Nokia Bots and the Intelligent Mobile

I am totally cribbing the title from the post at Brighthand that I made about this. However, this is a good bit longer, and more following my thinking of this application and what it means for mobile devices.

I’ve got this major gripe with the mobile devices that we call smartphones – they aren’t all that smart. Yes, they are full of the hardware – and in some cases software – that desktops had less than a half decade ago. But, they aren’t really all that intelligent/understanding/wise/proactive/etc. You see, a mobile that is ascribed to having some aspect of intelligence should act on that. It should learn me and present me with what I need when I need it. And it should do it without me having to poke and prod for much of anything. Given where we are these days, I don’t think mobiles have been doing a good job of that… but that can and possibly will change now.

Last week, Nokia’s BetaLabs released this experimental application called Nokia Bots. Nokia Bots is a collection of four mini-apps which work in the background (that is: while you are using or not using your mobile) and learn about how you use it; and then present options or simply respond to how you’d use your mobile.

There are four mini-apps that come with Nokia Bots: Profile Bot, Battery Bot, Alarm Bot, and Shortcut Bot. The Profile, Battery, and Alarm Bots work basically off of those respective events. These take about 2 days to gather information about your use and then – using the widget on the homescreen of an N97 or N97 Mini – display the changes that your device would want to do. These changes are optional and you can choose to accept them or not (coming back to this point).

In the case of the Shortcut Bot, you add a new shortcuts widget to your homescreen and then this changes as the bot learns about those applications that you most frequently use. There’s no option here of which applications to accept or not, but it does a reasonably good job of displaying what you use the most.

And so what ends up happening is that your mobile (in my case, my N97) begins to learn my usage patterns and starts to respond before I’d put my hand to it. In effect, not just having information about my use (metrics and analytics), but putting it to practice (intelligence and understanding).

This is something that I’ve really been wanting to dig more into with mobile devices – even before reading this excellent piece by Rita @ Symbian Guru. For all of the ability that our mobiles have to do things, most of the time they do nothing until we poke them. Being able to teach my mobile, or that my mobile can learn my actions, and then it would simply respond just makes too much sense.

It adds the smart into the idea of a smartphone.

Some time back, I wrote an article at Brighthand where I had hoped that others would see that AI – or device intelligence and response – would sit as a major construct of how we understand smartphones. Here’s that definition that I proposed:

Smartphones are mobile devices which utilize cellular and wireless software to enhance the user experience of mobile-enabled services by connecting to those services by direct ties into the operating system and hardware of the mobile device.

Now, imagine these bots not just learning actions such as when you change a profile, or when you set regular alarms, but going as far as enabling or disabling wireless or web services in order to make communications or your device more efficient. Where the device learns that you don’t receive calls during a certain period and sends them all to SMS/MMS/VM, or that when you travel into a certain area that specific people are notified. If you will, your mobile not just taking on the point of being an off-loaded storage area for your brain, but it become an active secretary to interactions that free you to live better.

Ok, so that’s pushing it a bit far, but you can see my point and why Nokia Bots gets me excited. This is an example of a mobile user interface (UI) improving the overall user experience (UX) by responding to what I need, instead of me needing to poke it to respond to my need.

One of the ideas that I posted at Ideas.Symbian spoke about a widget-driven homescreen which moved widgets up and down, or open and closed them depending on the event  that the user needed to respond to (context-driven widget area). There would be some intelligence in play here. In effect, the user would just know that in turning on the mobile that the relevant information was always there – there would be no need to hunt for it. I see Nokia Bots (and other UIs in development) as a half-step towards this kind of user interaction.

In my opinion, we’ve got more than enough power, graphics, storage, and ability under the hood of our mobile devices. We now need to start extracting more ability from them by leveraging all of the data that we know that mobiles already have. And yes, an intelligent mobile will be a less-replaced one. But, the benefit of this kind of intelligence might merit newer opportunities and challenges for mobile device and services companies – ones which will require them to not just churn out “smaller, faster, better,” but actually think about how the advancing of technology (hardware, software, and services) work with our behaviors to enrich our lives.

Such intelligence has been in our hands all along. Its pretty neat that now we can start to see it come out and be smart.

Back from BibleTech

Just wanted to note that a bro is back from BibleTech and am nicely refreshed. At the moment, am just recovering from the flight and catching up on a few messages, but can totally say that a bro got spiritually refreshed with the fellowship and the tech. I see now how much is in my hands with MMM and what I need to attend a lot more towards. Yea, life is officially different, and I like the changes so far.

Lesson in Humility Through Biking

Today has been the first day of my vacation. I’m slated to go to the BibleTech Conference and speak, but today was just a vacation day – and I’ve really enjoyed it.

The best part of the day has been the weather, as its what I like to call biking and convertible weather. This afternoon I trekked on my bike to some local green ways, and then to a coffee shop that I frequent and it was just chill and fun.

On the way home, I stopped at a second coffee shop to just invest time and get another drink. On my way out, there was another guy who parked his bike beside mine. His bike was loaded with travel items as he was definitely riding somewhere.

He took a liking to my bike, and we struck up a conversation. He said that he biked from the Northeast down to NC (woah!) and was on his way towards the beach (double woah!). I could imagine it, but it was the first time that I can recall meeting someone who literally biked across the country like that.

As we talked, he mentioned how he came to be a biking traveler (drifter was his term) through losing his job and some other breaks. Being able to just take his wheels and go seemed to be a good idea, and he’s pretty much been biking ever since. He mentioned that it was good that I am working and that I should value the job, because things can be taken away at any time.

It didn’t hit me until a few minutes after the conversation ended and I was well on my way. I’ve not been valuing everything that God’s given me and allowed me to walk into.

I’ve got bills paid (mostly), a solid job, a number of solid friends and associates, and am doing speaking engagements. I’m able to take time off to bike and see the city, to engage with others, and really have the depth of my prayers met when I do those things. Not to say that I don’t have issues, but they really are small compared to all those things I’ve been blessed with.

He and I parted and I had a nag inside. There were a few bucks in my pocket and I never carry cash. I turned my bike around and just gave him what I had. It wasn’t much, but I was humbled that he appreciated his situation enough to enjoy it. And while I also could have just as easily sat there the night or did other giftings – it was just that impression to pay for his drink that felt the most appropriate. And so I did.

As I rode off I remarked in prayer that I was sorry for not valuing everything that God’s given. My complaints have sounded prideful and arrogant – and frankly, there’s no reason for them. God has met every need that I have. And those things that I want which I don’t have are because I don’t need those things at this time.

I often feel that biking is a time for me to let off some energy, see the world around me, and reflect on things I need to do next. I can say that in this first day of this vacation, biking definitely led to that reflection and the freedom that I espouse to I already have.

Its a lesson I hope not to forget. And if I see that person on the road, I’ve got a reason again to stop and share a drink while thanking God and him for that lesson so needed this day.

Going Green & Mobile Is Easy… When It Works

Over at the Nokia Conversation’s blog, there’s a new post talking about the use of a mobile device to minimize one’s use of energy resources while staying connected and productive (going mobile to go green). I’ve got an N97 and have many times talked about using it for just that, however, things don’t always work as expected.

For example, I often like to read PDF documents – well, I don’t like to read them, but the content I want to read is formatted with PDF and so it requires a reader. I’ve got Adobe Acrobat Reader, but its not the free one that’s on a laptop, its a paid one which isn’t optimized for my device.

Or, when reading RSS feeds with Google Reader, I like to open a number of pages, and many times will send friends/family a link to something that I’ve read that would be of interest to them. If I’m not careful, just trying to send a link could close the browser or email client. Or worse, just opening a link to a full web page could close the browser (because the page is too large for the available memory on the device).

The more complicated items that I do such as blogging and writing tends to happen in spurts. There are many time where I just pull out the device and compose away. Then others when I’ll want to do something a bit more in-depth and will use the wireless keyboard that I have. And times still where I’d like to go on my reading/writing binges and really cut loose with my mobile, but a lot in the way of the speed and usability of the device, and even the usability of content just gets in the way.

So while its possible go green with mobile, things like this are impediments to staying productive. And while I’m different in the respect that I would rather use a mobile device where there’s a laptop, bigger camera, car radio, or even TV in front of me, I’m not different in the respect that I’d like to get things done as simply as possible.

The problem is that going mobile doesn’t always work. There are compromises which can sometimes be fun in overcoming, and others which aren’t so fun because they aren’t a simple solution, or are a simple solution with ramifications later. I enjoy looking for those solutions, but man, there are moment, like today in trying to find flight information, that I wish things would just work – mobile would win here if it just did.

I hope that future devices and services take these things into account. It doesn’t matter one bit to go green if you need to do double the effort in order to get fewer, or lessened results.

The HTC Evo and Nearly a Pocket Tablet

Its not just BibleTech this week, for many who are involved in mobile and telecommunications, the CTIA Conference is going on and there’s been a number of announcements and rumors. One of the announcements though is a device that – at least from some respects – sits right around where a lot of mobile computing will be going to. That device would be the HTC EVO 4G on Sprint – and its a bit of a monster.

Here are some of the specs of this latest smartphone:

  • 480 x 800 4.3-inch TFT LCD
  • 1GHz processor
  • 1GB of built-in memory and 512MB of RAM
  • 8 megapixel camera with flash and able to take 720p video
  • 1.3 megapixel front facing camera
  • HDMI out
  • 802.11b/g WiFi
  • 8GB microSD card
  • Google Android v2.1

There are a ton more specs – Engadget has that covered with some comparison  pics.

The piece that I want to focus on is the size of the device – its not small. And the fact that its dang near a tablet computer that’s sized for a (large) pocket.

I think this is where mobiles on the high-end will be going this year. Samsung has announced a model today (the Galaxy S), and there’s a rumored Nokia, both with large screens, nice sized processors, and the kind of ability that just is crazy to be in our hands (mobiles are like little microwaves I recently read).

With devices getting to this point, will we attend to the same uses, or change it up a bit? I’m hoping that there’s a change, and that we do some neat things like using them more like the PDAs of old. Or, do new things like mashups and alternative content displays. And at the same time, I’d like to see the screens be used for more than just making text bigger. We should be enriching the user experience now.

Or at least pushing the envelope with environmental and battery tech so that these devices can be usable as pocket offices for most of the day.

Now, get me those specs in every other mobile OS, and we can really have some competitive events happening – or at least a choice that would make me reconsider redoing that tablet work experiment more fully.

For the rest of folks, consider what you’d use a computer for. Then see these smartphones, and realize that tablets are in some respect their evolution. Should be interesting from here to the end of the year.

Poem: About Me v2

A rewrite of the About Me section from my account:

Patterned this life after Love’s best design
Every pen that wrote four by 79 lines defined
Until I came to this place to unwind
And catch new friends by a musical interlude
Intertwine one playlist and healthy doses of the Divine
Not letting the dullness of radio turn me sublime
I reach outside and inside to find
Sounds patterned after life before afterlife drowns this out
Pound each desk and foot like the drummer boy’s unibrow
Hairy sounds scale up your back until you realize the child
Is nothing like this B-side because it smells foul
The only classic temptation here is to wonder if Steve’s seen this aloud
I’d ask but instead I keep my head down
Powering into each beat until the fader dips into chow
And what you eat of this life is no more ego or proud
But roots of life in brotherly towels
Giving a queen a rest in the glorious miles
And leaving sounds after sounds patterned after Love’s only Child
In this design there is only one destiny
I hope you find the Child as you listen to this life’s playlist from me.

Basking in the Moment

Not exactly basking in life before BibleTech, I am motivated to write just a bit today.

I’ve spent some time thinking about how I use a mobile device, and am wondering what the next Symbian-powered devices (meaning Symbian^3) will be like. Sure, I know about things like a refined user interface and more attention to widgets/WRT, but I’d really like to know what will happen with it in terms of hardware design and how will the many ideas that have been talked about translate into things.

At the same time, I wonder about Maemo/MeeGo and whether I’ll take another trip back there. I almost jumped today when I saw this 5in device being offered. Thing was, it doesn’t use the Maemo/MeeGo operating system and platform, and so I’d have to figure out how to hack it onto that hardware. But man, a 5in screen – with a suitable headset – and I’d probably be really close to being set.

That is, if someone else doesn’t come out with something innovative. I’m really quite content with much of the hardware of my N97. Yes, it could use some more running memory, and the battery could stand up to being a full day wonder (I get just over a full work day some days).

I’d like to see the software advance a good bit. Things like the web browser really getting some attention (speed, JavaScript, etc.), better integration with web services all around, and then getting back my mobile web server.

Yea, that mobile web server. I’d like to not have to go through another service in order to have the gateway aspect. I’d like for the mobile device to be its own PC application. I’d like for it to be as easy to open the address book in a browser and send an event to someone as it is for me to come to WordPress and type this post.

Yea, I’m asking for a lot. Because I also want this device to last for more than my normal 9-12 month run. And I think that the N97 can – if Nokia wants it to.

Or, maybe I can just stop wanting new stuff and get back to being an off-the-wall mobile guy who uses his mobile not to show off anything, but improve the lives of people around me. Its that point which is central to my presentations later this week, and the one that I hope to most grow in from this point out.

Not exactly basking in the best of things at the moment; allergies and life tends to do that though. But maybe this week is the note that things change all over for the better. I hope so, for it feels like this moment is worth basking in.