Mobile Archive

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 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.

Google’s Google Maps app for Palm OS from 2008 still works today

I’ve been going through my collection of PDAs over the last few weeks for, among other OSNews things, my Pixelfed account, and while playing around with various old applications, I came across the Google Maps application for Palm OS. As it turns out – this official Google application, last updated in 2008, still fully and completely works today, in 2023! I shot a quick video using the application, and uploaded it to the new (and not fully set-up yet, so forgive the lack of avatars, descriptions, banner images, and so on – it’s late in my time zone) OSNews PeerTube account, embedded below for your convenience. Navigation still works. You can pan around in both map and satellite view. And, as the video shows, you can zoom in quite far and get some incredible detail on that old Palm TX display (you can zoom in further). That’s some impressive API backwards compatibility.

‘No way out’: how video games use tricks from gambling to attract big spenders

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the techniques described in Let’s Go Whaling bear comparison to some of those that bookmakers and casinos have long deployed, capitalising on deep understanding of psychology. The big difference, of course, is that the gamer can never win money, only prestige or progress in a virtual game. The very uncomfortable truth for Apple and Google: much – 70-75% – of App Store and Play Store revenue comes from exploitative casino games, mostly expertly designed to target the most vulnerable among us, like gambling addicts, children, people with mental issues like depression, and so on. It’s seedy, disgusting, predatory, and should be deeply, deeply illegal. Left or right, can’t we all agree we should ban these practices?

Qualcomm wants to replace eSIMs with iSIMs, has the first certified SoC

Here’s an interesting bit of news out of Mobile World Congress: Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 has been certified as the “world’s first commercially deployable iSIM (Integrated SIM)”. What the heck is an iSIM? Didn’t we just go through a SIM card transition with eSIM? We did, but iSIM is better than eSIM. We’ll explain, but the short answer is that iSIM is the next step in the continual march to reduce the size of SIM cards. eSIMs are still a chip taking up space on your motherboard, and that’s not ideal if you want to squeeze every square millimeter of space out of a phone. The next shrinking step is iSIM—an Integrated Subscriber Identity Module. Rather than a chip on the motherboard, iSIMs are integrated directly onto the SoC. SoC (system on a chip) integration is the technology that makes smartphones possible. Instead of a thousand little chips for things like the CPU, GPU, RAM, modem, and a bunch of other things, everything gets packed into one single do-everything piece of silicon. Individual chips require more space and power thanks to having to make motherboard traces to connect everything and having to deal with chip packages. I’m still using an old-fashioned traditional SIM card, and while I’m sure going with eSIM and now iSIM is great from a simplification and power usage point of view, I feel like they’re both also about taking control away from the user and shifting it towards the carrier. It was a long fight to get rid of locked phones (mostly), but with eSIM/iSIM it seems locking devices down in more fine-grained ways only becomes easier. I might be overreacting, but little red flags go up when I read about eSIM and now iSIM.

Magic Cap, from the Magic Link to the DataRover and the stuff in-between

Welcome to Magic Cap, the oddest yet somehow most endearing interface a PDA — and, briefly, Windows 95 — ever had. Unlike the Palm OS where I bought my first device brand new, I was a late convert to Magic Cap, picking up this wacky device called a DataRover in 2004 just to play with. It wasn’t exactly pocket-sized, but it was still quite portable, and the whimsical audio feedback and immediately accessible interface drew me in. I found some games and an Ethernet driver and the browser and enjoyed using it as a handheld in my old apartment. Despite my love for PDAs and my pretty large collection of devices covering most PDA platforms, I’ve never actually owned or used a Magic Cap device. I wonder if it’s time to address that shortcoming.

The Sidecar for Psion – A PPP modem and Linux terminal for RS232 devices

Creating the PiRS232 and playing with the Pi over serial has been leading towards an idea – I wanted to create a small, battery powered device, a sidecar that I could carry with my Psion and use as portable Linux terminal. I also managed to turn it into an Internet gateway, leading to some interesting experiences. The idea was straightforward: take a Pi Zero, add an RS232 board that already handles the null modem side, add a Lipo battery, power management and charging, and print a case for it. It’s taken a few months from initial idea to final design, but I’m happy the result, it’s usable and practical, and you can build one too. This is incredibly cool.

Anatomy of a PumpkinOS app

We have seen how PumpkinOS runs a classic 68K application. First, code.0 and data.0 resources from the PRC are loaded and decoded. Then code.1 is loaded and the 68K emulator starts running it. Native applications, that is, applications compiled from source to the target architecture of PumpkinOS (x86 or ARM), are still stored in PRC files, having access to all PalmOS resources like forms, bitmaps, alerts, etc. In fact, the same resource compiler (pilrc) used to generate the binary resources for PalmOS is used in PumpkinOS. The difference lies in how code and data are stored and processed. PumpkinOS’ developer also sent out a tweet with a video of a new shell – which looks quite cool.