Rapid Android Development – Using Processing to build apps fast – #programming #bookreview

Rapid Android Development

Build Rich, Sensor-Based Applications with Processing
Daniel Sauter
(Pragmatic Bookshelfpaperback)

The main goal of Daniel Sauter’s nicely written new book is to help you learn “how to develop interactive, sensor-based Android apps” quickly.

At first glance, you may question how “quickly” you can go through 13 chapters with a total of 363 pages, including the index.

But there’s good news here, particularly if you are not a patient programmer. The book is divided into five parts, all structured to serve as “self-contained mini-courses.” And the author has geared his text toward six semi-specific categories of readers.

Sauter, by the way, is an artist and educator with some eight years’ experience teaching Processing. Processing is a free “award-winning, graphics-savvy” programming language and development environment that can be used to work with Android devices and software.

Let’s go to the six reader categories first. Rapid Android Development is aimed at:

  1. Readers with at least “a basic understanding of programming concepts….”
  2. Intermediate Processing users “looking to create Android apps from within the Processing IDE….”
  3. “Educators who teach courses on mobile technologies” and need “a free tool that does not require developer licenses or subscriptions.”
  4. Java and Android developers who want to use Processing to leverage “a host of libraries for productivity gains.” (Java developers will quickly see that Processing builds on Java.)
  5. JavaScript and Web developers who want to use Processing.js syntax to help them create “JavaScript-powered web applications that can run inside browsers without plugins or other modifications. Processing.js also takes advantage of WebGL hardware acceleration.”
  6. Arduino users and hobbyists, particularly those “interested in adapting Android phones or tablets for use as sensing devices, controllers, or graphics processors.”

Now let’s look at the five parts of Rapid Android Development.

  • Part I focuses on installing Processing and the Android SDK but also looks at touch screens and Android sensors and cameras.
  • Part II is devoted to “working with the camera and location devices found on most Androids.”
  • Part III’s emphasis is on peer-to-peer networking, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct, plus Near Field Communication (NFC), which is “expected to revolutionize the point-of-sale industry,” Sauter notes.
  • Part IV “deals with data and storage,” he adds, “as all advanced apps require some sort of data storage and retrieval to keep user data up-to-date.”
  • Part V examines 3D graphics and cross-platform apps.

You will need several software tools and at least one Android device to work with the code examples in this book. (The book lists several Android phones and tablets that have been tested with the code examples, which are available online.)

If you want to do some work in Part III, you will need at least two Android devices (so your peer can have a peer). And if you have absolutely no programming experience, you should get some first. Sauter, an associate professor of New Media art at the University of Illinois–Chicago School of Art and Design, offers some suggestions for good sources.

His new book seems a bit light on illustrations. But its well-displayed, well-explained code examples and clear how-to paragraphs keep the reader moving and making progress.

If you are a creative coder looking for some new skills, projects and challenges, check out Rapid Android Development, ASAP.

Si Dunn 

OpenGL ES 2 for Android – A fine quick-start guide for new developers – #android #programming #bookreview

OpenGL ES 2 for Android

A Quick-Start Guide
Kevin Brothaler
(Pragmatic Bookshelf - paperback)

Yes, the timing might seem a bit strange, releasing an OpenGL ES 2 book in early July, 2013, barely a month before the August release of OpenGL ES 3.

However, OpenGL ES 3 is backward-compatible with OpenGL ES 2. And the steps and techniques you can learn in this Open GL ES 2 book for Android are forward-compatible to OpenGL ES 3. Many also are applicable to iOS WebGL or HTML5 WebGL.

This “quick-start guide” assumes you have some experience with Java and Android, and it quickly jumps into creating OpenGL applications for Android. You install software tools such as the Java Development Kit (JDK) and the Android Software Development Kit and create a simple test project. Then you dive into developing and enhancing a 3D game project —  “a simple game of air hockey” — for the remainder of the book.

OpenGL ES 2 for Android is nicely illustrated, well-written, and cleanly organized with short paragraphs and short code examples that clearly have been tested. It is a fine quick-start guide, particularly for developers looking into OpenGL for the first time.

Some math skills are required to develop the air hockey game. But the author does a nice job of explaining and illustrating the math examples, as well.

Kevin Brothaler has extensive experience in Android development. He founded Digipom, a mobile software development shop, and he manages an online set of OpenGL tutorials for Android and WebGL: Learn OpenGL ES.

Si Dunn

NOOK HD: The Missing Manual – Tips and tricks for getting the most from your e-reader tablet – #bookreview

NOOK HD: The Missing Manual
Preston Gralla
(O’Reilly – Kindle, paperback)

Prolific and top-notch technical writer Preston Gralla is back again, this time with a handy “Missing Manual” that explains how to use two Barnes & Noble e-reader tablets, the NOOK HD and NOOK HD+.

His 18-chapter, 464-page book is divided into eight well-written parts containing generally good illustrations. The parts are:

  • Part  One – The Basics – A guided tour of the hardware, showing you how to use the NOOK as an e-reader and tablet.
  • Part Two – Reading Books and Periodicals – Shows how to use the NOOK’s many reading tools.
  • Part Three – Managing Your Library – How to buy books, newspapers, and magazines and track them in your personal library. Includes how to borrow and lend books from your NOOK, too.
  • Part Four – Apps, Media, and Files – Includes “how to find, download, install, and use thousands of apps…” and how to watch movies and TV shows and listen to Internet radio stations or play music from your own collection. Also, how to transfer files to your NOOK and use its built-in music player.
  • Part Five – The Web and Email – Shows “how to browse the Web and send and receive email using any email account.”
  • Part Six – Getting Social – How to keep track of your contacts, how to use the NOOK’s social features, including NOOK Friends. Also discusses using the NOOK on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
  • Part Seven – Advanced Topics – Shows how to tweak some features and how to root your NOOK so it can “run like a standard Android tablet.”
  • Part Eight – Appendixes – These cover troubleshooting, accessories for the NOOK, file formats that a NOOK can handle, and things you can do with a NOOK at a Barnes & Noble store.

Gralla notes that the NOOK HD and NOOK HD+ can be used with microSD cards to expand the available memory for your stuff. The HD comes in 8 GB and 16 GB versions. The HD+ has 16 GB and 32 GB versions.

The HD’s screen is 7 inches.  The HD+ screen is 9 inches. The HD+, he adds, also “has a slightly faster processor than the NOOK HD–a 1.5 GHz dual-core speed demon. The extra oomph is needed to power the HD+’s larger screen.”

If you’ve gotten a NOOK HD or HD+ or are planning to get one soon, definitely add this book to your must-have list. Also, Gralla urges,  “strongly consider buying a cover or case. A cover protects your NOOK and its screen from damage, so they’re well worth the small investment.”

Si Dunn

Android Cookbook: Problems & Solutions for Android Developers – #bookreview #in #programming

Android Cookbook
Edited by Ian F. Darwin
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $54.99; Kindle edition, list price$43.99)

Several dozen Android developers have contributed some 200 tested “recipes” to this hefty how-to guide for building Android apps.

But be sure you know Java reasonably well before tackling Android Cookbook. As the book’s editor, Ian F. Darwin, notes, “Android apps are written in the Java language before they are converted into Android’s own class file format, DEX. If you don’t know how to program in Java you will find it hard to write Android apps.”

The 661-page book starts at the traditional “Hello, World” level so you can test two different approaches. At the command line, it shows how to “create a new Android project without using the Eclipse ADT plug-in.” And then it shows how to create an Android application using Eclipse.

From there, a clear and simple problem-solution approach is taken, and the solutions are illustrated with code examples.

The 22 chapters cover a wide range:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Designing a Successful Application
  3. Testing
  4. Inter-/Intra-Process Communications
  5. Content Providers
  6. Graphics
  7. Graphical User Interface
  8. GUI Alerts: Menus, Dialogs, Toasts, and Notifications
  9. GUI: ListView
  10. Multimedia
  11. Data Persistence
  12. Telephone Applications
  13. Networked Applications
  14. Gaming and Animation
  15. Social Networking
  16. Location and Map Applications
  17. Accelerometer
  18. Bluetooth
  19. System and Device Control
  20. Other Programming Languages and Frameworks
  21. Strings and Internationalization
  22. Packaging, Deploying, and Distributing/Selling Your App

In Ian Darwin’s view, “Android is ‘the open source revolution’ applied to cellular telephony and mobile computing. At least part of the revolution.”

There have been worries in the past about Android’s future. But Darwin and the book’s contributors are among the many who remain firmly convinced that “Android is definitely here to stay!” Darwin adds: “This book is here to help the Android developer community share the knowledge that will make it happen.”

Si Dunn

NOOK Tablet: The Missing Manual (for NOOK Color, too) – #bookreview #in

Nook Tablet: The Missing Manual
By Preston Gralla
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $19.99; Kindle edition, list price $15.99)

Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Tablet and NOOK Color are stylish and powerful portable devices that blend the functions of e-reader and computer. They have many useful features, but they aren’t shipped with a detailed user manual. (B & N wants you to go to a support website.)

Preston Gralla, meanwhile, is a fine writer who has authored more than 40 books, including several in O’Reilly’s popular The Missing Manual™ series.

His latest, Nook Tablet: The Missing Manual, is both well written and heavily illustrated and does a fine job of showing and telling how to get the most from a NOOK Tablet and its cheaper, less powerful brother, the NOOK Color.

It would be nice for nervous new users, however, if the following assurance had been positioned much sooner in the book rather than on page 320: “Out of the box, the NOOK’s privacy and security settings are configured to make sure that you’re safe and secure. So most likely, you won’t need to change any settings.” (But Gralla then shows how to increase the default security, if you desire, by deleting cookies, deleting web browsing history, and blocking pop-ups.)

Gralla’s 471-page book has 17 chapters and three appendices and is organized into eight parts:

  • Part 1, The Basics – Covers setting up, charging and registering a NOOK, finding its plugs, microphone and controls, using and troubleshooting wi-fi, using a NOOK at a Barnes & Noble store, using gestures to control the device, changing your wallpaper, and other setup basics.
  • Part 2, Reading Books, Newspapers, and Magazines – Focuses on the NOOK’s reading tools, including how to use bookmarks and notes, how to change fonts and text sizes, and how to search inside a book, newspaper or magazine. Has a chapter on kids’ books and shows how a NOOK can read a children’s book aloud or record your own voice reading a book to your child or children.
  • Part 3, Buying, Borrowing, and Managing Your Library – Shows how to research and buy or borrow online reading materials and track them in your personal library.
  • Part 4, Apps, Movies, TV Shows, Music, Photographs, and Files – Starts with streaming media first, including Pandora, Netflix, and Hulu Plus. Then shows how to download and use apps. According to Gralla: “Anything you can do on a traditional tablet, you can do on your NOOK Tablet and NOOK Color. (And yes, that includes Angry Birds.)” This part also delves into how to get music, photographs, videos and documents into your NOOK and how to move files between your NOOK Tablet and your computer.
  • Part 5, The Web and Email – Shows how to browse the Web with a NOOK and how to send and receive email using virtually any of your email accounts.  Also shows how to manage your email with a NOOK and how the NOOK handles attachments such as documents, PDFs and photographs.
  • Part 6, Getting Social – Covers using the NOOK Friends app and using the NOOK on Facebook and Twitter. Also shows how to import and manage your Google, Gmail, and Facebook contacts.
  • Part 7, Advanced Topics  – Focuses on settings you can change and also how to “root” your NOOK. You can adjust sounds, customize the way the keyboard works, alter the settings of the Home screen and make other changes. If you choose to “root” your NOOK Tablet, you will “replace its operating system with a version of Android that lets you install any app you want (via the Android Market), something you can’t normally do with the NOOK.”  But Gralla notes: “Barnes & Noble frowns on this practice, which is why doing it voids the warranty.” B & N also has built “anti-rooting” technology into the NOOK Color, he adds. He carefully does not give you the exact steps for “rooting,” but mentions that such information can be found on the Web.
  • Part 8, Appendixes  – Appendix A focuses on “Maintenance and Troubleshooting.” Appendix B deals with “File Formats,” listing the file types a NOOK can handle. And Appendix C zeroes in on fun things to do with a NOOK while visiting a Barnes & Noble store, “such as read books free for an hour.”

If you are struggling to decide between a NOOK Tablet and a Kindle Fire (or some other device), books in O’Reilly’s The Missing Manual™ series can be a relatively affordable way to get the detailed information you need in a pleasant and helpful format.

If you’ve already ordered or received a NOOK, you likely need this book.

Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir. He is the author of an e-book detective novel, Erwin’s Law, now also available in paperback, plus a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

Galaxy Tab: The Missing Manual – #bookreview #android

Galaxy Tab: The Missing Manual
By Preston Gralla
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $19.99; Kindle edition, list price $19.99)

Getting or giving yourself a Galaxy Tab for Christmas?

Consider getting this book to go with it, whether you’re getting a 3G/4G or Wi-Fi version of the Samsung tablet computer.

Reason one: You won’t find much how-to information packed in the box with the Galaxy Tab.

Reason two: Veteran technology writer Preston Gralla has prepared a nicely organized, well-written and heavily illustrated Galaxy Tab guide that covers the Samsung TouchWiz interface, as well as the device itself.

Gralla’s step-by-step instructions and tips can save you considerable time and effort as you learn the features and put your new device to work browsing the Web, checking email, playing music, shooting video and doing many other tasks for fun or work.

Parts & Chapters

This 427-page “Missing Manual”is organized into six parts, including 16 chapters and two appendixes.

Part One covers “The Basics and Getting Online.” The chapters are:

  • Chapter 1: The Guided Tour – (Everything from activating the Power/Lock Key to using the headphone jack, Volume Key and cameras and putting widgets and app shortcuts on the home screen.)
  • Chapter 2: Getting Online: Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G – (Getting online and also setting up and managing your Google account.)
  • Chapter 3: Navigating the Web – (And doing a variety of tasks such as saving online images, synching the Galaxy Tab’s bookmarks with your computer’s bookmarks, and managing online security.)
  • Chapter 4: Downloading and Using Apps – (Including where to get apps; managing, sharing and uninstalling apps; troubleshooting apps, the Samsung Apps Store, and more.)
  • Chapter 5: Ten Great Android Apps – (For games, productivity, music and pictures, and information.)

Part Two focuses on “Getting Social and Finding Your Way.” The chapters are:

  • Chapter 6: Contacts, Chat, and Video Chat – (Everything from “how you chat” and starting Google Talk to responding to chat invitations, audio and video chat, and managing chat contacts.)
  • Chapter 7: Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Apps – (How to use your Galaxy Tab on social media.)
  • Chapter 8: Maps and Navigation – (Using Google Maps, finding your location, searching maps, street view, and turn-by-turn navigation.)

Part 3 covers “Books, Media, and Games.” The chapters are:

  • Chapter 9: Books and Magazines – (Using Google Books, the Kindle app, and reading magazines and newspapers online or with Android apps.)
  • Chapter 10: Music – (Transferring music files from PC or Mac to Galaxy Tab; playing music; using the Google Cloud Music player, the Samsung Music Player and the Music Hub.)
  • Chapter 11: Camera, Photos, and Video – (Taking pictures or downloading from web, displaying them, and sharing them; taking videos and sharing them via YouTube; and using Media Hub to rent and play movies and TV shows.)

Part Four deals with “Getting Productive.” The chapters are:

  • Chapter 12: Gmail and Email – (The various ways to receive, send and manage email using a Galaxy Tab.)
  • Chapter 13: Calendar – (Using the Calendar, synchronizing it with Outlook, and using other Calendar capabilities, including geolocation.)
  • Chapter 14: Getting Work Done with Your Galaxy Tab – (Setting up your Galaxy Tab with your company account; using Virtual Private Networking (VPN); using Google Docs, and using Microsoft Office.)

Part 5 is titled “Advanced Topics.” The chapters are:

  • Chapter 15: Controlling Your Galaxy Tab with Your Voice – (Using the Voice Actions features, sending a voice recording, and using other voice features.)
  • Chapter 16: Settings – (Focuses on “all of the Galaxy Tab’s settings, and explains what they do for you.” Shows how to make changes.)

Part Six is titled “Appendixes.” The two appendixes are:

  • A. Setup, Signup, and Accessories
  • B. Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Bottom Line

O’Reilly bills its “Missing Manual” series as “the book that should have been in the box.” You won’t find Preston Gralla’s handy book in the Galaxy Tab box.

But the paperback or Kindle version can help you discover the most enjoyable and productive ways to use your shiny new tablet.

Si Dunn

Droid X2: The Missing Manual – #droid #bookreview

Droid X2: The Missing Manual
By Preston Gralla
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $19.99; Kindle edition, list price $9.99)

Got, getting or giving a Droid X2 smartphone?

Consider adding this useful how-to manual to the mix. Droid X2: The Missing Manual bills itself as “The book that should have been in the box.” But it’s likely much bigger than the phone’s box.

The 399-page manual, written by veteran technology writer Preston Gralla, is nicely structured, well-illustrated and chock full of information on using the Droid X2′s many features. The book is organized into six parts.

 Part 1 covers “Android Basics.” It gives a guided tour of features and shows how to make calls, do text messages, manage contacts, use Caller ID, make conference calls, and handle other tasks.

Part 2 focuses on “Camera, Pix, Music, and Video” and how you can use a Droid X2 to take photographs, play and manage music, and record, edit and view videos.

Part 3, “Maps, Apps, and Calendar,” shows “how to navigate using a GPS, to find any location in the world with maps, to find your own location on a map, to get weather and news, to use a great calendar app, and to synchronize that calendar with your Google calendar, or even an Outlook calendar,” Gralla writes.

Part 4, “Android Online,” discusses “everything you need to know about the Droid X2′s remarkable online talents.” This includes getting online over Verizon’s network or a wi-fi hotspot, using your Droid X2 as a portable G3 hotspot, checking email, surfing the Internet and downloading and using apps.

Part 5 covers “Advanced Topics,” including syncing and transferring files between a Droid X2 and a Mac or a PC, using your voice to control your Droid, and using your Droid at your workplace. Part 5 also includes a nice listing of Droid X2 settings.

Part 6, “Appendixes,” has three “reference chapters” showing how to activate a Droid X2, which accessories are available, and how to troubleshoot various issues.

This “Missing Manual” includes a link to a website where you can keep up with updates and changes to the Droid X2, plus corrections to the book.

Meanwhile, a “Missing CD” web page link provided in the book gives clickable links to the websites that are mentioned in the text.

Many new users of the Droid X2 likely will find this book helpful. So will experienced users who have mostly focused on voice calls and text messages and now want to master some of their smartphone’s other features. 

Si Dunn

Build Mobile Websites and Apps for Smart Devices – #bookreview

Build Mobile Websites and Apps for Smart Devices
By Earle Castledine, Myles Eftos & Max Wheeler
(SitePoint, $39.95, paperback; $27.99, Kindle)

By 2013, in some estimates, mobile devices such as smartphones and “other browser-equipped phones” will outnumber the world’s 1.78 billion PCs.

Meanwhile, the “mobile share of overall web browsing” is now growing rapidly. And: “We’re never going to spend less time on our phones and other mobile devices than we do now,” contend the authors of Build Mobile Websites and Apps for Smart Devices.

“Inevitiably, more powerful mobile devices and ubiquitous internet access will become the norm. And the context in which those devices are used will change rapidly. The likelihood of our potential customers being on mobile devices is higher and higher. We ignore the mobile web at our peril.”

The authors’ new guidebook from SharePoint is aimed at front-end web designers and developers, with emphasis on mobile websites and apps that are accessed via touch-screen smartphones.

Their well-illustrated, 256-page book is written in a smooth, accessible style that moves quickly to the point of  each chapter and example. They recommend that you read the chapters in sequence the first time, rather than skipping around, particularly if you are new to mobile web design and web development.

The chapter line-up gives a good look at the book’s structure and coverage:

  •  Preface
  • Chapter 1: Introduction to Mobile Web Design
  • Chapter 2: Design for Mobile
  • Chapter 3: Markup for Mobile
  • Chapter 4: Mobile Web Apps
  • Chapter 5: Using Device Features from Web Apps
  • Chapter 6: Polishing Up Our App
  • Chapter 7: Introducting PhoneGap
  • Chapter 8: Making Our Application Native
  • Appendix A: Running a Server for Testing

The book includes a link to “a downloadable ZIP archive that contains every line of example source code printed in this book.” And the writers emphasize that readers should have “intermediate knowledge” of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. They skip the absolute basics and move right into “what’s relevant for the mobile context.” 

They emphasize that “[t]he inevitable decision when designing for the mobile space is the choice between building a native application or a web application….A web application is one that’s accessed on the Web via the device’s browser–a website that offers app-like functionality, in other words.” Meanwhile, “[a] so-called native application is built specifically for a given platform–Android or iOS, for example–and is installed on the device much like a desktop application.”

They contend that “native apps offer a superior experience when compared to web applications,” and they note that “the difference is even more pronounced on slower devices.” However, building a native application can leave you vulnerable to market fragmentation and unsure which platforms you should target. Meanwhile,  it can be cheaper and faster to develop a Web application. So several important design and business decisions have to be made before you offer a new app to the marketplace. 

Build Mobile Websites and Apps for Smart Devices focuses first on making design decisions, selecting a feature set and using HTML, CSS and JavaScript to build a Web application. Later, it shows how to use PhoneGap to turn a web app into a native app for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and other platforms.

In the authors’ view, “mobile design is about context, but it’s also about speed. We’re aiming to give our users what they want, as fast as possible.” And, in many cases, “[p]roviding a version of our site to mobile users is going to be important regardless of whether or not we have a native application.”

In other words, be ready and able to go native and web when creating mobile websites and apps for smart devices

Si Dunn

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