Author Archive for SmartyP

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Busting Hump for a Dev Contest Can Pay Off


You’ve probably seen the commercials Samsung and AT&T have been running lately for the Galaxy Note – Is it a phone? Is it a tablet? – luckily for me it was a money maker. I bought the “phone” a month or two ago, and honestly I really dig it – but that’s probably a topic for another blog entry.

Timing would have it that Samsung announced a developer challenge shortly after my purchase – with a crazy development turnaround time of a month – and of course I didn’t hear about it until a week after the contest was announced. During those remaining 3 weeks I had a vacation in Vegas planned on top of my already busy work and personal life schedule (which includes a 15 month old). On top of that I’d never personally developed for Android before, hadn’t coded in Java in about 10 years, and wasn’t familiar with Eclipse either. It also looked like the only time I would have was 2 weekends – before and after my Vegas vacation - and maybe a few weeknights if I was lucky. So, of course I went after it – cash prizes can be quite a motivator.

I ended up working two weekends of long hours trying to learn Android, the Samsung S-Pen SDK, and write an entire game from scratch. I ended up working two 25 hour weekends and a handful of super-late nights (thanks to my lovely wife watching our son). In the end I submitted my app at 1:30am in the morning on the Monday due date – needless to say I was worn out. After having felt burned in my last developer contest a few years ago, I doubted my sanity in killing myself trying to compete in something like this again. Now I just had to wait ~20 days to find out the results.

As it turns out, I placed 2nd in the contest. Honestly, when you win $50k you still feel like you won 1st place. Of course Uncle Sam is going to want his $20k, but I can’t complain. In the end it was all worth it, and of course now I have the time to go back and really learn how to develop properly for Android vs hack at it for a crazy deadline.

As someone who doesn’t code all day for a living anymore, this was quite a challenge – and one I really enjoyed. The contest was powered via ChallengePost.com, which has a bunch of other challenges for those interested. Over this last weekend Samsung announced another contest – this one with $4 million in prizes – guess I better start resting up.

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The Blistering Pace of Interaction Advances

It seems like forever ago, but I clearly remember when computer mice became popular. I remember avoiding them like the plague at first – thinking how inefficient they were compared to a keyboard. I also remember a friend’s naive younger sister grabbing at the mouse as soon as she turned the computer on and thinking “this thing is going to dumb down computer users so much”. Fifteen years later and my opinions couldn’t be more different.

The mouse is to the PC, just as the game controller is to the XBox, just as the remote is to the TV – they are forms of interaction which are workhorses to millions. All of these controllers are pretty simple in nature: you push a button, it travels some wires (or wirelessly), and it tells a computer something to do. All of these forms of control were built back when computing power was at a premium, and before computer sensors are what they are today. What is becoming clear is that the biggest device innovations today are not just measured by computing power, storage, or screen size – the biggest innovations today are measured in how you interact with them, and how they interact with you.

A camera making use of face and smile detection
A camera making use of face and smile detection

 

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Windows Phone 7 Marketplace Launches with Tesco Real Foods App

As of today Windows Phone 7 devices have begun being sold across the pond in the UK. We are very happy to see the launch of Microsoft’s reinvention of their mobile platform, and are equally as happy to have been involved in the development of launch titles.

Tesco Real Foods Screenshot

Above are screenshots from the Tesco Real Food Application, one of a number of applications we have developed for the platform launch. We were lucky enough to work on this project in conjunction with our partners at Microsoft, and believe the application does a great job at connecting the Tesco Real Foods brand with their customers. Now users can browse and search the same recipes on their Windows Phone device as they can find on Tesco.com/food – but in a Metro centric style and mobile friendly way.

IQ is committed to excelling in the Windows Phone 7 application space, and we hope to share more about other WP7 related projects soon.

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IQ Still Cranking on Windows Phone 7 Apps


IQ has been lucky enough to pick up several Windows Phone related projects in the last few months. These apps are fun because they are in various sectors and give our creative department a new platform to innovate within. Last month we were lucky enough to send a few folks to a Windows Phone 7 Designer Days event in Redmond, and videos from that event have recently been posted here. Just this week we have managed to start testing our apps on actual devices, and that is making the work on these projects all the more exciting.

While Windows Phone 7 is a hot topic right now already in the tech market, I can’t help but believe that many brands are going to be caught off guard this holiday season when WP7 launches. While Silverlight developers like myself have been paying attention to Windows Phone 7 news for what seems like forever, most folks in the public sector still aren’t aware of its pending release. While many brands first entry to mobile was the iPhone, and most brands wish they would’ve been in the marketplace sooner, it seems some brands are about to miss the bus on the next big mobile platform launch. It may not be until commercials start rolling in the next few months that pandemonium sets in for getting apps knocked out and ready for the marketplace.

We are psyched to be working on launch apps for the platform, and can’t wait to see where Windows Phone goes from here.

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Is Apple Looking to Prevent Cross Platform Mobile Applications?

After Apple’s announcement yesterday about iPhone OS 4.0 they released the new SDK and tools for developers to start ramping up on. In the process some have noticed a change in the developer’s agreement – a change that has many budding iPhone developers on edge:

Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

The new verbiage found in the developer’s agreement seems to be targeted against a handful of platforms that have come up over the last year which allow developers from other platforms to target their code against the iPhone and have their code built into an iPhone executable. A few prominent examples are the Flash Packager for iPhone set to ship in Adobe Flash CS5, and MonoTouch – a platform that allows .Net developers to port their code to the iPhone. These are just a few examples of platforms that may now go against these new changes to the developer’s agreement.

Perhaps the biggest reason for concern about this new language is that it is essentially stating that Apple has no desire to allow for cross platform mobile applications. Apple has already been quite overt in their commentary against Flash, trying to justify technical reasons why it isn’t allowed on their platform while dodging the more obvious concerns it would present to their marketplace business model. What is disconcerting is that now even Flash apps that fit into their marketplace structure could be removed or rejected from the marketplace. In the case of MonoTouch, they are set to release a version for Android later in the year, which would have made MonoTouch a way to write .Net code which could be shared across web, desktop, iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone 7 devices – now that may never happen. Developers who are already in the process of writing applications and games via these frameworks are now forced to wait-and-see about whether the applications they’ve already invested in will ever see the light of day on the iPhone platform once the 4.0 update is released.

There is a very valid argument that says that creating an application with the same UI across all platforms creates a bad experience across all platforms. If you are running on an iPhone you want it to conform to the iPhone paradigms, same goes for Windows Phone or Android devices – sharing the frontend UI across platforms is not something we would want to encourage. But Apple appears to be taking it one step further by not allowing the backend code to be shared either – something that is going to prevent small and large developers from targeting multiple devices, or force them to develop across a very different set of languages and technologies.

As a developer, I’d love nothing more than to share my codebase across as many platforms as possible, with the only real difference being the frontend display and interaction recreated to match the platform. Unfortunately, Apple appears to be placing itself firmly against this idea – although it remains to be seen if they will pull the hundreds of apps already written and published using these frameworks. In the mean time, I am hopeful that Flash coming to Palm OS, Android, and Windows Phone 7 will put some pressure on them – and that developers being able to share their code in some way on other platforms will make them the more likely candidate to have code written for. If the chart below is any indication, the ability of Apple to mandate the market may be about to change:

Update: There are some insightful comments coming from folks on the MonoTouch project relative to these changes perhaps trying to distance themselves from the assumed target – Flash. There is also a nice TechCrunch article on the subject here, as well as some commentary from the Flash perspective.

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Microsoft Explains Inspiration Behind New ‘Metro’ Style

Most likely by now you’ve seen that Microsoft has unveiled their first real competitor to Apple’s iPhone called Windows Phone 7. The series of devices sporting this new mobile OS will be released sometime this holiday season. At last week’s MIX 2010 conference there was a session entitled ‘Windows Phone UI and Design Language’ where they discussed the inspiration behind the phone’s new look and feel (codenamed ‘Metro’):


Get Microsoft Silverlight

If you haven’t seen a lot about Windows Phone 7 yet be sure to check out the keynotes and all the other sessions from MIX10 available here. Since IQ is now a Silverlight partner with Microsoft we are very eager to start writing mobile apps in Silverlight for this series of devices.

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Labs: Silverlight Playtime on the Nokia N97

From time to time we may post things on the blog which are internal testbeds and prototypes showing off some of the emerging technology we’re playing with here at IQ. The video below shows a testbed app for Facebook interactivity running on both a PC and running on a Nokia N97 using the Silverlight SDK for Symbian publicly released today.

This video is mostly for the devs out there chomping at the bit to get started on mobile development with Silverlight, so please don’t expect anything in the way of design and function – instead check to see the underlying technology that will help power a new generation of interactive apps on the Nokia platform in the years to come.

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Atlanta’s Silverlight Community Continues to Grow

Roger presenting at February's Silverlight Meetup

This Wednesday I had my first chance to present at the local Atlanta Silverlight Meetup group. I presented my talk ‘Thinking Outside the Battleship Gray Box’ – a plea to traditional developers to start thinking beyond their current assumptions from older technology platforms and to get familiar with some of the basic techniques for building great modern looking apps. I hope to revamp this talk for CodeStock later in the year.

The group is now almost a year old, and has gone from 7 or 8 people to a consistent 35+ people coming for the monthly events, and over 200 people registered for the group – the photo above shows about half of the room we were in. What is great about this user group is that we’ve been able to grow in size without having to abandon the venue – which means even if the talk isn’t something you are interested in you still get the chance to unwind after work with a beer and a few friends.

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Why HTML 5 Won’t Kill Flash or Silverlight

There is a recurring theme that keeps popping up on tech blogs regarding HTML 5 – the idea that it is going to kill off Flash and Silverlight. These comments are frequently in response to folks complaining about the lack of Flash support on a given device, usually mobile devices or devices that aren’t running your typical OS that supports the use of plugins.

The arguement that HTML 5 is going to kill off RIA apps is based on the perception that all Flash and Silverlight are used for is to display video and do simple animations. To those in the field we know that this is a dramatic over-simplification, but at first glance it actually makes sense. When you think about the average user’s usage of Flash or Silverlight it is almost always in the context of Youtube or Vimeo or Netflix – sites which all use Flash or Silverlight to power their streaming video. With HTML 5, websites will be able to support common video formats like H.264 through HTML alone. In fact, several video sites are already releasing HTML 5 based alternate sites for those who want to watch videos without using Flash, the most prominent example being YouTube’s recent announcement.

The reason why HTML 5 won’t kill off Flash or Silverlight is pretty simple – it doesn’t have the ability to change as quickly as these plugins can. According to Wikipedia, HTML 4 was standardized in 1997 – thirteen years ago. In Internet time 13 years is roughly the equivalent of the time between bicycles and cars being invented – a world of difference. HTML 5 may compete with Flash and Silverlight in the short term for video playback and animations, but as soon as the next major web innovation comes along HTML 5 will be outdated again, and once again plugins will be necessary to facilitate cutting edge experiences on the web.

So while some are trying to argue that HTML 5 is going to kill Flash and Silverlight, I’m going to make a different argument – that HTML 5 is already outdated. HTML 5 has no inherent support for touch based interfaces, something which is very quickly revolutionizing what users expect when it comes to interacting with computers. Silverlight already supports multitouch, and Flash 10.1 has support for it as well, but HTML 5 does not. Likewise, while HTML 5 may cut into Flash and Silverlight’s usage for video, it will be shortlived. The video engine which Netflix uses to stream to millions every month is not a simple video embed, it is a technology that real-time swaps a user between various encoding qualities based on their realtime bandwidth – something which HTML 5 can’t intrinsically do. Furthermore, the #1 place where Flash is used is for embedded advertising on tons of sites – advertisements that most people don’t even realize are in Flash. When it comes to a content provider letting 3rd parties run ads on their site, they aren’t going to allow HTML 5 powered animations and interactions to be embedded onto their site – they are going to stick with static images or embeddable objects, not run the risk of embedding foreign HTML into their site layout.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for HTML 5 – it will assuredly be a great platform to bring a lot of revolution to sites on the web. But with that said, implementations of HTML 5 are no closer to being standardized than they have been for HTML 4 all these years, and just because there is a standard doesn’t mean a device creator is going to implement the entire functionality set. Flash and Silverlight are great ways to avoid the hassle of dealing with browser compatibility issues, to use more evolved coding languages, and to push the envelope with emerging technologies and interactivity – Flash and Silverlight aren’t going anywhere.

-Roger Peters (aka SmartyP)

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