An engineer's view on product launch

Today we launched the Jolla-phone:

We have worked hard to get to this point and there is still a lot of work ahead before this beauty is in the shops. Launch is one of the major milestones in any product's lifecycle, and many potentially good products do not even see that day. I'm so happy that we have gotten this far and the general public starts to see what we have been cooking.

For an engineer last weeks before product launch are typically quite intense. There are a lot things to do.

This time around I was pretty much doing my normal development work until almost last week before the launch. I was initially not too involved in the launch preparations since I was thinking that the app I've been lately working on would not be demoed, since it was not quite yet good enough. However, last week there was demand to get that also in a bit more polished state so that it also could be demoed if needed. I got some additional help working on it, and we got the biggest issues solved.

At the end of last week I was also asked to help with a demo content a bit so I did couple of longer days helping to get that done. Friday was the longest day for me. In the morning I quickly updated one of our older apps since somebody from management thought that we need to be able to quickly show it if needed. After finishing updating the app, it was time to prepare the devices for the hands-on sessions. We had few of the devices at the office and we were going to put the final software and setup on them, and then test that it all works perfectly. This took a bit longer than we thought and it was about 10 at the evening when we were ready.

I'm actually quite happy about how the last minute crunch went. Some people did work on last weekend, but most of the stuff was ready early enough. In some launches it has been much worse, I remember times when practically whole teams have lost their final weekends for last minute preparations.

Today and the next few days are one of the most interesting days for me. This is because now the feedback starts to come in. I love reading feedback on the device and on the software. The thing is that when we plan and design the features, the look, and in general how it all will works we do a lot of thinking and speculation on how people will use the device and what to they need. There are sometimes quite strong debates around these areas ("It needs to have this", "it can't behave like that", "That color is not pink enough"). Now we start to really see if we have been right or wrong in our thinking, and I find it very fascinating to know how well we have understood people's needs and answer them with a product.


Replacement for Google Reader?

Does complete replacement for Google Reader exist?

Threre is just couple of weeks of time to find a replacement and so far I haven't found what I need. To me most important part is to have 3rd party API available so I can write a client for my favourite mobile platforms, which obviously are MeeGo Harmattan for my N9 and Sailfish OS for Jolla. I'd also like to have good Android tablet app for my Nexus7 and decent website when I'm at work.

Best part of Google Reader was that it offered all of these for free. The replacements I've seen so far are either paid solutions or are not offering an API. I'd really love to find a free solution (free with ads is fine).

FeedWrangler is the paid solution I'm currently considering if I can't find a decent free one. It's 19$/year and looks like it offers the things I want.

I haven't looked into the alternatives in that much detail so I'd really appreciate any recommendations.


Swipe on!

Nokia's new Asha 501 is quite an interesting device.

I like the user interface, which is quite close to the Swipe UI on the N9. On demo videos UI is running quite nicely, even though the device is cheap and probably quite low-end specs. My understanding is that making modern UI running nicely Nokia ditched S40 platform and developed a new one based on the SmartedPhone OS. To me this makes the Asha 501 one of the most ambitious devices Nokia has developed recently.

I'm happy to see Nokia innovate again and that they had the guts to actually ship. Battle agains cheap droid manufacturers will be hard. For true innovators sake I really hope Asha platform will succeed.

Nokia's challenge is to make consumers understand the benefits of having platform optimized for low-end devices. The problem is that on paper these cheap Android devices look good, too good to be true if fact. And in real life most of the time they aren't good at all. Their battery life sucks, they are buggy, despite seemingly nice specs the UI can be laggy, and they are quite complex to operate. Some devices are obviously better than others, but in general at least usability, durability, and battery life should be clearly better in Asha 501. I'd also expect basic phone functions (calling, texting, etc.) to be way better in Asha given Nokia's years of experience in building mobile phones.

I think there are two markets for these new Ashas. Developing world is the obvious one. The second one is people in western world that want some smartphone features, but do not want complex device. I think iPhone has a lot of users that prefer it over Android just because its simpler to operate. Now, with modern UI Asha is way cheaper alternative and should be just as usable. For example I think I could recommend Asha 501 for my retired parents, or I might buy one for myself as backup phone for travel, etc.

As an application developer, I'm not that interested in the platform. I'm generally ok with Java as language, but I do not like traditional UI Frameworks and as long as there is no proper declarative way (like QML) of building the UI, I'm not going to bother. Good interface building tool might help here, for example Apple's interface builder is quite nice. I haven't actually checked if there exists one nowadays for J2ME, but I doubt it. As an alternative to J2ME it is possible to write Web Apps for Asha platform. These devices are having quite limited performance and with web technologies its even more difficult to write well performing apps so I'm not really interested in trying that route either.

It has been a while from the last time I was as exited about Nokia product as I am now. Glad to see old colleagues still delivering cool stuff.