Five challenges for Firefox OS

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Image from http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefoxos/

I’m pretty excited about Firefox OS. I believe in open-source projects, plus Mozilla has a good record on creating awesome software and keep it open and free. And I think they are an example on following those standards that make life easier for developers and designers. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m really happy with Android (specially since I moved away from manufacturer’s versions of Android and started using custom ROMs), but Google’s shadow is quite big and still growing… and I really hate their contacts management system!

I’m also looking forward to play with Ubuntu for Android, but I have the feeling Firefox OS is a very different concept: while Canonical is trying to give a big and interesting step on personal computing with a phone able to run a whole PC at the same time, it seems that Mozilla is putting its money on simplicity. Which sounds much better when they tell you that the smartphones running Firefox OS will cost around $100. That means you can get up to six fully functional phones at the price of an iPhone or a high-end Android device.

But even though I love the concept (open-source, free, simple, based on standards… how not to?) I think there are a few challenges they have to overcome if they want to get a piece of the cake in the big markets other than the obvious (being user-friendly, having a long battery life and a good touch screen response, or simply being fast):

  1. Migration. High in the “to-do” lists they should have the creation of apps to migrate your contacts and text messages from Android and iOS (although I don’t really see many fanboys changing to FirefoxOS in the short-term…). The easier it is to move to the new phone the more attractive it becomes.
  2. Top apps. Who is going to get a smart phone that doesn’t have Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, and AngryBirds? They just have to integrate those popular apps that we just can’t live without anymore, or rather get those companies to develop those apps (which shouldn’t be that hard, being the whole system standard HTML5).
  3. Maps/Navigation. By definition they should go with open-source projects, even if that means putting some work to develop their own apps or help the existing projects. That doesn’t mean they have to block a possible GoogleMaps app, just make sure they have fully working open alternatives.
  4. Security. Mozilla has announced that Firefox OS’ app store will be open for anybody who wants to share/sell an app. Although I think that’s way to go (I don’t like anyone telling me what can I install or not on my computer) I see the risks of it. So the same way they have to make sure Firefox doesn’t have any security breaks that allow hackers to break into your computer and potentially access your private stuff or steal your money, Firefox OS should be a bunker unless you open the door on your own.
  5. Devices. The main reason of Android’s popularity is that it works in many different devices, while iOS is meant to be used only in iPhone. Firefox OS should be easy to install in any device (in a similar way you can install a custom Android ROM from the recovery mode), and able to run smoothly in even the lower-end smart phones.

The 5 big questions about Ubuntu for Android

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That’s how your PC might look like next year.

In 2010, thanks to my position at Ejecutivos magazine, I was given the opportunity to interview Cyril Zimmerman, the founder and CEO of Hi-media, one of the brands leading the online advertisement market in Europe. It was a great interview, but there was an idea that really impressed me back then, and it has taken me two years to hear about it again. A year before that interview, Bernardo Hernandez had said that mobile phones were going to be our closest computers, and when I asked Cyril about that he replied to me the following:

I agree, but I don’t think it’s going to be call “mobile phone” or “computer”. If we take the iPad, for example, it’s not a mobile phone but you can actually bring it anywhere and make calls thanks to services like Skype. I believe that we will talk about a different gadget with which we will be able to do everything. It could be something similar to smart-phones, but that when you get home or to the office you can just plug in a big screen and a comfortable keyboard and use it as your desktop computer. It’s really hard to know what’s going to happen.

Yet he actually knew what was going to happen. Canonical presented that exact same concept during past Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and it should be in the streets by the end of 2012: Ubuntu for Android. As Canonical writes it down on their website, users get the Android they know on the move, but when they connect their phone to a monitor, mouse and keyboard, it becomes a PC running a full version of Ubuntu. All contacts and messages are synchronized in both, and you can still use your phone while is docked to the monitor.

But even though I love the concept, I’m not sure how Canonical and the manufacturers that might embrace the idea are going to deal with the five biggest questions about this gadget:

  1. Storage. Now-a-days’ computers normally have at least 250Gb of storage memory, but you can easily have up to 1Tb. Smart-phones, on the other hand, only offer up to 32Gb, which is the maximum capability of SD cards. Therefore the device it’s going to need a way to increase the storage room, either with an external hard drive (which kind of defeats the purpose of the mobile device) or with cloud services. The second option seems more probable to me, although it will have a cost: Ubuntu1 itself only offers up to 5Gb for free (similar to other competitors), which is clearly not enough to replace your computer’s hard drive.. plus it would generate a lot of data traffic that will increase your phone’s bill (and make you totally dependent on the connection, but that seems unavoidable).
  2. Battery life. My quite simple Samsung Galaxy Ace, just running Android 2.3, needs to be charged at least every other day, but if I use Internet apps or if I use it to play music it doesn’t even last one full day. I can only imagine how fast the batteries are going to drain if the device has to run two operating systems at the same time, plus all the connections (signal, 4G, bluetooth…). If the dock is going to be charging the phone whenever it’s plugged so you don’t have to worry about it, that might mess up the batteries memory really fast, making them useless more sooner than later.
  3. Size. As far as my hardware knowledge goes, stuff like RAM memory, Graphic cards and storage memory occupy physical space. If it would be possible to make a whole fully functional computer in the dimensions of a mobile phone, leaving enough room for the phone’s hardware itself, I think manufacturers TACHA Apple would have done it already. So even though the idea is great, I think it’s important to keep mobile phones in a handy size, and I already find the latest Samsung Galaxy S a bit too big for a phone.
  4. Compatibility. In the long term, the ideal would be that every place users might go to (office, home, hotels, friend’s house…) has a dock for this kind of phone/computer device, so you can really work everywhere. But is an HTC phone going to work with a Samsung dock and monitor? As a user I want to believe that yes, but manufacturers would most probably want to sell the whole package (phone+dock+monitor), the same way they don’t even have compatible chargers yet (even though the EU said they should).
  5. Prize. As Adidas slogan reads, impossible is nothing…. you just have to pay for it. I think that, even it would be running two open and free operative systems, this device would be crazy expensive. Is what it takes to make such a powerful gadget with a really long lasting battery in tiny dimensions, plus the cost of developing the new monitors, docks and all the hardware. I think that’s why Canonical seems to be focusing to market it to enterprises rather than to final users. And actually makes sense: since companies are already getting one phone and one computer per worker, this solution might be cheaper.

So I actually have wanted a gadget like this since my interview with Cyril Zimmerman. I’m also a fan of both Android and Ubuntu, and I believe average users could perfectly live and work without ever paying for software or OS licenses. But I would like to see first how Canonical and its partners deal with the issues listed above… specially the prize one, since I don’t think I’ll be able to afford something like that any time soon!

Manufacturers’ Android versions suck

CyanogenMod
CyanogenMod, probable a better Android than what your phone came with.

I hate manufacturers versions of operative systems. I hated it back when I had Windows, and any new computer would come with a lot of pre-installed crappy and useless software instead of coming with a brand new and clean install. But it’s even worse when it comes to smartphones running Android, or at least that is my personal experience with Samsung and Motorola.

My first Android phone was a Motorola Milestone (the European version of Motorola Droid). It was a high-end device and came with Android 2.1, which was pretty cool at the moment. But a few months later Android Froyo was out there and I was stuck with the older version. I waited for a good year until Motorola finally released the official Froyo update for my phone, and it was just horrible: the whole phone was terrible slow, the interface design was already out of date and it didn’t seem to bring any improvement, so I searched the Internet for alternatives and found CyanogenMod. A few days later, and after a long time of being a good boy, I rooted the Milestone and installed CyanogenMod 7.1.

It was a pain to get it working. At some point I thought I had no phone anymore, and when I finally found my way (three days later) through it I had lost all my SMS and contacts. Thankfully I still had my old SIM card and most of my contacts where there safe and sound. But it was so worthy: CM7 was already based on Android 2.3 (one version ahead of what Mororola was offering me), but everything worked smoothly and fast, so the phone should have been able to run even faster with Froyo, so shame on Motorola’s developers. Plus I now had total control over my phone instead of the limitations of the manufacturer, which is something I really enjoy.

When I moved to Canada a few months ago I had to change my phone, since the Milestone wouldn’t work with my network of choice (or so I was told, and I wasn’t able to make it work). So I bought a new phone taking advantage of the offers from the company, ending up with a Samsung Galaxy Ace running Android 2.3. Except for the weight of the device, I missed my old Milestone. At first I thought it was mainly because of the physical keyboard, but then I realized there was other thing: I really didn’t like the operative system. It wasn’t slow or anything, but it had some really annoying features like the worst messaging app ever or a very limited desktop. Plus since it wasn’t rooted I couldn’t install some apps and change things to make it better, or just delete useless crappy apps like the “Samsung Market”. So I looked again for my beloved CyanogenMod.

This time I found that I could install CyanogenMod 9 (based on Android4 already!!) thanks to the Galaxy ICS Project. I went again through a painful process during which my phone was literally done for a few hours, until I managed to get the Recovery System updated and then I was able to install the ROM. It was cool (Android4 is by itself really cool), but this was a beta version and many things didn’t work well, plus it seemed to me that Ice Cream Sandwich was too much for this not-so-amazing phone, so I changed it for CM7.2. And I’m delighted: the whole phone is superfast, the interface is cool and full of customizable options, I have total control over everything on my device and I would say the battery lasts longer. I have even noticed that it was Samsung’s on-screen poorly designed keyboard what made me misspell so many words, not that my thumbs where fatter or I was stupider.

I think this gaves a really bad image to the manufacturers. In Motorola’s case, they weren’t able to keep their OS up to date, and after a year working on it their release wasn’t even decent. In Samsung’s case, and considering that CyanogenMod 7 is based on Android 2.3 (same version the phone had when I first got it), it shows that the open community is able to develop a much better OS than one of the biggest companies in the market, making it faster, cleaner and in terms of privacy and control much better for the final user.

So if you have an Android phone and really want to enjoy the experience of it, get rid of your manufacturers ROM and its limitations and look for something open and better. CyanogenMod works for me and the devices I have had, but you might find some other interesting ROMs out there that can rock your phone.

Códigos QR: un gran invento que pocos saben utilizar bien

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Un código QR (Quick Response Barcode) es un sistema para almacenar información en una matriz de puntos o un código de barras bidimensional creado por la compañía japonesa Denso-Wave en 1994; se caracterizan por los tres cuadrados que se encuentran en las esquinas y que permiten detectar la posición del código al lector. La sigla «QR» se derivó de la frase inglesa pues el creador «Euge Damm» aspiraba a que el código permitiera que su contenido se leyera a alta velocidad. Los códigos QR son muy comunes en Japón y de hecho son el código bidimensional más popular en ese país.

La definición que hace la Wikipedia deja claro que los códigos QR no son tan nuevos como parece, ni su funcionamiento nada a lo que no estemos acostumbrados gracias a los códigos de barras que vemos en todos los envases de productos que podemos comprar en un supermercado. Pero lo cierto es que en los últimos meses estos códigos parecen haberse popularizado, impulsados en gran parte por el crecimiento de los teléfonos inteligentes que permiten leer estos códigos gracias a aplicaciones como Google Goggles.

El problema es que muchas empresas están usando los códigos QR del mismo modo que las redes sociales: sin pararse a pensar. Sin lugar a dudas son una herramienta que nos permite llamar la antención, atraer público hacia nuestra presencia en la web y realizar acciones de comunicación que rompan con lo convencional; pero para sacarle partido tiene que haber una estrategia detrás y no una idea de “tenemos que usar esta cosa nueva que está de moda”.

Estamos más que acostumbrados a ver direcciones URL en los carteles y páginas de publicidad, y puede que alguien se tome la molestia de consultarlas en el momento con un teléfono inteligente, pero lo normal es que poca gente se acuerde de la dirección que ha visto en el autobús cuando se pone delante del ordenador, y si alguien se acuerda es imposible saber si ha sido gracias a ese anuncio. El código QR permite romper la barrera entre el mundo físico y el mundo digital, haciendo además que el proceso sea inmediato por tres motivos: el proceso en sí (hago una foto con el teléfono y automáticamente pasa algo), por curiosidad (¿qué pasa si hago la foto?) y miedo de perder la oportunidad (si no lo hago ahora mismo ya no podré hacerlo).

El problema es que, si hemos conseguido que una persona se tome la molestia de sacar su teléfono móvil para hacer una foto a nuestro anuncio, debemos ofrecerle una experiencia más allá de un simple enlace a una página web. Las posibilidades son muchas: descarga de canciones, de aplicaciones para el teléfono móvil, de cupones de descuento… o incluso hacer que el cartel donde está puesto el anuncio te regale algo en el mismo momento que haces la foto al código QR, dándole una vuelta más al proceso y volviendo al mundo físico. Pero si nos quedamos en el enlace, el usuario va a serntir que le estamos haciendo perder el tiempo, que le hemos picado la curiosidad para ganar una visita a la web a ver si podemos venderle algo.

Un buen ejemplo de uso muy sencillo de un código QR es el de insertarlo en nuestra tarjeta de visita, lo que nos permite añadir mucha información que no cabe en el recuadro de papel y que además no tiene mucho sentido dejarla por escrito cuando va a hacer falta un ordenador para utilizarla: un blog personal, los enlaces a nuestro perfil en LinkedIn, Twitter o Facebook, crear automáticamente un contacto nuevo en el teléfono o incluso un enlace al vídeo de presentación de nuestra empresa que nuestro nuevo contacto pueda ver en su teléfono en el camino de vuelta a su oficina. Ahí sí estaremos creando una experiencia satisfactoria, aumentando el impacto del mensaje y el recuerdo.