Converting videos so they can be edited

April 18, 2014

At Cramlington, we don’t currently have a third-party video service.

Not that sort of video service!

Not that sort of video service!

Instead, having an entirely Windows server environment, we’ve used Windows Media Encoder and WMV files to stream all our videos.

Together with Graeme Porter (since moved to be Walbottle Campus’ VLE Coordinator), I put together our own video database system (CramTube – yeah, our naming’s not got better either).  We also methodically went through all of the encoding settings in Adobe Premiere to determine best compression – size ratio.  Using WMV we achieve around 4 Mbs per minute.

  • Bit rate encoding: CBR, 1 pass
  • Maximum bit rate: 550 kbps
  • Width: 640, height: 480

At this setting, you see a little artefacting (it’s not yet a word, but I’m holding out hope), but the file size has to double before the quality noticeably improves.  And so far, we’ve only rolled out Android devices to students which can play WMVs fine.

 

The problem

Of course, there’s a problem.  In this case, it’s our students, who use their Android tablets and phones (only in 6th form supposedly) to record video.

I'm currently pushing for month long detentions for filming the wrong way.

I’m currently pushing for month-long detentions for filming the wrong way.

Shockingly, they also to want to be able to edit it.  Trouble is, there’s no app in existence (I’ve looked) that allows the user to record video as WMV.  And if the student wishes to edit the video, generally it involves a trip to the IT support office with a memory stick.

Our Solution

Please note, that this bit is entitled Our Solution.  I’m sure there are many other ways to achieve this, but this is our solution using products we had to hand.  The solution required:

  1. Some way of students uploading video (large files).
  2. Have it convert automatically.
  3. Be able to download the new file.

1 – PL Upload
To solve the first point, a Google search (sorry Bing – I never even considered you) discovered PL Upload.  This system is a lovely bit of code which allows large files to be automatically uploaded by users.  This gets round the problem of standard file upload forms timing out.  The documentation is a little off-putting, but the example file provided works just fine.  From there, it’s easy enough to adapt to suit your own design.

2 – Adobe Media Encoder
The next part involves converting the video from whatever format into the editable WMV.  We’re lucky enough to have Adobe CC for our department.  It’s meant we have the latest versions of all the Adobe products, though I think AME has had watch folders for some time.

Hang on….sorry, got ahead of myself.  In AME, you can set up the program to “watch” for new files on a network drive.  So every time a user uploads a video file using PL Upload, it drops into one of these ‘watch folders’.  AME, running on a spare PC detects the new file, converts it and saves it into another folder.

3 – Auto menu – PHP
On upload, we used a bit of our own code to rename the video file with the user’s username, time and date.  Using a variation on the auto menu code I shared last time on this blog, the user sees a list of all the videos containing their username.

And that’s it.   Obviously AME can be set to convert to formats other than WMV, but seeing as our students use Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 (site licence years ago) and Windows Movie Maker (free), we find it’s the easiest format.

So far, only our sixth form students have used the uploader, but our Year 7 students are using a stop motion app which only saves in MOV or MP4 formats.  PL Upload being a web-based tool should allow them to upload and convert.

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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


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: Redux!

November 19, 2011

I think the one post I’ve made which has caused the most feedback and continues to draw in audiences is my post about two devices we were considering for school use back in April, namely the iPod Touch and the Archos 43.

So much has happened since I wrote that blog entry.  First off, we didn’t go with either iPod Touch or Archos.  Like I summed up at the time, the iPod had too many restrictions and the single-touch Archos made it too frustrating to use.

Pick a device already!Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" Wi-Fi

At that point, our ICT Coordinator stumbled across the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  I say stumbled upon, because Apple pretty much had the high street sewn up.  All credit to them (and it’s changing now admittedly), but if you want to buy a tablet on the high street, everyone wants to sell you an iPad.  And why not, they’re great devices (personally I find them a little large and a bit heavy) but there’s no denying Apple created another product the world didn’t know it needed.

Samsung (who incidently make the iPad for Apple) have their own range of tablets, a 7″ wifi, a 7″ 3G and similar in the 10″ range.  They’ve also started on their gen 2 tablets which are even more sleak, though not widely available yet.

We evaluated and then chose the Wi-Fi only, 7″, P1010 model.  It runs Android Froyo, has 16Gb internal memory, front and rear cameras.  It comes preloaded with ThinkFree Office (which allows creating and edit MS documents) along with a host of other apps (some good, some not worth it).

Size does matter

The main difference between the 7″ tablet and the smaller handheld we were looking at before is the size (obviously).  When you’re using the tablet, it feels like it is for work.  You can achieve a lot of the same stuff on the smaller devices, but they lack a feeling of productivity.  With the Samsung, you feel like you’re using a work tool.

We did look again at the iPad and iPod Touch, but the cost of the iPad is too prohibitive to seriously consider (those schools that have gone down the iPad route must have sacrificed something else from their budget).  Ultimately we found iOS too restrictive/problematic in terms of file uploads, Flash (yes I know Adobe have pulled development) and for building our own apps as well as paying for other apps.

Niggles

There are a couple of niggles.  The battery gives you a day if you’re using it.  Given the size of the device, I was surprised, but I suppose powering the much larger screen is the big difference.  The native keyboard makes some truly irritating errors, but Steven Lin has kindly ported the Gingerbread keyboard.  Neither of these are big issues, at least not compared to:

WTF!

The tablet cannot charge from a computer’s USB while turned on!   Wait…what?  That’s like… the point of USB.  We’ve got round this issue by buying these special cables.  It took a couple of hours searching the internet to even find out what the problem was.  It turns out to be a voltage issue.  These cables contain a switch and resistor which gets round that.

Still, these are all niggles and while many would point out that you shouldn’t have to deal with niggles, life always proves otherwise.

Order ready

We ordered the tablets about a month ago (with parental contributions) and they are due to arrive within the next two weeks.  All the preparations have been done (fingers crossed).  We have a comprehensive mobile version of our VLE, a really cool instruction booklet to be given out with the devices and we’ve put together a number of school-specific apps:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I do hope that we’ll make some of these available on the Android Market.  They are all built in Adobe AIR, which has made the creation of Apps so much simpler.  I think we will eventually move away from AIR, but for right now, it just works.

In conclusion

Have we chosen the right device?  I think so.  The size is right.  The functionality is right.   The price is right ~£300 (including insurance).  I’ll admit my heart sank a little when Amazon announced the $199 Kindle Fire – but it’s not out in the UK yet.  And not in the quantities we need.  And can we even run our own apps on it? Maybe next year, if this year is successful.

The battle may have been won, but something tells me the war has just begun.


Quick Tip: Creating an icon for mobile shortcuts

August 12, 2011

One of the cute things about most mobile sites these days, is that when you make an shortcut and set it to your phone’s desktop* a personalised favicon type image is used, instead of just a boring standard bookmark.

These are cute and very easy to do.  Simply paste the following code into the <head></head> section of your page.  Ideally it should be in the <head> bit, though it doesn’t have to be (if using Frog for example) :

 <link rel=”apple-touch-icon” href=”full path to your image” />

 There’s some debate on the internet as to whether you need the full path or if the local path will do, but I’ve used the full path and been happy with the results.

Your image should be the official 57×57 pixels, but again, there’s plenty of debate on the best size.  It should be  saved as a png.

And don’t worry Android users, the code may say apple-touch-icon, but works just the same. 

*(is that the right term???)


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.