Mobile Archive

Psion OPL: when we owned our devices

We talked about Psion last week, and we’re talking about Psion again this week. This time, Kian Ryan highlights a very important capability of Psion’s devices, a capability that’s entirely absent from today’s mobile devices: a built-in IDE and dedicated programming language so you can write code and build applications, including ones with a graphical user interface, right on the device. All Psion devices could run OPL, either preinstalled on the device or via a DATAPAK memory card. It’s a BASIC-esque programming language, and while you could develop OPL programs on your PC in DOS, Psion devices also shipped with an IDE preinstalled so you could get just as much done on the device itself. Back then, this wasn’t particularly unique, but these days, mobile devices have become so locked-down and dumb that developing applications on-device is basically a non-starter. Which can’t be said about my current mobile. My mobile is a great device to consume content on, but it has no built in tools to extend its functionality. If I want to build an application for it, I have to use another computer to download a build environment, build the application, sign it, and then transfer the packaged app to my phone. On the Psion, all the tools are right there, on my home screen. It does feel like we’re missing an opportunity here. ↫ Kian Ryan They’re entirely right, of course. Our current mobile devices are faster and technically more capable than ever, but extending the functionality of your smartphone using the smartphone itself by writing and compiling code on it is far more cumbersome than it was in the past. Even my Psion Organiser II LZ64, from 1986, has OPL on it, and if I took the time to relearn the basic BASIC I once knew, I could probably still program something useful on it today, almost 40 years later, without being gatekept by anyone, and without needing any other device. That’s something quite magical that we’ve lost, and that’s sad.

Of Psion and Symbian

As cool as the organizer was, it was extremely limited in pretty much every way. Psion had got many things right in the first go, as reviewers were quick to admit, and that made iterating on the design somewhat easy. The Organiser II CM released in 1986 was built on the Hitachi HD6303X (Motorola 6803) clocked at 920kHz with 8K RAM and 32K ROM. The screen was a much improved dot matrix LCD with two lines of sixteen characters. This version also shipped with a little piezo beeper built in, and an expansion slot on the top. The expansion slot could allow for a wired power adapter, a serial cable, a bar code reader, a telephone dialer, and even a USB port. Given the reputation of the first model for ruggedness and the coverage of the same quality in the second model, this particular model sold quite well to companies who needed handheld computers for inventory and other purposes. The Organizer II XP launched the same year, and this model had 32K RAM and a backlit screen while otherwise being the same machine. Given that both of these models had significantly more RAM than their predecessor, the programming capabilities were greatly enhanced with a new language, OPL, which was similar to BASIC. ↫ Bradford Morgan White The Psion Organiser II is the very root of all mobile computing today. This may seem like hyperbole – but trust me, it really is. I have an Organiser II LZ64 with a 32k datapak (memory card), and while it may look like a calculator, this little machine from 1986 already contains the very skeleton of the graphical user interface Palm would eventually popularise, and the iPhone and Android would take to extraordinary heights. Turn on an Organiser II, and you’re greeted by a home screen with a grid of applications (no icons, though, of course – just labels) with a selector you moved around with the cursor keys. Hit the EXE key, and the application would load up, ready to be used; hit the home button (the ON key if my memory serves) and it would take you back to the home screen. This basic paradigm, of a grid of applications as a home screen you always return to, survives to this day, and is used by billions of people on their Android and iOS devices, both smartphones and tablets. People with little to no knowledge of the history of mobile computing – or people spreading corporate propaganda – often seem to act as if the release of the iPhone was the big bang of mobile computing, and that it materialised out of thin air because Steve Jobs alone willed it into existence. The reality is, though, that there is a direct line from the early Psion devices, through to Palm OS, the iPhone, and later Android. There were various dead end branches along the way, too, like the Newton, like Symbian, like the original Windows PocketPC, and so on – but that direct line from early Psion to that fancy Pixel 8 Pro or whatever you have today is solidly visible to anyone without an agenda. I love my Organiser II. It’s approaching 40 years old now, and it still works without a single hitch. There’s barely a scratch on it, the display is bright, the pixels are clear, the characteristic sliding cover feels as solid today as it did when it rolled off the factory line. This is where mobile computing began.

Mobile comms via satellite for backcountry and maritime safety

Stranded on a desert island; lost in the forest; stuck in the snow; injured and unable to get back to civilization. Human beings have used their ingenuity for millennia to try to signal for rescue. there’s been a progression of technological innovations: smoke signals, mirrors, a loud whistle, a portable radio, a mobile phone. With each invention, it’s been possible to venture a little farther from populated areas and still have peace of mind about being able to call for help. But once you get past the range of a terrestrial radio tower, whether it’s into the wilderness or out at sea, it starts to get more complicated and expensive to be able to call for rescue. In the next year or so, it’s going to become a lot simpler and less expensive. Probably enough to become ubiquitous. Hardware infrastructure is already in place, and the relevant software and service support is rolling out now. It’s been possible for decades for adventurers to keep in contact via satellite. The first commercial maritime satellite communications was launched in 1976. Globalstar and Iridium launched in the late 90s and drove down the device size and service cost of satellite phones. However, the service was a lot more expensive than cellular phone service, and not enough people were willing to pay for remote comms to be able to overcome the massive infrastructure costs, and both companies went bankrupt. Their investors lost their money, but the satellites still worked, so once the bankruptcies were hashed out they fulfilled their promise, as least technologically. On a parallel track, in the late 1980s International Cospas-Sarsat Programme was set up to develop a system for satellite aided search and rescue system that detects and locates emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships and people engaged in recreational activities in remote areas, and then sends these distress alerts to search-and-rescue (SAR) authorities. Many types of beacons are available, and nowadays they send exact GPS coordinates along with the call for rescue. In the 2010s, the Satellite Emergency Notification Device or SEND device was brought to market. These are portable beacons that connect to the Globalstar and Iridium networks and allow people in remote areas not only to call for help in emergencies, but also to communicate via text messaging. Currently the two most popular SEND devices are the Garmin inReach Mini 2 and the Spot X. These devices cost $400 and $250 USD respectively, and require monthly service fees of $12-40. For someone undertaking a long and dangerous expedition into the backcountry, these are very reasonable costs, especially for someone who does it often. But for most people, it’s just not practical to pay for and carry a device like that “just in case.” In 2022, the iPhone 14 included a feature that was the first step in taking satellite-based communication into the mainstream. It allows iPhone users to share their location via Find My feature with new radio hardware that connects to the Globalstar service. So if you’re out adventuring, your friends can keep track of where you are. And if there’s an emergency, you can make an emergency SOS. It’s not just a generic Mayday: you can text specific details about your emergency and it will be transmitted to the local authorities. You can also choose to notify your personal emergency contacts. Last week, at WWDC, Apple announced the next stage: in iOS 18, iMessage users will be able to send text messages over satellite, using the same Globalstar network as its SOS features. Initially at least, this feature is expected to be free. With this expansion, iPhone users will have the basic functionality of a SPOT or inReach device, without special hardware or a monthly fee. SpaceX’s Starlink, which first offered service in 2021, has much higher bandwidth and lower latency than the Globalstar and Iridium networks. Starlink’s current offering requires a dinner plate sized antenna and conventional networking hardware to enable high bandwidth mobile internet. It’s great for a vehicle, but impractical for a backpacker. However, SpaceX has announced 2nd generation satellites that can connect to 1900MHz spectrum mobile phone radios, and T-Mobile has announced that it will be enabling the service for its customers in late 2024, and Apple, Google, and Samsung devices are confirmed to be supported. Initially, like Apple’s service, this will be restricted to text messaging and other low-bandwidth applications. Phone calls and higher bandwidth internet connectivity are promised in 2025. The other two big US carriers, AT&T and Verizon, have announced they will be partnering with a competing service, AST SpaceMobile, but it’s unlikely those plans will come to fruition very soon. Mobile phone users outside the US will also need to wait. Apple’s Message via satellite is only announced for US users, as is T-Mobile’s offering. So if you’re in the US, and have an iPhone, or are a T-Mobile subscriber with an Apple, Samsung, or Google device, you’ll soon be able to point your phone at the sky, even in remote areas, to call for help, give your friends an update on your expedition, or just stay in touch. Pretty soon, Tom Hanks won’t have to make friends with a volleyball when he crash lands on a deserted island, at least not until his battery dies.

US revokes Intel, Qualcomm’s export licenses to sell to China’s Huawei, sources say

The U.S. has revoked licenses that allowed companies including Intel and Qualcomm to ship chips used for laptops and handsets to sanctioned Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies, three people familiar with the matter said. ↫ Alexandra Alper, Fanny Potkin, David Shepardson The timing of this news is very interesting, as despite the massive sanctions the United States levied against Huawei, the company seems to be doing really well, with its smartphone business seeing massive gains in the Chinese market, at the expense of everyone else. This proves that Huawei does not need access to western chips and technologies to be successful, which must definitely sting in the US and Europe. Strong financial results, using hardware and chips designed not by western companies but by Chinese ones, combined with the only mobile operating system that has any serious potential to at least somewhat threaten Android and iOS. The various sanctions were clearly intended to hurt Huawei and possibly contain it to just China, but it seems they’re not having their desired effect at all.

The only viable Android and iOS competitor intends to leave China and go global

Huawei plans to expand its native HarmonyOS smartphone platform worldwide, despite coming under US-led sanctions that have deprived it of access to key technologies. The Chinese tech megacorp released its own phone platform in 2019, the same year that US sanctions blocked Huawei from having further access to Google’s Android software to power its devices. More recently, the company saw its Mate 60 Pro smartphone become the top selling device in China’s huge consumer market, displacing rivals such as Apple’s iPhone. It also has a newer device, the Pura 70, that could pose a bigger threat to Apple sales in the country. ↫ Dan Robinson at The Register If there is one company that has the capabilities and will to truly offer a third alternative, it’s Huawei with HarmonyOS. This company has the full might of the Chinese state behind it, and it clearly has the drive to prove itself after the various sanctions levied against it in recent years that barred it from using Google’s Android. It’s obviously already experiencing major success in its home market, but now the company intends to go global, country by country, to positino HarmonyOS alongside iOS and Android. Huawei basically takes a brute-force approach, explaining that they identify the 5000 most popular applications, which they claim cover 99% of users’ time with their smartphones, and port those over first. I’m not entirely sure how they convince developers to port over their applications, but I’m guessing money is involved. Fair play, I would say – it’s not like anything else is going to break the stranglehold Apple and Google have over the mobile application market. We haven’t really spent much time talking about HarmonyOS in the west in general, and on OSNews in particular, which is a bit of a shame because it has some interesting characteristics. For instance, it has a multi-kernel design, where it uses the Linux kernel on more powerful devices like smartphones and tablets, and the RTOS LiteOS kernel on lower power IoT devices. DSoftBus is another interesting part of the operating system, which allows multiple devices to kind of join together and share data, applications, and control seamlessly. HarmonyOS supports both Android and true HarmonyOS applications, the latter of which are marked with a little logo in the corner of the application icon, but the unique features of HarmonyOS, like DSoftBus, are only accessible to true HarmonyOS applications. Developing these native applications can be done in DevEco Studio, which is built atop IntelliJ IDEA, using ArkUI. Huawei even went so far as to develop its own browser engine for HarmonyOS, which it recently released as open source, called ArkWeb. While HarmonyOS currently still supports running Android applications, this will soon no longer be the case as the company is working on HarmonyOS NEXT, which will remove Android compatibility to focus entirely on true HarmonyOS applications instead. NEXT also does away entirely with the multikernel approach, ditching both the Linux and LiteOS kernels for a new HarmonyOS microkernel, and uses Huawei’s own Cangjie programming language for application development. HarmonyOS NEXT is currently being tested on a variety of Huawei devices, with a beta and final release planned for later this year. It’s just our luck that the only potentially viable competitor to Android and iOS is a party closed-source operating system from China, which will surely bring with it a whole host of security concerns in the west. It’s really difficult at the moment to ascertain just how much of HarmonyOS – and specifically, HarmonyOS NEXT – is available as open source, which is a major bummer. I don’t think I’d ever want to use a (partly) closed source Chinese operating system for anything major in my life, but if it’s open source we could at least see non-Chinese forks that I’d find easier to trust. The road of iOS and Android competitors is littered with the bodies of failed attempts – Symbian, the various iterations of Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Sailfish, Ubuntu Touch, the GNOME/Plasma attempts that just can’t grow beyond proof of concepts – and there is no way to know if Huawei can pull off outside of China what it did with HarmonyOS inside China. Western markets are incredibly weary of anything related to Huawei, and for all we know, this operating system won’t ever even be allowed inside the US and the EU in the first place. Regardless of international politics and the CCP’s brutal, totalitarian, genocidal regime, HarmonyOS NEXT seems like a very interesting platform with fresh ideas, and I’d love to at least try it out once it hits international markets with proper localisation into English. I’ll take a problematic Chinese smartphone operating system competitor over no competitor at all – even if I won’t use it myself, it’ll be at least some form of competition both Apple and Google desperately need.

Palm OS and the devices that ran it

But just as smartphones would do, PDAs offered a dizzying array of operating systems and applications, and a great many of them ran Palm OS. (I bought my first Palm, an m505, new in 2001, upgrading from an HP 95LX.) Naturally, there’s no way we could enumerate every single such device in this article. So in this Ars retrospective, we’ll look back at some notable examples of the technical evolution of the Palm operating system and the devices that ran it—and how they paved the way for what we use now. ↫ Cameron Kaiser at Ars Technica This sure takes me back to my own in-depth Palm retrospective from – checks notes – 11 years ago (!). It turns out all the images from that article no longer load, so I should set aside some time to fix that up.

Maptwin: an 80s-era automotive navigation computer

A couple of years ago, I imported a Japanese-market 4×4 van into the US; a 1996 Mitsubishi Delica. Based on the maps I found in the seat pocket and other clues, it seems to have spent its life at some city dweller’s cabin in the mountains around Fukushima, and only driven occasionally. Despite being over 25 years old, it only had 77,000 km on the odometer. The van had some interesting old tech installed in it: what appears to be a radar detector labeled “Super Eagle ✔️30” and a Panasonic-brand electronic toll collection device that you can insert a smart card into. One particularly noteworthy accessory that was available in mid-90s Delicas was a built-in karaoke machine for the rear passengers. Sadly, mine didn’t have that feature. But the most interesting accessory installed in the van was the Avco Maptwin Inter, which I immediately identified as some kind of electronic navigation aid, about which there is very little information available on the English-language internet. When I first saw the Maptwin, I had thought it might be some kind of proto-GPS that displayed latitude/longitude coordinates that you could look up on a paper map. Alas, it’s not that cool. It was not connected to any kind of antenna, and the electronics inside seem inadequate for the reception of a GPS signal. The Maptwin was, however, wired into an RPM counter that was attached between the transmission and the speedometer cable, presumably to delivery extremely accurate and convenient display of how many kilometers have been traveled since the display was last reset. What I’ve been able to learn is that the Maptwin is computer that was mostly used for rally race navigation, precursor to devices still available from manufacturers like Terra Trip. Now, the Mitsubishi Delica is about the best 4×4 minivan you can get, but it’s extremely slow and unwieldy at speed, so it would be pretty terrible for rally racing. My best guess is that the owner used this device as a navigation aid for overland exploration, as the name “Maptwin” implies, to augment the utility of a paper map. On the other hand, I found an article that indicates that some kinds of rallies were not high speed affairs, but rather accuracy-based navigation puzzles of sorts, so who knows? The Maptwin wasn’t working when I got the van, and I don’t know if it’s actually broken or just needs to be wired up correctly. If any OSNews readers have any additional information about any of the devices I’ve mentioned, please enlighten us in the comments. If anyone would like to try to get the Maptwin working and report back, please let me know.

Adding systemd to postmarketOS

You heard it here first folks: systemd is coming to postmarketOS! As a mobile oriented OS, our main goal has always been to work for everyone. From technical folks to casual users. postmarketOS should have all the benefits you expect from a Linux based distribution, such as being free software, respecting your privacy, getting updates until your device physically breaks, respecting your attention and not shoving advertisements in your face. Your phone should be a tool you use, not the other way around. This is of course not an easy task, one of the main blockers we found as we collaborate more closely with KDE and GNOME developers is that they have a hard time with our OpenRC-based stack. In order to get KDE and GNOME working at all, we use a lot of systemd polyfills on top of OpenRC. So while we are technically “not using systemd”, in practice we already do use a large chunk of its components to get KDE and GNOME running, just different versions of those components. While we are very grateful for everybody who works on these polyfills, we must point out that most aren’t a full replacement, and take additional effort to support and maintain. As much as we might want to romanticise the idea of spending 6, 12, 24 months attempting to come up with an even vaguely competitive alternative to systemd, we would quite simply rather be working on making postmarketOS better. ↫ postmarketOS blog This is the sensible choice to make, and I’m glad they made it. It makes no sense for a relatively small project that already has to deal with the difficulties of supporting smartphones to also have to deal with shoehorning the smartphone variants of GNOME and KDE into an init system they’re not at all made for.

Integrating Android applications into GNOME and KDE on mobile using Sailfish OS’ aliendalvik

Plasma 6 is coming together nicely on the desktop! Coming back from hiatus, I was pleasantly greeted by a much more working session than when I last saw it in May; I have now completely switched over to it on my main machine! On the other hand, there is still a lot of work to do on mobile to prepare it for the Plasma 6 release in February. I will outline the current situation and the work I have done in the past few months in order to make Plasma 6 a possibility for Plasma Mobile. ↫ Devin at espi.dev The linked blog post provides a great overview of the work that is being done and needs to be done on Plasma Mobile for Plasma 6, and I have to say that it’s definitely looking good and I’m quite interested is somehow giving Plasma Mobile a go. The problem, however, is one that’s all too familiar to anyone who’s tried to run anything but Android or iOS as their main mobile operating system over the past 15 years or so: the lack of the kind of applications that you need to be a part of modern society. I don’t like it, but without my banking applications, identity applications I need in Sweden, things like WhatsApp, Signal, Discord – my phone would basically be a curious toy instead of a useful tool. Add needing the best possible smartphone camera to the equation – I have two small kids – and using anything but iOS and Android is simply out of the question. One alternative smartphone operating system knew this, and implemented fairly transparent Android application compatibility – Sailfish – through their Aliendalvik tool. It seems Jonas Dreßler, who works on GNOME Shell for mobile, was curious, and decided to take a closer look at Aliendalvik, to see if there’s anything there that the teams working on bringing KDE and GNOME to smartphones can make something of it. Sadly, Aliendalvik is not open source, so some reverse-engineering was required. The interesting thing here is that due to the fairly standard userspace Sailfish is using, the Android integration is mostly using standard freedesktop APIs to integrate with the host OS: Running Android apps are exposed as individual Wayland surfaces/windows, notifications from Android appear as org.freedesktop.Notification messages on DBus, music player controls are exposed using MPRIS, and even text input for android apps can be provided using the Wayland text input protocol. This means that basically Aliendalvik should work just as well on a standard Linux distribution like Fedora, Arch Linux, or Debian. The Android container can be started using standard linux container tooling and the host integration binaries are compiled for ARM64 and mostly link to various open source Qt libraries. ↫ Jonas Dreßler After a few days of reverse-engineering, hacking, and lots of other hard work, Dreßler managed to get Aliendalvik to work on GNOME Shell running on Arch on a smartphone, with all the integration between the Android applicatins and the underlying Arch installation working, and the code and instructions are up on Github. He also posted a video showing it working, and it’s indeed as impressive as it sounds. Sadly, the elephant in the room here is, of course, the fact that Aliendalvik is not open source. Jolla could potentially offer it for purchase on non-Sailfish Linux-based smartphones, or perhaps even release it as open source entirely, but I’m not entirely sure if Jolla would be interested in any of that. The company is… In a bit of an odd state, and I feel like it’s mostly been in limbo with not as much progress as they once hoped they’d make. Releasing one of their crown jewels as open source seems unlikely. My personal conviction is that if we ever want a Linux smartphone that is somewhat viable but isn’t Android, it’s going to have to be either Plasma Mobile or GNOME Shell on mobile, running on one of the popular, mainstream distributions that already run on ARM, are interested in mobile, and have a huge community to power the whole thing. Things like Sailfish or even Ubuntu Touch, as interesting and impressive as they are, just don’t seem viable to me in the long term when the entirety of the KDE and GNOME communities are working on their own projects.

Flashback: how Symbian Anna tried to bring an old OS into the modern touchscreen world

Today we want to focus on what came next, Symbian Anna, which arrived a year after the launch of Symbian^3 (Symbian^2 launched only in Japan). Anna was unveiled in early 2011 alongside the Nokia X7 and Nokia E6. The E6 was a bar phone with a QWERTY keyboard (and a 2.45″ touch display), but the X7 was all touch (4.0″ display). Even better, owners of certain older Nokias would receive Anna as an update, that was the case for the Nokia N8 and E7. The Nokia C7 and C6-01 got it too. I have a few Symbian Anna and Belle (its successor) devices, and they’re not exactly great. The software is slow, cumbersome, clunky, and unpleasant to use, and simply no competition for the iPhone and Android, even at the time they came out. They’re fun novelties to play with now, but I genuinely feel sorry for the people who bought into these things back when they were new, thinking they’d get something on the level of the iPhone or Android.

The invisible problem: text editing on Android and iOS sucks

Android and iOS share a common problem: they copied desktop text editing conventions, but without a menu bar or mouse. This forced them to overload the tap gesture with a wide range of actions: placing the cursor, moving it, selecting text, and invoking a pop-up menu. This results in an overly complicated and ambiguous mess-o-taps, leading to a variety of user errors. It’s less of a problem if you only do short bursts of text in social media or messaging apps. But doing anything more complicated like an email gets tedious. However, in my user study on text editing, I was surprised to find that everyone had significant problems and rather severe workaround for editing text. With the extremely talented Olivier Bau, together we created a prototype called Eloquent, which offers a much simpler solution. We presented this work at UIST 2021. This is now one of my favourite articles I’ve ever read. I despise text input and text editing on mobile devices, whether they be Android or iOS. I hate it with the passion of a thousand burning suns, but it seems like nobody else cares. Luckily, the author of this article, Scott Jenson, a man with an impressive career doing UI work at Apple, Google, and others, agrees with me, and together with his colleagues, during his time at Google, he came up with an entirely different, touch-first way of editing text. The end result – be sure to watch the video to see it in action – immediately clicks for me. I want this. Now. This would be a massive usability improvement, and the fact it isn’t in Android yet, despite being developed at Google, is further evidence Google has no clue how to make good ideas float to the top. Jenson explains why Eloquent, as they called their new input/editing system, won’t ship with Android, while he expresses a bit more optimism Apple might be more open to rethinking mobile text editing: Unfortunately, shipping something like Eloquent would be challenging. First, as too many people mistakenly see text editing as “done”, there is little appetite to fix it. Second, users have been trained to cope with this error-prone approach for well over a decade. Asking people to change at this point would be hard. But most importantly, fixing text editing isn’t seen as important enough in the war between Android and iOS. It’s not the flashy feature that shifts your Net Promoter Scores. What I find ironic is that a fundamental change, like fixing text editing, could make people feel much more at ease using their phones and could be an enormous reason to switch. But it would be a slow burn and take years of steady effort. Android just can’t think this way. Apple just might. Android needs this.

Nearly 500 brands exited smartphone market during 2017-2023

At its peak in 2017, the global smartphone market saw more than 700 brands fiercely competing. Fast forward to 2023 and the number of active brands (that have recorded sell-through volumes) is down by two-thirds to almost 250, according to Counterpoint’s Global Handset Model Sales Tracker, which has been tracking sales of these brands across more than 70 key countries. So many good brands and good ideas kicked to the curb by the stranglehold Apple and Google have on the market. While many of these brands were mere OEMs, it also includes companies making their own platforms.

Raspberry Pi RP2040 becomes Palm OS PDA

The Raspberry Pi is known for its versatility and ability to run different operating systems but it seems that the $4 Raspberry Pi Pico can also run an OS. This impressive foray into the world of Palm PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) emulation on our favorite microcontroller comes from Dmitry Grinberg. They have shared an early demo of his platform known as rePalm in which he manages to run PalmOS on a Raspberry Pi Pico. We mentioned Grinberg’s work before – this person is a Palm OS wizard, and the progress he’s making will prove invaluable once the remaining stock of Palm OS devices – half of which is in my office – starts breaking down.

The Fossil Wrist PDA becomes a tiny Gopher client

But little was said at the time about connectivity and networking. It could IR-beam (consuming the battery) and sync, but other than muted complaints about missing Bluetooth (which would have consumed even more battery), no one said anything one way or the other about getting it on the Internet. And I’m all about Palm devices on the Internet. It turns out there’s a reason for that, and we’re going to patch the operating system so we can make the Fossil Wrist PDA into what may be the smallest (and first wrist-mounted) Gopher client. That also required an update to the Overbite Palm Gopher client (which you’ll want for your 68K Palm anyway), and then there’s the matter of the battery refusing to charge as well. And finally, we want to make all of this portable! This makes my heart flutter and my tummy somersault.

A Mastodon client for Palm OS

At this point I was getting annoyed that I had spent so long on these things, so I just imported megalodon-rs to download my mastodon timeline instead of writing the code myself. The conduit itself is exported as a 32-bit dll with a single entry point called OpenConduit, which HotSync calls after loading your dll. I think there are supposed to be more functions exported, but it works fine so far ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Internally, the conduit just takes an empty PalmDOC database (PDB) file, downloads the timeline data, then stuffs everything into the PDB and sends the entire thing to the handheld. I doubt any custom HotSync conduit has had an entire tokio runtime stuffed in it before, but it only took me an afternoon to write and it takes ~5s to run, so chalking this one up as a win. You can clone the repo here, and install the conduit yourself using the provided binary if you too would like to use the world’s most exclusive mastodon client. This project obviously make my heart flutter a little bit. As a longtime Palm OS user of yore, and huge fan of the platform to this day, I’ve been wondering when, in the flurry of interest in building Mastodon clients for weird and dead platforms, it would be Palm OS’ turn in the spotlight. Well, that spotlight is here now, and while it’s still relatively basic, this is excellent work. Targeting old-style Palm OS devices is an interesting choice, but without having tried it, it should work seamlessly through PACE on the later, ARM-based Palm OS devices. The whole blog post is a joy to read, and can serve as a blueprint for anyone interested in, for some reason, picking up Palm OS development in 2023.

Hacking the Timex m851

Take a look at this watch, it’s just some boring watch for runners, right? Nope, I think this might be the best ultra-low power consumer digital watch ever produced! Let me explain… This device certainly should entice some of you.

Fairphone 5 sets a new standard with 8-10 years of Android support

The Fairphone 5 is official and full of surprises. As you might expect, it’s the usual repairable phone from Fairphone, with parts available to order and easily installable with just a screwdriver. A new phone means faster components and a more modern design. What you might not expect is Fairphone opting entirely out of Qualcomm’s consumer upgrade cycle thanks to its choice of an “industrial IoT” SoC that promises longer support times. With a longer window from Qualcomm and a commitment from Fairphone to keep going even after Qualcomm’s industrial support cycle, Fairphone says this device will end up with a jaw-dropping 8–10 years of OS support. The Fairphone 5 is not for sale in the US. Europeans, though, can get the device for 699 euros (~$753), with preorders starting today and a ship date of September 14. For the basic specs, we have a mid-range loadout, starting with a 6.46-inch, 90 Hz, 2770×1224 OLED display. There’s 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, a side fingerprint reader, and a microSD slot. For rear cameras, it offers a 50 MP Sony IMX800, an anonymous 50 MP wide-angle sensor, and a time-of-flight sensor. The front cam is a 50 MP Samsung JN1. Such a support cycle should be legally mandated for every OEM.

Casio CALEID XM-700 Mobile Navigator (1997)

At some point last year (shortly before I began writing this blog post!) I found reference to a hanafuda video game created in 1998 for the Casio CALEID XM-700 Mobile Navigator on a random old, Japanese website. It turns out this device is a long-forgotten handheld computer that was released in 1997, only in Japan. The device is what you might refer to as a PIM or PDA, roughly equivalent to Apple Newton or Palm Pilot, particularly as it featured handwriting recognition. Not what we would consider powerful in this day and age, but good at running database lookups and any undemanding software written specifically for it. The CPU was Intel 8086 compatible, like other period CASIO handheld personal computers, and an SDK was available. Cost of the device was 47800JPY, which was around 240GBP or 400USD at the time. The game file came with a reference bitmap showing hanafuda scoring, which was just the type of guarantee and encouragement I needed to start hunting. Nothing gets my blood flowing like a handheld device or PDA I’ve never heard of (my wife is okay with this).

LG launches webOS tablet

This headline is entirely correct and I will stand by it. This is one of those products that I truly cannot wait to experience and review firsthand: LG is bringing the quirky, one-of-a-kind StanbyME Go to the United States later this month for $999.99. If you missed its international launch, which flew under the radar for many, let me catch you up: the StanbyME Go is a 27-inch 1080p LCD TV housed in a large suitcase that also contains a built-in battery and 20-watt speakers. The idea is that this thing can be a portable entertainment solution whether you’re at a picnic, on a family vacation, or just hanging out on the back patio. Maybe you’ll bring it tailgating with all your pals during football season. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and the StanbyME Go’s three-hour battery life. This thing runs webOS and does tons of tablet things. This is a webOS tablet.

Review: Beepy, a palm-sized Linux hacking playground

Which is precisely how it feels using using the Beepy from SQFMI. The handheld device, which was formerly known as the Beepberry before its creators received an all-to-predicable formal complaint, is unabashedly designed for Linux nerds. Over the last couple of weeks playing with this first-run hardware, I’ve been compiling kernel drivers, writing custom scripts, and trying (though not always successfully) to get new software installed on it. If you’re into hacking around on Linux, it’s an absolute blast. There’s a good chance that you already know if the Beepy is for you or not, but if you’re still on the fence, hopefully this in-depth look at the hardware and current state of the overall project can help you decide before SQFMI officially starts taking new orders for the $79 gadget. This isn’t for me, but it surely is one hell of a cool device. The pricing is low enough I might still nab one, though, as it’s almost in impulse buy territory.