Wednesday, 22 July 2009

How you use a tool determines what tool you use, which determines how you use it...

I am a big fan of the fact (I'm not even going to call it a principle, concept or idea: It's a fact) that usage determines need.

I'm talking about mobile phones here, but any technology will do.

I, for example, am extremely unlikely to ever buy an iPhone, because recent usage of my  N95 has shown that I need a better camera, stereo speakers, a hardware keyboard, the ability to use it wearing gloves, and a better application finding system than scrolling through multiple screens. Oh, and multi-tasking.

I would also dearly love a QWERTY keyboard, and so when Nokia announced that the E71s replacement, the E72, would have a 5MP camera, I thought Yes!


I have recently got my hands on a BlueAnt Interphone, a bluetooth hands-free phone and intercom system for motorbikes.

I have been using this to play MP3s on the road, thanks to the N95, a power socket newly attached to the bike, and a car charger.

This is where life gets more complicated.

You see, the  N95 introduced a "dual-slider" design, which simply means that as well as the screen sliding up to reveal the number pad, it slides down (and the screen flips to landscape) to reveal four media control buttons: back, play/pause, stop, and forwards.

The thing is, if I put my phone in the map pocket of my tank bag, I have it in front of me, visible through the plastic map window, and, more importantly, I can press the media buttons through the plastic, provided I'm wearing light-weight gloves (which I don't, these days, it being winter here in sunny Queensland, and the morning temperatures getting perilously close to the freezing point of water at sea level).

I am almost certain that I couldn't do the same thing, accurately, with the E72s oh-so-very-compact and optical D-pad.

Which puts me in a bit of a bind. On the one hand, the natural next phone for me is therefore the N86, which is extremely nice and an improvement over the N95 in every way.

On the other hand, I would so very much like a QWERTY!

Damn it, my largely academic desires have become complicated again.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

"Predictive text" that actually is.

(This has been updated, because I was an idiot. For some reason, I attributed the software to the wrong company. Ah, the power of Twitter and a company that knows how to use it.)

Some time ago, I got unduly optimistic and went looking for a proper predictive text solution for S60, assuming that somebody had implemented one.

What I found was a couple of commercial betas and vague promises.

But there was one company, Keypoint Technologies, who are Scottish and therefore clever (seriously, have you any idea how many inventions pivotal to the creation of the modern world that Scotland can claim credit for?), that were making a trial of their solution available.

It was called Adaptxt, and I promptly went and tried it, and wrote of my experiences here, just barely over a year ago. It was ... Beta. Very, very beta.

Times move on, however, and programmers keep on working, and Adaptxt became a more mature beta, and it's time to give it another go.

So I am.

How it works, in a nutshell, is that instead of just working out possible options based upon what you've already entered and displaying that much of the first-choice possible word, it shows the rest of that word as well and lets you select it before actually finishing entering it. Which can save you considerable keypresses and, theoretically, time.

In addition, it displays the other possibilities in a pop-up menu, which allows the user to scroll down for a different option. Very nice.

The final piece of prediction is that it can attempt to predict several words in advance, theoretically (there's that word again) allowing you to finish an entire sentence by hitting Select > Select > Select ...

Does it work?

Straight away, my main complaints with the earlier model - not working well with dedit, in which text editor I spend rather a lot of my time - has been resolved. It works just as well in dedit as it does anywhere else. Notice I didn't say "perfectly", but I'll get to that.

There are two major problems left, both of which are hugely annoying.

Problem number one, the easier one to explain, is that it is a truly enormous RAM hog. On my N95, it can use up to about 10MB, which is not only startling for a text entry system, but also highly unpleasant on a phone which has about 20MB free if you're lucky. I opened a support ticket about that, and they assure me that they're working on it.

Problem number two is a little more subtle. You can't chose between the normal case options of Abc (first letter capital, then lower case), ABC (all capitals) and of course abc (all lower case). No, it decides. This is great with "I", and of course it knows about sentence starts, but otherwise ...

Names are generally okay, because they're usually in the dictionary with a capital first letter. But suppose you want to put a capital inside quotation marks, or a regular word is being used as a proper noun, or indeed anything else? How do you force it to enter what you want it to?

There are two ways: enter a new word into the dictionary, or: start a new line, enter the desired word, then go back and join the lines up again.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, highly annoying.

They claim, however, that they're working on that, as well. I have my fingers crossed.

What else doesn't quite work? Well, for me, the look-ahead prediction, which is claimed to learn from what you enter. This is probably, to be perfectly honest, because I will write anything and everything - twitter updates, this blog post, random fiction, emails - all on this phone, which makes predicting what I will type next difficult for me, let alone a tiny little piece of software.

What's brilliant? The dictionary is, get this, user-editable! Learn from this, Nokia!

Is it faster? Well ... Maybe. I haven't actually done any speed tests, but the time taken to examine the provided options, enter more text, scroll, select... Makes it feel no faster than using full T9. This, however, needs to be considered in light of my rather impressive T9 speed. The real advantage of Adaptxt is the key presses it saves, which may not save time but certainly saves energy, and is a lot more relaxing.

Unfortunately, they have, for a while, removed the menu entry which shows you how many key presses it's saved you, how many first-choice options you use, how many second-choice... etc. Which is not useful, but is very cool to know.

Will I continue to use it? Yes. It feels very relaxing, which is an odd reason to have, but it works for me. I will, however, be extremely disappointed if they don't release a new beta, and soon, with some significant updates in memory management and grammar options.

Would I pay for it when it comes out of beta?

That, I'm afraid, will remain to seen.

Monday, 20 July 2009

This has been awhile: Another Microsoft failure

I have been so successful at avoiding Microsoft products lately that they haven't had an opportunity to seriously annoy me.

But some people just have to try and drag me back in.

My work insists upon using Outlook Web Access for out of office email which, considering my at-home employment, includes me.

I have asked most of my colleagues to use my personal address, which has the added advantage that I check it, but I still occasionally get emails through Outlook and they occasionally have Excel files attached.

And this is where the story really starts or, if you prefer, the plot starts to smell like a two-month-old egg.

For Outlook Web Access, being a Microsoft product, attempts to display the Excel (a Microsoft format) file in-line. Which would be fine, although it works atrociously (by which I mean barely at all, it loses basically all formatting) but for one thing.

There's no option to download the attached file. I swear, there isn't, I've looked everywhere.

Which means no downloading it to work on, and, which is the big problem in my case, no printing a version which works.

The only option I have is to view it as a web page, which restores all the formatting by converting the Excel to HTML. Which is just silly, and not all that helpful.

Nice going, Microsoft. You fail at providing intranet email solutions.

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