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Author Archive for RogerS



We all know how hard it is to get release dates out of Nokia — sort of an extreme version of “ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies.”

But it's even harder to get word of a product's demise. One day a product shortage is a sales-finished notice. That's why this random encounter with an unavailable-in-your-area notice for the Nokia N800 makes me wonder what's in store.

'Nokia

PS: Did I say the unavailable area is North America the U.S.? Seems like a pretty big market to run dry in.

Added later: Now someone's posted the info that Dell has discontinued selling the N800.

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'Sharp

You might regard the Sharp Willcom D4 UMPC (pictured above) as either a competitor to Nokia's N810 Internet Tablet — or maybe as its next-generation successor.

The D4's 5-inch screen has 1024×600 resolution: better than the NIT's 800×480. It comes with 1GB of RAM and a 40GB drive. WiFi and Bluetooth, of course, slide-down keyboard and camera. (No GPS) Befitting a next-generation device, the D4 is the first web tablet utilizing the Atom CPU, Intel's low-power chip for mobiles (maybe I should say “speedy chip” it runs at 1.33GHz).

Yup, the D4 has everything going for it. “Beating Nokia at its own game even,” you might say.

Except the design parameters for a weblet include more than “screen shows a full web page width.” Light weight — the D4 is twice as heavy as an N810. Fits in a pocket — the D4 is 1 inch wide and 7.4 inches long; but maybe Sharp's customers have bigger pockets than I do.

Well, sure, they'll need to. At $1525, the D4 obviously requires deep pockets.

Me, I'll be buying weblets in $500 installments — is a D4 worth more than three N810s?

Not to me, anyway, with my small-in-every-way pockets.

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See follow-up comments here and here.

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Every time I mention the Nokia Internet Tablets — on the web or in conversation — I always describe them as running “a full Debian

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Linux (modified to be aware of the hardware keys).” I used to say “virtual keyboard and hardware keys” but the N810 obviates that.

This passes the truth-in-advertising test, I think. But it's not one-hundred percent true.

Sure you can take just about any Linux application and compile it so that you get something that runs on a NIT. This screenshot of the particularly idiosyncratic font-creation program Fontforge running on my N810 is proof enough for me.

'Fontforge

Even if some apps are slow or not really suited to a tablet, I am generally tempted to say you can do anything on a NIT that you need to do on a computer.

Except you can't print.

Can't print out that email with the address and time of the meeting. Can't print that web page with the neat info. Can't print out the short notes entered on the train coming in to work. Can't print out that sketch of the new design to hand to your wife.

Supporting every printer imaginable — OK, it's not something I want to ask for. I think a “full” Linux ought to, but I'm pragmatic enough to know that's a fool's errand.

It would be nice if some apps could print to a generic inkjet or Postscript device.

See, sometimes I want to surf away from my desk, on the walkaround web.

And sometimes I want to walk around with a piece of paper in my hand.

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Poking around the Nokia BetaLabs site recently, I learned about Nokia Audiobooks, which is pretty much just what you'd expect: Recorded books that you can listen to on your Nokia S60 phone.

The description points out that MP3 compression isn't really suited for voice, and that using the AMR-WB codec* makes for way smaller files — 5 to 10 times smaller — that still have “excellent speech quality.”

So you take any audiobook, convert it to the speech-optimal format with Nokia's free Audiobook Manager software, and listen to it with Nokia's Audiobook Player on the S60.

Why bother? Well, why waste space? “A typical 400 page novel translates into 10-20 hour long audiobook, which would traditionally take more than dozen CDs or hundreds of megabytes of low-quality MP3 files.” Transfer times are faster and storage needs lower.

Maybe MP3 players will become MP3/AMR-WB players, handling this new format for on-the-go listening. But, honestly, I'd rather listen to an audiobook on my internet tablet than my phone.

Me, I don't like headphones or earbuds, so I really like the NIT's speakers. I wonder, Why doesn't Nokia port the Audiobook Player to the tablet? Or adapt the built-in media player to handle AMR-WB?

It makes a lot of sense to me. And, well, that's what I'd like to hear.

ADDED LATER:

Altruist** that he is, qwerty12 (aka fahim) has added the AMR codecs to mplayer. See this thread. Well, there are some hitches (can't see your amr files in gmplayer to launch them). I'm actually listening to a podcast of Cory Doctorow reading the first installment of True Noise, which I converted from an 18.3 MB mp3 file. The amr file is but 6.7 MB.

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* “AMR-WB codec: Nokia Audiobooks uses standardized Adaptive Multi Rate-WideBand speech encoder (3GPP 26.190 / ITU-T G.722.2 See www.3GPP.org / www.itu.ch) for audio data compression in order to keep memory requirement for a book very small while maintaining excellent speech quality.”

** Doesn't listen to audiobooks himself but added the codec just because we asked so plaintively!

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I just read a post that I think others would be interested to see. In a thread about the MyPaint application, forum member MobileDivide wrote that “[MyPaint] and Numptyphysics have redefined my tablet use over the last few days.”

I can believe it.

MyPaint is a “small [Hildonized] pressure-sensitive painting application written in python and gtk” by Martin Renold and ported to Maemo by Anders Gudmundson.

Here are a couple example drawings done on an N810 in MyPaint by ArnimS:

Drawing by ArnimS

Drawing by ArnimS

Not the usual kind of thing we've seen so far.

Numpty Physics is Tim Edmond's gravity-physics game using the same Box2D engine that Crayon Physics does.

MyPaint and Numpty Physics have one thing in common — they let us use the Internet Tablet as a tablet. Sketching can never be done gracefully with a mouse. Even graphics tablets — hand on the tablet, eye on the screen — have a disconnect. So sketching your idea right on the screen — or painting it — is, well, transformative.

Unlike other graphics programs the IT has seen so far, MyPaint focuses on brush controls, rather than image-editing, enabling the full range of styles a pressure-sensitive tablet can capture.

When we talk about the Internet Tablet as being revolutionary or transformative, it's because everything in its conception — display, open platform, size and weight, price — serves to free us from the constraints our desk/laptops have imposed on us.

So, thanks are due to Martin and Anders and Tim and Erin Catto* for these specific versions of these great applications. And to the Nokia seers who conceived the Internet Tablet.

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* Box2D progenitor.

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A couple weeks ago, the Good Morning Silicon Valley newsletter posted a link to a story on Slate (with a devastatingly effective demo on YouTube) of Crayon Physics Deluxe:

Petri Puro, the developer, put it together by himself (it bears similarities to some other gravity-based physics demos/games) and won the “Seamus McNally Grand Prize — the indie-game equivalent of the Academy Award for best picture”* — at the recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

I downloaded the prototype game Puro wrote, Crayon Physics**, and was blown away by it. So was my son, and we ended up fighting over the mouse to solve the last two levels.

Wow! Crayon Physics is just too much fun to describe (stop now and watch that YouTube demo). OK, Slate comes close: “an ingenious game that looks like it was designed by a third-grader.” I immediately wrote Petri Puro and begged him to consider porting Crayon Physics Deluxe to the Nokia internet tablet.

My real thought was “Too bad that Tim Samoff already gave that gift N810 away!” I know that once Petri got an internet tablet in his hands he would realize that the tablet and his game are meant for each other.

Then a thread was started here in the ITT forums about the game — I want this game on my N800!. I'm not the only one who sees the need.

Maybe somebody in the Nokia food chain will realize the same thing when they see Crayon Physics Deluxe demoed and send Petri a tablet.

in the meantime, I'm going to suggest that everyone who thinks likewise write to Petri and to anyone they know at Nokia and tell them the same thing: Crayon Physics and internet tablets belong together.

Let's send Petri a tablet!

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* To quote Chris Baker's original Slate piece.

** Following the precepts of the Experimental Gameplay Project, namely that the game encompass a single theme (i.e., “gravity,” “vegetation,” “swarms,” etc), be written by a single person, and be completed within one week.

Added later:

Visitors to Petri Puho's blog at Kloonigames can see his other games — he writes one a month and posts them there — and learn a little about this 24-year-old: “At the moment I’m a student at Helsinki Polytechnic, studying computer science. Game development has been a hobby of mine for at least ten years now. My gaming interests don’t just limit to video games, but also include pen & paper roleplaying games, strategy games, board games, card games, etc.”

Chris Baker, in his Slate piece, notes that “despite his obvious talent, Purho isn't sure he wants to go into the industry after he gets his computer-science degree. 'It's more about writing documents than it is about designing games,' he says. 'And I really hate writing documents.'” And Baker adds that “Purho will probably have a better chance of moving the industry forward if he keeps flying solo.”

I think that's probably true. Now why does that seem so obvious? You see, I'm not the only one who agrees. To further Petri's opportunities, an anonymous benefactor has indicated his intention to donate a now-idle N800 (yes, made superfluous by his recently acquiring an N810) to Petri. Shipping to Finland to occur posthaste. Games, inspiration and possible port to NIT to follow.

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'Nokia

In Las Vegas, where the CTIA Wireless 2008 show is going on, Nokia officially announced its N810 Internet Tablet WiMAX Edition today at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

Because WiMAX signals extend 2-3 miles — as compared to a few hundred feet for WiFi — WiMAX networks enable broadband internet connections (2-4 Mbps, with peaks of up to 10 Mbps) for users on the move.

The device will be “available in the United States during the summer of 2008 in areas where WiMAX connectivity is available.”

Nokia also announced an

upgraded OS2008 [that] introduces useful new features to the platform, including an enhanced e-mail client, support for Chinese character rendering in the browser and RSS feeds and Seamless Software Update functionality to eliminate manual software updates, making periodic updates of the operating system quick and easy. While standard on the Nokia N810 WiMAX Edition, current owners of Nokia N810 and N800 Internet Tablets with earlier operating systems will be able to upgrade their device to the revised operating system for free during the second quarter of 2008.

I'm not sure if this adds anything to what we already knew about the next OS release, but since Reggie is having all the fun in Las Vegas, I'm reduced to reading and re-reading the press release.

Here's the obligatory statement of significance by an upper-level executive:

“By delivering the kind of open Internet experience that consumers previously only expected on a desktop PC, the Nokia N810 WiMAX Edition is a compelling example of how next generation broadband wireless technology will not only change the way people think about the Internet, it will change the very nature of the Internet itself,” said Ari Virtanen, Vice President of Convergence Products for Nokia.

“Much in the way that the evolution of the fixed Internet from dial-up to broadband enabled a host of new Internet services and changed people’s expectations of what an Internet experience should be, the transition to a broadband Internet experience set free from the constraints of a fixed network will spark the next wave of new mobile Internet services, and will forever change the perception of what the Internet can be.”

I think Ari means the walkaround web is a totally new experience and the new tablet will be the first to deliver it in this form. No argument there. (I guess if you're in one of those WiMAX locations, we're talking about the drive-around web, actually.)

Just so there's no confusion about this new tablet: When not in range of a WiMAX network, the Nokia N810 WE can also “access the Internet over Wi-Fi or via conventional cellular data networks by pairing to a compatible mobile phone via Bluetooth technology.”

Nokia's press release ambiguously notes that “a number of VoIP and IM clients are available, including Skype, Google Talk, and Gizmo5, which can also take advantage of the Nokia N810 WiMAX Edition’s built-in web cam for video calls.” Whether this statement includes Skype among the VoIP clients that can make cam calls depends upon how you parse the sentence. Clarification is already being sought on this.

Added later:

Where will you find WiMAX? Alex Vorn at World of Gadgets cites these locales in 2008: Baltimore, Washington DC and Chicago (with Boston “soon” and New York after that).

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I have some computer smarts, but sometimes I'm baffled by the Nokia Internet Tablet.

There are some things I just don't understand about the tablets (or their OS or the pre-installed apps):

  • Why I can't construct a playlist in the Media player?

    You'd think this would be a no-brainer. I just want to grab 5 or 6 of the 80 songs on my N810 and play them together, even though they're by different artists on different albums.

  • Why isn't connecting to my PC via Bluetooth really easy?

    Sometimes I'm at my office, where WiFi is verboten. I want the tablet to use my PC's direct connection to the internet — I've done it plenty of times laptop-to-laptop in meetings where only one person was plugged into the wired network. Why isn't this a snap with the NIT?

  • Why is Linux made so hard?

    OK, it's clear that Nokia doesn't want to support unsophisticated users with all the things that can trip them up in Linux.

    But why doesn't File Manager have a simple switch (Show hidden) that lets me see the whole contents of my drive? Even with the trick of adding a symbolic link to root (or any directory), I still can't see hidden directories (eg, whose name begins with a dot).

    Which leads me to my next question:

  • Why can't I easily add fonts to my tablet and use them in the browser?

    Right. I had to make a /home/user/.fonts/ directory and mail myself a font and then jump through command-line hoops to put a simple font on my tablet. And go through contortions to tell the browser to use it. (Except I haven't succeeded in that yet. Emoticon with amazed look of disbelief here.)

    Might as well ask the real puzzler here:

  • Why can't OS2008 et al just let you be root when you need to?

    If us unsophisticates need so much protection against our careless actions, shouldn't we be wearing goalie gloves when we handle scissors? Why isn't there just a switch that says, “It's OK. I'll take the consequences. Just please let me make a directory or use apt-get without having to acquire developer-class knowledge.”

    Heck. That's the deep side. But what about the glam cam that arrived with the N800?

  • Why isn't there a face-to-face cam call capability yet?

    It's only the most amazing possible use of this walkaround-web device — unlimited cam calling via WiFi without having to sit in front of an anchored webcam.

    It's visual IM — just leave the call connected and talk when you want to talk. It's IM taken to the next dimension.

    Btw, don't tell me this is here. My wife has the N810 and I have an N800 loaner from Nokia, and we can't manage it. It needs to be click-simple and using Skype.

  • Why does upgrading the OS obliterate every manually installed app I've put on my tablet?

    I know, if I go from Windows XP to Vista (and I haven't), I'd have to re-install my apps. But every upgrade and patch in WinXP is managed without that requirement. Shouldn't it be possible in this marvelous Linux world?

  • Why can't the application memory be extended to one of the memory cards?

    Is swap the extent of this? You know, I'm willing to risk the possibility that my flash card will get the same spot written to 100,000 times and fail.

Yeah, there are more things I don't understand about my tablet's design. Just getting the answers to Why not a model with a keyboard? and How can you call it an internet tablet without handling Flash and YouTube? have really lowered my orneriness. I won't pick and pick and pick.

On the other hand, it's your turn. What behavior or aspect of the Internet Tablet makes no sense at all to you?

Added later:
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* Tablet-to-tablet cam calls via Gizmo apparently arrived during my recent period of submersion. I'm happy, even if it isn't Skype. (I mean: even if the five friends I know with VOIP all use Skype instead of Gizmo.) Me-to-wife cam-IM is plenty great

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Saying goodbye to the old flame (a gone-to-seed Thinkpad):

I'm sorry, so sorry. I know I have spent many hours with you, spent hundreds of dollars treating you to all the best money could buy. I have made sure you had everything you have needed in the years we have been together. I even loved you enough to load Linux instead of Windows.

I'm sorry, so sorry I do not spend as much time with you as I once did but I must be honest. I have found a new love. My new love is thinner, prettier and more fun….

I'm sorry, so sorry. I'm not trying to rub it in but this Nokia N810 does nearly everything I once needed you to do.

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I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm not actually developing anything for the Nokia Internet Tablets. I don't know C or C++ or Python*. (Or Ruby either for that matter.**)

Still, I'm intrigued by a reference to PluThon, which lets you develop Python apps for maemo without requiring Scratchbox.

PluThon is an Eclipse plug-in that allows you to interact with your N800 or N810 and run/debug your Python app directly on the tablet. You work in Eclipse, get your usual language support, and SSH the app to the device from within Eclipse (er, PluThon). And skip the emulation stage entirely.

Right now, PluThon is Linux-only, but it seems like it could be made to work with a Windows setup too.†

Not that I can use it‡. But I can dream, can't I?

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* Hey, lucky Java isn't available on the Internet Tablets or I'd go 0 for 4 on the big ones, eh?

** I have at least made Ruby's acquaintance. Just barely enough to nod in recognition when we pass in the hallway though.

† And if you want that, why don't you send a note to eclipse-integration@maemo.org and ask for it. I have.

‡ Hey, what's to stop an Eclipse-fond Rubyist from doing the same for that language?

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