App Centric Old Fashioned?

So the in thing these days is for tech pundits to declare that an app centric ecosystem is old fashioned, and that what people really want is a people centric ecosystem; witness Facebook Home, and Windows Phone 8 before it.

That's all well and good, but do app developers want their brand to be muffled into another system? I think most developers like having their icon on the home screen, like being able to design their app as they see fit, and wouldn't be happy if the operating system simply surfaced their content as part of a people centric approach.

Ecosystems are nothing without the support of developers and big brand apps. Everyone wants their cut of the 'mind share' pie.

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Size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts

Apple seems to be getting a lot of bad press recently because of their refusal to release a larger iPhone. That and the fact that iOS is apparently getting 'stale' because hasn't changed much since its release in 2007.
I completely disagree with this criticisms – and here's why: Firstly, when it comes to a phone, I don't believe bigger is better. What matters to me is the portability of the device, coupled with software which is of a high standard and turns this 'black mirror' into something useful. If anything, quality and resolution of the screen matters far more than the dimensions.
When people start talking up screen sizes, it reminds me of the TV market, where people routinely buy the biggest screen they can get for their money, even if it means the screen will disproportionately intrude into their living room. There hasn't been much innovation in TVs in the past 6 years, we've seen half-hearded attempts at 'app' ecosystems, but ultimately people just want to sit passively and watch stuff, not mess about with apps. Since the iPhone was released in 2007, introducing multitouch, inertia scrolling and a touch screen that didn't need a stylus, we haven't seen any other big changes in paradigm. The iPhone 4 got a super high resolution screen that made reading text all the more pleasurable. Apart from that, in terms of hardware at least, we've gotten thinner, lighter and faster and that's all.
With phones, the quality of the apps and ease of use is what makes the difference – not the size of the thing. Price also plays a part – a big part. Having used Android for the past 18 months (HTC Desire S, and a Nexus 7) I can't help but be drawn back to iOS, purely because th software is so much better.
 

 

5 Must have mobile apps for Android

I thought I’d share with you some of the apps I use most often on my phone (a HTC desire S). Here are a few links to some “must have” apps (non-games).

Audible

I enjoy listening to Audiobooks while at the gym or driving, and this app makes it so easy. You can download any books you’ve purchased from Audible and the 30s rewind button and sleep timer are excellent additions. The ability to bookmark is also nice. Being owned by Amazon, I’m surprised your position and bookmarks are not backed up to the cloud (as they are when reading a book using the Kindle app) – so this means when I launch the app on my iPad I’m not in sync. Great app and great service.

Call Filter

I don’t like answering calls from anonymous callers – it’s usually someone trying to sell me something I don’t want. This handy little app silently sends anonymous incoming calls to voicemail, meaning anyone who does actually want to contact you can still leave a message for you to call back.

Dropbox

A while back I blogged about a rather convoluted way to mimic the excellent Photo Stream feature found on iOS on Android. That just got much easier thanks to the latest update to Dropbox which can now automatically synchronise photos and videos to your Dropbox account. No more plugging in your USB cable to download all your photos, and if you loose/wipe your phone your precious memories are safe.

IM+ Pro

A great chat application that lets me sign into MSN Messenger, Google Talk and Facebook all at once. The app cleverly maintains your sessions on their servers, and uses a highly efficient Push connection to keep you connected – meaning you can be signed into all your accounts and your battery won’t even notice. (Also well worth getting for iPad)

Dogcatcher

I love podcasts, and Dogcatcher is a great player for Android. I wouldn’t say it has the nicest User Experience I’ve ever seen, but functionality it has everything I could ask for from a mobile podcast player – including automatic downloading of new episodes (you can specify WiFi or Plugged in only). iPhone users should checkout Podcaster which provides similar functionality.

 

Hope you find this useful, let me know if you have any favourites.

Goodbye iPhone, Hello HTC Desire S

So it’s nearly 2 years since I got my iPhone 3GS, and I decided I wanted to change. Not because the old 3GS was feeling old – it still felt snappy and the battery lasted 2 days. What made me change was those ever-so-annoying “if you don’t have an iPhone” adverts. The thought of being associated with a brand that came across as self-obsessed and narcissistic had slowly been eating away at me, and when I read this story my decision was made.

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Compared to iOS, Android has a very “home brewed” feeling to it. The interface is much more complex and far less intuitive. On the flip side however, that means everything is a lot more configurable. In this respect, Android reminds me of Windows Mobile and Symbian more so than it does iOS, I can schedule my work email to only push new items during work hours for example – something I missed from my Nokia, that the iPhone did not offer. The home screen is far superior to that of the iPhone, but it falls down on simple things: Renaming a folder was surprisingly difficult to work out, it turned out I needed to click and hold on the folder name in the folder’s popup. Dragging widgets is awkward as you can’t seem to have more than one floating at once, so rearranging them when the screen is full is impossible.

Unlocked Doors

While the software does have a “rough and ready” feel to it, this has benefits as there is virtually no vendor lock-in. I managed to stream music from my DLNA NAS box quite easily. Apple will let you do this, but only within their ecosystem. There is free satnav (although the phone doesn’t come with a carkit), voice input and a whole host of good quality apps available from the app store. One really useful feature is HTC Sense Online, which lets you locate your phone, make it ring, and lock it remotely – great when you think you may have lost it.

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Battery Life

I am disappointed with the battery life. My iPhone (when new) would be at about 70% at 5:30pm when I left work, with average use. The Desire S was at about 40%. It is doing a lot more however, and just proves how little battery technology has improved in the last few years.

Part 2 of review to come soon.

PhoneGap: The JavaScript files are different!

I have recently been developing with PhoneGap, the cross platform development kit for mobile devices (essentially a browser window that lets you run HTML 5 web sites as an App)

I started off developing for iPhone and Android, using the packages provided by their download to get up and running. Great stuff. You write an app using HTML 5, JavaScript and CSS3 and then deploy to each device. The PhoneGap package contains a directory for each platform, with a number of files – the important one being phonegap.0.9.4.js.

So I developed the app on my Windows PC, copying the files across to my trusty Mac to deploy to iPhone. There are some subtle differences in the way Safari and Chrome render, so it was important to test across both devices. I kept coming across intermittent problems on the iPhone however, with the deviceready event not firing. What was going on?

phonegap.0.9.4.js

Due to the negligible amount of documentation available on PhoneGap’s site (Hey – I am used to having MSDN at my disposal!) I found myself digging through the sourcecode to work out how on earth I could do things. I noticed a lot of Android specific code, but no iPhone code. How odd. I then checked in my BlackBerry project folder and noticed the file was much bigger.

Yes, folks – the various phonegap.0.9.4.js files – despite having the same filename are totally different for each OS implementation. Not once in the many hours spent reading PhoneGap’s web site did I see anything that told me that. Turned out my iPhone problems were because I was deploying an Android version of PhoneGap to the iPhone. Having the same filename is confusing and they seem destined to get used in place of one and other. I suspect many others will have tried to deploy the wrong file to the wrong device.

I would really like to see the folks at PhoneGap have a more sensible naming convention. e.g.  phonegap_android.0.9.4.js? It would be apparent straight away the it was specific to that OS, and avoid what amounts to DLL hell issues for mobile apps.

Of course a file is a file, and I can rename it to whatever I like (and probably will) – but it’s nice not to have to (who renames jQuery?) and would certainly make learning the platform easier.