Sunday, 30 September 2012

Blackberry Native App Coding

The latest free Blackberry Playbook offer has hit the developer's plate, and brings with it a 32gb version shipped to your door along with a whole lot of learning fun! The only catch - you have to submit an app written with the Marmalade SDK, a native C++ library designed to make it easy not only to port your app to Blackberry, but also to iOS and Android with relative ease.

At first, writing code using the Marmalade SDK (or any native SDK for that matter) seems over-whelming. A good grasp of C++ won't save you completely, as there are thousands of function names, classes and other structures that are unique to the SDK. Fortunately, there are plenty of "Hello World" type examples and some amazing tutorials by DrMop ( that help you learn and provide code snippets to grab for your app. Marmalade itself offers a huge library of tutorials and has online forums where developers can share their coding conundrums!

So why go through the bother, just to get a $149 Playbook 32gb? It is about the challenge! It is also about learning to develop in native (versus HTML webkit only) and having an app that can be ported to all major platforms. It is about the potential to make money with the app, especially if a pay version is released. And all you need to get started is the willingness to put in some time and effort.

Microsoft Visual C++ Express 2010 is available as a free download, and forms the development environment to work in. The Marmalade SDK installs and works seemlessly together with it, even providing a simulator to test your app and emulate different devices. Everything required to get coding, including Blackberry signing keys, is free along with a Playbook. Anyone with the drive to work hard and learn has the potential to make the next "Blockbuster App", an Angry Birds of their own!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

iPhone 5: Hit or Miss?

With the arrival of the new iPhone (arguably the fastest phone in the world), and the tremendous market response it has achieved, can there be any doubt that Apple has out-done itself yet again and driven another nail in the coffin of all other smartphone makers?

While the iPhone 5 is definitely a force to be reckoned with, not all is as pretty as it may seem. It may have the fastest processor, great for playing 3D games and crunching through videos and photos, but for most of us the extra speed will do little to improve most of the features we use. Reviews have already pointed out iPhone's biggest weakness, iOS 6, which has both added features in this latest version (integrated Facebook) and taken them away (Google Maps).

Fortunately, the OS can be improved. Unfortunately, with all that power under the hood, basic email-attachment access via direct file system browsing is left to be desired. Apple still doesn't want you to access your phone's files except for photos, and through 3rd party apps or iCloud. And you still can't download an MP3 file directly off the web using your phone and set it up as a ringtone.

Physically, the new iPhone is a beauty. Light, thin, but definitely not the thinnest phone ever (as Apple would lead you to believe). iFixit's teardown shows a suprisingly easy disassembly, if you care to open up your phone. The one-piece aluminum chassis is light and dissipates heat well. However, the black version is going to need a case (which most people use anyways) because apparently it scratches extremely easily. The white version doesn't show scratches as easily since the aluminum is also light in color.

So is the iPhone 5 a hit or miss? The market has answered and the masses are eating up iPhones like never before. Despite some criticisms, Apple has their fan-base in the palm of their hand, and the fan-base is growing. However, there is nothing revolutionary about it. The iPhone is just a little bit more refined, using the fastest available chips, thinner but still with a long-life battery, and slightly larger screen.

With all the media attention Apple has gained with the hype around the new iPhone, one would think it was miles ahead of the competition... But there are plenty of other options in the smartphone market that can compete well on that level. Depending on useability requirements, there are many other phones that may be a better fit to someone versus the iPhone.

Now that Apple has set the bar higher, be ready for a slew of new devices that emulate the design esthetics, speed and battery life of the iPhone 5. If you are willing to wait, I see some amazing smartphones coming in the next few quarters!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Heating Up The Battle of the Tablets

This fall we are going to see the next wave of strikes in what has been coined "The Tablet Wars". As the battles rage on, competition will only be good for consumers as we see prices drop and tablet options increase during the fall holiday season and into the new year. Anyone who is looking to add a tablet to their shopping list would be wise to wait and see where things go over the next few months.

Looking at the current landscape, we have no less than 5 major players all fighting to take a bite out of Apple's too-long-dominated market. There is Google's Nexus 7 which is a powerful $199 Android tablet. Anyone using Google's services for their main daily activities would do well with this choice as it provides excellent integration with Google's online ecosystem (Gmail, Google Docs, Blogging, Youtube, Google Maps, and others). It also gives unrestricted access to the full range of Android marketplace (now called Google Play).

Another great choice (which will likely out-sell Google) is Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, which is now being released in 2 size versions. The biggest advantage of the Kindle Fire seems to be the more controlled environment, easier interface, and stream-lining of the experience for users who consume Amazon content such as ebooks and videos. There are many Android apps and ways to get even non-Amazon-market apps through work-arounds, but for the average non-technical user the tablet is a great choice for entertainment. Versions come in at $199 for the smaller model and $299 for the larger one (putting the iPad at a huge price disadvantage).

The Surface is Microsoft's first entry into the tablet market. It appears to be a very sleek looking tablet poised to give the iPad a serious kick in the marketplace, especially when it comes to enterprise use. Not only an iPad competitor, but also an ultra-book competitor with the Surface Pro. It will come in 2 flavours... The RT edition running on an ARM processor and running mobile Windows 8 apps, and the Surface Pro which is based on Intel and runs a full Windows 8 that will be able to function and run the same apps as your laptop. Windows has a huge application history and there are more PC's running Windows than any other operating system. Depending on the pricing, Microsoft may gain considerable market share.

The Blackberry Playbook, now more than 1.5 years old, still is excellent value for the money. Recent sale of the device in the $150 range make it an obvious choice for a cheap well-built device that speeds through websites, has some nice 3D games and lots of apps coming. Although it lags behind iOS and Android in terms of apps, all the main bases are covered and a well-stocked variety of applications exists. Playbook buyers will get an added bonus in early 2013 when RIM releases the first Blackberry 10 platform phones, and soon after the Playbook will receive a BB10 software update! For these prices it is a really good purchase, especially when you have seen the impressive BB10 interface.

Other major hardware manufacturers are releasing cheap tablets, mostly in the Android space. Samsung already has its Galaxy series and ASUS is pushing the Transformer series of tablets. There are countless others, but it will be important to see which ones are able to deliver a quality Android 4.0+ device. Many cheap tablets have poor quality construction, low resolution screens and still run on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).

Finally, Apple is releasing the iPad Mini in order to try and get a bite of the smaller-format tablet space. While this may make many other tablet-makers fearful, Apple will also need to watch its back as the Microsoft Surface, Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and larger Samsung and ASUS tablets (and a rumoured larger Blackberry Playbook) nip at its heals in the larger format iPad space.