Mobile Zoo!!!

My planned post for today was going to be some interaction exercises (either HTTP or SMS — I hadn’t decided), but it looks like I won’t have anything post-worthy on that front before Wednesday at the earliest (I got sidetracked this weekend by some household tasks), so instead I’ll tell you about playing with the new alpha download from MobileZoo. It should be kosher to blog about this since I don’t see any way this could be a competitor to MobileScope.

I’ve chosen this topic not only because I find MobileZoo’s concept intriguing, but also on the principle that — since this is a new blog — I give preferential treatment to anyone who leaves a comment on my blog. Even if the comment is just an ad for your new start-up. 😉  (As long as the comment is relevant to my post of course.)  My goal is to get so many comments that the welcome default comment from “Mr. WordPress” drops out of the “Recent Comments” section of my sidebar. Sure I could just delete it, but that would be cheating…

The idea of MobileZoo appears to be the creation of a centralized database of all of the precise specs a Java developer might need to optimize an application for a given handset (including which JSRs are supported with version numbers if applicable, plus screen and canvas size and colors, etc.). All of this information is harvested by a MIDlet along the same lines as the MIDlet I posted the other day only more extensive, gathering up every bit of information about the handset that is accessible via Java. Then the MIDlet sends this information to MobileZoo. It looks like the revenue model is to offer a premium service and/or a stats-gathering library to registered developers. (Or maybe they’re just planning to get paid through putting ads on their site?)

So, I downloaded their jar of goodies to try it out.

The first thing I noticed was that the download is a jar file alone. I guess that’s okay since this product/service is aimed at developers, and one can reasonably expect that a Java ME developer would know how to take a jar file from his local PC and get it installed on a handset. However, personally I don’t have a cable or other simple way of connecting my handset directly to my PC, so I ended up writing my own jad (descriptor) file for it. For that I had to open the jar file and copy a bunch of lines out of the mainfest file and then add the jar size and jar url attributes by hand. Then I uploaded the files to my site so I could download them onto my handset from there. Since this project depends on persuading as many people as possible to run this program on their handsets, MobileZoo might want to make their MIDlet available on a WAP page (if it isn’t already) and post the URL on their main page. There’s no reason not to do that since it would only take a few minutes to add this feature to their site, and it might make it easier for some novice developers and other random users.

It’s pretty clear that it’s an alpha. Some of the links on the site don’t work, the “français” page is the same as the English page, there are grammatical errors, etc. (Of course I’m hardly one to taalk — I’ve noticed that my previous blog entry is riddled with typos, but I can’t go back and correct it without screwing up the formatting on the code sample because of the screwey blog editing software. But that’s an unrelated minor squabble between me and Mr. WordPress. 😉 .) Anyway, every good idea has to start somewhere.

I was almost a little hesitant to run this program on my handset, since it’s an unknown application that I just happened to download off the Internet that’s going to read information from my handset and then send that information to some unknown site on the Internet. However — given Java’s security system — I don’t think there’s really much danger that a MIDlet running with the “untrusted” security level can do any harm. (I know it’s running as “untrusted” since there’s no digital signature in the jad file I wrote for it…) I double-checked the PIM API JavaDoc to make sure that an untrusted MIDlet can’t read information from my addressbook without asking for permission, so I know they’re not even trying to harvest my contacts’ phone numbers for some nefarious marketing purposes or something. Even so, since I’m not much of a trusting soul I guess, I ran it first on the WTK to see what it was going to do. (There it had a strange Exception, but ran anyway.)

And here’s the result.

Amusingly, the program failed to identify my handset as a Sagem — it looks like this is the first Sagem they’ve captured stats for.

All in all, this looks like a fun idea. My one concern would be to wonder how they’ll persuade enough people to install and run their program. It costs the user effort and network time, and the user doesn’t get much in return except detailed developer-level information about the local handset. I guess that’s enough to make it interesting for me, but for how many others? Maybe they should reward the user by showing an animation of a dancing monkey during the upload? Hehe, just kidding, but it seems like it would be a good idea to somehow make this little procedure more cool and fun so kids will recommend it on forums or mySpace or whatever… 😉


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  1. […] One way to check if your Java profile is correct is to try some other working MIDlet that makes a connection via HTTP. For example, I ran the MobileZoo MIDlet the other day, and it succeeded in contacting MobileZoo, so I know that my handset is correctly configured to use HTTP from Java. […]

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