Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

November 26th, 2012

Android device compatibility

It took me two days of digging around to finally figure out why ExpenseClam was not working properly on the HTC One X. The symptoms were straightforward enough: taking a picture would show a blank result, and the expense record showed a warning icon saying that the image file could not be loaded.

By adding some debug cpde, and with the help of a friend who owns the device, I was able to confirm that the camera code was creating an image file and that it was successfully saved. By signing up to I could get access to the logcat output of a real device on the cloud, which gave me the next breakthrough. My call to BitmapFactory.decodeFile was failing to return a bitmap, in turn caused by SkImageDecoder returning null.

Searching online sent me chasing a few red herrings, but eventually I had the idea of removing the code which sets the thumbnail size before taking the photo. Suddenly it worked, the bitmap correctly loads. So what went wrong?

The API documentation for setJpegThumbnailSize is fairly unambiguous “If applications set both width and height to 0, EXIF will not contain thumbnail.” Further to this the method getSupportedJpegThumbnailSizes states “This method will always return a list with at least two elements. Size 0,0 (no thumbnail) is always supported.” Based on this I had chosen to disable thumbnails in order to reduce image file sizes.

It turns out that only most devices support this. The HTC One X accepts setting the thumbnail size to 0, but then produces a file that the BitmapFactory cannot read. Leaving the thumbnail settings to the device defaults works.

Hopefully this post will save someone else a couple of days investigation.

August 12th, 2012

Nexus 7

It’s been a long time since my last post, with the birth of our daughter taking up all of my nonworking time. I have however purchased a Nexus 7, now being able to see how the 7″ tablet running android compares to the playbook.

I haven’t yet tried travelling with the tablet, but for use at home, it blows away the playbook for usefulness. The experience is not perfect by any stretch. The BBC are yet to provide an iPlayer app that works without flash, so you have to use workarounds to watch TV. The Economist, fantastic publication though it is, have produced a rubbish android app that doesn’t support ICS, never mind Jelly Bean.

Putting to one side these niggles, most of the important apps are there and work well. The chrome web browser provides a good experience, with rendering much faster than the playbook. Games play fluidly on the Tegra 3 powered machine, with the vibrant screen providing an almost SciFi feel in such a slim form factor.

The keyboard is good, certainly the best soft keyboard I’ve used. It is a little sluggish at times, with some key taps not registering as well as you would hope. Strangely tapping quickly seems to work better than trying for accuracy.

While the bundled Transformers movie is a terrible film, it does show off the tablet to good effect, with the movie streamed in HD, and looking very crisp on the high resolution screen. It also further justifies having an unlimited broadband package as the one film weighed in at over 5GB of streamed data. Uploading my own DVDs was fiddly from Linux, but should be straightforward from windows or Mac OS.

In conclusion, while the Nexus 7 may not be a substitute for a laptop in the way that an Asus Transformer could be, it makes a great content consumption device. If the alternative for content creation is your phone, the 7 inch screen works far better, while retaining a lot of portability that a large device sacrifices.

The killer feature for me is the weight. Holding the tablet for extended periods is as comfortable as holding a paperback book, possibly more so. The Nexus is the first device for which I reach for most online tasks, with the desktop relegated to development and photo editing.

April 8th, 2012

Blackberry Playbook

I’ve recently acquired a blackberry playbook by porting ExpenseClam to this platform. The physical format of a 7 inch tablet seems to work very well. It is still small enough that carrying the device around is very easy, and holding it in one hand is entirely comfortable. Meanwhile the screen is just large enough that websites can be viewed in their desktop format, without having to zoom in and scroll.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the quality of available apps is very low. Most of the big name apps are missing (e.g. no Skype). There are many ported Android apps, but these work only partially. Native Android features are missing and they have a tenancy to hang.

Native apps that I have found suffer from a clunky keyboard implementation, and flaky UI widgets. The Web browser is reasonable, but occasionally suffers from unresponsive UI elements.

My overall impression is that the tablet would be far more useful and interesting if it was running Android ice cream sandwich. This leaves me wondering whether I want to get either a 10 inch tablet our something around the 7 inch mark.

To sum up: when writing this post, I started on the tablet, but the application hung, and I ended up retyping it on my phone. It is hard to see the playbook platform being a success given it’s current state.

January 5th, 2012

App rankings in the Android market

For an app that only recently moved into the 100-500 downloads range, the paid version of ExpenseClam is doing remarkably well. As of writing this, ExpenseClam is number 65 on the list of top grossing apps in the Business category on the Android market.

Looking at the next lower ranked app however I think this is down to how the market treats apps that change categories. Number 66 is an app called SMS super faker, which appears to have always cost the same as ExpenseClam, but is in the 1,000-5,000 download range. According to AppBrain it switched from the Communication to the Business category on the 23rd of December 2010, 6 days before reaching the 1,000  downloads mark. The only explanation I can think of for having a lower gross revenue than ExpenseClam is that it has had far fewer downloads in its new category than previously.

Similarly number 70 (calendar scroll widget agenda) also has far more downloads than ExpenseClam, but has recently changed category.

The lesson to learn from this appears to be that changing category within the market is penalised, at least as far as the top grossing lists are concerned.  Whether this impacts app exposure is another matter. How many apps are purchased as a result of browsing the lower echelons of the top grossing list, versus searching and picking from the featured and staff choices lists is unknown.

January 1st, 2012

Tablet versus NetBook

I’m struggling to decide on whether a NetBook or a tablet would be better suited for me. The tablet would be an Android one, probably the new transformer prime from Asus. It would allow me to test tablet specific designs for ExpenseClam and would provide a more convenient form factor for web browsing than my phone. The transformer also has a keyboard attachment, so writing blog posts and even some web site design should be easy.

A NetBook on the other hand would allow me to do Android development while travelling, and even at home on the sofa, rather than isolating myself away in the study.

In theory I could use VNC, or some other remote desktop software to control my desktop from a tablet, but in practise I expect this to be clunky at best. I could get both a tablet and a NetBook, however I know that when travelling I would only want to carry one, not two machines with me.

At the moment I’m leaning towards the tablet. While ExpenseClam works fine on tablets, it uses the same layout as for phones. I should be able to design a layout that really takes advantage of the extra screen space available on tablets. It also feels like a more modern investment than what is essentially a small laptop.

This post is a bit of an experiment as it had all been written on my phone using the latest WordPress app. Overall not a bad experience, mainly thanks to the Swype keyboard.


Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

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