As the old saying goes, "It never rains, but it pours." Our esteemed J2ME editor, Jason Briggs, and I have been sparring for the best part of a year now on what we are looking for when it comes to mobile computing. We have differing opinions on the matter and while Jason wants something to rule the world, I'm content with something that will merely check e-mail, play some music, and even take the odd call or two! What we do agree on though is being able to load our own applications on to the beast and make it dance to our tune.
It didn't take much to persuade Metrowerks to give us the new Sony P800, which has been hailed as the next best thing since sliced bread. I won't go into too much detail about it as Jason will be doing a review of this model over the next few months, but I will say one thing: Wow! Not only does it look and feel stunning, but the APIs available to us as Java developers open up the whole phone, including getting access to the core functionality such as the address book and call features. The screen on the P800 is large and colorful, which makes some of the MIDlets I've been downloading an absolute joy to test.
I started thinking about this unit not from a developer/geek point of view, but from a mass consumer view. The phone straight out of the box is loaded with a number of applications, most of them completely and utterly useless with a number of major omissions from the suite, namely the catch-all input spreadsheet. While the video player is a nice show-off toy, it's completely impractical, especially when you consider the inbuilt camera is incapable of capturing video. Needless to say, that was instantly ripped off the unit to free up a few MB of memory.
I also replaced the inbuilt e-mail checker with something far more intuitive. The MP3 player had to be replaced with something that was designed by someone who actually knew about music on the move (this surprised me - with Sony taking an active part, you would think the music end of things would be top notch). This is the power Java is bringing to the table: the ability to completely replace all the junk on the phone with software you will actually use and not be shoehorned into applications that just don't work the way you want.
Fortunately for the mass consumer market, loading MIDlets onto your phone (or at least the P800) is an absolute breeze and shouldn't present any major issues, which is half the battle. First you make the technology work and then you make it accessible. I have been excited about J2ME for a long time now but seeing the rich interfaces now being integrated in handhelds, I believe 2003 is going to be the year for Java on the move.
* * *
Regular readers will know that in the last few months I have been venturing into the world of blogging and unearthing some real informational gems. While munching lunch I find myself surfing around people's blogs and just clicking deeper and deeper into subjects. There are a number of jumping-off sites that I use called aggregators (www.javablogs.com) and there are many more popping up. These take a snapshot of the latest entries over a wide variety of blogs and present them in a single page. What you find are people detailing their problems with a particular piece of software or code and then others (or the original poster) writing solutions or guidance.
This is slightly different from most mailing lists, where the original posters very rarely post back the solution that worked for them. There is a greater sense of closure on a problem. I noticed one particular blogger (http://glen.blog-city.com) had posted an issue he was having and within four hours someone had offered up the first bit of help with more posters following. The point here is that this wasn't a mailing list or newsgroup, merely someone's personal blog site.
If you maintain your own blog, then get aggregated. Free the RSS!
When not answering your e-mails and working on the next issue of JDJ, Alan heads up a small team dubbed the "Thunderbirds of the Java industry," providing on- and offsite rescue for Java projects in trouble. For more information visit www.javaSOS.com.
You can also read his blog: http://alan.blog-city.com.