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.

Educating in the third dimension

December 18, 2011

One again, it’s been a while since I posted.  Please accept my humble apologies.  To make it up to you all, here are two articles in one:

Terry Freedman from ICT in asked me to write an article for their  Computers in Classrooms newsletter.  It’s a special 3D edition.

Here’s a direct link to my article although the rest of the magazine is worth viewing too.

In the article, I talk about the Panasonic T750 Camcorder:

Panasonic T750 3D camcorder

The camcorder comes with a 3D lens attachment, so you can use it as a regular 2D camera as well.  Surprisingly, Five’s Gadget Show didn’t think much of this model (preferring the Sony camcorder) on TV at least.  The online review seems a little more accomodating.  Which I think overlooked some key points:

  • As a 2D video camera, the quality is excellent.  It has 3 CMOS sensors and can record in 1080p which makes chromakeying (i.e. greenscreen) very easy.  I’ve always been a fan of Panasonic cameras, they seem to understand what’s actually important.  It’s a slight shame the camera doesn’t have a SD mode.   As a school, we have no need of HD quality, where filesize is as important as quality.  Don’t get me wrong, we don’t sacrifice quality, it’s just that I’m not in the business of delivering broadcast-quality content.
  • Panasonic (unlike Sony) use an open-source recording codec.   This allows editing in Adobe Premiere Pro without having to convert the video beforehand.  This is a huge time- and quality-saver.

We picked up the camcorder for around £500 + VAT (you have to shop around and we have an excellent finance department who do just that).   For that price, we got two cameras in one.

The recordings are side-by-side, which makes incorporating the video into my existing Cinema4D’s workflow really straightforward.  What is most suprising is just how effective the depth of the video is.  We mounted the camera on the front of a boat which passed under the Tyne’s Milennium footbridge.

It’s not a view most people get to see and it really impressed our staff and students.

If you have the free time and the budget, you can buy 3D software like Cinema4D and start making animations for yourself.  And of course, there are now dozens of S3D-content suppliers (if their content works with your system) and if you have the free time and the budget, you can wade through these resources to find the occasional gems.  But if you buy a 3D camcorder, you can immediately start creating content for yourself.   (Or hand the camera over to your students to see what they can do.)

And of course, self-created content is free!

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???)

Quick tip: Make your web page mobile

June 19, 2011

Recently, I showed off some of our VLE pimping at Frog’s National Learning Platforms conference in Birmingham, things like our Rewards system and My Classes – a whole section where a teacher can create seating plans, interact with the students via blogs, run a Random Name Selector etc…  

I also showed everyone the mobile version of the VLE, built entirely inside Frog.  Just using an HTML brick with the code below, web pages render at the width of the browser viewing them.   It’s that simple.

<meta name = “viewport” content = “width = device-width, height = device-height” /> 

This code doesn’t detect if you’re using a mobile device.  Personally, while I have implemented them on my own blogging engine, I don’t recommend detection code.  Detection and redirection are simply too irritating for words.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to visit a site after searching from Google, only to be redirected to the site’s mobile front page (Gamespot I’m looking at you). 

We provide a link on the VLE frontpage to a different login screen.   Couple this with use of a tinyurl and a QR code and job done!


December 12, 2010

What can be really, really long, but is best when really, really short?

What were some of you thinking?    I’m shocked  🙂

The trouble with internet addresses is how long they’ve become.  Especially if you try to stay organised.   Now, if you’re sending an email then it doesn’t really matter if the internet address takes up 5 lines, but if you’re in conversation with people, saying:

“grahamquince (all one word) dot wordpress dot com”

is a lot longer than:

“tinyurl slash gqblog”

OK, granted, does not take up much more room than 

but  this: 

is a lot shorter than 

“How is this trickery performed?”  You gasp in amazement.  “Why”, I declare, “through the website,!”

TinyURL's logo 

 There are other shortening services, but I’ve found Tiny and really like it.  It’s quick and easy and if your chosen shortcut is already taken, then if generates another (albeit fairly useless) alternative.   And it doesn’t stop you from trying another shortcut for the same address. 

Useful, free and easy to use.   Three adjectives everybody likes.


December 3, 2010

A great website for staying in touch with the latest IT developments is the news site, Gizmodo.

Gizmodo's website

There are constant updates about new products and innovations.   Often the stories have no direct relevance to education, but they’re always interesting.

If you own an iPhone, iPad or Android device or Windows Phone 7  their best apps of the week is a really useful feature helping you keep up to date with the latest apps on the market.

Google’s App Inventor

September 8, 2010

About two weeks ago my App Inventor account from Google came through.   I was placed in the tantalising position of being able to quickly and easily develop my own Apps!

Of course, nothing is ever that easy.  Installing all the needed Java things takes time, although it is far, far less confusing that installing everything you need for Android’s proper SDK.

Working through the tutorials is fun too.   You can very quickly press a picture of a cat and get your phone to make a purring noise

In a startling moment of Apple love, the media in general recoiled at the idea of App Inventor, predicting a wave of naff Apps.  Fortunately, when reading a little more on the App Inventor website, you discover that Apps made using it can’t be distributed via the App Market.   Google promise they’re working on it, but I would hope it’s not a priority.

It’s fun and easy to use and anyone out there with an Android phone can sign up.  Like I said above, compared to the official SDK, installing is a LOT easier.  The SDK requires so many different third-party programs. 

Overall I’m glad I have the App Inventor, but mainly because it’s spurred me onto setting up the SDK.   Now, I’m not promising any Apps overnight, but give me a couple of months and I might be able to produce an App that makes your phone bark when you press on a picture of a doggie.