On HP webOS and the HP Veer

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As the HP Veer is about to be launched in the US (May 15th on AT&T), reviews are being published. Some are more positive than others, naturally, and i am not surprised that the reviews of the webOS focussed sites write about this new little kid in town a lot more positive than those that review everything. The Veer is special, and I felt irritated when it was announced. I felt like: Hell no, why did they turn the Pixi into a slider (the hinge is said to be great, firm and sturdy, though), and even worse, why did they keep the Pixi´s subpar display? I couldn’t really understand it and I can´t now and so can´t some others.

The one review I really agree to is the one that Joshua Topolsky, former editor-in-chief at engadget, now at thisismynext.com while building something new, did. Mr Topolsky is not a webOS hater, he´s been using the Pre2 for quite some time and told everybody that he liked it, but he is not a fanboi and honestly, there could have been more progress with webOS since HP bought Palm.

The worst part about todays webOS is the really bad Email application. I am not talking about Synergy, I am talking about the UI of the eMail application in webOS, which really offers the options one would like to see. To delete multiple messages (or, say, to mark some as read) is virtually impossible – you have to delete one, and then the next. There are a few patches in Preware for the Mail app, but patching is not for everybody and these patches don´t make the Application a good one, they are much rather quick hacks to make the thing less painful. The only thing that became notably better with webOS 2.1.0 is that you can opt out deleting mails by a simple swipe – on 1.* I once lost an important mail without noticing it because of this stupid behaviour, so this “just swipe and it´s gone” thing should have never been done in the first place.

Besides that, loading in webOS often takes longer than it should. Sometimes this is due to performance issues in webOS, sometimes its due to a slow network connection. But you can´t really distinguish it in many apps, so in many users minds its webOS that´s blamed, with its huge, slowly spinning wheel.

Another example is the startup webOS. Takes forever. Android Gingerbread is a lot quicker on inferior hardware.

I really think that HP should work on optimization or start something like a HP webOS enthusiast program, which receives updates quick and early and which allows people to really change things. Open
up some more stuff, make your development process a little more open, allow people to port over newer, more optimized kernel versions to webOS, make it easy to change the used version of gstreamer to allow for support of *.ogg and *.flac files, enable people to try out newer WebKit / V8 versions or something – I am pretty sure that there are tons of people out there, that would totally love to help you to make webOS faster if you open it up a little bit more. Move, HP. Don’t listen to your webOS fanbois, listen to those, who know your opponents. The main advantage of your webOS on smartphones is the great card based multitasking. But the others are getting closer. Android won´t suck at multi tasking usability forever, even Windows Phone 7 will get something nice and we don´t know how great actual MeeGo devices will be (BTW, MeeGo is quick at startup, maybe, HP, run Luna atop of MeeGo? Google builds Chrome OS on a MeeGo basis, so why shouldn’t HP do that?)

Back to the Veer, the little Qualcomm MSM7230 powered powerhouse. I won´t buy one. A small screen with an awkward resolution and not too great colors is not for me, and BTW, i consider the Pre/Pre Plus/Pre² to be a small smartphone already. A Palm PreÂł, with a better Mail application… that might get me tempted.

Comment: Delayed AOSP release of Honeycomb

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Recently, Google´s Andy Rubin stated that it would take some more time until they would release the Sourcecode of Android Honeycomb. This is not a new phenomenon, it often took Google longer to release the Sourcecode than the SDK or the first device running the same Android release. This time it´s going to take a lot longer – but, honestly, this is not surprising.

First of all, one hears of random application / service crashes in Honeycomb, secondly screenshots of Honeycomb on smartphones have indicated, that this Honeycomb platform could have used some more time in the lab – I believe that the early (in terms of code finalisation) release of Honeycomb was actually a business decision: Get people exited with Honeycomb tablets before the iPad 2 is out must have been the idea, and actually, this seems to have worked out – while many tech journalists say, that the iPad 2 is the best tablet on the market right now, most of them mention that Honeycomb nontheless is a strong platform that just needs the right hardware (Samsungs new Galaxy Tabs are going to be great, the Motorola XOOM is often refered to as early, thick and heavy) to be a really strong competitor.

Releasing a software really fast always means that there are some ugly hacks in it, and it makes perfect sense that Google doesn´t want to release  source codes that contain ugly hacks and doesn´t run well on every hardware platform – and they can do so due to choosing the Apache license, which isn´t as demanding in that sense as the GPL (especially GPL v3) is – they may be sued to release the GPL licensed software parts though (kernel and a few libraries).

Still, openess is one of the mayor selling points of Android, and so I am very positive, that Google will release the source code of Honeycomb as soon as they have fixed the issues in it – they could have made Android closed  source in the first place if they had wanted too – you don´t need a Linux kernel to run Dalvik – a story the Blackberry Playbook tells us (most likely, they might actually run a virtualized Linux kernel – the TI OMAP 4 SoC is definitely powerful enough to do so).

On the other hand, as someone watching community projects and being in contact with open source people for some time, this is the time to mention again that Android isn´t as open as other projects – new releases are always created behind closed doors, while some bits others changed on the previous release are pulled in, this is not open development. It´s just a opening to allow modifications and additions, but then, again, this does it for many and is in a way more than what you are able to do on other platforms that rely on more GPLed code (think of webOS and the no ogg, no flac media player) – the platforms efforts that are entirely open source are rarely supported / pushed forward by companies and thus remain enthusiast free time projects (G(PE)² is an example here, as it was backed by a unnamed company for a rather short time).

Android is just the most open / free mayor platform out there, but that´s something, isn´t it?

Samsung GT-i8320 – Impressions of the LiMo compliant Vodafone 360 OS

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Of course I didn´t get the Samsung H1 / GT-i8320 to use it with the preinstalled system, a LiMo compliant system made customized for the 360 service of Vodafone (an european operator), I bought one to play with the original software, bought it to try MeeGo, Android, SHR and other software on this. But right now I am using it with the original LiMo compliant software – features like FM Radio or the quite ok camera don´t work on Android yet (H1droid, which, btw, was sluggish from time to time (not due to Ram shortage)) and they are nice to have.



In fact, the original OS on the H1 is not too bad. Its UI is certainly not for business use, rather for the young, social animal. Nontheless the Facebook application for the 360 platform is disappointing, and I didn´t find a twitter client (and there won´t be one, as the 360 platform has been discontinued by Vodafone).
It´s not the first time that I want to write: “Good ideas poorly carried out.” In a way this is different though. As there is no public SDK for native software (only a SDK for widgets), you don´t find much software – some doesn´t work (I tried to run a chinese FBreader port, which didn´t install).. nontheless, out there are tons of applications that could run on this LiMo r2 compliant software platform, as it is build around GTK+ and clutter. And that´s not all: Some J2ME apps don´t run well, permission settings for these are crippled and makes using some of these painful (read: those requiring permissions, e.g. for web access).
Think of Abiword embedded, fbreader-gtk, pidgin or gwibber or the GPE PIM apps – great opportunities missed due to the closed nature of a platform, that was sold as a smartphone platform, but in reality, as it exists, offers no more than a feature phone platform would. 

As you may have guessed already, I will spend my free time (as soon as I will have free time again) to try porting those FOSS applications to the LiMo compliant 360 OS.

If you love videos, I recommend this video review by phonearena.com.

GTA04: Speed up your FreeRunner / Neo1973

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After having decided to reactivate linmob (rebranded to LINMOB) I asked myself what would be a good first article, and there could be only one answer: Write about something that isn´t sprayed on the walls of every other tech blog / tech news site, and it would be great if that would fit to past linmob articles.

GTA04 (Image by Golden Delicious Computer)

Luckily I then remembered the GTA04 project (gta04.org) which is building replacement boards for Openmoko´s FreeRunner / Neo1973 phones. The company behind this thing is well known in the german Openmoko community – Golden Delicious Computers / handheld-linux.com – they were not only official Openmoko distributor, but they later offered Buzz- and Bass-fixes.

So, what will we find on these boards?

The main two chips may not be top notch in 2011 (they were top notch in 2009) but definitely a lot better than the dusty chips in the ARMv4/ARM9 GPRS Freerunner:

  • TI OMAP3 3530 600MHz/720MHz ARMv7 / Cortex A8 SoC (almost similar to the OMAP 3430 found in the Palm Pre(Plus), Motorola Droid / Milestone, Nokia N900) with integrated PowerVR SGX graphics
  • Option GTM601W UMTS module

In addition to that you´ll find a fascinating set of features, which is on par with todays solutions:

  • Wi2Wi WLAN/Bluetooth module + antenna
  • GPS module + antenna switch
  • LIS302 (accelerometer)
  • LSM303 (compass and accelerometer)
  • ITG3200 (gyroscope)
  • BMP085 (barometric altimeter)
  • Si4721 (FM transceiver)

What remains yet unknown is the amount of RAM and Flash memory – I hope it will be were it is supposed to be in 2011 – it should be 512MB Ram and at least the same amount of ROM/Flash memory. It should be possible to add in a 1.3 MPixel camera.

What remains is the same 2.8 inch 285dpi VGA screen with resistive touchscreen and the same case – to things that make this upgrade board a lot less interesting for the average user.

But let´s rather talk about the advantages, which is openess. In times where companies like Motorola or Sony Ericsson lock down the bootloaders of their smartphones which makes hacking them (even though they run Android and thus a Linux kernel (looking way back at Motorola EZX/MAGX phones you understand that this is not an Android issue – a Linux kernel does not imply that your phone is hackable), a phone with an open bootloader, embraced by the Open Source community can be a strong solution.

By the way: The GTA04 root is the Openmoko Beagle Hybrid and there are plans for even more advanced devices – of course development costs money – I doubt this will go on without a certain amount of sales.

For further information head over to the already mentioned gta04.org website, to the GTA04 article of the Openmoko.org wiki, to handheld-linux.com or check out the Openmoko Community Mailinglist. If you speak german (or can live with Google translation) make sure to have a look at freeyourphone.de.