When geolocation tries too hard

Disclaimer: Some of the information in this post is speculation from my part on how the Foursquare system works. I’d be happy to include any necessary corrections.

I’ve been a somewhat avid user of the two competing location check-in services Gowalla and Foursquare for quite some time. They’re similar enough for me to be able to pretty much use them both in the same way.

Until last week, while on vacation in Protaras, Cyprus. When I was visiting different establishments in Protaras town and couldn’t find them in one or either of the services, I – as usual – added them myself. Oddly enough, Foursquare kept telling me after I had added some of the places that I was too far from them to be able to check in (or, get the points and badges for the check-ins at least).

Being of an investigative mind, I started thinking about what could be the cause, and came upon the following explanation. In their effort to curb cheating, Foursquare matches my geo coordinates to street addresses, and then does a reverse lookup on the address they got and match it back to my coordinates when I try to check in.

That system likely works well where the service they use to match coordinates to street addresses is of high enough granularity, but causes the problem I experienced in areas less detailed. In Protaras, the main street is a mile or so long and all locations are matched to “Protaras Main St”. The reverse geo lookup for that main street results in coordinates placed in the middle of its full length – and thus whenever you’re at an establishment at the beginning or end of the street, Foursquare’s cheat detection system kicks in.

This, then, becomes somewhat funny when you’re the one that just created the venue seconds before – as my recent tweet on the subject tried to capture:

While this specific example has a simple solution – anyone who just created a venue at a certain geographic location is likely at that certain geographic location no matter what the street address reverse lookup says – the point I’m trying to make is that while our automated systems keep getting smarter there are instances where we’re sometimes trying too hard. When we do, if there’s no possibility for the user of the system to correct the automation we cause frustration. Since we’re increasingly relying on crowd sourcing in mapping the world around us there’s very little room for frustrated users.

When context awareness and expert systems work, we seldomly notice them. When they fail, the result is often worse compared to not having tried at all.

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Thoughts from Nordic Mobile Developers Summit 2010

Last Thursday I attended the first Nordic Mobile Developers Summit in Stockholm arranged by the Swedish magazine mobile.se. I gave a presentation with the highly innovative title “Android for Developers” where I gave some tips and insights into successful Android application development. It was a very well received session that I will mostly likely repeat in updated forms at later events. All the slides from the event can be found online.

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Thoughts from SWDC 2010…

Last week we attended the SWDC 2010 event in Stockholm which ran over two-days from Wednesday 2nd to Thursday 3rd of June. The days were back-to-back with interesting sessions but we were mainly there for the second day which was focused on mobile.

Claes Nilsson and myself decided to talk about some of the work we are doing with standards and also the various tools and ideas we have available now and coming soon. We wanted developers to come and join us within W3C and get involved in some of the on-going standards work.

We are working on ways to expose phone features to the web runtime where we have 4 platforms and the common thread is the web browser – the cost is that you need to target lowest common denominator to work across platforms so we are trying to increase the default capabilities available and make them consistent.

The development of standards usually takes a long time – the trade-off in having well thought out and, as much as can be, long-term future relevance. We presented some middle-grounds, such as the WebSDK but also some prototypes of entirely web-based tools.

The main focus of our session was our ”WARP” (Web Application Runtime Platform) demo upon the X10. In essence it is a server that allows the web browser, through user-granted approval, to access and query the phone. Our intention is take ”real world” lessons-learned from implementation and testing and roll them back into the specifications work.

We had a small setup outside the main presentation area with some X10, X10 mini and X10 mini pros. The feedback was great and we really appreciated the time we got with people as they tested out apps – in some cases even some live coding to optimise layouts.

We would like to thank @petersvensson for putting on the event and his team of volunteers who did a great job.

Photo stream @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/sonyericssondev/

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Sony Ericsson top 5 list from Google IO

Last week I, Karl-Johan Dahlström, and some of my colleagues at Developer Program went to San Francisco for Google IO. I wanted to give you some reflections from the event that took place at Moscone West centre. First of all the Moscone West center, with a capacity of 5000 people, seems a bit small if you ask me considering the number of people who could not get tickets to the event. Let’s hope for bigger venue next year since the interest in Android will continue to increase. I had some really interesting and intense days and got to see all the amazing things that is happening with Android and products based on Android. Below is my top 5 list of things that was announced and happened at the show:

1)      FroYo announcement and of course the performance boost via JIT compiler. http://developer.android.com/sdk/android-2.2-highlights.html

2)      PayPals Mobile Payment library available for Android, need to check if apps are allowed to use this on Android Market. https://www.thepaypalblog.com/2010/05/paypal’s-mobile-payments-library-now-available-for-android-io2010/

3)      The first Google TV from Sony, this is soooo cool how the TV and Internet get seamless integrated and together with the Cloud to device API it gets even more interesting. http://www.google.com/tv/

4)      Cloud to device APIs, this will definitely create new opportunities, check the demos on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBQFXRW5ZiE

5)      Tried the Perceptive Pixel multitouch screen at the After Party. Loved it. Not sure what I can use it for back home, but I want one 😉 http://www.perceptivepixel.com/index.html

Comments and your personal top 5 lists are welcome

Besides me and my colleagues from the Developer Program, Sony Ericsson participated at Google IO with a good mix of people, everything from Product Managers, Software Architects, UI-people, and software developers. We showed off our great Android devices at the OEM Sandbox station, and the interest for X10, X10 mini and X10 mini pro was huge. The people I spoke to love the small size of mini and the experience we created on all of our devices. The fact that X10 mini stands out from the crowed of Android devices was really appreciated.

For the people that have not yet seen the keynotes, below is a link to the sessions.


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Google I/O – SCVNGR Social Game – Secret word

If you are participating in the SCVNGR game you should visit Sony Ericsson in the OEM Sandbox. We will have a demo station in the Android area to show XPERIA™ X-10, XPERIA™ X-10 mini and XPERIA™ X-10 mini pro. The secret word to type in when you have scanned our bar code  is “TIMESCAPE”. 

Good luck with the rest of the competition.

Check out the OEM Sandbox at http://code.google.com/events/io/2010/sandbox.html

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Sony Ericsson at Web 2.0 Expo New York

Sony Ericsson Web 2.0 Expo New York booth

Sony Ericsson Web 2.0 Expo New York booth

As you might’ve seen if you follow me on Twitter –
@troed – I’m at the Web 2.0 Expo conference in New York this week. While some of my thoughts on the conference are in my tweets, more will come when my hotel gets the Internet back up working (or I get back home) – but until then there’s one observation I’d like to share.

I now know why some believed teenagers weren’t using Twitter.

Web 2.0 safety sign


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Speed of Innovation

A basic problem when trying to project a possible future is defining some sort of metric relevant to the area you’re researching. In this post, I’m going to detail one such metric that I find interesting when looking at the future of [mobile] software platforms – Speed of Innovation.

No matter where you happen to work, it’s a sure bet to claim that the majority of innovation in operating system features (scheduler advances, memory allocation algorithms), applications (music players, games) and services (location based wikis, streaming media) comes from others. When not affiliated in a way that makes the choice of for you, you tend to choose a system where you have easy access to make modifications – often Linux and other unix derivates.

Open source is a bit like basic research in that there’s no immideate economical benefit for the person(s) sharing innovations with others, but everyone knows that building a better common base allows for greater later innovations (similar to applied research).

Thus, once innovation has happened – and it’s likely it will have happened on an open source system – it will spread to similar or compatible systems. If someone were to publish a better process scheduler, it would quickly spread to platforms where no or very small changes to the original invention are needed.

These platforms would score higher on the Speed of Innovation criteria.

Now, of course it’s possible to duplicate all the innovation (according to some measure of relevance) to a proprietary platform, but it’s quite expensive (and more so the larger the differences from the original). This can be quite hard to accept if you’re a company with an existing large investment into a proprietary system, but as Seth Godin says – we must ignore sunk costs.

Now, not everything has to do with low level operating system APIs. There’s been a shift towards open third party development lately, especially on the smartphones-that-aren’t-smartphones. This has happened partly due to a change in turnaround times from development to getting the application into the hands of actual users (via app stores) but also due to an increase in platform capabilities and better development environments. The future in this area is projected to be what’s called web application development, web apps, and thus in the Speed of Innovation metric we need to take that change into account as well.

Interestingly, it’s the same thing. There’s one web component available, open source, where much of the innovation in the field tends to happen – Webkit. As detailed above, that component is available on unix platforms and if you’re already working with such a platform all new developments benefit your system with no or minimal changes.

Combining an open platform where much code already exists with a modern web engine and display framework and you get a platform where third party innovation will happen at a rapid pace. So rapid, it suddenly becomes less interesting to look at actual support for feature X today, and instead plot a trajectory where feature X is likely to have been supplied by someone, within a certain time frame.

It’s thus less a game of writing long lists of requirements, and more a game of simply (hah) projecting general technological development. Us futurists love to do that. For everyone else:

If you’re a developer, you want to be where you can fulfill your vision.

If you’re a consumer, you want to be where you can do what you want to do.

If you’re a handset manufacturer, you need to be where that innovation happens.

Android™ by Sony Ericsson – the XPERIA™ X10

Android is a trademark of Google Inc. Use of this trademark is subject to Google Permissions.

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Srikar Kasarla at SEE09: “Open source is the future of mobile. Here’s how to make money from it.”

Srikar Kasarla, Partner Manager

Srikar Kasarla, Partner Manager

Srikar Kasarla is working as a Partner Manager in the Content & Services team here at Sony Ericsson. At the Symbian Exchange Exposition in London next week he will be talking about “Shortening the path from code to cash” . I grabbed him in the corridors of the Sony Ericsson Lund office and asked him a few questions about his talk.

Developer World: So, what will you talk about?

Srikar Kasarla: I will be talking about open source as the future for mobile development and what new business models this shift opens up for.

DW: What kind of business models?

SK: We’re seeing a growth in mobile advertising and service subscriptions for example.

DW: Sounds like mobile is moving in the direction of the web. What benefits are there to working with the Symbian platform in this environment?

SK: One big benefit is the fact that you have multiple application stores compared to other platforms. This competition is very good for the developers. It also makes it possible to target different markets. Another benefit is that different application stores can have different philosophies behind how they accept application submissions. Sony Ericsson has chosen Quality over Quantity, with a fast approval process and free submissions.

DW: OK, that’s certainly sounds like a short path between code and cash?

SK: Yes, we are working hard to make sure applications are reviewed as soon as possible after submission. But we welcome feedback from developers on how to make things even better so I’m looking forward to SEE to meet the people behind the code.

Don’t miss Srikars talk if you’re attending SEE09: “Shortening the path from code to cash“, it’s the 27th of October at 16:30-17:00.

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It’s not about smartphones

For a long time we (meaning manufacturers, analysts and marketing entities) have divided mobile phone devices up into two categories, so called feature phones and smartphones. There’s also been an implicit “budget” category consisting of feature phones with, less, features.

Since some time back, I’d claim this has changed. There are now devices on the market that are used in a different way, signifying a disruptive shift in what’s usually known as the mobile phone industry. The common denominator between the categories I just brought up is the word phone, while these new devices are seen as something else.

Enter well known usability expert Jakob Nielsen, whose research into mobile web experience divides the device market up into three categories instead; feature phones, smartphones and touch phones.

While touch phones as a name indeed describes most of these devices on the market today, most existing touch devices haven’t got the usability Nielsen is referring to and it’s also likely that other forms of navigation than strictly touch is possible. Thus, there ought to be a better name for them. I like MID, short for Mobile Internet Device, since I believe these new devices to have shifted the primary use case from being phones to being windows to the Internet.

The addition of a new category, where the dividing line is both the usability [of the web] as well as a new primary purpose [Internet, not phone calls] causes some change looking at the existing industry. These devices are still viewed from an analyst perspective as being smartphones, and thus we see interesting headlines on who sells the most smartphones on the market vs who makes the most money on these devices, without realising that it’s an apples vs oranges thing [slight pun intended].

I was one of the original designers of the Sony Ericsson P800, a device that with the tech available then (2002) could be seen as being one of the first to [try to] create this new experience, but they would still not be in the same category. Something else has changed.

Working at a mobile manufacturer, especially with research, means you sometimes find yourself using a device that might be a bit, ehrm, unstable. That recently happened to me, and I found myself in the pretty interesting situation of carrying a device that restarted itself in the middle of phone calls. All of them.

Still, I kept using the device – something I wouldn’t have done a few years ago. It turns out my primary purpose of carrying a small digital device with me is not about making phone calls any more, it’s about being connected to the Internet at large – in a way that is both easy to use and optimized for an Internet/web experience.

This also indicates another problem with naming them just touch phones, or touch devices. To be able to be a true window to the Internet means that I should be able to perform all the activities I’m used to, while mobile. Adding touch to what is otherwise a feature phone, or just using a smartphone, doesn’t give me the same experience since the device limits what I’m able to do, in one way or another (lack of third party applications, or restricted third party applications). Openness, is the last dividing factor.

These devices have an active aftermarket experience. I can count on – even expect – the Internet services I’m using to be reachable with excellent usability either through the web or through low-cost (even free) applications, produced by anyone with a minimum of creation and publishing effort.

Thus, a new category of devices has been born. They’re not smartphones, they’re something else. And we love them.

For more on how open source and openness will enable a shift in speed of innovation in the mobile arena, please come and listen to my presentation on the Future of Open Source in Mobile, at OSiM Amsterdam 15-16 of September

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Rebecca Williams, GoSpoken: “Ease of use most important factor for mobile application success”


Our application store has been open for application submission since July and the first applications have been available on PlayNow™ arena for a couple of weeks.

One of the first applications that went through our submission process was an ebook reader from GoSpoken. I asked Rebecca Williams at GoSpoken a few questions about their experiences as a mobile application development company and about selling their Michael Jackson ebook on the Sony Ericsson application shop, PlayNow™ arena.

Developer World: Tell us a little about your company and the application you submitted?

Rebecca Williams: The idea of GoSpoken is to read or listen to your favourite books whenever and where ever you are; simply books on the go. We launched GoSpoken last April (08) at the London Book Fair with 8 audio books on our mobile site. Since then we have grown to a catalogue of over 6,000 ebooks and audio books (25,000 by the end of the year) for download direct to mobile including bestselling authors such as Stephen King, James Patterson and Sophie Kinsella. Bestselling author and ex SAS operative Andy McNab is an enthusiastic business partner and last year Lord Ashcroft’s investment companies invested in GoSpoken to allow us to expand into new territories.

The app we have live on Fun & downloads and PlayNow™ arena is our ebook reader which downloads onto any JAVA-enabled handset. Each book comes with its own reader which means you don’t need to download the ereader and then the content. It comes all at once so you have quick and easy access to your content.

DW: What was your biggest challenges when developing the app? Any advice to other developers who’s thinking about selling an application?

RW: The biggest challenge was to create an ebook reader which serves many handsets whilst being easy to use. We speak to our customers as much as possible to understand how we can improve it and we are constantly developing it from their feedback. I personally love the night mode (white text on black background) which means I can read in bed at night without waking my husband! My advice to other developers is; whatever the application it must be easy to use or you will turn customers off very quickly.

DW: What can be improved from our part when it comes to selling and developing the application? Any feedback to Sony Ericsson?

RW: We have a great relationship with Sony Ericsson and the process of going live on your platform has been quick and painless. We are already talking about how we can best promote books to your customers, particularly on your large screen handsets which are ideal for reading books, and offer our full catalogue rather than selected titles; so watch this space!

It would be great to have access to real time reporting and be able to pre-load new handsets with free books or exclusive content.

Thanks, Rebecca, and good luck with your application!

Erik Starck
Community Manager, Developer World

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