Mobile Apps Are Scary

In 2006 I wrote about how the fear of installing desktop software accelerated the move to the web. Security warnings, firewall alerts and antivirus popups made installing software feel like an incredibly risky thing to do.

We’re seeing a similar situation with mobile apps now. The seemingly simple act of installing an app requires you to first approve a scary list of permissions, and while some may approve them the same way they dismiss a EULA, others find them daunting. Add to that the spammy notifications and addiction-feeding of popular games plus the privacy violations of popular social apps, and it feels like I’m watching a rerun from eight years ago.

If this trend continues, the whole debate about mobile apps vs. web apps will be pointless: users will feel safer with web apps so that’s what they’ll choose, and developers will follow.

Using Android’s ViewPager PageTransformer

A recent addition I made to the Reader in WordPress for Android is the ability to swipe through articles, which is a pretty standard thing on Android thanks to the ViewPager.

But after using it a while, I decided I wasn’t happy with the default swipe animation, so I created a custom PageTransformer to provide a different one.

I then added the ability to swipe through photos in an article, and again I wasn’t happy with the default animation. Rather than create another PageTransformer, I changed the one I’d already coded so it could provide a number of different animations.

Here’s a video demo:

The source code for this custom PageTransformer, which is part of the open source WordPress for Android app, is below.

package org.wordpress.android.ui.reader;

import android.support.v4.view.ViewPager;
import android.view.View;

/*
 * ViewPager transformation animation invoked when a visible/attached page is scrolled - before
 * changing this, first see https://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=58918#c5
 * tl;dr make sure to remove X translation when a page is no longer fully visible
 *
 * Usage: viewPager.setPageTransformer(false, new ReaderViewPagerTransformer(TransformType.FLOW));
 */
class ReaderViewPagerTransformer implements ViewPager.PageTransformer {
    static enum TransformType {
        FLOW,
        DEPTH,
        ZOOM,
        SLIDE_OVER
    }
    private final TransformType mTransformType;

    ReaderViewPagerTransformer(TransformType transformType) {
        mTransformType = transformType;
    }

    private static final float MIN_SCALE_DEPTH = 0.75f;
    private static final float MIN_SCALE_ZOOM = 0.85f;
    private static final float MIN_ALPHA_ZOOM = 0.5f;
    private static final float SCALE_FACTOR_SLIDE = 0.85f;
    private static final float MIN_ALPHA_SLIDE = 0.35f;

    public void transformPage(View page, float position) {
        final float alpha;
        final float scale;
        final float translationX;

        switch (mTransformType) {
            case FLOW:
                page.setRotationY(position * -30f);
                return;

            case SLIDE_OVER:
                if (position < 0 && position > -1) {
                    // this is the page to the left
                    scale = Math.abs(Math.abs(position) - 1) * (1.0f - SCALE_FACTOR_SLIDE) + SCALE_FACTOR_SLIDE;
                    alpha = Math.max(MIN_ALPHA_SLIDE, 1 - Math.abs(position));
                    int pageWidth = page.getWidth();
                    float translateValue = position * -pageWidth;
                    if (translateValue > -pageWidth) {
                        translationX = translateValue;
                    } else {
                        translationX = 0;
                    }
                } else {
                    alpha = 1;
                    scale = 1;
                    translationX = 0;
                }
                break;

            case DEPTH:
                if (position > 0 && position < 1) {
                    // moving to the right
                    alpha = (1 - position);
                    scale = MIN_SCALE_DEPTH + (1 - MIN_SCALE_DEPTH) * (1 - Math.abs(position));
                    translationX = (page.getWidth() * -position);
                } else {
                    // use default for all other cases
                    alpha = 1;
                    scale = 1;
                    translationX = 0;
                }
                break;

            case ZOOM:
                if (position >= -1 && position <= 1) {
                    scale = Math.max(MIN_SCALE_ZOOM, 1 - Math.abs(position));
                    alpha = MIN_ALPHA_ZOOM +
                            (scale - MIN_SCALE_ZOOM) / (1 - MIN_SCALE_ZOOM) * (1 - MIN_ALPHA_ZOOM);
                    float vMargin = page.getHeight() * (1 - scale) / 2;
                    float hMargin = page.getWidth() * (1 - scale) / 2;
                    if (position < 0) {
                        translationX = (hMargin - vMargin / 2);
                    } else {
                        translationX = (-hMargin + vMargin / 2);
                    }
                } else {
                    alpha = 1;
                    scale = 1;
                    translationX = 0;
                }
                break;

            default:
                return;
        }

        page.setAlpha(alpha);
        page.setTranslationX(translationX);
        page.setScaleX(scale);
        page.setScaleY(scale);
    }
}

Why I Left Indie Development

indiana-jones

In what feels like a different life now, I used to be a fairly well-known indie developer. I spoke at events like SXSW, and my blog had a large audience of people who liked hearing about my work on HomeSite, TopStyle and FeedDemon.

I parted ways with that life several years ago, in part because it’s extremely difficult to be a one-man show and still have time to be a husband and father. I was also burned out from years of doing my own support. I had lovely customers, of course, but I spent so much time supporting them that I wasn’t able to spend as much time feeding my code addiction. Almost everything I do professionally is so I can enjoy the bliss of getting lost in writing software.

But I also gave up pursuing the indie life because I wanted to make the switch to mobile development, and I didn’t see much future for indie mobile developers. The economics of the various app stores coupled with the plethora of free software didn’t paint a rosy picture for one-person companies building consumer apps. In fact, I didn’t make the leap to mobile until I was offered a full-time job as an Android dev.

So it’s been interesting reading the latest round of blog posts about the state of indie mobile development. While there are success stories, there certainly aren’t many of them. Making a decent living as an indie developer writing mobile apps is ridiculously hard – and I don’t see it getting better anytime soon.

A lot of mobile developers have left the indie ship and done as I have and joined a larger company, many of which look at mobile apps as a free (or nearly free) complement to their other offerings.1 There’s plenty of opportunity here for mobile developers, and I think that opportunity will continue to grow for a while.


  1. As an aside, I’m not convinced the “mobile as a complement” strategy is the right one long term. Mobile is becoming the primary way people access their information, to the point that web and desktop software are turning into the complement.