TechWire

Category - Apps

Making your own games for Windows Phone

Windows Phone is one of the major smartphone operating systems available today. This article is focused on guiding anyone who is interested in game development to develop games for Windows Phone 8/8.1 devices.

Choosing a game engine

There are several game engines which support Windows Phone 8/8.1. These are some of the well know ones.

  • GameMaker – https://www.yoyogames.com/studio
  • Cocos2d-x – http://www.cocos2d-x.org/
  • Construct 2 – https://www.scirra.com/construct2
  • Corona SDK – http://coronalabs.com/products/corona-sdk/
  • Unity – http://unity3d.com/

In this case we are going to use Unity. Unity is game multiplatform game engine which allows us to create both 2D and 3D games. It has a free version which can be downloaded from here. The Pro version of Unity comes with more advanced features, but the free version is good enough if you’re working on a simple 2D game.

Setting up the development environment

  • Download and install Unity.
  • Download and install Visual Studio 2013 Express.

This includes the Windows Phone SDK which allows you to build your project.

Creating the project

1. Open Unity and create a new project.

File > New Project…

Browse for a folder to save the project and set the project defaults to 2D.

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2. Create these folders to store different types of assets.

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3. When you create a new project in Unity, by default the target platform is set to PC. We have to change the target platform to Windows Phone.

Go to File > Build Settings and choose Windows Phone from the list. Then click “Switch Platform”. Now the project has been converted to a Windows Phone project.

4. We are going to use some free graphics assets in our game. You can download them from here.

Visit kenney.nl for more awesome graphics.

Extract the folder and drag and drop the graphics into the Player folder you created in your project

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Now we are going to create a simple animation. Select all the character sprites and drag and drop them into the scene. You will be prompted to save the animation. Save it with the name “Walk”.

Now select the character and change its position.

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Select the Main Camera and set its size to 1.5. They hit play and you will see the animated character on the screen.

5. Save the scene and go to “Build Settings”. Press “Add Current” button to add the scene to the build. Connect your device to the PC and unlock the screen. Then hit “Build and Run”. Select a folder to save the Visual Studio project. Then the game will be deployed to your Windows Phone device.

I hope now you have a basic understanding about deploying your Unity projects on Windows Phone. Stay tuned for more tutorials.

Have you tried Google Navigation here in Sri Lanka?

Recently Google expanded its navigation support to a new set of countries including Sri Lanka as a beta release. Google Navigation is available through the Google Maps for android mobile application itself and shows you where you are and gets you to where you want to go. So try out the free, voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation, whether driving, walking or taking public transit. Also it gives you the estimated time to your destination based on live traffic info.

Try it the next time you drive

maps

 

However you need to keep the below message in mind…

mapss

Swing Copters, the return of Flappy Bird?

Flappy Bird was removed from the App Store this February. No one thought it would flap to the top position of app stores. However it became the most downloaded app in Apple’s App Store and Android Play store for some time.

Flappy Bird was developed by a Vietnamese developer called Dong Nguyen and it was available in Apple app store since May 2013. But it was unnoticed for months. Then some players started to tweet about its absurd difficult and the game went viral.

The game got global attention in February 2014. Flappy bird became an overnight sensation and reached the top position of App Store and Google Play. Once Nguyen claimed that the game was generating $50, 000 a day from ads.In the end the developer pulled the game out of the app stores saying that it had become too addictive.

Then he promised to re-launch the game with some changes according to the tweets below.

New-Flappy-Bird

Finally last week, Don released the next game called Swing Copters. However The dynamics are similar to flappy bird but instead of moving in the horizontal direction, you have to move in the vertical direction. And also it is much harder which is confirmed by the low rating and feedback.

Swing-Copter-Screenshots

Check out the new app and let us know what you think on the app.

Swing Copters Google Play, Swing Copters Apple store

Messaging and Social App Usage Triple in 2013

 

In the era of smartphones and tabs, app usage is rising rapidly. According to data by Flurry analytics, the overall app usage has increased by 115% . That means the usage has more than doubled. The category of apps with the most growth is the messaging and social apps. You would kind of expect it, considering the fact that 2013 was the year that facebook offered snapchat a whopping 3 billion dollars for acquisition. But then again tripling the usage in a single year is quite high. Maybe one can relate it to the fact that people are more and more moving away from traditional SMS, to chat apps. Even in SL the rise of apps such as whatsapp is steady.

The utility/productivity apps is the category with the second highest growth, showing that people are starting to rely on their smartphones to be organized. Take a look at the other growth rates of app categories in the below infographic by statista.

Highest growing apps in 2013

Hasun – A Sinhala SMS Messaging App by Bhasha

From the creator of the popular SETT browser (Bhasha) comes a new app Hasun, which enable users to communicate through SMS in Sinhala. This android app lets users type the SMS message in Sinhala through the Helakuru phonetic keyboard. The receiver should also have the app to view the message in Sinhala as the message is delivered in Unicode. (Unless on phones such as Samsung Galaxy S4 where Sinhala unicode is embedded.)

Hasun Screenshots

Once installed and ready to compose, you are prompted to download Helakuru if it is not already installed. The interface is nice and simple taking a very minimalistic approach. There is a button in the top right corner to create a new message, and then the content can be written through the phonetic keyboard. Once sent a new thread of the conversation would appear and further messages to/from the receiver would be seen in the thread. There are no inbox/sent/draft folders, only the threaded view to make it simple for the user and consistent with the android messaging experience.

From the Settings you can customize the way you receive SMS globally which is one of its key features. You can configure Hasun to

-receive only messages sent in Sinhala unicode

-receive all messages sent to you (making it your main SMS app)

-for both Hasun and the default messaging app to receive all SMS.

We recommend you keep the settings to one of the first two, as getting the same message in two apps is bit cumbersome if your receiving in large volumes.

For Sinhala SMS messaging there is another app Sinhala SMS from MicroImage which was launched two years back. This app has the issue of dual delivery which degrades the user experience. Bhasha has negated that issue by providing the above options for delivery.

Design wise and functionality wise, Bhasha has delivered with Hasun. Our only concern is that in most cases the receiver requires the android app to view the SMS in Sinhala. However for friends and family this requirement can be easily communicated.

So go ahead and try Hasun here.

Book Seeker will save you hours at the Colombo International Book Fair

The time in the year every book lover is waiting for has come. The Colombo International Book Fair is just hours away. It’s time to grab the hardly-earned money and run to BMICH before another book worm grabs the most sought-after books.

But, let’s face it, it’s not as easy as it sounds. During the nine days of the fair, BMICH is packed with book lovers from all over the country. There are long queues at the stalls. Finding the exact book you are looking for would not be the best experience you’ve had. That’s exactly what Book Seeker aims to solve.

Book Seeker is a mobile application developed by a group of undergraduates of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Moratuwa with the collaboration of Dialog and Sri Lanka Book Publishers’ Association. It aims to make use of the technology to let you find where you should be looking for to buy your book.

Being SMS-based, you don’t need a high-end mobile device to use Book Seeker. Any phone that could send a simple text message and a Dialog connection would do. After registering for the service (more details below), you type in ‘isk’ followed by the name of the book you are looking for and hit Send. Within a few seconds Book Seeker would reply you with an SMS with a list of book publishers who would be selling the book at the fair. It would also include the stall numbers they will be in.

Book seeker sample results

You have to type the name in English, even if it’s a Sinhala book. For example to look for Gam Peraliya, your SMS would be ‘isk gam peraliya’. Even if you made a small typo in the name, the app is intelligent enough to find the correct book for you. In case the terms has no immediate matches, it will show up with a list of possible suggestions as well.

How to use Book Seeker:
1. Send reg<space>isk to 77115 from your Dialog mobile. This is a one-time registration and you will receive a confirmation SMS.
2. Type isk<space><book name> and send to 77115. Book Seeker will get back to you with the stalls you can find the book in.
3. Repeat the 2nd step for all the books you need to search.

Book Seeker banner

It is a simple concept, but one that solves an actual problem. The team has put forward a commendable effort to make the lives of every book lover easier. So if you’re planning to visit the book fair in the coming days, make sure you do check the books with Book Seeker beforehand. It would save you hours of precious time you could have spent reading those gems.

Ingress – Augmented reality meets your android

“You have downloaded what you believe to be a game, but is not. Something is very wrong.” The words that greet you in a synthesized female voice which belongs to Ada, an AI that helps you along the way, when you first start playing Ingress.

Ingress is definitely one of a kind. With all the power and money of Google behind it, it offers a huge scope of gameplay. At an interview with CNN, John Hanke, VP of Product Development for Niantic Labs ( a sub division of Google) states the idea is to get people moving, exploring, and away from the normal stationary act of playing on their phones.

Ingress

Let’s get right down to it. What is Ingress? It’s kinda hard to put a one word answer on that. To call it a game seems sort of trite. It is an all encompassing experience where people change their lives and lifestyles in order to play. In essence, it’s a massively multiplayer online augmented reality game, where the gameplay area is the whole world. Estimates put the number of people playing at over 500,000.

First off, Ingress is still in closed beta. The backstory is still developing. But basically, the game revolves around something called Exotic Matter. This is an unknown substance of presumably extraterrestrial origin. XM for short, its control is the core point of the game. XM enters our world through Portals. XM and portals cannot normally be seen with the naked eye. However, thanks to technological breakthroughs, you can view them on your mobile device using a piece of software known as the scanner (That is, if your mobile device is Android based). Now XM is believed to have properties that influence that enhance human creativity when exposed to it, so most portals are centered round public works of art. Statues, murals and places of worship seems to be the most common places. Thus, at least, thus runs the backstory.

On starting out (after the initial training where you get a briefing to help you determine a side), you are invited to join one of the two sides struggling for control over the XM. The Enlightened believe XM is the next stage of evolution, enhancing humanity, giving new knowledge, and they want humanity to embrace what XM can give us. They are kinda like the X-Men. The Resistance, on the other hand, want the humanity to remain as is, not change. They are kinda like the William Strykers of Ingress.

Ingress screenshots

Some Ingress screenshots

Gameplay is sifted into multiple levels. At the top is the Niantic Investigation Board. Very few people actually visit this section, this is the real-sit-in-your-basement Brainiac bit, trying to decode puzzles put out by Google. Solve the puzzles quickly enough – and you get a passcode that can be redeemed for game play items.

One level below that is the Intel map. The Intel map is a tool that shows the current state of portal alignment, fields, allows access to the in game COMM system to chat with other agents, and lets you see activity (such as players attacking portals, creating links, etc). As such, it’s an invaluable tool in strategic planning.

Which is all good, but that’s not in line with Niantic’s idea of getting people exploring the world. The busiest, and definitely largest part of the game is run by the Field Agents. Agents are the people who trudge through the real world, seeking out portals, and trying to control things for their teams. To do this the player needs a scanner (mobile device with GPS and data connectivity running the Ingress software). The scanner shows players an area of around 300-500 meters around them, indicating all the XM, portals, links, fields and game objects in the area, on an overlay of Google Maps. Interaction with an object requires the player to be within 40m of an object, presumably due to the inherent inaccuracy of GPS. GPS drift is one of the bigger problems of the game. But I digress.

At the top in the Niantic Investigation Board. Very few people actually visit this section, this is the real sit in your basement brainiac bit, trying to decode puzzles put out by Google.

First, XM. Move around so your scanner is within 40 meters of XM (radius shown by a handy circle on the scanner) and it will automatically harvest the XM. XM is required to carry out just about every action in the game and is most plentiful around Portals. However, XM is limited. Once harvested, it’s gone, until it regenerates about 20 minutes later. The XM is stored in the scanner, and how much you can store depends on your Agent Level. Once you have enough XM, you can approach a portal and “hack” it for gameplay items. Hacking a portal will cause it to eject items like resonators and bursters, which are stored in your scanner. A scanner can store 2000 of these items.

Players control portals

As I stated, players must control Portals. Portals are claimed for the team by placing resonators around it. Place 8 resonators and a portal is energized, ready for linking. Also, placing resonators around portals causes the portal level to go higher, which results in it generating better equipment when hacked. Portals can be linked together using objects called Portal Keys (hacking portals will get you these), causing bands of energy to flow between them. If three links are created in a triangular fashion, it creates a Mind Unit Field. The idea is, an Enlightened field causes people under it to receive the benefits of XM, while a Resistance field protects people from the effects of XM. The number of people who live in the area covered by the field is calculated as Mind Units controlled, and adds to the global MU score for each side.

As briefly as possible, that is the objective of the game. Help your team control the greatest number of Mind Units by controlling portals and building fields, breaking enemy fields and portals and defending friendly fields and portals. The catch is, aside from the defence of portals (which can be done remotely), all these actions require the player to be within 40m of the portal. So, yes, Niantic’s idea of getting people moving is certainly working out. People are out at all times of day, in the rain, the sun, and the snow, hacking, attacking and defending these portals.

Help your team control the greatest number of mind units by controlling portals and building fields, breaking enemy fields and portals and defending friendly fields and portals.

This is not, however, a lonely activity. As a player progresses, interaction with others, cooperation with others, becomes a must. In order to build better portals, get access to keys, build fields spanning countries, certain level of community interaction is required. The natural place, of course, is the Google Plus social network. Regional and local communities form, even across factions. And like I said at the beginning, this game has all the power and money of Google behind it. First, there is a weekly show (aired on YouTube) called the Ingress Report – basically a news report of various things attached to the world of Ingress. This can range from community and agent news and achievements, to official released information on the game, backstory development, clues, passcodes, hints, and so on. This can also drop from portals when hacked in the form of a media file. Google also seems to hire a cast of characters who play the in-game story figures. These characters, in addition to popping up on the Ingress Report, also show up from time to time in the real world and interact with people playing the game. Google spares no expense. The latest event organised by Google (massive real time battles between factions, termed XM anomalies) called Operation Cassandra, just played out on a global scale, 13 cities worldwide in Australia, Germany, Japan, America, the Philippines and more, over 14 days. This involves hundreds of active agents trying to control the area during measurement times (need to decode to get the times) – based on these measurements, victory will be awarded to the team. This also means in-game characters traveling to those cites, meeting actual players and interacting.

On a local note, the resident Ingress community in Sri Lanka is small, but there are close to a hundred people playing. Colombo and suburbs alone count over 300 portals. Other dense clusters and be found in Galle and plenty between Ratnapura and Hambantota. Portals are coming up in Kandy, and even Vavuniya. Dambulla has 5, and there are even portals on top of Sigiriya. New ones come up all the time, meaning new places to visit and see.

Rich, active and immersive, Ingress is more than just a game. In some ways, to some people, it is a way of life. Even a way for married people to play together 🙂

Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”. For the Enlightened, this is Agent P3ricles. See you in the game.

(Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4)

An interview with the founders of Arangaya Apps

Note from the Editor:  Arangaya Apps is a Mobile Application Development company which was founded in 2009 by 2 Sri Lankans, Chamira Fernando and Shenal Murray. During these few years Arangaya Apps has become one of the leading iOS app developers in the Sri Lankan market and are the creators of popular apps such as SL Radio, SL Paper, SL Dictionary, iSinglish, and SL Chat.

We got a chance to have an interesting chat with the founders on their journey, their motivation and the future plans of Arangaya Apps.

What is Arangaya Apps? What is the objective behind it?

Well this is how it started. Since I was away from home (Sri Lanka) I wanted to keep in touch with Sri Lanka all the time. I wanted to read local newspapers, to listen to local radio. So when I got my iPhone, I thought of doing a SL newspaper app in order to read the local paper. Then I wanted others to read newspaper on their own devices. So in 2010 I thought of doing the SL paper app for all Sri Lankans. That’s how we started, to enable Sri Lankans to know what’s happening at home. That’s the whole intention, because I know personally that being away from home is not easy and being in touch helps a lot.

SL Paper

After that we released SLRadio which became a big hit in the iOS market. Once that happens, you know once you do thing right other ideas would also start to work out. Then we thought of doing SL Dictionary followed by iSinglish which is a phonetic Sinhala editor. Recently we launched SL chat, for users to chat in Sinhala.

Who are the people behind Arangaya Apps?

At the moment there is, Myself (Chamira), and Shenal. I (Chamira) work on the iOS development. Shenal is our creative designer.

Arangaya Founders

How did you guys get together to form Arangaya Apps? What motivated you to take it forward?

Actually at that time I studied is Singapore and Shenal was also in Singapore. We met in one of the social events for Sri Lankans. Shenal is good designer and a really humble guy, so I asked him whether he wants to join with me on this task, and he agreed.

One day, we met up at McDonalds and decided that we are going to work on this common objective. We all are having full time jobs, so this started as a kind of a hobby, something to do when you have free time. However with time it gradually turned out to be much more.

It was quite pleasing when we received good feedback from users for our initial apps like SL Radio. That plus the fact that our apps were at to the top in the Apple app store really motivated us.

Where did the name Arangaya originate from?

Arangaya is actually an endemic bird to Sri Lanka. We wanted to have a name that would be unique and related to Sri Lanka. Arangaya also sounds good for a company name.

What is your flagship product?

Definitely it’s the SLRadio app. You can check the number of downloads, we have over 150,000+ downloads. We are pretty happy and proud of that product. None of the other SL apps have this many downloads.

SL Radio

How do you run your organization?

Communication is a bit of hassle, but Shenal sleeps in odd hours so communicating with him is not a problem. However with so many communication mediums available nowadays, we somehow manage. I (Chamira) take the role of the Project Manager and take the responsibility on driving the project.

At Arangaya apps, we give a lot of emphasis on the design quality of the app.

Design prospective is one of our main concerns. We have seen some Sri Lankan apps in the appstore lacking a good designs. We make sure our apps are high quality in terms of the design and ultimate user experience.

How do you manage to put time in to Arangaya while working full time?

Actually I work for another app development company in Norway. After work there is some free time. However when I was in Singapore it was really tough, but when you have the motivation you can do thing even when it gets difficult. Due to this we don’t go out much. That is a sacrifice we have to make at these initial stages.

How many iOS/Android apps do you have?

In iOS we have 15 apps. And some of the apps are not in the store right now since they are seasonal. Like the one we did for the T20 cup, for ball by ball commentary. We currently do not have any Android apps, but they are in the pipeline.

Arangaya Products

What is your revenue model? Is Arangaya Apps still a hobby?

It is a business now. Revenue is mainly from downloads and mobile advertisements. SL Radio has ads on it, and we get revenue from that. There are advertisement free premium versions of some of our applications which brings revenue per download. SL Radio and SL Dictionary are the main apps that bring us money.

Do you develop apps for 3rd Party clients? Will that be your future target?

We have done apps for 3rd parties in Norway and Singapore. We want to do products for Sri Lanka and we want to have a development company in Sri Lanka soon. By the time we move back to Sri Lanka we would have our own company.

Although we will put some time for 3rd Party Apps, we want to make the full package of apps for Sri Lankans. So we will continue to create great apps for Sri Lankans.

Are you looking at making apps for the world market?

Yes we have a plan to go Global. Currently we have apps for the Norwegian market. We want to expand our products to markets in US, UK, Japan and Australia where there is a huge potential.

grammar_police

Is your team hiring?

Yes, if there are any young developers or designers, who want to excel in this area, and if you have the right attitude and willing to work hard, contact us on support@arangaya.com . You have a chance to do cool stuff and be part of something Special.

What is your message to budding entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka?

We will summarise our message to young entrepreneurs in three words!

Passion –  In order to succeed in your career you must have deep passion! Passion is your energy, It drives you where you want to be. Find your passion!

Confidence – The whole would against you and your ideas, they think you are crazy and unrealistic but trust yourself have confidence on what you do!

Commitment – Having passion and confidence wouldn’t take you where you want to be! It is ultimate commitment which would take you where you want to be.  Give your full commitment! Its not easy! There would be so many occasions you feel like giving up. Never ever give up! Your hard work will be paid off.

“Arangaya Apps”  is a result of Passion, Confidence and Commitment!

THE MOST USED SMARTPHONE APPS IN THE WORLD

A survey done by GlobalWebIndex, shows us the top most used apps for Q2 2013. As per survey data, Google Maps tops the list as the most used app in the world with 54% usage. Goes to show that finding directions and places are the users top requirement.

The rest of the top 10 apps are a mix of social media and chat applications. Facebook, the number 1 social media comes in second with 44% usage and Youtube comes 3rd with 35% usage.

i guess most of the below app usages would apply to Sri Lankan users. However we believe WeChat and Google+ would not be in the top 10 of the local list.

So do you agree with the list? What are your most used apps?

Most used apps

Image Credits : Statista, mashable.com, theguardian.com

Introducing the WSO2 App Factory

By definition WSO2 App Factory is a multi-tenant, elastic and self-service Enterprise DevOps platform that enables multiple project teams to collaboratively create, run and manage enterprise applications.

Oh! kind of confusing? Yes, as most other definitions, only a few will grab what App Factory means from the first look at its definition. If it’s explained it in simpler words, WSO2 App Factory is a Platform as a service (PAAS) which manage enterprise application development from the cradle of the application to the grave.

(Still confusing…? Figure below illustrates the move from the traditional on-premise software to cloud based services. You can see the Platform as a service in the third column.)

PAAS illustration

Unless it is a university assignment or test, every real world application development has to undergo several phases until it is ready to go live. Applications has to be designed, developed and sent to QA for testing. Then, QA has to test them rigorously before approving for production. Then the bug fixing and stabilization phase. When the software is ready, it gets deployed. Finally when the application completed its job, it is needed to be retired.

Organizations have to use a number of tools in each of the above phases. For instance, developers may be using SVN for creating code repositories, maven or ant for building the projects, JIRA for ticket tracking and various other tools for finding bugs in the application. Above tools are independent of each other which results in organizations having to put a considerable effort in deploying those tools. If you are a developer, QA manager, system administrator or a DevOps or any other stakeholder who is involved in application development, there is no doubt that you have endured the pain of above and you might be wondering “Is there one single tool which does the work of all of the above tools?”. WSO2 App Factory does exactly that. By using App Factory you gain all the support for your application development, all under one roof.

Individual building blocks of the App Factory is illustrated in the below diagram.

wso2_appfactory-topology

Diagram 1 depicts the components of the App factory. Management portal, what is the main interaction point to the system is at the center. Source code management, issue trackers and other features are accessible via the portal. When a developer created an app via the management portal, he is provided with a space in the repo , space in the build environment and a project  in the issue tracker and so on. You clone from the repository you are provided into your development machine. Then develop the application with your favorite programming IDE and commit. WSO2 is planning to rollout a browser based IDE in the future to make the complete lifecycle run on the cloud. The application you are developing is continuously built in the cloud using your built tool. If automatic build is enabled, the build process will be triggered automatically when you commit. If auto deploy is enabled, the app will be deployed in the development cloud automatically after the build. Then after the development is completed, the apps will be promoted to the test cloud.  This promotion will retire the apps from the development cloud and deploy them in the test cloud. QA department will test them, promote to the production or staging cloud if tests pass or demote again to the development cloud if fail. The ultimate step is to send the apps to the app store enabling users to discover the apps. The most interesting thing is, all the above tasks can be executed using a single tool via a single management portal.

wso2_appfactory-lifecycle

Features of App factory

    1. Self-Provisioning of the workspace and resources such as code repository, issue tracking, build configuration and bug finding tools… etc.
    2. Support a variety of application

○     Web applications
○     PHP
○     Jaxrs
○     Jaxws
○     Jaggery
○     WSO2 ESB
○     WSO2 BPEL
○     WSO2 Data services

  1. Gather developers, QAs and DevOps of the organization to the application workspace
  2. Automate continuous builds, continuous tests and development activities
  3. One click solutions for branching and versioning
  4. Deploy application into WSO2 rich middleware stack
  5. No need to change your way of doing things

○     App factory can be configured to integrate with your existing software development life cycle.
○     Integrate with your existing users via LDAP or Microsoft Active directory

WSO2 AppFactory applications integrated

Yes, WSO2 App Factory is customizable. For instance organizations are not required to use the tools that App factory supports, they can plug in a tool of their preference. It is a matter of integrating another tool. Different organizations have different workflows, still App Factory can be configured to suit their own workflows.

In summary WSO2 App Factory is a cloud enabled DevOps PAAS for enterprise which manages the entire life cycle of an application. It leverages the application development giving enterprises a competitive advantage in the cloud.

Enough of talking, so help yourself by visiting App Factory preview in live. It is free and open source.

This article is just a bird’s eye view of the WSO2 App Factory. Visit its home page to broaden your knowledge. Good short video about the product is shown below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljtR37__jFY

Minuum – a solution to touchscreen typing?

When it comes to keyboards, Android boasts of a large eco-system of third party apps. Unlike in the world of iOS, you can choose from the dozens of available keyboard apps and even customize them to your wish. The most popular among these include SwiftKey, Thumb keyboard and Swype.

Even though these keyboards are filled with heaps of fancy features, all of them suffer from one major problem: they take way too much space on your mobile’s precious screen.

(Image source: http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/gadgetlab/2013/02/130219_SwiftKey_0070.jpeg )

Minuum is trying out a different perspective to solve this problem. They are introducing a keyboard that squeezes all the keys to a single dimension to reduce clutter.

The keys in the row aren’t randomly scattered. In fact, they represent their horizontal positions in a standard qwerty keyboard. This means you won’t have to frantically search for letters while typing.

Minuum also aims to go beyond the touchscreen and implement the same technology to enable typing in other mediums, such as analog game controllers, camera-based systems like Google Glass and other wearable devices.

But the biggest problem remains. Would you still be able to type fast while maintaining good accuracy? Less screen size usually means less accurate key presses. The Minuum site however assures that the smart auto-correction and word prediction algorithms embedded in the app would let you type even faster without worrying about being precise.

How would Minuum fair with the rest of the popular keyboard apps that already have huge userbases? It’s too soon to tell. Meanwhile, you can join their beta list to receive a free beta version of the app. That way you’ll be among the first users of an awesome keyboard if it really hits (and we sincerely hope it would). Even if it doesn’t, you have nothing to lose.

A Sinhala touch keyboard for mobile devices

Reproduced with permission from http://zen.lk/2013/05/21/a-sinhala-touch-keyboard-for-mobile-devices/

Google Transliteration for Sinhala has probably done more to encourage active participation of Sinhala speakers on the Internet than any other technology or initiative. Using a simple English character based transliteration scheme that most Sinhala speakers are familiar with, it enables the average user to input Sinhala text into a computer at moderate speed without any knowledge of local layouts such asWijesekara.

However, things are not quite so simple when it comes to touch-based mobile devices. While placing a standard QWERTY keyboard on a mobile touchscreen is in itself an awkward attempt to use a layout meant for one type of device in another, using the same thing for transliterating a different language is doubly awkward. No solution exists in any of the dominant mobile platforms — Android, iOS or Windows Phone.

An innovative and widely used touchscreen keyboard scheme known as Swype may point the way. As many users would tell you, Swype allows you to drag your finger across the letters that form your word in one smooth motion. A prediction algorithm generates the word when you lift your finger off the screen. While this is a good scheme for any language, the nature of the Sinhala alphabet affords special advantages when using it.

sinhala_keyboard_2

While the Sinhala language has a large number of characters (without even counting combined ones), the most basic characters are:

ක ග ත ද න ප ය ර ල ව ස ශ හ ට ජ ච බ ම අ ඉ ඊ උ එ ඔ

When we consider ‘mahaprana’, ‘sanyaka’ and ‘murdhaja’ as alternate forms and combine these characters with the various ‘pillas’, almost all Sinhalese characters may be formed.

Features of this keyboard are as follows:

  1. The user may swipe his finger from one character to another to form words.

  2. Swiping over a ‘pilla’ key immediately after a basic character causes that character to be modified by the selected pilla.

  3. Tracing a small circle over a ‘pilla’ key causes it to become its long version.

  4. Swiping over the ‘shift’ key immediately after a basic character causes that character to become its mahaprana or murdhaja version (the software determines which, based on the base character).

  5. Swiping over the ‘binduwa’ key causes the preceding character to become its sanyaka version. When the key is tapped in isolation, it produces a ‘binduwa’ character.

  6. If a predictive dictionary is present, the user need not always be explicit about long pillas, mahapranas and especially murdhajas. The software will be able to pick out the correct form from the dictionary, given an approximation.

  7. Punctuation characters and numerals may be typed by a press-and-hold action (similar to the Swype keyboard).

  8. There are no dedicated characters for the vowels. Using a pilla character at the beginning of a word produces the corresponding vowel.

Rationales:

  1. Unlike English speakers and the QWERTY layout, Sinhala speakers have not become accustomed to the Wijesekara or any other Sinhala layout. This will allow them to quickly become accustomed to a new one.

  2. The layout can cut the number of strokes required to produce a word by about one third to one half, depending on the frequency of ‘pillas’. For example, the word ‘ලංකාව’ requires six swipes (or seven taps) on QWERTY. In this layout, it requires only four swipes.

  3. Reaching for keys on the higher rows naturally results in keys on the lower rows getting obscured by the user’s finger. Therefore the number of rows must be kept to a minimum and difficult-to-memorize keys should not be placed on the lower rows.

  4. The number of columns must be kept to a minimum so as to not make keys too small. Sinhala characters require more display space than English ones.

Improvements:

  1. The consonants here are placed in near-alphabetic order. However, the most optimal placement can be determined by statistical analysis of a large enough sample of frequently used Sinhala words and phrases. For example, ස, ය, ල, ම should probably be in higher rows than they are in this crude layout.

  2. The placements of the enter, backspace, comma and full stop keys may require rethinking.

  3. Infrequently used keys such as ‘rakaranshaya’ and ‘binduwa’ may be converted to shift functions to make space for ශ (which is currently considered a shifted ස) and more punctuation