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Considering that I’ve only recently gotten into the iPhone hype and eventually accepted* it being the better device for my online needs, I am surprised to realize how much this setup actually helps me being much more productive in my daily tasks.

I spend a great deal of the day in front of a computer – and when I am not in front of my computer, I usually have a mobile phone in my hands. The combination and seemless syncing between both devices is what I appreciate the most, for it enables me to continue working on any connected device.

This automatic syncing is, to my understanding, the basis for the success of any smart phone or other mobile device today.

I never really appreciated this basic functionality such as Gmail syncing of contacts, calendar entries and e-mails until I was told to do so by my friend Mzeecedric who also dedicated a blog post to this subject (in German). Coming from a Nokia device, I was used to syncing e-mails only and synced my contacts via MS Outlook and various online services (as mentioned earlier). Calendars…. well, I never really cared about that part as much for it got synced via Outlook. Such a Gmail sync is also possible on S60 Nokia phones btw, so this basic functionality isn’t an iPhone-only feature.

I never really cared about that calendar syncing because I am old-school. I maintain an offline, paper calendar (this one) which obviously doesn’t sync with anything. On top of that, I am also the “let me write that down on a piece of paper with my fountain pen”-guy, so you can imagine my desk being covered with post-it notes and other little “to-do” lists.

In fact, I am currently searching for a (good) TO-DO iPhone app that provides an over-the-air syncing via the web.

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I got this German app called “ShopShop/Einkaufsliste” which does exactly what it’s supposed to do (providing a simple shopping list, see screenshot); I jailbroke my phone to display calendar events on the lock screen using “Lock Calendar” (which works better for me than “IntelliScreen”), and I also bought the pro version of “Read It Later” which btw also beautifully integrates into Tweetie and other apps. I also have accounts for Instapaper and Evernote.

Is Evernote the solution to what I am looking for? Would it also display a to-do list on the lockscreen of my iPhone (or any other phone)? Or should I rather look for a browser plugin that enables me to quickly edit gmail calendar entries / notes (which would then also appear on the lockscreen)? You know I stepped away from my offline calendar and started using the Gmail solution instead because it seemed to be the smartest way for a quick sync between a web service and the phone – and then also display on the lockscreen.

I am sure I am not the first person asking for such a service, but there are about a million pages about “kewl iPhone apps” out there, so I got lost, somehow. Any guidance on this is very much appreciated. Thank you!

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* The story goes that I got so pissed off about Nokia’s Ovi store that I bought an old & broken iPhone 2G which obviously isn’t top-notch, but still does more for me than both my Nokia phones N95/E72 could ever do for me in terms of productivity. And yes, this may just be due to the awesome touchscreen on the iPhone; and yes, the Google Nexus One may be the best phone for me once it eventually arrives on the domestic market. It still surprises me though that a 3yr old phone boosts my productivity – more than a new phone by the “competitor” Nokia. And this although my E72 is supposed to be a business phone and most of my tasks on the phone are very much “business”-alike.

I really have to stop blogging about phones…

I know the following is a rather unorthodox comparison between a business and an entertainment device, BUT! – as much I condemn Apple’s business policies, walled gardens and hardware restrictions – I am more productive with a 1G iPod Touch from 2007 than with my new Nokia E72 from late 2009.

Having said that, this blog post could stop here. I still feel an urge to explain my switch to this archenemy though, so pls allow the following introduction:

I recently bought a broken 1G iPod Touch from eBay, fixed it, put in a new battery, installed the latest firmware (no jailbreak so far, btw) and started using it. And….oh, what a joy it is!

Browsing, e-mailing, searching for gadgets via the eBay app, using dropbox to share files between my computers, checking my bank account, using an UnP player to access files on my NAS, a nice Facebook app, various Twitter clients, interesting ham radio apps with decoding capabilities, games games games, a water level, VNC access…..and an app store with access to 140k+ apps.

And all of this from a three year old multimedia player that comes with a fixed battery, no real multitasking capabilities, no camera and a proprietary dock connector. So how come I am rejoicing on this device like a small child?

Because it delivers. And because it’s dead simple to use. The user interface is so intuitive, everything just works, I actually don’t have to *think* while using this device. And yet it’s just a multimedia player. Amazing.

The Nokia E72? Well, it is a great phone – it really is a great phone – but it sure lacks this comfort I’ve now experienced with the iPod.

I am also using a last.fm client on my E72, I can also use it to access the Twonky Server on my NAS, there also is a new Facebook app for the E71 & E72, there also is a really, really great Twitter client for the E72 which I still like best btw (Gravity is just perfect), and it also comes with an E-mail client that’s easy to set up. And I am very sure that it will take some time until I find another phone with a camera that’s better than my old Nokia N95 which is idling in the drawers here.

However, the Firmware on the E72 keeps on crashing, the browser is very cumbersome (I am not a great fan of the Symbia S60 browser) and the E-mail client isn’t as comfy as the one on iPhone OS 3.1.3. And I don’t even want to repeat myself on Nokia’s lame app store.

In short: I used to hate touch screen phones, I now like them.

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I bought this iPod Touch as an introduction to the OS, because it was very cheap and because I will give it to someone special soon. I also bought a used 2G iPhone – with a broken screen, which is yet to arrive see update here and here. Spare parts like display unit & new battery are already here. Which means that I’ll be using the E72 and a 2G iPhone over the next few weeks to see which phone performs better. As I said, an unorthodox comparison because the iPhone certainly won’t be as fast as the E72. Both devices will have to compete for the space in my pocket though.

For all of you out there who have been using iPod Touch and iPhones in the past: yes, you were right, I was wrong. The user experience really is the important part. Everything else like removable batteries, a better camera, built quality – who cares about those details? Geeks like me maybe. And you can clearly see where this stupidity ends up.

12 years of using Nokia phones. Got my first mobile contract in 1998 on a D2 (now: Vodafone) line. 5110, 7110, 8210, 6210, 6310, 6310i, 6230, 6230i, N95 E71, E72. Like M said, we were Nokia 4 life.

However, when it comes to the hardware inside the phone, I am very much pro Nokia. Why? Because a Nokia phone can be disassembled and reassembled within 4 minutes. Try that with an Apple device… which of course weren’t built for being opened by end users. From an engineering point of view, disassembling Apple devices is really interesting. Ah well, Bwana Kikuyumoja is slowly starting to understand the way the cookie crumbles in the Apple Universe…

So why a 2G and not a 3GS? Because
a) too expensive
b) I have a working phone – the E72 also has a compass, GPS and so on
c) I am waiting for a chance to get my hands on the Nexus One
d) I am expecting other – interesting – phones with Android in 2010 & 2011 and will save on those.

[UPDATE:] Updated the Nokia E72 to its latest firmware but still prefer using the iPhone 2G. The phone just does the job for me. Amazing. Ok, I’d prefer using a 3G with better connection speeds and GPS, but I’d have to sell my phone collection in order to afford a better phone.

Reasoning from above is still valid: Nokia = great hardware but lousy software. You know I am not alone with this assumption. Actually, what I’d love to have is Nokia / SonyEricsson hardware, coupled with the openess of Android and the Apple iPhone OS user interface. That would be great…

Shot & Burned

Dear Internet Diary,

I’ve bought an iPhone today.  A used 2G with a broken screen.

It was (really) cheap, a spontaneous deal and I bought it because I want to enjoy some apps like this one – which will most probably never be available for Symbian S60 3rd. Heck, it was even cheaper than a used iPod Touch (which are also still very expensive). Imagine a 2y+ old 2G iPhone still sells for the same amount (on eBay Germany) you could also cough up for a brand-new Nokia business phone.

So why this video? Because it’s cool and it represents to some extent what I’ve thought about the iPhone(s) & other “smartphones” in the past.

The apps, however, the missing apps…. the missing apps really did it for me.

My Nokia E72 is a great phone and I will continue using it as a phone, but – and that’s the important part – it will not be the device that I’ll pull out for some entertainment. Mind you, though, the same could be said about my N95, which obviously comes from the eNtertainment range of phones. However, I wouldn’t want to compare the iPhones with any Nokia phone, but the way apps are made available to consumers.

Sure, there are now free Ovi Maps with free navigation and a few other apps I’ve mentioned earlier, but that’s maybe 5-10 good apps for my E72 vs. a plethora of apps on Apple’s Appstore. And it’s not that there are no other Symbian apps – there are quite a few interesting ones out there – but you most probably won’t find them on Ovi, Nokia’s all-in-one website (“the door”) which also includes Ovi Store.

Now, Nokia’s “Appstore” Ovi Store is nothing but a lame joke.  And this in February 2010. They could do SO much better and start selling all their R&D beta apps, market them accordingly and show what’s really inside their devices (think of all the sensors). Ovi Store is also available online, via a browser – which I think is a very good approach (does that also exist for Apple’s Appstore, or will you have to visit their store using iTunes?). The Ovi Store application for Nokia phones though is a failure. Imagine what could be done if e.g. the developer of (the Twitter client) Gravity was to redesign this app…

You’d think that Nokia is where German car manufacturers used to be some time ago – at least from a customer’s point of view: a company run by engineers who are trying to deliver a perfectly engineered product, but then getting stuck in bureaucracy and end up selling less than they could.

Nokia. Great R&D, but such lame implementers. Great hardware, lame software. Why?

I don’t know. What I know is that I’ve just invested money into my first Apple product ever. Because Nokia couldn’t deliver.

My Top 6 S60 apps

The reason why every new mobile phone will be compared to Apple’s iPhone – obviously a very succesful phone with a superb user interface albeit known disadvantages that even let this consulting company diagnose some Apple fanboyz with the Stockholm syndrome for their ignorance…. the reason why almost everyone out there likes the iPhone is because it comes with a HUGE market of “apps”: applications & games, something that’s not necessarily important, but will make you pull out the phone when you’re bored.

Not so on Nokia’s side. I am using Nokia phones since 1998 and have recently swapped my N95 for an E72 – Nokia’s successor to the very popular E71 with a QWERTY keyboard instead of the T9 keypad on traditional phones. I can’t find the link right now, but remember having read these days that Nokia will from now on concentrate on QWERTY phones on one hand, and on the other hand push touchscreen phones. Some, like the new N900 which runs on MAEMO, feature both methods, so this range will be very interesting in the next few years.

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The E72 is based on Symbian S60, an operating system that has been around for quite some time now. And although it’s been quite popular in terms of sales, there are almost no interesting apps available for this platform.

Remember, we’re in December 2009 now, and the iPhone has been out for at least 2.5 years, with the Apple App Store being online since July 2008. Since then, over 2 billion (!) apps have been downloaded from their store.

The iPhone may be a crippled piece of monoculture for MacBook users, with a fixed battery, a very restrictive policy, no out-of-the-box functionality you’ll find on many other phones and a list of other flaws – but it STILL wins over most other phones – just because it comes with those apps. And also because it comes with a very usable browser.

Apps, which are dearly missed on Nokia’s S60 platform.

I may not be the perfect reference when it comes to testing different applications, but I can tell you that I’ve only kept six (6) additional applications on my E72 that I think are useful. There may be more – there certainly have to be more – but these six are the only ones that make sense to me for the moment:

1. Gravity

Scr000009There can’t be enough praise for this application. It’s the only – really GOOD – application for S60. A Twitter / Identi.ca / FaceBook / Google Reader client, a software that will allow me to feed my three active Twitter accounts directly from the phone, check some subscriptions on Google Reader or comment on my friend’s FaceBook status updates.

Nokia obviously knows this fact (they are busy promoting it on Ovi.com and other sites), but they had even failed to invite the developer (@janole, from Berlin/Germany) to their Nokia World 09 event which took place in Stuttgart this year. It’s not only a failure, but a disaster.

You can actually stop reading here because it won’t get better. In my not-so-humble-opinion on this, most – if not all – future applications for Nokia phones should be designed like Gravity. And remember that Gravity was designed & coded by one humble programmer only. Which goes to show what’s possible if you really want it. If interested, pls make sure not miss out this interesting interview with @janole. On this interview, Jan Ole also mentioned that any serious developer should get an iPhone or an iPod Touch to get some orientation on what a good user interface should look like. Hej Nokia, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel – just take the 100 best apps from Apple’s AppStore and port them to S60 (if possible). I know this approach has been discussed before on Nokia Forums, but I for one am still waiting for this …luxury.

A fully registred version of Gravity will cost you about 10 EUR – but it’s the best app you can buy for a Nokia S60 phone these days.

2. Fring

Scr000013Fring is a chat & VoIP client for your phone. You can use it to connect via Skype, MSN, Google Talk, Yahoo Msg, ICQ, AIM, Facebok, Twitter, last.fm & Co with your friends. It’s free, it works, it wins.

Fring is a nice app that I’ve tested right from the start two (?) years ago, it’s been constantly updated and will even work on a brand new phone like the E72. I don’t know how these guys are earning money with the provision of such a well-developed tool, but they have been around for some time now, are serious about what they do, respond to user requests and also cover many different operating systems.

It’s not that you’ll be seeing me chatting via my phone that often, but it’s great to have a mobile Skype version.

3. QR-Code Scanner

Scr000019Nokia BarCode / QR Code Scanner tool is a rather inconspicuous little tool, but of such great functionality to me that I’ve put a link to it on the stand-by screen of my phone.

While surfing the web, I sometimes see pages that I would like to instantly open via my phone. So I click on a barcode icon on the lower right corner of my Mozilla Memoryhog browser and – voilà – a QR-code window pops up with a link to that page, encoded via a nice little Mozilla FF plugin. I then only have to activate the scanner tool, scan the image and will instantly have the link or encoded text on my phone. Dead simple. And it works. I’d even pay for this app and the browser plugin if it wasn’t free.

4. YouTube client & Google Maps

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I am not a YouTube kid, but since it enables me to stream videos to my phone, I’ve started appreciating this nifty application – provided free of charge by Google.

Something similar applies to Google Maps which I actually prefer over to Nokia Maps just because it’s faster. Nokia Maps 3.x may be better these days as it also comes with preloaded maps and an optimized application. However, Google Maps worked right from the start. There wasn’t any iteration of updated versions which would remove this or that bug like on Nokia Maps. Google Maps just worked right from the beginning.

I’ve also tested full-blown Navigator suites for Symbian S60, but why should I pay extra if I can have free navigation via Google Maps? I am on a 1 GB flat fee on the phone anyways… so I am back to using both Google Maps and Nokia Maps – whichever is more appropriate for each situation.

5. Spb TV

Scr000003Speaking of multimedia content, I’ve been searching for an application that will stream live TV to my phone. Something like Zattoo for the European market, but with an S60 client (which they unfortunately don’t have and which could be their killer application).

And again, as much as I am not a YouTube kid, I even do not like TV that much. But sometimes I do, and those moments I want to watch it on my tiny phone screen. Sorry, David Lynch!

So the only option I can think of is Spb (IP-)TV, a rather strange application for USD 14,95 with a lot of unknown stations from around the world. The screenshot above shows it playing BBC Arabic with picture-in-picture mode.

Now, I probably won’t understand what they are saying as only learned how to order a cold beer in modern standard Arabic, but there are other channels on this (still locked on the screenshot, now unlocked) application. Some are in German, most in English, some in French, Russian, etc. Interesting. I understand German, English and French, so there’s some choice for me. It may not be the best TV app for a phone, but it works, has a unique and smart interface and made it to my Top6 list of Nokia Symbian S60 applications. And besides – is there any other S60 TV app?

Exactly. There are no alternatives.

6. Internet Radio

Scr000022Came shipped as a pre-installed app on my N95, had to add it manually on the E72 though (use the one from the Nokia 6120 Navigator). Works brilliantly well, perfect user interface, perfect out-of-the-box experience, no unnecessary information for the user which would probably only confuse. Choose your desired (internet) radio station by name, location/country, language or genre. Unfortunately, Radio Okapi from the DRC isn’t included anymore, but they do have triple r from Australia (which I obviously like :-).

It would be very interesting to know WHY Nokia hasn’t included this wonderful application with all their phones (why not on Nokia’s E-Series?), but I guess that it’s because they want to push us users into purchasing music files via their online music store. Ah, marketing. Horrible.

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Marketing may be one of the reasons why most applications for Nokia’s Symbian S60 still suck in 2009. Probably a mixture of greed and mismanagement that have led to this problematic situation where we see Nokia still producing great phones (c’mon, they are well engineered), but totally fucking it up on the AppStore side. Ovi.com is a really bad joke at the moment – the website is even more informative than their S60-based tool to access the Ovi store. It’s a chaos with mostly shitty applications, I’ve spend quite some time on Ovi.com, trying to find useful applications, only to quickly realize that I am much faster googling for anything of interest instead. Ovi.com may experience a relaunch in the coming month, but to imagine that they can pull anything positive with it right now is a dream that will not come true with the current version. Nokia is supposed to be the leader in the smartphone market – and their app store is anything but smart.

Scr000017Nokia’s Ovi.com app store or even individual stores on the interwebs – all of these initiatives are pretty much useless if we won’t see more applications like the few good ones above.

I don’t know which phone I’ll buy next, but I can tell you that I’ll put the availability of decent & cool applications as a top priority on my list of criterias for any upcoming phone. If Nokia can’t deliver, well then I’ll switch to Android or maybe even an iPhone and its OS (as much as I’d hate doing that).