Wednesday, July 1, 2009

10+5 Things (Not Yet) Rendered Obsolete By My Mobile Phone

I don't have an iPhone, but I figured when reading about the 15 Apps Rendered Obsolete By The New iPhone 3GS that while my mobile phones have over time obsoleted several gadgets, tools, and other non-phone items, there are still a lot of things they don't do for me, but conceivably should. At the moment, I have a Nokia E71, which is a pretty good phone. But here are a few things it could do better:
  1. Calendar. I still carry a separate small pocket calendar for my personal and business appointments. Mostly because I haven't bothered to figure out how to synchronize the phone calendar with the calendar at the office. And then, I don't think it's easily possible to sync my work appointments with the calendar system at work but back up my personal appointments to MyNokia Backup (or is it Ovi now), without sending the somewhat confidential work appointments to Nokia and the somewhat confidential private appointments to the office. I think you can exclude certain events from being synced at all, but not sync certain events only to certain servers. And as a minor point, the phone calendar doesn't know the local holidays. The calendar issue is obviously a core competency of the mobile phone, so it might just be matter of time before it's solved. Best guess: End of the year, when I need to decide whether to buy another calendar book.
  2. Notes. The phone has a Notes application (and an Active Notes application, whatever). But there's the synchronization issue again; how do I get the notes from the phone into my action and project lists (which I don't keep on the phone). I do use the phone to take notes on the train and during meetings, say, but then I transfer them manually to a more trusted container.
  3. GPS receiver. I keep a separate GPS receiver from Garmin for geocaching. The E71 has a GPS receiver and a maps application, and I do use it for navigation in the car, and I have recently discovered the SportsTracker application. But the simple interface of entering coordinates and having an arrow point there that the Garmin provides does not appear to be available on the phone. I do know that some people go geocaching with only their phones, so this must be possible, but I haven't had time to figure it out yet. But this gadget might become the next one to go.
  4. Flashlight. This one ties in with a recent geocaching experience. Many people have tried to use their mobile phone as a light source in a bind and noticed that it doesn't work so well. Perhaps they could put in a few LEDs and a battery that is two millimeters thicker. That would help a lot.
  5. Laser pointer. If they can do flashlight, they can surely do laser pointer. Useful for presentations, when you don't want to carry around an extra gadget.
  6. Bluetooth mouse. Also for presentations, how about just using the phone as a next-slide clicky thing. This is likely already possible with some custom software on both the phone and the laptop, but it could be easier.
  7. Camera. I'm not an expert photographer by any means, and I haven't done any great analysis of the picture quality of the built-in camera, but it just feels better to take a separate digital camera when you actual go out with the purpose of taking pictures.
  8. USB drive. Yeah, you can do this with the cable and then taking care to copy things into the right directory on the phone's memory card or something. Could be easier and clearer, though. And separate from the phone's internal file system. Putting a full-size USB plug into the phone is probably going to be difficult, but for larger models like the Nokia E90 it could be possible.
  9. Debian. Nothing like being able to hack up your own operating system and applications as you choose. It's sad that the Openmoko/FreeRunner initiative has had setbacks. And while Android is an open platform, there is something to be said for having the same operating system on all devices.
  10. Desktop computer. Yeah right. Most of the "productivity" applications on the phone still suck and are at best stopgaps until you get home to the big screen. More on that in a later post.
OK, those weren't 15 things, as with the iPhone. For completeness, how about 5 things that the phone does appear to have replaced permanently:
  1. Address book. I used to have one, but all the current addresses of relevance are in the phone, backed up to somewhere on the Internet. In fact, I could probably find most people I know either via public mailing list archives or something like Facebook anyway.
  2. Land line phone. The stationary phones are gone for good. There is now only this one phone, which is the home phone, the work phone (also no more desk phones at the office), and the VoIP phone. I found this review of Google Voice an interesting contrast in this context. I only have one phone number anyway. (The VoIP line has a different number, but there you want the separate number to make sure you are using the cost-saving path to call.)
  3. Car satnav system. For the few times I have needed it, the satellite navigation system in the phone has done fine. It's not quite the same as having one built into the car, in terms of ease of use, GPS reception, and integration with the other audio equipment, but it works. And you can use the same system to also navigate on walks, as opposed to drives, which is a surprisingly useful feature.
  4. MP3 player. I have never really listened much to MP3s anyway, and now on the phone I have podcasts, video podcasts, internet and broadcast radio, as well as MP3s, which is much better altogether.
  5. iPhone. :-) Don't have one, don't want one. I recommend the Hacking the iPhone session from 25C3 (video page) for further enlightenment.


  1. Re: your GPS, go to Menu > GPS > GPS Data. Then Navigation, Options > Set Destination > Coordinates. Should be just what you're looking for

  2. For goeocaching, there is a Java ME application called locify (, which can search nearby caches, show them on map and navigate to them using the compass. It is in fact a special web client and czn do some other things like look up nearby places on wikipedia.

    That being said, I actually find the compass view (on devices without real compass - neither my garmin gps nor phone have one) pretty useless. Overzoomed map showing my trail is better and it does not seem to be available for phones.

  3. For geocaching, use "trimble geocache navigator for nokia", which, alas, is no longer free. Maybe the above mentioned locify will do as well.

    One way to enter coordinates and get a arrow however, is downloading google maps mobile. In google maps mobile, just enter "XX XX XXn YY YY YYw" into the search field and hit search.

    A phone camera certainly does not replace a real camera, but it works snapping pics of information board maps etc.

  4. My phone actually has a flashlight. It's one of those twenty dollar pre-paid "only for use with this service" firmware phones, but still, it has a flashlight. I didn't even know about it when I bought it.

    But then, this phone doesn't do GPS, Bluetooth, USB, pictures, wifi or basically anything besides making calls / SMS. Been meaning to look at android phones to see if anything justifies the pricey data plans.


    This is a cool interface too, but the Ewe VM
    somewhat sucks. (I did get it to work on MirBSD
    though, but I plan on getting one of these Palm
    WinCE thingies it runs best on.)