The app ideas on The Apprentice were rubbish… how hard can it be?


I’ve just finished watching the second episode of the current series (series 7) of The Apprentice on BBC 1 during which the challenge was for the two teams to design, launch and promote their own mobile phone app[lication].

The boys created a border-line racist app with annoying voices. The girls an app with annoying sounds.

If I’d been on The Apprentice I’m sure I could have come up with better ideas. In fact, I’m going to prove it by blogging my ideas live. Right now. Watch:

  • IDEA #1: Often you’ll be out and about with your phone. Maybe you’re running late, perhaps for an interview or a meeting. Maybe you’re just tired. Why not create a mobile phone app that’s also a bike, so you can just sit on it and it will allow you to pedal yourself to your destination!

Genius! See how easy that was?

  • IDEA #2: An app that makes the most out of the accelerometer (motion sensor) built into a lot of mobile devices these days. So it’s an app that helps you tie your tie. You first attach your mobile phone to the end of your tie, using bulldog clips or elastic bands or something, then the app talks you through tying a tie: “That bit over and then under and then through…”

Wow! I’m on a roll.

  • IDEA #3: Jane and I like our toast to be different levels of cooked-ness. Jane likes hers to be very brown, I like mine to be borderline hot-bread. How about an app that you run, tell it what colour brown you’d like your toast to be, then you pop your phone into the toaster (beside your slice of bread) and it will play an alarm when your toast has reached the right level of brown. Obviously it would need to use the camera for that.

Practical! Although, I suspect like a lot of apps that’s one that will not be used very often. Presumably because it would help educate folks about how long bread needs to be in the toaster until it reaches their ideal state.

  • IDEA #4: How about an app that you run when you’re standing next to a busy road. The interface would be nice and simple. First you enter your average walking speed in (metres per hour or fathoms per second), then you press a “check now!” button which activates your device’s in-built camera which you point first one direction and then the next, pausing for a minimum of 7 seconds each direction. Then… and this is the really clever bit… the app will play an alert of your choosing (from the three available: a horn; the sound of a gibbon slurping ice cream; or the same horn, but played in French) so you know when it’s safe to cross the road.

I imagine that that’s the kind of app that could save lives.

See! Not a single idea there that involves racist stereotypes or annoying sounds.

HTC HD2 v O2 Xda Zest: screen size


Last week I upgraded from an O2 Xda Zest running Windows Mobile 6.1 to an HTC HD2 running Windows Mobile 6.5.

As you can see from the screenshot above, comparing screen size, I installed Spb Mobile Shell 3.5 which I prefer to the HTC Sense today screen, partly because of my familiarity with it but mostly because Spb Mobile Shell offers far greater customization than HTC Sense today does.

This weekend will be a good test of the HD2 as I take it with me to Luxembourg. As I write this (in Windows Live Writer 2011, by the way) I’m copying The Lord of the Rings trilogy to my phone in WMV format to watch on the journey.

I’ll write up a full review next week after I get back in Blighty.

By the way, I used MacX DVD Ripper Pro for Windows to convert it to Windows Mobile-friendly WMV format—rather than Spb Mobile DVD which is what I had been using until this week—but that’s also the topic for another blog post, methinks.

Fixing the audio problem with Spb Mobile DVD on Windows 7


I’ve been preparing for my trip to Luxembourg next weekend and given that I’m going to be spending many hours on a train I’ve been converting a couple of DVDs into a format that I can play on my phone running Windows Mobile 6.x.

I’ve been using the rather excellent Spb Mobile DVD, however I ran into a slight problem: since upgrading my PC from Windows XP to Windows 7 the DVD I can no longer hear
any audio on the DVDs (either previewing in Spb Mobile DVD or on the ripped
movies) but the video is superb quality.

I contacted Spb’s technical support who replied the same day saying that I should install the AC3Filter audio codec and try again.

Sure enough after the installation of the AC3 Filter codec Spb Mobile DVD is working once again: superb video and audio too.

I thought someone else might find this information useful.

Are we ready for the mobile Web?

Mike Nolan at IWMW10 from UKOLN on Vimeo.

IWMW and mobile

During the last couple of days I’ve been attending the IWMW 2010 conference at the University of Sheffield.  With a larger Web team at St Andrews I now get to attend it every second year; this year was my year.

While the overarching theme of the conference was “The Web In Turbulent Times”, predictably there were a number of sessions (both plenary presentations and smaller optional workshops) about and which touched on the mobile Web:

The message was clear: the mobile Web is going to be a very dominant component of Web development in the very near future, so get involved now; be prepared.

The debate over device-specific application (e.g. iPhone app, Android app, Windows Phone app, etc.) or Web app (e.g. using  HTML5 which allows for storage of offline data) is an interesting one.  At the moment I come down on the side of the platform agnostic, available anywhere Web app.

Poor mobile reception

Except that was exactly the problem: I didn’t experience a consistent (or even continuous) mobile phone connection for the duration of my entire journey and stay in Sheffield.

On my return journey from Leuchars to Sheffield I must have experienced a mobile phone signal for around 10% of the time, if that.  It came and went very quickly as we hurtled cross-country, and for much of the time my phone gently drained itself of electricity searching for a signal.

Even in the conference hall in Sheffield mobile coverage was patchy.  My colleague who is on the same network as I am (O2) couldn’t get a signal at all. I was a little more fortunate, but I only had to move my phone less than 30 cm for the signal to drop from a full four bars to none and drop out completely.

The same was true for my room in the accommodation block.

In some parts of the conference hall I could get a faster EDGE internet connection, while in others I could only receive a standard GPRS connection; when I could get a signal at all, of course.

Recent developments

I’m really encouraged to see the recent developments in mobile Web technology. I used Opera Mini for a long time on my Nokia 6100, I now use Opera Mobile on my touchscreen Windows Mobile 6.1 phone and the latest version is absolutely fantastic. (There is even an Opera Mobile emulator now for your PC so you can check how your website will look on a smartphone, which is a very welcome development.)

The HTML5 specification (still in draft) is looking exciting. One of the big things HTML5 offers is that it adds the ability to more easily create Web applications without having to use JavaScript for common elements such as sliders, date pickers, form validation, etc. It also enables browsers to natively handle video and audio without users needing to install a 3rd-party plugin (e.g. Adobe Flash, Apple QuickTime, Real Player, Windows Media Player, etc.)

A number of universities are now developing mobile portals for their students, whether using an application such as campusM, or Web-based like Mobile Campus Assistant, which is great to see. These applications provide a fast, convenient way for students to see their timetables, campus maps, location and capacity of computer classrooms, library records, etc. And many are geo-aware too, meaning that the application can work out where you are and show you the nearest computer classroom.

One term touched on briefly at the conference was augmented reality. An example might be an application on your phone which geo-locates you an then using your phone’s camera show you an image of the street on which you are standing overlaid with information about the nearest restaurants, for example. The possibilities are very exciting and potentially endless.

Are we ready for the mobile Web?

So, are we there yet?

On Tuesday evening after a drinks reception at the Kelham Island Industrial Museum we were dropped off in town to forage for food. It was raining and as we huddled for shelter in a doorway trying to decide where to go we instinctively pulled out our mobile devices for support.

  • Simon phoned his brother
  • I phoned my friend Danny who’d been at university in Sheffield
  • I also sent a text to Any Question Answered (63336) asking for advice
  • Simon and Duncan pulled out their iPhone SatNav apps to get an overview of the local environment

The result: we wandered fairly aimlessly for about 30 minutes and ended up soaked to the skin sitting in a dingy Pizza Hut the other side of City Hall.

Boy, are we ready for the mobile Web right now! But until mobile coverage is improved, mobile data speeds are increased and augmented reality applications (or similar) are developed and widely supported we’re not quite there yet. But we’re definitely heading the right direction … unlike the group of five Welsh and Scottish Web team members on Tuesday evening on the rainy streets of Sheffield!

No O2

Presumably the British mobile phone network O2 chose that name because it’s the chemical symbol for oxygen which is absolutely essential for life on this planet.

It’s just as well my mobile phone isn’t similarly essential because I’ve had pretty much no mobile signal all day. Jane is the same.

When I couldn’t find anything on the O2 website about I gave their customer support a call and got through to a nice Scottish guy called Mark who confirmed that there had been a network outage east of Edinburgh.

A few minutes ago I spotted this story on the Scotsman website:

Mobile phone network down in Lothians

MOBILE phone users in parts of the Lothians have been left without a signal after a fault on the O2 network.

The company said a power cut earlier this afternoon had caused the network to close down in parts of Fife and areas to the east of Edinburgh.

The Capital itself has not been affected.

A spokeswoman for O2 said engineers are attempting to fix the fault but could not confirm when the network would be back up and running.

There is something similar on the BBC News Scotland website too: Mobile network failure reported.

All I can say is that I wish the engineers well and look forward to seeing more than “Searching …” on my mobile phone display tomorrow.