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Monday, March 29, 2010

iPhone 3GS versus Nokia N96: Summary

I managed to get off to a good start with a packaging comparison on the two devices, but actually using the iPhone, and learning to dev for it has been a more tempting use of my time than writing a series of comparison posts, sorry ;)
Instead, here's a rundown of how I see the two phones shaping up against each other in some of the areas in which I'm a heavy user.

General use
There's no denying it, some people will struggle with a touch screen, and if that's a sticking point it's likely typing will be considered a pain, even though Apple's provided some great aids to make touch screen typing easier. Navigation is far more intuitive with touch and gestures than a key based system ever could be, and that works in the iPhone's favor. While in the past I have found switching to a new brand of phone usually takes some getting used to, figuring out how certain things are a achieved and where things are hidden in the menus, the iPhone's flat menu system and general approach means most users will be up and running at full speed in no time.

Winner: iPhone

Being born of the iPod, the iPhone naturally has a great music app, which also integrates well throughout the system. All the expected artist, genre and manual playlist support is in there, with Genius being a great addition which builds dynamic playlists based on a selected song. Podcasts are explicitly supported, with a separate podcast section in the library. One of the best aspects of this player is how light it is on battery, so much so that I now no longer carry music on an external drive to listen to on my PC at work-I just use my iPhone, and still have plenty of juice after two hours of commute podcasts and 8 hours of music. One thing I felt was missing was the ability to find and download podcasts directly, rather than having to subscribe through iTunes on a PC or Mac and sync episodes over. Nokia's podcasting app is really great in this area, allowing podcasts to be easily downloaded over a wifi connection without ever being anywhere near a PC. It's a sacrifice I can live with though, considering the amount of time I spend on a PC anyway.

Winner: Tie
I've never been particularly impressed with Nokia's browsers, and the first application I install on any new Nokia is usually Opera Mini. While it's sad that Apple has rejected Opera (and any browser not based on their own web component) from the App store, the truth is it's not that big a deal from a user's standpoint because Safari is an excellent browser. Opera's reformatting of pages is also generally not needed due to the huge screen, and easy touch & pinch navigation and zooming. Browsing standard web pages is actually bearable on the iPhone, and many major sites have iPhone/Android optimized versions to make it even easier.
Winner: iPhone

While the iPhone's photo library, with it's gesture support and fancy pinch zooming is a huge improvement on Nokia's media browser, the same just can't be said for the camera. This is one area where less definitely isn't more, and the lack of manual zoom or any kind of flash, not to mention a relatively low resolution camera is a massive letdown. Nokia's zeiss lense based cameras with their monster resolutions and integrated flash are far superior.
Winner: Nokia

Keeping organized
In all my years of Nokia use I never managed to get quite the level or integration I wanted with my contacts, email and calender systems. I lost count of the number of times I had to clean up duplicates due to a bad sync with an online provider or deal with other oddities. The iPhone is a whole other story. If you use Gmail, or any system that supports the exchange protocol, everything really does just work. The mail, contacts and calendar apps on the iPhone natively sync with these systems over the web, keeping you organized wherever you are. The applications themselves are a pleasure to use, and do everything you'd expect them to. The only criticism I have of the iPhone's organizational 'ecosystem' is that it would be great to see better use of the standby screen, such as populating it with upcoming appointments.

Winner: iPhone
Third party software
This is a hard one to call. If you want the ability to run multiple apps at once, Apple's one-at-a-time approach is going to irritate you, though with push notifications it's doubtful how much you'll really lose by not having apps running concurrently. There are apps that offer push notification support for Twitter, IM, and just about everyhing else you could want always-on, and it's definitely less of a drain on battery life (trust me, I used to tear through battery with all the stuff I'd run simultaneously). The iPhone App Store introduced a great, unified way to find software for your device, and while Nokia has copied this with the Ovi store, it's not quite as polished yet. With support for both J2ME and Symbian apps, most high end Nokia devices do have a massive library of applications to choose from, though iPhone has rapidly cought up, with around 150000 apps in the store. In both cases, if 5% of the available applications are worth looking at it would be a lot. iPhone wins this one for me, purely because the Apps I need were easy to find, and there really is an App for that-regardless of what 'that' might be.
Winner: iPhone
For years, I've tried to use my phone as a replacement gaming system and never really been 100% happy with the results. Nokia finally came close to having the right idea with the NGage service (not the NGage hardware) but they never really provided the necessary incentive and support to developers and the NGage brand was eventually retired last year (though it's supported through to the end of 2010). Ovi is of course expected to take it's place, but as mentioned above, it still has a number of wrinkles that need ironing out. Support for the iPhone as a gaming platform - both in terms of quality and quantity - has been absolutely spectacular. Long time mobile publishers like Gameloft have come into their own and been turning out quality titles, independent developers have made good use of the consistent target and straightforward sales model, and big console and handheld publishers have jumped into the ring too. The result is a huge range of games to suit all choices, and generally at reasonable prices ($7 for a full GTA game!). The rise and success of third party social gaming systems like OpenFeint and Plus+ has also given iPhone games the sort of social dynamic that Microsoft pioneered on the Xbox 360 and Nokia never quite achieved (though not for lack of trying) with NGage. To sum it up, I am so impressed with the iPhone as a gaming platform, that I finally parted with my PSP, which really is saying something. The next time I'm asked for advice on a portable gaming system, my advice will be simple: iPhone or iPod Touch.
Winner: iPhone
Finally, a look at mapping. This is one area where Apple needs a serious wakeup. Years ago when iPhones 'Maps' app was launched with a Google Maps backend, it was probably on par with what Nokia was offering. By now though, it is in desperate need of an update. One of Nokia's gems is the Ovi Maps system, the successor to Nokia Maps. Here is a list of just a few of the reasons Ovi Maps is far superior to iPhone Maps:
  • Maps can be preloaded, no wasting bandwidth
  • Turn by turn voice navigation (free as of last year)
  • A comprehensive list of points of interest
  • Up to date maps, seemingly even in remote backwaters
  • An excellent routing system
  • Traffic data
I have used 'traditional' single-purpose GPS's, and even they seem archaic after using Nokia's solution. Apple has a lot of work to do to catch up in this area, thought convincing Google to port it's Android Navigation app to their platform would be a good start. It is worth mentioning that there are better GPS solutions available on the App store, but they're pricey, and when compared with what Nokia now bundles at no cost, the winner is clear.
Winner: Nokia
Calling it
I think it's clear by this point where I stand, but that's largely because the iPhone's strengths fit in nicely with my priorities for a device. If any of the areas where it's relatively weak (mapping or photos basically) are most important to you, or you really can't stand the thought of not having a hardware keyboard, you may want to stick to a Nokia instead.

Posted via email from Matt's thoughts

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gautrain Simulator

The following is taken from the "Gautrain Simulator Fact Sheet" document:

"Highly trained and motivated staff are core to any efficient railway system and consequently both the initial and ongoing training of staff are receiving high priority within the Gautrain environment.

The first of nearly 50 train drivers have already graduated from the Bombela Operating Company’s training program and have been trained to high levels of technical skill and competence.

 An innovative part of this program is a computerized driving simulator which allows the trainee to gain “hands-on” experience of the functionality of the on-board signalling system (Automatic Train Protection - ATP) and acquire the skills necessary to react properly to the information and orders given by the ATP through the train cab Multi Function Speed Display (MFSD).

Thus, the Gautrain simulator has been designed as a representation of the train driving cab with its main functionalities and with real fittings from the train, such as the seat, the traction/brake controller and the buttons. A full representation of the train cab MFSD has been computerized on a touch screen.

The Gautrain simulator allows simulation of various ATP’s driving modes, from the normal driving mode (full supervision mode) to the degraded driving mode (proceed with caution, pass stop mode), including emergency scenarios. The main incidents that may occur on the Gautrain system have been also implemented on this simulator so as to be tested and learned by the drivers.

Two trainees can be trained simultaneously on the two “trainee stations” installed. Six other “attending trainees” are allowed to follow the exercises played by the two trainees, thanks to three plasma screens in the training room. Two instructors manage this group of trainees.

The simulator will be used in addition to practical training, carried out on the test track."

Posted via email from Matt's thoughts

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nokia, jad files and "Compulsory attributes missing"

I ran into a ridiculous issue today I thought I'd share the solution to in the hope that it saves someone else some grey hairs.
I brought in my Nokia N95 and N96 to test our latest project on. I loaded up the deployment page, clicked the appropriate jad link, and was faced with a "Compulsory attributes missing" error, with no description of what these attributes might be.
I pored over the jad, along with one from another project that worked, adde and removed various attributes, all with no effect. I trawled forum threads like this one in the hope of finding some mysterious Nokia specific attribute I needed to fill in.
Finally it dawned on me that yesterday we started using the project's subversion revision as the micro part (major.minor.micro) of the MIDlet-Version attribute, and I tried setting this back to a single digit. Bingo!
It turns out that while other manufacturers devices seem to have no problem with three digit version elements, Nokias will fail to read the jar correctly if any element is longer than two digits.

0.1.0 - ok
2.31.45 - ok
2.345.6 - not ok
123.456.789 - not ok

So much for tying builds to revisions..

Posted via email from Matt's thoughts

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Gautrain and Tweetup On Rails: doing social media right way

This weekend I had the incredible privelage of attending the Tweetup On Rails, an event organized to showcase the Gautrain and give the public an opportunity to get up close and personal with SA's impressive new public transport entry. This slick event (reportedly the largest tweetup to date in the country) absolutely dominated the South African Twitter and Facebook communities, with a constant stream of comments, quotes and media throughout the event and the rest of the weekend. This is the kind of coverage every marketer dreams of getting out of social media, so it's obvious this team is doing something very right.

While the event caught the attention and imagination of attendees and online spectators alike, the truth is that Tweetup on Rails is the culmination of a social media strategy that is, in my opinion, a shining example to every company in the country whose customers are the public at large. I'd like to discuss a couple of points that I believe make it so:
It's all about interaction
One of the key ways companies fail in their use of social media is in their assumption that the public will care about a steady stream of impersonal press statements. The Gautrain campaign by comparison, which included their Facebook page and Twitter account (managed by Maritha Prichard, Senior Writer for Gautrain), involved constant interaction with followers and fans. These online conversations both help spread the information to freinds and followers of those involved and add a human side to what would otherwise be another cold, disinterested corporation or state entity. It is in fact this interaction with one follower in particular (@gregnietsky) that led to the Tweetup.
But information is still good
That is not to say followers and fans aren't interested in information, they're following you after all. The trick is to keep it interesting. The Gautrain's posts include many short facts about the train as well as links to any articles that appeared on their own site or others about the project. This trivia alone would make their accounts worth a look.
Liberal use of media
Ours is a generation of constant stimulation and distraction, media is key in getting a message across. The Gautrain has done a phenominal job of this, with ample images and videos available for fans and followers to enjoy. These started with conceptual/model animations, and have included images and videos of the train and sites. This keeps things interesting, and gives people a really compelling reason to stay involved, and in the process learn some of that information that would have been lost in a simple paragraph of text.
From virtual to real
Ultimately the purpose of a campain like this is about attracting real-world customers, and real-world events allow those who have interacted with the online brand representatives to network with each other and the product actually being marketed. The tweetup was a great example of this.

The Tweetup itself was also a prime example of a well organized event. Brought to life by Gautrain's events management team and Sandy Roth (Bombardier Transportation Communications & CSI Manager, affectionately known to attendees as "Ag puleeez Sandy") and her team, the elements that made it a success would apply to any event:
Good time management
The published time was 10am to 12am. All activities were well scheduled into this time, and any attendee arriving at 10 would be suitably occupied until they departed, timeously, at 12. That said, it was obvious that time was allowed for South Africans' infamous tardiness, and 'critical' parts of the event were started late enough to allow for this, without delaying the overall schedule.
Catering and music
It's not necessary to blow the budget on an event's catering and sound, but food and music drive conversation and get people comfortable so having something for guests to enjoy should be considered a prerequisite. Don't go too fancy on the foods, try to keep it safe and simple which will also help cover a wide range of preferences. Don't overdo it on volume, you're running an informational event, not a house party. All boxes ticked here with Tweetup on Rails, the only comment being it would have been nice to have water as a drink option (non-bottled of course ;)).
Know your audience
A tweetup is inherently going to target the tech savvy, The Gautrain recognized this and had free WiFi (courtest of @gregnietsky) to be used by attendees tweeting, blogging and facebooking the event as it happened. There was also a realtime tweet wall tracking the tweetuponrails hashtag, and a poken giveaway. Obviously this wouldn't have been appropriate if the attendees had been executives or technophobes, but the point is to fine tune your event as closely as possible to your audience. Also worth mentioning is that the speakers at the events obviously had some idea of the audience they were targeting, which brings me to..
Three words: keep 'em short. As much information as possible should be packed into fairly short speeches, the rest of the talk time is better spent on audience interaction such as a Q&A session. Attendees of the Tweetup were in very capable hands here with Jack van der Merwe (Gautrain Management Agency CEO) and Errol Braithwaite (Bombela Marketing Executive) delivering concise and interesting speeches, and fielding questions from the floor effectively and openly. If at all possible, it's always worth sharing some new information that wasn't available before about your product. At very least this gives attendees something 'new' to share with non-attendees, a good reason to discuss your product. In this case the new information was a glimpse of the prototype Gautrain smart card that will be used by commuters to pay for the train and supporting services.
Hands on beats hands off
There's no better way to show off your product that to let your customers use it. Giving your attendees hands-on time with the product or service will beat generic slideshows and talks every time. Having knowledgable staff (not promo models briefed five minutes before the event) is a big help as well, as attendees will likely have more questions once they start using your product. Of course for the Tweetup on Rails this was the opportunity to 'ride the rails', and an army of Bombardier Transportation rail experts were on hand throughout the event to answer questions.
Blow their minds
Not every event can offer an exclusive ride on a high speed train, but there's always something you can do related to your brand that will make the event memorable to your attendees. Try keeping it relevant to your attendees (go carts for an event focused at senior citizens is probably not going to be a winner) and brand-you don't want your event remembered for the skeet shooting, but attendees forgetting your product.  Of course if your product or service is something inherently exciting, like the Gatrain, you're covered just by covering the hands on point.
Follow up
Finally, your event doesn't end when the last person leaves. Make any media and information relevant to the event available afterwards. Photos, videos, speech and Q&A transcripts and recordings, make them available to attendees and preferably those that couldn't attend as well. Bonus points if attendees have media that can be made available this way too. You will also want to make positive use of all feedback from the event and open up avenues for attendees to provide you with that feedback. The Gautrain is STILL publishing media made available by attendees and interacting with individuals who attended or wished they'd attended, and encouraging feedback from them as well on their social media channels.

Posted via email from Matt's thoughts

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Good to se garbage being split (for recycling I hope) at @TheGautrain depot

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Stopped at Marlboro station

From one end to the other

View into the next carriage

Passing Allandale

Passing another carriage in the yard

Friendly gautrain staffers

Learner driver

Gautrain cockpit instruments

The expensive, sleek profile-exclusive to the gautrain

What the captain sees on his way out

Gautrain wheel mechanism


Tweet wall

Pixelpipe test

Pixelpipe test

Posted via web from Matt's thoughts


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