress, Vox, Typepad, etc.) comes into mind.

Sure, there’s this WP iPhone app some of us have tested some time ago, but still: it doesnt work that well, and it doesn’t provide a similar experience we’re having online on our laptop, surfing the net with decent browsers on bigger screens with full JavaScript support etc..

And this – I believe – is also one of the many reasons for the success of Twitter. Twitter just filled that gap on mobile blogging, phone manufacturers have failed on providing. Why? Because that special Twitter experience is the same whether you’re online via a browser window on your laptop, use it via an extra widget somewhere on the desktop, have it run as a stand-alone utility on S60 & iPhone platforms or just use SMS (for sending only, though).

You know I had a discussion with my Minister of Finance earlier this week on getting a new phone (again), and I had mentioned the new Nokia E71 and why it could be an improvement on what I am looking for (~ mobile blogging device). However, with the above mentioned discussion on mobile blogging being a software issue, I am rather confused now and think I should stick to my N95 at this point. Maybe wait for Google Android’s phone being released by the end of this year?

Another interesting developement since 2007 is the success of so-called Netbooks – which are lightweight laptops at 7″-10″ screen sizes, often equipped with an energy saving CPU, a solid state disk and enough flexibility to provide surfing the net, answering your e-mails and doing some other office work. Battery runtime still is an issue though, often only giving 2-3 hrs. Netbooks are currently sold for 300-400,- EUR in Europe and are small enough to fill that special gap the need for mobile blogging has created.

So here’s my conclusion: instead of waiting for the ultimate mobile web experience via a dedicated & maybe also expensive smart phone, I’ll bet on another setup: ppl – especially those in need in a rural Africa – will imho be introduced to the combination of basic GPRS & UMTS (3G) phones, hooked up to cheaper laptop computers such as netbooks.

Not today, not tomorrow – but maybe in two years time when basic netbooks wil sell for ~ 150,- EUR and will also be sold on the African continent in a big style. Why? Because a mobile phone is – although it is often shared with members of the extended family – still a device for a single user (despite of these new Nokias that come with multiple phonebooks). A computer though can easily be shared with others. Here’s what I had in mind:

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Solar panels are already for sale in rural Kenya as well as simple GPRS-capable phones, netbooks could be equipped with a free & open OS (+ BT, serial port & USB cable driver package) and it would still cost below the amount you’d normally spend on a) getting a normal desktop pc online or b) a fancy smartphone that just still doesnt deliver the real web experience.

And the best part: this setup isn’t reduced to the needs of a rural environment, but also applies to urban areas in the US, Europe or Asia. In other words: if I had to do true mobile blogging right now, I’d go for this setup (ok, maybe without those solar panels).

Netbooks are what Twitter is used to be to SMS: added value.

mobile blogging, part 2

Mobile blogging…as in blogging directly from the phone or another portable device other than notebooks. Why would someone want to blog from a phone?

Well, computers in the form of desktop personal computers or laptops are still expensive. Despite of relatively high initital costs, an uncertain power supply and restricted internet access not only in “underdeveloped” countries for conventional computers, interesting stories are often best caught through the use of mobile devices. Another very important reason is that many consumers today are using mobile phones as the mobile phone sector is a fast growing market. We do not necessarily need to have a look at the unstable political situation in a country like Burma/Myanmar to understand the importance of being able to directly post content to the internet through a mobile device – but it serves as a good example to illustrate what should be possible with todays technology.

Obviously, the process of mobile blogging may be split up into a) the creation of content/media and b) uploading everything to a website/database on the internet.

As mentioned in my previous post on this subject, I initially assumed that it would all depend on the right gadget.
An advanced smartphone with a dedicated QWERTY keyboard does of course add comfort to the process of entering longer text, but it isn’t necessary to use one in order to get your stuff online. Hence it comes down to the right software solution on both the phone and online.

Another interesting observation is that manufacturers of mobile phones have in the past often only put an emphasis on giving users the ability to pull content from internet to their phone. Apple’s iPhone is a very good example for this as it comes with a media player which plays YouTube videos and a flexible browser which even display the URL. But also other phone manufacturers like the big players Nokia and SonyEricsson implemented RSS-capable browsers into their phones that automatically pull the required content from the internet without any computer in between. Now compare that with other mobile multimedia devices such as an iPod or a Creative mp3 player, which in the past always required a computer in between to synchronize content. With todays mobile phones, you can directly pull content from the net via GPRS, EDGE, UMTS or WiFi. Sexy.

The internet, though, and especially the Web 2.0 approach online lives from user generated content. I think that the use of the internet through a mobile platform will become more and more important in future, especially since mobile phones have become the leading platform for IT in developing countries.

And this upcoming development where we’ll see global players like Google distributing a sound software solution which combines and contains all these different services (telephony, messaging, streaming of multimedia content and uploading it to a site online) is reason enough to believe that we’re just at the very beginning of mobile services. Especially those that are I) easy to use (~usability) and II) don’t cost anything extra to the user – because he’s the one who creates content. Mobile phone operators seem to have understood that so far, which is why everyone wants to jump on the train of providing the right platform for content generation.

Anyways, I promised to deliver a small – not complete – overview of decent phones that already add some comfort for compiling mobile blog post. If you think there’s any phone that should be part of this list, pls feel free to drop a comment below. Thank You!

Ok, let’s start with Nokia ‘s range of phones:

1. Nokia N95

nokia N95

Since I am using this phone, I can acknowledge that it’s a great phone with a good camera but lousy built quality (compared to other slider phones), a slow camera (autofocus), weak battery runtime, chronical shortages of RAM which limits true multitasking and a simple T9 keypad – which of course doesn’t offer the same comfort as a QWERTY keyboard. However, since it is one of Nokia’s flagships and just offers a wide range of services at once, I included it here in this list. The N95 also connects to Nokia’s SU-8W bluetooth keyboard:

SU-8W

The downside to this external solution? Relatively small keys, a bluetooth connection that will further drain the battery on your phone and a huge price of at least EUR 100,-. That’s a lot of mbeca just for a keyboard.

The new N95 8GB version (N95-3) as well as the improved version for the US-market (N95-2) come with an improved battery and more RAM and some other minor changes that don’t affect its blogging capabilities.

2. Nokia E90

E90

Woooohaaaa! Expensive, bulky and a little bit buggy, which is why Nokia took it from the market for some weeks. Since it’s also based on the Symbian S60 platform (as opposed to the previous “Communicator” models which were based on Symbian S80 platform), it also runs the same programs as other S60 3rd edition phones. Comes with a sweet QWERTY keyboard (as pictured above), 3,2mpix cam (which is ok), two displays (!) and average battery runtime.

3. Nokia E70

nokia e70 silber

 

Fellow blogger Kirima is using such a phone for surfing the inet from his rural home. I like this phone, even the previous models that came with a foldable keyboard like this one were nice (although they are known to be having some software issues…).

4. Nokia E61/61i/62

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Sigh. The E61 (no camera, joystick instead of joypad) and the E61i/62 are very nice for mobile blogging. Especially the above pictured E61i which comes with an average 2mpix cam and a perfect QWERTY keyboard as well as the whole connection range of GPRS up to WiFi. VoIP included. Sweet!

5. Nokia E51
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Best Nokia release imho. A small, brick-styled (candy bar) business smartphone with a 2mpix cam, the S60 platform and VoIP capabilities. This phone will sell quite well, I think, despite of its humble appearance. Comes with a T9 keypad.

6. Nokia N93/93i

nokia N93i

I played with the N93 and the N93i in a shop last weekend, and while N93 is still better than the N93i, both phones are actually only good at recording videos because of their stereo microphones (important fact) and extremely good lenses + optical zoom. No QWERTY keyboard although of course you can also connect the above mentioned bluetooth keyboard.

7. Apple’s iPhone

iphone bastel anleitung

…delivered to you as a printable cut&glue version (pdf), because that’s the best way to handle this design object. :-)

Seriously, the iPhone is a great innovation and comes with a VERY unique user interface. It lacks a few features that other phones have but has its own market and will therefore be just as good as other phones. I like the iPhone although I’ve figured out for me that it does not have what I need in a phone.

No exchangeabooool battery, no keypad or keyboard = no tactil feedback while pressing the virtual keys on the display, no MMS (not really needed if e-mail is used instead), lousy camera. I think the iPhone is good for WiFi environments – so if you’re in the USA and hopping from one Starbucks WiFi hotspot to the next – then this is your phone.

Have to ask fellow bloggers Christian and Erik on their mobile blogging experiences. And what about the iPhone that was on display @ Skunkworks Kenya earlier this week ?

8. SonyEricsson K800i

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SonyEricsson’s sweetest phone ever (except for the T39m, yes :-)!
Comes with a nasty little joystick that often tends to retire within the first three months, but satisfies its user with a very decent 3,2 mpix cam and the best T9 keypad from SE ever. Included in this list because I see many ppl using this phone as a camera and music player. Actually had plans of buying this as a substitute to my N95.
The K800i comes, like most other new SE phones, with a little program that enables direct uploads to blogger.com (= Google). More on this later (part 3) as Nokia also supports the “blogging” platforms offered by Yahoo!.

Hmmm….SonyEricsson => Google and Nokia = > Yahoo! ??

9. SonyEricsson P1i

sony ericsson p1i

The SE P9i comes with a full QWERTY keyboard, a 3,2 mpix cam, WiFi and a stylus similar to those found on Windows Mobile phones.

10. SonyEricsson M600i

sony ericsson m600i

Obviously, the M600i comes without a camera but with a QWERTY keyboard.

11. HTC phones….

This list will never be complete, and while I am just confused about which HTC phone I should add to this list (Aegeus, saidia mimi tafadhali…si i hear u r back online anyways :-), I will update this post during the next few days and even deliver a part 3 which will cover the other side of the game: the software solutions that make mobile blogging possible.

Pls stay tuned!

mobile blogging, part 1.5

As long as part 2 on mobile blogging is in the pipe (blogging…as in “publishing content online”), check out this story on the “Mobile Journalism Toolkit“.

An impressive setup with the right, self-made (!) add-ons to improve the N95’s performance. Now I only wish Nokia would improve the firmware on the N95-1 and even add some extras to the S60 browser.

(note to myself: i should become a journalist so that I can get my hands on fancy gadgets instead of saving my mbeca for these gimmicks..)

mobile blogging, part 1

“What’s the best mobile device for blogging on the way?”

I just twittered/tweeted (?) this as a question and decided to turn it into a blog post, so please feel free to comment.

Yes, mobile blogging, blogging content to an online blog as most posts/ideas come up when I am on the way to work/home/downtown. Blog content does not pop up in my head when I am at home, sitting in my dark little roof chamber, but instead when I am travelling or walking through the city and then suddendly there are these “Oh my, I neeeeeed to blog this” moments. Does that sound familiar to you?

What’s mobile?
I am already using a 15,4″ laptop as my primary computer, where I am compiling most posts using Blogdesk (for Win), pulling images from my mobile phone and getting online through a local Wi-Fi connection. Whenever I am travelling with my laptop (which doesn’t happen that often), I use a GPRS or even UMTS data connection to surf the internet via my mobile phone which is connected to my computer via Bluetooth. This is how I went online in Kenya, and this is also how I go online whenever there’s no local Wi-Fi available.

However, I often have this urge to blog directly from a more mobile device, a gadget I am always carrying around with me. What’s this? The mobile phone, of course!

So, where’s the difficulty?
Mobile devices often only offer pure text posts without any hyperlinks as editing alone is quite a pain. Entering text is usually done using a small T9 keypad, and some phones also offer dedicated QWERTY keyboards.

So I am using a Nokia N95 which enables me to take decent images (the picture quality isn’t as good as on a normal digital camera because of the CMOS sensor and its reduced size, but it’s more than sufficient for blog posts), it enables me to take decent videos @ 640×480 VGA with 30 fps but with the limitation of a mono microphone and no optical zoom and connects to the internet via HSCSD, CSD, GPRS, EGPRS, HSDPA and WiFi. The N95 even comes with an advanced video editor so that I can edit a video right on the phone! While this obviously takes some time and isn’t that easy, at least it’s possible.

The difficulty is to upload multimedia content onto the internet! This is exactly where most phones still lack a simple solution. Nokia eventually realized this and introduced the Ovi platform earlier this year, but it’s still in closed Alpha mode, so I guess we’ll have to work on a better solution. And not everyone is using Nokia phones. What about Apple iPhone users? And what about those that are documenting their life on blogs through SonyEricsson phones?

Mobile phone manufacturers apparently want their users to upload content to their own walled gardens. This blog here doesn’t run on blogger.com, ovi.com, wordpress.com, vox.com and other sites. Do they seriously want me to upload MY content to any obscure community platform? Hey, facebook is already enough in terms of walled gardens – I want to control my own content on my own website. I have a domain, webspace and am running a blog which is powered by WordPress. I want the content from my phone to directly load into the given space here.

And this is why I’ve split this post in two different parts: the a) software and b) hardware issues.

The hardware side is rather simple: considering that most phones offer sms services, blog entries may – in their shortest form at a length of 160 characters – be directly sent to a blog via sms. I can do that. I can upload an sms to my blog. Simple. And then there’s also e-mail: my blog comes with a (secret & currently inactive) e-mail address so that I could also send an e-mail to my blog which would then be posted online.

The short message, multimedia message and e-mail services are the common denominator on most phones, meaning: even Mama Wambui on the vegetable market in a rural town in Central Kenya may post blog content from her simple Motorola C139 phone via sms. But how does she read it?

See? Blogging simple and short text to an online platform isn’t that difficult. The difficulty lies in editing it and enriching it with hyperlinks, multimedia content and responding to comments.

When I started thinking about this subject, I initially thought that mobile blogging depends on the right device. Well, maybe it helps to have a computer so that surfing the net isn’t limited to a mobile device which just doesn’t offer the same comfort you’d have on a “normal” computer. But I quickly realized that instead of always blaming my not-so-perfect multimedia phone for the lack of this and that function or usability, I should instead look out for the right software, plugins, services that enable me to post from a mobile device in a way that offers more comfort than a short text which is limited to 160 characters. Mobile blogging is a software issue!

Meaning: the only difference I see between good and bad mobile phones in terms of their blogging capabilities is that some recent smartphones come with browsers that also work with Javascript and other advanced technologies which are sometimes needed online. I don’t need YouTube on my phone, but would like to comment on a K2 theme in WordPress where the comment function is based on this AJAX thing.
For pure reading of online content – and that’s what most of the current phones are capable of – I was already happy while using my old Nokia 6230i. In fact, I succesfully blogged an update on December 30th last year from a lobby in a hotel in Mombasa, using the OperaMini browser on the 6230i. It just worked.

I think that mobile blogging is a nice feature on a phone, but until it becomes as easy to post content as it already enables me to read online content from a mobile device, the only real killer application I can currently think of in the mobile sector is mobile banking/payment. Who knows – maybe in just a few years time devices will be advanced enough so that it all melts into one single application and service. This is why Google came up with the GPhone – coz it’s a software issue, not so much a hardware thing.

In part 2 I will try to compile a list of modern mobile phones that offer some comfort, and in part 3 I will try to highlight how to actually upload multimedia content from my phone to my blog (which I still have to figure out, hence this blog post :-).

Stay tuned!