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.


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.


iPad

July 18, 2010

It’s Sunday morning and I’m sitting here with an iPad.  It’s not mine, Cramlington decided we should get one as let’s face it, the buzz surrounding them could mean they become the next big thing in education.Apple's iPadGetting a chance to play with it this weekend has been “interesting”.   I’m not sure where it fits into my ICT use.   If I want to check out my favourite websites, my mobile phone (an HTC Desire – Android smartphone)  can view those sites easily.   The size and weight of the iPad makes it uncomfortable to hold and operate.  And if I want to do more complex tasks, my laptop takes care of those. 

Ultimately for me, the biggest issue with the iPad is the limitations of the browser.   The lack of a Flash player aside, I found plenty of other websites it just didn’t handle particularly well.  I had planned to write this post on the iPad this morning; in much the same way as I used my phone to post on one occasion.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to using iPad’s Safari.   The software was so limited it could not interact with the non-standard text box.*

At this point, I suddenly realised what the iPad is.   It’s an App-using tool, not a mini-laptop.  Rather than using the preinstalled programs if I want to accomplish something, “there’s an App for that”.    In fairness, that’s not much different from the PC experience.

Like netbooks before it, it’s very easy to expect a higher capability than the device can deliver.  Is it my fault or Apple’s that I made this assumption?  Given the price tag (£365 + VAT for the cheapest option) I think it’s a little of both.  

My conclusion then?  That will have to wait until I’ve installed some Apps.  Given that other school staff desperate to get their hands on it, my conclusion might be some time.   So for now, I’ll leave you with this thought:   What good is a browser that cannot view Flash?  Especially that 90% of educational resources are made using Flash.


* If I had wanted I could have installed the WordPress App and written the blog that way.  I haven’t, because it’s a shared resource and in order to install Apps, you have to register with Apple.  I’ll do that Monday with the school’s credit card.


Google App Inventor

July 13, 2010

I’ve just come across this very intriguing site from Google.  Called the App Inventor, it is going to allow non-programmers to build Apps for Google Android devices.

Google App Inventor

This is going to make the mobile market very, very interesting.  Right now, Apple leads the charge on App numbers for their iPhone and iPad.  They’ve also resisted attempts to allow non-Mac owners and non-programmers to be able to create Apps.

Google, by offering this App Inventor, will no doubt see a massive surge in their market place and I can imagine this will quickly draw them level with Apple.   Add to the mix the number of different Android tablets scheduled to come out this year and Apple are going to have a fight on their hands.

That’s the business report out of the way.  For us regular users interested in e-learning, I suggest buying an android phone next time your subscription is up.  Imagine building your own quizzes and getting your students to complete them from their own mobile devices?  Or how about building a GPS game and watch as your students conduct mapping and measuring exercises.   Augmented reality – how about virtual teachers located around field trip sites?

If Google pull this off, the future of e-learning could get a LOT more mobile.  I’ve signed up already and am waiting for my account.  Expect e-learning App posts soon!


Nintendo Wii

June 30, 2010

Have you thought about getting a Wii for your classroom?

Nintendo Wii

I know one the face of it it may seem daft, but think about it;   Nintendo Wii’s come with a web browser, are easy to connect to the internet and can play flash files.

For £140, they are about a third of the price of a desktop or laptop computer, have a wireless controller and there are dozens of websites out there offering flash games designed to be played on a Wii.

Also, the Wii-motes are cheap wireless, gyro-mice.  A gyromouse is a great way to move away fro mthe whiteboard and teach from any where in the classroom, they can be used in mid-air or on a table like a normal mouse, but they cost £80 each!  The Wii-mote can be connected to your PC via bluetooth and operate in exactly the same way.  They  only cost £35 and your kids already know how to use them.

One final thought, one of our Modern Foreign Languages teachers buy Spanish games when she’s on holiday.  They are the same games as can be bought in this country, but in Spanish.  During lessons her students get the chance to play these games, but have to translate as they go along.  That’s a clever bit of immersion.