Some of my geek toys come and go, others stick around. My P800
smartphone is definitely a sticker. It’s actually getting better with
age. (I’m told this also happens with wine, but I’ve never kept any
long enough.) While the hardware’s not getting any younger, the
sophistication of the third party software has really
As with any new platform, it takes a while to figure out what the
best ways to use the P800 are. This is something that Symbianware
have really figured out with href="http://www.symbianware.com/product.php?id=tracker4_uiq">Tracker.
Now in its fourth generation, Tracker’s one application I can’t live
without. What’s so special about it? Put simply, Tracker is a
desktop for your phone offering many advantages over the normal P800
applications menu. The default P800 interface is a simple list of
applications, and you can only see data from one of these apps
at a time.
align="right" hspace="8" alt="Tracker screenshot" /> Tracker does
really well at integrating not just application launchers, but views
of your schedule, to-do list and messages. Tracker’s indispensable
feature is the “Today” screen showing an at-a-glance reference to the
most relevant of your personal data. The Symbianware guys figured out
that they could create a better interface than the default P800 menus,
and over time they’ve put this theory to the test. With version 4
Tracker has new interfaces for the messages and calendar that are much
more efficient and better-looking than the ones shipped by Sony Ericsson.
Another improvement in version 4 is really fine-grained control
over the special keys on the phone (jog dial, camera and internet
buttons.) Not only can you map a single press on these keys, but also
a double-click or a press-and-hold.
Of course, part of the reason that Symbianware, a third party
vendor, can make Tracker so good in the first place is that Symbian is
an open platform that tries hard to be hackable. That approach has
turned out to create longstanding advantages for users as well as
developers. I’m still getting more and more from my phone long after
reaching the limits of the applications that actually shipped with it.
New bits for programmers
On the programming side, Symbian have been releasing some
libraries and code examples over the last year that can be used
update the P800. Among these is Truetype font support, which you can
see in the above screenshot (I copied across the Luxi Sans font from
my Linux box and used the inestimable SMan to change the system font.)
Other improvements include the start-on-boot registration API, so
third-party apps can be loaded at phone power-on. This is pretty
essential for anything like Tracker in order to provide a good UI
experience. There’s also an API for streaming audio input, now a
must-have on phones, and an improved API for sending and receiving SMS
messages. If I get some spare time I want to look at the SMS API to
see if I can make a special P800-side server for my href="http://usefulinc.com/software/phonemgr">Phone Manager
application, as Symbian OS phones don’t support the usual GSM
extended AT commands for getting at SMS messages.
In short, I’m glad that buying a P800 has turned out to be a good
long term decision. It’s not getting obsolete the same way other
phones do. Though it’s got a few scratches and had a few bumps, my
little silver-blue bundle of bits is still a lot of fun.
It’s not so purpley on the phone itself, honest.