Apple’s iPhone made a big deal of its positional awareness and it the implications the embedded sensor had for the interface. You rotate the phone and then in SOME applications you can use the phone in the landscape orientation.
Nobody is taking note of the fact that in order to be seen as a native application in the S60 version 3 platform, an application is recommended to support both of the orientations, portrait and landscape.
If you fast forward a little, you can see that Nokia starting implementing accelerometers in their phones before the outside world knew the complete details of the iPhone. From that point onwards, the accelerometer had been under utilized and assigned only one unimportant task. Orienting photos taken from the camera so that they are shown right way up. Putting a technology with so much potential on a sort of backburner was, in my opinion either a mistake or a planned risk by Nokia. Maybe they didn’t know how the public would react to such a radical change in the interface and decided to play it safe.
But the saving grace of this whole ordeal was that the sensor is accessible to developers. It was available in the API (Application Programming Interface). An API is how the functionality of something is exposed and how it communicates with external components. Therefore developers can ‘talk’ to the sensor and do various things.
The applications that are using this new sensor are just the tip of iceberg of what’s possible. There is no doubt that there are interesting times ahead. There’s no telling what concoction a brilliant developer will come up with using the GPS, accelerometer, the light sensor and various other doodads.
The first third party application that I knew of is RotateMe. The goal of RotateMe is simple and the usage even simpler. RotateMe uses the input from the sensor to chine the screen orientation so that it’s the right way up. To see how it works just install it, run it and tilt your compatible device.
The interface is OK, nothing special and doesn’t hinder the user in any way which is a good thing. The settings available are also quite detailed, you can set how much need to tilt the device in order to trigger the change in orientation and how long do you need to hold it in that position before the aforementioned orientation change is invoked. You can even set the amount of idle time after which the sensor will not function unless you somehow interact with the phone. Plus there are the options to make it a hidden application (doesn’t show up in the task manager) and a system app (can not be shut down by the operating system in case of low memory).
It works pretty much as advertized, tilt the phone and in a moment or two, the orientation has changed. It is a very handy application to have and allows users to exploit the full potential of the Gallery and Video center applications by seamlessly switching orientations as required. In the gallery most of the photographs don’t fill the whole of the screen but one tilt and the whole screen is put to good use. Ditto for Video center. I even use it when browsing through my messages as the landscape mode shows a few characters more (but unfortunately doesn’t fill up the whole of area available)
But I keep it disabled most of the time and use the pen key+camera shutter button combination to activate it again because of a few minor hitches:
1) Tilt the device a lot of times and the menu application icon appears! It happens when you do it in an intensive applications like while playing a big video. Switch the orientation a couple of times and open your menu. Uh Oh! The small status bar like header is gone and is replaced by a normal thick ugly application-like header with a big useless menu icon like in the early s60 (series 60 at the time) phones by Nokia. This has to be fixed but I doubt it can be, it once even happened to me before RotateMe even existed, don’t remember what I did but it did happen to me once. My guess is that it’s a bug in the s60 platform that is aggravated somehow by RotateMe.
2) Unlike in the N82 tilting the phone at the home screen (the desktop) triggers an orientation switch. It infuriates me when I’m putting the phone down after closing the slider (N95 Classic) and before the lock kicks in, the screen becomes landscape and then the phone quickly locks itself before I can do anything. ARGH!
To Samir’s credit it does do a lot of things right though, the default settings are very usable although I tend to be make it more sensitive to angle changes and make it wait more before swapping so that I can reduce the number of times it thinks I want the screen to rotate but I certainly don’t.