Mobile DevCon 2004 San Francisco

By Peter Foot on Tuesday, April 6, 2004

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This year's Mobility Developer Conference (MDC) was a really exciting event with information on the latest Windows Mobile platform release, new developer tools and technologies coming further down the track and plenty of useful breakout sessions on all aspects of mobility development covering the present as well as the future.

Read on to find out more about the announcements and topics covered.
This year, MDC was co-located with the VSLive and SpeechTek conferences at the relatively new Moscone West centre in San Francisco. As each year passes, the bags given out at these conferences get continually more complex. This year the conference bag was a convertible rucksack/shoulder bag with integrated water bottle and more zippers than you can shake a stick at. I was impressed with the four-way pen that was given out - it had three coloured ballpoint pens and a stylus – nice touch. Also, all attendees received the new version of Pocket Streets for both Pocket PC and Smartphone devices. I’ve installed this on my SPV E200 and found it useful, although I had to turn off most of the points of interest to be able to read the map.

Figure 1: Pocket Streets for Smartphone.

Day One - Bill Gates Keynote
The first day began with the main keynote given by Bill Gates. The full transcript is available online. The focus was on integration and we were shown a wonderful spoof advert illustrating the connected home - everything was wired up together, including a toaster!

Figure 2: Bill Gates keynote (Taken with SPV hence low quality).

Microsoft is acutely aware of the diversity of platforms available and the current complexity of developing for them – Visual Studio has become the single focal point for developers, whether they're writing for mobile devices, desktops, Web applications or toasters (Okay maybe not toasters). There are a number of initiatives to make it easier to target these different platforms with common frameworks/ Obviously .NET is a good example of this. Microsoft’s XNA is another example. It's a games framework covering Xbox, Windows and Windows Mobile. Ori Amiga demonstrated using the Location and Camera features coming in the next Windows Mobile platform, to quickly build a Mobile Blogging application for the Smartphone. This was pretty impressive. Ori then went on to demonstrate how application packaging and distribution will be handled through improved installation and integration into the Mobile2Market catalogue. The Blog client was submitted to a catalogue with a selling price and then from the phone, the operator-branded catalogue could be browsed directly on the device. The application was then downloaded and installed directly and payments were processed through the mobile operator. This was a really compelling demonstration as writing code is only half the battle - in the current tools building an installer (especially for .NET Compact Framework applications) is tricky at best.

Microsoft Speech Server was demonstrated by taking an existing ASP.NET application and speech-enabling it. This simulated an insurance agent's system for dealing with claims and the user's “conversation” with the system was planned out in flowchart form using Visual Studio, of course! A pre-recorded human voice was added for the prompts. It was a good illustration of how a single application's code could be accessed from multiple front-ends.

Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition
Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition was formally announced at the conference. It enhances the current 2003 version by adding support for additional screen orientations and resolutions. These include high-dpi screens with VGA resolution and support for Square and Landscape screen orientations. Microsoft is also relaxing the specification on LCD sizes, so you will see devices with 1.8” to 2.9” for Smartphones and 2.7” to 4.1” on Pocket PCs. These changes will make a whole range of more unusual form factors possible, which may have built-in keyboards or keypads.

Figure 3: Range of possible device formats (these are all Microsoft mock-ups, not real devices).

One of the first devices to make use of these new options was demonstrated by Motorola – the MPx - a Pocket PC Phone edition device running the Second Edition OS. This can be used like a traditional flip phone with a standard Pocket PC portrait screen orientation. But by closing the device and switching a latch, it opens in landscape orientation and can be operated with the full qwerty keyboard. Unfortunately Motorola have yet to announce the availability of this device, although judging by the promotional material handed out, this device release is pretty close.

Motorola gave a breakout talk on their MotoPro initiative. They will be producing a number of devices based on the Windows Mobile platform. Those currently announced were the MPx 100 candy-bar format phone and the MPx flagship Pocket PC device. The presenter clearly hinted that we would be hearing about further devices in due course and gave strong indications of devices running on CDMA networks along with the existing GSM products.

All of the MotoPro devices will be running Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition OS and carry the MPx prefix. MotoPro is essentially Motorola’s superset of Windows Mobile. Motorola will be releasing SDKs for additional functionality, and where possible, they are sticking with existing standard Windows Mobile APIs. For example, rather than build their own Bluetooth stack or go to a third-party, Motorola have chosen to use the standard Microsoft stack and add in additional profiles to extend the functionality.
The MotoPro devices will all feature a 1.3 Megapixel camera with a flash, the same camera is used on both the MPx 100 and MPx devices.

Figure 4: Motorola MPx.

Personal Area Networking
Bluetooth is included in most devices shipped today allowing users to share information in an ad-hoc manner with nearby recipients. One of the issues with Bluetooth development at the moment is that there are a number of different stacks available. Microsoft’s own stack is supported within the SDKs for Pocket PC and Smartphone, however the plug-in nature of the stack means that a number of useful profiles are not included by default – many vendors ship a third-party Bluetooth stack, such as that available from WidComm, which requires a separate SDK investment.

Microsoft’s Bluetooth stack includes Object Exchange (Obex) or Object Push Profile support as standard and this is a way of sending any type of file to another device. Handlers can be plugged in for specific file types. As an example, Pocket Outlook has special handlers for vCard and vCal items.

Although Infrared ports are currently mandatory for device manufacturers, a Microsoft representative indicated this might not be the case going forward as technologies such as Bluetooth supersede IR technology for Personal Area Networking.

Evening at SBC Park
On the Wednesday evening, attendees of VSLive and MDC took over SBC Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. As a Brit, I’m not exactly wild about baseball, and the event seemed rather random with lots of different things going on in various places - strange the baseball field itself played no real part. Activities included having a go in the batting tunnels, an Unreal Tournament deathmatch, live music, a team quiz, access to the team locker rooms. Food was provided in the form of burgers and hotdogs.

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