Author Archives: Kevin

About Kevin

My dad brought a laptop home from work one day when I was in 5th grade, and it was all downhill from there. I've owned Palm PDAs, Pocket PCs, Handheld PCs, and Windows Mobile Smartphones, and finally found one that I could settle down with. Hopefully. I also graduated from the University of Michigan here in Ann Arbor, with a B.S in Computer Science.

Screen Resolution Rant VS. Samsung Q1:Fight!

After writing my little opinion essay on screen resolution, something was missing. “What about the new UMPCs!? Those have tiny screens!”

Actually, they’re not so tiny. The Samsung Q1 for example has a 800×480 screen, which seems small but it’s adequate. Anyone who remembers (or still uses!) the Handheld PC devices will recognize that as a similar format to the famous 640×240 screen, but with more wide and twice the tall.

The problem was, we didn’t have a UMPC to play with so I didn’t have any real-life experience. Well, now we do, and I’ve played with it.

In short, my verdict is: Needs Work. This is on a scale of, “Dismal Failure” to “Sliced Bread”. For a first-revision device in a ‘new field’, Needs Work seems to be a pretty decent assessment. Certainly not a Dismal Failure.

For more details, a quick review, and a picture, read on.

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Screen resolution: The (not so) Big Picture

I really love those parenthetical titles! The software industry – and in fact anyone who wants to sell something – is driven by either addressing customer needs and wants, or trying to invent a need/want so that customers will buy a product.

Push email is a good example. Do you need it? Maybe. Does everyone need it? Probably not. Do you want it? Maybe. Do you need it because you want it, or because your job depends on you actually being able to respond to an email within one minute even when you’re taking a pit stop? That depends entirely on you and your boss. Or do you want it because someone says, “Push email is big!” [Incidentally, here’s an article about why Push Email may not be so great  over at Modern Nomads that touches on the issue of want vs need.]

This post is about screen resolution. Screen resolution has gone up fairly steadily over the years. My parents’ first computer had a 15″ CRT monitor that cost $500 and could just barely handle displaying 1280×1024 resolution at eye-melting 60hz. Now, a 19″ CRT that can easily do the same at readable 85hz costs $90 from OfficeMAX. The 17″ LCD I’m using right now can easily support that resolution natively and cost about $200 – a similar one I just sold that I’d purchased in May of 2004 was $440. When my parents bought their first computer, the whopping 30″ Apple Cinema Display was completely unheard of as something a mortal could purchase, but now Dell has equivalently-sized displays that aren’t so crazy. Television screens used to be the size of a small toaster – today, even a college student can afford a plasma display (your college student may vary.)

We want bigger, we can have bigger, so we get bigger. What about PDAs? Instead of getting bigger, we want smaller. Witness the relative explosion of the Smartphone market as opposed to the palm-sized handhelds of various flavors. Smartphone devices are pretty cool any way you slice them – except for one thing.

The screen is really small! All Windows Mobile 5 Smartphones use ‘QVGA’ displays, 320×240 pixels. However, these phones don’t display any more data than the previous 176×220 displays – they just make it look prettier with more pixels. The same goes for VGA Pocket PCs, or high-resolution Palm-powered handhelds – a 640×480 Dell Axim X51V can’t display any more data on the screen than the 320×240 Axim X5 could, nor can my Treo 650 put anything more on its 320×320 screen than the original Palm could with its 160×160 screen.

It really is possible to cram more data on the screen – you just use a smaller font size. We get requests all the time – especially for ListPro – to add ‘high resolution’ support to our applications. The way I’ve seen this done, the screen font size is halved. My DateBk6 program on my Treo 650 can do this easily. The problem is… I can’t do it. I’m young, and even though I am nearly legally blind without my glasses, I can see pretty well with them on. That doesn’t make reading characters any easier when they’re as big as this period –> . [For a look at how this works out on ultra-portable and UMPCs, take a look at this blog post by JKOntherun]

We want smaller and bigger at the same time – smaller dimensions, higher resolutions. “QVGA is too small! It’s too ugly low-res!! Why would I want a Treo 700w when the screen is only 240×240! I want more pixels! More pixels! 10 megapixel cameras! XGA Pocket PCs!

Do people really need these tiny screens? Do people really want them? Are they being told they want them by marketing? Are they assuming that more pixels is better? Tech people aren’t immune to ‘more is better’ – I bought my new digital camera partly because it was just $20 more to get 7.1 instead of 6MP! Why get a regular value meal when you can biggie size it (disclaimer: biggie sizing no longer exists at Wendy’s) for just 40 cents more? Why get an Axim X51 (320×24) when you can get the X51V (640×480, four times as many pixels) for less than $100 more?

So what do we as a company do? Do we spend a lot of time adding a feature to our software just to make it more flexible, giving people the option to squint at their 2.5″ screen to see 300 lines of text instead of 150 (disclaimer: I made that number up.) Do we have to climb on that bandwagon in order to make sure we stay relevant? Or do we try to make software that is easily used on a 2.5” screen by people with average fingers and average eyeballs?

I certainly don’t have the answer. I would love to be able to see more of my shopping list in ListPro on my Palm, but I don’t think I’d be happy trying to check off “Get eye exam” using my thumbnail when my nail’s thicker than the item I’m trying to poke on the screen. Maybe the ideal solution is a compromise – give people all their data when they want it, and readable data when they need it.

Ilium Software, meet Google Homepage.

Here at Ilium Software, we now have three RSS feeds: the one for this blog, the one for our News Page , and the one for our ListPro List Exchange. These work great in desktop RSS aggregators like NewsGator, FeedDemon, or in Windows Mobile software like our own NewsBreak.

I’m not much of an early-adopter. I bought my car as soon as it was introduced because I needed a car, I bought my shiny Apple iMac Core Duo because a refurbished one went on sale for a good price, and I bought my first PDA because I was going through that age where I wanted to buy everything that was a gadget. These things were coincidences; I didn’t intentionally jump on the bandwagon while it was still a skateboard, I just happened to step on it and didn’t fall off.

RSS aggregators confuse me, because they take content from a website and shove it into one little new and special place that still makes me open up the original website in a browser. Most websites don’t post entire articles to their feeds, so why not just go to the site and read the whole thing? (Incidentally, I don’t like RSS aggregators on the desktop, but on a PDA? I’m all for packing information into a compact central place.)

That changed when I discovered Google’s Personalized Homepage. The idea is similar to portals such as My Yahoo!, where all kinds of stuff like weather, news, photos, stock quotes get aggregated onto one page you can set as your browser homepage. It’s been around for a while, and jumped out of Beta less than a while ago, but now is as good a time as any to mention it to anyone who wants to try out RSS without investing in a complete standalone program.

You get a simple website that shows news headlines from various websites (and other information), in classic Google bare-bones style, and you can add anything you want to it. It’s right in your browser, something you already use all the time.

That said, our RSS feeds go great with it. You can click on the following links to add them right away:

Blog: Add to Google

News: Add to Google

List Exchange: Add to Google

You don’t even need a Google account to use these – it can work with cookies in your browser to recognize you when you go back to the Google homepage. Of course, My Yahoo! has become a similar service, and they basically offer the same features with a Yahoo! flavor. I’m not promoting Google for any reason besides the fact that I like them and I know about them. Google Homepage, NewsGator, Yahoo – similar ideas, different flair.

I want to encourage you (the user) to subscribe to our RSS feeds somehow, because they help us tell you interesting and important things without having to send out mass-emails. When you subscribe to a news feed, you are in control. If a company sends out mass emails, they have to figure out how to avoid being marked as a spammer or blacklisted for putting out 10,000 emails in one day, and it’s often hard for you – the user – to control whether or not you get the email.

Imagine: instead of hoping that an upgrade email that we send out makes it through the muddy waters of the internet and through spam filters, you simply open your browser and right there, “Ilium Software announces a new program that will do everything for you!”. We’re not there yet, but if you subscribe, you’ll find out when we are.

Meet (one of) the support staff!

Since we now have a blog, I can introduce myself officially. I’m Kevin, and if you call or email Ilium Software for tech support, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll talk to me at some point.

I’m not just a tech support guy who provides PDA software tech support – I actually use the things I support on a regular basis. In general, Ilium “eats its own dog food” – I think that’s the saying. We use eWallet for company passwords and other super-secret things, and we use ListPro for keeping track of not-super-secret things (including many of our QA test lists, the phone support log we keep notes in while on calls, and our feature request tracker.)

I use eWallet to keep track of all my passwords and bank information (you cannot believe how cool it is to be able to call for a pizza and just flip open eWallet on the same phone and read the number right off!), and ListPro to handle my grocery list, consulting hours, and car mileage. I can’t go shopping without looking in ListPro first. This isn’t a sales blurb – I really use both products, they really help me out, and I figure it’s important for people to know that I’m not just paid to say eWallet is super cool.

I’ve been using PDAs since I was in middle school: the first one I got was some 20 dollar electronic organizer that I’d keep my homework assignments in, to the astonishment of the other 6th graders. Next was a Palm IIIx (the screen broke), Dell Axim X5, Palm Zire 31, Audiovox SMT5600, and finally a Palm Treo 650 which seems to be the best fit.

I don’t just support our products; I also help test them. As a result, my desk is a breeding ground for PDAs as you’ll see in the picture below:
The PDA Menagerie
Back row: Dell Axim X51V, HP iPAQ 3870, iPAQ 4350, Palm Tungsten T, iMate Pocket PC, Orange SPV-e200, iPAQ 3600, Handspring Visor, Sony Clie NR70.

Front row: Palm Zire 31, Memorex U3 flash drive, Palm Treo 650, Motorola MPX-220, T-Mobile SDA, Motorola MPX-200, Palm M505, Palm Tungsten T3, Palm Zire 71, and my iPod.

The camera: Palm Treo 700w

That’s a lot of PDAs.