Creating a “Hello, World !” Kindle Fire app using App Inventor – it’s easy, it’s free !

I was browsing the Amazon app store today morning, looking for an app for my Kindle Fire, but unfortunately I just couldn’t find one that looked as sleek as the iPad counterparts. I even upped my budget from FREE to 0.99$, but in vain. So being a developer, I did what came naturally to me – reinventing the wheel by creating an app of my own.

Step 1 of 2 – Creating the application on your computer

So, first things first, a “Hello, World!” application. I stumbled upon the the App Inventor by Google that allows you to create apps for the android phone and as luck would have it the apps work on Kindle Fire too. A perfect start for someone like me who knows nothing about mobile development.

Installing the necessary components so that the App Inventor can work in your browser is really easy and hassle free. Just visit App Inventor Website and follow the instructions to a T !

I’m not going to repeat the instructions, as it has been explained very well on the App Inventor website. You need to follow the section that explains how to create an app using an emulator (and not the phone). I’ve added a few snapshots and some notes on slight glitches I faced.

A snapshot of the App Inventor with the “Hello World” interface – a button and a label :

Note 1. I installed the app inventor on OS X Lion and Windows 7 Home Premium without any hassle at all using Chrome.

Note 2. After I closed and restarted the browser, the app inventor did not load correctly. I fixed this by explicitly executing the adbdevices.bat file which can be found at “C:\Program Files (x86)\AppInventor\commands-for-Appinventor\adbdevices.bat” on a 64 bit windows machine.

The Block Editor allows you to define the behavior for your user interface. The graphical model for describing the logic seemed a little too cute to be very practical but it does get the job done and worked without any problems. I am going to have to dig deeper and figure out if the App Inventor allows you to define logic the ‘text editor’ way, or if I am going to have to switch development environments for building applications that do more than purr.

A snapshot of the Block Editor – toggles the label on button click :

Note 3. On the mac, the “connect to device..” button on the Block Editor was grayed out for me. I am sure this can be fixed but I just switched to Windows 7 to avoid being derailed.

So at the end of this process you should have a .apk file somewhere on your computer.

Step 2 of 2 – Installing the application on your Kindle Fire

This was easy, now comes the frustrating part of transferring the .apk file to the Kindle without a USB cable. Eventually I did find a roundabout way of getting this done.

Firstly, you need to install the ES Explorer application on your Kindle Fire. Next, you need to enable application installation from “unknown sources”. Unknown to Amazon that is, not you. If the application is unknown to you, you might be better off without it. This option can be found under settings -> More -> Device -> Allows Installation on Applications -> ON.

Install the ES Explorer app on Kindle Fire

Turn on app installation from unknown sources for Kindle

You now need to send the .APK file to your kindle. Emailing the file to your-amazon-id@kindle.com does not work. If you have a USB cable thats great, but since I didn’t have one I mailed myself a copy of the file and downloaded it via the Email app on Kindle.

You can install the application by launching the ES Explorer application and locating your .apk file. If you downloaded it via email, you will find it under the “Downloads” directory. Install the application and your app will be added to “Apps” available on your Kindle.

Our HelloWorld app under “Apps”

You are now ready to greet the world !

Google Chromebook – better or worse than a laptop ?

I was reading this article today at the NY Times, which offered an amusing introduction to Google Chromebook – the new laptop by Google. The article itself and a lot of comments that followed didn’t seem too impressed. Maybe you like it, maybe you don’t, but you will definitely agree that it is different. How so?

1. It does not run Windows BUT is still targeted towards people who think Ubuntu is …ummm, what exactly is it again?

2. The only thing you can do with it is surf the web BUT it still costs as much as a fully functional laptop.

Sam Grobart ends his NY Times post with this cheeky little note, which might very well reflect your state of mind.

The Common Man : So I would want a Chromebook because …?

Sam Grobart : Good question.

Though the comment above was meant as sarcasm, I believe it is a good question. When I bought my first laptop, I wanted every possible port a device could offer. What if I wanted to connect it to [any magical peripheral device here] ? By the end of its life I had used two, the Ethernet port (for internet) and the USB port (for everything else). The same holds true for the SLR I purchased with great enthusiasm. On most occasions I used two buttons, one that turned the power on and the other that took the picture.

So if you believe Chromebook is useless because regular laptops can do everything it does and much more, think again. When Google first launched its search engine I am sure they looked stupid with one button and one text-box, but look where they are today. And though most people think they want more features, what they really want is more simplicity. Apple and Google are organizations that get this and it is reflected in their products beautifully. Microsoft unfortunately is not one of them and anyone who has worked with Visual Studio can vouch for that ;-)

I use the computer to do three things precisely – write code, blog and surf the web (mail, news, networking). Only the first one, writing code, is something I cannot do on the Chromebook and to be honest something I prefer not doing on my laptop either. The rest of my time I spend reading and writing on the web and I think Chromebook is suited perfectly for those tasks.

So although I am not going to throw away my desktop, I can surely see myself buying a Chromebook instead of a laptop the next time. Not having to learn another Control Panel layout1 and not having to view update messages from every software installed on my machine is reason enough !

1 – Why does Microsoft do that? Am I stupid or does Administrative Services like playing hide and seek?

Chrome Extensions and Privacy – I’m Scared !

Recently Google introduced Chrome Extensions which are little applications that let you do more with your Chrome browser. Like take this Google Dictionary extension which can tell you the meaning of any word on a website. All you have to do is double-click the word.

Super cool, isn’t it? You just need to Install the Google Dictionary extension and double-click words and meanings will pop up! After you excitedly click “Install”, you get this lovely confirmation box, where things start getting interesting.

All it wants is for you to confirm that this extension will have access to your data on all websites and your browsing history. A little scared? Worried about privacy? Don’t be, Google already knows everything there is to know about you.

Google with its “open” culture allows everyone to create extensions. Developers around the world have already created tons of extensions and people around the world have dutifully downloaded them. See this one from Yoono. It claims to be the most popular extension on Firefox. I should be able to trust it right? But for some reason when the warning pops-up, demanding I allow Yoono to access ALL my web information, I freeze. I just can’t do it.

I decided I will have to be satisfied with extensions developed by Google. We all trust Google. Google’s the good guy. So I decide to Install Speed Tracer.

An even better confirmation message pops up this time. Google now requests access to all data on your computer. Thats right, all my local computer data. The message gives me the creeps! So Google will know everything I do online AND offline. Why don’t they just send me to prison and get over with it!

May be I am orthodox, but the privacy around chrome extensions frightens me, it really does. Until Google can come up with a better privacy policy, I’m definitely going to keep my hands off chrome extensions.

[There is a positive side to this; the extension code is public, so you could in theory review the code. Now, who doesn’t love code reviews?]

Google Buzz – buzzing past the Wave

Snapshot - Buzz Map on iPhone

Snapshot - Buzz Map on iPhone

The phrase “buzz me” might take on a literal meaning starting today, after Google made available Google Buzz, yet another social networking application!

Buzz is a lot like twitter, except that it integrates itself with Gmail, which makes it a huge favorite with me. Visiting twitter.com only to tweet was not something I remembered to do. Buzz however, is right there, in Gmail, a site I am perennially logged into while online.

While Buzz on Gmail is useful, Buzz on mobile is what makes it fun! It automatically assigns locations to your buzzes. Most entertaining is the “Nearby” feature and the Buzz map, with little buzzes floating around my locality. It’s amusing to see what people around you are buzzing!

I have so far failed to understand the purpose of the Buzz application that installs itself on my iPhone. All it seems to do it load Buzz in Safari. Anyone? Also, there seems to be a bug in the Buzz Map as I am unable to move back and forth Buzzes with the arrows provided besides the active Buzz.

Buzz is a breadth of fresh air after the much hyped Google Wave. I am yet to understand why Google Wave invites were distributed as precious gold. I remember begging for one, and eventually getting one, only to find out none of my friends had one and ultimately leaving me with no one to Wave to!

Buzz is buzzing away at the moment.. lets see how long the buzz lasts :)