Tag Archives: Android

Auto Launch Webpages full screen on Android

While waiting for Amazon to get round to reviewing my Node-RED Alexa Smart Home Skill I’ve needed something to hack on.

I’ve been keeping an eye on what folk have been doing with Node-RED Dashboard and a common use case keeps coming up. That is running the UI on a Android tablet mounted on a wall as a way to keep track of and control things around the house. This got me thinking about how to set something like this up.

Icon

For the best results you really want to run this totally full screen, there are ways to get this to happen with Chrome, but it’s a bit convoluted. Sure you can add it as a shortcut on the home screen but I thought there had to be a easier/better way.

So I started to have a bit of a play and came up with a new app. It’s basically just a full screen Activity with a WebView, with a few of extra features.

Settings
Settings
  • Set URL – Pick a URL to load when the phone boots, or the app is launched.
  • Launch on boot – The app can be configured to start up as soon as the phone finishes booting.
  • Take Screen Lock – This prevents the screen from powering off or locking so the page is always visible.

You can change the URL by swiping from the left hand edge of the screen, this will cause the action bar to appear, from this you can select “Settings”.

Set URL to Load
Set URL to Load

The app is in the Google Play store here, the code is on Github here

Android Wear after a week

It’s been a little over a week since I picked up a LG G Android Ware device to play with.

My initial impression seams to hold, it’s ok, but it’s not going to change my world.

We got hold of some Samsung G Lives this week so I’ve swapped to see if there is any difference between them.

Samsung Gear Live

The Samsung looks a bit better, but the out of the box experience was not as good, it wasn’t charged (unlike the LG), it needed updating as soon as it was started (the same as the LG) but it hid the update progress meter down in the settings so it wasn’t obvious that it was doing something when I powered it on. The charging cradle is a fiddly little thing to fit and feels really cheap compared to the really nice magnetic tray that came with the LG.

The only extra feature the Samsung has is a heart rate monitor built into the back of the watch. This is interesting but does require the watch to be warn tight round the wrist. I normally like to let my watches move around a bit so it’s taking a bit of getting used to and I’m not sure I’ll keep it that long. The only real use for the heart rate monitor is going to be during exercise, which is when I’m even more likely to want the device to be loose on the wrist.

Samsung Gear Live Charger

So far I’ve not been impressed enough to with the Android Wear devices to buy one for myself or even to borrow one from work to use for an extended period of time. I will keep an eye on the app developments to see if anybody can come up with a truly compelling use case for one. It will also be interesting to see if the Motorola Moto 360 is any different.

First Impressions – Android Wear – LG G Watch

One of the benefits of working for ETS is that we occasionally get hold of toys to play with, recently a box of LG G Watches turned up so I grabbed one to have a play with.

IMG_20140708_152939

IMG_20140708_152929

IMG_20140708_152924

Previously I’ve one of the first iteration of Android linked “smart watches”, namely the Sony Liveview. The first version of these really were not great, especially the fact that only the very edges of the screen were touch sensitive didn’t help interacting with them. And the strap wasn’t that comfy so all in all not a good experience.

The LG G seams much better out of the box, the whole screen is touch surface and it has a look and feel much closer to a modern digital watch. The set up process was relatively painless (once I’d overcome some local issues with the office wifi), there was the now usual immediate device update that all modern devices seam to suffer from, but it didn’t take that long.

So far I’ve just been wearing it in the office having it pop up new mail, sms and calendar notifications at the same time as my phone, but I’m out of the office with a research partner for the next 3 days so it will be interesting to see if it’s useful while I’m on the road. There seams to be a deep integration with Google Now which should be useful.

The biggest thing that will determine how useful the whole Android Wear idea is going to be battery life, I’ll keep an eye on it and see how long it lasts.

I also need to have a look at the API to see if I can come up with something fun to do with it and the sensors contained in the device. I do know that the notifications from Tracks2Miles are showing up.

Chromecast UK Launch and iPlayer support


I mentioned last year that I had managed to get somebody to bring me a Google Chromecast back from the US and I was pretty impressed with it.

Yesterday was the official UK launch and to go with it the BBC announced that the Android and iOS iPlayer applications would both be supporting the device. This is great news and really adds to the capability of the device.

Up until now I’ve mainly been using mine to watch a films and TV series I’ve bought from Google Play and to play my music through the TV + sounds system in my living room. But with iPlayer support I can see it getting a lot more use, as I tended to watch iPlayer content on my Nexus 7 which is ok, but a little bit small.

The iPlayer app just adds the little cast icon to the title bar of the app and if you connect to a Chromecast it sends the device rather than firing up the video app on the phone. The BBC seam to have done a decent first pass with a nice lock screen integration showing the program art. I gave it a test drive catching up on the last 2 episodes of Salamander that I had missed, the quality was great and playback was near instant (but that may be as much to do with my fibre broadband as anything else).

I’m even seriously considering buying my folks one so they can use iPlayer as the only time they’ve used it so far is when I’ve been back up home and plugged one of the laptops into the TV for them. Dad has an Android phone already and there was some talk of them getting a tablet for my niece to use when she visits.

The only problem I see with it is the price, at £30 it’s 3 times the cheapest price you can get a NOW TV Box for.

The only thing left if for me to finally get round to updating my MythTV setup so I can make use of the HLS support in the new version and write a Android app to display recorded shows via the Chromecast.

Google Chromecast

I managed to get my hands on a Google Chromecast at the weekend. Many thanks to Mike Carew for bringing one back from the US for me via Dale.

Having unpacked the stick I plugged it into my TV and plugged the usb cable in to power it. At first nothing happened and the little notification light on the device stayed red. but replugging the power cable it jumped into life. The instructions directing me to http://www.google.com/chromecast/setup, I had to do this in the Chrome browser and on my Windows laptop as there is no setup app for Linux at the moment (There is a config app for Android, but this is only available for US users at the moment)

When I got to the point where I had to configure which WiFi network the chromecast should connect to there was a problem as my router’s SSID was not showing in the list. It took a couple of minutes for me to remember that I had set my router to use channel 13 as it’s normally lightly used. The reason it is lightly used is because in the US you can only use channels up to 11. A quick change of channel later and the network showed up in the list.

The next part is the only bit that is not as slick as it should be. The Chromecast was fully configured but when I tried to use one of the apps (I’ll talk about those in a moment) it would not show a Chromecast available to send data to. The problem was that my router had done it’s usual trick of walling each of the separate WiFi device from each other, this feature can be called a few things but the most common seams to be apisolation. In a place with shared WiFi like a coffee shop or hotel this is good as it stops people snooping on or attacking your machine, in the home environment this may not be suitable and in this case very much unwanted. I had run into this problem before as one of my MythTV frontends is on WiFi and I had changed the settings to allow WiFi cross talking but the router seams to forget the setting pretty quickly, my usual trick was to reboot my router if I needed to log into it from my laptop to fix things. This was going to become a real issue with the Chromecast. After bit of digging I found a forum post about how to tweak the settings via the telnet interface so quickly ran up an expect script to do it when needed.

#!/usr/bin/expect

set timeout 20
set name SuperUser
set pass ###########

spawn telnet 192.168.1.254

expect "Username : "
send "$namer"
expect "Password : "
send "$passr"
expect "{SuperUser}=>"
send "wireless mssid ifconfig ssid_id=0 apisolation=disabledr"
expect "{SuperUser}=>"
send "saveallr"
expect "{SuperUser}=>"
send "exitr"

This gets called by the script I’ve got bound to a button on my remote driving LIRC that changes the input on my TV from RGB used for MythTV to the HDMI socket used by the Chromecast which ensures my network is always setup properly. I really shouldn’t have to do this but O2 Wifibox III I have is not the best.

Once I’d got all that out of the way time to start actually using this thing for what’s made for. Out of the box there is support for the Chromecast baked into the latest version of the Android YouTube app, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies and Netflix app. I don’t have a Netflix account at the moment so I tried out the other 3.

YouTube app

When the YouTube app finds a Chromecast on the local network it adds the little cast icon to the Action bar. When you tap on this it displays a pop-up to all you to select the Chromecast (if you have more than one on the network) and then rather than play the video on the devices screen they are played on the TV. Play/Pause and volume control are available on the device. One other really nice feature is that the Chromecast maintains a queue of videos to play so you can add to the queue from your phone while it’s playing the current video, in fact if you can do this from multiple devices at the same time. This means you can take it in turns with your mates to see who can find best cat video.

Google Play Movies
Much like YouTube Google Play movies lets you play content on the Chromecast. I had rented a copy of Mud the week before getting hold of my Chromecast so I watched this on the TV rather than on my Nexus 7. The only odd part was that I had downloaded a copy to the device and it would not let me watch it via the Chromecast without deleting the local copy.

Google Play Music
The music app works as expected, showing the cover art on the screen while it plays the tracks. Because it streams tracks directly from the cloud if you are working through a playlist and hit a track that you have added directly to the storage on the phone then it will refuse to play even if you have pushed a copy of the file to Google Music’s cloud storage.

Away from applications on your Android device there is a plugin for the Chrome browser which allows you to share the content of any tab on the large screen. I need to have a look at using this for giving HTML5 based presentations.

There is a API for interacting with the Chromecast and and I’m going to have a look at writing an app to push MythTV recordings so I can replace one of my MythTV frontends. First impressions of the API make me think this shouldn’t be too hard if I can set up the right transcoding.

Over all I’m pretty impressed with the Chromecast and I’m still debating if I should ask my folks to bring me another one back as they are out in the US at the moment.

Ingress

So there has been a bit of buzz recently (mainly about how to get a invite) about a new game from the Google NianticLabs called Ingress. It is a AR game where users do battle for one of two factions in a virtual world overlaid on top of the real world.

Ingress Logo
Ingress Logo

The game is still in closed beta at the moment and only open to people with invites, you can apply for an invite here. You can also submit Ingress inspired art work to Google Plus and tagging Brandon Badger, Brian Rose, Anne Beuttenmüller and +Joe Philley and hope they are impressed enough to let you in.

The premiss is that the work at CERN hunting for the Higgs boson has caused the release/discovery of something called Exotic Matter (XM). This XM seams to be capable of influencing human behaviour, especially in the creative and scientific direction. Following this discovery those that know of it’s existence fall in to two factions, the Enlightened who believe that XM is sent to help humanity and the Resistance who believe that XM is part of a slow insidious invasion. As well as XM there are portals which seam to be related. Portals can be captured and things called Resonators added, with these three or more portals can be linked together to create fields in the enclosed space. These field allow the Enlightened or the Resistance to try and influence the public to their way of thinking. The battle is to create the largest fields and influence the most people.

If you happen to live in an area with no portals you can add new ones to the game by sending geo-tagged photos of “interesting” locations to Google via the app, but they take between 2-3 weeks to be added. That seams a long time for somebody to maintain an interest if they are in a area with little or no existing portal, I’m still waiting for any of mine to appear, but I’ve managed to stay engaged by playing around the 4 portals up in Winchester.

There is the start of a strong social aspect to the game as well, you need to arrange for other members of your faction to coordinate attacks on portals (especially the higher level version)in order to capture them back from the opposition and you also need their help to upgrade portals to higher levels to enable longer range links.

There are plenty more detailed discussions about the game online so I won’t go on any more about that here. What is more interesting is the potential this sort of platform has. The combination of crowd sourcing and gamification may well lead to something like the game Spooks, from Charles StrossHalting State. I’m not suggesting any thing as sinister as Spooks, where the EULA turned out to be a click through copy of the Official Secrets Act, and the whole thing was being run by MI5, but it’s important to remember that Google are not running this game for fun, to start with it’s a way to get more people to volunteer more location data and also a nice way to collect a bunch of geo-tagged photos from the portal submission process. I’m already signed up to Latitude so it’s not a problem for me to send my location to google again as part of the game but I do wonder how many other players are aware of the trade they are making to play the game and what else they may need to trade as the game continues.

I’m also sure that Google have a bunch more plans for the project. Thinking about how this could be extended leads to any number of avenues, what could you do with a large enough group of people for the promise of some notional in game reward (at little to no cost to the host)? Things that come to mind:

  • Set tasks to submit photos of new buildings/locations to keep things like Streetview up to date.
  • Have users walk new roads/paths to update mapping data
  • Taking it a step further, with the right mechanisms built in to evaluate trust could you build a cheap/free delivery service having players deliver packages across a city?

These are just a few that came to mind as I was putting this post together, I’m sure there are many more. I’ll be keeping an eye on how it develops and of course capturing portals for the Resistance.

developerWorks Days Zurich 2012

This week I had a day out of the office to go to Zurich to talk at this years IBM developerWorks Days. I had 2 sessions back to back in the mobile stream, the first an introduction to Android Development and the second on MQTT.

The slots were only 35mins long (well 45mins, but we had to leave 5 mins on each end to let people move round) so there was a limit to how much detail I could go into. With this in mind I decided the best way to give people a introduction to Android Development in that amount of time was to quickly walk through writing reasonably simple application. The application had to be at least somewhat practical, but also very simple so after a little bit of thinking about I settled on an app to download the latest image from the web comic XKCD. There are a number apps on Google Play that already do this (and a lot better) but it does show a little Activity GUI design. I got through about 95% of the app live on stage and only had to copy & paste the details for the onPostExecute method to clear the progress dialog and update the image in the last minute to get it to the point I could run it in the emulator.

Here are the slides for this session

And here is the Eclipse project for the Application I created live on stage:
http://www.hardill.me.uk/XKCD-demo-android-app.zip

The MQTT pitch was a little easier to set up, there is loads of great content on MQTT.org to use as a source and of course I remembered to include the section on the MQTT enabled mouse traps and twittering ferries from Andy Stanford-Clark.

Here are the slides for the MQTT session:

For the Demo I used the Javascript d3 topic tree viewer I blogged about last week and my Raspberry Pi running a Mosquitto broker and a little script to publish the core temperature, load and uptime values. The broker was also bridged to my home broker to show the feed from my weather centre and some other sensors.

Tracks2Miles 2.0

I’ve been working on a near complete re-write of Tracks2Miles over the last couple of weekends months. It’s taken so long for a couple of reasons, when the weather was good I just wanted to be outside running/cycling and for the (larger) period when it was grim out just not wanting to spend any more time writing code after doing it all day at work.

Small screen view

A number of major changes have been made, but the one that is likely to be most noticeable is the move to using Fragments for the layout of the GUI. This means that I’ve been able to create some layouts for devices. There are now 3 layouts:

  • Small size screen
  • “Normal” size screen
  • Tablet size screen

I know that a tablet layout for Tracks2Miles may seam a little strange since it started out as just a way to upload routes recorded by My Tracks and the image of a guy out jogging with a 10.1″ Galaxy tab strapped to their arm is a little stupid. But since adding the ability to view the timeline of workouts and to manually enter workouts it has started to make some more sense. That and the stats* says there are at least 31 tablet (running Android 3.1/3.2, there may be more on 4.x+) users already out there. Hopefully this new layout will pull in some more tablet users as (IMHO) looks a lot better than the phone view scaled up.

The other big change is the move to using the built in sync mechanism to drive the collection of new timeline entries. This means you can now have Tracks2Miles pull in new workouts, comments and routes on a regular basis in the background. A side effect of this is that I’m going to have to drop support for Andriod 2.1 as the syncing API had some improvements that make this a lot easier at 2.2. The same stats that showed the total number tablet users show there are only 39 users left on 2.1. The older releases should continue to work for them.

Android notification showing number of new workouts in timeline

This use of the syncing API means that I the timeline can be updated at regular intervals in the background so you will always have the latest workouts when you open the all and allows me to add alerts for when there are new entries.

A feature requested by Brian O’Donovan was the ability to sanity check speeds for different workout types, I think this mainly came about because of the distance conversion feature when the units are changed. I’ve added some options to the beta settings menu that allows you to set a min and max speed for a few of the workout types. If you enable this checking a toast message will pop up if the average speed for a workout is outside these ranges. You can access the limits under the beta section of the preferences screen.

At this point I think I’ve pretty much exhausted the capabilities of the current Dailymile API but hopefully there should be a improved version due soon. In the mean time I suppose the next step would be to look at translating Tracks2Miles to some other languages. The Google Play stats suggest that Germany might be a good first choice.

I cut what I hope to be the final beta today and after hearing back from the testers I’ll push it to Google Play as an update.

* Up until v2.0 I’ve been using the built in stats that come with the Google Play, but for this release going forward I have also included the Google Analytics library so I should get a much clearer picture of what the spread of devices running the app are.