Monthly Archives: October 2014

Libgdx vs Cocos2D-x – Which One Should You Go With For Android Game Development?

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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For developing games and apps on the Android platform, Cocos2D-x and Libgdx are by far the two most popular development systems. In what follows, we do an objective comparison between the two frameworks.

 

A week or so back, we had done a comparative study between Cocos2D and Unity3D, to find out which one of them was the more user-friendly framework for game development. Many readers felt that it was not exactly fair to pit a 2D tool with a 3D system. Also, it would be more to the point if we focused on games and apps on a single platform at a time. In this piece, we will compare Mario Zechner’s Libgdx with the ever-popular Cocos2D-x, on the basis of certain select parameters. Read on to find out which one comes out to be a better tool for programmers:

 

  1. Documentation – There are online tutorials for Cocos2D-x, but newbies might struggle to find reliable learning resources. Libgdx edges ahead in this regard, since Zechner had created a full book (named ‘Beginning Android Games’, ed.2), to familiarize game and mobile app developers with the framework. Once users read the book thoroughly, they will get a hang of Libgdx, and can proceed to make their first Android game.
  2. Frames-per-second performance – This round is a close one. Cocos 2D-x offers a fairly impressive 50 FPS performance on average, and it is relatively steady too (except on certain devices). This is slightly higher than the 30-35 FPS performance that Libgdx. The only snag is, while Libgdx promises reliability across all devices, while Cocos2D-x can be vulnerable at times.
  3. Programming knowledge – Android app developers tend to be more proficient with Java than C, C++, or Objective-C. That, in turn, makes the learning curve for Cocos2D-x rather steep. With Libgdx, there is no requirement to learn up a new language. Going through all the available tutorials (and of course, the book) should suffice, along with a working knowledge of the Java language.
  4. ‘Retain-and’-Release’ vs ‘Pooling’ – Cocos2D-x has a ‘retain-and-release’ system, which is comparatively simpler to that of ‘pooling’ in Libgdx (hardcore Java fans might just disagree here!). If you have prior experience in HTML5 coding, you can write your native Javascript programs in Cocos2D-x. The APIs are much more user-oriented than the Scene2D API on Libgdx. Android app developers would need to invest much more time to become comfortable working with Scene2D.
  5. Platform optimization – For all its robust framework, Cocos2D-x remains a system that is primarily meant for iOS game and app development. It has been expanded to include the Android platform, and it works relatively fine. On the other hand, Libgdx is focused for the Android ecosystem, and can be expanded to create games on the iOS platform too. For first-time Android developers, it is always advisable to start off with Libgdx – since it was created with that platform in focus.
  6. Community support – Although the available documentation for Cocos2D and 2D-x is nothing to write home about, there are plenty of online communities and forums – where coders can interact and get their problems sorted out. The community support for Libgdx is, if anything, even better. Whenever you get stuck while coding for a game, you can seek help at the forums, and be rewarded with viable solutions from experienced Android game developers. It would be fair to say that finding online help is equally easy for either framework.
  7. Deployment – In terms of desktop deployment options, Libgdx has a slight edge over Cocos2D-x. On the former, the entire Android app/game development process can be done on a Mac/Linux/Windows system – and with a few extra lines of coding – it can be replicated on mobile devices. Cocos2D-x also supports OS X, Linux and win32 systems – but developers need to use emulators and devices as well. Using emulators is something most developers don’t look forward to. For new programmers, they can seem too complicated.
  8. Managing textures – Texture Atlas is one of the best features of Libgdx. All the textures can be loaded together at the very outset (although a memory allocation problem might crop up if you do so). Texture atlas management is possible on Cocos2D-x too, but for that you’ll have to master the inheritance program codes first. Working with textures is arguably the most critical part of mobile app or game development, and both the frameworks offer fairly optimized ways for handling the task.
  9. Speed – Not much to choose between the two game development systems here. Both Libgdx and Cocos2D-x are fast (provided that the developers are competent enough!). If one really had to pick, the stability issues with Cocos2D-x would put it at a slight backfoot in comparison with the other system. Since real-time code viewing is possible, there are minimal chances of coding errors remaining unnoticed on either system.
  10. Demo games – Finding a demo game or mobile app created entirely with Cocos2D-x can be a trifle tricky. However, for demo projects with Libgdx, all that you have to do is visit Javadocs. Over there, you will find detailed documentation of Libgdx codes. Demo games can be checked out as well. Mastering Cocos2D-x is just a tad tougher.
  11. Portability – It is a mystery why Cocos2D-x withdrew its Box2D support. With Box2D, porting game platforms to Android (although the code wasn’t particularly easy) was possible. However, with that gone, games and apps have to be created from scratch on Cocos2D-x for Android. Libgdx, of course, was always meant for Android game development. This is the main reason why mobile app companies advise first-time Android coders to start off with Libgdx.
  12. Code design environment – In terms of ease of usage while coding, both Cocos2D-x and Libgdx are at par with each other. There is not too much of data inheritance or abstraction in either (if anything, it is even lesser in Libgdx). Within 48-72 hours, you can familiarize yourself with the coding design in either of the platforms.

AndEngine is yet another Android game development tool – but it is mostly used by students, and is pegged back by extremely poor documentation and community support. There is no room for doubting the usability and efficiency of Cocos2D-x as a nice, user-friendly system for Android app and game development. However, when all the above points are considered, it would probably be outranked by Libgdx. For iOS though, Cocos2D-x is still the best.

 

If you develop games for the Android platform, do let us know which framework you use most frequently.

 

AppBoard Tuesday: How To Transform Ideas Into Apps?

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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Howdy, people! Hello and welcome to yet another edition of AppBoard Tuesday – your free weekly e-newsletter. We had initially thought about discussing some programming techniques in this week’s ABT. But then, I came across this thought-provoking quote from the great Steve Jobs about how 90% of the hard work involved thinking up good, viable ideas – and how it was a waste that most people either shied away from the prospect of working on their ideas. In many cases, even when the idea is worked on – the end-product comes out to be rather different from what had originally been conceived.

Contrary to what many laymen believe, anyone (and yes, that could be YOU) can think up a great idea for a mobile app. The trick lies in not letting your thoughts go to waste, and actually adopting a systematic way to give shape (literally!) to your idea. Here’s how you should go about it:

 

  1. Do not play around with multiple app-ideas – Thinking is good, procrastination is bad – it’s as simple as that. Concentrate on a single app-idea, and find out how you can progress with it. If you mull over too many ideas (how innovative each of them might be), you’ll only end up wasting your time, and probably the time and resources of the mobile app agency you contact. And in all probability, none of them would see the light of day either. Focus on a single thing at one time.
  2. Start searching for a suitable app development company – The task ain’t as daunting as it might sound at first. Visit the iTunes store or the Google Play Store (depending on whether it is an iOS app or an Android app you wish to develop), and browse through the featured apps. You will find the company names on those app-pages. Send along your app-idea, and request for a free quote from at least 4-5 companies. Select the one that seems to be competent enough and is offering the best deal. Ideally, go with a company that has expertise in cross-platform mobile app development. Why stay limited to a single platform in the long-run?
  3. Check out the viability of your idea – Just because you are absolutely in love with what you have thought up does not mean that others would be similarly impressed by it too. Professional mobile app developers generally conduct surveys before starting any app development process – but it would be a smart option to test the idea on your own. Share your idea with your friends, colleagues, neighbors, other acquaintances (basically, anyone you know who owns a smartphone!). There are plenty of mobile app forums online too, where you can submit your app-idea. If the feedback isn’t exactly positive, take the hint – and proceed to your next idea.
  4. Be wary about intellectual property violations – Your idea is, well, your own. Do not let shady Android/iPhone app development companies take you for a ride (and the promise of a free quote and affordable costs is not enough). Make sure that all the requisite non-disclosure/non-competing agreements are signed by your chosen developer, before the actual work starts. Once the app creation is complete and it is delivered to you, you should be the sole owner of all intellectual property rights on it.
  5. Stay in touch – This is where many perfectly good app ideas go awry. Any decent app development company would mention the number of weeks within which your app will be ready – but that does not mean you should contact the firm only AFTER that time-span. Stay in touch with the developers on an ongoing basis, ask for the mockups and prototypes to be shown to you, and if you have any suggestions – do share them. You won’t like it one bit if you had thought up the idea of an ‘apple’, and the company hands you an ‘orange’. Remember, you are a part of the development team too.
  6. Have patience – It’s easy to lose hope if there are inordinate delays in the app development process, or you are not quite satisfied with the service the app company is providing (for instance, the text they write on the app screens might not appeal to you). Don’t get frustrated, and keep working as a team. It would be a folly to switch companies midway through the application development process as well. If you constantly share your inputs, and if your mobile app firm is worth its salt – things will sort themselves out eventually.
  7. What about the mobile app designing? – This is something you need to ask at the very outset – particularly if you have availed the services of a freelance app developer. Only an experienced, creative-minded graphic designer can lend that elusive visual charm and elegance to the UI/UX of an app. If a developer claims that (s)he can double up as a designer too – smile a bit, and start looking for other companies that have separate mobile app designing departments.
  8. Make sure there isn’t a duplicate app at the stores – Once again, this is a task both you and the app development company should do separately. In fact, even before you hire a mobile app agency, carefully browse through the apps at the App Store/Play store (it will take some time, for there are over 1.3 million applications at either store). Find out if there already exists one or more app that uses the same ‘core’ idea as yours. If yes, there is every chance that your app will run into problems during the approval stage. Its popularity levels would also be hit. The key to success lies in having a unique idea, that can be transformed into an app that would have a wide enough target marget.
  9. Don’t shy away from risks – For every aspiring mobile app entrepreneur, being prepared to take calculated risks is an absolute must. There is a tendency among many people to wonder whether their app-idea would be viable, whether companies would agree to take up the project, and if the revenues from the mobile app would be adequate. There are a lot of things that can go wrong for first-timers, but don’t let such setbacks thwart your ambition. Take risks – for the potential payoffs can be huge. iPhone app developers worldwide earned more than $5 billion last year – that should give you an idea.
  10. Think for the long-run – Neither mobile app development nor nurturing app-ideas are one-shot games. Do not feel too satisfied if your idea has been well-received by the people you have shared it with. Remember, there should be enough scopes for upgrading your app over time. For that, you should be able to develop/expand your initial idea further. Otherwise, you idea’s (and the app’s) charm will fizzle out pretty soon.
  11. Divide the app development project into milestones – And make sure that each milestone is: a) being completed on time and b) being managed according to your preferences. There will be a feel-good feeling as each milestone gets ticked off, and you approach your goal of seeing your idea in the form of a nice and functional app. You can find out the importance of dividing the app development process into milestones right here.
  12. Inquire about whether the app has been properly tested – Ideas, by definition, cannot have ‘errors’. Software programmers and mobile app developers are humans though, and they can very well make mistakes (‘to err is human…’ and all that). Ask about the mobile app testing procedures that the company you have selected follows. A buggy app can ruin a ruin a perfectly great app-idea. Get all the bugs fixed before the application is submitted at store(s).

 

One out of two things can happen after you take the plunge to transform your idea into a mobile app. The first is the rosy picture – the app becomes hugely popular, and maybe bags a couple of awards as well. Spend a week feeling happy (you deserve it), and then move on to your next big app-concept. It’s vital to not rest on the laurels of a single win.

 

The other option is the bleaker one. Your idea was promising enough, but the app created from it fails to generate enough interest amongst the target users (even after extensive mobile app marketing). Remember, this does not make your idea a bad one, and your next endeavor might very well be a roaring success. Even the best mobile app companies in the world have had their fair share of failed products – you don’t see them losing their sleep over that.

 

That wraps things up for this week’s edition of AppBoard Tuesday (ABT). We are currently giving the final touches to an interesting image-based social networking app called ‘Doo’l’ – which would be released at the store pretty soon. Wish us luck on that one.

Doo'l app screenshot

The next edition of AppBoard Tuesday will be up in…you guessed it…exactly a week from now. Till then, you have to stay zapped with apps – just like we do!

Steps For Doing iOS 8 Jailbreak Easily

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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Pangu has released its much-anticipated iOS 8 jailbreak tool. Although it still has minor bugs (particularly in Safari and iMessage), you can use the tool with the Cydia app to jailbreak your device with ease. Read on to learn how.

 

You really have to hand it to the Pangu team. Within a week of the official release of iOS 8.1, they have come up with a jailbreaking tool for users (as they had promised earlier). Although the Cydia substrate or the app is not yet included in the tool, Pangu has tweeted that it is collaborating with Saurik – a third-party developer – to rectify this as soon as possible. In the meanwhile, you can download Cydia separately and do an iOS 8 jailbreak by following these rather simple steps:

 

  1. Take a back up of all your phone data – The jailbreak tool from Pangu has not been reported to cause any data loss till date, but it’s advisable to be on the safe side. Before you initiate the jailbreaking procedure, perform a data backup on your iOS 8-powered device. You don’t want to end up with lost or corrupt files, right?
  2. Prepare your handset for jailbreak – This stage involves primarily two things. Firstly, you will have to disable the ‘Find My iPhone’ feature (which basically means you CANNOT lose your phone before reactivating it after the jailbreak!). Next, turn off your iPhone’s passcode as well. Otherwise, you might have trouble retrieving the passcode after Cydia has been installed in the device.
  3. You will need an Windows PC – It’s still early days for the iOS 8 jailbreak tool, and no Mac version of it has yet been released. You will need a computer which has Windows 8/8.1 as the default OS. The Enterprise evaluation version is available for download with a ninety-day free trial option. In case you are a Mac user and do not have a Windows system, look for a ‘Parallels Desktop’ for Mac online. The Parallels software would convert your Mac into a virtual Windows machine.
  4. Activate Parallels on your system – After you have downloaded Windows 8.1 with Parallels 10 on your computer, you will need to activate it. The process is easy enough – simply click on the ‘Install Parallel Tools’ option under ‘Action’. There is an outside chance that the system might become slightly slow at this point, and you need to be wary of that. Unless Parallels is correctly installed, the entire jailbreak process would fail.
  5. Get iTunes on your machine – The final stage of preparations. Mobile app developers from all over have unanimously agreed that doing the jailbreak via iTunes is the safest option. Download iTunes on your actual/virtual Windows system, plug in your iOS 8 device – and make sure that the latter is being recognized by the system. If not, detach the device and try again.
  6. Download the jailbreak tool – Okay, now you are all set to start the jailbreak. Visit the Pangu website (http://en.pangu.io/), and download the requisite tools for the process. Save the files in a folder on your PC’s desktop. Double-click on it, and the installer will show up.
  7. Take a look through the Pangu jailbreak window – There is one vital thing you need to do at this point. On the left side at the bottom corner, you will find a box that is checked by default. Uncheck it – and ensure that it does not get checked again accidentally. Your device should be visible in bolded text just below the title of the jailbreak window.
  8. Activate the .exe file – Right-click the Pangu jailbreak tool you had saved on your computer desktop. Among the options that show up, select ‘Run As Administrator’. Another confirmation dialog box will be flashed. Click on ‘Yes’ to proceed with the task on hand.
  9. Initiate jailbreak – It will take a little while for the Pangu tool to recognize the iOS 8 device you have plugged on to your system. Wait until the latter is detected, and then click the large, blue-colored jailbreak button. According to iPhone app development experts, there is a slight risk of bloatware attack at this point, so make sure that you are not running any other apps on your device.
  10. Time for the waiting game – This will take a few minutes. You will be able to move to the next step only after the Pangu app has been fully downloaded and installed on your iPhone 6 (you might be using an upgraded iPhone 5 or iPhone 4S as well). Once the download is complete, your handset will automatically restart. After that happens, tap on the Pangu application. Your jailbreak is now done, and you can now move on to downloading Cydia.
  11. Download and install OpenSSH – Most popular iPhone applications do not yet have optimized versions for iOS 8. That’s precisely why you will have to play around with certain recommended Cydia tweaks (like iCleaner). But, you need to install OpenSSH first. Do this by launching the Pangu application, and selecting the ‘Download’ icon and then tapping on ‘Install’.
  12. Get a reliable file transfer protocol app on your computer – According to most iOS app developers, ‘Cyberduck’ is the one you should go with. It would work on both virtualized Mac systems as well as Windows PCs. A lion’s share of the iOS 8 jailbreaks done till date have been with the ‘OpenSSH’-’Cyberduck’ combination. Check the speed of your computer after the app has been installed.
  13. Enter your computer’s IP address – Provided that you are working with Cyberduck, you will have to enter your system’s IP address in the ‘Server’ section. In the ‘Open Connection’, enable the SFTP option. You will be prompted for a username and password. Write ‘root’ and ‘alpine’ in these two boxes respectively, and then, click on ‘Connect’.
  14. Bring Cydia files to the FTP window – Inside the Cydia app folder, there would be two files (both with .deb extension). Navigate to the ‘private’ or ‘root’ section of your device, and copy these two files in the FTP window. Make sure that the filesystem of your iOS handset is visible. Mobile app testing experts have found that a ‘fingerprint error’ might be displayed at this point. If you see this error too, tap on ‘Allow’.
  15. Send the Cydia installation command – Go the ‘Send Command’ section (you will find it under ‘Go’ on the default menu bar), and type in the following line:

 

     dpkg –install cydia-lproj_1.1.12_iphoneos-arm.deb cydia_1.1.13_iphoneos-arm.deb

 

After you have done so, click ‘Send’ to activate Cydia.

16. Reboot/Restart your device – This should ideally happen automatically. In case it doesn’t, reboot your phone manually. After restarting, the Cydia app icon should be displayed on the home screen.

 

That’s it – you are now ready to customize the file ecosystem and install third-party apps on your iOS 8-powered device. Cydia with the Pangu jailbreak tool works seamlessly on iPad 2,3, iPod Touch (5th generation), iPad Air and iPad 4 as well. Early reports suggest that you can follow these steps to jailbreak Retina iPad Mini as well. It’s rather ironic that the first jailbreak tool for an Apple device would require a Windows system – but if you follow the above steps carefully, you can personalize your device in just the way you like.

Tracking The Growth Of Mobile App Industry – 15 Points In 15 Minutes

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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The global mobile app market has got to be one of the most flourishing sectors in the domain of software technology. Android and iOS are by far the two most popular app development platforms. Let us here look back at some of the key events in the amazing growth story of mobile applications.

 

Close to 220 billion downloads per year, and a staggering $65 billion in revenue. These are the figures that the global mobile app industry has been projected to reach by 2017. iOS and Android are the two biggest players, with Blackberry and Windows Phone having significant presence as well – and new app development platforms like Tizen (Samsung’s in-house OS) and Firefox OS rumored to be released soon. We are in the midst of a white-hot app revolution worldwide, and this would be just the ideal opportunity to take a look back at the evolution and growth of this now-burgeoning business sector:

 

  1. First-generation mobile applications – These were nothing like the fancy software that modern-day mobile app companies churn out. ‘Snake’ – the insanely popular mobile game on Nokia handsets – made its debut in 1998 (a full half a decade after the first mobile phone – Motorola DynaTAC 8000X – had hit the market). Apart from simple arcade games, other popular apps at that time included calculators, mobile ringtone composers and editors, and calendars.
  2. Arrival of the Apple App Store – The first iPhone was launched on 9 January 2007. At that time, there was no designated store from where early adopters could download apps from. Things changed radically with the opening of the Apple App Store, in July 2008 (a fairly long wait!). There were 500 iPhone apps at the store to start off with. With the start of the App Store, the concept of native app development received a huge boost.
  3. Popularity of apps – It did not take long for smartphone users to warm up to the idea of downloading and using apps. Within the first weekend after the launch of the Apple Store, the total number of app downloads had crossed 10 million. Steve Jobs and his team had upped the smartphone sector with the iPhone, and there were already plenty of applications to complement the handsets.
  4. Android debuts as the chief rival – There was no first-mover’s advantage as such for Apple, as far as mobile apps were concerned. On 22 October 2008, the Android market came into being. The total number of Android apps available at that time stood at a rather modest 50 – but this figure started to go up at a fairly rapid clip. By February next year, Android device-owners could download paid apps from the store.
  5. From analog to 4G – Let us take stock of the evolution of mobile networks at this point. The first set of cell phones (we are talking about the ones in the late-80s and early-90s here) ran on analog, or 1G, environments. The functionality of these phones, as is understandable, was pretty much limited. Then came the GSM or 2G environment – bringing with it a host of features, from text messaging and internet access (albeit at painfully slow speeds), to download options for basic mobile applications (like music files and simple games). It was only after 2003, when 3G had become available, that the app industry really started to gain momentum. Wi-fi data access was one of the chief benefits of the 3G environment. At present, mobile service providers are pushing 4G connectivity – which takes up the speed of digital media access, data transmission, web browsing and app downloads to an altogether different level.
  6. The rest of the competitors – Considering the overwhelming combined superiority of Apple and Android in the worldwide mobile app industry – it won’t be wrong to club together information about their wannabe challengers at one place. Blackberry App World, powered by Research In Motion (RIM) came into being on 21 October 2008, with developers being allowed to submit customized BB apps at the store from January the following year (the store went live in April 2009 though). Nokia had its Ovi Store, which, after a promising start in 2009, soon went out of steam. The Windows Phone Marketplace started in October 2010, and within a year, it had more than 30000 applications.
  7. Download of the billionth app – Although it did not have a free run, iOS was the runaway leader in the early stages of mobile app development and downloads. The App Store touched the magical figure of 1 billion downloads on 23 April 2009. At that time, the Play Store had less than 6000 apps, and Blackberry App World had only about 2000 (the Nokia Ovi Store had not even reached the 600 apps mark at that time). The Android platform completed a billion downloads in August 2011.
  8. Change of leadership – While Apple remains till date the most profitable (in terms of revenue) platform for mobile app developers, Android devices enjoy close to 85% of the overall smartphone market. The change of guard took place in October 2011, when reports showed that Android had captured 44% of the market, with iOS accounting for a shade over 30% of total app downloads. Since then, this gap has kept widening.
  9. Free vs paid apps – Free apps have always been dominant across all the application development platforms. When Google Play Store had 20000 apps, nearly 63% of them were free (this was in September 2009). Among the 225000 applications at the Apple store in April 2011, only 27% were paid applications. The difference was even more stark at the Nokia Ovi Store, where 85%-90% of the apps were free. At present, the ratio of free apps to paid apps at the Android store is approximately 5:1. This, in turn, brings into focus the importance of in-app ads and other methods of mobile app monetization.
  10. Emergence of J2ME apps – This coincided with the increase in demand for feature phones (when smartphones were not yet really popular). Many mobile app companies started creating applications for the Java Micro Edition platform, on JSR 68. Coders for Java apps could use resources from the Mika VM class libraries, which were available on the Java ME platform. To this day, new developers are often given Java projects to start off with.
  11. Per day downloads – A key metric in the mobile platform wars. The Apple Store registered 1.5 million app downloads per day, as early as in September 2010 (projected to surpass 100 billion by the time 2017 draws to a close). By mid-December 2010, Nokia Ovi Store had reached a daily app download figure of 3.5 million. This figure grew to 6 million content downloads per day within the next six months. Blackberry App World was also showing rapid growth, with over 2 million daily app downloads in February 2011 (this figure swelled to 6 million by the next year). By June 2012, Google Play Store had also reached the one million-per day download mark.
  12. Money matters – Mobile app development is fast closing in on being a $25 billion industry. When the revenue distribution is considered, Apple still has a stranglehold over its closest rival – Google Android. The top grossing apps from the Apple Store earn around 5 times more per day than the featured ones at the Google Play Store. However, with the faster growth of freemium services on Android apps, and the overwhelming market share – it is expected that Android might start raking in more moolah from its apps than Apple, by 2018. Time for specialized Android app developers to get excited?
  13. The rise and fall of Blackberry apps – Everything looked rosy for RIM Blackberry when App World went live in ten different countries in Europe (in June 2009). Before the year had ended, the store boasted of more than 3500 applications. And then, started the slide – with both iOS and Android overtaking it with ease. At present, while the latter two have over 1.3 million downloadable apps each, the total count of Blackberry applications stands at less than 140000. There are silver linings though – many compatible Android apps are now showcased at the Blackberry App World now, and the Amazon App Store is coming to all Blackberry 10 devices. BB is no longer a serious challenger to Apple or Google at present, but things can change if the Blackberry Passport can turn around the fortunes of Blackberry 10.
  14. Average price of apps – Availability of a considerably larger number of free apps (in comparison with the Apple App Store) have contributed to the strong performance of the Android Market. The average price of an Android app is around $0.06 – around three times lower than the average cost of an iPhone application. iPad apps, which have an average price of $0.50, are the most expensive set of applications. For app development experts, there is more money to be earned (on a per download basis) from iOS apps than on Android apps. When the Blackberry 10 platform had launched, it was widely expected that it would make BB the most profitable platform for developers. That has not quite materialized. It remains to be seen which one out of iOS 8 and Android 5.0 Lollipop turns out to be more lucrative for developers (both have a wide range of new APIs).
  15. Which genre of apps is the most popular? – At the Apple Store, gaming apps (with a share of over 20%) comfortably occupies the top position. Education apps (including mobile apps for kids) and business applications round off the top 3 categories for 2014. Rather surprisingly, social networking apps make up a lowly 1.9% of the total number of downloads. At Google Play Store, however, social networking apps (or Communication apps) are much more popular – although they trail mobile games here too.

To enable faster download of online digital media, Apple launched the iTunes store in April 2003. By 2010, it had become the biggest store for music and media-based apps in the world. There is a growing buzz about the Firefox OS, the Tizen platform and the Ubuntu Touch – which can come up as potential challengers to iOS and Android. Interestingly, United States is not the country where the maximum number of apps are downloaded (South Korea holds that position, with USA coming in at 6th). In December last year, the mobile app market in Asia registered an annual growth rate of over 160%, while North American markets grew at an impressive 46% too. Mobile apps have indeed come a long way from ‘Snake’ on Nokia – and it is all set to expand more in terms of app-availability, downloads and revenue even further in future.

 

16 Standout Features Of OS X Yosemite That Make It Really Great

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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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Mac-users from all over are in a rush to upgrade their systems to the OS X Yosemite platform. The new platform comes with a plethora of interesting additional features, which justifies the buzz around it. Some of the key highlights of the Yosemite platform have been highlighted here.

 

These are good times for Apple. The combined sale figures of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have reached unprecedented high levels – pulling up the company’s quarterly revenue to over the $42 billion mark. The new version of Mac OS – OS X Yosemite (10.10) – has also been well-received, with the adoption rate surging to 2% within 24 hours of its release on last Thursday. Over here, we take you through some of the best features of the Yosemite platform:

 

  1. Smarter iCloud Drive – Accessing files and documents stored on the cloud has become easier than ever, thanks to iCloud Drive support on OS X Yosemite. All saved docs can now be viewed in Finder. Users can also access files via apps installed on their Mac systems. The file-syncing process is quick (after saving), and there are options to select which applications are included in the iCloud system. Viewing and moving documents has become a lot more intuitive.
  2. Voice calling feature – All that you have to do is keep your iPhone and upgraded Mac in the same iCloud account – and you will be able to make phone calls through the latter. There is a ‘Start new conversations’ option under Messages→ Preferences → Accounts, which would enable you to place your calls. The phone number will be displayed (and ticked) on your system.
  3. 3D Flyover on Maps – There are plenty of naysayers about the reliability of Apple Maps, but even the sternest of software and app developers would appreciate this feature. With 3D Flyover, Yosemite-users can get a true ‘bird’s eye view’ of any city (the range of supported cities is impressively high). Select the name of any city, and have a fun 3D virtual tour of that place.
  4. Arrival of Dark Mode – In what is a first for Apple, OS X Yosemite lets users apply a skin to their Mac screens. By activating the all-new Dark Mode, you can turn down the system Dock and significantly lower the screen brightness level. This works on two fronts: unnecessary power wastage is avoided, and people can focus on what they are working on without straining their eyes.
  5. Better Notifications Center – The ‘Today’ panel and the Stock Widget are two of the key highlights in the revamped Notifications Center of OS X Yosemite. The older Dashboard will still be available – but only if you had used it on Mavericks (if not, your system will detect it as unused, and the Dashboard will be auto-deleted). Professional mobile app developers can now create programs and widgets that can be used both on Mac computers as well as iOS 8-powered smartphones.
  6. Handoff – One of the several features of iPhone 6 that early buyers could not use till the launch of the OS X 10.10 platform. If you are working on an app that is compatible with your Mac as well as your iPhone (for instance, the Safari browser or the Mail app), you can activate ‘Handoff’, start a task on either of the devices, and finish it on the other. With this continuity feature, people will be able to manage their tasks between their mobiles and computers with greater ease.
  7. Default Markup annotation – With the help of the Markup extension (which is activated by default) on OS X Yosemite, you can annotate pictures within any web apps. PDFs, other images, texts and several other visual effects can be added to the original picture, via Virtual Whiteboarding. The Markup extension automatically creates a duplicate copy of the image that you wish to annotate. Hence, the original copy of the picture remains intact.
  8. QuickType support – Mobile app developers worldwide have lauded the predictive keyboard feature of iOS 8. Yosemite brings this user-friendly feature to Mac-users too, with the delightful QuickType function. While typing, simply press the ESC button on the keyboard – and a fairly large number of word suggestions (fairly accurate ones) will be displayed. You might just find that your typing speeds have gone up!
  9. Shift-Click to Move the Dock – On Mavericks and earlier versions of Mac OS X, you are stuck with the Dock at the bottom of the screen. The best you can do is change its position from Settings. Once you have upgraded to Yosemite, forget all those troubles – for you will now be able to move the Dock to either side of the screen by doing a ‘Shift-Click’ on the Divider bar. It’s your Mac, you get to decide where the Doc will reside.
  10. MailDrop – The innovative MailDrop feature has been added to minimize chances of email bounces. Whenever a large file has to be attached to a mail, it would automatically get uploaded to the iCloud Drive, and shared with the specified recipient (much like how Dropbox works). Users no longer have to worry about whether a mail attachment would be ‘too big’ for the server.
  11. Emphasis on Flat Design – In fact, the only 3D effects detectable on the Yosemite desktop screen are the light shadows under the windows. Apart from that, the developers from Apple have gone with a flat, translucent design theme for the new OS – right from the Finder and the Dock, to the toolbar buttons. Experts on iOS app development feel that the overall look and feel of OS X Yosemite is somewhat similar to that of iOS 7, in a good way.
  12. A smarter Spotlight – Not only is the Spotlight on Yosemite more easily accessible (it can now be viewed at the center of the screen, and is not stuck at the top-right), its usability has gone up by several notches. In addition to files and folders stored in the Mac, you will also get results from the web, related to the item you have searched for. Once again, this feature is the same as what is available on the iOS 8 Spotlight. The iCloud Locker can be searched with the revamped Spotlight too.
  13. Option to set a different default web browser – Over the last couple of years, the Safari browser has improved considerably in terms of speed and reliability (unlike the sad case of Opera). Apple now probably has the confidence that Safari can fight it out with the other popular browsers in the market. Hence, on Yosemite, you get the option of setting Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or even DuckDuckGo in your System Preferences (i.e., default for the entire OS). This is in line with the move towards greater customization that the Cupertino giants are offering via the new Mac OS as well as iOS 8.
  14. AirDrop – Another classic example of how Apple wants to facilitate collaboration between upgraded iPhones and OS X Yosemite. With AirDrop, files and folders can be seamlessly transferred between new Mac systems and iOS 8-powered devices (your own, or of your contacts). AirDrop would also be functional on earlier versions of Mac OS – but a special feature will have to be activated for that.
  15. iPhone-screen recording – This feature is particularly handy for developers from mobile app companies. iOS devices can be plugged on OS X 10.10-powered iMacs, following which the handset will show up as a camera device. You can now record customized videos of your phone screen. This, in turn, would help you keep a constant tab of whatever is happening on the phone screen. Real-time app testing, for example, will become easier.
  16. Digital signatures via Trackpad – Trackpad is one of the most interesting features of the new Mac OS platform, and it goes a long way in enhancing the authenticity of the documents you send to/share with others. After you load any document in the Mail application (or in Preview), a single-click on it would make the the ‘Trackpad’ option visible. With it, you can add your digital signature to the document. The iSight camera can also be used to put digital signatures on files.

 

For fans of the Tumblr app, there is an all-new compatible version available for OS X Yosemite. The screen-sharing feature via Messages (already present in Mavericks) gets a lift in the new platform too. The redesigned Calendar has additional features, and has definite similarities with the Calendar app on iOS 8. Yosemite is not something radically different from Mavericks or even Mountain Lion – but these subtle changes and enhanced capabilities can make it the most popular Mac OS platform ever.

AppBoard Tuesday – Differences Between Android & iPhone App Development

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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1.3 million vs 1.3 million. Those are the approximate figures for the number of apps in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. The iOS platform would edge ahead in terms of app-engagement levels, while Android would ace when it comes to download figures (simply because there are more Android devices out there, as against Apple’s solitary flagship smartphone – the iPhone). Instead of going into the much maligned iOS vs Android argument, this week’s AppBoard Tuesday (ABT) would focus on the key differences between the process of making apps for the two platforms. The discussion would hopefully be of help for mobile app developers – new and experienced ones.

For any comparison to be objective, it should be done on the basis of certain parameters (call it criteria, if you will). We have selected the following fields to compare the iPhone and Android app development processes:

 

  1. User-traits – Well, there are always exceptions – but there are certain common characteristics that typify both iPhone and Android fans. For starters (and this one is rather obvious), iPhone owners tend to belong in a slightly higher income bracket than average Android users. According to a survey conducted in the United States, the percentage of young adults (17-19 age group) using an iPhone is also slightly higher than that using Android devices (19% vs nearly 16%). What’s more – iOS lovers are very ‘loyal’ to the platform, and are generally not interested in switching to Android (the reverse argument is not similarly strong). Mobile app developers have to keep these traits of phone-users in mind, while deciding which platform to develop apps for.
  2. Relevant experience in the domain – Anyone with a decent enough knowledge of Java, C and C++ (primarily the first language) can start off with making Android apps. It is not quite as easy to become an iPhone app developer though. Researches have proven beyond doubt that most of the top-ranked iOS applications in the store have been developed by people who are well-conversant with Mac systems and the Cocoa (2D and 3D frameworks). In a nutshell, the barriers to entry for an iOS developer are higher than those for a person who wishes to develop only for the Android platform.
  3. Requisite programming knowledge – As already mentioned in the last point, Java is the go-to language for Android app development experts. Command over C and C++ also helps them along in many cases. On the other hand, to create an iPhone app, a developer needs to have in-depth knowledge of Objective-C (for newbies, this is a version of C that shares several features with Smalltalk). People who have worked with C and C++ earlier are likely to find it easier to pick up the nitty-gritty of Objective-C, in particular, and the iOS SDK (launched in 2008), in general. With the arrival of the Swift programming language earlier this year, the focus of any iOS developer worth his/her salt has shifted to learning it. Quickly and fully.
  4. Closed-source vs open-source – One of the major boasting points of all the Android fanboys and fangirls out there (there’s nothing wrong in being a hardcore supporter of any of the camps – it adds to the fun!). The Android SDK is entirely open source, along with the UI frames, the kernel, and even a few basic applications. In comparison, all that’s open-source in the iOS system is the Darwin OS. The iOS kernel has always been a closed-source resource – admittedly, with select open-source elements.
  5. Same codes for both the platforms? – Those who are new to the concept of cross-platform mobile app development often wonder about this. Sorry folks, if you wish to develop apps for both the platforms, you WILL have to code separately. Android does not support Objective-C and iOS is not compatible with Java. That’s exactly why most mobile app companies have different teams for developing Android and iPhone apps.
  6. The money factor – Unless you wish to develop mobile apps as a hobby or as a charity (sic!), you will be concerned about potential revenues from your applications. And without a shadow of a doubt, iPhone applications are more financially rewarding for developers – with the platform accounting for over 7 times the revenues from Android apps. With the recent launch of Apple Pay digital wallet, mobile payments are expected to increase manifold via iPhones. In terms of earnability from online gaming apps too, iOS is clearly the leading platform. The popularity of Android apps stems more from the fact that there are so many free applications available at the store (great news for final users).
  7. Framing the app-notification system – Apple is closed-source, and according to many, that makes for better usability. However, it can’t be glossed over that this feature also leads to problems (at times) in creating a smooth notification system for iPhone apps. Till recently, all app notifications were displayed as pop-up messages – although multitasking and in-app notifications management have got a lot smarter in the iOS 8 platform (this is the point when all iPhone 6-buyers should say ‘Yeah’!). The default hardware of Android devices is more developer-friendly though, and it is easier to leverage the SDK in the best possible manner. In the US, for instance, all that iPhone applications get are the default network features and the carrier (AT&T) support.
  8. The best platform for a new mobile app developer? – Probably iOS, provided (s)he has a working knowledge of the Cocoa framework. Even though it is, in theory, easier to develop Android applications (lower barriers to entry and all that) – the sheer diversity in the number of Android devices in the market makes app-customization a big issue. Now compare that with an iOS app – where the developer has to make it compatible with the iPhone, the iPad and the iPod Touch (latest versions). If you wish to keep things less confusing to start off with, invest some time to get a hang of the iOS SDK, and start working on iPhone apps.
  9. Availability of APIs – There isn’t much to choose between iOS and Android regarding the availability of Application Program Interfaces (APIs). iOS 8 has around 4000 new APIs for developers, while Android 5.0 Lollipop has probably gone a step further – with an assortment of about 5000 new APIs. As far as frameworks and software support tools are concerned, developers of apps on either platform won’t be inconvenienced.
  10. Importance of mobile app testing – In an average mobile app development company, the number of beta testers for an iPhone app is roughly double of that for an Android app. The reason for this is simple. To get approved at iTunes, an app has to satisfy stringent quality parameters and other pre-specified guidelines. It is way easier to get new Android apps showcased at the Play Store, since the emphasis on quality testing is not nearly as rigorous. This has a flipside too – there are over 10 million malware-attached apps in the Android Store. Finding a buggy iPhone app in iTunes is unheard of.
  11. Considerations for makers of m-commerce apps – Even before Apple Pay arrived on the scene, retail apps customized for the iOS platform were deemed to be ‘safer’ or ‘more reliable’ than Android apps for the same purpose. Close to 25% of all iPhone users engage in financial transactions, as opposed to around 17% of Android device owners. While making general paid apps or chalking out strategies for app-monetization, these figures have to be kept in mind too.
  12. Reachability vs engagement – If you wish your new app to reach as many smartphone users as possible, create a nice and useful Android app. From Samsung and Sony, to HTC and Asus – there are hundreds of brands with their flagship Android devices (apart from the highly popular Nexus line of phones). However, if you are more concerned about user-engagement levels, iPhone apps should be your first choice. On average, iPhone-owners spend over a hundred minutes every day with the apps installed on their devices. Android has the reach, iOS has the depth – pick the criterion which appeals to you more.

The absence of Flash support on iOS devices (Apple and Adobe had a fairly prolonged dispute in 2010) is another thing that iPhone app developers have to keep in mind. Opinions regarding whether Apple’s Xcode IDE or Google’s JDT/Eclipse support is better are polarised (as expected). In terms of project completion times and and the amount of coding to be done, there is not much of a difference, although Swift’s fast-growing popularity might have a say on that pretty soon. When it comes to online community support for new developers, there are plenty of forums and tutorials for both Apple and Android. There are differences in the app development processes for the two platforms – but at the end of the day, every developer guns for one thing: user-satisfaction.

 

Speaking of satisfaction, we really hope that the topics covered in the ABT issues are being of help to all readers. If you are an iOS or Android app developer and feel that one platform has a DEFINITE advantage over the other, do share with us such details. Till next week then, AppBoard Tuesday will take your leave. Have a rocking week, people!

 

Oh, and of course, stay zapped with apps!

 

14 Probable Features Of iOS 8.1 Update

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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Apple will be formally announcing the iOS 8.1 update today – the 20th of October. The update is expected to do away with most of the problems of the initially rolled out version of iOS 8. We have here listed some features that are likely to be present on iOS 8.1.

 

The latest version of the iOS mobile platform is off to a relatively slow start. The adoption rate of iOS 8, after over a month of its release, is around 47% – around 15% lower than the number of users who had switched to iOS 7, in a comparable time-span after its launch. The poor iOS 8.0.1 update did not help matters, and there were problems with the later update from Apple (iOS 8.0.2) too. Things are, however, likely to look up with the release of iOS 8.1, a full-blown update that would be unveiled today. Here’s an early sighter of the key highlights that this new update is expected to have:

 

  1. Return of the Camera Roll – In a bid to personalize the Photos application in iOS 8, the developers at Apple had done away with the Camera Roll feature. General users mostly did not take kindly to this tweak, with complaints and grievances pouring in at online iPhone app development forums and communities. In iOS 8.1, Camera Roll would return. That would give users a holistic photo-organizing, editing, and a picture-snapping experience. A customization mistake that would be set right.
  2. Coverage for all devices – The new update is not going to be focused on pushing the sales of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus only. It has been announced that iOS 8.1 would be available on every new Apple device – ranging from the 5th generation iPod Touch and iPad Mini (with and without Retina), to iPad 2, 3, 4 and iPad Air. In fact, owners of iPhone 4S and and iPhone 5 would also be able to upgrade to 8.1.
  3. Arrival of SMS Handoff – The much-hyped ‘Handoff’ feature of iOS 8 is expected to get a boost in the upcoming update. There has been a murmur of discontent among Apple fans and iOS app developers alike regarding the absence of SMS Handoff in the new platform – which gives the iMessages feature a sort of half-baked feel. With the launch of Mac OS X Yosemite also done, it would be only natural that Apple would let people use all the new features of iOS 8 across devices. ‘Continuity’ would finally bring iPhone, iMac and iPad completely under the hood.
  4. Apple Pay will finally launch – The news about Apple’s all new digital wallet, Apple Pay, created more than a flutter among everyone following the event. The iOS 8.1 update today is likely to be accompanied with the much-awaited arrival of this revolutionary mobile payments system. Since NFC would be available on Apple Pay (it isn’t on the new flagship iPhones), the adoption rate should be high enough. Retail biggies like Radio Shack, Starbucks and American Eagle have already thrown their weight behind Apple Pay.
  5. iCloud Photo Library would debut – This would be yet another attempt on the part of Apple to help users keep their photos properly organized on their iPhone handsets. It would become easy to find out which pictures are being saved in iCloud Photo Library, and which are being stored in the internal storage space of the phones. The idea of putting photos in the Collections tab was not a very smart one in the first place!
  6. Touch ID support on iPad Air 2 – Software analysts and mobile app development experts are not quite certain about this one – but Apple might very well spring a surprise. It would be an absolute delight for the early adopters of iPad Air 2 (launched at the Apple event on October 16) if iOS 8.1 brings the high-end TouchID sensors to the device as well. That would enable users to conduct digital transactions through their iPads too. In particular, receiving payments on the go would become a whole lot easier.
  7. SMS Relay on iPad – Routing SMS messages through iPhone 6/6Plus to iPads will become possible, if SMS Relay indeed comes with iOS 8.1. In fact, this feature should enable messages to be received on iMac systems as well. The secure storage facilities would ensure that there won’t be any chances of important SMSes getting lost or accidentally deleted.
  8. Requirement of significant free space – iPhone app developers worldwide feel that iOS 8.1 is going to be a relatively large update. The original iOS 8 platform had required 5.7 GB of space for getting installed – and while the new update should not require that much space, it would be advisable to get rid of old, unnecessary folders, photos and files, before going for the upgrade. It is reasonable to expect that most people would install iOS 8.1 through iTunes – negating the need for freeing up extra space.
  9. Activation of Instant Hotspot – Another classic example of how the launch of OS X Yosemite would help those who have upgraded their iPhones to iOS 8 to take maximum advantage of this platform. It would be an easy task to activate ‘Instant Hotspot’ on iOS 8.1-powered iPhones, with Mac systems upgraded to the new OS X version. As a result, users will be able to tether on their mobile handsets.
  10. Bug fixes – loads of them – Going by the features of the first and second beta editions of iOS 8.1, the new platform is sure to contain plenty of bug fixes. For instance, the heightened call drop problems (which cropped up in iOS 8.0.2) is likely to be solved. It would be great if Apple also tackled the issue of AirPrint incompatibility on all iOS 8 devices. It would be unreasonable to expect that iOS 8.1 would be a ‘perfect’ update, but it should strip off most of the glitches of iOS 8.
  11. Better experience for iPhone 4S users – iOS 8 is available on the iPhone 4S handsets, but working with it is close to a nightmare for average smartphone-users. The new iOS 8.1 update will iron out problems like device slowness and frequent crashes on older devices, and offer a seamless mobile-using experience. iOS 7.1 had been a huge improvement over iOS 7 on older phones, and iOS 8.1 is likely to be the same.
  12. Smoother gesture-enabled navigation – iOS 8.0.2 rectified a lot of bugs and problems, and the full-on iOS 8.1 update is likely to build on the good work. Mobile critics and professional iPhone app developers feel that the swipe features of iOS 8 are not quite smooth enough yet – a complaint that the new update will, hopefully, remove. People are also looking forward to being able to summon the Control Center on their handsets with greater ease. In a nutshell, iOS 8.1 is expected to make in-phone navigation a lot smarter.
  13. Faster pairing capacity with Bluetooth devices – A common complaint among all adopters of iOS 8 has been the difficulty (often, the impossibility!) of pairing their handsets with compatible Bluetooth gadgets. Reports have also come in about connection drops during file transfers. This would probably be one of the most noteworthy bugs that would be fixed in iOS 8.1. Usage of Bluetooth is high among smartphone users, and Apple cannot possibly gloss over this problem.
  14. A safer iCloud Drive – Safety concerns regarding the all-new Apple iCloud Drive are likely to disappear, following the release of iOS 8.1. In general too, app developers from all over had opined that people should upgrade to iCloud Drive only after Mac OS X 10.10 had been commercially released. Following the recent celebrity cyberhack on iCloud, it is certain that Apple would do its best to beef up security options.

Following the release of the new update, doing an iOS 8 jailbreak would also become possible – enabling users to install more third-party apps. iOS 8.1 is being released a couple of weeks earlier than what is generally the ‘Apple way’ of announcing new updates (iOS 7.1 had come in November). That is a telltale sign that the Cupertino company is concerned about the lacklustre adoption rate of its new mobile platform. It would be fascinating to see whether iOS 8 is able to bolster the interest of more people in upgrading their iOS devices.

 

An option to downgrade from iOS 8 to iOS 7 won’t be amiss either, right?

 

Google Officially Announces Android Lollipop: A Roundup

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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The wait is finally over. Google has announced Android L (‘Lollipop’), along with the devices it would launch on. In what follows, we have analyzed the various facets of the new Android platform and the supported gadgets.

 

It won’t be ‘Lime Meringue Pie’ after all. On Wednesday, Google unveiled the latest version of its Android mobile OS – the Android 5.0 Lollipop – putting an end to months of speculation regarding what ‘Android L’ would stand for. The three devices on which the new platform would debut were also showcased (two of them were expected, the third was a bit of a surprise). Let us do a roundup of everything new related to Android that happened a couple of days back:

 

  1. Biggest update since Ice Cream Sandwich – Lollipop is the most significant OS update for Android, after the launch of Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0), nearly three years back. Material design is one of the biggest overhauls that the engineers have gone for in the new platform – to provide Android-users a more intuitive experience than ever before. There would be greater uniformity about the features of the software across devices powered by Lollipop.
  2. Arrival of new Nexus phone and tablet – Motorola Nexus 6 will be the very first smartphone in the world to run on Android 5.0 Lollipop. The handset has a 6” inch screen with hi-res display, and would be available from next month (the exact date has not yet been specified). It is expected that other Motorola devices, including the two Moto X phones, will get the new update soon. Pre-ordering for the first Android L tablet, HTC Nexus 9, starts today, with shipments starting from the 3rd of November. Interestingly, this is the very first Nexus device from HTC after the first-edition Nexus One.
  3. Availability on other handsets – Android Lollipop will gradually be rolled out to other phones over the next few months. The new Samsung Galaxy phones are almost sure to get it – albeit at a slightly later date (Samsung always brings new Android updates relatively late). LG G3 would probably be the first smartphone after the Nexus devices to get the Android L upgrade. There is an outside chance of G2 phones getting the upgrade option as well. HTC One M7 and M8 will be getting the update within 90 days. Among the Sony smartphones, users of Xperia Z2 are certain to get the option to move to Lollipop the earliest. It would be rolled out to all the three Android One phones too. Nexus 4, 5 and 7 users will be able to upgrade their phones, of course.
  4. The price points – Nexus 6 is being hyped up as a prime challenger of iPhone 6 Plus (note the 6” screen as opposed to the 5” display that Nexus 5 had). Google has priced the new phone at $649 (off-contract) – a whopping $300 more than its predecessor. The price tag of the 8.9” Nexus 9 tablet (a direct challenger of iPad Air) will be $399. The official release from Google has confirmed the leaks and and pre-release rumors in Android app communities that the tablet would be compatible with the 4G LTE framework. The 32 GB 4G LTE version would probably cost more than $550.
  5. Arrival of Android TV – Now, for the surprise. The third device on which Android 5.0 is debuting is the world’s first Android TV – the Nexus Player. It will have high-end streaming features, and would have a user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI). Content syncing across devices is a major point about Nexus Player (you start watching a video on it, and finish viewing it on your Nexus phone). The gadget will also be compatible with Google Cast, and it will come with a game controller (optional) and remote handling feature. Priced at $99, the Nexus Player is a worthy challenger to both Roku and Apple TV.
  6. Promise of a better battery performance – Something that every smartphone user craves for. According to Google, devices running on Android L will have around 90 minutes of extra battery juice – thanks to the presence of the all-new battery-saver mode. There is a question mark over how this mode might affect the functionality of the phones/tablets though. Nexus 6 comes with a powerful, quick-charging 3220 mAh battery. Finally, a reason to not tag along the phone charger everywhere?
  7. A larger stack of APIs – The thing that has got Android app developers from all over really excited. There are nearly 5000 new APIs in Android 5.0 for mobile app developers to play around with. Making apps and games for the new Android platform is also likely to be easier, due to the portability feature of practically all forms of content (images, videos and audio files) across different devices. The developer previews of Android L had received rave reviews from tech geeks over the last few months.
  8. Carrier support – Hesitant to fork out $649 for the new Motorola Nexus 6? Don’t worry – you can get it with a contract at a much lower price – from leading carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint. US Cellular and Verizon will also be offering Nexus 6 at discounted contract prices. Motorola Mobility will be having Android L handsets as well. Installment payment plans for both Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 would be present.
  9. The security factor – Google has ramped up the game, as far as the security features of Android L are concerned. Smart Lock has arrived as an in-built part of the mobile OS (it was earlier available on select Motorola handsets). This means, people would be able to unlock their Lollipop-powered phones via their Android smartwatches, Bluetooth earphones, and similar other accessories. To prevent misuse of stolen Android L devices, the option to reset phone settings to factory defaults has been made more complicated. Users will be able to disable their phones remotely as well. This feature is called Factor Reset Protection (compliant with the upcoming kill-switch law, California).
  10. The date of the release – The arrival of Android Lollipop might have happened a week or so later, if an Apple event had not been scheduled on October 16. With the new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 being two of the top releases during that event (along with OS X Yosemite), Google decided to launch its new Android platform a day earlier. The only factor is – the new Nexus devices will have to play the catch-up game with iPhone 6/6Plus, which started shipping about a month ago.
  11. Tech specs of the new devices – In addition to the 8.9” display screen, HTC Nexus 9 boasts of a maximum display resolution of 2048×1536 pixels. The crystal-clear display is certain to encourage experts from Android app development companies to make newer, more intuitive apps that make the most of the improved phone graphics. The tablet runs on a 2.3 GHz camera, and has a 8-MP camera (with a 2 MP front camera). The battery (6700 mAh) also impresses.

The Motorola Nexus 6 phone, on the other hand, has a 13 MP rear camera and a 2 MP ‘selfie’ camera. The speed of the device is likely to be good too, thanks to the built-in 2.7 GHz processor. The max display resolution of the 5.96” smartphone is 1440×2560 pixels. The storage capacities would be 32 GB and 64 GB for Nexus 6, and 16 GB and 32 GB for Nexus 9. Google seems to have dropped the 16 GB model from the Nexus line of phones.

The Nexus Player Android TV has a high-speed Intel Atom processor (quad core), and can be easily plugged on to compatible television sets. Vevo, TED and YouTube services are provided by the Player, along with videos from several other vendors. Since the remote is voice-activated, finding specific TV programs and shows is likely to become very quick and easy too. $39 is the price of the game controller that is available with Nexus Player.

12. Recent track record of HTC and Motorola – The choice of Motorola and HTC as the vendors on which the new Nexus phone and tablet will be hosted makes things interesting. HTC had already tried its hand in the Android tablet market with the HTC Flyer – which turned out to be an abject failure. There is also speculation among software analysts and mobile app developers that the existing line of HTC One phones are not doing as well as expected. In such a scenario, the success of Nexus 9 would put the company on a much firmer footing. Its predecessor, the Nexus 5, was an LG product.

The choice of Motorola over Asus (which had the Nexus 7 tablet) for the Nexus 6 phone is even more intriguing. This is the first Nexus handset from the Motorola Stable – which, till now, had only two Android devices – the Xoom and the Droid. Only time would tell if dropping Asus from the Nexus tablet line is a smart decision.

13. Android L will reach both ends of the market – At the lower end of the spectrum, there are the Android One phones, which are priced at sub-$100 levels. On the other end, the price of Nexus 6 is nearly 75% more than that of Nexus 5. For long, there had been a clear demarcation between Android phones (cheaper handsets that everyone could afford) and Apple iPhones (premium, high-priced devices). Android 5.0 Lollipop is Google’s biggest step yet to stake a claim in the higher end of the market.

14. Nexus Player is an Asus product – What Asus has lost in its range of tablets, it has gained in the smart TV tector. Android’s first-ever set-top box will be an Asus gadget, and from first looks, it seems like a handy extension of Chromecast. Apart from videos, the Player would be able to stream games (including 3D games) from paired tablets and phones. The remote does away with the need for a keyboard, to operate this Android TV.

Android 5.0 Lollipop (it was codenamed Android L till 2 days back though!) was unveiled in June this year, during the annual Google I/O event. The formal announcement of the platform, along with the first set of supported devices, has come after a wait of more than four months. The new set of high-priced Nexus devices also opens up the possibility of app developers earning more from Android applications. iOS 8 came out a month back, and after initial troubles, is showing signs of stabilizing. It’s biggest challenger – Android L – has arrived as well. It will be riveting to see which of the two mobile operating systems is able to trump the other!

 

SpriteKit – The New Best Friend Of iOS Developers?

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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SpriteKit has gradually emerged as the first-choice framework for many iOS game and app developers across the globe. Some interesting features of Apple’s very own game development system have been highlighted here.

 

The release of iOS 7, back in September last year, was accompanied by a new tool for 2D game and app developers. Apple created and launched SpriteKit, a user-friendly animations and graphics rendering tool, which had the potential to overtake the Cocos2D framework in terms of popularity. One year on, and that is precisely what has happened – with most iPhone app developers preferring to work with SpriteKit instead of having to learn up the other game development tools. The recently launched iOS 8 platform is completely compatible with SpriteKit too. We will here deliberate on some of the main advantages (and some probable flaws) in SpriteKit:

 

  1. High-end content support – Efficient game-rendering is not the only thing SpriteKit is about. Developers can use the framework to work with a vast range of content – from text and textured/non-textured rectangles (which are also called ‘sprites’), to video files. Figures that follow certain CG paths can also be specified. The high frame rate rendering capabilities of SpriteKit ensure that the quality of game development never suffers.
  2. Learning to use SpriteKit – Relatively simple, thanks to the compact nature of the SpriteKit infrastructure. Learning to create a ‘Scene’ (rendered by the SKView object) is the first thing new developers have to do. These ‘scenes’ can be included and customized in the responder chain, to add other personalized features and controls to games. You will need Xcode 5.0 to start off working with SpriteKit.
  3. Real-time previews – This is one feature that has hugely contributed to the adoption of Spritekit at leading iPhone app development companies. With the built in ‘Particle System Editor’, coders can check out previews, and make essential changes, in the layout of games (via particle emitters). There are several templates embedded within the editor. All the ‘particles’ are fully customizable as well. The Particle System Editor combines well with the Utility Panel, to keep developers in charge of their games and apps.
  4. Cross-platform support – SpriteKit is not going to be of much help for programmers interested in cross-platform mobile app development. The framework has been created by Apple, and can be worked with on iOS and Mac OS X (we hope Yosemite would support it too) systems. Certain SpriteKit games can be ported to Android – but the game loses many of its features during the process. You use SpriteKit, you stay with iPhone apps!
  5. The use of ‘actions – Defined in the SKAction class are small objects called ‘actions’. They are responsible for instructing the nodes about the types of animations that are to be processed by the ‘scenes’. Broadly speaking, ‘actions’ can be of two types – those used for single-frame animations and the ones for multiple frames rendering. Professional iOS app developers frequently create ‘sequences’ (combinations) of ‘actions’ – so that the latter are repeated in a loop, and complex, interesting effects are created.
  6. Sprite nodes enhance user-convenience – Adding content to the SpriteKit application is very simple – thanks to the presence of built-in Sprite nodes. For creating content in a ‘scene’, ‘spaceships’ have to be created – and the latter can be made up by using the objects residing in the SKSpriteNode class. Untextured figures (mostly rectangles) are used as placeholders, which are then seamlessly rendered into textured Sprites – without causing  any changes in the overall tech specs of your game or iPhone app. To cite an example, a complete mobile app for kids includes close to a hundred (maybe more) of Sprite nodes. The hierarchy is like this: ‘Spaceship’ is the parent of game visual elements, and node is the parent of ‘spaceship’.
  7. Support for game physics – SpriteKit is one of the best app frameworks for adding interactive physics classes and elements. While creating a ‘scene’, coders only have to define the attributes correctly – and the program would add the requisite physics to the stage (along with gravity). What’s more, the physics can be tracked as well, with the help of downward vectors.
  8. Implementing customized OpenGL codes – The second blip in the otherwise excellent SpriteKit framework. For certain games, iPhone app development professionals need to write out and use their own OpenGL codes, and SpriteKit, till date, does not support that. The only way OpenGL can be integrated is by moving over (or remaining with) the Cocos2D game development system. Of course, there are other OpenGL-compatible app frameworks out there as well.
  9. Content rendering and animation – Okay, time to look at the chief purpose for which SpriteKit is used. As already highlighted above, all forms of game content have to be arranged in ‘scenes’ – and the views (under SKView) have to placed inside the designated window, for animation and rendering. The per-frame logic of any ‘scene’ depends on the duration of time for which the latter is presented. Scene delegates and/or subclasses can also be created inside SKScene (mostly for additional app functions and tasks).
  10. Performance – With SpriteKit being backed up by the entire API designing system of Apple (for 2D games), it is not a surprise that it aces on the speed and ease-of-usage counts. iOS app developers and/or coders who work mainly with Objective-C do not need to learn any new languages/development systems. There are many online tutorials, which can help new users leverage the full API power of SpriteKit in their games.
  11. Runtime textures – Yet another point that has endeared SpriteKit so much to iPhone app developers. For applying a picture (untextured) to multiple sprites, you generally have to first load the image file in your application bundle – via which the ‘texture’ is created. However, on SpriteKit, textures can be created in the runtime environment. A bunch of textures, known as ‘texture atlases’ can be used in 2D frames. Atlases are particularly great for improving the rendering quality.
  12. Creating sprites from videos – Most frameworks do not allow developers to render videos in sprite sheets. This ‘apparently difficult’ task is one of the most talked-about features of SpriteKit. Video files of varying resolution and quality can be added to Sprite sheets. In addition, app and game developers can use SpriteKit to add cool effects/visual elements to images.

All reusable graphical data is stored in the textures created in SpriteKit, sparing developers the trouble of creating them all over again. New classes can be defined and subclasses can be formed from the nodes (which come from UIResponder). SpriteKit ranks high on the reliability front too. All that developers need to start using it is a working knowledge of Xcode and familiarity with Objective-C programming. Not surprisingly, more and more of them are taking to SpriteKit everyday!

 

Do you use SpriteKit?

 

AppBoard Tuesday – Overcome Obstacles, Excel As App Developers

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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Drumrolls please! AppBoard Tuesday (ABT) – our free weekly newsletter – turns 21 this week. To celebrate its, well, ‘coming-of-age’, we will today concentrate on the doubts, apprehensions and challenges of young, aspiring mobile app developers. After all, ABT is a youngster too now!

On a professional level, mobile app development is a mighty rewarding field of work. There are loads to learn, coding for different apps is an exciting challenge, and the payoffs are – more often than not – handsome. However, there are a few roadblocks that a newbie needs to overcome, to be able to shine in this domain. Here are what you have to tackle:

 

  1. Letting mobile technology move ahead of you – Learning the tips and tricks of app development is not a one-shot game. Mobile technology is evolving constantly, with new devices being launched by dozens each quarter, new software and accessories being regularly unveiled, and new mobile OS platforms being released. At present, the mobile world is all abuzz with iPhone 6/iOS 8 and the upcoming Google Nexus 6/Android L combinations. Subscribe to tech magazines, do regular research on the internet, and learn from your senior colleagues. This is one field where your knowledge level cannot remain static.
  2. Optimizing apps for devices – The user-interface (UI) of an app might seem amazing on the screen of a 5” smartphone. The same layout has every chance of looking horribly stretched on a 7”/8” phablet. There are already around 1.75 billion smartphones across the world (true story!) – and with a projected annual growth rate of over 25%, there is no saying how many mobile gadgets the world would have in, say, five years from now. Find out the devices that your apps will be most frequently downloaded and used, and optimize according to their tech specs. Do not go for the ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.
  3. Native apps vs Mobile Web apps – This is a dilemma that you every new mobile app developer needs to address at the very outset. Given the current market scenario and demand patterns, it would probably be advisable to start off with native apps (i.e., apps that are customized for different mobile platforms, and are created with mobile SDK). However, there are several app development companies which assign newbies on app projects based on HTML5/JavaScript (web apps). Hybrid apps have a market too. Determine which sector you wish to specialize in. Remember, you need not join any bandwagon.
  4. Risk of compromising user experience – When you create an iPhone app or an Android app, you will have to think like its target buyers/users too. Many new programmers make the folly of bunching up too many high-end technical specifications and complicated user-tools in an app – which makes the latter a virtual ‘black box’ for customers. An app does not become popular because its developer possesses the most advanced coding knowledge – it works due to its simplicity, organized features, smooth in-app navigation controls, and something ‘unique’ or ‘extra’ about it (let’s call it the ‘wow factor’). It takes a really smart developer to make an app that laymen find easy to use.
  5. Data security considerations – On most apps, users have to log in with unique usernames and passwords, or with their social media credentials. A host of tasks can be performed by different iPhone/Android apps – ranging from gameplay features, daily task-management, to finance transactions, personal budget management and digital payments (the last-mentioned would really gain in momentum after Apple Pay is released next year). The onus is on you, the developer, to implement proper security protocols in your application. If people do not feel ‘safe’ while using your app, they won’t download it. There is no dearth of options, you know!
  6. Moving away from a static approach to work – At any mobile app company that is worth a mention, you won’t find the good ol’ ‘9-to-5’ work-culture. A flexible mentality is a must-have for any person wishing to stick it out in this field – and the first couple of months or so can prove challenging. On days, you might have to stay back at office after the formal ‘holiday hour’, to finetune your app and readying it for release. There might be instances when you have to work from home as well (particularly for keeping track of mobile app analytics figure). On the other hand, if you are into iPhone app development, you can take it easy during the Christmas period – when the app store remains closed for about a week. End-of-the-year cooling off time for you!
  7. Probable problems in data access – All mobile apps involve data being accessed by users, but that’s where the similarity ends. Apart from the diversity in the nature of mobile data being accessed, you will also need to find the exact ‘location’ from which it would be pulled (which would maximize user-satisfaction. If data would be obtained via the web browser – make sure that the web connectivity of your app is top-notch. A slow app is invariably an unsuccessful app.
  8. Ignorance about responsive designs – This is an extension of the second point in this discussion. You simply must have a proficient graphics designer in your team (at least one, that is!), who would be able to create responsive UIs for your app (so that it works fine on all devices). If your passion is to become a mobile app developer, don’t coax yourself into thinking that you can double up as a designer as well. If it’s a new team you are building, hire a specialized UI/UX designer – and in case you are hired at a big company, do not be shy to seek the help of the designers there.
  9. Touch vs Voice debate – Many new app developers make the mistake of thinking that a mobile application needs to be based on audio/voice (complemented by Siri or Google Now or Cortana) OR interactive touch features (like Google Glass or the Samsung smartwatches). In reality though, there is no such conflict – and when you are making a mobile or a tablet app – you have to use a combination of optimized voice and interactive touch features. There will be cases though (for example, in a driving navigation app), where voice commands would have to be given precedence.
  10. Testing – If you feel that you have got everything right at one go, your overconfidence is almost sure to come back to haunt you. Irrespective of how brilliant (or otherwise) a coder you are, you need to follow the international standards of mobile app testing – before submitting your product at the stores. It has to involve focus group checks as well as tests in the cloud environment. You need to get your app tested for all the different versions of Android, Apple, Windows and Blackberry mobile platform versions – particularly if you plan to be successful at cross-platform mobile app development.
  11. Lust for revenues – If your app is good, it will earn revenue (through paid downloads, in-app advertising, or other channels). Sadly, many newly established mobile app agencies do not have this confidence – and they invariably charge money for giving app quotes to clients. There are also companies that promise free Android or iPhone app quotes – and try to make up that ‘loss’ later, by charging money on app updates. Of course you don’t want to make apps for charity, but do not run after money-making from the onset. Give time for your apps to become hits – and financial rewards would follow.

 

Speaking of financial rewards, the issue of mobile app marketing is one that new developers often find challenging. When you are working for a third-party client, find out in detail the context of the app, and the precise features/functions required in it. Conversely, for in-house apps, brainstorm ideas that can be: a) converted into apps without much of a hassle and b) actually offer something new to the final users. Young developers across Europe and Down Under are earning big…scratch that…huge bucks from mobile apps. You can definitely be at par with them.

That rounds off the principal challenges that any new mobile app development professional is likely to face, and have to overcome. If you feel there are any other difficulties that they have to work around – let us know, and we will add them to our list. The journey from being a newbie to an expert on mobile apps need not always be a smooth one – but it is one that can definitely be completed, and completed rather easily!

 

AppBoard Tuesday returns on October 21, with another discussion that we hope you will find interesting. Till then, stay well, learn lots, and remain zapped with…you know it…apps!