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Cellphones Technology

Time For a Hobbyist Smartphone? 207

theodp writes "Over at Scripting News, Dave Winer has a hobbyist phone on his wish list. Innovative phone manufacturers, Winer suggests, should 'make a smart phone with a really great scripting language, with all kinds of scriptable tools on board. Instead of disallowing scripting, disallow apps that can't be scripted. Make a great simple programming environment that runs on desktops or laptops that plugs right in, but it should also be easy to write scripts on the phone itself. Dave concludes, 'We've already seen the Jobs phone. Now it's time for Woz's.' Having ditched App Inventor, it would appear that Google isn't interested. Microsoft Research has the idea, if not the right implementation, with TouchDevelop (video). Any other existing or in-the-works projects that might fit the bill?"
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Time For a Hobbyist Smartphone?

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  • Moron (Score:3, Interesting)

    by binarylarry ( 1338699 ) on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:29AM (#44840471)

    He forgets that authoring and creating things on Tablets is annoying.

    And I don't mean "get off my lawn" annoying either, they're just poor tools for those tasks. They rock at redditing and slashdoting, however.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:42AM (#44840605)

      That's true for current methods of developing software. Which is typing in code.

      Programming hasn't changed very much in 50 or so years. And I think it's ludicrous that we're using a language to prgram a computer to do mathematical operations.

      What we really need is a symbolic programming "language" and it would rock on a touch screen.

      Why not go directly from dragging and dropping logic to machine code directly? There is no physcal law that says we have to program computers the way we do now.

      These "verbal" type of programming languages are so 20th century, inefficient and just old fashioned. Their time has passed.

      • by snookerdoodle ( 123851 ) on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:07AM (#44840839)

        You do know this is a True Holy Grail that people have been trying to build for a long, long time, right? Object orientation was, at least partially, supposed to be a step in this direction.

        I think Smalltalk had promise (and still does), but it seems I'm the only person who actually likes it. :)

        I think LOGO kinda sparks people's imaginations. I remember a product called "Object Center" on our Sparcs in the 80s or 90s that was really just a class browser. Then I saw Interface Builder on a NeXT and thought that was gonna be it. But it has turned out to be really, really hard.

        You would be a hero if you developed a working, practical, usable graphical (which I think you mean by "symbolic") programming language.


      • That's true for current methods of developing software. Which is typing in code.

        This is the same article that gets posted every 6-8 weeks under different names.

        The whole point of these things appears to be to provide a modern day version of a Commodore-64, and get people interested in programming, and get them engaged, by having an environment where it's easy to do small hacks.

        Radical new methods of developing software aren't going to get you employed until they have already been widely adopted, after which they are neither radical nor new. We tried this with 3G computer languages, an

        • The whole point of these things appears to be to provide a modern day version of a Commodore-64, and get people interested in programming, and get them engaged, by having an environment where it's easy to do small hacks.

          Get a $200 Chromebook, install a full Linux distro on it. In adjusted dollars that is cheaper than a C-64 alone, not including tape, disc or monitor.

      • There have been a couple nice stabs at creating more or less flow chart object based programming and scripting packages based entirely on visual concepts. The missing part for a touchscreen though is still going to be real estate. There just isn't space for the kind of UI which is efficient for this kind of creative content. College students love Google Docs for collaborative work, but you can't produce a properly formatted thesis with it's interface efficiently, similar issues.
      • That's true for current methods of developing software. Which is typing in code.

        Programming hasn't changed very much in 50 or so years. And I think it's ludicrous that we're using a language to prgram a computer to do mathematical operations.

        What we really need is a symbolic programming "language" and it would rock on a touch screen.

        Why not go directly from dragging and dropping logic to machine code directly? There is no physcal law that says we have to program computers the way we do now.

        These "verbal" type of programming languages are so 20th century, inefficient and just old fashioned. Their time has passed.

        I have a box on my shelf. It contains a product named AmigaVision and that's exactly how it worked. It was briefly very popular around 1990.

        It didn't spawn any notable imitators and I doubt you'll find a modern-day version of it. The paradigm remains, but primarily for use by data transformation utilities such as Pentaho DI (Kettle).

        Neither the drag/drop flowchart nor the strung-together filecards programming methods have ever really taken off.

        If there's a more productive way to program than the keyboarding

      • by AJH16 ( 940784 ) <aj@NoSpAm.gccafe.com> on Friday September 13, 2013 @01:33PM (#44842205) Homepage

        You mean like the literally DOZENS if not hundreds of flowchart programming languages that have tried it before and failed outright because it simply isn't an easy format for us to follow the logic from when designing complex logic?

      • That's true for current methods of developing software. Which is typing in code.

        Note this response took too long to compose, so there have already been some good/better answers below, Prograph, LabView, and the comments about APL are all relevant and interesting

        Random idea on how to get around it:

        Starting point: utilize some esoteric language that use a limited symbol set and positional coding, i.e. funges [wikipedia.org]. In this case, the screen would be a scrollable grid (say 3x4, for 12 tiles in view at one time), and you would press on grid locations to set their value, possibly through a sub-me

        • by Urkki ( 668283 )

          However, class names/function names/variables could all be custom icons.

          This would work about as well as having icons for people, instead of names...

      • by Urkki ( 668283 )

        That's true for current methods of developing software. Which is typing in code.

        The thing is, there is an enormous amount of exact details even in a small piece of code. You can enter it by typing far faster than in any other way, especially when aided by advanced code completion and other forms of semiautomatic code generation. And the more expressive the language, the more each character counts, and more difficult it is to express same things in some other way.

        Only when we have AIs comparable to humans, we can hope for something different. Except that is not so different after all, i

    • by gmuslera ( 3436 )
      Check Scratch [mit.edu] for an example of user interface of creating (in particular, for scripting) that could work pretty well in a tablet environment.
    • I think it depends. Most days if I am going to be doing a presentation or any type of coding work, like today, then I want my laptop. But I did buy a waterproof cover for my iPad and have used it to work on presentations in the bathtub or even shower. Although usually this is more revising than actual creation. I can't do much outside of edit text or order of presentation slides. If I need to add video, sound, or fancy images, I'm doing that on the laptop.

    • He forgets that authoring and creating things on Tablets is annoying.

      The most annoying thing about it is that people just do it instead of listening to your expert opinion.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      that's not why he is a moron.

      he is a moron because while you can't do such things on either ios or windows phone you could on symbian.

      but symbian is dead, so why doesn't he get one of these newflangled android phones.. fuck, run the fucking compiler and build chain for full apps on the fucking device if he really wants and anything in between.

      there are other operating systems than ios...........

    • An open smartphone can connect to screens and keyboards and mouse with no problems. The n900 had a VGA output hack going. In fact the n900 is an answer to this slashdot discussion: give nerds root and a GNU userland with the wealth of scripting environments, ruby, lua, newlisp, smalltalk..., see what they come up with. Another answer is a raspberry in a largish smartphone form factor.

    • They rock at redditing and slashdoting, however.

      Proper Verbs [urbandictionary.com] are annoying. Stop browsering and learn some grammar.

    • Yeah I tried using Iron7 a while back: (http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/ruby-iron7-free/8a866ec2-461b-e011-9264-00237de2db9e) and it lets you code in Ruby using the phone's keyboard to create simple apps inside of Windows Phone. But it's hard enough to do normal typing on a tiny keyboard let alone non-dictionary words for variables etc.

      Windows 8 is perfectly acceptable though for tablet dev. I've done Unity development on a Windows 8 tablet and it's great because you don't have to transfer th

  • And you can program them on the phone. Not as easy to build that into apps, though: https://code.google.com/p/android-scripting/ [google.com]
  • Sorry to be the pedant, but that "disallow apps that can't be scripted" line seems kneejerk and fairly stupid. Scriptability is not a yes/no thing, it's a measure for how good an API is. If you just want apps that are minimally scripted, I'm sure you could make a platform where every app accepts a hello() message, and does a popup with that, but that doesn't get you close to being able to do neat things.

    I suspect what we'd really like is more choice in programming languages on the phone and a cleaner split between UI and API.

    I wonder how many people would write apps for such a device for free. I might, and the opensource community might too, but is that enough?

    • I think that odds are, as with any app-store model, you'll be able to access several repositories. One could be for open-source highly-scriptable applications, one could be for closed commercial stuff. The level of scriptability depends on who manages the app-store.

      But right now this is all already possible on Android (the ability to script apps, and not tightly controlled by an omnipotent god), except I don't know what it takes to open an app store. An interpreted scripting language on an Android device wo

  • Nokia? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:31AM (#44840495)

    Too bad Nokia quit making fun phones. The last was the N900. I'd love to have a new phone similar to that with modern specs.

    • I came here hoping to see the N900 listed. Thanks for not letting me down. I still miss my N900, two years after inadvertently walking into the Atlantic Ocean with it in my trunks. If the Neo900 manages to produce something within a reasonable time frame, I'll be able to resuscitate it.
    • Neo900 (Score:2, Informative)

      by wick3t ( 787074 )

      Too bad Nokia quit making fun phones. The last was the N900. I'd love to have a new phone similar to that with modern specs.

      It seems that you haven't heard of the Neo900 project [neo900.org] which aims to deliver just that.

    • I'm holding onto my N900 for the forseeable future.
      I would be willing to pay several thousand for one with larger screen, some more up-to-date packages, a faster processor, etc. However, nothing like that exists apparently. The fact that I can make this phone do almost ANYTHING that my desktop computer can (plus make phone calls!) means that I'm not giving it up for a while.

      • by tantrum ( 261762 )


        I have two working N900s and one nonworking for spare parts. Not going to swap it out before something better hits the market, if something better comes to market that is.

        With the CSSU and some overclocking, it is not _that_ slow compared to other phones/tablets

  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:32AM (#44840511) Homepage Journal

    Because when I code, I always want to use a totally unwieldy UI and no text to do it. It's like when we code for robots, how a hobbyist robot you program by directly writing on the embedded chip, using the robot's sensor's as inputs.

    How about we code on a machine that's usable for coding? I can still design neat things for my phone that way. I promise.

  • I never did any WebOS programming, but I loved my Palm Pre -- anyone know if it's scriptable?

    and before you say it's dead ... remember, HP released it into the wild, and then sold it to LG:

    http://mobile.slashdot.org/story/12/08/31/2032236/hp-launches-beta-of-open-webos [slashdot.org]
    http://entertainment.slashdot.org/story/13/02/25/1747201/lg-acquires-webos-source-code-and-patents-from-hp [slashdot.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:37AM (#44840549)

    There are plenty of good devices out there from a hardware standpoint. The difference is that software is tailored by the manufacturer to reinforce their channels, partnerships, etc. (to the detriment of the user).

    Once rooted, these devices get a lot closer to what I think most people are looking for in a hobbyist device. However, that is the trick. Getting root access, and knowledge of the internals so that we can start work on our own.

    We've seen the failures hobbyist devices in the past. I expect the same going forward. If only we had access to the hardware and programming specs, we wouldn't even be having this conversation now. Maybe we can find a way to extort this info from these manufacturers.

  • Android + QPython3 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Btrot69 ( 1479283 ) on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:37AM (#44840557)

    I recently defected from iOS and I'm having great fun with an android app called QPython.
    Docs are still a bit spotty, but with a few lines of Python I can do all sorts of things with the Android API.

  • by realmolo ( 574068 ) on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:37AM (#44840561)

    Yes, wouldn't it be great if someone made a completely developer-friendly, unlocked phone with good specs at a decent price?

    Yeah, no fucking shit it would. The carriers would NEVER allow it on their networks. We won't see a phone like that until we have a worldwide standard for cell networks, so that somebody could make that phone and actually sell it in the US.

    • There is a worldwide standard for cell networks, and if you get a phone that complies with it, there is a good chance it will work on the AT&T network, though probably not on any of the other networks.

    • Yes, yes indeed [google.com]. I just got mine last week!

    • The carriers would NEVER allow it on their networks

      What do you mean.. 'allow'?

      While I'm unfamiliar with CDMA solutions, you can pick up GSM modules and radio away all day and night long within the limits of the module. That's the only bit they care about. There's hundreds of GSM projects for PIC, Arduino, RPi, etc. out there already, not to mention a bunch of off-the-shelf things like security systems (motion detection) that aren't strictly speaking 'phones' either and no carrier has to approve in advance

    • Folks seem to be misunderstanding the purpose of the phone. It's not for your convenience. The phone is a conduit to connect your wallet to a carrier's bank account. That's why *every* carrier is willing to "give" you a phone for a substantial discount. Allowing you to change the phone's capabilities is equivalent to turning off the money stream.

      Now, if they could get a piece of the action, that's a horse of a different color.
  • There was already a phone proposed that could have done this with no problem. There wasn't enough interest on it to make it a reality.

    http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ubuntu-edge [indiegogo.com]

    And before you go complaining about the cost, please have a look at flagship Android phones and how much they cost *off contract*. The Edge was a pretty good value.

    • Its an open source design, initially intended for the EU.

      http://www.fairphone.com/ [fairphone.com]

      They met their minimum orders already and are getting close to selling-out their initial production run. Delivery date is December.

    • by div_2n ( 525075 )

      I don't think it's fair to judge the failure of the Edge campaign as "people didn't want it".

      I would have bought one or two if I had enough time to save up the money for it. Forking out $700 or $1400 (for two) on a whim isn't something I'm willing to do since I follow a budget. 30 days notice to do so isn't enough time. If there had been sufficient warning of at least two months BEFORE the start of the campaign, I'm betting others besides myself could have saved up the money to buy one.

      Also, there was specu

    • Nexus 4 $199/£159 (8Gb version). Off contract.
  • I get the desire to script, on many levels...but to have the ability to write scripts supersede ALL other considerations for an app? I'm sorry, but when I'm playing solitaire on my phone to kill a few minutes, I don't see any particular need to be able to run scripts. This seems idiotic to me. I would hasten to point out the numerous advertisements for everything from web browsers to phones (of different types) to tablets that used "Angry Birds" as an example of what you could do. A phone that can't pla

  • I want a phone without any high-resolution color display and without a touch screen. It should have a small led display, many sensors (including alitmeter, barometer, thermometer, movement & tilt sensor), should have a little keyboard with a control key, sophisticated power-management with built-in wakeup/alarm routines, would have a battery life of one week or more and needs to be entirely hackable/scriptable in LISP. On the backside, there should be a picture of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Alas, it's

  • I've thought about making a custom "phone" in the past with GSM modules, but haven't had the time. Telit sells modules that have a builtin Python interpreter. Might make a fun hobby project. Sparkfun used to carry these modules... http://www.telit.com/en/products.php?p_ac=show&p=7/ [telit.com]

  • by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:15AM (#44840917) Homepage Journal

    The amount of patents that surrounds anything mobile makes pretty hard to get new players on the game. And if the patents game didn't killed you, you have next the carriers one.

    The best approach so far seem to be the one being done by Jolla with Sailfish, generate enough buzz, get a chinese manufacturer to pledge support (the chinese market is big enough to make this approach profitable), and from there, see how much luck they have in the rest of the world (with preorders at least it worked for them pretty well).

    It could work for existing players, unless it requires deep changes to adapt to that kind of approachs, if so, it must be something new. Or something that could be installed on Android phones very much like Ubuntu Touch and Firefox OS are doing, with the core android OS and its drivers.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:21AM (#44840981)

    To me, the Android platform was close enough. It's "just" Java (if you can't figure out Java...), there are no fees required to get the development environment or simulators set up, Android devices and phones are available new for as little as $60 (and cheaper as people upgrade). So...to me, Android IS a hobby-friendly environment.

  • by Warbothong ( 905464 ) on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:33AM (#44841087) Homepage

    I'm still getting along fine with my OpenMoko FreeRunner. It's currently running Debian, so it's as scriptable as anything. The "programming environment which runs on desktops or laptops" is whatever you use already; the "plugs right in" part is SSH (and its friends scp, sshfs, etc.).

    So, either you love OpenMoko and hence your wish is fulfilled, or you see it as a total failure in which case it's clear why nobody is doing this anymore.

    • by galiven ( 231146 )
      Finally someone mentioned this way way down in the comments. Its sad that such a great project has so easily been forgotten. The remains of the project are still very interesting but there aren't enough people to even finance a production run of the new hardware.
  • Just Install Asterisk on a Raspberry Pi problem solved :)
  • by zullnero ( 833754 ) on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:45AM (#44841193) Homepage
    It's currently in a second Alpha state (if you're pulling the latest binaries, probably further along) and runs on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus (couple other profiles too). It's fully open source at this point, and even though supposedly LG wants to use it for TVs or something, there's a group that's been working on it for awhile ever since it was divulged from HPs hands. There are also efforts underway to emulate Android apps on the platform. The community also greatly appreciates anyone enthusiastic enough to contribute. You can find everything at webOSInternals. I still use a webOS phone as my daily device mainly because it does the things I need it to do very well (and other platforms come with way too many strings attached for me).

    If you want a hobbyist platform that the big platforms still steal ideas from...there you go. That's the epitome of a hobbyist platform. The scripting is all html/css/javascript using the Enyo framework. It's all open standards and there are plenty of tools that were built by Palm and later HP.
    • by Lispy ( 136512 )

      I wish I had modpoints. Kids today seem to forget about it and it could sure use some manpower.

    • by spage ( 73271 )

      The scripting is all html/css/javascript using the Enyo framework.

      It's cool that they open-sourced the webOS calculator, contacts, email, notes, etc. [github.com], but it's not the complete phone image, I couldn't find the system settings, dialer, etc. The APIs that the published webOS apps use seem disconnected from any standardization efforts, and some apps seem to contact a local nodejs server instead of making simple JavaScript function calls. If it's all HTML/CSS/JavaScript, why is there a copy of Qt in the tree?

  • What would that do? Allow free long distance calls? Tell you jokes? Or pull a practical joke on you every time you used it? Can only be operated on a Segway?
  • It's called javascript and it runs on all phones already. You don't even need access to the phone itself, just a webserver...
    • This was the intent with iOS 1: all non-bundled applications would run inside Safari. But phone browsers have a habit of not exposing most of the phone's capabilities. For example, Safari for iOS couldn't upload files until very recently, and even now it can't upload anything but pictures and videos. Nor does it support WebGL in web pages or ability to use the device's camera and microphone (with the user's permission). Otherwise, there would have been no need for things like PhoneGap.
      • by spage ( 73271 )

        Unless the phone's system apps are all open source [github.com] and written in JavaScript, so necessarily there are Web API [mozilla.org]s to everything. Firefox OS walks the walk.

        PhoneGap will shrink to be a compatibility shim on decent standards-compliant smartphones; the problem is Apple will always favor native IOS over web apps because Apple Inc. wants the resulting lock-in and can get away with it while they have market dominance.

  • But it didn't survive the market well.

    It was called WebOS. Some people still cling to it, but it's a dead platform.

    Didn't like the way things looked or behaved in any app? It's all CSS and Javascript. Patch it. Patching WebOS was a very nice, elegant, and easy way to customise the phone.

  • And I want a pony.
  • I made a scripting app and it's been on the App Store for a bit more than two years. Its not a mainstream scripting language but rather a forth/postscript -inspired stack based. Its got runloops, shallow inheritance, threads, imports, marginal UI and complete Objective-C bridge. It gets the job done so well the engine is at the core of two other Apps.

    So, whats keeping you guys from making a Python App? Or whatever language you want to use.

  • OK call me naive but what is the big advantage (that I'm not seeing) of scripting over something that runs natively?

  • Surely Dave Winer can't be that out of touch. Firefox OS nails it.

    In Firefox OS [mozilla.org] everything is written in JavaScript, the most widely-deployed scripting language that developers already know. Unlike all the other also-rans to IOS and Android, its system applications [github.com] — calendar, on-screen keyboard, music player, etc. — are likewise written in JavaScript. To permit this, and unlike BBX, OpenWebOS, Tizen, Windows 8, and everyone else saying "Write apps for our failing platform using HTML/CSS/JavaScr

  • Have you seen the prices of NTP time servers that use CDMA cell communication for time source? The advantage over GPS based (which are also expensive) is that GPS based time source doesn't work so well with antennae indoors or in area surrounded by tall buildings. So I'd just be interested in project that uses CDMA to get time signal (which doesn't require subscription to any provider).

  • The N900 and descendants had that. There is a startup trying to bring such things back.
  • Not only was it a good phone, it also could support the major languages already out.

    About the only problem it had was the USB port being a bit loose, but otherwise a solid and presentable "do-anything" box.

Genius is ten percent inspiration and fifty percent capital gains.