Category: Mobile Computing Apps

App stores moving towards larger downloads – how about dynamic packaging

Lately I have observed Google Play (was Android Market) and the Apple iTunes App Store for iOS moving towards permitting the download of larger deliverable files for their platforms’ apps. What I see of this is a move towards PC-style app packaging where there is an executable image of the program along with separately-packed “library” or “resource” files.

This may yield a limitation with it taking a long time before the app becomes ready to use as well as increased pressure on the bandwidth. The latter issue will affect those of us who use wireless-broadband services because of reduced throughput and increased costs to use these services.

What could be achieved would be to allow the app stores to implement dynamic packaging where the user only downloads what they need rather than the same large package. This would be very handy with game franchises and similar programs which have the same runtime code but users download variants which “expand” the program further. Similarly, there could be developers who build function libraries such as peripheral-interface libraries and share these with other developers. It also appeals to app packages which may be packaged for particular device classes like a “smartphone class” app and a “tablet class” app that exploits the large screen of these tablets.

The app stores should then work towards the dynamic package model when they permit larger deliverable packages for the apps that they provide. This setup can work alongside the other mechanisms like background download or Wi-Fi-only downloading to ease the pressure on the devices and their networks.

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Using your smartphone or tablet with your network-attached storage

Why use your smartphone or tablet with your NAS

There are times when you want to upload or download files from your network-attached storage device using your smartphone or tablet computer. Examples of this include offloading files from a low-capacity device, through making media that you took or acquired through your device available at all times from your DLNA-equipped NAS to simply backing up data held on your device.

Of course, you may simply treat that NAS simply as a network transfer point for your data. Examples of this may include working with documents that you start on an iPad and want to complete on your regular computer or conceptual “rough-shot” pictures that you take you your phone’s camera and want to work with further using Photoshop and other software on your computer.

How is it done

But how am I able to do this with my network-attached storage and my mobile devices? Some network-attached storage devices may use a Web front for the file collections where as others may implement certain extensions to DLNA for uploading and downloading some media files. This latter situation is infact a long-term goal for the DLNA Home Media Network, especially when it comes to shifting or syncing multimedia files like music or images.

These environments don’t necessarily provide a consistent or ideal user experience for the mobile device user. This can typically be due to a Web front that is optimised for desktop use only to DLNA server and client apps not offering the proper sync or file-transfer functionality.

SMB file-manager apps

The preferred method that I would use is SMB/CIFS network file handling which every network-attached storage device supports thanks to Linux’s SAMBA software. Even the USB-linked file servers that are an increasing part of high-end routers like the Freebox units do support SMB as well as the Internet HTTP and FTP file transfer protocols. This has been a standard for regular computing devices with the Microsoft Windows Platform since Windows For Workgroups 3.11, then was exposed to Linux regular computers through SAMBA and has been exposed to the Apple Macintosh platform since MacOS X.

The platform-based mobile devices now can join the SMB party through the use of SMB-enabled file-manager apps. These are typically low-cost or free apps that expose the mobile device’s file system and the SMB file shares (entry points) made available by computers or network-attached storages. Some of them have file-viewer functionality for file types not supported by your device’s file handlers.

iOS

Intuitive Commander (App Store – $0.99)

FileBrowser (App Store – $4.49)

Syncsellence (App Store – $5.49, free limited version App Store)

Android

ES File Explorer – I use this on my phone (Android Market)

File Expert (Android Market)

File Manager (Android Market) / File Manager HD (Android Market) – Rhythm Software

Blackberry

File Expert (Blackberry App World – US$1.99)

File Manager Pro (Blackberry App World – US$4.99) – Terra Mobility

ArrangeIt File Manager (Blackberry App World – US$1.99) – Conceptual Designs

The various app stores for the popular mobile-device platforms will list more of the file manager apps with SMB file transfer and you can find them using the terms “SMB file transfer” in your search query.

It is also worth noting that your NAS’s vendor may offer file-transfer apps for their device on the iOS and/or Android platforms so you can transfer the files to their device. These programs may also work with the remote-access functionality that some of the consumer and SMB NAS units provide, thus keeping login credentials for the devices and streamlining the remote-access experience.

Other issues worth highlighting

iTunes-purchased content

You may have problems copying content that you purchased with iTunes on your iPhone or iPad directly to the NAS due to Apple’s setup for these devices. But they have improved the iTunes and iOS setup to allow a user to download the purchased content to an instance of iTunes run on a regular computer even though they purchased it on the iOS device. This works best if the regular computer’s iTunes library is referencing the NAS in question.

People who use iOS platform devices that aren’t updated to iOS 5 will need to tether the device to their iTunes-enabled regular computer. Then they will need to use the “Transfer Purchased Content” option in iTunes to copy the content they bought on the device to the regular computer or NAS.

It will also be important to make sure that audio content is downloaded as MP3 files rather than protected M4A files.

One way that Apple can work this situation out better is to implement read-write ability to iTunes (DAAP) servers for the iPod media-management app in their iOS platform. Here, the software could then support improved “offload” functionality. This may not come about due to Apple’s investment in and their fanbois’ preference for the iCloud as a large-capacity storage service.  But practically-minded Apple enthusiasts could place more value on a NAS as an extra-capacity data store so they know where their iTunes content is all the time.

File-transfer operating conditions

When you transfer files between your mobile devices and the NAS, make sure that you have a strong Wi-Fi signal at your mobile device and that the device has sufficient battery strength. This could be achieved through having the device connected to its charger while the transfer goes ahead.

NAS setup conditions

If you are transferring media files to the NAS, you would need to transfer them to the media folders that are referenced by the media-server software on that device. This may be made easier by using the file manager software’s “bookmark” or “favourites” options to point to the start of the NAS’s media folder tree.

It is also worth keeping other personal and workgroup shares on the NAS simply for backup or transfer purposes and referencing these with your file-manager app.

Conclusion

Once you are able to know that you can use the SMB file transfer method for moving data between your NAS, tablet and smartphone, you can see more value out of these mobile-computing devices.

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Printing from your smartphone or tablet

Introduction

HP Envy 100 all-in-one printer (D410a)

HP Envy 100 all-in-one printer - you can print to these printers from your smartphone or tablet

Most smartphone or tablet users would like to obtain hard copy of documents or pictures on paper. But at the moment, there is no open and common platform for printing from these devices.

There isn’t even the ability to connect a printer directly to any of these devices and this issue will become more real as more households use these devices. It will extend to other Internet-ended devices like Internet-ended TVs and set-top boxes that are part of interactive TV setups.

There are a few solutions being established by most of the printer manufacturers and all of these solutions require that you use a newer network-enabled printer that is connected to your home network.

Manufacturer-supplied print app

Brother iPrint&Scan mobile app

Brother iPrint&Scan - one of the mobile print apps offered by the manufacturers

The most common solution is to download a printing app from the mobile device’s app store. This method can work if your preferred printer brand is other than Hewlett-Packard because this brand offers different print options that don’t rely on these apps. As well I have installed these apps on to my Android smartphone so I can assess different network printers’ abilities with printing from a smartphone.

These are written by the vendors themselves, usually for all of their recent-issue network-enabled printers and they can print known file types like image files, PDFs or, in some cases, common office file formats. It is also worth knowing that most of these apps allow you to scan photos or documents to your mobile device using your multifunction printer’s scanning facility.

Typically these programs register with the device’s operating system as a file-handler for the file types that they can print. Then, when you open one of these files in the operating system, you have the option to open the file with the printer app; which will list the printers on your network that it has discovered and knows it can work with. Subsequently you select the options that suit your needs, such as paper size or duplex printing, and start the print run.

Apple AirPrint

This works with all Apple iOS devices that are up-to-date with a version of iOS 4.2 or newer. At the moment, it only works with HP ePrint-enabled printers and provides a similar print-job experience as what would be expected for desktop printing.

Apple has yet to release this feature to other printer manufacturers so that people can have a choice of printer to work from.

Google Cloud Print

Google is offering a smartphone printing solution known as Google Cloud Print. This solution, which is immature at the time of writing, requires the use of an HP ePrint-capable printer or certain network-enabled Kodak printers for PC-free network printing. Other printers will require a desktop computer to be running a helper application to collect and forward print jobs to that printer.

At the moment, it works in a similar manner to the printer-manufacturer-supplied app setups where the user has to use the app to print out documents. There is a larger choice of applications as shown on this page for mostly the Android and iOS platforms.

Email-to-print

I have covered HP’s ePrint “print-by-email” setup through the review of a handful of ePrint-enabled HP printers. Here, the printer and the smartphone or tablet must see an Internet service for this to work.

As well the printer has to be registered with the HP ePrint service by its owner. Users would have to then send the image, PDF or document file to a special email address that has been determined as part of the printer setup routine. There is the ability to set up a white-list of approved email addresses that can send print jobs to the printer and recently HP enabled the ability for users to determine an easy-to-remember email-to-print address for their printer.

Kodak offers a similar function for some of their network-enabled printers at the moment. But none of the other popular printer manufacturers have established an email-to-print infrastructure that can work with any smartphone or tablet device.

Achieving best results from your mobile-device print setup

An issue that may plague smartphone or tablet users when they print using one of the mobile print solutions, especially the manufacturer-supplied print apps or the Apple AirPrint setup is that the job may be interrupted midway or take an inordinate time to print. It may not be of concern for Google Cloud Print or email-to-print setups because the job would be lodged with an Internet-based server which would resubmit it to the printer.

This can happen if the mobile device isn’t communicating properly with the Wi-Fi network such as through low batteries or being used in an area where there is poor reception. In most cases, it would be a good idea to make sure the battery is charged up or the device is plugged in to its charger; and you are seeing at least three or four bars on the Wi-Fi signal-strength indicator when you are running the print job. This may require you to avoid moving the device around until the print job is complete, which will be indicated on the software.

What can be done

What I would like to see for on-site printing from mobile devices is the use of the UPnP print device classes which I have touched on previously. As well, more printer manufacturers could license or exploit the email-to-print setups that HP and Kodak have established.

As I have said previously, the network printers should also have a larger memory so that  print jobs can be transferred from the client device and held in the printer’s memory until the last page is turned out.

Conclusion

At the moment there isn’t a clear path for setting up a printing solution for your smartphone, tablet computer or similar device that doesn’t need a desktop computer to be available at all times. It all depends on which make and model of printer you are using on your network and, in some cases, what platform you are using for your device.

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Sports scoreboard apps–a very useful mobile app class

ScoreMobile scoreboard app

ScoreMobile scoreboard app

If you look in your mobile platform’s app store, there are quite a few sports apps which turn your smartphone or tablet in to a scoreboard or leaderboard for your favourite sporting events. Some of the scoreboard apps allow you to monitor a particular team’s games, view league ladders or see on-demand video of game highlights. Examples of these include the ScoreMobile apps; and the “Footy Now” / “League Now” apps for the AFL and NRL football leagues respectively; all of which are available on most of the main mobile platforms like iOS and Android.

Most of these apps are free or advertiser-funded and are written in conjunction with companies and other interests associated with the particular leagues or codes that these apps work with  As well, they work via whatever Internet connection your device is using at the moment, whether it’s the Wi-Fi home network, the Wi-Fi hotspot at your favourite bar or the wireless broadband service that you device is associated with. But are they a useful download for your phone or tablet?

I would say that they provide a useful role for any sports followers, whether they watch the game on TV at home or their favourite bar or cafe; or go to the stadium to watch the game.

Footy Now AFL scoreboard app

Footy Now AFL scoreboard app

One key use for people who watch the game in a public place such as the stadium, a large outdoor screen in a square or a packed-out bar, is to have a “handheld scoreboard” that they can glance at  Here, they may not see the scoreboard easily due to them being in the wrong seating position or being further back from the venue’s TV screen.

At home, you could be outside listening to the radio commentary on that small portable radio yet be able to check the scores at a glance. This may then be useful for knowing whether to head inside to see the action on TV and can be a boon when there is confusion in the commentary which can happen with some plays. Two best examples of such a confusing situation is a batsman hitting a run but being caught or run out in cricket or a scoring event (try, goal or touchdown) in a game of rugby, Australian Rules or American football which can be escalated to a higher scoring play.

For Australian readers, this could extend to you having a tablet computer showing the scores for the AFL or NRL Grand Final near the barbecue while you are cooking the meat for the Grand Final lunch.

These apps would also appeal to travellers and expats who like to follow their favourite matches while they are travelling. An example of this was a friend I know who had used one of these apps on his iPhone to follow a baseball game that was taking place in the US while he was over here in Australia. Similarly a Manchester United fan could follow that soccer team’s performance anywhere around the world even if there isn’t a TV broadcast of the games where they are.

League Now NRL scoreboard app

League Now NRL scoreboard app

For these apps to work properly, they need to have proper support for push notification but without placing too much strain on the device’s battery runtime. As well, these apps need to be able to work in a manner that doesn’t take over the processor power of these devices when they are just showing scores. As well, the data backend has to be synchronous to the scoreboard at the actual game in the same manner as what is expected for the TV scoreboard – a football goal appears on the mobile scoreboard app as soon as the pitch umpire declares that goal.

So whether you are an avid sports follower or just casually watch some sporting events like football finals or Grand-Prix car races, the mobile scoreboard apps do have a place on the smartphone and tablet devices.

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At last the iPad has a Facebook client app

Articles

The iPad gets a Facebook app, finally | Engadget

The Official Facebook App for iPad Is Finally Here | Gizmodo

Facebook Finally Launches Its Own IPad Application | AllFacebook.com

Facebook unveils iPad app, new mobile platform for developers | SmartCompany (Australia)

From the horse’s mouth

Introducing Facebook For iPad

Download link

iTunes App Store

My Comments

Previously, I posted an article on the idea of creating and implementing desktop and tablet-computer client programs for popular social-network services. Here I raised issues of optimisation for the host’s user interface, integration with local hardware and software resources as well as system performance issues; compared to software-maintenance and interlinking with service-based advertising as drawbacks.

Now Facebook have released an official client for the Apple iPad tablet computer. This client demonstrates the advantages of a client-side app for the iPad; with functionality like an always-visible presence list, proper response to the touch gestures, “to-the-edge” full-screen photo viewing as well as a multi-column view.

They have also answered a call from people who play FarmVille and similar games by offering the ability to play these games on the iPad using this platform’s Facebook client.

Of course time would tell when a port for this client is made available for the other popular tablet platforms like Android Honeycomb or Blackberry Playbook. But I often wonder whether Facebook will even issue a client application for the Windows or Macintosh desktop-computing platforms.

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