Vodafone 802SE

My phone, ten years ago

Vodafone 802SE

Ten years ago, I was settling in Kanazawa. This involved getting a Japanese phone, and more importantly getting it work for me. At the time, I wrote a blog post with some observations on what worked and what did not.

Looking back at the problems I faced at that time is a pretty good indication on why Apple managed to storm that market:

  • Contact synchronisation only worked partially
  • Todo synchronisation only worked partially
  • Music playback was crippled by DRM
  • GPRS modem function (tethering) was broken

The Vodaphone 800 had pretty good specifications for that time: it was built by Ericsson in collaboration with Sony. Yet most of the features I wanted did not work. I was using Mac OS X, which certainly did not help: there were Windows, Japanese only drivers available, but even then, integration with computers was an afterthought.

Like many phones at that time, the phone had very different connectors: there was a USB connector, but it was only used for data exchange, not charging. There was not standard jack headphone port, but instead the wide Ericsson connector, for which I had a charging dock and a special headset. I never used it because of the crippled audio playback. The phone had a Sony Memory stick slot and an infrared port (which I never used).

One aspect of the phone I liked was that it supported many Bluetooth profiles:

  • Hands-Free Profile (HFP)
  • Headset Profile (HSP)
  • Object Push Profile (OPP)
  • Serial Port Profile (SPP)
  • Dial-up Networking Profile (DUN)
  • Synchronization Profile (SYNC)
  • Generic Access Profile (GAP)
  • Object Exchange (OBEX)
  • File Transfer Profile (FTP)
  • Basic Imaging Profile (BIP)
  • Human Interface Device Profile (HID)

For comparison my iPhone only supports the following profiles:

  • Hands-Free Profile (HFP)
  • Advanced Audio Distribution Profile Source (A2DP)
  • Audio/Video Remote Control Profile target and controller (AVRCP)
  • Personal Area Network (PAN)
  • Serial Port (SPP)
  • Device Identification (DID)
  • Generic Access Profile (GAP) – Low Energy
  • Battery Service – Low Energy
  • Current Time Service – Low Energy

While some profiles have replaced others, for instance Personal Area Network (PAN) replaces Dial-up Networking Profile (DUN), with the added advantage that PAN actually works, I miss some of the old profiles, in particular Object Exchange (OBEX) which let me push a file from my laptop to my phone and vice-versa and Human Interface Device (HID) which let me use my phone as a mouse, very convenient for presentations.

Having left Japan, I never managed to sim-unlock the device, so it rotted away in a drawer…

Vodafone 802SE (Sony Ericsson V800) mobile phone © Episteme – Public Domain

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Bluetooth Logo

Bluetooth LE

Bluetooth Logo

Bluetooth is one of these standards which have been around for so long that they finally work. These days, I’m using bluetooth mice, keyboards and speakers without any serious problem, but this took many years since the introduction of the standard, more than 20 years. In fact the company that introduced Bluetooth, Ericsson, stopped producing mobile phones.

The protocol has seen many revisions, of course, but version 4 included an interesting addition: low energy (LE) devices. The notion of low energy is of course relative – the key point here is that Bluetooth LE devices use less energy that classical Bluetooth ones. The general idea is that they can run a few months on a small lithium battery.

There was a lot of noise when Apple introduced which is a standard for building beacons, i.e. Bluetooth LE devices that simply broadcast their identity. In turn, Google introduced Eddystone, an open specification for beacons, so I assumed that Bluetooth LE was about these beacons. I was wrong.

Turns out a lot of devices use Bluetooth LE. My iPhone connects to my Fitbit Charge using bluetooth LE, in turn the iPhone implements a Bluetooth LE profile and reports its battery level and local time, two bits of information that could be read by my laptop. The cadence measuring device I added to my bike? Bluetooth LE, with a standard profile! That was a good surprise and me realise there are many profiles for sport and medical sensors.

The Bluetooth explorer provided by Apple with the Hardware development tool supports Bluetooth LE. Turning it on revealed a few devices besides my phone and my watch in my close neighbourhood: an Apple TV and a Samsung TV, both advertising over Bluetooth LE. I found a pretty good introduction to Bluetooth LE on Github. While classical Bluetooth is connection based, Bluetooth LE is based on read/write/notify operations, closer to low-level protocols like SNMP or I²C.

While there is a lot of attention on the beacon use case, Bluetooth LE has the potential to integrate a lot of electronic devices: sensors, but also things who needs some for of setup or configuration: clocks, washing machines, ovens, etc. Currently the focus seems to be on sport and health equipment, but I could see move this to food and cleaning appliances. Only time will tell…

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View from the Wahoo Blue SC installed on my Merida bike, with replacement magnets

Any Magnet

View from the Wahoo Blue SC installed on my Merida bike, with replacement magnets

Biking apps seem to be built to appeal to competitive people: the notion of King of the Mountain (KoM), e.g. the fastest guy for a given segment is pretty prominent in Strava. I can’t say this interest me much. The current KoM of the A1 segment back from Aikidō is some guy called Matthias W., this had me quite confused. Be assured it is not me.

What I find interesting is to see data about how I ride, where I’m slow, which day I was fast, etc. Any good geek will tell you, more data is better, so I looked into adding some sensors to my bike. Surprisingly these things are not very expensive anymore, so I ended up buying a Wahoo Blue SC speed and cadence sensor.

The device is basically a bluetooth transmitter with two sensor plates that measure the frequency at which two magnets pass by: one on the pedal, one on the wheel. The installations instructions sounded pretty simple, except for one thing: one needs to unscrew the pedal to slip on the crank a rubber band with a magnet.

The thing is, even with the right key, I can’t unscrew the pedal – clearly I would need a longer key, the kind the guy in the bike shop has. There is a bike shop close to my flat, but it is typically closed in the morning, and closed when I come back in the evening. He is usually open on Saturdays, but this Saturday was the national holiday.

Yesterday it stuck me while I was swimming: this device probably just measures the frequency of the magnetic field, so the actual strength of the magnet would not matter, as long as it strong enough, so any magnet would do.

A few months back, I had, on a whim, bought some Neodymium magnets from Deal Extreme, I wanted to use them to fix things to the metallic frame of my office desk, which never really worked. The cool thing with these magnets is that they are really strong, and really hold on to any metal they are stuck to, like the screw that holds the pedal, the exact one I can’t unscrew.

So instead of the small magnet with its rubber band, I just stuck a bunch of magnets to the pedal, aligned everything and it works: I can now measure both speed and cadence of my biking. Sometimes, any magnet does the trick…

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Fitbit Charge

Warning
Timezone changes may result in data when the clock is rolled back, or gaps in data when the clock rolls forward. Automatic timezone changes only take effect after tracker sync.
OK

While big smart watches are the thing those days, I was more looking for a small bracelet that would do few things well: give me the time, display information about phone calls, and maybe do some light activity tracking. I finally bought a Fitbit Charge, which provides all of the above, but also tracks steps, floors you climb and you sleep patterns. I also like the fact that you can use it as a silent alarm clock.

The device itself is a rugged looking plastic bracelet which closes with sturdy looking metal clasps. The display is quite small, but luminous, there is a single button that shows the various data: clock, steps, distance, calories, floors. The device charges with a USB cable that plugs into a connector on the back of the watch.

Setup is quite contrived, besides charging, you need to connect a special dongle to your computer, which is kind of strange given the fact the watch communicates via bluetooth. The software lets you configure the watch, which you can then pair with your phone. All the subsequent data exchange I did with the phone. I’m not completely sure if the computer step was actually needed or not.

日本, right?

While the hardware looked pretty OK, the software is basically all over the place. Of course you need an account and the iOS app cannot sync with the bracelet without internet access, while the software is not as bad as the one for Withings scale, it is not good – it is no so much software to connect the bracelet to the phone as yet another health platform with support for the bracelet. As you can expect from a Silicon Valley startup, the support for localization is completely broken: you cannot choose a language, just a country and they try to guess it wrongly from my date format.

What’s worse is that the app does not support Healthkit, so you either have all you data with Fitbit (no), or you need another App to do data mediation Sync Solver. At least Fitbit has an API to retrieve the data. Be careful, for measurements like weight, Sync Solver will get bogus measurements in the past, polluting your database, so make sure to only enable syncing for measurements you actually have on the Fitbit device.

Given the fact this is a young market, it is not really surprising to see various players elbowing each other to be the central repository for health data. The truth is I don’t trust a single of these companies, and wish they would all support Healthkit directly, and let me store my data only on the device, not the cloud and instead of trying (and failing) to develop health frameworks, they concentrate on building good hardware with good basic support for watch features, like for instance supporting travelling between time-zones…

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Bluetooth Lightbulb

Bluetooth Lightbulb

Bluetooth Lightbulb

A lot has been said about the internet of things, but I have not yet seen the point of spending money to connect elements of my household to the net. My flat has central heating and the climate around here is temperate, so no need to control the heating remotely, light switches work fine for me.

Yet I’m curious about the concept, so when I discovered a bluetooth lightbulb on the website of a Chinese reseller, I did not resist and bought it: I have no speakers in my dining room, and no wish to have more things and wires, yet a speaker to listen to music or podcasts would be nice. Bluetooth also solves a recurring issue of connected household devices: proprietary protocols. Bluetooth audio is a mature technology that works pretty well – this is why it must be replaced by newer protocols.

Address CC-C5-0A-65-1F-05
Major Type Loudspeaker
Minor Type Audio
Services
Paired Yes
Configured Yes
Connected Yes
Manufacturer Cambridge Silicon Radio (0x6, 0x21C8)
Class of Device 0x04 0x05 0x240414
RSSI -72
Role Master
EDR Supported Yes
eSCO Supported Yes
SSP Supported Yes

As could be expected the product I received is completely generic: no brand, no markings, nothing. In fact you could confuse it with any regular LED lightbulb. The lightbulb announces itself under the name BB Speaker and worked immediately, the light bulb basically pairs with the first devices that recognises it. You can un-pair it by turning the light off. It beeps when it pairs and un-pairs, exactly like more usual bluetooth speakers. Digging in a bit yielded the profile in the table on the side.

The sound quality is pretty average, better than the speaker of a phone, acceptable to listen to a podcast or some background music. The fact that the sound comes from the lightbulb has the advantage of having the loudspeaker in the center of the room, as opposed to the walls which is the usual position for speakers. In fact this lightbulb would be pretty good for public announcement system, except for the communication protocol.

I find it interesting that trivial applications work pretty well nowadays, but more interesting for of interactions are simply not available because of lack of standards to support them. It would not be rocket science to define Bluetooth profiles for light-bulbs and similar devices, but I doubt there will be a drive in that direction, so we will have a few more years before before the internet of things uses a sane protocol.

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QR Code pointing to this same blog

The day Bluetooth worked…

Bluetooth Logo

A long time ago, I remember reading an article discussing the advent of broadband, and which technology would dominate: DSL or Cable. The author of the article made an interesting point, technically, cable was better, as a coax cable can carry way more data than a phone cable, yet he predicted that DSL would dominate.

His reasoning was that telecom companies had decades to do any possible mistakes and stupid designs for data transmissions, while the cable companies were new at this. His prediction turned out pretty true, at home I have a DSL connection, and they are pretty common. Optical fibre, which is technically the best data carrier, is still the exception.

People working in software tend to underestimate the amount of time and work to get a new N to N system working in the field. Writing good specifications is very hard, and it takes multiple iterations to get all the implementations to work nicely together and to clean up all edge cases. This is why data formats and network protocols tend to live much longer that software.

QR Code pointing to this same blog

Recently I used the same argument to explain why NFC would not work well for a few years, and certainly not supplant Bluetooth. Bluetooth is now 15 years old, so people have plenty of experience about bad drivers and complicated compatibility issues. This also means that Bluetooth now works: I regularly use Bluetooth HID devices (mice and keyboards), Bluetooth internet tethering on my on-call phone, my iPhone syncs with the stereo system of rental cars and external speakers just work. In contrast, NFC as only been deployed in closed loop systems: public transport tickets mostly, where there is a limited number of suppliers and a single entity overseeing the deployment.

In a sense NFC is not competing with Bluetooth, but with barcodes: most of the contact-less data transmission that I have used these days does not involve radio-signals, but an mobile phone app displaying a QR code to a scanner. Again, this is way less efficient than transmitting a radio-signal, but QR codes are a mature technology that have been deployed widely since the nineties.

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It’s OBEX

Ex-Word Dataplus 2

I had some time to hack around the USB connection of my casio dictionary, and I have reached a “duh” point: the protocol used by the dictionary is OBEX run over USB. This is somehow surprising as OBEX is typically used over IRDA or Bluetooth not USB. What I though were commands are basically object names that are read and set. Now the content of the initial response packet makes perfect sense:

Bytes Meaning
A0 Success
00 07 Packet length: 7 bytes
11 OBEX version: 1.1
00 Flags: None
08 00 Max packet size: 2K

The bad news is that I should scrap most of my code, the good news is that now I could use the OBEX code in Mac OS X, and implement an OBEX Session on top of USB, and use the library calls to handle the put and get operations.

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Modem Attaché…

Acoustic Modem AJ 311 (andersen jacobson)

Acoustic Modem AJ 311 (Andersen Jacobson)
GFDL & CC Deep silence (Mikaël Restoux)

Régulièrement je me retrouve à chercher la version en français correct d’une expression technique, en général le résultat me laisse sur ma faim. Le fait que je ne connaisse pas de site de référence n’aide pas. En fin de compte j’utilise la wikipedia : je cherche la page du terme en anglais, et je suis le lien passer dans l’autre langue. C’est ainsi que j’ai découvert le terme « modem attaché » pour le concept de internet tethering.

Je ne suis pas réellement enthousiaste pour cette traduction. Parler de modem dans ce contexte me paraît inapproprié, si parfois le téléphone se présente à l’ordinateur comme un modem, c’est de moins en moins le cas, c’est de plus en plus une interface ethernet virtuelle (sur le bus UBS) ou une même un service d’accès opaque (via Bluetooth). S’il y a toujours une pièce au fin fond de mon téléphone mobile qui fait de la Modulation-Démodulation (la définition du Modem) tout le monde s’en fiche comme d’une guigne. Quand au terme attaché, il ne donne pas beaucoup d’information, par définition, un modem est attaché, le modem libre n’a pas de grand intérêt.

Je ne suis pas plus convaincu par une traduction littérale : bridage internet. J’aime bien l’expression « mise en bride internet », mais c’est un peu long. Au moins ça rend l’idée qu’un appareil est asservi à l’autre pour l’accès à internet.

Pour revenir à la mise en bride internet elle est à présent activée sur mon iPhone et j’ai pu faire quelques expériences. Le téléphone apparaît à mon ordinateur comme une interface réseau additionnelle quand le téléphone est connecté via USB, ce qui est somme toute classique. Ce que j’ai trouvé intéressant, c’est que même lorsque l’iPhone est connecté à mon réseau Wifi, le traffic passe néanmoins par l’interface GPRS/3G. Ainsi lorsque je me connecte à internet via la bride, je me retrouve avec une adresse IP dans la zone 193.246.0.0 - 193.247.255.255 qui dépend de Swisscom Mobile et un nom de la forme gprs*.swisscom-mobile.ch. L’accès internet de ma maison a une adresse dans la zone 92.104.0.0 to 92.107.255.255 qui dépend de Bluewin (la firme qui gère les accès internet fixe de Swisscom) et a un nom de la forme *.cust.bluewin.ch. ce n’est pas réellement un problème, vu que mon ordinateur a une interface Wifi. Si mon iPhone peut se connecter à un réseau, mon ordinateur le peut aussi. Si le multiplexage se fait probablement au niveau de l’interface GPRS, il y a néanmoins une forme de routage IP, vu que l’interface sur le laptop reçoit une adresse privée (192.168.20.*).

Acoustic Modem AJ 311 (Andersen Jacobson)
GFDL & CC Deep silence (Mikaël Restoux)

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Iphone

iPhone

iphone

I now have used my iPhone for two weeks, which replaced the Sony Ericson Z610i I had been using for two years. Comparing the way both phones have been designed is quite interesting.

Physically, the iPhone is more bulky, and I still prefer the clamshell design, which protects the screen when the phone is not in use. Having a clear, mechanical mean of telling the phone it is not in use is very useful. I already had a few cases of putting the iPhone to my belt without pressing the button that “closes” it. The result was some random app launching, possibly using costly bandwidth. The iPhone’s screen is of course way larger and this makes it possible to have useful applications. It also means that while taking pictures you have an idea what you are taking. The Z610i had five external buttons, the iPhone has basically three, but they actually do something, while on the Sony they were programmed to do stupid things – I suspect Swisscom fiddling with the firmware explains why one of the external buttons would display the phone’s status on the internal screen. Both phones have a proprietary external port, but the iPhone also has a regular audio jack, which is nice. I only realized recently that the earbuds that came with the phone had a three polarity connector and included a microphone, which is even better.

I found the call quality of both phones similar, but having the option to use my earbuds for phoning is really convenient. I had some earbuds for the Sony, but as I could not listen to music with it, I never carried them. This brings us to the whole music player thing. Theoretically, the Sony could play music and decode both AAC and MP3 files. In practice, the Firmware would only accept to play signed audio files. This was not even a serious security feature as I could find a program that would sign arbitrary audio-files, but only for Windows. As audio playing never worked, I had to buy an iPod, which was really silly. The iPhone is an iPod, with all the bells and whistles, so this means I don’t need a mp3 player in my pockets. The camera of both phones have similar resolutions, but I had the feeling the actual quality of the iPhone’s picture was better. The iPhone cannot record movie, whereas the Sony could but I never really managed to shoot anything vaguely useful with the camera in movie mode, so this is no great loss.

The main advantage of the iPhone is the Wifi connection and proper internet programs: web browser, mail, maps. The last one, coupled with the GPS is for me already worth a lot (I have a bad sense of orientation). I also liked the fact that there are plenty of useful applications. Having a specialized interface to facebook is nice, I also recommend Tramdroid if you live in Zürich, having the schedule for all trams stored in your phone is a really nice feature. While the Z610 had a web-browser, I was never usable beside for visualizing rich-text files converted.

I see two weaknesses of the iPhone compared to the Sony phone: bluetooth and tethering. While the iPhone has bluetooth hardware, only one functionality is supported: connecting a headset. Nothing else, no way to send data to another device. This was something useful when I wanted to push a picture to a computer, or send a vcard to another phone. The other part is using the Edge/3G connection of the phone from a computer. The Sony supported two modes, bluetooth internet sharing and the ethernet emulation over the USB connection. The iPhone cannot do either, but this seems more related to operator stupidity than to anything technical. Finally I wish the phone could track ToDos and also a Swiss-French keyboard, because currently, if I want French spell correction, I need to use the awful French keyboard.

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Vodafone 802SE

Mobile tricks

Vodafone 802SE

It is very difficult to survive in Japan without a mobile phone. I have a Sony-Ericson 802SE vodafone mobile phone, here is some information on how to use it with Mac OS X Tiger:

  • Synchronisation works out of the box with iSync, address book images are not supported
  • When you configure the phone with bluetooth, by default the option to use it as a remote control is turned on, beware that if you have selected to disable the trackpad of your laptop when I mouse is connected, this setting will apply.
  • Be careful to check that iSync should delete old todos, I did not, and alsways got memory full warnings when syncing, which is strange, given the fact that there was still a lot of memory available
  • Additional presentation modes can be uploaded into the phone, modes for VLC or Keynote can be downloaded from the Salling Software website
  • Bluetooth file transfer works both ways
  • Transmitting vcards from Address-book to the phone via Bluetooth works, AddressBook cannot parse vcards send from the phone.
  • Animations captured by the camera are in the 3gp format, which is supported by quicktime 7.0
  • Connecting the phone via USB works and pictures are recognised by iPhoto, but there is a nasty bug that causes a kernel crash if the phone is disconnected. You can solve this problem by installing the K750 grabber driver.
  • You can upload sounds to the phone. Wav and Midi file work well. Technically the phone is able to play MP3s but the capacity is crippled, so only “authorized” MP3s can be played. There is a program called “drm_packager” that you can download from Sony’s develloper web site that can authorize MP3 files, alas it is windows only software. This is limitation is really stupid, and the only result will be that I will buy an iPod nano to complement the crippled functionality of my mobile phone.
  • I tried to make the phone work like a GPRS modem, but did not succeed. A web site with a lot of information is Ross Barkman’s Home Page.

Vodafone 802SE (Sony Ericsson V800) mobile phone © Episteme – Public Domain

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