Nokia’s Windows Phone gamble

At Nokia World in London on Wednesday, CEO Stephen Elop presented the new Lumia range of Windows Phones. You can watch the keynote here – I was impressed by Elop’s clarity and conviction, and also by VP Blanca Juti who talked about the Asha range of nearly-smartphone feature phones.


The demonstration of the Windows Phone OS and apps seemed to me weaker and you could sense a struggle in energising the audience. I suspect this is because Windows Phone has already been out for a year and has failed to meet expectations; clearly it takes more than live tiles to make a success of a new Smartphone.

Elop is aware of this which is why he made the following widely quoted remark:

[Lumia is] the first ever instantiation of the windows phone platform that properly embodies, complements and amplifies the design sensibilities of windows phone … more simply stated, Lumia is the first real Windows Phone.

I have yet to handle a Lumia but I believe Elop, in that the other Windows Phone 7 devices are no more than ordinary in their design, whereas Nokia has done something distinctive.

I was impressed by the demo of turn by turn navigation; this does look like an attractive and useful app.


I was also impressed when Elop talked about the marketing effort which Nokia and its retail partners are putting behind Lumia. He said that there are 31 operators and retailers in size countries which:

…have each committed to significant levels of marketing investment which includes unprecedented retail exposure and three times the level of total marketing investment compared to any other single Nokia launch.

He added that Nokia will be distributing seed devices widely among retailers so that they really know (and, Elop claims, love) the Lumia Windows Phones.

My immediate reflection is that Microsoft needed Nokia a year ago; Windows Phone has never before received this kind of backing. I am not sure that I have ever seen a Windows Phone for sale in my local small town centre, which has several mobile phone shops.

The tough question: is the OS good enough to compete with Apple and Android? I think it is a reasonable alternative, though I personally find the 20 beautifully designed icons I see on the first screen of the iPhone 4 more appealing than the seven chunky, flickering tiles I see on a Windows Phone. That said, I can see that the Windows Phone makes a good Facebook phone. I also like the Office apps and their read-write support for SharePoint, which is useful to me as a SharePoint user.

Where Windows Phone falls short is in the quality and availability of apps. There may be 30,000 in the Marketplace, but most of them are rubbish, and if you have a niche interest it is less likely to be represented than on an iPhone. I play Bridge, and on the iPhone I can enjoy FunBridge among others; on Windows Phone, nothing yet.

I have also found the data in Local Scout, a location-based index of places to see, shop or eat, too poor to be of much use where I am, though it may be better in London or other big cities.

If Nokia can win significant market share through its new range, problems like these will solve themselves as more people will care about them, and more apps will be developed.

It does need early success though, and this will not be easy bearing in mind that the general public are not really discontented with what is already on offer from others.

Nokia seems to have the right marketing ideas though, and the prices look reasonable. Watch this space.

Sanity prevails at HP which is keeping its PC division

HP has announced that HP is keeping its Personal Systems Group, its PC division.

“HP objectively evaluated the strategic, financial and operational impact of spinning off PSG. It’s clear after our analysis that keeping PSG within HP is right for customers and partners, right for shareholders, and right for employees,” said Meg Whitman, HP president and chief executive officer. “HP is committed to PSG, and together we are stronger.”

The strategic review involved subject matter experts from across the businesses and functions. The data-driven evaluation revealed the depth of the integration that has occurred across key operations such as supply chain, IT and procurement. It also detailed the significant extent to which PSG contributes to HP’s solutions portfolio and overall brand value. Finally, it also showed that the cost to recreate these in a standalone company outweighed any benefits of separation.

I am not surprised – it took me and many other observers about two minutes to reach the same conclusion back in August, when HP announced that it was considering a “spin-off or other transaction” for PSG.

I find it remarkable that HP did not conduct this research before, rather than after, announcing its uncertainty to the world. These last couple of months must have been challenging for the PSG sales and marketing team and costly for HP.

Nevertheless, good news for HP and its customers, and for Microsoft for whom HP is perhaps its most important hardware partner.

Twilio: programmable telephony, SMS comes to the UK, Europe

Web telephony provider twilio, which is based in San Francisco, has today announced its first international office, in London. You can now purchase UK telephone numbers at a cost of $1.00 per month, or Freephone numbers for $2.00 per month.

Twilio is not in competition with Skype or Google Voice; rather it offers an API so that you can incorporate voice calls and SMS messaging into web or mobile applications. The REST API lets you provision numbers with various options for what happens to incoming calls (conferencing, forwarding to another number or voice over IP, recording, transcriptions), as well as notifications so that you can get email or SMS alerts.

CEO and co-founder Jeff Lawson came from Amazon Web Services (AWS), and has a similar business model in that twilio targets developers and offers infrastructure as a service, rather than selling complete applications to its customers. Twilio does not own any datacenters, but uses mainly AWS and some RackSpace virtual servers to provide a resilient and scalable service.

The launch partner for the UK is Zendesk, a cloud-based helpdesk provider, which is using twilio to add voice to what was previously an email-based product. Zendesk forms an excellent case study. Using the service, you can provision a support number and have calls redirected to agents, or have a voicemail recorded, using a simple setup procedure. Calls can be recorded and you can have alerts sent when they are received.

What this means is that even the smallest businesses can offer helpdesk support using a pay-as-you-go model.

Lawson observes that twilio is the 6th and 13th most popular API on ProgrammableWeb (he says it is 5th if you combine voice and SMS) and claims very rapid growth in traffic using the API, though he will not talk about revenue. The company has around 60 employees in San Francisco and just one in the UK initially.

The service is also launching in beta for 5 other European countries: Poland, France, Portugal, Austria and Denmark. 11 other countries will be added by the end of 2011, though there are prominent omissions – no Germany or Spain, for example.

I was impressed by the demo and presentation at the press launch. Lawson provisioned a conferencing number and had us dial in during the briefing. He says twilio is engaged in disrupting on-premise telephony applications with a cloud service, in the same way has done for CRM (Customer Relationship Management). The service is inexpensive to set up; Lawson said that this commodity pay-as-you-go pricing is essential for disruptive technology to succeed, another strategy borrowed from AWS.

There are server libraries for web platforms including Ruby, PHP, Java and C#, and client SDKs for JavaScript, Android and iOS.

Delphi XE2 FireMonkey for Windows, Mac, iOS: great idea, but is it usable?

I am sure all readers of this blog will know by now that Delphi XE2 (and RAD Studio XE2) has been released, and that to the astonishment of Delphi-watchers it supports not only 64-bit compilation on Windows, but also cross-platform apps for Windows, Mac OS X and even iOS for iPhone and iPad (with Android promised).

I tried this early on and was broadly impressed – my app worked and ran on all three platforms.


However it is an exceedingly simple app, pretty much Hello World, and there are some worrying aspects to this Delphi release. FireMonkey is based on technology from KSDev, which was acquired by Embarcadero in January this year. To go from acquisition to full Delphi integration and release in a few months is extraordinary, and makes you wonder what corners were cut.

It seems that corners were cut: you only have to read this post by developer and Delphi enthusiast Chris Rolliston:

To put it bluntly, FireMonkey in its current state isn’t good enough even for writing a Notepad clone (I know, because I’ve been trying). You can check out Herbert Sauro’s blog for various details (here, also a follow up post here). For my part, here’s a highish-level list of missing features and dubious coding practices, written from the POV of FireMonkey being a VCL substitute on the Mac (since on OS X, that is what it is).

Fortunately I did not write a Notepad clone, I wrote a Calculator clone, which explains why I did not run into as many problems.

Update: See also A look at the 3D side of FireMonkey by Eric Grange:

…if you want to achieve anything beyond a few poorly texture objects, you’ll need to design and write a lot of custom code rather than rely on the framework… with obvious implications of obsolescence and compatibility issues whenever FMX finally gets the features in standard.

There has already been an update for Delphi XE2 which is said to fix over 120 bugs as well as an open source licensing issue. I also noticed better performance for my simple iOS calculator after the update.

Still, FireMonkey early adopters face some significant issues if they are trying to make VCL-like applications, which I am guessing is a common scenario. There is a mismatch here, in that FireMonkey is based on VGScene and DXScene from KSDev, and the focus of those libraries was rich 2D and 3D graphics. Some Delphi developers undoubtedly develop rich graphical applications, but a great many do not, and I would judge that if Embarcadero had been able to deliver something more like a cross-platform VCL that just worked, the average Delphi developer would have been happier.

The company must be aware of this, and one reading of the journey from VSCene/DXScene to FireMonkey is that Embarcadero has been madly stuffing bits of VCL into the framework. Eventually, once the bugs are shaken out and missing features implemented, we may have something close to the ideal.

In the meantime, you can make a good case for Adobe Flash and Flex if what you really want is cross-platform 2D and 3D graphics; while VCL-style developers may be best off using the current FireMonkey more for trying out ideas and learning the new Framework than for real work, pending further improvements.

On the positive side, even though FireMonkey is a bit rough, Embarcadero has delivered a development environment for Windows and Mac that works. You can work in the familiar Delphi IDE and code around any problems. The Delphi community is not short of able developers who will share their workarounds.

I have some other questions about Delphi. Why are there so many editions, and who uses the middleware framework DataSnap, or other enterprisey features like UML modeling?

There appear to be five editions of Delphi XE2: Starter, Professional, Enterprise, Ultimate and Architect, where Architect has features missing in Ultimate – should the Ultimate be called the Penultimate? It breaks down like this:

  • Starter: low cost, restrictive license that is mainly non-commercial (you are allowed revenue up to $1000 per year). No 64-bit, no Mac or iOS. $199.00
  • Professional: The basic Delphi product. Missing a few features like UML diagramming, no DataSnap. Limited IntraWeb. $899.00.
  • Enterprise: For more than double the price, you get DataSnap and dbExpress server drivers. $1,999.00
  • Ultimate: Adds a developer edition of Embarcadero’s DBPowerStudio. $2999.00
  • Architect: Adds more UML modeling, and a developer edition of Embarcadero’s ER/Studio database modeling tool. $3499.00

The RAD Studio range is similar, but adds C++ Builder, PHP and .NET development. No Starter version. Prices from $1399.00 for Professional to $4299.00 for Architect. The non-Ultimate Ultimate is $3799.00.

All prices discounted by around 40% for upgraders.

The problem for Embarcadero is that Delphi is such a great and flexible tool that you can easily use it for database or multi-tier applications with just the Professional edition. See here, for example, for REST client and server suggestions. Third parties like devart do a good job of providing alternative data access components and dbExpress drivers. I would be interested to know, therefore, what proportion of Delphi developers buy into the official middleware options.

As an aside, I wondered about DataSnap licensing. I looked at the DataSnap page which says for licensing information look here – which is a MIDAS article from 2000, yes Embarcadero, that is 11 years ago. Which proves if nothing else what a ramshackle web site has evolved over the years.

Personally I would prefer to see Embarcadero focus on the Professional edition and improve humdrum things like FireMonkey documentation and bugs, and go easy on enterprise middleware which is a market that is well served elsewhere.

I have seen huge interest in Delphi as a productive, flexible, high-performance tool for Windows, Mac and mobile, but the momentum is endangered by quality issues.

Blue screen, Windows 8 style

This is what happens when Windows 8 crashes:


The restart message proved false, and I had to reset the virtual machine.

I did the search, which told me:

The CLOCK_WATCHDOG_TIMEOUT bug check has a value of 0x00000101. This indicates that an expected clock interrupt on a secondary processor, in a multi-processor system, was not received within the allocated interval.

This proves that you make give blue screens a prettier face, but that does not make the error messages any more helpful to a non-expert user. Or should I head for my nearest computer store and ask if they have a spare clock interrupt?

Microsoft financials: Server and Office business still growing

Microsoft has announced its quarterly figures for July-September 2011. Despite its problems in mobile and in search, and the declaration of a post-PC era by competitors, the company is still a huge money-making machine. Here is my at-a-glance summary of the segment breakdown:

Quarter ending September 30th 2011 vs quarter ending September 30th 2010, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 4868 +83 3251 -335
Server and Tools 4250 +386 1597 +57
Online 625 +98 -494 +64
Business (Office) 5622 +401 3661 +196
Entertainment and devices 1963 +168 352 -34

These look like decent figures to me, though Microsoft’s broad-brush breakdown disguises trouble spots like the poor sales of Windows Phone 7. The online business, which includes Bing and ad sales, continues to bleed money, though slightly less than for the same quarter last year.

Microsoft says Bing-powered US search share (which includes Yahoo!) is now 27%, which is impressive, though I look at stats for and see Bing and Yahoo! at 4.7% combined, even though it has more visits from the USA than from any other region. Bing must have some area of strength that does not include technology blogs.

Currently the stars of the show are Server and tools, where Microsoft reports a sixth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth, and the Business division, where Microsoft reports strong growth for SharePoint, Lync and Exchange.

Microsoft also says that Office 365 has “strong adoption from small businesses to large enterprises”, though there are no exact figures. It does not surprise me me as it is an excellent product, misreported by some media who exaggerated the importance of Office Web Apps. Forget Office Web Apps: this is hosted Exchange and SharePoint, with web conferencing thrown in.

Entertainment and devices is mainly Xbox. My observation here is first, to note how well Microsoft has done to take Xbox to the top spot in the US console market, overtaking both the previous generation champion Sony and the once-unstoppable Nintendo Wii; and second, to note how small the profits are relative to the rest of the business. This may be slightly unfair, as I imagine some of those Xbox profits have been poured into Windows Phone investment.

Finally, I was amused by the Metro-style design of the accompanying PowerPoint slides:


Review: Broadway 2T network TV streamer for PC and iPad or mobile device

If you feel like watching TV on your PC or mobile device, there are a host of options, including live TV on the internet, or add-on TV cards or USB devices that attach to a PC or Mac. Once you have TV playing on your computer, there are apps which will let you stream it to a mobile device such as an Apple iPhone, iPad or Android tablet.

Another option which I saw at the recent Digital Winter event in London is Elgato’s eyetv, which attaches to an iPad port, and the portable tivizen which streams TV over wi-fi.

Lots of options; but also plenty to go wrong. Most of the devices use DVB-T digital TV, which in the UK enables all the Freeview channels, but getting a good enough signal from a portable aerial is a challenge. Installing a PC card works well if you connect it to a rooftop aerial, but it does mean messing with drivers and application software; and then further hassles if you want to watch elsewhere in the house.


Broadway 2T, from pctv systems (part of Hauppauge Digital Inc) takes a more flexible and potentially hassle-free approach. This is a TV card (not HD) with internet streaming software in a wi-fi connected box. Plug-in, and you can stream TV on any device round the house, or even over the internet when you are out and about.

That is the idea anyway, and I put it to the test with a review unit. It is a box about the size of a stack of 4 CDs, with twin aerials for wi-fi connection.


On the back are a range of ports, including wired ethernet, TV aerial, inputs for analog CVBS and S-Video and audio, two USB ports and an IR blaster connection.

There is also a USB port on the front; but all the USB ports are documented as “for future use”. It would make sense if in some future version you could connect directly to a PC over USB; but why three ports will be useful in future is something of a mystery.


There is also a collection of cables: power, internal aerial, ethernet, IR blaster marked “For future use” but now enabled, and screws for wall mounting.

I have what is probably the ideal setup for Broadway 2T: a rooftop aerial connection and wired ethernet with a wi-fi access point. The internal aerial is unlikely to be much use unless you live in a area of particularly strong signal.

I connected the unit and fired up a web browser. If you browse to the remote web site runs a script that detects the local PCTV, so it is no trouble to find on the network. I ran the setup wizard, including a channel scan and setting passwords for admin and TV access, and was rewarded with 44 channels found.


Next, I browsed to the page on iPhone, iPad and PC and was able to select a channel and watch straight away. No drivers needed; and the Flash video on a PC is replaced by an iOS-friendly H.264 stream automatically when needed.

Here it is on an iPad; PC is similar.


and on iPhone


Of course there is a full-screen view.

You can also get at all the settings from any web browser.


So far so good; but one flaw is that there is no program guide in the web view. You have to discover what is on elsewhere.

The next step was to install the PC software (Windows only) which adds features including a program guide, pause/resume and recording. This involves installing an application called TV Center from the supplied CD.

At this point the hassle-free experience disappeared. The software installed but while it detected the Broadway 2T, it could not find any channels. I also puzzled over the settings. Did my unit have an Antenna, or an Aerial system? Why was the Antenna Configuration option disabled?

The CD also installs a driver for Windows 7 media center, and I tried that too. Again, the unit was detected, but no channels found.

Eventually I discovered that you need to install a patch from the PCTV web site before the PC software or Media Center will work with Broadway 2T firmware above 2.5. After that, the TV Center application worked, but I still found it unpredictable and not much fun to use. Sometimes it opens as a transparent window, and has to be coaxed into displaying TV by twiddling with the settings.

Microsoft’s Media Center software is nicer to use, though it is really designed for use with a remote. A bonus though is that if you do not mind keeping your PC on, you can use the Media Center nicely from an Xbox 360.

The Broadway 2T has dual DVB tuners, which is meant to mean that you can record one channel while watching another, or watch different channels on different devices. This does work, but I found the unit reluctant to let go of a channel even when not actually playing, which causes errors.



I feel that the application could handle this better. For example, why not show a list of which channels are in use and give an option to turn one off? On occasion I resorted to rebooting, which you can do through the browser.

Overall the software is indifferent in quality and lacks polish.

If you want to view over the internet while out and about, you can do this by forwarding a port on your router to the Broadway 2T box. It would be best to reserve its IP address or use a static IP before doing this. The port is 80 by default, but can be changed. Remote viewing works fine provided that you have a good wi-fi connection. If you succeed in watching over 3G, beware the high data transfer as well as poor quality if the connection is weak.

The IR Blaster lets you use Broadway 2T with a set-top box such as satellite TV. Connect the output from the box to the input on the Broadway 2T, then connect the IR Blaster cable so that the Broadway 2T can control the set-top box by emulating the commands of a remote control. I did not try this feature.

Summary and verdict

I enjoyed having live TV available on any network-connected device around the house, and this combined with easy setup of the browser-based streaming is the main advantage of the Broadway 2T. Viewing TV remotely is a bonus.

The poor quality of the Windows-only software counts against the unit though, and I would have preferred a better browser-based app and to forget the PC application.

It is easy to imagine how this could be improved. Attach some USB storage, improve the server app, and there is no reason in principle why this box could not handle PVR (personal video recorder) functions as well as supporting an EPG (Electronic Program Guide), though I have no idea what PCTV has in mind for those spare ports.

Nevertheless, this is a useful device even with its current limitations.

Zend’s PHP cloud: develop in the cloud, deploy anywhere

Zend has announced Zend Studio 9 beta, the latest version of its IDE for PHP. The feature that caught my eye is integrated support for the Zend Developer Cloud, currently in technical preview. Setting up a PHP development environment is not too difficult, but can be a hassle to maintain, and the idea of being able to fire up an IDE anywhere and start coding is attractive.

You do not need Zend Studio to use the Developer Cloud; they are independent projects, and you can use the free Eclipse PHP Development Tools (PDT) or another IDE or editor.

The PHP Developer Cloud is not just a shared hosting environment for PHP applications:

All applications are housed within a container on the Zend Application Fabric. This container is separate from all other containers and has its own database instance and is easily connected to your IDE.

The Zend Application Fabric is for deployment as well as development. It is a server framework that includes the Zend Framework and also the capability of scaling on demand.

Once you have developed your app, you can deploy to any cloud provider that supports the Zend Application Fabric, including Amazon Web Services, IBM SmartCloud,  a private “custom cloud”, or a resilient multiple cloud option which Zend calls RightScale. You can deploy to RightScale using both Amazon and Rackspace together, which I presume means your app will keep on going even if one of these providers were to fail.

Details on the site are sketchy, but if Zend has got this right it ticks a lot of boxes for enterprise PHP developers.


Bridge for Apple iPad and iPhone: FunBridge upgraded, no longer free

GOTO Games has updated Funbridge for iOS to version 3.0, adding many features and introducing a per-game fee.


FunBridge is a Contract Bridge app in which the play is always online. You play against the computer but compare your score to that of others. In this new version the game engine seems little changed, but interaction with others is much greater, making it more like the web version.


In the earlier release, you could see your ranking and which users were in the top 10 for a tournament of 10 games, but you could not discover anything about another user beyond the username. Now there are user profiles and you can see another user’s overall ranking and, if they choose to provide it, name, age, location and About me notes.

Tournaments no longer stand alone, but are grouped into series which match you with players of similar standard. Rankings are decided after each period of a week, based on the results from short 3-game tournaments, provided you play at least 5 during the period. There are 35 series, and after each period the top 25% are promoted and the bottom 25% demoted from each.

You can also play in old-style Daily Tournaments, which are now more frequent than before with a new one every two hours, but these are not grouped into series. You can also play practice hands. The Daily Tournaments and practice hands are scored with IMPs (International Match Points), whereas the Series Tournaments are scored with pairs-style percentages; if you score just slightly more then others, you get 100%, and even a good score can get you 0% if everyone else made an overtrick.

The other big change to mention is that play is no longer free, though you get an introductory 100 games.


Games cost from 3p each falling to 1.75p if you purchase 1000 at a time. FunBridge will give you 5 games free if you reveal your birthday and another 5 for your city. Is your birthday worth more than 15p?

This makes FunBridge expensive compared to most iOS games. It is a different model to the web version, where you pay €9.90 per month (a bit less if you subscribe for a year) for unlimited games. That would buy around 400 games on the iOS version so you win or lose depending how often you play.

The game itself truly is a lot of fun, though I have found a few frustrations. The play is generally good, though eccentric occasionally. The bidding can be perplexing, especially as the bidding conventions are not described in detail, so you have to guess exactly which variant the computer is supposed to be playing. There is help for the meaning of simple bids, but this does not always match the selected convention and cannot be trusted.

Still, everyone is in the same situation so it is fair!

Hands seem to be tilted towards interesting deals; I have never seen a 10-card suit in one hand in regular bridge but I have in FunBridge.

Gameplay can be annoyingly slow even on a good connection; though perhaps when everyone has played all their free games this will improve!

A fun game; but with the new subscription model I wonder if we will see some alternatives at lower cost. It would also be good to see a version for Android and other mobile operating systems.

If the laptop had been invented after the tablet …

I attended a press briefing for a new kind of portable computing device which its inventors are calling a “laptop” and have been trying out a review sample.


Unlike today’s one-piece slate form factor, the laptop has a hinged top which when open forms the screen. The lower piece, called the keyboard, has physical buttons representing the letters of the alphabet, numbers, and other useful inputs, more or less matching the on-screen input panel we are used to.

The makers claim that a keyboard is faster to use than an input panel, but I am not convinced. One of the problems is that you are either looking at the screen, or the keyboard, and it takes a lot of practice to type without looking at the keyboard and missing what is appearing on the screen.

The real benefit is that without an input panel, there is more space on the screen for the application. Still, bearing in mind that the input panel disappears when not in use, this is not really such a big deal.

The downside of the laptop is that the two-piece design makes it bulkier and potentially more delicate than a conventional tablet. I also found that while it works fine on a desk, in a constrained space such as in an aeroplane seat the hinge design is awkward to use, and on several occasions I gave in to the frustration and used my normal tablet instead.

If you are standing up, the laptop is horrible to use, whereas a tablet works fine: you can hold it in one hand and control it with the other.

Laptops will be more expensive than tablets because of the more complex design, though we were shown a cheaper variant that has a passive screen which does not respond to touch.

This is odd to use; at first you find yourself constantly stabbing at the screen by mistake, but eventually you can train yourself to do everything with the keyboard. Just make sure you do not ever switch back to a tablet, otherwise when you come back to the laptop you will find yourself stabbing the screen again!

In order to mitigate the lack of touch control on these low-end devices, the designers have added an on-screen pointer which you can think of as a virtual finger. A small area in the centre of the keyboard is touch-sensitive, and moving your finger there moves the on-screen “finger”. You can then tap or click a button to simulate a finger tap.

It is a clever idea, though operating at one remove from the screen itself takes some getting used to. In the end though, it feels like a step backwards and for most users the extra cost of the normal touch screen is well worth it.

My view: for certain specialist tasks the laptop may catch on, but I cannot see it succeeding in the mass market.

Inspired by Ten failings that will check the tablet’s rise