Category Archives: BlackBerry10

Zygote results in real speed improvements

Last week RIM announced project Zygote where they are improving the start up times of cascades apps by pre-compiling shared libraries. I gave it a go with some of my existing cascades projects and found significant improvements to the launch times of my apps.

App Name Before After Improvement
Mileage Tracker 1.67 s 0.76 s 2.2X
Liar’s Dice 2.08 s 1.09 s 1.9X
10,000 Farkle 1.82 s 0.82 s 2.2X

On average these changes have eliminated 52.3% of the load times for these applications, making these changes well worth it. For details on how to implement this see instructions here and here.

Back to BlackBerry

At this time last year, I began experimenting with releasing some of my applications on non-BlackBerry platforms. I now have games available to be downloaded from the Nook Bookstore, Google Play, the Amazon App Store, the Windows Phone Marketplace, and the Windows 8 Store. While making my apps accessible from these stores has resulted in some success, it is hard to say that supporting these additional platforms has been the best use of my time. Twelve months later, BlackBerry AppWorld still brings in more revenue then all of the other stores combined.

During this past summer BlackBerry was stuck in an odd in-between state where BlackBerry 7 was beginning to be phased out, and BlackBerry 10 was still a ways off. With this gap in place it made sense to explore alternative platforms, and to prepare some apps for the launch of Windows 8. However, now that the launch of BlackBerry 10 is just 54 days away, it is time to concentrate on the upcoming OS.

With less then two months to go until launch (and Christmas in the middle of that time frame), there is no compelling reason to look at the other platforms. For the near future, I will going back to BlackBerry-only development. Hopefully this will allow me to offer a solid selection of BlackBerry 10 apps on day one.

Thoughts on OS 10.0.9.1103

As was expected, there was not too much that was new in the announcements at BlackBerry Jam Asia. The only real news was the reveal of the DevAlpha C with a full keyboard. Besides that it was just the steady march of progress as the promised updates were released for the DevAlpha, and the SDKs. My thoughts on the updates to the DevAlpha are below…

New Version of AppWorld

The DevAlpha version of AppWorld (now renamed to just BlackBerry World) now allows for payments (and in-app payments) to take place. Also new in BlackBerry World are Trending, and Top Grossing lists. I am particularly happy to see a Top Grossing list as it has a tendency to show off apps that use in-app purchases like Xploding Boxes.

Blue headers

Any Cascades apps that make use of headers or alert dialogs, now see them in a garish blue color. To me it comes across as iOS-style ugly, and reinforces my decision to just create my own headers anyhow. I much prefer the more flat industrial look that Cascades had when first released and had less rounded corners and no gradients.

New Homescreen icons

BlackBerry has done away with the boxed-in icons that they were using in the last release, and while the new icons feel slightly small it is most likely due to the need to design for screens that are only 720px wide. This change goes back to giving developers more freedom in their icon design, and I may un-boxify some of my icons.

Default font sizes are larger

I don’t really have any thoughts on this, but it is noticeable.

Xploding Boxes gains more levels

Xploding Boxes has been updated to version 4.1. This new version adds an additional 10 levels, bringing the total number of levels up to 350 for the full game.

New in version 4.1.0

In addition to the new levels, this version of the app also improves the smoothness of the screen transitions in the PlayBook, Nook, and Android versions of the app. Additionally, for Android users, the app no longer requires you to download and instal the AIR framework. On the Nook, the app now adds support for the newly released Nook HD models. For BlackBerry 10 DevAlpha users, the app now supports an active frame for when the app is in a minimized state.

About Xploding Boxes

Xploding Boxes is a strategy game for BlackBerry, Android, Nook, and Windows where the goal of the game is to start a chain reaction that will explode all of the boxes on the screen. Each level gives you a different number of touches, and requires a different strategy to solve.

The game itself, and the first 25 levels are available for free, while an in-app purchase can be used to access the rest of the levels for just $2.99 while maintaining your progress from the free levels.

Links & Information

Mileage Tracker released for BB10

The brand new Mileage Tracker app has been released for BlackBerry 10 devices. This app is designed to help you track miles driven each trip for use in tax deductions, accounting, and business reporting. Instead of keeping this information charted on your computer, it makes much more sense to be able to do so directly from your phone, which you would have with you in the car anyhow. This app allows you to create different categories, so that you can have separate lists for different billing periods, each vehicle, or on a per project basis.

How to use

In order to start a new entry select the ‘Add’ option on the bottom of the screen. For each trip, you must include a reason, a date, and the starting and ending odometer readings. Selecting an entry gives you the option to edit or delete it. New categories can be added from the menu, and you can switch between existing categories by selecting the category name at the top of the screen. The options screen allows you to restore the most recently deleted entry in case you accidentally delete something.

Links & Information

The odd ecosystem of DevAlpha apps

Last night I submitted a new app to BlackBerry AppWorld. This app was written in Cascades, and therefore only supports BlackBerry 10, which will not be released for another three months. This allows for a unique approach to the release of apps.

There is little to no point of having apps ready to go too much before the release of BlackBerry 10 in 2013, so there is very little pressure to have apps 100% ready to go at this point. As such the app I am releasing is actually not 100% complete. It is in good shape, but there are still a few more features that I would like to add.

So if the app is not yet fully featured then why am I ok releasing it into AppWorld? Because the only users who can download it are other developers. Given that the audience is exclusively developers right now, I can get an audience that is both understanding, and that is also capable of delivering some useful feedback for pointing which direction the app should go, as it gets finished up for the launch of BlackBerry 10.

I doubt that I will do this with most of my BlackBerry 10 apps, but I think that it will be an interesting experiment.

BlackBerry 10 and the UI formerly known as Metro

With the rollout of BlackBerry 10.0.9 RIM is starting to show a different design to their UI that seems to take some cues from Microsoft’s Metro UI. This is most clearly seen on the icon screen, where all of the first party apps have gotten a very boxy look to them. Furthermore every app icon is placed in a square, even if the icon doesn’t plan for it. As with Microsoft’s Windows 8 the use of transparencies in icons is technically allowed, it just looks terrible (on both operating systems).

This squared off look goes even further into the design language of the apps. In cascades most of the native controls have a boxy feel to them (except for the parts that are blue), and contain very few curves on any of the UI elements. This design can easily be seen in the BBM app where the curved text bubbles on BlackBerry 7 have given way to right angles on BlackBerry 10.

For example, the how to play dialog in Xploding Boxes uses the default alert dialog in order to display. While this presented a very curved and rounded UI on the PlayBook and BlackBerry 10.0.6 (first image), it has changed to a more boxed in look on the most recent BlackBerry 10.0.9 release (second image).

Impressed by the Invocation Framework

Coming out of BlackBerry Jam Americas, the thing that has impressed me most has been the invocation framework. While the feature had been announced earlier, it had not actually been available to developers until last week’s release of 10.0.9.xxx and this also seems to be the first time that details of the implementation were widely seen.

(For more on the invocation framework see Kevin Cheung’s article at CrackBerry and Shadid Haque’s presentation at BlackBerry Jam in San Jose.)

First some history of the feature. BlackBerry added the net.rim.blackberry.api.invoke.Invoke class to their classic OS with the release of version 4.0 (years before I started doing BlackBerry development) which would allow an app to programmatically start another app along with some command line arguments. While this was powerful, everything you did felt a bit like a hack, and it required you to know exactly which app you wanted to launch, and would only do so in a separate app (perhaps messing up what this other app was already doing). Android improved on this slightly with their Intents framework that allowed apps to register as being able to handle given types so that the calling application doesn’t technically need to know all of the details about the app that is being called.

BlackBerry 10 keeps the idea of being able to register for types, but adds the concept of cards, so that new applications can be invoked without appearing to be new applications. Instead the invoked app just shows up as a ‘card’ which to the user appears to be nothing more than a new page in the same app (even though it is being generated by a different app). This keeps everything on the same stack (what the developers at RIM would refer to as ‘flow’). This results in a less fractured user experience, ensures that the user finishes their work with the card before returning to your app, and allows for the app to be launched in parallel with the app that is generating the card (and with other cards generated by that same app). Cards can also me nested, which would result in a very confusing experience, if not for the fact that it appears to the user, as if it is all part of a single application.

This is an innovation that will be difficult to show off to consumers (as its main feature is that it works while staying out of the way), but it is very exciting to developers, and it will make BlackBerry 10, just that much better.

Xploding Boxes version 4.0 – new levels, new shapes, new devices

Xploding Boxes has been updated to version 4.0, bringing with it a collection of new features. This update comes with 20 new levels, increasing the total number of levels to 340. These new levels also support a new ‘Diamond’ shape in order to add more variety to the levels. Also the range of supported devices has expanded to include BlackBerry 10, and Windows 8 in addition to the existing support for Android, the Nook, BlackBerry phones, and the BlackBerry PlayBook.

New Diamond shape

The levels added in this version (321-340) introduce a new diamond shape. Unlike the boxes (which explode out in four directions), and the triangles (which explode in only one direction), the diamonds explode into two directions. As such their effect on a level is usually somewhere between that of a box and a triangle. This additional variable results in more level variation, and will allow for more creative levels to be designed.

New device support

Xploding Boxes started out exclusive to BlackBerry phones. Then a year ago, support was added for the BlackBerry PlayBook. This was followed by support for the Barnes and Noble Nook last December, and Android devices this past summer. Now version 4.0 adds in full support for BlackBerry10, and can even be downloaded from AppWorld today for those with the BlackBerry DevAlpha. Support has also been added for tablets and computers running Windows 8, however actual availability of the game in the Windows Store is dependent upon Microsoft’s whims.

About Xploding Boxes

Xploding Boxes is a strategy game for BlackBerry, Android, Nook, and Windows where the goal of the game is to start a chain reaction that will explode all of the boxes on the screen. Each level gives you a different number of touches, and requires a different strategy to solve.

The game itself, and the first 25 levels are available for free, while an in-app purchase can be used to access the rest of the levels for just $2.99 while maintaining your progress from the free levels.

Links & Information

Hopes and Expectations for BlackBerry Jam

Last year before BlackBerry DevCon I wrote my expectations for the event. For the most part, it turned out that my expectations were wrong. Still, I figured that I would give it another go this year.

Expectations

First off all, I expect the focus to be squarely on BlackBerry 10, with no time at all spent on the current BlackBerry 7 devices, and even the PlayBook being most ignored.

I think that RIM will show off their first two BlackBerry 10 phones. Even if a hands-on is not available, I think that RIM will be able to show off final renderings for the devices, and set expectations. Some may worry about an osborne effect, but that ship has already sailed.

I also expect RIM to release some version of BBM for the DevAlpha, as the roadmap indicates that the BBM APIs will be available.

Hopes

I would love it if RIM would release a simulator for every BlackBerry 10 screen size that they plan on releasing. While the first phone will match the 768×1280 of the DevAlpha, it would be nice if there were simulators at 720×720, 720×1280, and 600×1024 as well. Most apps will be designed to work at all orientations, but it would be nice if there was an easy way to test this.

Most of all, I hope to be surprised. That RIM still has something up their sleeve that I don’t know about. Something that hasn’t been endlessly leaked on every blog. RIM did a good job with this at BlackBerry World in the spring, hopefully they can do it again.

Ignoring RIM’s $10k guarantee

A few months ago I wrote about about RIM’s $10,000 gurantee on BlackBerry 10 apps at BerryReview. Since then RIM has released some more details about the program, and for the most part my initial assumptions were more or less correct. Yet as the launch of BlackBerry 10 gets closer, the existence of this offer seems less relevant.

Due to the target platforms of the program (requiring apps to be written in Cascades, C/C++, or HTML5), the details of the program (requiring integration of BBM, the Invocation framework, and legal disclaimers), and the limiting of the program to a single app per developer, it seems highly likely that none of this will qualify me to receive an extra payout. My established apps such as Pixelated and Xploding Boxes will easily sell over $10,000 in the first year and exclude me from any incentive to jump through the loop holes specifically for the sake of this program. Of course there are plenty of other reasons why integrating with services like BBM are a good idea, but this offer does not affect them. As such the best approach going forwards is probably to just ignore the fact that the $10k gurantee exists at all.

Of course this is kindof the point. The idea was never to offer prize money or a payout, but instead to simply offer some insurance on taking a risk on the new platform. RIM is guarantee that high quality apps will sell, and assuming that this is correct, then RIM will not have to pay anything out anyhow.

The main target of this offer appears to be developers of existing C/C++ and HTML apps on other platforms. By giving them a minimum revenue gurantee, it makes it much easier for them to justify the time and risk in porting over their apps to BlackBerry10. For those of us who have been selling apps on BlackBerry for a while now, we already know that we can expect to see sales, and as such this offer does not add much to the decision process, and can mostly just be ignored.

For more opinions on this program from some of the top BlackBerry developers see this post on the developer forums.

Runaway Trains adds more levels

Runaway Trains has been updated to version 2.1 in BlackBerry AppWorld, the Nook Bookstore, Google Play, and the Amazon AppStore.

This new version of Runaway Trains adds levels 141-150, and also includes a few improvements to the game’s menu.

About Runaway Trains

Runaway Trains is a colorful strategy game for all ages where you must route the trains to the proper station. Each level progresses in difficulty and presents an unique puzzle which you must solve by finding a way to guide the coloured trains causing a collision or running out of track.

This is done by touching the intersections to toggle the open path of the tracks. If at any time the trains crash or end up at the wrong station, you will have lost and have to try again.

Links & Information

Android app on Google Play

BlackBerry Jam Americas 2012

I am now officially registered for the BlackBerry Jam conference this September in San Jose. This will be my third time at a major BlackBerry conference, and even though I am not scheduled to speak this time, it will still be a great event. As always at these events, if you see me around, I would love to have the opportunity to chat.

For more about the 2012 BlackBerry Jam Americas conference see blackberryjamconference.com/americas

Apps for the Dev Alpha

With the most recent update to the BlackBerry DevAlpha, BlackBerry AppWorld is now included so that developers can download and purchase apps from each other through the store front. As a result, version 2.0 of Runaway Trains (which was just released last week), is one of a dozen games available for the BlackBerry DevAlpha.

However, most of my apps for BlackBerry 10 will not be available through BlackBerry AppWorld until closer to the launch of BlackBerry 10 early next year. Porting all of my PlayBook apps over to the Dev Alpha would go very quickly, but there is no reason to prematurely get all of the apps to be pixel perfect. There is still a long while to go until the launch of BlackBerry 10.