Douwe Osinga's Blog: US$ 197 or the ecosystem of mobile software

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

US$ 197 or the ecosystem of mobile software

These smart phones have the drawback that they can do everything and have many options, but then after a while you find yourself using only the SMS and the phone after a while. Well, it wasn't quite that bad, I used the browser and the contacts quite a lot too, but still I thought it was sub-optimal. So I visited Handango and went a-shopping.

Or rather, I sat down and thought about how I could make my phone the most useful. Email is one thing. Blackberries I think still rule the mobile email market, but after I installed ProfiMail and configured GMails Pop option on it, things looked quite nicely. The interface is done a bit odd, but quite effective. It has all the usual email features, but that is kinda unusual for cell phone mail programs.

Next on the list was a good terminal client. Now this might not be something for everybody, but in my work I need to check on things that run on remote servers and that is where ssh comes in. I experimented a little with the free Putty clone, but it doesn't work well with the virtual keyboard, that is, if you activate the virtual keyboard, you won't be able to see what you type. PockeTTY doesn't have this problem (isn't free either, but goes for 19.95 or so, so that's not too bad).

The next program I got me was TomeRaider. Originally I think the idea behind this program was that you could write little scripts that 'raid' a site and convert it into something readable from a phone/PDA. But you can also download preconfigured archives of pages. I got me the Wikipedia (or really the wikipedia from a year ago; the current English text is 850MByte or so compressed, the one from a year ago is only 500, which sits more comfortably on a memory card of 1GB). I also downloaded the IMDB; one thing I do on my phone is check movie reviews when in the video store; being able to do this straight away is less painful.

Next stop is BetaPlayer. It is a nifty player that does most of the common movie formats on Windows Mobile. Seinfelds play quite nicely, even the rips from years ago that were very popular and of bad quality; you don't notice the bad quality so much on the tiny screen. Pocket Video Maker is an option for you if you want to be able to convert like DVDs for play back on your phone. Should work fine for recorded TV shows too.

The last thing I installed is Mame, or Multi Arcade emulator. Not so much since I care about these computer games, but because I like the idea that games that needed a huge arcading machines a couple of years ago, now play fine in emulated mode in something that fits in my pocket. Amazing progress.

Anyway, one of the interesting aspects of this whole thing is the software ecosystem. You have the commercial PC ecosystem of course, with the high prices. Then there is open source, where everything is free. But cell phone software is not free, but just relatively cheap, from 5 - 25 dollars or so. I like that. It makes it possible to try stuff and buy stuff without having the urge to pirate the programs since they are so expensive.

I actually had my own little adventure in this ecosystem. When I first got my hands on a P800, a way cool phone back then, I wanted to write software for it. And I did. Conway's Game of Life. In Java. Around the same time I came across said Handango. They offered the option for publishers to sell their software through there website and I signed up, more to find out about the service than to make money. I put up Conway's life for 1 dollar and watched to money stream in, about one sales a month or so.

I never thought about it anymore, but during my buying spree in mobile land I thought, well, maybe I can use my incoming money (all 14 dollars or so I guessed) to buy this software I want, so I checked my account: 197 dollar. Of course most of it has been send to me to an address I no longer live in the form of checks that cost more to cash then they are worth. But still. I'm part of the ecosystem.