The scent of freshly cut code

I just had to be there. My friend was starting out anew. A fresh idea, a start up – I was hoping it was going to be good. I was not disappointed.

I could smell it straight away when I en- tered the small office – the fresh and raw scent of newly cut code. Two men sat in front of their computers. One of them smiled at me.
Jon Hauksson and I had hacked code, back to back, against a fast moving dead- line in a distant project. He had given up his daytime job as a consultant at a respectable firm. Now, he was shoulder deep into his new venture, bringing au- dio books to the mass market of mobile phones.

Jon and Andreas in a classical image – happy men with computers.

What had he learned? What is it like to develop a business to consumer app running on all those different Java mo- biles? A lunch later we were heading back into his office at Ideon – an incu- bator for new companies. Mobiles were strewn across their tables. Blank walls. Shelves were more or less empty. It all breathed start up and focus – get that app out trough the door!
We sat down and Jon pulled an SQL- statement to calculate the last 24 hours of commerce.
– Yeah, rising, he said and smiled.

It has been said that developing a Java ME solution for all those different mo- biles is difficult and time consuming. Is it that hard?
Yes… but it has improved, especially for Nokia and Sony Ericsson. But some other brands can be trickier. We usually code for the Sony Ericsson emulator and then bring the code over to the Nokia one. Usually there aren’t any problems here. From here on we test the other brands. If we hit a problem we either try to solve it or we have to program our way around it. It used to be more difficult. The situation has improved in the last year. Especially Sony Ericsson is working hard to make it better.

Does this mean you have different sets of your code?
We have four variants of the result- ing jar/jad file and that is enough for us. Fortunately NetBeans has pre-process- ing that makes life easier and allows us to only work with one code base.

Without any time to think, what are the top three hard to learn lessons that you can you share with us?
1) Testing, testing, testing is extremely important. Many unforeseen things can happen in areas like operator handling, memory management, the mobile network and different quality issues – a lot can happen and usually does.

Bokilur’s application playing a book.

2) The Java settings are often not in- stalled correctly on the terminal from start. The user can download the set- tings for Java from the operator but sometimes these settings are not cor- rect. We’ve tried to add a guide that pops up when this happens but fiddling at this low level is not a pleasant experience for the customer. Some call our support number and we try to help them, but it is still a problem.
3) Streaming solution
The network, GPRS or 3G, has gaps and this affects our application. We’ve had to develop a streaming solution with a five-minute buffer so that you can listen to our books while driving. We’ve even tried it on trains, on the X2000 for instance, which reportedly has its share of problems when it comes to mobile network connections. But to our relief it worked there as well.

Would you do use Java again?
For sure, it is easy to work with and even though it has problems, it is getting better.
Although, we’ve chosen to imple- ment a number of our own frameworks even though there might be a good open source solution available. It is im- portant to us to keep our code size to a minimum and we usually don’t want the whole nine yards.

Any examples of when you’ve had to roll your own solution?
Well, we implemented a GUI frame- work a bit like J2ME Polish. This way we can target our application’s needs and keep control. We’ve also developed an RMI like protocol to interact with the servers. There are, however, a lot of open source solutions to try out.
We also have a simple debug solu- tion where the phone sends back debug information to the server so it can be logged. Very handy. And of course simple stuff like text han- dling.

Would you do anything differently now when you look back? How long has it been anyway?
One and a half year. Ha-ha, it feels a lot more! We are trying to improve the user friendliness of the entire browsing and purchasing process in the applica- tion. That’s user interaction, but I can’t think of anything technical. Keeping the program easy and intuitive is important to us.

Any practical hints on starting a prod- uct company in the mobile space?
Get the operators as partners. For a data rich service like ours, you need to get a deal without traffic charges. Other- wise it will be hard to develop a pricing model that is attractive to your targeted customers. Besides, the operators have a strong interest to bring in attractive services into their portals. They need more than just games and ring tones.
Oh, and one more thing, keep track of the top selling mobile phone list. That way you know which models to target during testing.

What about the future?
Our business idea is to be the best mobile literary service both here and abroad. You can expect us to go after the Nordic countries.

Has the “market” for new companies changed?
Yes. During the last year more of my former colleagues have started compa- nies of their own! It’s even come to the point where venture capital has a prob- lem finding something to invest in…

During our interview Bokilur’s other programmer, Andreas Melvanius, kicks in.
– We have a problem.
It turns out that a single Nokia phone is thrown into silence. A quick round of questions and they agree on some new tests.
After a while Jon asks whether I’d like a tour of the ”pavilion”. Walking in the corridors, we find a new com- pany behind every door. I cannot help but being impressed, such diversity. We stumble upon solutions for detecting schizophrenia, simulation of combus- tion engines, cameras that can see in fog and darkness and so on. I leave the barracks feeling elated – I too want to start up my own company.

PS. Curious about the Bokilur applica- tion? Check out http://www.bokilur.se.
PPS. Bokilur later changed their name to StoryTel.com
Originally published in JayView.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: