Thursday, November 20, 2008

Experimenting with media streaming

Inspired by Nokia Home Media we tried out media streaming between various devices. The setup included two PCs with Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux, a Playstation 3 and a Nokia N96.

First we tried streaming video from Linux to N96. We faced our first obstacle when starting Home Media in N96. The software tried to use previously defined WLAN access point and didn't offer the available ones. The access point had to be specifically selected from the settings. If the previously defined access point is not available it would be logical to show the ones at hand.

Setting up a media server on Linux is pretty easy using the Mediatomb software. Basically you just select the files to be shared with a browser user interface and that's it. The problems start when trying to view the files with N96 though. You can see the shared files just fine but playback of music or video won't start. We simply were not able to get this work in spite of several attempts.

After this we tried streaming files from Linux to PS3. Mediatomb was easily found under the Video menu in PS3. Also streaming of videos worked but some of the video files didn't work automatically. Mediatomb is able to transcode videos on the fly to a supported format but we actually skipped that part for now. How about music? Ok, we navigated to music folder of the shared PC files, and none of the files were found. After a moment of confusion we realized that you actually have to select the media server under the Music menu in able to see and play music. This seems pretty silly because you still can see the whole shared file hiearchy. Anyway, after this streaming music worked ok.

There is a Windows counterpart for Mediatomb called TVersity which is free and has streaming and transcoding capabilities. For some reason TVersity couldn't be seen at all from N96 though.

What about streaming from N96 to PS3? First it was pretty difficult to see the N96 media server in PS3. We had to toggle share content/hide phone/show phone a couple of times to see the device in the PS3 list. Browsing files worked fine but selecting something to play didn't seem to make anything happen. After a while we noticed that it was actually just some buffering delay that took about 10 seconds. All in all everything worked and the quality was fine but the buffering was a bit annoying. Videos didn't work but this was to be expected as PS3 is a little picky about video formats.

Trying Play via home network from N96 didn't however work at all. This is because PS3 expects itself to be the controlling point and is just a media viewer and not a media renderer. This is quite a common problem with several home entertainment devices.

One of the biggest problems using these above mentioned media servers with N96 was that the devices didn't see each other straight away. This was an interesting geeky experiment but can't be recommended for serious use. Streaming from PC to PS3 works well with different platforms but if you want to use Nokia Home Media enabled devices the best option is to use Simple Center. Unlike the other media servers, Simple Center also works as a media renderer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

First impressions on Ovi Suite - no thanks

I thought that I'll explore Nokia's relatively new Ovi Suite and start using it with my Nokia N96. After all Ovi Suite should be designed for NSeries phones. How wrong could I have been?

I'm not going to go through all the features Ovi Suite has because it has lots of those. Maybe best way of describing Ovi Suite is to say: "Ovi Suite tries to be your 'home entertainment center' that has everything, from music to maps and from videos to software updater and phone backups."

My first impression was that it is just a big mess and it is difficult to find or do anything. I don't know the reason for this because, for example, I think Nokia's phones, especially S60 phones are easy to use and I can find all the features easily. If I compare Ovi Suite to iTunes, iTunes was much easier to use in the beginning. I think the reason for this is a little similar to the fact some say that iPhone is much easier to use than S60 phones. After all with only few features it is easy to make usable product. This is a really big challenge for Nokia because they want to do all the possible things with their Ovi concept.

I have to be honest and say that I haven't used Ovi Suite enough to make a final decision, but it didn't impress me in the beginning. I'm for example getting "runtime error" when I've chosen "Yes, show me what's new" and try to resize the window.

This is something that you shouldn't get in this kind of product.

I'm a big fan of PC Suite and use it daily at work for synchronising calendar and contacts and sending SMSs using my PC. It seems that Ovi Suite is missing all these features; at least I didn't find them.

If I understood correctly, Nokia remade everything from scratch when they created Ovi Suite, and might eventually stop supporting PC Suite. I would like to say that this will not happen any time soon.

I think I'll try to reserve some time on weekend and explore Ovi Suite more, maybe my thoughts will change...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Should you be scared of mobile viruses?

I attended to a quite big party recently and noticed that someone was trying to send me something via bluetooth. As you can guess, it was a mobile virus.

I did two things that you should never do. Firstly I had switched on bluetooth and secondly I answered yes to every possible question. I received a virus to my phone, but it refused to install. The reason for this was platform diverseness. Virus was from a S60 2nd edition phone and my phone (N96) was 3rd edition Feature Pack 2.

Now you might ask why did I do these things? The reason for this is work. I'm working with different kind of technologies and security is also part of it. The second reason is that I'm just interested in these things.

To answer the question in the title, I would say "No, not yet". There are a few mobile viruses, but at the moment there isn't any business case for virus writers / criminals. I have received a virus via bluetooth 5 times in 3 years or so. Here is a simple list how to avoid mobile viruses:

  1. Switch off bluetooth. Bluetooth is a really common way to distribute viruses because usually operators filter viruses that are included in MMSes.

  2. Don't install any programs if you haven't initiated the installation process. Viruses don't install themselves, usually the user needs to answer "yes" multiple times. It is also good to remember that cracked software can contain viruses, so don't use cracked software.

  3. Don't give your phone to anyone you don't trust. At the moment there are some keyloggers for phones and software that records your phone calls, but if you don't allow anyone to install these, you are safe.

  4. Install Anti-Virus software. If you want to be 100-percent sure, install Anti-Virus software. They work pretty well nowadays and don't slow down other processes in your phone.

Cute updates from Trolltech Qt Software

Did you know that Qt is a spelling for cute? You do now if you didn't already. Anyway, there has been some interesting updates related to Qt technologies lately.

First of all Qt is going S60 and there is a technology preview available already. There is also a webcast about making Qt work in your S60 phone behind the link. The full release is scheduled for mid 2009. This is of course old news by now but what does this really mean? Well, first of all, Qt is going to reach millions of S60 phones. Secondly, developing cross-platform applications for S60, Windows CE and embedded Linux becomes available. Sounds great.

Another update from Qt Software (formerly Trolltech) is a Qt 4.5 technology preview. Most notable updates of the new version are runtime performance improvements, integration of latest WebKit that enables Netscape plugins and Flash, and 64-bit support for Mac OS X Leopard.

Finally, there is also a preview release of Qt Creator IDE. You can find a presentation video on the site as well. The final release is scheduled for early 2009. Qt Creator integrates an code editor, Qt Designer, graphical debugger front end and a cross-platform build tool. I have mentioned Qt Designer before. Qt Creator doesn't support mobile platforms yet but those are on the roadmap. The features supporting this include remote compilation and debugging as well as device deployment solutions.

Interesting to see how Nokia's involvement shows in the different announcements. Apparently Qt development proceeds as planned but there are certainly also some new issues related to mobile development.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Some thoughts from Symbian Smartphone Show 2008

I had the opportunity to participate to Symbian Smartphone Show 2008 for the first time. It was work-related so I spent quite much time on S60's stand but still had free time for exploring the rest of the area. Now someone can ask why a Nordea employee would spend time on S60's stand? I'll answer to this question after a while.

I'm not going to give you a full coverage of the conference, just some miscellaneous thoughts:

I know that you've heard this before but Symbian is going open source. It will be interesting to see how this will affect Symbian development, smartphone market share and number of services.

User experience was seen extremely important. This is really good news, users are not interested in technology (well, some are), they want useful services.

Different kinds of widgets were popular topic. There are a number of companies that offer a widget platform, e.g. Microsoft, Apple, Nokia and Opera. MS and Apple weren't in the conference but they are also supporting widgets. It is interesting to see if widgets will keep their original purpose? I would say that companies will misuse widgets by thinking that it is the main thing now and everything users want is widgets. This shouldn't be the case, widgets are "small services" that provide you important information, not everything. A good example would be a financial widget that provides basic stock information, and when you want to sell or buy stock you are following you would open your desktop or mobile browser.

Be proactive, not reactive. Mobile users don't have multiple browser windows open for checking if something has happened. This why it is important to tell the user if there has happened something important. If I had to advertise Nordea's proactive products, I would mention account alert.

Nokia's Kai Öistämö mentioned in his keynote that Nokia offers an innovative platform to developers and they are not disdaining anyone. He actually mentioned Apple a few times and how they are behaving toward developers. I believe this kind of approach is really interesting and most probably there are lots of discussions internally when some service is competing with Nokia's own service. On the other hand, this keeps everyone awake and improving their services.

During the conference it was also mentioned that "Qt is going Symbian". Qt will be supported in S60 starting from S60 3rd edition Feature Pack 1. Qt offers real cross-platform support. Read benefits of Qt.

Overall Symbian Smartphone Show was worth participating and I can really recommend it to anyone who is working with / interested in Symbian / smartphones.