ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

3 Weeks with LG Optimus 7 and Windows Phone 7

12/16/2010 2:35:27 PM

imageI’ve had my LG Optimus 7 Windows Phone for more than 3 weeks now. The short story – I love it. It’s by no means perfect and Windows Phone 7 as an OS is in it’s infancy. So to be honest every WP7 fan must admit that if you need the most powerful, customizable, etc. smartphone today you will be better off with top of the line Android device or an iPhone.

But Windows Phone is getting there in big steps and I believe it won’t take long before there’s no obvious gap between Android, iOS and Windows Phone in terms of features and app availability. Keeping that in mind I can say that I like WP7 Metro UI. All those fake 3D elements, shadows, glass effects of the other platforms look so 2008 compared to clean digital UI of WP7.

There are tons of WP7 reviews on the web and I don’t have anything substantial to add to that. So I’ll just point why I chose LG Optimus 7 as my WP7 device:

Physical hardware buttons

All other currently available WP7 devices have capacitive touch sensitive buttons for the 3 mandatory WP7 hardware buttons. I hate that. Almost every review of a dynamic game in marketplace comes with owners of Samsungs and HTCs whining about accidentally brushing over a hardware button and dropping out of the game. Optimus 7 (currently) is the only phone that has real physical hardware buttons. And guess what, I’ve never accidentally press them, because you really have to press them for it to register.

Build quality

I was pleasantly surprised with build quality of my LG. It’s very solid with metal back, rugged plastic top and bottom. It sits very nicely in hand. It’s a little heavier than I expected and even taller than HTC HD7 but I can’t say it’s a bad thing.

Actually when I decided that I want Optimus 7 I thought that it’s looks are a sacrifice I’m making for other features I wanted. But ever since I got it in my hands for the first time I started liking it. It’s a rare case when a product looks better in reality than on promotional pictures (I’m looking at you, McDonald’s!)

16GB of storage

All other phones on European market (as far as I remember) come with 8gb of storage. Some of them have SD card slots but using that slot is currently tricky. Optimus 7 doesn’t have such a slot but has 16gb right away and I think it’ll do for me for a couple of years.

PlayTo DLNA app

LG has included an exclusive DLNA streaming app called PlayTo. This app let’s you stream photos, music and videos from your phone directly to your DLNA enabled TV (or computer). Here’s my video review/demonstration of this feature (sorry for my English and video quality ;):

Now I have no doubts that this feature will be built-in into the OS itself at some point in the future and probably Samsung will add their “AllShare” app to their WP7 phones even earlier than that. But for now you have to have LG handset to get this awesome feature.

SAMOLED is not a feature ©

I’ve coined this phrase as a response to the people who want to get Samsung Omnia 7 (or Focus in US) solely because it has a Super AMOLED screen. My wife has a Samsung Galaxy S with SAMOLED. Yes, the blacks are super deep and colors are super vivid. That’s awesome for a display stand in the store but in reality the colors are too warm for my taste and my wife complained that Angry Birds on her coworkers SE Xperia X10 looked better to her taste (she doesn’t know or care for buzzwords). You may also want to check this video which demonstrates an interesting glitch in SAMOLED equipped Samsung Omnia 7.

Anyway, I’m not trying to say that SAMOLED is bad or even worse than plain LCD in Optimus 7. I’m just saying that having a SAMOLED doesn’t change anything in the way you use your phone. That’s why I’m declaring it as “not a feature”.

Few grains of salt

Obviously not everything is perfect in Optimus 7. The on/off button could’ve been a little bigger and, IMHO, it should be on the left of the phones top (not on the right).

My biggest complaint is the location of micro-USB port. Whoever is responsible for placing it on the side of the phone (or actually any location other than bottom) should be severely punished. This kills the possibility of having a normal desk or car dock for the phone, makes it uncomfortable to use while plugged, etc. No engineering needs can justify that in my book.

That’s all I had to say for now.

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Windows Phone 7 Apps on My Phone

12/10/2010 8:13:00 PM

I’ve had my LG Optimus 7 Windows Phone 7 for about 3 weeks now. There are some omissions, rough edges and gotchas (try finding out MAC address of your phone), but overall I love it.

Here’s the list of 3rd party apps I have installed and use (or plan to use).

Note: Microsoft probably has more money than they need, so they don’t want to accept my perfectly valid VISA and MasterCard credit cards based on geographic location of my bank. So my list consists mostly of free apps or apps with usable trials. I’ve added a section at the bottom about some paid apps I would definitely buy if I could.

Apps

Twitter

I’ve tried the official Twitter app first and for some reason didn’t like it. Then after some time I returned to it and I think currently it’s the best (free) twitter app on WP7. That said Beezz shows a lot of promise and an update should come as I write this so I’ll be checking it out for sure. I’ve tried Seesmic too. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t support typing updates in landscape so this deficiency alone was a complete show stopper for me.


Pic-o-Twit

This is a little app that integrates into Pictures Hub and let’s you twit a picture right from there. It’s a little rough around the edges but works well and demonstrates the power of Hub concept – snap a picture, twit it, get on with your life.


IMDb

This is one of the best looking WP7 apps so far and it’s basically just an IMDb client. I use it to check on actors while watching a movie and things like that. I miss the ability to login into IMDb to add movies to “My Movies” etc.


Counter

That’s a very basic app, but could be really useful. Quite often I find myself in a situation when I (or someone else) needs to count who drinks tea or coffee (and things like that) and it’s usually a messy process. This little app should help with that.


The Weather Channel

There’s a number of weather apps but I’ve end up using this one. It has a Live Tile, shows forecasts of reasonable accuracy, supports several locations, etc.


Barmate

This app has a list of cocktail recipes and Blood Alcohol Calculator. It’s not as nice looking as Cocktail Flow, but it’s free (meaning I can actually use it)


Drum Machine

A very slick looking drumming app (or is it a game?). Just a nice way to spend a few minutes making beat-like noises. Way better than making fart-like noises.


Shazam

Hear a great song, let this app listen and get a name for it. Users in countries with Zune access can get a track right away. The rest of us at least get the info what was playing.


Mapsnap GPS

I haven’t actually used this app yet, but I like the concept. You snap a picture of a paper map (or load a scanned map) calibrate it with a couple of points and you can have your location. Good for getting around in the foreign cities, large parks, etc. and doesn’t require a data connection (which could be expensive when roaming)


Games

Disclaimer: I’m not a gamer.

Cliffed

The goal is to fall down as fast as you can. Usable trial. Looks good and a nice way to kill a couple of minutes.


Falling Balls

Now this is a simplistic but funny and cruel game. Usable trial and very addictive. Highly recommended.


Air Hockey

Looks and feels nice but there’s only a 2 player mode.


Lucky 7

Very nice looking slot machine simulator.


Reversi Pro (free)

A neatly implement Reversi game.


Spin Crisis

Help a round object fly through a maze.


Tetris7

This one is developed by an indy developer and I’m pretty sure you have to pay royalties to make a Tetris game. But it’s in the marketplace, it’s free and it’s Tetris, so what do I care :) Not the best implementation but playable. I’ve read complaints about accidentally hitting phone buttons while playing, but this is what you should expect when you buy a phone with capacitive hardware buttons, suckers ;)


TIC TAC TOE

This is one of tens of Tic Tac Toe games in the marketplace, but a nice looking one. Plus it includes a 6x6 mode which makes it interesting.


Tic-Tac-Toe 3D

Shameless plug, I know. But, hey, I have it on my phone and I play it. Plus it’s an awesome little game ;) End of shameless plug.


Unite

Unite several quicksilver balls into a bigger one using accelerometer.


Apps I wish I could buy, but I can’t :(

Pictures Lab

Enhance your photos with tens of effects. Some artistic, some just fun. Integrates right into the Pictures Hub.


Cocktail Flow

This is the best looking app I’ve seen on WP7 so far. And, yes, it’s about cocktails, but it could’ve been about worms, I don’t care. It’s that pretty.


Phonealytics

Great looking and (should be) functional Google Analytics client. Uses amCharts Quick Charts for charting (another shameless plug).


Krashlander

This is a fun physics based game. I’d call it Angry Birds for WP7, well, at least while real Angry Birds are not available. The trial is enough to get you hooked but not something you can play over and over.


This is it for now. I’ll update this post when I find more apps that are there to stay.

Did I miss some really awesome app? Let me know in the comments. Remember that for now it has to be either free or have a usable trial.

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Video Demonstration of Tic-Tac-Toe 3D for WP7

12/10/2010 1:27:05 PM

I’ve posted a video demo of my Tic-Tac-Toe 3D for Windows Phone 7. Check it out:

wp7_152x50_blue

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Tic-Tac-Toe 3D on Windows Phone 7

12/9/2010 6:02:56 PM

wp7_152x50_blueToday an enhanced version of my award winning Tic-Tac-Toe 3D game was published on Windows Phone 7 marketplace. This version was developed and published in cooperation with René Schulte and, in addition to adaptation for the Windows Phone 7 platform, includes a 2 player mode, scoreboard, inertia and other minor enhancements.

The game costs only $0.99 and includes a free trial which is a fully functional single player game.

Get it here (if you have Zune installed or reading this from the phone) and please spread the word if you like it. Thank you! In case you don’t have Zune installed, you can check a web listing for the app on WP7applist.

Here are some screenshots:

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And here’s a video demo:

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Legal Sideloading Scenario for Windows Phone 7

12/8/2010 10:05:31 AM

Disclaimer: By no means I pretend to have all the knowledge needed to make this work and all the challenges Microsoft is facing in this area. This is just my stream of consciousness on the subject.

What’s the biggest worry for Microsoft on the subject off people sideloading apps? The answer to this question is hard to guess wrong. They don’t want alternative marketplaces to appear and compete with the official marketplace undercutting developer earnings, trust, etc. and in turn Microsoft’s earnings and market share.

I’d leave piracy alone since it’s not something you can fight without punishing legitimate users along the way. The phones will be hacked anyway and pirates will do their thing. I don’t have any doubts about it.

On the other hand there are lots of people who would love to be able to load apps to the phone for pretty legitimate reasons like:

  • hobbyist making apps for themselves and friends
  • people who can’t become official WP7 developers (there are more than 30 countries in the world, you know)
  • companies making apps for internal use

I don’t think any of the above mentioned usages constitutes any danger to the official marketplace. So, basically, the goal is to make 3rd party marketplace apps either impossible or, more likely, too complicated for normal people to use.

So, what if people could load XAPs via Zune and these XAPs would be signed on the fly and only signed apps could run on the phone? This way it’s pretty easy for regular folks to sideload their apps, impossible for on-the-phone 3rd party marketplaces to exist and too complicated for web/PC 3rd party marketplaces to gain any mainstream traction.

It sounds too simple for me to be true, so I’m probably missing something. What do I miss?

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Dear Microsoft, This is not Funny Anymore!

11/23/2010 5:36:42 PM

wp7racistI’ve got my Windows Phone 7 yesterday and so far I really like it (more on that later). Officially there are still no Windows Phones over here in Lithuania, so I had to get mine from abroad. That said, even though it’s sad that I have to go through hoops to get access even to free apps and can’t get paid apps at all, I wasn’t going to write much about it. After all WP7 is not yet officially launched in my country. That is stupid in it’s own merit but oh well.

I thought that it’ll be all resolved once official carriers start selling the phones next month. But today I found out that phones are out in countries like Norway, they can even be WP7 developers (unlike us) but they can’t officially access the marketplace unless they fake their country in settings.

image

I mean seriously, WTF!?!

I can totally understand why it isn’t possible to provide access to music & video parts of the marketplace. Microsoft doesn’t have full control over that content. But apps? What is the deal here?

It would be interesting to hear the official version of the problems involved in accepting my regular VISA or MasterCard credit card if I feel like paying for some fart apps. Sometimes I have been denied shipping of physical products, downloads of legal music by major labels, but this is really beyond understandable and feels plainly racist.

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Developing Controls for Windows Phone 7 as a Business

11/22/2010 10:48:07 AM

Yesterday I couldn’t sleep and was thinking about feasibility of developing Windows Phone 7 (Silverlight) controls as a business. Since I’m already in the the WPF/Silverlight control business and we already have an open-source charting product for WP7 this is a really interesting and sensitive topic for me.

Here are some of my thoughts. Some are facts, some are pure speculation and/or brain dump.

As you probably know, at this stage Windows Phone 7 is a consumer platform and the only way to get and distribute apps is through Windows Phone Marketplace. This makes it pretty easy to see the current state of the whole market/ecosystem.

image

As of this writing there are almost 2500 apps in the marketplace. Almost 600 are games meaning about 24% of the total number. Obviously the total number of apps is going to grow over coming months and years but I guess we can assume that the proportion of games will stay at approximately the same level. Let’s fix it at a nice number of 25%. Out of the rest of the apps a really large chunk are various “flashlight”, “fart” and other simple apps. These are not a target market for custom controls either. I’d say the number of apps that would benefit from advanced controls is no more than 10% of non-games (pure speculation based on non-scientific observation).

imageSo let’s say apps using 3rd party controls constitute 7% of all apps (I’d say that’s in optimistic range). Also, let’s say that the total number of apps grows to about 50,000 over the next 1-2 years. That’s roughly 3500 apps.

Now I’m not sure where to get the actual average number of apps per publisher but my guess is that what says “1325 Top publishers” in Bing’s Visual Search for Windows Phone 7 Apps is actually a total number at this point in time.

So basically the average is close to 2 apps per publisher. Meaning that with 50,000 apps in the marketplace we’ll have ~1750 publishers interested in 3rd party controls.

Now I believe most of the publishers are one man shops or really small companies. I guess the average number of developers per publisher is not more than 2. So let’s say these publishers are going to spend $1000 per developer on 3rd party controls over the next 2 years (again optimistic number, imho). That makes the market worth no more than 1750 x 2 x $1000 = $3,500,000 over all 3rd party control publishers. And that’s on the optimistic side in my opinion.

Conclusion

This post is pure speculation and I would like to hear your thoughts either based on more facts or deeper knowledge or just higher intelligence, but as I see it now the market is really small.

That said I still see some reasons to participate:

  1. These are still Silverlight controls and should cost less to adopt from desktop Silverlight than writing from scratch. That said WP7 Silverlight is going to be 2 versions behind pretty soon and that imposes serious challenges balancing between doing things the better (new) way and making them work on the phone.
  2. Sooner or later Microsoft is going to open the platform for enterprise development and distribution and that is going to be a much bigger market for control developers. The question is when is this going to happen? But hopefully this happens sooner than later and you’d want to be in the game when it does.

Again, I’m sorry for posting such a speculative rant, but if governments can expect 3% higher budget incomes by upping taxes by 3% why can’t I speculate using the same “Excel logic”?

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Side Effects of Silverlight Marketing

7/1/2010 9:47:07 AM

Note: this post is about marketing to developers (not general public).

Yesterday Tim Heuer published a blog post titled “Top issues for Silverlight” where he summarizes reported Silverlight issues. Apparently number one issue is “WPF and Silverlight feature (dis)parity”. Tim writes:

It’s a little weird to call this one an issue with Silverlight, but this was seen requested more often in these areas that it is worth calling attention to.  Some of the genesis of this angst comes from an expectation that WPF applications ‘just work’ in Silverlight and not understanding the areas of the subset in both XAML and the .NET base class libraries (BCL).

Now this is true but one has to wonder where this expectation comes from.

Silverlight is NOT a subset of WPF

The root of this problem (at least how I see it) is the initial marketing message of Silverlight for developers was that it is a subset of WPF. Now Microsoft is a serious and cautious company and you would hardly find any direct evidence of this but this is what gets stuck in minds of developers who know about WPF and/or Silverlight from various presentations before they dig deeply into development.

It’s hard for Microsoft insider to realize this. That is not that obvious even for someone who is working with both WPF and Silverlight. But if you take someone who does some real work with either WPF or Silverlight but not both and ask them what’s the relation between WPF and Silverlight, most of the time you are going to hear the mantra – “Silverlight is a subset of WPF”. I’ve heard developers, project managers, etc. with no experience in WPF and/or Silverlight repeat this numerous times. And that was exactly as I saw things before I started coding with both. This is encrusted deeply in the minds of developers and is the main source of frustration when they realize that this is not exactly the case.

I guess with all the advances in Silverlight over the recent years this disparity became a little more expected than before but the “subset” idea is pretty much still alive. Now I don’t know what needs to be done to kill this mantra and I’m not even sure Microsoft’s business departments want to kill it but I think this is the main source of this “issue” being number one.

Silverlight for Windows Phone 7 is NOT Silverlight

This subtitle is a little too drastic on my part but I’ll explain what I mean in the next few paragraphs.

One might think that WPF vs. Silverlight case was one of it’s kind but just this spring during MIX10 conference while unveiling Silverlight as one of the main developer platforms for Windows Phone 7 Scott Guthrie said this: “It’s not Silverlight Lite. It’s not Silverlight Mobile. It’s Silverlight.” (watch MIX10 Day 1 Keynote).

Now the wording is really clever. And later he explained that it’s Silverlight 3 with some parts of Silverlight 4 and phone specific stuff. He never said that you can run exactly the same code on the phone as you can on desktops and those who were interested in WP7 development understood that. But majority of the folks who just listened to this as high level overview have this notion stuck deeply in their minds. They believe that they can continue working on their Silverlight apps as they did before and then if they decide to move the app to WP7 they will only have to shuffle the UI a little to fit the smaller screen.

Do you think they are going to be frustrated when they find out that this is not the case? What do you think is going to be the top issue for Silverlight for Windows Phone 7? My guess is “Silverlight and Silverlight for WP7 (dis)parity”.

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Windows Phone at MIX10: Cooling down the hype

3/26/2010 6:32:12 PM

I’ve just returned from my trip to MIX10 and a short vacation in California. Lots of info has been posted about MIX and Windows Phone and by much better writers than me, so there’s no need for me to recap everything.

I’ve attended Windows Phone 7 track of sessions at the conference (for the most part) and unfortunately everything that I’ve learned cooled my enthusiasm for WP7 down one step at a time. Here’s what’s wrong for me first as a consumer and then as developer.

Why I’m not as enthusiastic about WP7 as consumer after MIX10?

windows-phone-7-series-4

Sure enough everyone has heard about no copy/paste in R1. That’s sort of lame and I don’t even know what to think about this. I hope they just make up their mind before the release.

Then there’s no real multitasking. I understand Microsoft’s point about this and I’d be ok with it with one small exception – at the very least built-in music player should be perfect. And I’m pessimistic about this being the case. Minimum requirement I need is for player to be able to remember position in last played file (for podcasts and audiobooks) even if the phone was turned off. WMP in WinMo 6.x couldn’t do that. So I had to use 3rd party player for podcasts and audiobooks and it wouldn’t work in the background on WP7. Can anyone confirm or deny that audio player in WP7 can remember file position?

But the most problematic part is virtual keyboard. No one at the WP7 booth could tell me if it would be possible to add additional keyboard layouts (for other languages) in WP7. It’s not possible to do with standard keyboard on WM6 but I can install 3rd party SIPs. And I’m using PocketCM keyboard which let’s me create layouts for as many languages as I need. It was confirmed during one of the sessions that no 3rd party SIPs will be allowed on WP7. The guys at WP7 booth agreed that my scenario for needing more than one keyboard layout makes total sense but they had no idea if there’s a way to do that (so I guess there’s no). They took my business card and promised to get back to me with an answer but I have yet to hear from them and I’m not holding my breath. We agreed that the technology is obviously there and there are no technical limitations preventing from adding this feature but they are in a hurry and I guess this has a low priority in USA. <sarcasm>Having 2 pages on the keyboard completely dedicated to smileys obviously has a higher priority.</sarcasm> It looks good in the demos.

One more issue is marketplace-only installation of apps. Making a switch for advanced users (even something in the registry) allowing them to install 3rd party apps without marketplace would make lots of geeks happier while still controlling stability of consumer phones. And this would open the platform for corporate use too. Geeks are going to jail-break the phone anyway so why not make it legal and sort of controlled?

I’ve talked to Ueli Sonderegger (from Brazil) about other things and then he mentioned he was told that MS is going to release WP7 at the same time in Brazil as in US but in English. Now this is totally cool with me but for large non-English speaking countries this is like a blow in the face. I guess his reaction was as simple as “WTF!?” even though he didn’t say so.

I’m left with a feeling that even though Microsoft managed to create a unique and cool experience which is not just not-an-iPhone but actually looks and feels great, they’ve copied Apple’s bad practices on the business side almost 1:1. And that sucks!

I guess at this point my thinking is that I’m going to wait for WP7 vNext as a consumer. Or at least wait for it to be in the wild for some time and see how things turn out (you know XDA guys and stuff :). I was curious how HTC is going to sell HD2s after WP7 announcement but after MIX10 I think I know the answer – HD2 with WM6.5 and HTC Sense would be a superior phone at least for tech savvy users for some time after WP7 comes out.

What about the developer story?

Windows-Phone-7-series-Marketplace-hub-1

When they confirmed Silverlight and XNA as developer platforms for Windows Phone a week before MIX I was very enthusiastic. If they say that before MIX they must have some bombs up their sleeves for the MIX, right? Wrong!

Yes, the tools are free and great but that was even more expected than Silverlight being a first class citizen. Everything else I’ve learned made me like WP7 less not more.

The tragic part is that we in Lithuania (along with Latvia, Estonia and a hundred other countries) are not allowed to build WP7 apps at all. Yes, you read that right. Since users can only install apps through the marketplace and the list of countries allowed to sign-up as developers in marketplace is very short (30 countries as far as I remember), we can only develop WP7 apps as a programming exercise and on emulator only. Cause even if we get our hands on a real device in the future you can only unlock it for development by signing up as a developer and we can’t do that. I’ve presented this issue in front of John Bruno & Todd Biggs (my question and public part of the answer is around 55:35 mark) and this is what’s great about actually being at MIX. What I’ve been told off the air is that Lithuania is, as far as Todd remembers, in a bucket of next 20 countries they plan to cover around summer and they have them divided in easy-to-do and hard-to-do buckets and again as far as Todd remembers Lithuania is in the easy-to-do bucket but he wasn’t sure and there are technical, juridical and other issues. What I think is really the issue is the size of our country. We are in EU and our laws are aligned with EU. Most of our banks are owned by Scandinavian banks. We can get money from PayPal and at the very least Google can send us checks for AdSense cause they are lazy to implement a better way, etc. So again I think the issue is with prioritization by market importance and not anything else. But let’s hope this changes really soon and I’d like to think that me bringing my interest in development up will have something to do to accelerate our acceptance into marketplace.

Another issue is not-really-real Silverlight. Scott Guthrie said “It’s not Silverlight Lite. It’s not Siverlight Mobile. It’s Silverlight.” (or something very close to that). As it turned out it’s Silverlight 3 and not even completely the same Silverlight 3 as on the web/desktop. Silverlight 4 will be released in April and by the time WP7 is released judging by current Silverlight release pace there will be Silverlight 5 Beta. So you can call it real Silverlight 3 but actually it is Silverlight Mobile. There’s nothing wrong with that since it’s for developing phone apps and not for web apps (IE on WP7 wont support Silverlight at launch). It’s just not what’s being advertised.

Enough with ranting/whining!

In the end I’d like to state that I still like WP7 in general and I really wish and hope it succeeds but I guess by holiday season 2010 it will be something like iPhone 1.0 – cool but not usable yet. Let’s hope I’m wrong here or I hope my old HTC Touch can sustain another year or even two before WP7 becomes really appealing to me.

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