Tag Archives: Android

Why mobile web apps are slow

Mobile Phone with cloud of application icons flying arround
Why mobile web apps are slow.

A great fact-driven discussion, on the challenges facing mobile application developers, with regard to speed and memory management.

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A Great Product is Necessary – but not Sufficient – for Success

Great Story

Yesterday, I posited that great marketing is simply great storytelling.

And great stories all begin with an interesting subject to frame a compelling narrative around.

In marketing, that subject is your product (for simplicity’s sake, I’m purposefully conflating products and services, to being simply the “thing” that you’re trying to influence an audience to buy – or buy into).

And while a solid and innovative product is the very beginning of crafting a compelling campaign, it is not sufficient for the success of that product in the marketplace. In fact, I would claim that great products fail almost entirely because their creators didn’t tell their “story” in a way that hit home with their audience… or they told it at a time when their audience wasn’t ready to hear that particular story.

Let’s look at some illustrative brand examples: mobile devices.

The current mobile marketplace is dominated by Samsung (Android) and Apple (iOS). But they were by no means the first companies to market “smart” mobile devices. Who were? Palm, Research in Motion (RIM, neé Blackberry), and Microsoft (in the case of Microsoft, nearly seventeen years ago)!

So – why did Palm, Blackberry, and Microsoft fail to win – or in case of Palm and Blackberry, fail to keep – hearts and minds, while Apple and Samsung (Android) now rule the world?

In the case of Microsoft, they never made the cogent case for why Microsoft CE (their first mobile smart OS) was something that consumers needed to buy. Arguably, the nascent mobile web wasn’t ready ten years ago – from a design and UX standpoint – to make CE an attractive portal for readable web sites. So in a sense, it was a combination of Microsoft not successfully pitching why the devices were needed, and the mobile web not being ready to support a new wave of mobile consumers.

In the cases of both Palm and Blackberry, you have two early market dominators who enjoyed a near monopoly – for a time – but squandered their positioning through poor leadership, lack of innovation, and the inability of each company to successfully innovate and change their product narratives, when new challengers entered their respective markets.

As a result, Palm is history (for all intents and purposes), and Blackberry is a mere shadow of its former self, all in the span of a handful of years.

So – why did Apple and Samsung (Android) succeed (ed: so far), while these other brands stumbled so badly? Because they had a larger story to tell, that was more than simply describing the specs of their product.

Apple was able to leverage a huge installed base of users in an existing ecosystem (with their captive credit card numbers in tow), tethered to their iTunes music store. They were able to tell a story of “everything just works” (true or no – it was a simple and compelling tagline).

Samsung was able to leverage the massive popularity of Android, while touting innovation over their main competitor Apple, playing heavily upon a narrative that iOS is very cool – for your parents. And, they arguably have a successful narrative around doing things “years ahead” of Apple (the phablet form factor, near field communications (NFC), contact sharing, etc.).

There are other recent examples in the mobile space, demonstrating how strong brands can fail, lacking a compelling product narrative – like Nokia; a brand that dominated the “feature phone” handset space globally, that has now virtually ceased to exist as a separate mobile brand, in no small part to idiotic “storytelling“, via their CEO, Stephen Elop, in his “Burning Platform” memo.

These examples all demonstrate that great products can fail, and fail hard – either to take root, as was the case with Windows CE, or to keep marketshare, as was the case with Palm, RIM, and Nokia – because of the lack of a compelling narrative promoting and maintaining their brands.

And, they demonstrate how a strong product stories can elevate what could have been “also ran” products, into the next generation market leaders, which is no mean feat; ask Microsoft, trying to claw their way back into mobile relevance with a very good product (Windows Phone), a superior camera (best in breed, in my opinion) – but a decidedly muddled marketing story.

We’re about to see a similar battle engaged anew, with the announcement of the new Apple Watch. Will Apple be able to create a strong enough narrative as to why their new product is more compelling than the Samsung Gear, the Moto 360, or the Pebble, to possibly create a new market leader?

If past is prologue, I wouldn’t count them out.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss how a brand’s voice is essential to telling a great marketing story.

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Thoughts from the Road

I’m in Tampa, at the University of South Florida, attending the Higher Education Enterprise Mobile Applications Conference (HEEMAC). I’ve seen and heard some really great things that colleges and universities are doing, from a mobile enterprise perspective.

One group, however, is strikingly absent – faculty. I’ve run into Associate Deans, technologists, native app developers, web developers, and even the odd CIO… but only one or two faculty members, out of 100+ conference attendees.

Admittedly, this is an enterprise mobile conference, and not one centered upon pedagogy.

Still.

I believe that faculty are under represented, overlooked, and generally ignored in conversations of campus technology, where they are every bit as much stakeholders as the students we strive to support. This week is only reinforcing – at least, for me – the great divide between academics, and the information technology infrastructure supporting the administrative side of things.

I was heartened to hear words like “enable” and “facilitate” in the context of opening up APIs, mobile development best practices, and providing software development guidance.

I was equally disheartened to hear that some mobile projects are being intentionally “slow walked” in order to have these projects wither and die from neglect.

To paraphrase from Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

“Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle mobile application.”

We have much yet to do to make our technology decisions inclusive of all stakeholders; not only because it is the right and proper thing to do, but because we are allowing strategic decisions be driven by what is simple to support and easy to do. If we are to innovate, stand out, and convincingly argue our institutions’ cases for value within the current environment of uncertainty, high debt, and questionable sustainability in higher education, then I believe we must do better than simply be “good enough.” We must be exemplary. And that can’t be done on the cheap, nor the easy.

We have real innovation occurring in higher ed mobile. We also have a lot of cookie cutter, least-common denominator solutions.

Is that good enough?

I’m grateful for the forum that our gracious hosts at USF have afforded us to conduct this inquiry into values, technology, and mobile strategy. We have our work cut out for us.

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Creating Calendar Events – Using WebView – in Android

Hey – it’s been a while.

No time like the present to write a post about Android coding.

Specifically: “how do I create a calendar event from within a WebView in Android?”

First, let’s talk game plan. I am going to construct an url “scheme” that will indicate to a handler that I want to create a calendar event, and not navigate to a web page; then, I need to call an Intent that will allow the event to be created.

Easy Peasy.

So, for my dates that I wish to portray on a web view, I do something like the following:

<a href='date:beginmonth, beginday, beginyear, 
endmonth, endday, endyear, My Event Description'>
My event link</a>

Then, I construct a shouldOverrideUrlLoading handler that will detect that a date: is being clicked, and handle it specially (see the code below):

final WebView crimeView = (WebView) findViewById(R.id.webview_crime);

crimeView.setWebViewClient(new WebViewClient() {

@Override

public boolean shouldOverrideUrlLoading (WebView view, String url)

{

if (url.startsWith("date:")) {

Log.d(this.getClass().getCanonicalName(),url);

Calendar beginCal = Calendar.getInstance();

Calendar endCal = Calendar.getInstance();

Date beginDate = new Date(0, 0, 0);

Date endDate = new Date(0, 0, 0);

String parsed = url.substring(5);

String[] components = parsed.split(",");

beginDate.setMonth(Integer.parseInt(components[0]));

beginDate.setDate(Integer.parseInt(components[1]));

beginDate.setYear(Integer.parseInt(components[2]));

beginCal.setTime(beginDate);

endDate.setMonth(Integer.parseInt(components[3]));

endDate.setDate(Integer.parseInt(components[4]));

endDate.setYear(Integer.parseInt(components[5]));

endCal.setTime(endDate);

calendarevent(beginCal, endCal, components[6]);

return true;

}

return false;

}

});

Finally, we need code to invoke the Calendar intent. It looks like the following:

 // Create a calendar event
    public void calendarevent(Calendar begintime, Calendar endtime, 
                              String eventName) 
    {
        Intent intent = new Intent(Intent.ACTION_EDIT);
        intent.setType("vnd.android.cursor.item/event");
        intent.putExtra("beginTime", begintime.getTimeInMillis());
        intent.putExtra("allDay", false);
        intent.putExtra("rrule", "FREQ=YEARLY");
        intent.putExtra("endTime", endtime.getTimeInMillis()+60*60*1000);
        intent.putExtra("title", eventName);
        startActivity(intent);
    }

And that, as they say, is that.

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Transparent Backgrounds on Android Views

A frequent question encountered when using WebView inside of an Android app is “how do I make the background transparent, rather than the default white color?

This is ridiculously easy:

WebView myWebView = new WebView(this);
myWebView.setBackgroundColor(0);


Happy Coding.

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Making Breaking Changes

The decision to make – or not make – a “breaking” change is always difficult.

A “breaking change” is a change made to an application that either forces an upgrade to a new OS, a new piece of hardware, or in any way fundamentally changes the app in such a way that the application won’t work the way it used to.

Sometimes one must make a decision to roll out a breaking change because the gain is much more than the pain felt in not doing the breaking change.

And sometimes, developers make breaking changes for no good reason whatsoever.

Like, for example, the change made by Google’s Android SDK team when they changed the name of their “tools” directory – the directory where all of the utilities needed to build and deploy Android apps – to “platform-tools.”

No new features were added. No additional functions.

Just a change that caused every developer who downloads the latest sdk to have to change his system configuration. And waste 15 minutes or more for a change that adds no value. Zilch.

Even if a change only involves changing a PATH statement (as this change did), why make the change at all if it is only to satisfy some arbitrary naming aesthetic?

It’s stupid.

And makes me want to whup somebody’s tail for being stupid.

Listen – I can appreciate wanting to correct past wrongs. But sometimes, the gain (zero in this case) is not worth the aggravation you cause the entire community by your breaking change.

So please, consider that the most valuable asset we all have is our time.

And when you waste it doing stupid stuff like this, it shows disrespect and a total lack of consideration.

There are absolutely times when breaking changes are warranted. In this case, Google, changing the name of the tools directory was unwarranted and idiotic.

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A Modest Proposal (With Apologies to Jonathan Swift)

Once again, while working with Android, I’ve been bitten on the backside by differences between devices and how the camera works.

In the latest incarnation, users uncovered a problem where the DroidX camera (using com.motorola.camera) simply stops working. And not just for our app; for all subsequent usage until the phone is restarted.

Simply by taking a picture.

Apparently there is a known issue with the Motorola camera app and marking photos with GPS data.

But here’s the thing – why the hell is it so impossible for Google to simply say, “this is the camera app – use it, or else?”

If I sound frustrated, it is because I am. Camera issues account for 95% of the headaches I have when dealing with Android app problems (the other 5% usually involve memory allocation).

So, borne of my frustration, I make the following modest proposal:

In the future, before certifying a handset as being an Android device, Google should change their licensing to require handset manufacturers / carriers to provide a ROM-identical simulator for every Android device they ship. Running the exact apps that run on the actual device in the wild.

Without having actual hardware on hand, it is impossible – IMPOSSIBLE – to realistically test 100% of a device’s capability.

And when the carrier or handset maker ships a custom camera app, without a physical handset on hand, there is zero hope of testing – and guaranteeing – that an app will work with that particular handset.

It’s a small miracle that more outrage isn’t commented upon. Because it’s certainly out there.

As an Android user, I feel the pain personally. As an Android developer, it is a big point of pride to try and release the best possible software that I can.

But when every handset maker and carrier chooses to pick and choose core peripherals (like camera, video, gps, etc.) that they will support – or not – in a standard – or not – way, it makes the job of creating 99.99% up time, quality software nigh impossible.

At least not without sounding like you’re a whining excuse maker.

It is what it is.

I simply believe that Google must step up and think more of what this is doing to user experience and how app developers are bearing the brunt of the shoddy crap that is coming out of Motorola and the other carriers.

Instead of being concerned with spreading the Android “brand” at the expense of defining what, exactly, it means to be minimally “Android” in  anything approaching a uniform sense.

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