Portrait of Edd Dumbill, taken by Giles Turnbull

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a conference management web application

XTech Conference
a European web technology conference

Buying software from my phone

I installed the Sony Ericsson Application Shop, from Handango, on my P800 phone. The idea is to directly purchase and install software from the phone, downloading via the phone's internet connection.

The normal way I look for, purchase, and download software is via using the web, and then sending the .sis files over to my phone via Bluetooth. Typically I must then register purchased software by entering a code.

The Application Shop works by downloading a catalogue from Handango, which for each software product contains a short description and a single screenshot. You can then browse the catalogue and decide what to download: you can either purchase straight away or install a trial version.

In order to purchase the software you must input your credit card details into a preference screen in the Application Shop. Although I've not yet found anything I want purchase, the help file indicates that you get the registration code sent by text message and via email. Seems like a missed opportunity to send versions pre-registered for the requesting device.

The user interface of the Application Shop mostly doesn't use the UIQ widget set (UIQ is the user interface layered on top of the Symbian OS that the P800 uses). Instead, it relies on what are effectively image maps -- mostly it seems in order to get antialiased text and custom fonts. This highlights a key area of weakness to me in UIQ, the font handling. It doesn't look like the P900 will solve this either. Come on Symbian, even Linux has good looking fonts these days! That notwithstanding, it would have been better if the Application Shop used the normal widget set, as divergent UI approaches are simply confusing.

There are about 20 applications currently in the Application Shop, which may be browsed by category. Unfortunately, although you can see the application name, you can't see its description: so you're a bit stuck if an application's creator hasn't seen fit to give it a descriptive name.

Trying to install a random application, I went for the RSS reader. I downloaded it and installed the trial version, only to find it wouldn't install as it needed the "AppForge Booster" runtime. This itself is payware, and not included in the Application Shop! Not the best of starts.

The other odd thing I noticed was that the shop insists on using the phone's GPRS or GSM internet connection, for which I must pay by the kilobyte or minute. Opera, for instance, will use a Bluetooth PPP connection established with my PC, which is bandwidth I've already paid for.

Application Shop is an encouraging start to a good idea, but at the moment is not very well engineered. It suffers the same symptoms that a lot of mobile applications do, in that it ignores many valuable interface and usability lessons learned so painfully on the web and on desktop PC applications. In general, I wonder how much the developers of mobile software and operating systems spend observing practical usage patterns.

In conclusion, I'll be keeping an eye on the Application Shop, but not yet using it as a regular way of obtaining and installing applications.

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