Category Archives: iphone

Check out these images of Windows 8 – but where is Silverlight?

Microsoft’s Windows President Steven Sinofsky has shown off an early build of Windows 8 at the D9 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. It turns out that the not-so subliminal messaging at the PDC conference late in 2010 was spot on. HTML 5 and JavaScript are at the centre of the new Windows, for apps as well as in the browser:

Windows 8 apps use the power of HTML5, tapping into the native capabilities of Windows using standard JavaScript and HTML to deliver new kinds of experiences.

says program manager Jensen Harris in his introductory video.

So what is the new Windows like? Here is tour with some screen grabs from the above video. I have deliberately included fingers in several of the shots, because the new Windows is touch-centric.

First, Windows 8 borrows from Windows Phone and has a Start screen built with Live tiles:

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Live tiles, as on Windows Phone, are more than just icons; they can include notifications, video and animations. They are more like app previews.

Apps run essentially full-screen, as on Apple’s iPad:

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You switch apps by swiping. Here is a screen caught mid-swipe:

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However, you can also have two apps on screen. One is the main app, the other is docked to the side:

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A menu on the right shows Search, Share. Start. Connect and Settings. I am not sure what Connect does.

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Believe it or not, this is Internet Explorer 10, with tabs along the top that preview each page (nice idea):

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The on-screen keyboard looks like a big phone keyboard:

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Dual Personality

So where is the rest of Windows that we know and love/hate? It is still there; run an “old” Windows app like Excel and presto, it is Windows 7, complete with task bar. This image looks blurry, which actually is a clue to how big and bold the UI shown for the “new” apps really is:

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You can run old and new-style apps side by side, using the main/side app model:

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Windows 8 will run on both Intel x86/x64 processors, and on ARM. Legacy app compatibility on Intel will be great, but on ARM applications will need to be recompiled. There is no x86 emulation layer; Sinofsky said that was too difficult to do. Windows 8 will not require any more hardware than Windows 7.

It looks like Microsoft has created an excellent tablet/slate UI which has the same relation to the iPad that Windows Phone 7 has to the iPhone. It borrows many of the ideas but adds some distinctive features.

The big difference: whereas Apple has chosen to continue a dual line, with desktop/laptop Mac in one stream and iOS for iPhone and iPad in another, Microsoft is combining the two.

At least, it is in Windows 8. What about the current Windows Phone OS, which is built on the Windows CE OS? Will it be replaced by a variant of Windows 8, possibly with “full Windows” option disabled? That is my guess, but there is a lot which Microsoft has not yet explained about its future product plans.

Another question: where is Silverlight and .NET? Clearly these technologies are still supported, at least on x86, since all of Windows is still there. In a report from D9, Sinofsky says:

The browser that we showed runs Silverlight and it will still run on the desktop

That does not answer the question: can developers build apps for the new Windows user interface (and Windows store) using Silverlight, or is it HTML/JavaScript only? What about native code?

I will be surprised if all these options are not available, but it was not explicitly stated at D9. The emphasis is firmly on HTML.

We are promised more details at the BUILD conference in September.

Hands On with RunRev LiveCode: rapid development for iOS, Android, Mac and Windows

RunRev LiveCode is a cross-platform development tool for Mac, Windows, Linux, Web, Apple iOS and, from this month, Google Android.

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It is an individualistic tool inspired by Apple’s original (but now obsolete) HyperCard and HyperTalk, in which the building blocks of your application are stacks and cards. A stack is like a window, and a card is like a panel overlaid on that window. Unlike HyperCard, LiveCode is not a virtual card stack where each card can represent a record in a database; it is simply a means of building a graphical user interface.

A key attraction of LiveCode is that it now supports the two dominant smartphone platforms. I have been looking at a number of different approaches to mobile development, most recently PhoneGap; how does LiveCode compare to the competition? In order to get some hands on experience I set out to create my simple calculator application in LiveCode.

Coming almost new to LiveCode, I found that building this application took longer than it had done in PhoneGap, which uses HTML and JavaScript. I created a new stack and dragged some buttons onto it easily enough, but found that the approach to coding took some getting used to. There are lots of tutorials, but I found the easiest way to learn was to read through chunks of the user guide [pdf], which does a better job of explaining how to code.

One annoyance is that each object, such as a button, has its own script window, which appears as a tab in the editor. Although my calculator is simple, it does have a fair number of buttons, so you end up constantly switching between tabs. If you amend some code, you have to remember to click Apply before the change takes effect. If you forget, you run the application and puzzle over why it seems to be running an old version. The environment is strongly GUI-centric; you will not like it if you are an enthusiast for Model-View-Controller architecture.

The environment is dynamic, so you can test the stack you are working on at any time simply by switching it to browse mode. This is why it is called Live Code. In this respect it is similar to the Live View in Adobe’s DreamWeaver.

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I had to get used to writing:

put firstNumber * secondNumber into theResult

instead of

theResult = firstNumber * secondNumber

I was impressed by LiveCode’s ability to change types on the fly and to work out correctly whether you wanted to do something with a string value or a numeric value.

The language is more English-like than most languages, though I am not sure if it really easier. The language minimises use of punctuation which helps readability. Cases in switch statements fall through, C style, unless you remember to include break statements, which is traditionally a common source of bugs.

I got my calculator working on Windows. I tried building for what RunRev calls Web, but was put off by the plug-in requirement:

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I then moved the project to a Mac to try it on iOS. Everything still worked, but I spent some time resizing the stack and repositioning the buttons to look half-way reasonable on an iPhone. I may be missing some tricks here, but scaling and positioning controls does not seem to be a strong point for LiveCode.

LiveCode does feel that bit more at home on a Mac, reflecting its origins.

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I was impressed with how easy it was to build the app for iOS. The way cross-platform works in LiveCode is that you open a dialog called Standalone Application Settings. There is a tab for each supported platform, in which you specify options specific to each platform. The options for iOS are extensive, including supported devices, hardware access requirements, orientation options, external libraries and so on. You can then test immediately on the simulator. For on-device testing, you use the Organizer in Xcode to copy the compiled app across.

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The good news is that the app ran well, much better than than the PhoneGap/jQuery Mobile version, though it did not look as nice and in fairness the other app’s performance issues are likely more to do with jQuery Mobile than PhoneGap itself.

Although I found it a bit of a hassle getting started, nevertheless I was able to build a working app for Windows, Mac and iOS in a few hours, so I should not complain.

Of course there is a lot more that LiveCode can do. It has database libraries, graphical effects, an embedded web browser on some platforms, XML and text processing support, and more. It is also extensible; there is probably not much that cannot be achieved with sufficient effort.

I have not tried the Android support as my version does not include it; though I did notice that the Android options dialog is basic compared to what is available for iOS.

My first impression of LiveCode is positive, but with reservations. It looks to me like a viable and productive route to cross-platform development, or you might use it just as a quick route to app development for iOS, but I did not enjoy working in the IDE which feels quirky and unsophisticated compared to other modern IDEs. My little app works well though, and that suggests it would be worth trying it for something more advanced.

Building a PhoneGap app for iPhone with Adobe Dreamweaver CS5.5

After trying out Adobe’s new Dreamweaver CS5.5 for building a PhoneGap app for Google Android, I was keen to try the same for Apple iOS. In particular, I wanted to see if the performance problems with jQuery Mobile and PhoneGap on Android were also an issue on iOS.

This turned out to be more complex than I had imagined. Bear in mind that I have not done a lot of previous iOS development; but I reckon that makes me a good test case for Adobe’s market here. Ideally you should be able to use Dreamweaver alone to build your app and make a fortune on Apple’s popular app store.

I installed Dreamweaver CS5.5 without any issues and copied my Calculator example from PC to Mac. I am not going to repeat the steps that were the same as for Android; read my earlier post. I will mention that I puzzled over the setting for the IOS Developer Tools Path. After trying various sub-directories I eventually discovered that simply entering /Developer here works. One of the issues I have with this stuff is that clicking Help generally does not help. I resorted to watching one of Adobe’s videos and checking out the screen there.

My app worked fine though and I was able to run it up in the iPhone simulator. However I really wanted to test it on the device itself. The problem: this is all you get in Dreamweaver in terms of application settings:

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I have not yet found any documentation from Adobe concerning what to do once your PhoneGap app is ready for on-device testing, though there may be some somewhere.

My solution was to download a separate install of PhoneGap, picking the latest version which is 0.9.5. Then I downloaded Xcode 4 and the latest iOS SDK; I had not previously installed this as I have only just signed up for Apple’s paid developer program.

I might have been better sticking with Xcode 3.x, as it turns out that PhoneGap’s support for Xcode 4 is still work in progress. I used Shazron Abdullah’s script which creates an Xcode 4 PhoneGap project from the command line. Then I copied my Calc application and the jQuery mobile directory into the project and opened it in Xcode 4.

Nothing worked and I had to do a number of things to get it to build. Most problems were solved using this guide by Cameron Perry and the comments which follow. Here’s what I recall doing:

  • I removed a red link to PhoneGapLib.xcodeproj and added it back from ~Documents/PhoneGapLib
  • I added i386 to the list of Valid architectures in build settings, for both the PhoneGapLib and my Calc project
  • I added an entry for PHONEGAPLIB to the Xcode 4 Source Trees, set to /Users/username/Documents/PhoneGapLib/ using the full path and not the ~Documents abbreviation.
  • I obtained an ID for my app from Apple’s developer portal and pasted into the project as the Bundle identifier (info section).

At this point the project almost built but I still got two Apple Mach-O Linker errors relating to PhoneGapDelegate:

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I tried a couple of things to fix this. I added the PhoneGapLib project as a target dependency for Calc, which did no harm but was not a fix. Then I went to the Link Binary with Libraries section of Build Phases and added a reference to libPhoneGapLib.a

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The odd thing is that libPhoneGapLib.a now appears in my project in red, suggesting something missing, but the project now builds fine; I am sure an Xcode 4 guru can advise.

So here is my app running on a real iPhone 4:

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I slightly modified the design to fit the iPhone 4 screen.

Now for the bad news: performance is still not really good enough. To be clear, the problem is a slight pause between tapping a button and the number being entered. One bad symptom is that if you are in a hurry and tap several numbers quickly, some may not register. The iPhone 4 runs the app slightly better than my HTC Desire, but I would still not be happy releasing it with this performance – leaving aside the fact that a better calculator app comes free with the iPhone.

I tried specifying a release build in Xcode 4 but it made little difference. I suspect performance could be improved either by not using jQuery mobile, or by configuring it to reduce the richness of the buttons it creates.

Leaving that aside, it seems to me that Adobe has some work to do in making it easier to get from a Dreamweaver project running in the emulator, to an app that you can test on a device and deploy to the app store. Although the steps I took seem arduous, it is not really so bad once you get it working. You could create a much more complex app entirely within Dreamweaver, and then the work involved in moving it to Xcode would be pretty much the same as I had to do for my simple calculator. So I am not going to say that the PhoneGap integration is no use, just that it needs better documentation. Maybe in the next version we will get fuller integration that will do device build and deploy as well as building for the simulator.

Adobe announces Flash Builder for PHP, PhoneGap integration in Dreamweaver

Adobe has stepped up its support for mobile and Flash development with a couple of announcements today.

The first is that Dreamweaver 5.5, part of the new Creative Suite 5.5, has integrated support for PhoneGap.

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PhoneGap lets you build apps for Apple iOS and Google Android using HTML and JavaScript, taking advantage of the WebKit runtime that is present in these devices. The apps are packaged as native apps and also have access to some device-specific features. This does not mean Adobe is abandoning Flash, but is part of a both/and strategy, which makes sense to me.

There is also a new 4.5 version of Flash Builder which has greatly improved mobile support.

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Flex 4.5 compiles to AIR apps on Android, Blackberry and iOS, as well as desktop Mac, Windows and Linux.

You can debug directly on an Android device connected via USB, or using a new emulator built into Flash Builder:

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Adobe has also announced Flash Builder 4.5 for PHP, in partnership with Zend. A great feature is that you can debug seamlessly from PHP code on the server to Flex code running in a Flash client, provided you are using Zend server.

The new Flash Builder products will ship within 30 days. The premium edition is part of the Creative Suite 5.5 bundle – an improvement over Creative Suite 5.0 which only bundled the Standard edition – or available separately, while Flash Builder for PHP is a separate purchase at $399 or €319 for Standard, and $799 or €629 for Premium.

I asked Adobe’s Adam Lehman, Flash Builder produce manager, how developers should decide between PhoneGap and AIR for Mobile, given that both are now in Creative Suite.

They’re coming from two different technical perspectives. If you’re going to come in with your HTML skills and try to build an application that way, PhoneGap is better than trying to go and learn ActionScript and Flex from scratch. But from a performance and functionality perspective we believe we’re offering a lot better solution with Flash Builder and Flex.

The other part of it is that our tooling is superior. The sort of workflow that we showed [Design and develop with round-tripping between Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder] isn’t going to be available on the PhoneGap side with our tooling. Dreamweaver might be able to support different layouts and things like that, but it is not going to be a full-fledged IDE. What you’re getting with the AIR runtime and the full tooling stack is far superior that if you were building the HTML-based PhoneGap app. You can always tell a PhoneGap app, you can tell that it is running in an embedded browser. There’s tons of inconsistencies between the devices because the browsers are very different. There’s a lot of advantages to going AIR where you know that the design is going to look exactly the same. But while we love Flash we’re not zealous about it to ignore the fact that you can build with these other technologies as well.

More information on Flash Builder 4.5 here.

Adobe announces Flash Builder for PHP, PhoneGap integration in Dreamweaver

Adobe has stepped up its support for mobile and Flash development with a couple of announcements today.
The first is that Dreamweaver 5.5, part of the new Creative Suite 5.5, has integrated support for PhoneGap. PhoneGap lets you build apps for Apple iOS and Google Android using HTML and JavaScript, taking advantage of the WebKit runtime that is present in these devices. The apps are packaged as native apps and also have access to some device-specific features. This does not mean Adobe is abandoning Flash, but is part of a both/and strategy, which makes sense to me.
Adobe has also announced Flash Builder 4.5 for PHP, in partnership with Zend. A great feature is that you can debug seamlessly from PHP code on the server to Flex code running in a Flash client, provided you are using Zend server.
Flex 4.5 compiles to AIR apps on Android, Blackberry and iOS, as well as desktop Mac, Windows and Linux.
The new Flash Builder products will ship within 30 days. The premium edition is part of the Creative Suite bundle or available separately, while Flash Builder for PHP is a separate purchase at $399 or €319 for Standard, and $799 or €629 for Premium.
More news on this and screenshots soon.

Appcelerator CEO on Titanium, Aptana and the future of mobile development

I met with Aptana CEO and co-founder Jeff Haynie at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month.

Appcelerator’s main product is Titanium, an SDK which takes HTML and JavaScript source files and compiles them to native apps for several platforms, including Windows Mac and Linux on the desktop, and Google Android or Apple iOS for mobile. RIM Blackberry support is in preview. Appcelerator has recently acquired the Aptana IDE for HTML, JavaScript, CSS, Ruby on Rails, Python and Adobe AIR. The company has also partnered with Engine Yard for cloud-hosted Ruby on Rails applications to deliver web services to clients built with Titanium.

Haynie says that mobile is currently a three-horse race between Apple iOS, Google Android, and RIM Blackberry; but he expects further diversification. Microsoft Windows Phone is under consideration, and he says that cross-compiling to Silverlight would be possible for Titanium:

It’s a .NET SDK, we would have to build a translation into Silverlight. That’s how we do it for iOS, we translate code into Objective C. We don’t think it’s technically insurmountable.

I asked about the Appcelerator Freemium business model. Titanium is open source and you can download and use the SDK commercially for free. Haynie says it works well because companies can do a full evaluation and get to understand the value of the software fully before deciding whether to purchase. However he emphasised that larger companies, other than non-profits, are expected to take out a paid subscription.

This point could do with clarification. Indeed, the Appcelerator Plans and Pricing page shows Titanium Indie which is free but for companies of less then 25 employees, and other editions which are paid-for. But as far as I can tell there are no restrictions on the SDK. See the FAQ which says:

Can I use Titanium for a commercial application?

Yes. You can use Titanium in both a personal and commercial application regardless of what your license or price is.

What is your License?

The Titanium SDK is licensed under the Apache Public License (version 2).

I also took the opportunity to ask about Adobe AIR support in Aptana. It strikes me that this is under threat following the acquisition, since AIR competes with Titanium. Haynie was just a little evasive, but at the same time impressed me with his attitude:

Obviously we have a competitive platform from Adobe AIR. But we want developers to have the best choice, the best tools possible. So competitively we need to build the best product. If AIR is a better product and people want to use Aptana to build AIR apps, then fine. That means we need to continue to work to make a better runtime for the desktop.

Nevertheless, Haynie implied that AIR support will only continue if Adobe supports it; I am not sure what support means in this context but I think it includes a financial contribution:

We’re with Adobe on trying to figure out where we go from here … we have to spend a lot of money to support that, so we’re making sure that we’ve got Adobe’s support behind that.

I am not sure what Adobe gains from Aptana support, given that it has its own Eclipse-based IDE called Flash Builder, so I would not bet on there being significant updates to the current AIR 1.5 plug-in.

Finally, Haynie emphasised what to me are familiar themes in talking about the direction for Titanium and Aptana. Cross-platform visual design tools; designer and developer workflow; and integration in a single IDE of rich client and cloud back-end. This integration has long struck me as one of the best things about Microsoft’s Visual Studio, so it is interesting to see the theme reappear in a cross-platform context.

What I enjoyed about the interview is the way Haynie communicates the huge change and volatility that has arrived within the software development world, thanks to the impact of cloud and mobile. Times of change mean new opportunities and new products. Titanium has plenty of competition, but if Appcelerator is able to deliver a robust, cloud to device, cross-platform toolkit, then it will have a bright future.

I have posted a transcript of most of the interview.

Appcelerator releases Titanium Mobile 1.6

Appcelerator has released Titanium Mobile 1.6, an update to its cross-platform app framework for Apple iOS and Google Android.

The update adds 26 features for Android and 9 features for iOS. The Facebook API has been completely redone, keeping up-to-date with the latest Facebook API. There is beta support for the Android NDK – native code development.

Android 1.6 is now deprecated and will not be supported in future releases.

While not a big release in itself, Titanium Mobile 1.6 is require for using forthcoming Titanium+Plus modules, libraries which add support for features such as barcode reading and PayPal payments.

There is no sign yet of Aptana integration, following the acquisition of this JavaScript IDE in January.

Updating to the 1.6 SDK was delightfully easy on Windows. Just open Titanium Developer and click the prompt.

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Ten big tech trends from 2010

This was an amazing year for tech. Here are some of the things that struck me as significant.

Sun Java became Oracle Java

Oracle acquired Sun and set about imposing its authority on Java. Java is still Java, but Oracle lacks Sun’s commitment to open source and community – though even in Sun days there was tension in this area. That was nothing to the fireworks we saw in 2010, with Java Community Process members resigning, IBM switching from its commitment to the Apache Harmony project to the official OpenJDK, and the Apache foundation waging a war of words against Oracle that was impassioned but, it seems, futile.

Microsoft got cloud religion

Only up to a point, of course. This is the Windows and Office company, after all. However – and this is a little subjective – this was the year when Microsoft convinced me it is serious about Windows Azure for hosting our applications and data. In addition, it seems to me that the company is willing to upset its partners if necessary for the sake of its hosted Exchange and SharePoint – BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), soon to become Office 365.

This is a profound change for Microsoft, bearing in mind its business model. I spoke to a few partners when researching this article for the Register and was interested by the level of unease that was expressed.

Microsoft also announced some impressive customer wins for BPOS, especially in government, though the price the customers pay for these is never mentioned in the press releases.

Microsoft Silverlight shrank towards Windows-only

Silverlight is Microsoft’s browser plug-in which delivers multimedia and the .NET Framework to Windows and Mac; it is also the development platform for Windows Phone 7. It still works on a Mac, but in 2010 Microsoft made it clear that cross-platform Silverlight is no longer its strategy (if it ever was), and undermined the Mac version by adding Windows-specific features that interoperate with the local operating system. Silverlight is still an excellent runtime, powerful, relatively lightweight, easy to deploy, and supported by strong tools in Visual Studio 2010. If you have users who do not run Windows though, it now looks a brave choice.

The Apple iPad was a hit

I still have to pinch myself when thinking about how Microsoft now needs to catch up with Apple in tablet computing. I got my first tablet in 2003, yes seven years ago, and it ran Windows. Now despite seven years of product refinement it is obvious that Windows tablets miss the mark that Apple has hit with its first attempt – though drawing heavily on what it learnt with the equally successful iPhone. I see iPads all over the place, in business as well as elsewhere, and it seems to me that the success of a touch interface on this larger screen signifies a transition in personal computing that will have a big impact.

Google Android was a hit

Just when Apple seemed to have the future of mobile computing in its hands, Google’s Android alternative took off, benefiting from mass adoption by everyone-but-Apple among hardware manufacturers. Android is not as elegantly designed or as usable as Apple’s iOS, but it is close enough; and it is a relatively open platform that runs Adobe Flash and other apps that do not meet Apple’s approval. There are other contenders: Microsoft Windows Phone 7; RIM’s QNX-based OS in the PlayBook; HP’s Palm WebOS; Nokia Symbian and Intel/Nokia MeeGo – but how many mobile operating systems can succeed? Right now, all we can safely say is that Apple has real competition from Android.

HP fell out with Microsoft

Here is an interesting one. The year kicked off with a press release announcing that HP and Microsoft love each other to the extent of $250 million over three years – but if you looked closely, that turned out to be less than a similar deal in 2006. After that, the signs were even less friendly. HP acquired Palm in April, signalling its intent to compete with Windows Mobile rather than adopting it; and later this year HP announced that it was discontinuing its Windows Home Server range. Of course HP remains a strong partner for Windows servers, desktops and laptops; but these are obvious signs of strain.

The truth though is that these two companies need one another. I think they should kiss and make up.

eBook readers were a hit

I guess this is less developer-oriented; but 2010 was the year when electronic book publishing seemed to hit the mainstream. Like any book lover I have mixed feelings about this and its implications for bookshops. I doubt we will see books disappear to the same extent as records and CDs; but I do think that book downloads will grow rapidly over the next few years and that paper-and-ink sales will diminish. It is a fascinating tech battle too: Amazon Kindle vs Apple iPad vs the rest (Sony Reader, Barnes and Noble Nook, and others which share their EPUB format). I have a suspicion that converged devices like the iPad may win this one, but displays that are readable in sunlight have special requirements so I am not sure.

HTML 5 got real

2010 was a huge year for HTML 5 – partly because Microsoft announced its support in Internet Explorer 9, currently in beta; and partly because the continued growth of browsers such as Mozilla Firefox, and the WebKit-based Google Chrome, Apple Safari and numerous mobile browsers showed that HTML 5 would be an important platform with or without Microsoft. Yes, it is fragmented and unfinished; but more and more of HTML 5 is usable now or in the near future.

Adobe Flash survived Apple and HTML 5

2010 was the year of Steve Jobs’ notorious Thoughts on Flash as well as a big year for HTML 5, which encroaches on territory that used to require the services of a browser plug-in. Many people declared Adobe Flash dead, but the reality was different and the company had a great year. Apple’s focus on design and usability helps Adobe’s design-centric approach even while Apple’s refusal to allow Flash on its mobile computers opposes it.

Windows 7 was a hit

Huge relief in Redmond as Windows 7 sold and sold. The future belongs to mobile and cloud; but Windows is not going away soon, and version 7 is driving lots of upgrades as even XP diehards move over. I’m guessing that we will get first sight of Windows 8 in 2011. Another triumph, or another Vista?

A useful Windows Phone 7 app in a couple of hours – Where’s my Train

I was interested to see that National Rail Enquiries has published a web service for its live departure boards. These give you reports on the next trains to depart from any given station, including information on late running.

Given that this is Windows Phone 7 week, I could not resist trying it out. I have a minimalist UI – you type in a station and hit Go. In version two you will just press Enter. It fetches the live train departures and displays them in a list. Version two might have a scrollbar too. Still, I’m pleased with the results, which could actually prove useful when I am running for a train.

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Confession: it is currently hardcoded for just a few stations. That’s because you need to look up the station code in this table. I need to embed this database in my app somehow.

The coding is pretty simple though. It may help that the National Rail Enquiries web service is based on .NET, which is also why it does SOAP and WSDL, to the disappointment of those looking for REST. All the hard stuff is done by Add Service Reference in Visual Studio. The web service call is asynchronous, but there is a code completion wizard to add the necessary event handler.

Could be a money spinner if I can get it out quickly – but unfortunately the terms and conditions appear to prohibit its distribution:

This Web Site is for your personal and non-commercial use. You may not at any time modify, store, copy (including for example screen scraping), extract, reutilise, distribute, transmit, display, perform, reproduce, publish, license, create derivative works from, transfer, or sell, distribute or create any information, products or services obtained from, linked to or using this Web Site and any data therein or that may provide users with the ability to do the same.

These terms are bit puzzling, because on one interpretation they do not permit any use of the web service, even though it is stated that:

For the purposes of these Terms & Conditions the term Web Site also includes the web services, XML and any other data source supplying the Web Site.

Oh well. It still shows how quickly you can knock together a client for a web service and make something useful, although mine is really only a proof of concept. I reckon it would be almost as easy in Adobe AIR too – and then it would run on Android.

There is a National Rail Enquiries app for iPhone which costs $7.99 and likely uses the same web service.

Windows Phone 7 gets decent launch, Stephen Fry’s blessing

I was not able to attend the press conference for Windows Phone 7 in person but watched the live webcast from New York. I was unconvinced by the phrase “Always delightful, wonderfully mine” which formed the basis of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s lead-in, but it got better.

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Corporate VP Joe Belfiore did a live demo, explained how the team had aimed to simplify the phone and make it where possible seem one step ahead of the user, predicting the information you would want or the next step you wish to take. He also spent some time on enterprise features, especially Office and Exchange integration, which interested me as there is some ambiguity in how Microsoft is positioning the launch devices; consumer is the focus yet business-oriented features keep cropping up.

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One of the 5 HTC phones announced today is the HTC 7 Pro which has a keyboard and seems mainly aimed at business users.

Ralph de la Vega from AT&T said that his company will offer Windows Phone 7 from November 8th in USA, initially from LG, but with  with 3 devices – LG, HTC, Samsung – available a few weeks later.

Belfiore’s demo looked good, despite a couple of failures from which he made a good recovery. He announced that the much-discussed Copy and Paste feature, which will be absent from the first release, will come as an automatic update early in 2011.

He also spent some time on the Xbox Live integration, which is one feature that is distinctive to Windows Phone 7 and strikes me as a smart move. A couple of XNA games were demoed and look good, one called Ilo and Milo that uses the accelerometer:

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and a familiar one from EA, The Sims:

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The best part of Microsoft’s launch though was not in the USA but in the UK. Celebrity Stephen Fry, known for his love of all things Apple, got up and and praised the phone.

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The BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones caught some of this on video, and I am going to quote extensively because it touches on something I’ve been tracking for years: Microsoft’s belated recognition of the importance of design:

I made no secret of my dislike of Microsoft over many years. I did think that analogy of a building site, of a Sixties grey office, is essentially what the environments they were making then were. Whatever I may think of this device (and I’m going to come to that in a moment) I think we can all admire the humility which which Microsoft have admitted to the fact that they now, I think, get it. They get the fact that all human beings whether they work in enterprise or in small businesses or are self employed, are human beings first.

You don’t judge the machines you use or the houses you live in or the offices where you work, simply by listing their functions. The first thing you do as a human being, whether you work for a large office or a small one, is say how you feel about it.

What I was always excited by when Apple produced things and then when HTC and other OEMs started making fascinating and enjoyable Androids, and even when RIM came out with the Torch, I felt pleasure using them. These are things, we carry them around at all times and our lives flow through and out of them. And the first feeling we should have is one of delight, so when I heard Mr Ballmer use the word “delight” I thought, oh what joy there is in heaven when a sinner repents. Because let’s be frank, Microsoft were grey, they were featureless, they did concentrate so much on enterprise and tickboxes for function, that they forgot that even the greyest number-cruncher in the corporation is a human being first, a father, a husband, a mother, a daughter, whatever, and that their experiences are based on feeling and emotion.

So when they did send me one of these about a week or so ago – I’ve got a few of them, and I’m not being paid – my first feeling was that it was just fun to play with. And I know that’s childish, but isn’t that how you think of cars and many other things we spend our lives doing? That it’s fun to drive. Yes you want it to be economical, yes you want it to get from A to B, yes you want various things.

People buy things because they feel that emotional engagement, they feel the pleasure of using it. I have felt enormous pleasure using this phone. Yes, because I’m not a paid spokesman, because I’m not any kind of spokesman for Microsoft, I can say that it has deficiencies; but then that was the thing about the iPhone that everybody felt, people who had Windows Mobile 5, as it then was, they laughed to scorn the iPhone when it arrived because it didn’t have all these functions. But if you remember the tedious horror of drilling down through the menus just to get a wireless connection, on an old WinMob phone, you will understand that it wasn’t about that, people embraced the iPhone because it was simple, it was closed, it was clear.

Now the closed environment is something you’re all going to be speaking about, the ecosystem, you’re all going to be speaking about how it positions itself against RIM and it positions itself, crucially, against the iPhone and the Android, and that’s a decision that only the market and the next year can make.

He added on Twitter:

Some will call me traitor, but I was pleased to stand on stage ad welcome Windows Mobile 7 into the world. Used it for a week. Like it.

This was a great PR coup for Microsoft, but more important, it shows the impact of something I wrote about in 2008: Bill Buxton’s arrival at Microsoft and his work to introduce design-consciousness to Microsoft and its OEMs:

Everybody in that food chain gets it now. Everybody’s motivated to fix it. Thinking about the holistic experience is much easier now than it was two years ago. What you’re going to see with Mobile 7 is going to give evidence of progress.

I thought the launch was good enough to make people want to try this phone; and considering Microsoft’s current position in the market that is a good result for the company.