I spent the day at MobileCampSF, A BarCamp "unconference" focused on mobile development and monetization. MobileCamp is a a loosely structured gathering open to all mobile enthusiasts. Anyone can present on any mobile related topic in whatever format they desire. MobileCamps have been held in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The first San Francisco Camp was a great event so i was eager to attend today's sequel. I wasn't disappointed, MobileCamp was expertly organized by Indira, Ritwik, Andy and Alexis and sponsorship by Nokia Nseries and Forum Nokia made the event free for attendees. I spent the entire day at MobileCamp and attended 8 sessions.
First up was Chris Price of PhoneNews.com with Social Networking for Device Manufacturers. Chris, who graduated from college a few days ago, just launched a startup, MechaWorks and released its first comercial product MobileWiki, a Wiki based product support platform targeted at device manufacturers. The idea is that someone like Nokia or a Samsung would use PhoneWiki to enhance product support and build brand loyalty. It's a managed wiki similar in concept to Wikipedia where users can post questions, tips and reviews on each product in a manufacturer's lineup. Mechaworks hosts and manages the Wiki making sure content meets quality guidelines; doing things like editing posts to remove information that a vendor wouldn't want to share or endorse like as unlock codes. Or the the software can be purchased and self hosted and manged.
MobileWiki's design scales to provide easy access to specific information on thousands of handset models. It lets a vendor leverage their most informed users to enhance product support with round the clock answers to questions. The platform is completely customizable so that site layout and design will meet corporate standards for look and feel. MobileWiki is built on top on MediaWiki, the same platform that WikiPedia uses. The core MediaWiki code is not alterted, simplifying upgades.
I asked Chris if the PhoneWiki web platform was optimized for use with mobile browsers. He said that it currently wasn't but that this feature was allowed for in the design and could easily be added on request. He suggested that a mobile version should ideally be read-only as posts from mobiles tend to be crytptic text-talk. I think he sells the keying abilities of mobile users short. I use the Opera Mini forum at MyOpera.com where many posts are mobile originated and, while there are occasional unintelligible posts, the overall quality is actually quite high. Incidentally the full-web version of Phone Encyclopedia works well with Opera Mini or Webkit.
If you would like to see PhoneWiki in action, look at PhoneNews.coms' Phone Encyclopedia which is built on PhoneWiki.
Next Juhana Hiletala from Nokia did a nice survey of the Mobile Application Development landscape particularly as it relates to Nokia phones.
He listed the main mobile development platforms in approximate order of increasing development complexity as; Mobile Web, Flash Lite, Java ME and native C++. Each has its strengths and weaknesses with some better suited to one or the other of the Nokia device platforms; S30, S40, S60 and Maemo
The Browser is the most universal and portable platform. Content distribution is far easier than any other but power is limited. This is changing with full-web, Ajax enabled browsers like WebKit and widget platforms like Web Run Time (WRT) becoming common. He dropped a hint that Nokia might be working on a WebKit-like browser and possibly even a WRT for S40 phones.
Flash Lite offers ease of development and power but has been held back by limited availability of compatabile devices. That's changing with Nokia now bundling Flash Lite with all S60 and most S40 phones.
Java Me - is a highly fragmented platform making development of sophisticated applications difficult. But with a base of 1.5 billion active Java handsets including all S40 and S60 phones it is the number one platform for developing installable applications.
C++ on S60. A challenging development environment that offers the ultimate in power and access to hardware. Development is costly and doing some" interesting" things requires signing and certification further increasing cost, effort and difficulty. Hiletala defended certification as necessary to meet regulatory requirements giving the example that 911 "must always work", but admitted that it's hard for developers to make money on native S60 applications.
In the Q&A session, Hiletala suggested that Qtopia by Trolltech, which Nokia recently acquired, could be coming to phones.
In response to a question about Python, he said that he likes Python, but that Nokia didn't consider it a product so much as an Open Source community development which they support.
The morning session ended with a fun game where the participants divided up into teams of three. Each team has 15 minutes to create a mobile product concept including a functional design, marketing plan, revenue source, logo and tag line. The product name had to consist of two words from a random list of about 30. I teamed up with Richard Galbraith from WOMWorld and Rudy Rullan from Chikka. We did pretty well finishing in second place with GreenFreckles, an SMS response and mobile web based social service to encourage recycling. GreenFreckles connects users who have items they want to get rid of with nearby individuals and organizations willing to accept them. We lost to SpaceCycling, a GPS enabled mobile social network that organizes impromptu races for cyclists. The members of the winning team each received an N810 cortesy of Nokia.
After a delicious catered lunch, Francis Li from Tinypictures, the company behind mobile social photo sharing network Radar, presented an introduction to Mobile Processing. It's a mobile port of an Open Source development language and IDE called Processing. Loosely based on OpenGl, Mobile Processing is a preprocessor and lightweight runtime that sits on top on Java ME. It can run on almost any java powered phone, even old MIDP 1.0 devices. Francis quickly developed a graphic demo in less than 10 lines of code and also showed a couple of Mobile Processing applications, a weather widget with a iPhone like GUI and Yahoo Sonar, a local search application. Mobile Processing looks like a great tool for prototyping and rapid application development and seems remarkably portable across all sorts of handsets.
Matthaus Krzykowski of VentureBeat did a through analysis of the current mobile social network landscape. He started by saying that there are currently over 60 mobile social networks and organized them into four groups
1. The internet heavyweights MySpace and FaceBook: Although they ignored mobile for a long time, once they recognized its potential they quickly gained market share leadership. They were able to secure on-deck placement because of their name recognition and reach and are off-portal as well. The heavyweights don't innovate but have succeeded by offering a mobile subset of the features of their full sites to their huge web user base
2. The big on deck networks; AirG, Jumbuck and Loopmobile are mature, profitable companies but are under pressure from MySpace and Facebook. They have the resources and incentive to innovate which may keep them competitive.
3. The offdeck mobile-only players; MocoSpace, MyGama, Peporonity and ItsMy. These companies were first to market and have large established networks of loyal users. They understand the mobile market and know how to leverage the low spec handsets common in the developing world. Highly innovative, they are willing to try out all sorts of features and see which ones fly. They are good at monetization with several developing their own ad networks. Peperonity is one of AdMob's largest publishers.
4 The New Off-Deck contenders: BluePulse and Zannel: Among the many promising mobile social startups Matthaus likes these two because they have a lot of off-deck traffic.
You can read a fuller, more complete version of Matthaus' presentation including his slides at VentureBeat.
tnkgrl lead a lively, free ranging discussion of converged versus separate devices and what would make the ideal phone. Just about everyone in the group of mobile geeks acknowledged carrying multiple devices but most said they really wanted a converged device. So far, none had found a single mobile that meet all their requirements. Popular combinations were a high end S60 like the N95 or N82 for calling, texting, videos and photography, an iPhone for browsing and music and a Blackberry, N810 or a MID, like the EeePc, for writing on the fly. The consensus was that the ideal device is one that's pocketable, open to installing any software and has a QWERTY keyboard, a great camera with Zenon flash and a big zoomable high resolution screen for browsing.
Victor Brilon and Tapio Tolvanen from Nokia demonstrated a Maemo powered robot dog they built with an N800 for brains and "face" attached to and communicating (via Bluetooth) with an off the shelf robot kit. An N810 is the robot's remote control, talking to it over WiFi. Complete plans for building your own robot can be found at garage.maemo.org/projects/robot
Victor, who is a Product Manager for Nokia's Maemo based tablet platform, said the WiMax version of the N810 is ready to go and will hit the market as soon as Sprint and Clearwire get their WiMax network up and running. Victor and Tapio expressed a lot of enthusiasm for Maemo and Open source, stressing the freedom it gives developers to express their creativity without being limited by the carrier and regulatory restrictions of traditional phone platforms. The Maemo devices aren't really mass market yet, being still primarily purchased by techies, but Nokia is happy with sales levels and plans at least 2 more generations of Maemo tablets.
Another Tnkgyl presentation closed out an exciting day. It was about tnkgrl's experience Hacking Mobile Devices. She presented three hardware hacks; Converting the EVDO equiped Vulcan Flipstart MID to HSDPA, doing the same for an OQO MID and adding Bluetooth to the base model Asus EeePC. tnkgrl shared tips for finding hidden USB ports and SIM interfaces on devices, sourcing cheap unlocked HSDPA modules on eBay and the hardware hacker's best friend, Kapton Tape. You can find lots of detail and pictures of tnkgrl's hacks on her blog, tnkgrl.wordpress.com where she also reviews phones and other mobile devices. She wrapped her presentation up with a bit of social engineering explaining how to use any device on your carrier's cheapest unlimited data plan.
Thanks to Indira, Ritwik, Andy and Alexis who worked very hard to make Mobile Camp happen and to Nokia for paying the bills. I really enjoyed it and encourage you to be on the lookout for the next one in your area. If you have a passion for mobiles, regardless of whether it's technical, entrepreneurial or both, I think you will find MobileCamp a stimulating experience.