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23 December 2010

Appcelerator Titanium Development (part 2)

Today Micro Mart magazine published part 2 of my Appcelerator Titanium Development article in issue 1138.

This four page how-to article focusses on using Appcelerator Titanium for smartphone development, and the mobile API. All my examples are for Google's Android operating system, but Apple iOS development is also supported. Once again you can create native look-and-feel mobile applications using only JavaScript code.

This is the Christmas period issue, covering two weeks, complete with end of year reports and plenty of other interesting articles - but still only £2.

Here's an extract from the article:

Today's smartphone marketplace is dominated by Apple iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices. But iPhone development revolves around Apple's Developer Tools and their Objective C language, while Android uses the Java-based Android development kit. Blackberry development is different again.

Wouldn't it be better to forget all this complexity and create your great idea using open standard web development languages? Wouldn't it be better to use a standard cross-platform API, so that the same source code, with the odd small tweak, is applicable to the major smartphone platforms?

Titanium can do just this. Anyone with basic JavaScript skills can create a native look-and-feel smartphone application. And create it using their existing PC, whether that be Windows, Mac OS X or Linux – although due to Apple restrictions iPhone development requires access to OS X at some point.

In fact, Titanium can do more. As there's generic support for the iOS and Android operating systems, your creations can also be deployed on other mobile devices, such as Apple's iPad and the upcoming raft of Android tablets. With Titanium, your ideas can be fast-tracked by rapid cross-platform prototyping, leading to substantial leaps in productivity.

I've posted a PDF of this article on my sample PDF page.

16 December 2010

Appcelerator Titanium Development (part 1)

Today Micro Mart magazine published part 1 of my Appcelerator Titanium Development article in issue 1137 (see the Sample PDFs page).

This four page how-to article introduces the Appcelerator Titanium platform and demonstrates how to create cross-platform, native look-and-feel desktop applications using only HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

It's an interesting product that uses WebKit technology and special JavaScript APIs to build a native applications from open standard web languages. The article explained this WebKit-based approach strategy, the Titanium Developer tool, suitable editors, an overview of API functionality and how to start creating your own desktop applications.

Part 2 of the mini-series will focus on smartphone development, still with the Titanium platform, but with the mobile API. All my examples are for Google's Android operating system, but Apple iOS development is also supported. Once again you can create native look-and-feel mobile applications using only JavaScript code.

Here's an extract from the article:

Titanium achieves all this flexibility through a design rather similar to Adobe's AIR product, but with a standards-based open source pedigree. The key component is a platform-specific, WebKit derived runtime engine to render and execute the web pages and scripts as a native application.

WebKit technology is not only very popular – it's found in Adobe AIR's runtime and many browsers like Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari - but it ensure developers can use the latest HTML5 and CSS3 standards, plus the powerful functionality offered by Javascript frameworks such as JQuery, Prototype, Dojo and MooTools.

Importantly, JavaScript behaviour and HTML/CSS rendering is consistent across all platforms, while still exhibiting an OS-specific look-and-feel. This is critical to achieving the best possible user experience on each platform - an important factor in gaining a high rating in the various mobile App stores and marketplaces.

I've posted a PDF of this article on my sample PDF page.

30 November 2010

NFC News

This month I noticed three NFC related stories which confirm some of the ideas and projections made in my August 2010 Micro Mart magazine feature article on Near Field Communication.

The first story strongly suggests the iPhone 5 will have NFC technology. Interestingly, an earlier article also mentions Apple's patent filings on iPay, iBuy and iCoupons, in connection with their NFC device triggering filings.

The second is an interesting story about NFC enabled toys from Silicon Valley start-up Nukotoys. Not likely to make much of a showing this Christmas - but maybe something to look out for late 2011.

The third is a pre-announcement regarding the next Android OS version - namely Android Gingerbread 2.3. Gingerbread has NFC support to read RFID tags as well as communicate with other phones, payment systems and other possible applications. It's due out well before Apple's regular iPhone mid-year product update, as I suggested in the article.

Read more analysis posts.

25 November 2010

Appcelerator Titanium review

Today's Micro Mart magazine, issue 1134, published my Appcelerator Titanium product review.

Titanium is an open source platform to facilitate development of cross-platform desktop applications (namely Windows, Mac OS X and Linux), plus apps for both Apple and Android mobile devices. Crucially it uses only open web standards and languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

I've found it such an interesting product, I'm working working on a mini series covering both desktop and Android smartphone development using the Titanium SDK.

To see the review in full visit my Sample PDFs page.

11 November 2010

An End to Malware article

Today Micro Mart magazine published my An End to Malware? feature article in issue 1132.

Over six page I investigate the modern curse that is malware. How did we get into this mess? What's wrong with our current PC approach? How might operating system evolution provide a solution? What limitations and loss or computing freedom might a new solution impose? These and many other question are raised and discussed in the article.

I also explain the browser problem, Intel's new approach as defined by CEO Paul S Otellini at IDF 2010 and today's mobile device solutions, including Apple's iOS. And highlight the issues surrounding taking responsibility and possibility of a security guarantee.

Click to read more analysis articles and posts.

5 November 2010

Abobe Acrobat X Pro review

Today Micro Mart magazine published my Adobe Acrobat X Pro product review in issue 1131.

It's been well over two years since Acrobat 9 appeared, so I was interested to see what had changed in the new version. I certainly found plenty of new and enhanced Acrobat X Pro features to write about, but unfortunately the price still remains pretty steep.

Difficult to justify for personal use, I feel, in the light of products like Nitro PDF.

23 September 2010

Transparent Operating Systems article

Today Micro Mart magazine published my Transparent Operating Systems feature article in issue 1125 (see the Sample PDFs page).

The seven page article investigates the requirement for streamlined application-centric operating systems, with a simplified yet familiar user interface, and an emphasis on ease of use, performance and security.

Some of the new operating systems based around this concept are evaluated and compared, including the open source projects Google Chromium, Intel/Nokia MeeGo, HP/Palm WebOS and Google Android, plus Apple's proprietary iOS.

26 August 2010

Near Field Communication article

This week's Micro Mart magazine published my Near Field Communication feature article in issue 1121 (see the Sample PDFs page).

The four page article describes what NFC technology is all about, investigates how it will affect our personal computing devices, and discusses the big money potential of NFC-enabled mobile commerce and advertising.

Here are a few extracts:

At its heart NFC is another form of digital radio transmission, similar to the now familiar wi-fi transmissions, differing mainly in its lower data transmission speed, low power and, in particular, very short range. NFC's high frequency radio signal is able to transmit and received simultaneously, operating at the same 13.56Mhz frequency as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.

This compatibility with the RFID standard results in quite modest data transmission rates of up to 100 kbytes per second. With a typical range of only a few centimetres, it's often referred to as a contactless technology, or the rather more fun sounding 'bump' interaction. When considering these characteristics it's clear NFC isn't trying to compete with our existing longer range, higher-capacity wireless technology, so what does it bring to the wireless party? Well, the key features are a variety of operational modes, very short transmission range implications, and low costs.

Despite the ever growing list of wi-fi enabled devices, installation and configuration remains a troublesome and complex process. For instance, having bought your brand new wireless printer it seems counter-intuitive to have to plug in the USB cable part way through installation, only to remove it shortly after.

With an NFC-enabled wireless printer, the essential handshaking information can be transferred simply by placing an NFC-enabled laptop next to it - a completely wireless installation solution. In similar fashion a hotel or café wi-fi connection could be configured in seconds by presentation of a credit card sized NFC tag to your NFC-enabled laptop, removing any manual setup steps. Obviously this technique could be extended to a multitude of other wireless devices, including a wide variety of PC peripherals, mobile phones, personal music players, portable games consoles and remote game controllers.

Combine contactless behaviour, credit/debit card emulation and data encryption with user confirmation, and you have a recipe for a new breed of wireless commerce transactions and applications, internationally applicable, with a potential measured in billions.

Although traditional PIN style transaction confirmation may be the norm, compared with the rapid, contactless operation entering a PIN code may seem like a rather tedious activity. By incorporating one of the increasingly common bio-security sensors into devices, such as a fingerprint scanner, you have an equally rapid confirmation process - and of course you don't have to remember all those PIN numbers.

Online commerce can be simplified too. With a virtual credit/debit card stack held on the USB stick, or an adjacently placed NFC-enabled smartphone, Internet users can perform secure online payments without entering their card details into a web page. Not only a far simpler and quicker process, but less prone to spyware and other security threats.

The same issue contained a letter, sent in response to comments in the editor's column in issue 1119, commenting on the high levels of interest in Microsoft's Kinect launch. As I covered Kinect, using the (better sounding?) Natal project name, in my issue 1108 Human Computer Interface Evolution feature article, I naturally felt obliged to comment.

12 August 2010

WebUser Magazine Security Letter

Web User magazine issue 246 published my letter suggesting web browsers should display bold, clear indications of secure site status. 

I suggested web users confidence in e-commerce activies would increase and malicious web page redirection would be easier to spot.

27 May 2010

Human Computer Interface Evolution article

Today the weekly Micro Mart magazine published my feature article in issue 1108 (see the Sample PDFs page).

Headlined as Human Computer Interface Evolution and covering six pages, it's a comprehensive investigation of user interface origins, advancements and innovations over the past 20 years.

It also examines the latest technologies and potential future trends, with references to the smartphone touch interfaces included in Apple's iOS and Google's Android, plus the innovative Microsoft Natal project (now renamed Kinect).

4 April 2010

Multi-Platform Web Sites

Smartphone usage is experiencing huge levels of growth, and take up of digital tablets will rise inexorably within the next twelve months. It’s a trend destined to have a pronounced impact on web site design. One where successful web sites must provide attractive, intuitive and usable page formats across all types of Internet-enabled devices.

Unfortunately, the track record for new thinking in web site design is unconvincing. For many years the purchase of a new desktop or laptop has meant acquiring a wide-screen display. Netbooks and ultra-portable notebooks, in particular, often exhibit very limited vertical resolution. Yet very few web pages utilise this extra width, invariably relying on vertical scrolling to view the page content. A horizontal scrolling paradigm might offer a superior solution for efficient wide-screen utilisation, delivering a more familiar book-like impression and smoother information flow.

Although some sites have worked hard to develop successful multi-platform approaches, many still rely on the user's skill and patience. In a multi-device world, those who target their design and development resources to address these challenges, will enjoy higher volumes of happy users and increased revenue potential.

Let's take The Times and The Sunday Times newspaper as an example. It has, rightly, decided successful presentation of their newspaper on an Apple iPad, isn't about deploying a slightly revised version of their existing online sites, but requires a brand new design philosophy and implementation.

Their successful approach creates an attractive, natural, free-flowing user interface to host the informative news stories, comment and multi-media content. They've introduced finger-friendly hot spots and gesture support to show additional content, reveal captions, magnify images, swipe through pictures, change font sizes and even display a different variation of the same page.

Such initiatives are challenging the existing design traditions, spawning a new band of web professionals and daringly fresh thinking.

Click to read more analysis articles and posts.

1 March 2010

Guitar Techniques Magazine Letter

A recent letter, shown below, to the popular Guitar Techniques magazine was published in the March 2010 issue, along with an impressively long and detailed reply.

Song Analysis on Guitar

After reading your excellent guitar magazines for the last few years, I am particularly impressed with diversity and clarity of the articles. So I wondered if it would be possible to have a dedicated, practical article on how to approach song analysis with the guitar, with a focus on chord and harmony identification?

A very subjective topic I know - a multitude of possible approaches, variations and techniques, each individual having their personal favourites.

However, an article covering a variety of tried and tested approaches, techniques, hints and tips from your contributors, would make very interesting reading, the valuable insights enabling myself and fellow readers gain a richer understanding of the music we hear.

As a fairly inexperienced guitar player my basic approach is to use partial triad chord shapes, usually on the higher E B G or B G A strings. By sliding these triads up and down the fret board - with subtle finger adjustments for the major, minor, diminished and augmented chords - I can try to match the song's chords and harmonies.

While practising this approach I also noticed how much difference humming the melody, or the bass part, makes to chord recognition and subsequent fingering. This combined activity has certainly helped improve both my listening skills and identification of the more subtle chords and harmonic sequences. But of course there will be so much more to learn from your contributors.

7 January 2010

Ask James Dyson

Today my 'Ask James Dyson' question appeared in the The Times Eureka magazine suppliment, along with a very informative reply from the man himself.

I heartily recommend Eureka - a thought provoking, topical, well presented, cross-generation magazine - published as a supplement in The Times every first Thursday of the month.

The question and response from the Times Online Ask James Dyson page is shown below.

David Briddock asks: Are you at your most creative when alone or in a group of like-minded individuals, and do you prefer to work with drawings or 3D models and prototypes?

James Dyson: Ideas do come to mind when I’m alone; call it engineering instinct. In fact I find long-distance running helps when mulling over an idea. But it’s when I’m working alongside our engineering team — all with different areas of expertise, from aerodynamics to microbiology — that we really solve problems.

When I first started out, the onus was on sketching and painstakingly building rig after rig. That’s still part of the design process at Dyson, but we can now use computer-aided design to tweak ideas and shave millimetres off parts to optimize performance. We also use rapid prototyping machines to create entire working models in a matter of hours. Modelling will never replace the simple good idea, but it speeds up experimentation.