Ringtoned 0.2.1

The Fremantle daemon that decodes ringtones seems to have a bug that, in some cases, makes it produce wave files with an invalid size in them. These files cannot be played by libcanberra, so it meant that some ringtones couldn’t be played when you receive a phone call. I just released ringtoned 0.2.1 with a work around for the bug, please let me know if this version works better for you.

Anyway, I got a new component in the Meamo Bugzilla for ringtoned, so please report bugs there.

Update 2: I released ringtoned 0.2.2 that just adds some more debugging info to make my life easier.

Faster custom ringtones

Several people complained that my custom ringtones application is too slow when receiving calls, so I started analysing what ringtoned does when a new call is received. The three main operations in this case are creating the object that represents a call after retrieving all the needed information (caller ID, etc.) from Telepathy, looking up the contact that matches the caller and playing the ringtone.
The Telepathy bit just needed to be slightly smarter, but was already quite fast. The contact look up was already very fast, unless you have so many contacts to make your address book unusable.
The code that needed more optimisation was the one that plays ringtones. It turned out that using GStreamer with playbin2 (the element able to detect and play all the supported file types) is not fast enough for this use case. I tried different approaches and in the end I decided to always use uncompressed wave files and stream them directly to PulseAudio.[1]
Note that GStreamer is not the best solution just in this very specific case, for all the other use cases GStreamer is still the best solution.

After these changes I was really expecting to get very good performances, but it was still quite slow. My analysis was showing that, since when ringtoned gets notified from Telepathy of the existence of a new call to when it starts streaming to PulseAudio, less than 0.1 seconds passes, so why was it still slow?
At this point I tried using bustle to generate graphs of the D-Bus activity when a call is received. The graphs showed that the delay was not ringtoned’s fault, but a bug in Maemo causing a freeze that made the dispatching of new calls about 4 seconds slower when ringtoned was running. Somebody is now working on the bug and trying to figure out why it’s happening, in the meantime I’m working around it watching for new calls in a different way.[2]

Ringtoned and the related packages are available in Maemo extras-devel under the name “Custom ringtones for your contacts”. If you don’t want to add the extras-devel repository (as it contains a lot of unstable software, you have been warned!), you can download ringtoned directly from my personal repository:

Install per-contact-ringtones
Install from my personal repository
(follow the link on the N900 browser)

The only known big problem left is that ringtoned breaks vibration, I will fix it in the next days/week.

Update: It looks like MyContacts is incompatible with ringtoned, so you cannot use these two programs together.

[1] The file is uncompressed in background, so you can still use any type of file for ringtones. Just notice that, when you update from a previous version, the first time you receive a call from a contact that already had a custom ringtone you will get the default ringtone and not the custom one as previous versions were not generating the uncompressed file.
[2] For people interested in Telepathy: the freeze happens if there is an observer running, even if at that point the dispatching to observers didn’t start yet! The (ugly, but effective) solution was to just listens to the NewChannels signal directly. When the Maemo bug will be fixed I will revert my code to use an observer.

Disappearing plugins

If you have any application that adds buttons to the address book (like the contacts merger), you could have noticed that the buttons recently disappeared. This happened because of a bug in Monorail, the IM file transfer application.
Alban already fixed this bug and uploaded a new version to extras-devel. This new version also fixes other bugs, including a crash caused by the sharing plugin in Conboy.

Update: Note that you need to reboot or kill osso-addressbook after updating monorail to see the plugins again.

Custom ringtones for your contacts

Yesterday I finished implementing the first release of a new program (ringtoned, i.e. ringtone daemon, i.e. I don’t have any imagination for program names) that allows setting a custom ringtone for specific contacts. Ringtoned tries to integrate nicely with the system:

  • You can select the default ringtone in Settings → Profiles as usual
  • To set a custom ringtone you go to the Contacts application, select the contact and press the new “Set custom ringtone” button in the menu
  • The dialog to set custom ringtones tries to be a perfect copy of the dialog to set the global ringtone
  • It works both for normal phone calls and GTalk/SIP/Skype calls, thanks to Telepathy
  • The ringtone is played only when the normal one would be played and at the same volume, thanks to some PulseAudio magic

Ringtoned also tries not to break your phone, if for any reasons it crashes the default behaviour should be restored. Nevertheless, this is just version 0.1, so it could be full of bugs and could make you miss phone calls. You have been warned! Moreover, replacing the default ringtone components with something more complex could make the ringtone start slightly later in case of heavy load, see my previous blog post. You have been warned again!

If you still want to give it a try, ringtoned is now in Maemo extras-devel under the name “Custom ringtones for your contacts”. If you don’t want to add the extras-devel repository (as it contains a lot of unstable software), you can download ringtoned directly from my personal repository:

Install per-contact-ringtones
Install from my personal repository
(follow the link on the N900 browser)

If you are interested in the source code, it’s in Collabora’s git repositories.

The are two major features that are missing at the moment: the ability to set a custom ringtone for anonymous phone calls and for calls from an unknown number, and the ability to set ringtones for groups and not only for single contacts. The former feature should be easy and it mainly just requires some UI, so it will be hopefully implemented shortly.
Groups are more difficult to implement because they are not supported at all by the Maemo address book; I would first have to implement support for groups and then add ringtones for the groups. I hope to be able to find time for this, but I cannot guarantee anything.

In a future post I will explain the architecture of ringtoned and how to extend it: the code that chooses the custom ringtone is actually just a small plugin of the ringtone daemon and it’s possible to write other similar plugins for different needs.

How hard can it be? (Or why you don’t have custom per contact ringtones on Maemo)

Often in blogs, forums or IRC you can find people complaining of missing features in some programs (and some of them are very rude). While they can be right sometimes, other times they just make me angry because they don’t know how difficult writing software can be, and they don’t understand the difference between a semi-working prototype and a proper stable application written by professional developers, designed by professional UI designers and tested by professional testers.

Implementing some features can actually be quite difficult and it could be better to skip those from your product and focus on other things; on the N900 one of these missing features is the ability to set customised ringtones for specific contacts.
Several people wondered how hard it can be, after all a lot of old phones do it. What they don’t consider is that, in many ways, the N900 is not a traditional phone and is more similar to a small computer. On the other hand, the N900 still needs to be reliable to be certified as a phone; for ringtones this means that the ringtone should be played as soon as the phone call is received, or the user could miss it.
Now suppose your N900 is under heavy load due to multitasking (real multitasking, like on a normal computer) and you receive a phone call from a friend; being a close friend that often calls you, you have an MP3 ringtone set just for him. The phone has to look up for the contact corresponding to the phone number, load the file from the (slow) memory card, load the libraries for playing the ringtone, uncompress the file, and finally play it. All of this on a phone under heavy load with most programs swapped out of memory!
To workaround this problem the N900 seems to do some tricks: the ringtone is uncompressed into a (big) WAV file and saved on the faster (but small) internal memory, and the component playing the ringtone is memlocked (i.e. never removed from memory). Of course, you cannot do this for all the possible ringtones or the already small disk space would be used immediately. Choosing not to uncompress the files, on the other hand, would mean keeping loaded in memory all the possible codecs.

Does this mean that it’s impossible to have a different ringtone for a specific contact on Maemo? No, it just means that if you want it you have to be ready to accept that the ringtone could start playing a couple of seconds later in some uncommon heavy load conditions. When you are ready to do that you just have to wait a couple of days, so that I can polish and publish the program I wrote to have custom ringtones :D

In other news, I’m going to GUADEC for the whole week: see you there!

I'm going to GUADEC

Handling phone numbers

I’m often asked questions about the handling and parsing of phone numbers, so I’m going to explain how we do it on Maemo 5. I hope this can be useful also for developers of other applications.

There is no unique standardised way to write phone numbers; in the UK the phone number of the Buckingham Palace Visitor Office can be written as 02073212233, +44 (0)20 7321 2233, 0044 207 321 2233, etc. If you omit the international prefix +44, the number 02073212233 could be used by somebody else in another country, for instance to me it looks like a phone number for somebody living in Milan.

When storing a phone number you should keep it as you got it, including spaces, parenthesis, etc.
When you want to use the number you should drop all the useless characters, but keep the extensions numbers. For instance 44-555-P1 would become 44555P1, which means: call the Vodafone UK balance information number 44555, pause for some seconds waiting for the recorded voice to start speaking, and send a 1 (i.e. ask for a text message with the remaining minutes for this month).

When comparing phone numbers to see if they belong to the same contact you also want to strip all the extra digits sent after a pause as those are not really part of the phone number. At this point you still have to somehow handle the craziness of international and local prefixes, for instance all these numbers could be a valid way to call the same person in San Marino: 0549 123 456, +378 0549 123 456, +39 0549 123 456, 0039 0549 123 456, 011 39 0549 123 456.
How do phones handle this? Just by comparing the last 7 digits of the phone number, that is the minimum length used somewhere for phone numbers.
This of course leaves a chance of false matches, but as you can see there is no real generic solution for this.

Here’s some code to show how to handle phone numbers. I used Python as a sort of pseudo-language, so I preferred readability for non-Python developers over good pythonic code.

extension_chars = ('p', 'P', 'w', 'W', 'x', 'X')


def normalize_phone_number(number):
    common_delimiters = (',', '.', '(', ')', '-', ' ',
                         't', '/')
    valid_digits = ('#', '*', '0', '1', '2', '3', '4',
                    '5', '6', '7', '8', '9')

    normalized = ''

    for digit in number:
        if digit in extension_chars:
            # Keep the extension characters P, W and X,
            # but be sure they are upper case.
            digit = digit.upper()
        elif digit == '+':
            # "+" is valid only at the beginning of phone
            # numbers or after the number suppression
            # prefix. (No idea why we support only this
            # GSM code, but not the VSC ones.)
            if normalized not in ('', '*31#', '#31#'):
                print 'Wrong "+" in "%s"' % number
                # Skip this "+".
                continue
        elif digit in common_delimiters:
            # Skip this delimiter.
            continue
        elif digit in valid_digits:
            # Ok, let's keep it.
            pass
        else:
            # What is this? It doesn't seem valid but we
            # just keep it
            print 'Unknown character "%s" in "%s"' % 
                    (digit, number)

        normalized += digit

    return normalized


def remove_extension_chars(number):
    clean = ''

    for digit in number:
        if digit in extension_chars:
            # Extension character, drop this character and
            # the rest of the string.
            break

        clean += digit

    return clean


def phone_numbers_equal(number1, number2):
    number1 = normalize_phone_number(number1)
    number1 = remove_extension_chars(number1)

    number2 = normalize_phone_number(number2)
    number2 = remove_extension_chars(number2)

    # Compare only the last 7 digits.
    # If one of the numbers is shorter than 7 digits it's
    # important that the comparison is done on the full
    # length of the numbers and not only on the last tiny
    # bits of the 2 numbers.
    return number1[-7:] == number2[-7:]

Python code for handling phone numbers
(Download the full code with tests)

If you are handling phone numbers on Maemo 5, there are already some useful functions to use: e_​normalize_​phone_​number, osso_​abook_​phone_​numbers_​equal, osso_​abook_​contact_​matches_​phone_​number and osso_​abook_​query_​phone_​number.