Cogito, ergo sum... (I think, therefore I am)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A mail from the Mensa Pakistan egroup and my reply

This morning, I got the following email from one of our fellow Mensans. As I'm very interested in smartphones, I thought I should reply. First off, here's the original email:

Ok, this question goes out to all you smart phones enthusiasts out there
especially to members of our smart phone sig. DO you guys actually check your email or browse internet or avail any other smart" functionalities available on your sets. I ask this because in my opinion, without broadband connectivity, 3G or even 2.5G is just a fancy plaything. Having a camera or an fm radio in your cellphone makes good sense because these are useful new functions albeit just recreational ones. But otherwise, how "smart" is a smart phone really is in Pakistan?

Fouad Khan.


This is my reply:

Fawad,
It's good to see someone besides us hardcore enthusiasts taking interest in a smartphone discussion. Before I anwer your question, let me tell you what a smartphone really is. What makes it so 'smart' is not the fact that I can browse the net with it (there are many non-smartrphones, or what I prefer to call idiotphones :) ) that offer internet connectivity, even over 3G speeds (Nokia 6230, SE K700i, Siemens S65, all come to mind). The 'smart'ness in a smartphone comes from the open platform that it provides to third party vendors. It is more helpful to view a smartphone as a small PC, rather than a large phone, because in reality the smartphone is just like a PC. You can install 3rd party applications (and I'm not talking about Java apps, which are supported by just about every new mid- to high-level phone in the market these days). As you all know, the Java environment is a platform independent environment, and this means that it has taken the route of the 'least common denominator'. In order to run on each and every make of phone, Java developers have to work with the least level that a phone can provide, and so Java apps do not provide adequate functionality. Keep in mind that this description of Java is a gross simplification (My point is that even though Java can do some powerful things, it is still not as powerful and feature-rich as the native languages). This is where native apps (for the case of my Nokia 6600, and the Sony Ericsson P910i in question, they're called Symbian apps) come into play. Since they don't try to run on all phones, just the intended phone, hence they are more 'powerful'. Let me give you an example. I'm a guitarist, and I constantly need to tune my guitar. My phone has all the hardware necessary to perform the tuning: it has a microphone, which can pick up the tone, it has a processor which can do calculations and calculate the pitch, and it has a screen which can show me the pitch. But my phone manufacturor had never thought of such an application, and as a result, it wasn't included in the stock package. This is where third-party developers come in. A few companies wrote the required software, and viola, when I install it on my 6600, it turns into a guitar tuner! Something which would have cost me in the league of 5000 rupees (a chromatic guitar tuner) now costs me exactly zero rupees. The point I'm trying to make is that an open platform encourages third party developers to use existing hardware in new ways, and provides a lot of benefits to the end user. Hence I currently have 2 movies on my phone, which I watch when I get the time, I have more than 10 games installed (Tomb Raider and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater are what I play most). I also have scaled down versions of Powerpoint, Excel and Word. The Holy Quran is present for quick reference. An MP3 player for the times I wanna listen to a few songs, not to mention a little collection of MP3's. Unlimited video recording for moments i want to remember. And this phone supports 1GB of memory! I hope that this clears up the difference between smartphones and 'idiotphones'.


> DO you guys actually check your email or browse internet or avail any other
> "smart" functionalities available on your sets.

The answer is YES definitely! Although I know that the majority of the people who own smartphones do not know what the phones are capable of, and hence never use these capabilities, or are aware of the capabilities, but just don't use them, there ARE a few enthusiasts like me and RyzVan who are into it completely. I remember going to Lahore and Islamabad for the Mensa tests, and I used AgileMessenger to chat with my friends over the MSN and Yahoo networks. I also used it to check my Hotmail. Even now I regularly check my Orkut account from my cellphone. I know it's a bit expensive at 15rs/MB, but chatting is infact very cheap. 1 hour of chatting works out to be approximately 300-400kb, which is 5-6 rs. Not bad! Another one of my 'smartphone enthusiast' friends got into CBM at the start of the year, and was made Class Representative (CR) in 2 subjects. It was his bad luck that his PC just blew up and worked no more. Since he was CR, it was his responsibility to moderate the class groups (2 of them; one for each subject) and also to coordinate with the teachers and the students regularly via email. He also had to write the assignments formally and send them on the group. Since he didn't have a PC, would you believe he did this all on his Nokia 3650 (he later upgraded to a Nokia 6600)! I hope that answers your question.


> I ask this because in my opinion, without broadband connectivity, 3G or even 2.5G
> is just a fancy plaything.

First of all let me clarify that what you refer to 'broadband', it is not actually a technology, but an umbrella term, which includes all fast data transfer technologies. For the PC, this is mostly DSL, and for the phones, this is 3G, in most cases. So what I want to make clear is that 3G is actually a network feature, and not a feature of cellphones. When a phone is called a 3G phone, it is actually a 3G capable phone, which means that it supports 3G speeds if it is run on a 3G network. Unfortunately we don't have any 3G networks here in Pakistan, so we make use of plain old GPRS. But GPRS isn't all that bad (or slow). The speed is comparable to dialup, and if you view WAP and XHTML sites (instead of normal HTML sites), they are very small, so it's actually very fast. Incase of HTML sites, it's only a bit slower than dialup on your PC. So browsing is definitely bearable, and you can't tell the difference when using IM services.


> Having a camera or an fm radio in your cellphone makes good sense
> because these are useful new functions albeit just recreational ones.

Are you sure that a camera is just a 'recreational feature'? It's really handy sometimes. I remember that in my sister's Nikaah, I took my digital camera to take pictures. But as luck would have it, the batteries weren't charged, even though I had charged them for around 6 hours. The charger probably wasn't connected properly, and since it didn't have a power light, I didn't know if it was working or not. After taking just 5-6 pictures, the camera turned off, and refused to turn on. That's when I used my Nokia 6600 to take pics of the event, and they turned out to be really nice. Of course they weren't as good as even a cheap digital camera, but they were definitely better than not having any pictures at all. You can find lots of good uses for cameraphones in picturephoning (http://www.textually.org/picturephoning/).

> But otherwise, how "smart" is a smart phone really is in Pakistan?
So the answer would be that a smartphone in Pakistan is just like anywhere else in the world, it's as 'smart' as you can make it. So a smartphone needs a smart user as well :)


5 Comments:

  • That's a well phrased answer Khurram. I myself have a Windows 2003 PocketPC GSM PDA phone combo and am looking at enhancing the features of it. Yes, there's the infamous video player and the mp3 player but I don't want to be limited to just those features since nowadays you can get that in almost any other decent phones.

    Not being a programmer myself, I can't delve into that aspect of doing what I want, rather I've taken the other approach and seen the software available for this platform. Sadly, it's still limited with far far more available on the PalmOS. Unfortunately, one of the best feature of this beautiful device has been badly designed: the bluetooth feature. I bought me a Belkin USB Adapter for me laptop, to wireless organize my schedule but Windows does such a lousy job with it...Ironically, the reviews of the adapter for the Apple platform were flawless.

    As a part-time writer, dream come true would be: wireless portable keyboard + user friendly device to write up material.

    -Waleed
    Halfpastnomad.com/blog

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:44 PM  

  • I think that the device you're dreaming of is more a reality than you think. Any new Series 60 phone, coupled with a bluetooth keyboard will get you going!

    By Blogger Khurram, at 2:38 PM  

  • You're right, the technology does exist. However, in my experience with them, there have been several challenges for which reason I've decided to postpone any further purchases till next year. Some of them are:
    -Battery life
    -"Seamless" compatability (atleast on Windows platform, big ouch)
    -Portability vs. Functionality.
    -Features.

    I've already looked at the IR foldable keyboard for my iMate. Unfortunately, it runs on batter life and turning on the IR port on the PDA guzzles up batter life. In the end, I'm left with just over a day's worth of juice. That in turn de-stablizes the system for any storage keeping, etc etc.

    I also have the first Nokia camera phone which also runs the OS on your 6600. It's a wonderful device, no doubt. =)

    -Waleed

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:26 PM  

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