BlogPlanet Rules: J2ME Blogging MIDlet for 3650s


BlogPlanet is a new Java-based moblogging app that came out a week or so ago... What a kick ass little MIDlet! Jim sent this over to me yesterday and I just had a chance to play with it right now and it's just a well-done, clean app. Here's the features from their site:

  • Create, edit and delete posts
  • A user dictionary which lets you add shortcuts for frequently used words and phrases
  • Take pictures with the built-in camera
  • Easily include the pictures in your posts, without having to enter HTML code
  • Supports the BloggerAPI and MetaWeblogAPI for compatibility with a vast number of blog sites
  • English, German and Spanish language support

Here's my impressions. First, it's got a great logo (I really like it) which is a nice start to the app. (Compare this to the Doris web browser. Bozos.) Then you go right into the menu which is clean and has all the features you want in a moblogging app. Because it has several defaults entered already, you don't need to do any setup to start playing with the application. That's great.

The first option in the main menu is New Post, which puts you into a text editor. The J2ME standard text editor is very basic, so to get around this, BlogPlanet has added menu items for line breaks, bold tags, italic tags and the option to select pre-written text from an editable Dictionary of entries. This is REALLY well done. It's using the standard J2ME widgets, but in the most user-friendly and usable way possible. You can then save the post or save and send it immediately. Perfect for posting the quick thought immediately or being able to blog offline to send when you have a connection or simply start a post and continue the thought later.

The next option on the main menu after Saved Posts is the Camera option. This is a J2ME app, but the 3650 supports Sun's Media API (as well as the Messaging API) so it allows you to turn on the camera and save the pic. This is unique among camera phones right now and is just another reason that the 3650 is so far ahead of every other device out there. The data that the picture saves, however, is NOT saved outside the J2ME sandbox, so you can't access the phone's photo album, for example, but for snapping shots for moblogging, it works. Again, it's done well, where you can take several shots, which are all time stamped and viewable afterwards from a menu which you can then decide to delete or post to the server.

The final options are the Dictionary where you can edit and save pre-written pieces of text and the settings, where you have a variety of options including the size of the picture top save/post (from 160x120 to 640x480), the type of image (JPG or PNG), the server info (name, password, xml-rpc endpoint, etc.) and the expiration dates for local data.

You can see the results on this Demo Moveable Type Blog which is the one that's entered in the defaults of the phone. Very cool.

The app, however, is still in beta and definitely has some problems. First, for the most part it's a one-way app. You can create posts, but not edit posts that you may have written before - though you CAN delete posts that you've written from your phone, but I assume only if you haven't deleted the "saved" post from your phone. I assume this because there doesn't seem to be any way to "download" posts or post IDs from your web server, so if you delete the locally saved post, there'll be no way to delete it from the server. The other J2ME Blogging client I've seen, Kablog (which has since disappeared from the earth) was a much fuller MT client in this respect. But all this may be coming from BlogPlanet, I'm not sure, I'd have to assume so.

Secondly, posting the image is a 2 step process where it should really be just a one step. You have to take, save and post a picture to the server first so you receive a URL for the image, then you can choose the image from within the text editor and it'll insert the proper img tag and src URL. This is a bit odd... and again, if you delete the image from your local cache, you'll have no way of getting to the image. This should all be in one step. I should be able to take a picture, annotate it (now or later) and post it all in one step. This is how I see most people moblogging as images will be much better than text - and much simpler for those people still getting used to the 3650s keypad (like yours truly). Thirdly, there's no integrated Help - this is a shame as many people want to know what many of these options actually DO without having to go to a web page to find out.

These faults, however, are pretty simple to overcome and I'm sure that they'll be addressed soon. All in all, it's a great progression of moblogging clients and not vapor or closed off like FoneBlog (right now). It will be interesting to see what happens when someone creates a more-powerful native Blogging client. For example, Nokia does not support audio in their implementation of the Media API for J2ME. This means you can't verbally annotate your pictures or "AudioBlog" from within a MIDlet. A native client could address this.

So this is a great app which lets you see the possibilities of apps to come and also some of the limitations of J2ME. There's a lot more that can be done with J2ME actually, however it'll take jumping from the High-level widgets which this app is using (and my Jabber MIDlet I wrote) to custom lower-level graphical widgets. I've seen the games with great graphics etc. which can be created by drawing to the Graphics context directly and I'm 100% positive that this could all be used to create really compelling J2ME apps, but not without a level of effort beyond what it takes to use the included MIDlet widgets.

The next steps for apps like this? Well, it has to be developed with the realization that the market for moblogging is MASSIVE. Hundreds of millions of J2ME clients are going to be out there waiting to be used to create content like this, however, these people don't all have MT blogs. An app like this needs to be part of a complete "package" of services including weblog space, billing and more. Along these lines, TypePad has announced they'll support moblogging - this is the exact thing I'm talking about. But whether the MT guys are going to push the limits of this technology or just throw a simple WAP or email posting front end in front of their MT site is questionable. Do they *get it*?

Mobloggers will be consumers. From teens to grandparents and more - all wanting to publish their pics and voices and quick thoughts to their mobile home page. Apps like this are perfect because they download quickly and are easy to use without lag. People are going to get more and more used to downloading games to their phones, so distributing an app like this works perfectly - but has to *just work* right from the start JUST LIKE a video game. This includes sign up, set up, billing, help, etc. All from the MIDlet, all ready to go. Anything less and the regular users will balk.

Anyways, good stuff. More fuel for the fire. ;-) Back to work.


Later... after a request from Arjun, here's some screenshots:


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