Turning Your B&N NookColor into a Full-blown Android Tablet

Barnes & Noble Nook Color Android media tabletIf you recently scored yourself a Barnes & Noble’s new NookColor Android tablet and digital reader device, you already know what a great media tablet it is for the relatively affordable sum of $249(WiFi-only). Of course, you also know that B&N has not yet launched their curated apps marketplace (coming very soon, though, I understand), so apps are a bit limited. Now, if you can’t wait and are adventurous, someone has already figured out the “rooting” process and have kindly documented the relatively simple process for you.

While the original objective of the exercise was to be to able to read Kindle books on the NookColor (something that surely would worry B&N but really shouldn’t), you can follow the same Android rooting process and end up with an inexpensive, full-blown Android tablet that can access the Android Market. Why bother with the Samsung Galaxy Tab at $599 (or thereabouts), unless you want/ need 3G service, when you can have a similar media tablet for less than half the price?

I’ll admit that I don’t know if this rooting of the Nook Color is against warranty terms, but the author of the article suggests making sure your device is registered with B&N first. Me, I’m going to wait until I get another NookColor and then give it a shot, if only because I’m not sure if the device would be able to access B&N’s own upcoming app market — which is the reason I bought my NookColor in the first place. Of course, if it works, I’d do the same to the first and have two NookColor Android tablets for less than one Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Anyone out there tried this yet? Any tips to report?

via: CrunchGear.

Apps Tally: Google Android=200K, Apple iOS=400K

Food for thought: The Apple Apps Store was recently estimated [Aysmco] at nearly 400,000 apps (iPhone, iPad-only, and universal), whereas another estimate now puts the Google Android Market at 200,000 apps[Pocket-lint].

Is it me or did Android catch up fast? According to Pocket-lint, the Android Market doubled in two months  There are other estimates that say the Android Market will hit 400,000 apps around mid-2011. Part of that will probably be due to the Android tablets that are expected to appear in 2011. However, with or without new versions of Apple’s iPad due out soon, the App Store is going to continue to grow.

Whether or not the Android Market will ever catch up to or pass the App Store is hard to tell at this point, but I do know from talking to recruiters looking for mobile developers that need for Android apps development skills are now at the point where are a few companies are paying a higher rate per hour than for iPhone dev skills, and at less experience.

What do you think? Will Android surpass iOS? Do you think an apps market with nearly half-a-million apps is a good or bad thing, i.e., for finding what you really want?

Links: AsymcoPocket-Lint.

Loving Android, Motorola Droid X and the Barnes&Noble NookColor; Warming to Java

In the post Is Google’s Android Mobile OS in Danger?, I wrote that I’ve never been a fan of Java. However, I am a fan of Android. In the past couple of months, for development purposes, I’ve purchased a Motorola Droid X smartphone and a Barnes & Noble Color tablet — both of which run on the Android mobile OS. Because of both of these devices, I’m planning to get up to speed with Android and Java so that I can develop apps.

My in-a-nutshell impression is that I’m loving Android on the Droid X, thanks to the widgets and the fairly easy app installs. It also doesn’t hurt that the Droid X’s screen is so large — 4.3″, if I’m not mistaken (480 x 854 pixels) . And then there’s Barnes & Noble’s 7″ Nook Color tablet (600×1024). No, it’s not an iPad and the B&N curated Android apps marketplace hasn’t opened yet, but I’m loving this device. At only $249, I think I’ve made a good investment and picked it over the $599 Samsung Galaxy Tab. That’s just based on my needs as a mobile developer, and in fairness, I have not used the Galaxy Tab as extensively as I have the Nook Color. (Note: The Tab is a 3G+WiFi device, whereas the NookColor is WiFi-only.)

The Nook Color is great for reading digital versions of magazines and books, and there’s even a web browser and a number of game apps, as well as Pandora. (So you can read and listen to music simultaneously, either with Pandora or the built-in music player.) In fact, I’m loving the Nook Color tablet so much that I’m planning to Android versions of some of future iPad apps for the device. This includes my PostScribe book engine, now creeping out of the design phase and into coding.

Of course this means I have to give up watching reruns of Entourage to find the time to learn as much Android as I can and to refresh my Java knowledge, but I think it’ll be more than worth it. I truly believe that if B&N markets the Nook Color well that it’ll be worthwhile to Android developers, especially the digital book & educational apps arena.

By the way, if you’re interested in developing for the BN Nook Color, check out the details of their NOOKdeveloper program.

Have a mobile device, platform, application, service, accessory or related news or tips you want to share? Email info/ press releases to callstyleblog at gmail.com.

Is Google’s Android Mobile OS in Danger?

A recent InfoWorld article suggests that Google’s Android Mobile OS is in serious danger due to a business pact between IBM and Oracle.

The pact has to do with the two companies planning two focus on OpenJDK, a new open source version of Java. So why is that a problem for Google? Well besides the fact that Oracle — who recently purchased Sun Microsystems, creators of Java — has a lawsuit against Android’s use of Java components, the problem is that Android uses components of the Harmony project. Harmony is an open source version of Java, created under the Apache Software Foundation name and contributed to heavily to by IBM employees.

So according to InfoWorld, even if Google wins the Oracle lawsuit, a move to OpenJDK could seriously affect Android, an OS that has taken top place in terms of the number of new mobile handsets purchased this year in the USA. Focus on OpenJDK means little or no focus on Harmony.

To be honest, I haven’t followed what that’s exactly about; however, anything that worries developers can cause long-term harm. Most of my time this year has been with Apple iOS work, but since the writing seems to be on the wall about Android dominating the mobile handset market (and possibly with tablets) in the very near future, I’ve started boning up on my Android skills.

Let’s just say I’ve never been a fan of Java. I like streamlined code and Java code always felt like unnecessary bloat just to do simple operations. So it’s rather difficult to decide whether to put in time learning Java (circumstances in my career simply meant that I never really had much time or desire to learn beyond the basics). If Android is in danger, why should I spend the precious little time I have in a week learning the Android OS and Java, let alone developing apps in Android? That’s a question — or something like it — that other developers are no doubt asking. (Though now that I’ve been working with Apple’s Objective-C for a while, I’m not feeling so negatively towards Java’s object-oriented principles.)

Could it be that there’s some intent by Oracle and IBM to damage Google? Possible, but why? Neither has any visible investment in the Mobile space. To confuse matters even more — at least for my understanding — InfoWorld quotes an NY Times Bits’ blog post that says Google has more developers contributing to OpenJDK than Oracle does. But if Android is to not lose its growing position in Mobile market share, Google may have to take over Harmony development or start all over again. That’s partially because, as the NY Times blog Bits says, the Oracle lawsuit restricts communication between them and Google.

My feeling is that if the latter scenario happens — that is, if Google has to take over the Harmony project — it would leave an opening for Apple’s iOS to become king of the castle. (I really feel BlackBerry will lose their worldwide top ranking and that HP/Palm WebOS has a lot of marketing to do before they’re anywhere close. Then again, maybe a revitalized Mobile OS offering from Microsoft, in the form of Windows Phone 7, has a shot.

What are your thoughts, either as a consumer or a mobile apps developer, about these developments?

Links: InfoWorld, NY Times Bits Blog.

Design Mobile Apps for the Blind?

Without evening reading past Techcrunch’s recent headline about “two new Android apps to help the blind navigate around town,” a question pops into my head: exactly how does a blind person use a touchscreen-based smartphone if it doesn’t have a keyboard, and even if it does, what about the limitations. Excuse the pun, but I don’t see how such apps can be of any value — or at least that was my gut reaction. Some of you are probably thinking the same thing, but reflect on it for a moment and you might feel differently.

Techcrunch points out one blind iPhone user, Austin Seraphin, who wrote on his own blog, Behind the Curtain, back in June 2010 about how the phone changed his life in just the first 24 hours of using it. That is amazing. He goes on to explain how he uses the iPhone, and the key of course is the VoiceOver feature. Android phones, I’m assuming, have a similar feature.

So if you’re a mobile apps developers, whether you pick Apple iOS, Google Android, or some other Mobile OS with VoiceOver-like features, wouldn’t it be gratifying to build life-changing apps? Don’t ignore this market. While it might not be large now, the more well-designed mobile apps there are for the sight-impaired market, the larger that market will grow. (There might even be government grants to develop such apps.) While there’s no way a touchscreen smartphone can produce Braille content, combining audio and touch interactions might actually be a more valuable experience for the sight-impaired, and such apps could have a profoundly positive effect on someone’s life.

Of course, you’ll have to throw some of your mobile apps design principles out the proverbial window and approach design from a literally different perspective. That is, without sight. Trying closing your eyes and think about how you would want a mobile app to interact with you if you couldn’t see. If you had to tap, double-tap or swipe the screen based on audio cues, could you navigate through an app without looking? How can you improve the screen flow? Is it possible for a blind person to use your app on their own, or would they need a sighted person to changing settings for them? Can you incorporate touch-based interactions with voice without making it overly complicated?

For those of you looking for a challenge, the sight-impaired mobile market could be a great starting point and rewarding besides.

Have you designed or used mobile apps intended for the sight-impaired? What was your experience?

Links: Techcrunch, Behind the Curtain.

Offshore Mobile Developers Don’t Have to be a Threat

It’s no surprise that the giant East Indian corporation Tata, or actually one of its many divisions, is one of the two firms in negotiations with Apple to carry a CDMA version of the iPhone. The GSM version is already available in India through Bharti AirTel Ltd and Vodafone Essar Ltd., but 20% of the mobile handset market there uses CDMA phones. Does this greater availability of the iPhone mean more threat for N. American iPhone apps developers? Probably not.

Now I’ll admit that when I first saw the headline at WSJ, I was thinking, “Great, more iPhone development competition for me; should I get out of this now?” However, iPhone price points in Indian and Pakistan will naturally limit handset purchases and, indirectly, development competition. The cheapest iPhone in India is reportedly about US$680 and nearly half the country’s earners make about half that in an entire year, so I can’t see much opportunity there for Apple, and even most Indian developers probably wouldn’t want to shell out that much when they can test much of their iOS code on a simulator.

Now if you’ve done any iPhone apps development, you’ll know that you can get away with a lot of code being tested on a simulator, but if you have to develop for distribution, you’re pretty much going to need to test on a device. As for a dev environment, unless an Indian iPhone dev is working for a company, they end up likely using a Hackintosh, created from an Intel-based PC/laptop running Mac OS X, which Apple views as  being against their TOS. I’ve done extensive research out of curiosity, and even for a long-time programmer such as myself, who’s comfortable taking apart a desktop PC and tinkering, building a Hackintosh does not seem to have a guaranteed ROI. There are too many problems, and using the right computer is important to begin with. At least for N. American devs, it’s probably not worth the time to build a Hackintosh. For a lone Indian dev wanting to work nights and weekends, it’s a necessity, but even just a Windows-based PC can cost a considerable portion of their monthly salary.

For cost and other reasons, many Indian mobile dev houses are likely partnering with a N. American consulting firm — which reduces competition from individual developers. My own experience is that too many offshore companies are underbidding on projects and end up doing poor jobs because they’re not partnered, leaving a sour taste in clients’ collective mouths. Other problems are time zone differences. If you’re in continental N. America, you’re between 9.5-12.5 hours behind India, and it is not easy working with a remote team. It also seems that with all the job-hopping going on there, resources are often lacking and newbies need too much handholding.

Being of Indian origin myself but growing up in Canada and the U.S., I feel I can get away with saying that, and it’s a harsh reality for clients. On the other hand, if you understand Indian culture enough and have reliable contacts in India, if you have more than enough work that you might otherwise turn away, you could consider working with a remote team there. From my own experience, I’d suggest redundancy of personnel, but at relatively low salary costs, it’s still affordable to have two different developers do the same work and for you to choose the better code. The only drawback is that you’d likely have to purchase Macs here and have them shipped over. Oh, and in many parts of India, you’d probably want to have a UPS (Universal Power Supply) box, to avoid downtime when the electric grid goes kaput. (From my own home state, that can happen every single afternoon, especially during monsoon season.)

Links: WSJ.

Android Might Become Top Mobile OS, But What About Design Environment?

The writing’s on the wall: Android is probably going to dominate in the mobile OS space, from the consumer perspective, for quite some time. In fact, NielsenWire just published a report (link below) stating that Android has leaped into top place in the smartphone OS category, at least in the U.S., amongst recent smartphone purchasers — passing the iPhone. A number of other online publications have been saying for a few weeks that Android will dominate over all, and the report is echoed in the NY Times and in GigaOm. While I have nothing against Google — I do use many, many of their web tools daily — as a mobile developer, I have my own concerns about this. Namely, can the Android dev & design environment attract quality mobile apps development?

Let me clarify, if I can, so as not to offend. I’ve been thick in the development of iPhone/ iPad apps for the past few months (hence why I have not written on CallStyle lately), and only just started picking up Android skills. I love the Mac’s Xcode environment and the Interface Builder, both of which make it relatively easy to to at least mockup iPhone and iPad screens

I don’t feel that that’s the case with Android. While I have no Android phone to verify the quality of Android apps, I have been working with the Eclipse IDE and necessary Android plugins to do some very simple “hello, world” type of  mobile apps in the simulator. Now, I am an experienced programmer of more than 25 years (though I’m not saying how much “more”), and I can assess an dev environment fairly quickly. I’ve always liked the Eclipse IDE, though most of the languages I used to program in didn’t have plugins at the time, so I’ve never used Eclipse all that much. However, it’s the Android screen design that I’m not impressed with. Mocking up screens in Android is nowhere nearly as enjoyable as for Apple iOS. What’s more, Android phones have far too many screen sizes overall. It’s like designing sites for the Web all over again.

Call me biased but when offshore companies (i.e., outside Canada and the U.S.) are bidding as low as possible on mobile app projects and even prototyping for free, it’s hard enough to survive and create iPhone apps that will function on just 3-4 types of devices (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPhone 4, iPad). Sure, Apple might soon release a 7″ iPad, or other devices that’ll have iOS and need apps, but for now, it’s relatively easy to design for iOS, and the Mac’s Interface Builder makes it easy too. I’m not seeing the equivalent for Android. It just doesn’t feel as enjoyable, and the simulator feels like an afterthought.

Apple’s App Store is still the biggest for now, but if I recall, there are experts who believe that won’t last. I don’t know. While I will be developing for Android and probably WebOS, my money (or at least my time) is still on iOS for now. What about you? As either a consumer of mobile apps or a developer, which platform are you betting on and why.

Links: Nielsen Wire, NY Times, GigaOm.

Why is AT&T Still Apple’s Only U.S. Carrier?

What’s going on with AT&T? First there’s the security breach relating to iPad customers, then there’s the crashed pre-order site for the iPhone 4. Not to mention, the decision to retract the all-you-can-eat data plan for the iPad 3G, going to an option that’ll cost power users even more money — apparently because almost no one was using their 5GB/month caps.

Wait, there’s more. Today there’s word of a breach with the iPhone 4 pre-order site showing the wrong addresses and credit card info to some people, right near the end of the pre-order process. Some people managed to catch the problem but who knows how many people didn’t? If you get a free iPhone 4 in the mail between now and July 14th, you’ll know why. (Just to be clear: it’s probably illegal if you keep the phone.) Not enough for you? AT&T has been canceling some completed iPhone 4 pre-orders, but they told Electronista it was because some customers ordered twice, having not received confirmation of the first completed order.

Wow, Apple. And you still want to have just one carrier in the USA? I mean sure there were 10 times the preorders of iPhone 4 than for 3GS last year, but what about all the security breaches in the matter of just a few weeks? The iPad breach goes beyond the release of contact info for 114,000 customers (including highly-placed politicians), and some experts say it might be worse than first thought, possibly allowing hackers to track the physical location of the devices.

If Apple has all the muscle it does, I’m surprised that CEO Steve Jobs has not met with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson – the man who claims that his company will be number one in mobile broadband by 2015. Does that mean they’re not number one now? If not, they why have Apple partnered with them?

Options for Trading in Your Old Apple iPhone

Considering getting one of the hot new iPhone 4 models with tons of great features, not to mention open-standard video calling? Having grown up watching The Jetsons TV cartoon, I’d buy two iPhone 4s for the video calling feature alone (and intend to), but there’s the question of what to do with an existing iPhone. As a mobile developer, I intend to keep my 3GS model, but if you’re inclined to upgrade come Jun 24th (for the USA and eight other countries), you can get cash on your iPhone. Yahoo! News has a writeup about five of the more popular trade-in sites that’ll pay cash for an older iPhone — as much as $320. (There’s also a tip on how to wipe your personal data before selling the phone.)

Now, considering that the newer iPhone 3GS 8GB model (available soon in select countries) is only $99, why would anyone want to buy an older iPhone? Lots of reasons. Some countries don’t have locked carriers like in the USA with AT&T. There might also be buyers who want to jailbreak the phone, or simply use it just like an iPod Touch. In fact, a 3G or 3GS has more features than an iPod Touch, so interested buyers are motivated.

Avatron link: Air Display.

Avatron Air Display App: Your iPad as External Screen [Updated]

Not everyone needs multiple computers and screens like my setup, above, but if you do and also own an iPad, there’s a quick-fix option.

Despite my 5 screens (3 laptops, 1 Dell Zino mini-desktop), iPhone and iPad, my work sometimes has me wishing I had yet one more screen. That productivity is extremely high when you use multiple screens is an established fact — according to my own experience and to various studies I’ve not bothered to to get references for. If you doubt me, try it yourself. Two screens is better than one, three better than two, and so on. If there’s an upper limit where too many screens become a distraction, I haven’t reached it yet. But adding extra screens gets costly, and when you’re a bootstrapping mobile startup, that matters.

Fortunately, if you already own an iPad, there’s an inexpensive option that might do in a pinch: your iPad. Yes, you CAN use your iPad as an external screen to your computer. I have tried using VNC software, but that’s a remote desktop app, and not really what we need here. The answer? Avatron’s Air Display, which currently only supports Mac computers but will have a Windows solution in the future. Using a combo of an iPad and a server app on your laptop/ desktop, the iPad can be used as an external screen. (Expensive option, yes, unless you already own an iPad and don’t want/ are not ready for another external monitor.) [Update: Installation of the equivalent server application on your Mac requires that you have to restart your computer .]

Ars Technica already has a fairly lengthy review of Air Display, so I’m not going to review it too. I purchased the iPad-specific app from the Apple App Store on the basis of the review and like it for the most part. The only caveat I’ll mention has to do with the iPad WiFi-only model’s wireless connection quirkiness and its lack of connection persistence, if you haven’t used the device for several minutes, or if your wireless setup has fluctuations (my AT&T U-Verse setup does). When the wireless connection temporarily ceases, the app has to be reset all over again (from the Mac toolbar). This is irritating because any windows you have open in the iPad’s screen area gets shunted over to one of your other screens. You have to move them all back when you reset Air Display settings. Not exactly productive.

If not for this situation, Air Display is a killer app. I’m guessing that if you’re one of those rare people with two (or more) iPads, you could connect all of them and have quite the temporary display setup. Hopefully either Apple will hurry up the software fix for the connection problem or Avatron will upgrade the app to save state so that the problem is minimized. Ultimately, if you need something more permanent, you’re better off purchasing a real monitor. For suggestions on setup, read my detailed post at Performancing on multi-screen, multi-computer configuration options.

Need consultation on mobile apps, the mobile platform or mobile marketing? Need an iPhone, iPad or Palm webOS developed and marketed? Have a mobile device, platform, application, service, accessory or related news or tips you want to share? Contact us at callstyleblog at gmail.com.

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