I needed to build an offline calendar in jQTouch for a project and found this particularly nice-looking jQTouch iCal project by Bruno Alexandre. Unfortunately, it required a server connection.
A day later and I've pulled the thing apart, refactored and rebuilt into a shiny jQTouch extension (still using the original project's CSS). It's built for Mobile Safari but still looks good in other webkits.
In one of my day jobs I do something involving education, large public institutions and web stuff and a while back I thought it might be an excellent idea to have a go at designing some cool educational toys. Learnin' 'n' Fun! At the same time! omg! And so forth!
The idea was to build the kind of thing you could use to squeeze knowledge into people's heads without them complaining. Y'see, it's never a good thing to trick people into learning. If your educational toy/game/experience relies too much on hiding the information behind the fun then the big reveal at the end – "Ha, I tricked you into learning something!" – will leave the player feeling cheated and not change their attitude towards learning. If, on the other hand, you try and push the ideas you want to get across at the expense of the core game mechanic, you'll end up with a bored user. My opinion is that you've got to be up front about the learning. You've got to say to the user "Look, this is learning and it's fun. No tricks here, it's exactly what it looks like". As for getting it to appeal in the first place, I find that very few things can beat extremely cute cartoons.
To that end, I present my first dabble in interactive educational whaddyamacallits: The Elementals, a fun periodic table where every element has its own unique personality.
It's available as an iPhone app initially but I'll be venturing into the Android Marketplace soon and putting it online as a web app.
I'm a fan of Drupal even though I don't use it that often. I like that I can see exactly what's going on. I can easily follow the execution from URL request to page serve.
What I usually end up doing on any Drupal project is:
build the majority of the site in a few hours
find one small piece of functionality missing that's absolutely essential
dig into the core to make it happen
find a simpler way of doing it and step out of the core a bit
find an even simpler way and step back a bit more
figure out how to do it in a single module file and put the core back the way it was.
That probably seems utterly inefficient but it has served me well since Drupal 4 and it means I've got a really good picture in my head of the internal workflow.
This is in stark comparison to other systems, particularly some .NET CMSs where a request comes in, something happens and the page is served. There are even some PHP frameworks and CMSs where everything is so abstracted, the only way you can get an accurate picture of what is happening is to already have an accurate picture of what is happening.
I've used several different ones and I keep coming back to Drupal (also, recently, Perch, but that's besides the point here).
“What on earth does this have to do with PhoneGap?” I hear you ask. Quite rightly, too.
The first framework I properly spent some time with was Appcelerator. It seemed quite shiny and I liked having single interface access to compilation for iPhone and Android but I wasn't so keen on having to sign up for an account with them for no obvious reason. Some further investigation suggested that this was so you could send your project to their servers for proprietary cross-platform compilation of your desktop app. This is less useful, however, if you're developing just for iPhone and Android as for both, you need the SDK installed locally and the compilation is done on your own machine.
After that, I moved to PhoneGap (version 0.8.3) and found myself immediately falling into my Drupal workflow. The app fell into place in less than an hour (with a liberal sprinkling of jQTouch and the Glyphish icons). I then needed to take a screenshot and couldn't see an obvious way to do it but, due to the nature of PhoneGap being completely open-source, it was easy to spot where to jump into the code. I hacked in a screenshot function in another hour, spent another half hour making it better and another making it simpler. Just to complete the cycle, I have now wrapped up all my code into a plugin and removed my hacking from the core. Hmmm... that all seemed eerily familiar.
That's not to say PhoneGap is perfect. All the benefits of a completely open-source project referred to previously also come with all the drawbacks. The current version (0.9.0) is fiendishly difficult to download and get started with. It has been split into one parent project and several child projects (one per mobile platform) and it's no longer obvious what you do. It's easy enough if you're already set up but actually getting there is tricky. The most common failing of any open-source project is also true: poor documentation. There's a wiki but it's mostly out-of-date. There's a section on phonegap.com called 'docs' but they're also out-of-date. There's an API reference but it's autogenerated from comments and is also out-of-date. The only place to get accurate information is the Google group but that's not documentation, that's solutions to problems.
1. We're completely open source and you can see all our active development every single commit on github.com/appcelerator. We have plenty of outside core open source contributors.
2. Yeah, to do what we're doing, it's complicated - much more than Phonegap - so it does mean with complexity it's hard to grok. however, the source is all there. Also, it's full extensible through our SDKs and we this SDK as the way we build Titanium itself.
3. For Desktop, we _only_ upload to our build servers as a convenience to cross-platform packaging. Nothing mysterious and all the scripts we run are included (and open source) so you can run them on your own. Plenty of our customers do this behind the firewall. When you're developing locally (say on a OSX machine), it's all local during dev. Only cross-platform packaging is done as a convenience to developers. We have to pay for this bandwidth and storage and we do it to make it easier. And it's free.
Hope this clarifies some of the above. Phonegap's a great project and we love the team - but I think we're trying to do different things and come at it from different approaches. In the end, this is good for developers as it gives everyone more choice based on their needs.
Just now, I'm trying to improve the UI for the Factory's first iPhone app. While doing this, I've come up with a list of available areas and gestures in a touch-driven app that you can use for actions. I thought I'd put them here so other people could point out where I've gone wrong and what I've forgotten:
Permanent on-screen menu
Transient on-screen menu (requires trigger)
Different screen menu (any number of them, requires trigger)
Static (can be overloaded with function based on position)