Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Forgive me Father for I have Symbian

QR codes There's an age-related digital divide, at least when it comes to mobile phones. Mobile usage declines sharply with age, and apparently, I'm old, at least in mobile phone years :-) I've always detested the telephone in all its guises (although not as much as I hated the FAX machine) but as part of our forthcoming QR code project, we've been talking to people who we would like to be involved about our ideas. At this point, the age divide kicks in again, and eyes quickly glaze over, so I figured that we needed to demonstrate the technology rather than just talk about it. QR codes only make sense in terms of mobile technologies, so while I wouldn't normally soil myself with any sort of telephony, I need to grok the hated Trumpet of Satan.

Nokia's Nseries multimedia smartphones all come with a QR code reader preinstalled, and while there are lots of students wandering around the UoL campus with Nseries phones (and iPhones), they are still prohibitively expensive for most, including me, so I wanted to test with a more realistic mid-market phone. I settled on the Nokia 6600 slide, a new model available on pay as you go contracts at mid-range prices. This phone is video-capable with a 3.2 megapixel camera and runs Symbian, the Nokia operating system.
Update: Oh no it doesn't! See comment from Bruce Carney below.

Although I don't derive any pleasure from owning a phone, the 6600s is unquestionably a beautiful object. It reminds me of Kubrick's 2001 monolith (I'm assuming it's called the 6600 slide because of the way light just slides into it ;-) Why use Nokia as a testbed? Because Nokia has the biggest global mobile market share at somewhere between 30-40%. (We already ran a few quick tests with an iPhone a couple of weeks ago, and having sold my soul to Steve, installing and using a free QR code reader from the iTunes store was effortless).

After charging the battery, the first task was to install a QR code reader on the phone, of which there are lots of free options online. Symbian applications have .sis file extensions, so it's simplicity itself to download a file and stick it on the memory card via Bluetooth, or install directly on the phone via text. But that didn't get me any closer to having a working QR code reader, as the installed applications sat there sullenly, or if they could be prodded into life, delivered unintelligible error messages.

Normally under these circumstances, I would have solved the problem using Teenage Son #1. Unfortunately, TS#1 got a new mobile a few weeks ago and is now pissed off with me because the 6600s is two weeks newer than the phone he has (which is apparently two thousand in teenage years). Fortunately JayJay came to the rescue. It turns out that the 6600s runs J2ME-based Java applications rather than the normal .sis type. We previously tried to install the popular Kaywa QR reader on the phone, but failed because the Kaywa site insisted that the 6600s needed a .sis application. It was only when we stumbled on a nice free J2ME Twitter client for the phone which worked immediately that we figured out the problem, and by lying to Kaywa (we told it I had a Nokia 6500), installed the correct application, which now works fine.

So now I have a working test platform, it's time to go looking for QR codes in the wild, then sign some people up for our project.