Will “Smart” Device Dependence Make You Increasingly Dumb?

I strolled into my favorite Austin Starbucks recently and noticed a startling sight. Every person standing in line or sitting at tables simultaneously had their head down as if in group prayer. All at the same moment were staring at their smartphones.

I pulled out my own phone, dramatically flipped it open, held it aloft, and waved it in silent protest. No one got the joke, because no one noticed.

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We’ve all seen people become panic-stricken and helpless when they realize they have lost or forgotten their “smart” device, or had it stolen. “Everything—my whole life—is on there!” one friend wailed recently. “All my pictures, my personal information, my contacts. And—oh, god–work emails! I don’t know what to do!” She kept frantically digging through her big purse, which also contained “everything,” including papers from work, so she could keep working at home after she got off work. When I called her phone from my phone, we found her “smart” phone buried deep beneath makeup containers and assorted other purse rubble.

Many people now use their smartphones for “everything,” from paying a restaurant check (after using the calculator function to split it and calculate the tip) to hailing an Uber ride and remotely controlling their home air conditioning. And, anytime a question is raised in a group, several people will circumvent natural debate or brainstorming by immediately going to Google and reading off some article titles and paragraphs.

Meanwhile, a few unrelated videos also will pop up and be shared:  Cat attacks python! Man sets shoes on fire by standing on hot coals! Ha-ha-ha!

The smartphone video distractions are only going to get worse. As AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson recently told Fortune magazine: “…mobile video…is the real deal,” adding: “Half our mobile network traffic is video now, and it’s really growing fast.”

So, recent statutes banning talking or texting on a digital device while driving are now far behind the curve of progress. (“Sorry, officer, I was not breaking the law. I was watching Game of Thrones while paying no attention to the traffic and scenery around me.”)

Perhaps it is time to ask yourself two serious questions. Are you losing touch with the real world as you become increasingly distracted by your smartphone? And will your growing dependence on its “smart”-ness make you correspondingly “dumb” over time?

Si Dunn

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HTML5 and JavaScript Web Apps – With emphasis on the Mobile Web – #programming #bookreview

HTML5 and JavaScript Web Apps
Wesley Hales
(O’Reilly,
paperbackKindle)

Increasingly, the world of Web development is taking on a “mobile first” attitude. And for good reason. Sales of desktop and laptop computers are shrinking, while sales of mobile devices seem to be swelling into a flood.

“Consumers are on track to buy one billion HTML5-capable mobile devices in 2013,” Wesley Hales writes in his new book. “Today, half of US adults own smartphones. This comprises 150 million people, and 28% of those consider mobile their primary way of accessing the Web. The ground swell of support for HTML5 applications over native ones is here, and today’s developers are flipping their priorities to put mobile development first.”

Hales’ HTML5 and JavaScript Web Apps focuses on using HTML5, JavaScript, and the latest W3C specifications to create mobile and desktop web apps that can work on a wide range of browsers and devices.

Indeed, deciding what to support is a key point in this useful, well-focused how-to guide. Hales notes: “Unfortunately the Mobile Web isn’t write-once-run-anywhere yet. As specifications become final and features are implemented, interoperability will be achieved. In today’s world of mobile browsers, however, we don’t have a largely consistent implementation across all browsers. Even though new tablets and phones are constantly being released to achieve a consistent level of HTML5 implementation, we all know that we’re [also] stuck with supporting the older, fragmented devices for a set amount of time.”

The 156-page book straddles “the gap between the Web and the Mobile Web” but puts a lot of emphasis on developing mobile applications. Here are its nine chapters:

  1. Client-Side Architecture
  2. The Mobile Web
  3. Building for the Mobile Web
  4. The Desktop Web
  5. WebSockets
  6. Optimizing with Web Storage
  7. Geolocation
  8. Device Orientation API
  9. Web Workers

This is not a book for JavaScript, HTML, or CSS beginners. But if you have at least some basic experience with Web application development, Hales can help you get on track toward becoming a Mobile Web guru. Meanwhile, if you are already well-versed in the ways of the Web app world, you may still learn some new and useful things from HTML5 and JavaScript Web Apps.

Si Dunn

Mobile JavaScript Application Development – Bringing the Web to Mobile Devices – #programming #bookreview

Mobile JavaScript Application Development
Adrian Kosmaczewski
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $24.99; Kindle edition, list price $19.99)

In the author’s view, “the most important moment in recent technological history was the introduction of the iPhone in January 2007. The impressive growths of iOS, Android, and other platforms [have] completely transformed the landscape of software engineering, while at the same time opening new possibilities for companies.”

Indeed, Adrian Kosmaczewski notes: “It is estimated that, in 2015, more than 50% of all web requests will come from mobile devices!”

So, if you are, or are planning to be,  a JavaScript programmer, you better know how to develop and support apps for mobile devices. And you’d better stay aware of “platform fragmentation” – the various platforms that you may encounter as old and new ones battle for survival and market dominance.

Kosmaczewski’s new, 145-page book is aimed at web developers who have some familiarity with HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript.

“It does not matter if you have mobile software engineering experience,” he assures potential readers. But: “Mobile applications are a world of their own, and they present challenges that common applications don’t deal with.…” These include:

  • Small screen sizes
  • Reduced Battery Life
  • Little Memory and disk specifications
  • Rapidly changing network conditions

His book is divided into seven well-written chapters. And six of them offer numerous screenshots and short code examples. The chapters are:

  1. HTML5 for Mobile Applications
  2. JavaScript Productivity Tips
  3. jQuery Mobile
  4. Sencha Touch
  5. Phone Gap
  6. Debugging and Testing
  7. Conclusion

Mobile JavaScript Application Development takes this straightforward approach: (1) “leave the theory to others” and (2) focus on “understand by doing.” And, mercifully, the author does not try to tackle too many technologies at once. Instead, he concentrates – in “an opinionated, hands-on” way on three technologies that he says “are currently the most promising and…show the most interesting roadmap.”

These are, as previously mentioned in the chapter list, jQuery Mobile, Sencha Touch, and PhoneGap. His goal is to help you determine which one is best for your project. (If you don’t agree with his choices, he provides helpful links to several others but does not discuss them.)

To work with the book’s code samples, certain items are needed and not easily summed up here in a few words, because of platform fragmentation and other factors. But the requirements can be viewed easily, using Amazon’s “Click to Look Inside!” feature for both the paperback and Kindle editions.

If your job or ambitions include developing apps for smartphones, you should check out this book.

Si Dunn

Tap, Move, Shake: Turning Your Game Ideas into iPhone & iPad Apps – #bookreview

Tap, Move, Shake: Turning Your Game Ideas into iPhone & iPad Apps
By Todd Moore
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $29.99; Kindle edition, list price $23.99)

If you have some game ideas and a little coding experience, this well-focused and well-written book can show you how to get started as a developer of iPhone and iPad game apps.

The author notes: “Most games are typically controlled using a directional pad, analog joysticks, and various buttons. The iPhone and iPad give us a new form of input—Multi-touch. We can track up to 5 individual touches on the iPhone and iPod touch screens and up to 11 individual touches on the iPad. This opens up a whole new genre of games that previously did not exist. This is why [in this book] you are going to learn right from the start how to handle multiple touches on the screen.”

Moore’s 254-page book, which includes a foreword by Steve Wozniak, is organized as follows:

  • Preface – “Whether you are racking up points hitting a ball with a paddle or fragging your friends in a 3-D immersive world, the overall game elements are the same.”
  • Introduction to XCode – How to register at the App Store as an Apple Developer. (Also see App Store chapter at end of book.) How to get the iOS Dev Center program and download the latest version of XCode. How to build a simple game while you learn various aspects of XCode.
  • Hello Pong – How to create a Pong-like air hockey game called “Paddles” as you “learn how to implement multi-touch controls, animation, collision detection, and scoring.”
  • Graphics – How to create graphics and use them in your game.
  • Physics – How to “improve the paddle controls and create a realistic puck animation” for the “Paddles” game.
  • Sounds – How to “create realistic sounds for your game.”
  • Computer AI – Shows “how to create a computer player that can play a decent game of air hockey” and includes adding a title screen for the “Paddles” game, “so the player can choose to play against the computer or play the two player mode that has already been implemented.”
  • App Store – The author walks you “through the process of submitting your application to the App Store.” He also discusses the necessity to take “a lot of different screenshots, making sure to show the unique parts of your game.” The idea ultimately is to “help the customer make a buy decision” for your app.

Todd Moore founded TMSOFT “to create unique smartphone applications and games.” He is one of the few developers who have had “two apps in iTunes’ Top 20 Paid Downloads.”

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Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer and a former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.

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