Moving to Symbian/S60: Third-Party Applications

by Reads (14,224)

After many years as a Palm OS user, at the beginning of this year I switched to a Nokia N75 smartphone running Symbian/S60. This is a big undertaking, and I know it’s one plenty of other people are contemplating too, so I’m doing a series of editorials on my experiences. Today I’ll be concentrating on third-party software.

The Needed Software

For the N75 to have stayed a part of my life this long, a few pieces of software were definitely needed above all else.

The first was Handy Taskman. This is a task manager for S60 devices that does the job of replacing the built in running programs list with a more versatile feature set — and does it without being obtrusive.

Besides just showing the currently running applications (hold the Applications button for a few seconds to activate), you are also able to launch recently used applications, see memory usage of the running programs, view how much memory is left on the device and memory card, and finally close/kill any applications that are running that might be stuck, or just taking up precious memory.

You see, my N75 only comes with about 14 MB of RAM that programs can use to run in. After I start running a few of them, this gets filled up quickly. And it doesn’t help that the Music Player is loaded on start up and has no exit button. Handy Taskman allows me to kill that application and save that precious memory for the other fun stuff.

The second most needed software on my N75 is Emoze. This is a Java-based application that allows you to connect to GMail or MS Exchange servers in order to read and reply to email.

This is very necessary to me, as the Mail for Exchange software that Nokia has developed for its E- and N-series devices just doesn’t work on the N75. Emoze does work, and with the exception of closing out unexpectedly when several other apps are open and using my 3G connection, it performs quite well. Its latest update brings the ability to view HTML formatted email.

The Cool Software

Once I got the useful stuff down, I started checking out applications that were not so much needed, but really cool, and started to exploit why I wanted to go with a Symbian/S60 smartphone to begin with.

For some, "cool applications" includes themes, music and video players, or other types of extensions. For me, it’s all about connectivity, and this is the one area where the S60 platform delivers in strides over my former mobile, the Treo 680.

Google Maps was one of the first programs that found a home on my N75. Being in a new area and grabbing contact information of various people and events, Google Maps really comes in handy in terms of getting around.

Using the 3G connection, I’m able to get up and rolling with MyLocation, which indicates the general area I’m in. Ironically, the fact that MyLocation isn’t accurate to where I am all the time is actually an advantage, as I get to not just figure out my exact location, but also get familiar with other major areas around me.

Getting to places is one thing, staying connecting is another. I’m a big fan of the the social networking service Jaiku. Besides being a community in the Twitter mode, it’s also a microblogging platform, RSS aggregator, and with the S60 mobile application, a presence application.

It’s one thing when you tell people that you are busy, but another thing when they can see it on their phones via a simple colored indicator. Jaiku’s mobile app also allows you to tag cell towers with descriptive names. These names can be seen by anyone who is via Jaiku on their desktop/laptop or mobile device. If you will, after Google Maps gets me there, Jaiku tells others where I am.

Opera Mini also gets a nod as "cool software" for my N75. Like the default Nokia Browser, it offers a mini-map mode. However, because the pages are served through a proxy, they come through smaller and faster. I lose the tabbed browsing though. And there is still no way to set Opera Mini as a default browser because it’s a Java application. But it still has a place on my N75 because of the Speed Dial and bookmarks syncing feature (Opera Link).

I’ve replaced the default calculator with a freeware one called Calcium. Its a simple calculator, but the interface is perfect for the non-touchscreen nature of S60.

I’ve also started playing with the idea of using smartcodes, or QR codes, as a means to share information between print and online facilities. I use the QR code reader i-nigma in order to read the codes.

It’s a pretty neat application environment. You can read, email, or even subscribe to RSS feeds via i-nigma. At this point though, there are not too many places in the U.S. that use QR codes, so this just happens to be one of those cool technologies that sits until I can find opportunities to use it more.

Investigating cool software is pretty fun. In one instance, I’ve had to create a need for using it. The most fun so far has been in a program from Nokia called the Nokia Mobile Web Server (MWS) — currently in beta. This is a web server that — instead of being in a room somewhere in a rack of computers — is in your phone.

MWS is pretty cool. When it’s enabled, I can visit the website that is hosted from my phone on any web browser, configure any settings, and then set permissions for various users to use. There is a Blog, Calendar (which pulls from the phone calendar), Presence, Gallery (which pulls photos and multimedia from the device memory, memory card, or both), Guestbook, and Contact page. You can set permissions so that people can see or not see certain areas, and even read but not modify areas.

It’s like having your own website, and the server that its sits on, all in your pocket. Thinking about it, MWS paves the way for all types of web apps, but local ones (which should make several users happy). That’s just cool.

The Upgrade-Worthy Software

There is some software available for the Symbian/S60 platform that I cannot use on my N75 for various reasons — not enough RAM or it’s Wi-Fi dependent. But it’s pretty neat, and it makes me consider upgrading to a more capable device.

JokuSpot Lite is a free application (currently in beta) that turns S60 devices into Wi-Fi hotspots. This is software that would really be a good idea for those with 3G access who need the multi-connectivity that a Wi-Fi hotspot would give. I’d totally be using this if I had a smartphone with Wi-Fi.

The latest release added the ability to create encrypted hotspots, SSH support, and battery tweaks. According to the developer, there is a better version that will be coming that isn’t free and will have even more features.

Aspyplayer is something that I could use, but between the rest of the connected software, and the limited RAM, I’ve not given it a fair shake. It’s a music player with the ability to scrobble (a type of tagging) the songs that are played.

It’s another project that is currently in beta, but definitely has a lot of promise as applications move towards adding aspects of connectivity to the normal use.

N-Gage is one that I wish that I really could use. As we reported before, N-Gage is a gaming platform that Nokia has recently re-introduced. Now in its second version, it combines a client application running on N-series smartphones with a player community and downloadable games to create a different type of gaming experience than what has been previously available with mobile devices.

When I reviewed the Nokia N81 8GB, there was a preview of the N-Gage platform on that device, and I was impressed then. Considering the titles, it’s something worth considering an upgraded device for.

General S60 Third-Party App Thoughts

As you can see, the software landscape for Symbian S60 devices is hardly barren. Yes, there are not nearly the amount of third-party applications available as there are for the Palm OS or Windows Mobile, but most of that is because there is a lot of core functionality present in devices already.

You also have a different paradigm of use — non-touchscreen for the Symbian/S60 folks, and touchscreen for the Symbian/UIQ folks — that forks developers and reduces the number of titles available for both.

Java apps are more prevalent with Symbian, and well done in some cases (Google Maps and Mail Mobile, Opera Mini) whereas native development is stronger on Palm OS and Windows Mobile devices. Java apps have been around a long time, and Nokia’s implementation of Java is very well made. The performance of these apps does not drop off nearly as much as I’ve seen on Windows Mobile and Palm OS devices.

Flash Lite is interesting too. The front end of N-Gage, as well as some of the games, are made with this. The Nokia Web Browser also has been updated to view Flash-enabled websites via Flash Lite in some of the latest devices.

There’s a blend of languages and abilities that meet at S60. It’s like the Palm OS in the respect of variety, but it’s spread out across more types of developers and uses than I was accustomed to seeing.

Installing is different than the Palm OS and Windows Mobile. Applications go through a process called signing, in order to be used on your device.

And because of the way the Symbian operating system has been designed, a program that crashes doesn’t usually take down the entire system, though some do have some horrible memory leaks that warrant a reset.

Four months in and I am enjoying the N75 more than I thought I would. Its not my Treo, and does things differently. But that’s part of the learning a new device.




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