Category Archives: Mobile Design

Discussions on designing for iOS, Android, Blackberry and mobile web.

Getting Around Android Root

Since the HTC Hero, I’ve been rooting my phone for the added benefits of programs that frankly, SHOULD be on your device. The main one being wireless tethering. I know. That’s how the networks make their money. By policing your data usage. But I’m on an unlimited data plan. I get it. Unlimited as long as you use the slow 3G or intermittent 4G network to do your browsing and downloading. Otherwise, buy the 4G hub that seems to find the network better than my phone. I smell shenanigans. For now, lets take tethering off the table. What are the other benefits of rooting?

I’ll set the stage. I have the new Galaxy S II (AKA The Epic 4G touch), unlimited data plan, and live in a 4G rich coverage area (or so they say.) As a mobile app designer, I have two main needs: 1) ADB into my device and 2) Take screenshots. Both of these methods, at one time, required a rooted device (for clarification, I wanted to WIRELESSLY ADB into my device because the USB port notoriously sucks.) WHY?? ADB is a legitimate tool that allows you to develop for your mobile device. Granted, it gets you under the hood, but ADB allowed me access to DDMS, the screenshot tool that DIDN’T require root access…just an ADB connection.

So I had acquired my root access, as I do. But Samsung and/or Sprint insisted on pushing me an OTA (Over The Air) update to my device (this is where they update your operating system.) Great!

Problem. With the rooted phone, the OTA was failing. I wanted that update! Logically, I went to the Security tab to reset my phone to the factory settings.

More problems.

Didn’t work. In fact, I couldn’t get it to boot back up! Did I brick it? Nope. I could see the rooted startup screen. Just no rooted OS. Crap. After a brief panic attack, I gathered my senses and USB’d into the device to drop a rooted custom ROM. THAT, at least, would get me back in the game to do some other fixings. Just my luck, the only ROM that was reported to be completed for the 4G Touch sucked. Not even feature complete. SIDE NOTE: Why even put that out there?!??

Next up on the list: Download the stock ROM and put it back. OK.

Yet ANOTHER problem.

Now my USB mount wasn’t working. CRAP! Now I’m basically locked out of my device with a crappy ROM that won’t even let me make phone calls to my provider. Yummy. Time to go to the store and make up some excuse about how my “developers” tried to “help” me out and then “jacked up” my phone. I’m sheepish like that.

As they suspected, I had rooted my phone. Score 1: Provider.

I said, “Just flash the stock ROM on there and I’ll be fine.”

“That’d be great, but uh…we can’t. We’re getting a Critical Error on your device.”

Imagine, at this point, the price tag signs of a new phone I’d soon be paying as a result of my terrible hacking. The sweat began to pour from my head. What was I going to tell the misses? “Nope, Christmas presents are a no go this year.”

“Yeah, we can’t do anything with that device, so we’re just going to replace it.”




<inner rejoicing>

“Oh. Great! I really appreciate it,” I say calmly.

<inner fainting and self-resuscitation>

So I’m back to square one…thankfully. But how do I get around that pesky root issue? You guessed it. Thankfully, there are some apps out there (and I SWEAR they weren’t available before) that can do most of what I need.

The ADB problem. OK. For now, I’m going to have to stick with USB. Done. The Epic 4G Touch USB connection is better than the Epic 4G. But I don’t always have access to USB when I’m trying to take screenshots for dev purposes.

The screen capture problem. If you do an Android market search for screen capture, you’ll find that a majority of the apps require root access. WHY?? It’s a friggin’ SCREEN CAPTURE! iPhone does it out of the box. Really, Android?? Thanks to these guys, I’m good to go:


Screen Capture Shortcut Free

NOTE :This app became totally useless after the next OTA update. Nice, Clark. REAL Nice.

In the end, it took a little digging, but the apps you need are coming around. I still may root my new device for the Wireless ADB access…and to be honest…the Wireless Tethering, but take it from a seasoned rooter who, until now has never had ANY problems, you do NOT want to jack up your device with other ROMs or attempt a factory reset on a rooted device that will simply spit back in your face and say, “Really?” Especially when you’re out of warranty!


Divorcing Your Ideas

I’ve heard the term a few times, especially in writing: Don’t be married to your ideas. But so many times, I see the artist or creator confuse that sentiment with giving up your creative morals or principles. I was even confused by the term for a couple years. But as I grew to understand the creative process for myself and others, I began to realize the many levels of accomplishing a goal. And as I always tell my clients, design is ALWAYS subjective. There is never just ONE way to do something. Granted, some may be massively more successful than others…but I guarantee, no one EVER knows if their idea is going to be “the one.” You simply throw what you’d like to see, read or hear out there. And if you’re working with others, you try to find that synergy and reach a solution that everyone can be happy with.

Your idea is the baby of your creative world. You are the mommy and daddy, with delusions of knowing you have all the right answers for your baby. But if you ever work with anyone other than yourself, you may find yourself dealing with, what seems to you, a homewrecker. That insolent being that wants to come in, sleep with your wife and break apart the family that is your project. OK, maybe he’s the guy that just wants to convince you to have dinner with your wife. Either way, your ideal family is no longer yours. What to do?

Unless you’re paying for the project and get final say over the end result, remember one thing: The client is king…or queen as it were. You say, “But what about this?? What about that??” Yes. There’s exceptions to every rule. You have to use your best judgment on when and why to push back. The ideal situation? They absolutely trust you to do what you do best. Yay for you! But more likely, your client wants to hire you for your insight and skill set and then explain to you the vision they want you to bring to life. Because in the end…it’s their project. You may want this cool new opportunity to be the platform that propels you into the awards hall of fame. I’ve been there. And I’ve seen my vision changed into some of the worst choices in design simply because the client has a different vision in mind. So you have a choice. Abandon ship or help your client get to the destination they’re trying to get to, regardless of the end result. Here’s a great example:

Even better are those projects that are run by committee. I see these often with larger corporations. No way around that. You just need to make sure you set down guidelines before you start working so that you’re not trapped in that endless cycle of changes. Like this poor guy:

Haha! “…and our partner logos.” Both of these videos encompass the best of the worst experiences that every designer has gone through at some point in their career. And if you wallow in sorrow that is your vision gone awry, you will never be happy as a designer. Instead, follow that motto: Don’t be married to your ideas.

What does it mean? It means be open enough to understand that design is subjective. What may appeal to you may NOT appeal to someone else. And vice versa. I have a great interview with comedian/actor Robert Kelly that talks about that very same thing. He loves bold contrast and the basic color palette. I love other things.

Divorcing yourself from your ideas means to bridge the gap between what you see for your client and what they want. (And what they’re willing to pay for.)

The Android vs. iPhone Debate

I’ll admit it. I’m an Apple snob. I’ve been using Apple products since 1990. That’s right. When the mouse looked like a dinky transistor radio, the screen was bluish grey and white, and when DOS was something programmers used. For creatives, Apple represented a breakthrough in how we did our digital work. I was there for the first version of Director. I made the switch from Director to Flash. Reluctantly at first, but when Flash finally came into its own, I embraced it whole heartedly and dumped Director like a middle school crush. And as Apple grew (and became more expensive) I stuck with the habit. I still have the first generation iPod! And because of Apple, I became a gadget junkie. And THAT habit led me to my first Android device. The Hero.

My geeky friends would constantly challenge me to jailbreak my iPhone and root my Android devices. They would admonish me for not diving into the Unix underbelly of OSX or use Gimp “because it’s free.” By the way, now would be a good time to let you know that I’m a loyal Macromedia and Adobe user. Don’t ever talk to me about Corel Draw or Microsoft products. I’ll have to slap you. Seriously.

So when I finally got a job designing mobile apps, I found myself in a curious position. I don’t GET to choose sides. Sure, silently, I can continue my love affair with Apple. But my clients want a product that goes everywhere…including Blackberry (I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.) Thank God there are no Palm requests in there, but it gave me unique insights into the 3 big platforms. And so when people ask me what phone they should get, I ask them what they want to use it for. I disagree with Gizmodo’s recent article that you should keep your opinion to yourself. That espousing your love for one platform or another is just your opinion. Well…YEAH! That’s why they friggin’ asked me. But I don’t blindly charge into the discussion saying that Android is the end all be all. No, no. I say to my friend, I says: WHAT do you want to use your phone for??

So here’s my general responses. Keep in mind, it could change depending on your specific needs.

Friend 1: I want to surf the net and download apps!

Me: OK. Well, first of all, that’s a lot of data. So you want to go with a service that allows that kind of data transfer. Most services do to some degree (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint.) But companies like Sprint don’t have limits and they won’t throttle you down. Also, you’re going to need a smartphone. Android has them. Apple has them. If you’re used to iTunes, get an iPhone. If you’re used to Google and Amazon, go with an Android. Oh…by the way, do you realize that you are AUTOMATICALLY signing up for the premium service? You HAVE to have a data plan to have a smartphone. Just keep that in mind.

Friend 2: Mostly texting, phone calls and checking email.

Me: Flip phone should do for you, my friend. OK, OK. If you like the sexiness of the smartphones, let me ask you this: What kind of email account do you have? That can determine the complexity of setup you’ll have to go through just to access your email. Got gmail? Android. Plays nicely with your calendar and contacts. Use Mail for Mac or some other POP3 account? iPhone rocks. Android will do it, too. And how do you sync your contacts? On Google? Android. Use a Mac? iPhone. Type them in manually to each phone you buy? Move away. Move far away. Because if I see you again, I’ll have to slap you.

Friend 3: Need to sync my calendars and use it for work.

Me: Do you work with a ton of Microsoft products and Outlook? Blackberry. But for the love of Zeus, at LEAST get a newer one. If I see you fumbling with your filthy little clogged up trackball, I’ll…you guessed it…have to slap you. Hard. Maybe even a bitch slap. I haven’t decided. Depends on if you start waxing poetic about how you can’t believe the Palm Pre didn’t do better in the market place. Working with iCal? iPhone. Working with the Google Calendar? Android.

Friend 4: I want to do everything on it.

Me: iPhone or Android. It’s really your call. NOW…Sprint has the 4G, but dang if I’ve ever gotten it to work for very long on my Epic 4G. Got my wife an EVO and it works GREAT on that! And it’s fast. But if you like the sleek Apple feel and interface. Get an iPhone. I WILL say this! I do love the added functionality you can get with Android’s menu button. Yes, you can solve some of those functional access issues with more graphic interface tweaks on the iPhone, but it’s kind of convenient. That’s all I’m saying.

There you have it. I’m torn. I LOVE my XOOM tablet and Epic 4G. My wife LOVES her EVO. I LOVE my MacBook Pro. I REALLY LIKE iPads. I LOVE that Apple has a stringent policy on what goes into their market. I LOVE that ANDROID simply lets you post apps without going through the SERIOUS amount of rigamarole you have to go through to be an Apple Developer AND put something in the market. I LOVE that Android plays Flash. I LOVE iOS’s native interface elements (drum wheel, interface designs, tab structure.) I LOVE Android’s ability to design a little more freely on the interface. I hate Blackberry. (oops…did I say that out loud?)