Making Apps: Redux – part 4 (iPhone Apps)

March 26, 2012

This is part 4 of my three-part series, Making Apps.  Redux, because it sounds good.  Revisit is possibly more accurate and at least I didn’t have to look up what it meant.

In the series, I tried to explain the possibilities in making apps for yourself.  I didn’t go into much technical detail, mainly because that would take about a book’s worth of text.  Funnily enough, quite a few people have done that already.  I mainly talked about Android apps, because that’s what I know.  The massive issue with developing Apple iOS apps is that you need access to a Mac.

Why a Mac?

Apple's logo

The preferred iOS creation software is XCode, which only runs on Mac and the security requirements of creating and saving development and distribution certificates are really only possible on a Mac.  Finally, uploading apps to the App Store for approval can also only be accomplished via Mac.  In short, you need a Mac and the length of time you will spend on one, even if you build apps the way I have done, means you can’t just borrow your friend’s Mac Book for an hour.

Getting started

In my case, having been a PC-user for the longest time, since one disappointing 6-month period back in 1999, I wasn’t about to swap my Windows 7 laptop for a Mac Book.  I also wasn’t about to advise purchasing a new computer just because it would be kinda cool to make iPhone apps.

At the time of writing, I have just submitted my first app to iTunes Connect and it’s sitting there awaiting approval (see: update).  I built this app in  Adobe Flash Professional CS5.  I say built, but really it was a case of copy-and-pasting the frames from the existing Android App.  Flash’s iOS template took care of the rest, although I am getting ahead of myself.

Firstly, I had to apply for an iOS Developer account – $99 per year.

iOS Development Centre

$99 just to be able to log in

Next, we had to wait for Apple to contact the school to verify our existence and the fact we wanted to make apps – 6 weeks.

At this point last summer, we discovered the Mac requirements, so everything went on hold.  Then I wrote the blog entries about making Android apps, which got me thinking:  If Flash CS5 is allowed to publish iOS apps and all I need is the certificate to do so, how hard can this be?  All I really needed is access to a Mac…

The school had dabbled with Macs and we had a room of them not networked (they don’t play well with Windows servers).  I suggested that I take one of the Mac Minis home, allow it to use my Wi-Fi and see how easy it is to create the certificates that way.

Certifiable

There’s easy, straightforward and then there’s bodge upon bodge!  Many, many hours and countless forums later, I managed to create a P12 Development Certificate and Mobileprovision file and was able to publish the app using Flash and install it on my iPod Touch.

In order to create these certificates, you have to fill in a form on the iOS Development website.  Then you download the certificate file.  Then you import this certificate into Keychain Assistant.  Then you request something else from the Certificate Authority.  Then you download the mobile provisioning certificate.   Making sure at each step you enter the correct password, delete all old versions and have all the preferences checked.   I would like to talk you through each stage clearly, but it is so confusing that I can’t remember exactly what I did and no doubt will struggle to repeat the procedure correctly myself.

Once all of that is done, you hit publish and produce a development app for your personal device.  There is something very rewarding about making an app and seeing it on your device.  Something about it being made tangible.

Submitting to the App Store

Once you’ve tested your app – i.e., it doesn’t brick your iPod.  You can think about distributing it.  I’m not 100% sure Apple wants you to distribute apps, as their website which has been quite clear to up this point gets a little hazy.   Basically, look for iTunes Connect.  It’s sort of outside the iOS Development area.

iTunes Connect

Not to be confused with iTunes U, iTunes or Facetime

On this website, you fill out several pages, upload images and descriptions.  You will be asked for an SKU number, which turns out to be your own reference number for your app and you’ll also be asked for a lot of other things to.  Google will become your best friend here.

Once you have completed the forms to the best of your ability, you will need to generate Distribution certificates.  That crying you can hear was my spending another good few hours repeating certificate stuff again!

Once you’ve generated and published your app from Flash (or maybe your were daring and went straight to XCode) you will need to upload your .ipa file using Application Loader.  This handy little program is now bundled with XCode.   In order to install XCode you need to be running Snow Leopard.  In my case, that meant buying the upgrade DVD and waiting two weeks for delivery.

When you have upgraded, downloaded the upgrades to the upgrade, you are finally allowed to download XCode for Snow Leopard.   Once installed, you can close XCode and use Finder to locate the standalone Application Loader.

Application Loader icon

Application Loader aka "I had to download 1.5 Gb of XCode just to get this!"

Do you get the impression I think this entire process has been overly convoluted?

In conclusion

When I tell others of my experiences, I have found that iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users view these steps with reassurance.  Each one said “It’s good to know they take the security seriously”.

And of course, Android devotees take my story as proof at how limited and controlling Apple is.

I think there’s truth in both views.  The hoop-jumping required to produce a final certificate is crazy.  Surely once you have logged into your Apple account and created a certificate there, what additional stages are needed?   It’s completely opposite to the self-signed certificate you create for Android.  Not to mention creating separate development and distribution certificates.

In terms of actually building and development, I still prefer Adobe AIR for Android.  Little features like being able to connect to your device and overwrite the app inside Flash make it a little easier to work in.   For iOS, you use iTunes to install/replace the app.

Ultimately the iPhone and iPad are massively prevalent and a lot of teachers have one or both.  I’m pleased that I’ve been able to produce an app for Apple devices and particularly pleased that the Adobe AS3 coding was able to be used without alteration for iOS.  I’m assuming that getting development and distribution certificates will become smoother as I do it more often.

Apple vs Android

I wanted an Apple vs Android image, but they are all quite mean really (read: funny) and didn't want to appear one-side.

I still maintain that there are more benefits to Android than Apple for a school:

  • Android Apps can be hosted directly on our VLE.  So apps which use internal school systems do not have to be published to Google Play
  • iOS Apps can be hosted directly, but are limited to 100 devices under Apple’s Ad Hoc distribution system
  • Android Apps appear in Google Play almost instantly as they do not undergo human-based testing before release.  Some would point out that this is actually a good thing that Apple does, but it does delay distribution and their decisions have been shown to be arbitrary.

Finally if you are considering building your own apps, give serious consideration to Adobe Flash.  Building in Adobe Flash produces a SWF file, which can be used directly on our intranet, so we get an “emulator” each time we make an app.

UPDATE:

On 2nd April 2012, Apple approved my first iOS app, Question Dice and made it available on the App Store.  It’s free to use.  You can access it here, Question Dice

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Making Apps – Part 3 (publishing)

January 28, 2012

In this ever increasing series, we now come to the fun part.  All the hard work is done.  You’ve coded in Adobe AIR, tested on your computer…now we wrap it up all pretty.

A particularly nice feature of Flash Professional’s AIR package is the publishing settings.  You specify a name for your app, whether you want to fix it as landscape, portrait or allow the phone to flip it depending between the two.  (There’s an example template included which gives you the code to access the accelerometer, so you can have your app flip correctly).

Adobe AIR publishing settings

Making an app requires a certficate containing your details.  This certificate is password protected and bundled with the app.  I’m not 100% sure what the point of this certificate is, but the wizard makes it very easy to create.  Just don’t forget your password, which you need to publish the app!

You get to include icons (but don’t worry, they are png files, you don’t need a .ico program).  Part of me always squees at these finishing touches.  I get to pretend I’m all professional. 🙂

You also get to specify what you need your app to access in order to work.  This allows users to decide if they want to install your app.  If your app plays sounds, and want them to automatically silence if a cell is recieved, you can check a permission to read phone state.  Use with caution!  If you’re the maker of a widely successful vegetation vs undead game and you have this particular permission setting you block all non-phone tablet users from playing.

Plants vs Zombies - only works if you have a phone

Why??????????

Building apps for iOS is very similar up to this point but here we must part gentle traveller, as I can guide you no further.   As mentioned in Part 1, the certificate required to make an iOS app can only be generated by a Mac.  Surely this is going to change at some point, but until then…

Testing Times

This bit should probably be a bit higher as let’s face it, if you’re making an app you’ll probably have been testing it all along.  Just in case you didn’t know, plug your phone (or Samsung Galaxy Tab) into a handy USB socket (preferably one attached to the computer you’re using).  Then go to Settings > Applications > Development and check USB Debugging.

Android Testing

And suddenly, your phone becomes the ultimate in user testing environments.   In theory, if Adobe AIR will run on a phone, anything you get working on your phone will work in exactly the same way on any phone.

The final step before unleashing your app upon the world is editing the manifest.  When you press publish in Flash, the program takes your flash file and wraps it up with the png icons you made, that certificate we talked about and an XML file generated in the publishing settings.

This XML file contains publishing data such as the permissions, the file name etc…  It also contains the manifest.  If you want your users to be able to move your app onto their SD Card thereby saving room on their phone’s internal memory, you need to edit this bit before you press publish – after you have finished editing the publishing settings otherwise Flash will overwrite your changes.

Open the XML file in Notepad++ or similar and scroll down until you find:

<android>    

<manifestAdditions>     

<![CDATA[<manifest>

</manifest>]]>

</manifestAdditions>  

</android>

Now change the <![CDATA[manifest> bit to:

<![CDATA[<manifest android:installLocation=”auto”>

Which gives users the ability to move your app.

Publishing (finally!)

Sorry, it’s taken a while to get here.  Basically, just hit “Publish”.   Your app gets wrapped up as a .APK file.  All ready for deployment. 

The beauty of Android is that if you’re making a very specific app that the wider world doesn’t need to know about, you can distribute this APK file like any other file.  Uploading it to your VLE or website allows users to download and install directly.   They do need to ensure to have Unknown Sources checked, but that’s about it.

Allow apps from Unknown Sources in Android

The Android Market

Where’s the fun in keeping apps all to yourself.  Publishing to the Android Market is incredibly straightforward.  You have to spend a one-off $25 to get a Developer account.  There is no approval time, no one phones to check you exist or anything like that.  Once your email is verified, you can upload your APK file and fill out all the details.   The Market takes you through each section (you have to provide screenshots and promotional images etc…)

At the time of writing, I’ve only uploaded our Question Dice, but plan to upload more when the time allows.  Making the video demonstrating its use was fun, but a word of warning, make sure to replace the audio before uploading to YouTube.  I had to hurriedly delete and republish.  

Sit back and watch

The statistics supplied by the Market are fascinating reading: 

  • 30% of the users are on Gingerbread, one on Honeycomb and the rest on Froyo. 
  • The devices range from the Galaxy Tabs to phones of every description to a host of other tablets. 
  • Outside of the UK, we have three users in the USA and one in Australia.
  • We had a user in Spain, but they’ve uninstalled it 😦  I wonder why?

In summary

  • Making apps can be as simple or as complicated as you like.
  • Adobe Flash Professional allows you to make apps in Adobe AIR.
  • Ignore all the “professional” AS3 coders who pretend AS3 is highly complex.  
  • Think about permissions and remember the install location setting for the manifest.
  • Dont swear while filming your demo video.

As with everything I write about on this blog, things are often easier than they appear to be.  The hard part is finding good tutorials and websites and people willing to help.  If nothing else, I’ve hopefully provided a summary of all the bits you need to get started.


Making Apps – Part 2

January 25, 2012

When I started writing this post, I realised it was a case of tl:dr (too long, didn’t read – just in case you didn’t know).  I say I realised, my wife leaned over and said “Really?   tl:dr much!”

Loved ones, always the harshest critics 🙂

So, where was I.   Oh yes…

3) Adobe Flash CS5 and Adobe AIR

Flash.  Aha!  Saviour of the internet!

Adobe Flash

I love Flash, although I seem to be in an ever reducing minority, which no longer includes Adobe for some reason.  I think I know why – Flash in webpages on mobile devices isn’t as responsive as it feels like it could be.  There are resizing issues and supposedly it causes crashes, although I’ve never experienced a browser crash because of Flash.

Apple have blamed Flash for being too RAM intensive to be safely included on their iPhones and iPod Touches.  This decision had the happy coincidence of closing off thousands of free Flash games just as Apple were launching their App Store full of paid games.

As a development platform, Flash is second to none.  I said previously that only Apple understands about wrapping up everything you need.  Well I have to include Adobe as well in that exclusive club.  Flash combines graphics, animations and coding very easily and with the downloadable Adobe AIR for Android plugin folds in app making too.

Flash CS5 also comes with the ability to make Apple iOS apps.  Unfortunately, due to restrictions imposed by Apple, (you need a certificate which can only be create on a Mac, you can only upload to the App Store from a Mac) .

Using Adobe AIR to make apps is simplicity itself.  You open a new file, using the AIR for Android template.  From here, you build your Flash file as usual.

Adobe Flash start screen

At this point, I need to point out that out of the box, you don’t get AIR for Android as a template (at least not in CS5).  I seem to remember being alerted to its existence by a popup on this screen.   I do remember adding it via Adobe’s Extension Manager and unfortunately, the Developer Site doesn’t make it clear how to get it either.  Maybe it’s just bundled in.

Note from this screen you can also make iPhone OS apps and standard AIR programs to run in Windows.  All three are pretty identical and just differ in their publishing settings.

AIR for Android's publishing settings

When you open the AIR for Android template the stage is automatically set to 480 x 800 which is the most common screen resolution for the Android platform.  Of course, you can alter this easily.

There are four templates included with Flash, one is plain, but the other three contain code examples showing how to use a mobile device’s accelerometer, its menu button and a swipe gallery.  Between this, my own knowledge of ActionScript 2.0 and the internet, I was able to build a number of apps, such as the Question Dice.

ActionScript

The programming language for Adobe AIR is ActionScript 3.   This is really unfortunate for me, because I learned the previous language ActionScript 2.   AS2 is a much simpler language to learn, its grammar is less precise and how it functions is fairly straightforward.

AS3 is much more complex, designed with professional teams in mind, not individual programmers.  To this end, it is incredibly intimidating and the general advice on internet forums tends to be irrationally anti-AS2 style.  I’ve seen a number of posts from novice users, asking perfectly reasonable questions only to be shouted down with cries of “you shouldn’t be doing it like that at all”.

Years ago, I was similarly shot down for asking a question about linking one scene to another.  The response was “you should be using scenes”.  Now, I have the confidence to question that.  If you’re not supposed to use scenes, why does Flash include them?  Personally, I very rarely use scenes now, but if I needed to I still would.  The moral of this story is ignore all negative comments on the internet.  The trolls are never right.

The Truth (read it quick before I’m silenced)

Well, I’m finally learning AS3 and firstly, everything you’ve read about team programming and OOP and the “right way” to do things is rubbish!

AS3 is almost as forgiving as AS2.  Public functions, private variables and separate .as files are only needed IF you are writing complex games AND you use a separate .as file.   It came as a bit of shock to me.  The so-called right way is simply one way.

You can happily code in AS3 on the timeline.   If you do use code from a tutorial and run into compiler warnings about public functions, just remove the public bit.

public function startgame() {

}

becomes:

function startgame() {

}

if you’re placing code on the timeline.

Oh and regular functions, not connected to mouse clicks can just be written as AS2 functions. Rely on the Code Snippets box too, it really useful to get started.

Where to go from here

The book I’m using is an update of the book I learnt AS2 from.   It’s called Actionscript 3.0 Game Programming University.

ActionScript 3.0 Game Programming University

The author, Gary Rosenzweig has an excellent, easy-going style.  He provides the full code for each game, but breaks it down ito what each section does.  Something I liked from his original book is that each game only takes you so far, but it’s always easy to see how to develop each game to make them better.

Next time

My wife was right.  This post has become its own mini-series.

In part 3, I’m going to show just how easy it is to produce an app and publish it on your VLE and the Android Market


Making Apps – Part 1

January 22, 2012

I’ve talked before about how I’ve started to build apps for use in school, but I’ve never really gone into how I do it.  Surprisingly there are a number of methods.

1) Using Google’s SDK and Eclipse software to write apps directly

This is where I started.   Although started is a bit of a misnomer (started and stopped being closer to the truth).  It’s easy enough to sign up for the free SDK and links in the developer area point you in the right direction for downloading the Eclipse platform.  But that’s where it gets confusing.  Eclipse being a third-party, open-source product has a number of different versions and figuring out the right one to download either involves blindly guessing or reading through a pages of text.  tl:dr I’m afraid.

Through more luck than judgement, I downloaded and installed a version of Eclipse (Gallileo seemed right at the time) that worked with the SDK and through a bit more luck, managed to get it hooked up to my phone.

Eclipse - but you're not there yet - still have to run the Android SDK

Eclipse - but you're not there yet - still have to run the Android SDK

Struggling to get set up is something that only Apple seems to understand is an issue.  Open-source and SDKs are great, but you need an underlying knowledge of how and what to install before you can even get started.  Recently, we tried to get the Xbox Kinect SDKs to work with Windows 7.  This could have been so easy, providing a single file which would have installed all the drivers we need.  Instead, we were taken to a page with 4 different installation programs.  Three of which installed fine, the fourth was just impossible.

A big chunk of Apple’s success comes from wrapping everything up together.  Take iTunes for example.  MP3 players had existed for at least 5 years before the iPod.  Apple were the only ones to provide a standard way to get music onto a player that was easy to use.   Now, they have launched their iBooks and (reportedly) their iBook creator makes it easy to create content.   eBook programs have existed for years for Windows, but Apple makes it easy by declaring “this is what you need, nothing more”.   As a long time PC and Android lover, I have to take my hat off to Apple for this.  But I digress.  Back to Android.

Hello World

From here on, it’s easy enough to follow the tutorials back on the Android Developer centre and build the standard Hello World.  But beyond that, building apps directly in this environment is a bit lacklustre.  As someone used to building in Adobe Flash, I found making the leap to a purely coding system to be just that little bit too far.  I couldn’t figure out how to use animations for instance.
I made this! - by following instructions precisely

I made this! (By following instructions precisely)

2) Using Adobe Flex (and/or Flash Builder)

There seems to be a quickly growing community around using these Adobe products to build apps for all platforms.

I can’t quite figure out how you use Flex and there is a cost involved with Flash Builder so I’ve never fully investigated it.  At school, we have the full Adobe Production Premium suite which includes Flash CS5, which I’ll talk about in Part 2.


Battle of the handhelds – iPod Touch 4 vs Archos 43

April 27, 2011

We’re investigating handheld tablets at the moment.   I know, all tablets are handheld, these are small ones.

The advantages of handhelds are fairly obvious.  They’re cheaper than computers, their batteries last at least all day, they are always on.  And I think most importantly, unlike Netbooks, tablets don’t suffer from “mission creep”.   Netbooks look like laptops and sooner or later you expect them to do the same things as laptops, but they’re underpowered and can’t cope.  With tablets, you don’t expect laptop performance and so, aren’t disappointed.

Archos 43

iPod Touch 4To the battle then.  Which handheld offers the most educational value.  iPod Touch 4 (Apple iOS4) or an Archos 43 (Google Android Froyo).  It took a little bit of research to find an equivalent-sized Android tablet.  HTC, along with all the major players, only produce phones. 

Archos have come from the other way, from the media player direction and have always had devices to compete with Apple.

Cost, specifications and battery life

It’s really awkward to compare specifications for these devices, as they are quite different.  What we’ve done internally for our evaluation is compare the iPod 8 Gb (~£160) to the Archos 16 Gb (~£150).  There is an argument that we should have bought the 32 Gb iPod (~£230) but then the iPod would lose out straight away for its high price tag.

The two tablets together, showing their relative sizes

The Archos is a bit larger than the iPod.  Its screen is noticeably bigger too, though the iPod has a much larger (and sharper) resolution.  Personally, resolution on a 3″ screen isn’t something I’m bothered about.

I’m not going to get into the processor specs as direct comparisons won’t highlight anything relevant given the different operating systems.

I will say both devices impressed me with their actual battery life, given how used I am to charging my HTC phone every other day.  I suppose not having to look for phone networks really saves the battery.

Out of the box

The iPod requires a computer connection straight out of the box.  You have to have iTunes installed and more importantly, I seem to remember I had to set up an iTunes account (yes, I already have one, but I wanted a separate account for this work-purchased pod).  Setting up an iTunes account requires a credit card, whether you ever make a purchase or not.  Big black mark there Apple.  If we want the students to purchase these devices, it means letting them loose with their parents’ credit card.  I’ll touch more on this later, when looking at Apps.

The Archos sucks right of the box.  Despite the specs on the website, ours came preloaded with Android 1.6.  The OS equivalent of a Vuvuzala.  I know, how many operating systems have I written?

The Archos can be “used” immediately, but the controls were unresponsive.  The setup didn’t include accelerometer calibration (that was hidden in the Settings menu).  The device had to be hit on the side to get it to turn the screen round – who knew Al from Quantum Leap was using Android 1.6! 

After about 30 minutes, the Archos detected that a new version of Android was available.  It downloaded 2.2 (Froyo), but truly annoyingly, after downloading it had to be plugged into a PC before installing.  Not being next to my laptop at the time meant cancelling the installation, returning to my desk and starting again.

Once Froyo was installed, the difference was night-and-day.  The responsiveness was vastly improved.

Two things that the Archos had that were better than the iPod.  OS Password boxes carry an option to unhide the result as you type, and the keyboard contains a Caps Lock option.  C’mon Apple, 4 generations in, and you still have to press shift each time you want a capital letter???

Apps

Again, out of the box, the Archos isn’t very impressive when it comes to Apps.  The device comes with a limited AppsLib, instead of the full Android Market.  It’s preloaded with some decent enough stuff, the music and video players are good enough as is the file manager and the dedicated Uninstall App, but Flash isn’t there by default.  That can be downloaded from AppsLib, unlike Adobe Air (the easy way to make Apps).

It is possible to get the full market however.  Which is exactly what we did.  After about 30 minutes research, we found ArcTools, which once installed, installs the Market.  But here’s the thing.  You don’t actually need a Market App for Android devices.  You can download an .apk file from anywhere on the internet, unlike the iPod. 

Once the Market, and Adobe Air was installed, the Archos began to feel a bit more useful.  And I was able to start comparing  the devices properly.

For comparison, I went looking for an education App, specifically a Periodic Table.  From the Android Market, I installed the free Periodic Table, which had quizzes, flash cards and pronunciation audios (very nice touch).   Looking in Apple’s App Store was a huge disappointment.  I only found 1 free App.  If we’re going to want kids to download specific Apps, we can’t expect them to purchase them.  The App, iTeachU Free, was next to useless. 

Android’s Apps seem to be of the free, ad-sponsored variety and Apple’s are of the cheap kind (the pay Apps were generally only 59p). 

The bigger issue with Apple is the credit card.  Even for a free App, you have to enter your iTunes password in order to install it.  This means the students will have access to their parents’ credit cards.  We may have to operate with a delay, wherein we ask the kids to ask their parents to install Apps for them.

Browsing

Here there is a big difference.   The Archos uses screen technology that can only handle 1 finger.  So no pinch-and-zoom.  This is a major problem for the native browser when looking at non-mobile websites.  The view constantly zoomed in and out when I tried scrolling as the browser couldn’t decide which function I was trying to do.   Eventually, I gave up and installed Dolphin HD, which gave me better options, including using the volume buttons to scroll the page.  Browsing still isn’t as slick as on the iPod though.

Complaining that a handheld computer can only handle one touch at a time should be like complaining my car doesn’t have a flying mode.  But the truth is Apple have been showing everyone two fingers for years now.  I own a Gen 1 iPod Touch, that has pinch-and-zoom.  I know Archos were probably able to keep the costs down by not including the same type of touchscreen as Apple, but it really hurts browsing.

Don’t be downhearted Android fans, as Apple sucks in its own way when browsing.  The “walled garden” of iOS prevents uploading images from the iPod to a website.  This is a major flaw (especially as it is designed in).  This is why you need an App to engage with most Web 2.0 sites.  Their own web browser isn’t allowed to interact with their device!?!

Camera

I’m not a photographer.  When I take photos I don’t spend too much time worrying about light conditions or focal length.  I just want to point and shoot.

Below are comparisons trying to replicate the sort of photos the kids might take.  I’ve deliberately avoided optimal conditions.

Archos 43 - Indoors

The Archos 43 comes with a 2 Mb camera.  The image has a little bit of noise to it and is appears a little bit darker than reality. 

iPod Touch 4

The iPod Touch offers a resolution of less than 1 Mb.  Given that the iPhone comes with a reported 5 Mb camera, putting the equivalent of a web cam in this device is pretty inexcusable.  The image is full of noise and really quite small.  It was rumoured that the iPod camera has a fixed focus, but this is untrue.  The iPod comes with a touch screen interface to control focus.  Tapping any part of the screen creates a focus box which the device then uses focus.  There appears to be no focus control with the Archos.

 iPod - Close up

Moving the camera closer to the objects, you can see what the handhelds are like picking up detail. 

The iPod appears to produce a richer colour, though the red felt tip was bright red, which I don’t think the iPod picks up.  The iPod’s image is also pretty noisy, though there is some blurring with the Archos.

 Archos - close up

iPod - outdoors

Moving outdoors and taking a photo of some flowers in the garden (don’t email me to tell me what they are – I don’t care. 🙂 ).  The colours from the iPod are much more vibrant (but if I’m honest, the colours are more accurately reproduced in the Archos).

Archos - outdoors

  The additional light available makes both pictures less noisy.

In conclusion

 I find that the iPod Touch is lacking in the terms of its specifications.  When I imagine guiding students through finding specific Apps and working out how to pay for them and how to build and distribute them, coupled with the woefully poor camera I find I cannot recommend iPods. 

I should point out that there is another method for distributing iPods, which is that we could buy 30 devices and use a syncing device to control them.  This takes the self-financing out of the situation, but adds its own problems of the school having to buy and maintain them.

Distributing Apps to students using the Archos is child’s play.  Once they are set up correctly, we can simply make a page on our VLE with a list of Apps linked in.  Building and distribution is also simple.

So on paper the Archos 43 is a superior device.  But here’s the problem; while watching TV, I’ll often reach for a device to look something up on the internet.  I find myself reaching for the iPod instead of the Archos. 

The Archos just isn’t as responsive.  The auto-correct keyboard on both my HTC Desire and the iPod Touch makes typing on such small screens as not only possible but quick.  I cannot get the auto-correct to kick in on the Archos. 

There are moments on the Archos when you click on an App or link and nothing appears to happen for a moment.  Even taking photos appears to do nothing at first. 

So in conclusion, like I said I cannot recommend the iPod Touch, but I’m not yet sure if I can recommend the Archos.  It’s a good device with plenty of storage space, better camera, easy to use (once set up right) but it’s touch screen just isn’t as good.


My First App!

December 20, 2010

A few months ago I posted about the new App Inventor from Google which has a pretty impressive App maker for Android phones.

Unfortunately, I found it all a little awkward to use.  Animations for example seemed impossible.   Google own Android SDK also proved a steep learning curve.  And you need a Mac to use Apple’s iOS SDK.   So all in all, building useful Smart Phone Apps (or even rubbish ones) seemed out of my grasp.Buffalo Billy plays Pig on my HTC Desire

Then several things happened.   Firstly, Apple announced a relaxation of the policy towards third-party App making software, then Adobe released Air for Android.   Suddenly it was possible to build Apps in Flash Professional and export them for phones and tablets!

This weekend, in a couple of hours, I took a favourite game my wife and I built for a ventriliquist friend of ours (back in 2005) and converted it to ActionScript 3 (AS2 is a lot easier, but is being replaced by the more complex AS3 – though AS2 will still work for traditional flash resources on websites).   Once it was running in AS3, using the new AIR for Android template I was able to plug my phone into the PC, set it to development mode and build a new App. 

For some reason, Adobe have almost hidden their Android template.   After much searching, I found it on their Adobe Labs site.   But it was apparently available or linked from their Adobe AIR site.  Strange?

For those of you who don’t know the dice game Pig, you take turns rolling a dice and adding up the amount on the face.   If you throw a ‘1’, you lose your points and play reverts to the other person.   You can end your turn voluntarily at any point.  The winner is the first to 100 points.    You can play the original version here.  One cute thing we added for the app is that you can shake the phone to roll the dice. 

There are certificates to be correctly filled out, and testing to be handled before I submit this game to the App Market.  And in theory, I should also be able to press a button an convert it into an iPhone App too.  I’ll post here once I know more and as I understand, for Android at least, you don’t have to submit it.  You can just host an app install file on your own server.

This is going to be huge frankly!  As school budgets tighten, and ICT use expands, imagine the savings possible if we can build our own tailored apps.   The new Advent Amico is a 7″ Android tablet which costs £129.   That’s cheaper than most netbooks.   We found netbooks main disadvantage was that they look like laptops, so people assume they can handle the same software as laptops.   Smart phone tablets are taken to be big smart phones, and people only expect web browsing and basic use.

The future is looking very bright, and if not orange, then decidely mobile!


Wii in School

October 13, 2010

The Internet Channel on the WiiIt’s amazing what happens when people talk to each other.

I’ve written before about using a Nintendo Wii in school, but dear reader, I sorted, may have misled you.   I knew in principal that it was possible to use a Wii connected to a projector in the classroom and that you could connect to the internet, but until today, I hadn’t actually tried it out.

I discovered recently that quite a few departments in school have bought Wii’s to use with purchased games.   MFL use one with French and Spanish versions of regular games.   PE use one as a fun way to introduce new sporting activities and fitness exercises.  Maths have found some educational mathematics games, English have one as well.

The only problem is nobody knew anyone else had one, and not one of them had read my blog!  Sob!   And because of that shocking oversight, they didn’t know that the Wii can play flash files and that myself and our two web designers could make games for the Wii.

Needless to say, mentioning this factoid caused great excitement in a meeting with some staff sketching out games they wanted then and there. 

And I must admit, I stand by all my previous assertions about the Wii.    It was easy to set up*, can take a regular USB keyboard.  So it works almost exactly like a regular PC, but a third of the cost.  We’re not about to rip up our ICT policy when it comes to buying computers, but this definetly opens up new avenues.

Who said computer games don’t get people talking, see what can happen when they do!

*Alright, I did end up taking it home to install the internet, but that was only because of County restrictions.  Once the internet channel was on, everything was easy.