SeekArc - a curvy SeekBar

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In my day job I’ve been doing a lot of work on the new Triggertrap mobile Android app. As part of that work I’ve developed a number of custom UI components. One or two of these could be useful generic widgets and I’ve been keen to share them with others. So with the kind permission of the good folks here at Triggertrap I’m happy to share with you a new UI widget I made call the SeekArc.

What is a SeekArc?

So what the heck is a SeekArc? Essentially it’s a SeekBar that has been wrapped around a circle. It acts like a SeekBar and generally has the same settings. You can even add a Listener to it as you would with a SeekBar. So if its in a circle why not call it a SeekCircle? The answer is that the SeekArc does have a few more setting than the SeekBar one of these is the sweepAngle, which means that the SeekArc doesn’t have to be drawn as a full circle, and can be drawn as a circle, semi-circle  or quarter arc or whatever you like.


The SeekArc with varying sweep angles

The SeekArc came about when developing the Sound Sensor mode for the Triggertrap mobile app. We just wanted to get away from straight lines and progress bars so we came up with a concept for using a round progress bar to show the volume of the mic input.  To set a threshold on the sound trigger it made sense to have a round or curved seek bar like input and so the SeekArc was born.


The Triggertrap sound sensor mode as seen wit the Android mobile app
Using the SeekArc
Using the SeekArc is straightforward. There are a number of settings from sweep angle to rotation that can be set. One of the less obvious settings is the radius or diameter of the SeekArc. When I developed the SeekArc I thought about adding an attribute for defining the diameter of the circle. In the end I decided against this. I thought a more flexible approach would be to allow the SeekArc to expand to the size of  its container layout. This way the SeekArc can grow in size with a layout that has widths or heights of match parent. Also it is still possible to set the SeekArc to a specific size by setting the container layouts width and height to specific dp values. This sizing approach gives the best of both worlds. To further adjust how the arc fits in its container a padding attribute can also be used.
To help with understanding how to use the SeeekArc I’ve put together a sample app with a number of controls that can be used to adjust the attributes of the SeekArc. This is by far the best way to get a good understanding of how to use the SeekArc. From the sample app you’ll see that it is possible to set attributes such as:
  1. Sweep angle
  2. Rotation
  3. Clockwise, (which way do you want the progress to increase clockwise/anticlockwise)
  4. Arc and progress width
  5. Rounded corners
  6. Touch inside enable/disable.

Screen shots of the sample app with holo dark and holo light themes

By default the SeekArc can use a Holo light or dark theme. Of course the SeekArc is fully customisable and its also possible to change the colours and thumbnail used as shown with the Custom style in the sample app

SeekArc with custom style
Getting the SeekArc
The SeekArc is fully open sourced under the MIT licence.  You can get the full source for it here , along with the sample app. I’ve also have a branch on my git hub here.

I’d loved to hear how you are using the SeekArc so please drop me a line if you do, and as always feedback for improvement and any questions are more than welcome. That's all from me for now, have fun with the new SeekArc!
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Animating the SearchView

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I’ve been taking a closer look at the SearchView widget. This widget was introduced in Android 3.0 but has also had a few additions and updates to it since then. It was designed to be used mainly in an ActionBar , but it’s also possible to use it within any layout.

One of the cool things about the SearchView is that it can be collapsed (iconified) so that it only takes a small amount of space, and when pressed it can go into an expanded state so that text can be entered and searched

Collapsing and expanding the SearchView works fine, but for me something immediately did not feel right. If you try this yourself you’ll notice that there is no transition animation between the collapsed and expanded states. Things just disappear and appear, it’s like a magician's trick without the puff of smoke.

To make things better it would be good if there were some animations when collapsing and expanding the SearchView, maybe a slide in and out. So after a bit of digging around I noticed that the SearchView essentially is a Layout that contains a few LinearLayouts.

Since Android 3.0 it’s been possible to animate layout changes within a LinearLayout by setting an attribute called animateLayoutChanges. When this is set, removing a View from the layout will cause it to fade out and the remaining views will slide in to fill the empty space left by the removed view.  Adding a view will cause existing views to slide out of the way to make room for the new view.

So in theory we could just set this attribute on a LinearLayout in the SearchView and our transitions between the collapse and expand state will be animated. Not quite, since the LinearLayout is within the SearchView we do not have access to the XML so we need to do the equivalent in Java. We can do this by setting a LayoutTransistion on the LinearLayout within the search.  There’s a little more work than usual to get a reference to this LinearLayout, but once we have done that setting the layout transition is just one line of code. Here’s the code to do this:


SearchView searchView = (SearchView) menu.findItem(R.id.action_search).getActionView();
//Get the ID for the search bar LinearLayout
int searchBarId = searchView.getContext().getResources().getIdentifier("android:id/search_bar", null, null);
//Get the search bar Linearlayout
LinearLayout searchBar = (LinearLayout) searchView.findViewById(searchBarId);
//Give the Linearlayout a transition animation.
searchBar.setLayoutTransition(new LayoutTransition());

With these few lines of code we now have an animated expand and collapse for the SearchView, this is how it looks:

This is a video of the animations running in an emulator. On a real device the animations run much more smoothly. It’s not perfect, but its a fair improvement for not much effort. To make things even better it would also be nice to animate the adding and removing of buttons once the SearchView is in the expanded state. Unfortunately this is not something that can be done with a few lines of code. It’s most likely that to achieve this a new SearchView would have to be written with built in support for animations. Maybe that could be another blog post.
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Crossfading images in a ListView

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ListViews that contain images populated from a server are used a lot. Adding a nice crossfade animation when the images load can really help add some polish to your app. In this scenario the ListView shows a default image and once the required image is downloaded it then displays the downloaded image. Below shows two screenshots of the TED app one showing a ListView with default images, and the other showing the ListView once the images have been downloaded.


The TED app is an example of a really nice android app and it works great. But if you try it, and watch closely as the listview populates the images, you’ll notice that once each image is loaded the default TED image disappears and the downloaded images appears. There’s no transition, one disappears and the other appears. This is ok but does create a slightly jarring experience, in the real world we’re not accustomed to things just appearing and disappearing.

To help create a better experience what we can do is create a transition between the two images. In this case a crossfade transition would work well. Gradually fading the default image out and downloaded image in. Here’s a video showing an example App’ that I created with this crossfade transition.


This video shows an example app that I wrote to test the crossfade transition on the images in a  ListView. It’s a simple app that just downloads images from a Picasa JSON feed. Hopefully you’ll agree that the crossfade of the images is a nice addition and really adds to the user experience.

To do this I first looked at the TransitionDrawable in the Android libs. This looked like a good candidate as it allows two drawables to be associated with it  that you can then crossfade between. Unfortunately this class didn’t quite work for the scenario of transitioning in Listviews as it assumes that you have both drawables when the TransitionDrawable is created. Obviously in this scenario we don’t have both drawables until the second drawable has been downloaded from the server.  

So with a little more searching I then found a class called CrossFadeDrawable that is part of the Shelves app created by Romain Guy. This class is in fact very similar to TransistionDrawble but it also has methods that allow the setting of the end (downloaded) drawable, so it doesn’t need to have both drawables defined up front. The CrossFadeDrawble was almost exactly what I needed , but there was still one more thing that needed to be fixed.

The original CrossfadeDrawble assumed that the start Image (default image) and the end image(downloaed image) would be of the same dimensions. This was not the case in my scenario. What I wanted was something that would scale the downloaded image to fit inside the default start image.


The last thing to do was to add a tweak to the CrossfadeDrawable so that it would use a matrix transformation to scale the downloaded image until it would fit into the dimensions of the default (start) image.

So that was all that needed to be done to create the crossfade transition. Of course since we are using a list view we still have to create an Adapter to populate the list and an Async task to download the images and update the CrossfadeDrawable.


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Flash and AIR the nirvana of mobile development?

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Recently I've been looking at the new pre-release of AIR for Android. From me this is a really interesting technology. I’m familiar with both Java and Flex. But although Android uses Java, there are still a fair number of new components to learn about and additional to this, there is also a learning curve involved with getting to grips with some of the Android ways of architecting applications, such as using Activities, Services, Intents etc..
If I can use Flex, things become instantly more familiar. There’s no new UI components to learn and I have a full understanding of how to structure my apps. But while this is nice for writing applications for Android, what is also very appealing is the prospect that I will be able to port these applications very easily to other platforms such as Meego, Blackberry and others.

While a lot of media focus has been on Flash and AIR running on Android (and not on iPhones). There has also been some talk of Flash and AIR running on Platforms such as Meego (Nokia) and Blackberry. If this turns out to be the case this would be great for Flash/Flex developers. Instantly applications written for AIR would have a much wider market, as the cost and time for developers to get their applications running across multiple platforms would be reduced dramatically. 

You may have noticed, that I'm mainly focusing on AIR here and not Flash. For me AIR on mobile devices is a more interesting prospect at the moment. Why? Well my experience of using mobile phones is that small installed application give a better user experience than web based applications. This is mainly due to the speed of data connections. An installed app doesn’t have to load any presentation and UI elements, it just needs to get the data, so it’s more responsive. As mobile networks develop and their bandwidths increase I'm sure this will all change, but then changing an AIR application to a Flash application is pretty straight forward, so that’s covered too.

All of this of this sounds great. Using established tools, languages, and frameworks, with cross platform support and the ability to run locally installed or web applications. What mobile developer could want more? So there must a be a catch, right? Well at the moment true cross platform support is still not a reality and although Flash and Flex are said to be supported on Android 2.2, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a phone that has Android 2.2 will run flash or AIR applications.  For example, I installed a modded ROM of Android 2.2 on a HTC magic, and then installed the AIR runtime and an AIR application with no problems. Unfortunately the application simply would not run (it ran fine, albeit rather slowly,  in Android emulator).
It still seems that it’s early days yet for AIR and Flash on mobile. The next release of the Flex framework, known as Hero, is due for release towards the end of this year promising intergrated support for development of both desktop and mobile devices. So as devices become more powerful, and if the promises live up to the hype, it does seems that Flash and Flex developers could have a whole new world of opportunities on mobile devices.
 
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Installing Adobe AIR runtime on Android 2.1 emulator

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Here's a quick guide that I've put together on getting an Adobe AIR runtime installed in an Android emulator running 2.1 (Eclair). I haven't had any chance to do testing on this process, but the runtime seems to install OK. I'm off on holidays soon, so if I get chance I'll put up a quick post of how to create and install a Flash application, but I'm getting short of time, so here at least is a guide to installing the AIR runtime in an emulator running 2.1. Yes that's 2.1 not 2.2. 


First thing you'll need to do is to sign up for the adobe prerelease. Which you can do here:
http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/air2/android/

Once you've done that you'll get a login and will be able to download the software and documentation:

I'm not going to use the AIR for Android CS5 extension, so I've just down loaded the AIR for android builds and the related documentation. 

These are the options that you have to download the the AIR for Android builds. 



















As you can see there are runtimes for Eclair and Froyo, so even if you do not have a phone that is running Android 2.2 you can still have a runtime for Android 2.1. There is even a runtime emulator for Eclair so if you don't have an actual device with either 2.1 or 2.2, you can still try your AIR applications out in an emulator! Since I only have an emulator I'm going to use this runtime on my setup. So the runtime that we are interested in here is, Runtime_Emulator_Eclair_20100517.apk.

The fact that you can run applications on 2.1 is also born out in the FAQs:

To develop an AIR for Android application using the command-line tools, you will need a recent Flex SDK and the AIR 2.5 SDK available on the AIR for Android prerelease website. You'll use the Android SDK tools to install the application on a device or Android emulator.

I don't have a device that runs Android 2.1 or 2.2. So I'm going to install the AIR runtime in an emulator. First make sure that your Android SDK is updated so that it supports Android 2.1. Then go to the tools directory of you Android SDK installation and run:

android list targets

This will give you a list of target ids , at least one of which should correspond to Android 2.1. Once you have the correct target id for Android 2.1 you can then create the AVD with this command:

First we need to make sure the we have a AVD (Android virtual device) that  supports android 2.1.  using this command: 

android create avd -n avd2.1 -t 11

You should see something like: 

Created AVD 'avd2.1' based on Google APIs (Google Inc.), with the following hardware config:hw.lcd.density=160

To see the list of available avds use the command:

android list avds 

To start the emulator with our AVD we use the following command:

emulator -avd avd2.1

Once we have the emulator running with the correct AVD we can now try and install the AIR runtime!!

adb install \\Runtime_Emulator_Eclair_20100517.apk

From this you should see the following output:

950 KB/s (6784204 bytes in 6.968s) pkg: /data/local/tmp/Runtime_Emulator_Eclair_20100517.apk Success

You can also check on your emulator that the adobe AIR runtime is installed by going to Menu->Settings-Manage Applications and view the installed applications. You should see something like this:
















OK so that's the runtime installed now we just need to write a quick application and check that it runs. I'll try and do this soon, before I go on holidays this weekend hopefully. :)













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Android 2.2 Froyo

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I've haven't had much chance to post lately, there's been a lot going on in my life. I won't go into details but honestly I've been really busy! I'd also just like to say thanks to all the people who have got in touch with me, making suggestions and giving such positive feedback, it really is great to know that what I've written here is useful to loads of people out there.

OK so now onto the promised info' in this post, Froyo and Android 2.2. It looks like Google I/O tomorrow is going to be the day when we finally see the new Version of Android 2.2. It's been a while since 2.1 so it's going to be really interesting to see what is going to be new in Android 2.2.  Some of the main new feature that are being touted are:


  1. An all new JIT compiler, with some great speed increases.
  2. Full support for Flash 10.1
  3. Easy upgrading, some unbundling of apps from the main core.
  4. USB tethering so you can share your data connection with your laptop
  5. Portable Wi-Fi hot spotting for other devices.
These new feature are certainly interesting and there may be more yet to be announced. I do really like the idea of being able to easily upgrade to new versions of Android, at the moment it is really frustrating to be stuck on older versions of the OS , mainly due to the fact that it takes so long for manufactures to integrate their own UI mods into the new versions. Might it be technically possible for Google to push out firmware updates via the Android Market in future? Maybe not for older handsets, but if every phone that launches from the Froyo era onwards could have its OS updated free from network delays and interference it'd be a great move.
But for me the first two features on the list are the most interesting. The performance improvements achieved by the Dalvik JIT compiler simply sound astounding, with reports that there are improvements of 450%. Android Police have a a great article here detailing how they have used Linpack to benchmark the performance of Froyo.

Flash is also another big feature. Yes, there's been so much talk about this, and how well flash will run, but this has gotta to be a huge feature. I'm really looking forward to checking this out, hopefully it will be possible to compile and run flash apps within the new version of the Android emulator. Also if Flash 10.1 is going to be running on the likes of Symbain, Web OS and Blackberries this will give developers so much more scope to reach across platforms. Once I've checked a few things out here I hoping to give some tutorials on writing flash applications for Android, so keep reading this blog!

Yes, Android Froyo 2.2 really does sound like it's going to be a great release. I can't wait to see how it really flies. Now I just need to get my hands on a Android phone running 2.2. Anyone know how I can get hold of a nexus one in the UK? ;)
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Coverflow in PicPush

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Here's an example of the Coverflow widget in a commercial application called PicPush.  PicPush is a multimedia syndication application for Android.  It allows you to automatically share your pics and videos to Shutterfly, PhotoBucket, SmugMug, Facebook, Gallery, Picasa and Flickr.


It's developed by the guys at 350 Nice. There's some more on how easy they found the integration here. I think they've done a fantastic job, the Coverflow widget looks great!
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