Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Smartphones and Application Memory

It seems weird that most smartphone OS writers limit the "Application memory" to be a very small fraction of the total storage in the phone (in some cases this is also a hardware limitation). For example in the Blackberry Storm which I owned a while ago, the application memory is limited to a mere 128MB while the total inbuilt storage on the phone is 1GB and the media card slot allows expansion up to 16GB.

For some background, application memory in the context of smartphones is the term normally used to refer to the part of persistent storage on the phone where (and only where) the actual application binaries can reside and can be run from. Most phones also share this memory for storing data such as call logs, SMS, emails, calendar and tasks data, etc. It is very important for this memory to be large enough not only to accommodate more applications on the phone but also to manage a larger history of emails, tasks, calendar items, and phone call logs. This also applies to application-specific data, as most smartphone applications today use the application-memory to store their data (for example, a notebook application stores its notes in the application memory).

The demarcation of the portion of memory as "application memory" should have been a hardware constraint in the early days where persistent storage costs, speeds, and power consumption were some of the biggest constraints while designing smartphones. The hardware used for application memory will have to be fast and power efficient as it is constantly used by running applications, and for basic functionalities such as calls logs and emails. Solid-state flash storage has been used for this for quite a while.

However, today flash costs have come down and storage capacity has increased a lot. A 32GB flash card is about $50 today. Yet, the constraints on application memory still exist. For example, the Blacberry Storm 2 smartphone released just months ago just has 256MB of application memory. I guess this has now mostly become a software limitation while all it takes is to bite the bullet and update the software to manage more space.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Using Keyboard Shortcuts in GMail

I've found the custom keyboard shortcuts lab in GMail pretty good at making the UI experience (geek?) friendly and comes closer to the simple interface of the good old Unix text-based email clients such as pine (which I loved :-), mutt etc.

Enable the following two labs in GMail:
- Custom keyboard shortcuts
- Go to label

Under settings, configure shortcuts similar to the ones in pine. A carefully chosen set of shortcuts will eliminate the need for using the mouse in your GMail experience for the most part.