One of the problems of application development is that it’s often not possible to test on phones that are about to be released. This is especially the case when you are in a country where phones arrive late to the market.
Sometimes it’s possible to ask phone OEM’s for pre-production phones but often there aren’t enough units to go round. Unless you have an application that is compelling for the OEM then you won’t get a device.
UIQ have solved this problem for the Motorola Z8 by offering to test applications. What’s more it’s free of charge. This offer is open until 30 September 2007.
This has made me wonder why phone OEMs don’t offer this informal service as a matter of course. OK, it would cost the OEM something – but a few people informally testing applications would be negligible in the overall scope of things. It would help improve the quality of released applications (see Ewan’s recent comments for some surprising observations), encourage developers and also allow the OEM to identify potential partners. Microsoft do a similar thing via ‘Evangelists’ who seek out and help developers in this and many other interesting ways. Note however, the kind of thing I am talking about shouldn’t be confused with Symbian Signed testing – it’s more about informal collaboration.
The London Mobile Monday Yahoo group has an interesting thread on phone testing. The problem is the need to test against a large number of different handsets and networks. It’s obviously not possible to buy every phone and visit every country to test every network. The following diagram from Zanan shows how the increasing number of services and handsets results in an explosion in the number of testers…
Some comments from the MoMo Group…
- DeviceAnywhere.com – Has over 300 handsets across 10 carriers. 3 hr free trial.
- Nothing beats the actual phone in the real network.
- Orange’s developer partner www.orangepartner.com testing labs can provide a very wide range of handsets.
- zandan.com offers testing across live networks across the world.
My personal experience is that you should not under estimate the problems that can be caused by different network operators in addition to those caused by different phones.
One new service not mentioned is Nokia’s new free Remote Device Access. However, this just covers S60 phones and there’s no carrier network connectivity (some phones may have WLAN access where the phone supports it).
I just had a play with Google’s new Java ME application that allows faster and easier access to GMail.
The press release says…
"It is currently compatible with all J2ME-enabled phones in the U.S. and works with a variety of carrier service plans."
I am in the UK but I thought I’d give it a go anyway. The WAP download page said…
"We are not sure the Gmail application will work correctly on your phone"
I managed to download and install on a Sony Ericsson M600i. I was surprised the app was untrusted as it then required explicit user permission to connect every session. On connecting I got the error "An unexpected error occurred during program execution". It seems other people have had similar problems.
Update : The app does work in the UK… just not with my GMail account. I tried my wife’s (newer) account and it works. The instructions about compatible countries/networks previously led me to believe it was something to do with being in the UK. Incidentally, I have also found a phone compatibility listing.
It seems Google have a problem with some types of account. Maybe it’s to do with different types of GMail account or an account’s settings. More meaningful error messages might give us a clue.
As an aside, if you have a M600i or any other smartphone for that matter, just use GMail POP access from the phone’s built-in email application. It works very well and is much easier to use than mobile web access. Received email remains in your GMail account. Furthermore, if you use the GMail SMTP (smtp.googlemail.com) to send email, your sent email will also end up in your GMail ‘Sent Mail’ folder. Phones such as the M600i also allow you to poll periodically for messages which gives the same benefit of having push email (with higher data use of course).
Most mobile development occurs under either Symbian OS, Windows Mobile or Java ME. However, there also a few opportunities to work with proprietary operating systems. Up until recently, there was very little information on how proprietary technologies worked. However, more and more information is becoming public domain.
For example, Motorola have recently created opensource.motorola.com where you can find kernel source code, open source SD-MMC drivers and the source code for a JAVA test framework. If you would prefer to work with Nokia devices, there’s also gnokii.org which allows you to program against some of Nokia’s proprietary external interfaces.
A new NOP survey commissioned by Olista, reveals that users who encounter problems in using new mobile data services will simply give up rather than seek assistance. The survey follows on from research conducted earlier this year that revealed that 77% of phone users have never used any mobile data services, and of those that had, only 12% professed to be completely satisfied with the experience.
The surveys were more about promoting Olista’s views (and services) related to proactive customer care. However, why are services failing in the first place?
A succinct answer can be found on the MobHappy website when Carlo talks about Google’s new Local for Mobile J2ME application…
"… the problem of interoperability among particular handsets and mobile operators. The application officially supports a number of handsets on Cingular, Sprint and T-Mobile, but Google says it should work on "most Java-enabled phones", but of course users are already saying they can’t get it to work on their device or carrier. This is a huge problem for content providers offering standalone apps — unless the program’s been optimized for every handset and/or carrier, fragmentation, and consequently supporting all the users, is a nightmare, and asking the average user to troubleshoot a mobile data application and/or connection is asking way too much. And, of course, if something doesn’t work the first time, people won’t come back to it."
A quick look on the Google Local for Mobile newsgroup reveals how many problems there really are.
Care needs to be taken at the outset of a project to define the (OS) platforms and specific devices that that will be supported. This is usually based on phone capability and current/future market factors. Trying to support ‘most mobile phones’ will only lead to disappointment.