ScanPaste – My first app released to the Android Market

Last week I released by first Android application on the Android Market. It is called ScanPaste. The application lets you scan barcodes and then  copy the scanned data to the phone’s clipboard for pasting into web pages, emails etc.

I had been looking for a simple app to build, to test out the end to end Android Market publishing process and when I saw this blog post by about populating your Google books list using barcodes scanned with a USB scanner, I figured why not build an Android app to do it.

Now scanning barcodes with a phone’s camera is not that simple but luckily someone else has done all the hard work. The ZXing team have released an excellent barcode scanning application and library. Even better, using a cool feature of Android, integrating barcode scanning into ScanPaste was only a few lines of code!

In an Android application each screen is broken down into it’s own little task called an Activity. If an Activity is correctly “marked” it can be initiated not only by the application owning the Activity but by other applications. This is what the nice guys on the ZXing team have done and with their application installed, any other application can simply use the following code to scan and process barcodes:

// start the scan
Intent intent = new Intent("");
startActivityForResult(intent, 0);
public void onActivityResult(int requestCode, int resultCode, Intent data)
  if (resultCode == Activity.RESULT_OK && requestCode == 0)
    Bundle extras = data.getExtras();
    String result = extras.getString("SCAN_RESULT");
    // do stuff with result here

The rest of the app is pretty straightforward, a couple of buttons, a text field and some error checking. All up the application is less than 100 lines of code.

In all it took a few hours to put together and test. The bulk of the time was actually spent working on the icon :) The 1.5 Android platform has some pretty clear guidelines and I was trying to adher to them.

Building a signed app for upload to the Market was a snap, just a menu click and a step by step wizard. Actually publishing the application was as simple as uploading the signed .apk file, filling in a form and clicking on upload. Couldn’t be simpler especially when you compare it to the nightmare process of uploading an iPhone app to the iPhone App store and of course the Android Market doesn’t have a vetting process so as soon as the upload was complete the application could be downloaded by anyone.

One of the things that took me by surprise was that within half an hour the application had been downloaded 20 times. A week later it has been downloaded 1849 times and it has 1156 active installs! It also has a 4 12 star rating and all positive comments. From the comments it seems that many people are using the app to scan the barcodes of books that they are selling on Amazon.

Ok the bad stuff….

Firstly, a minor one,  in the developer console of the Market there is no way to see the comments about your application. You can see the rating and the number of ratings but that is it. Instead you need to look up the app in the Market application on your phone or view a 3rd party site like Cyrket (which apparently uses the Market’s own APIs so why the info cannot be surfaced in the developer console is beyond me).

Now for the killer…since I am in New Zealand I cannot sell any Android applications! I need to be in the US, UK or one of a couple of other countries to be able to sign up as merchant. What the heck is up with that? I see that as a major shortcoming of the Android platform and one that Google needs to rectify ASAP.

Hopefully with the imminent launch of the HTC Magic here in New Zealand this will change. Lets wait and see….

mPass article on NZ Herald

My Google Alerts just turned up this very nice article about mPass on the NZ herald site.

It is always nice to get good press about things you have worked on.

I like the comments too:

I downloaded the Air New Zealand mPass a couple of months ago and have used it successfully a number of times. It is a fantastic application and has sped up the already fast check in process with Air NZ. its great to see “our” airline is right up there with technology and has made the whole tiresome process of checking in simple and enjoyable. PS – the iphone rocks. just a shame about the data charges.


Excellent idea ! Keep it up, Kiwi’s – show the world we can make things better, faster and more convenient.

WordPress iPhone app

Just trying out the free wordpress iPhone app. It is pretty nice.

I did have to install it twice however. The first time I installed it, it just hung trying to connect.

I figured that it was broken and ignored it for a few days. On a hunch I just deleted and reinstalled it. Now it is working like a charm.

I’m not sure an iPhone (actually an iPod touch) is the best form factor for writing blog posts but it is nice and portable :)

Speaking of iPhones, I was looking into getting a mac mini to play with some iPhone development. I figured it would be cheap (and I could use the mini as a HTPC later on). Boy was I wrong $1800 for the mini! Guess no iPhone development for me :(

Android getting ready for launch

Well things seem to be heating up in the Android world…

First off the new version of the SDK (0.9) became available. The APIs have undergone some rather radical changes since m15 but apparently they should be mostly stable now. Its going to take some serious work to get Bubbles! up and running again.

Next all sorts of leaks about the first Android handset (the HTC Dream) starting popping up on the Internet. Gizmodo have some spy pictures of the phone, it looks good but not iPhone sexy. I think the slide out qwerty keyboard is a good idea but it doesn’t help the devices looks.

Google also posted some information about their content distribution system which will be the Android equivalent of the iPhone’s App Store.

“Developers will be able to make their content available on an open service hosted by Google that features a feedback and rating system similar to YouTube. We chose the term “market” rather than “store” because we feel that developers should have an open and unobstructed environment to make their content available. Similar to YouTube, content can debut in the marketplace after only three simple steps: register as a merchant, upload and describe your content and publish it.”

It certainly seems that getting an Android application out into the wild will be far easier (and less expensive) then an iPhone application.

And lastly, today the Android team posted the Android Developer Challenge Winners gallery showcasing the final 50 apps and the winning apps. Some pretty interesting application here.

Its going to be interesting to see how Android and the HTC Dream do against the iPhone tsunami.

Does Virgin get the iPhone? Maybe…

I was just sent a link to an article about Virgin Australia’s new iPhone plans. To quote:

“What we hear from our customers is that they really want the iPhone not just because it’s a cool device but they want to do stuff with it, and I don’t think that’s been catered for in the market so far,” said Virgin Mobile Australia chief executive Peter Bithos.

__Their top end plan is $100/month for a 16Gb iPhone, 5GB of traffic, the phone for free and a 24 month minimum sign up period.

That’s still $2400 over two years but if you use the Sydney Morning Herald’s price comparator the next closest pricing plan that offers the same features is from Vodafone at $12150 !

Apparently Telstra (which has had the worst plans to date in Australia) are changing their plans to be more competitive.

If only we had some competition in NZ !

iPhone 2.0 – First Impressions

I received a little present yesterday, a shiny new iPhone to play with (but unfortunately not too keep).

Here is what I have discovered so far:

Moving Contacts

Since I’m planning on using the phone for a few days I figured I’d stick in my own sim card and turn off my trusty Nokia N73.

So I copied my contacts to my sim card and stuck my sim card into the iPhone . You just need a paperclip to pop out the little tray that holds the sim card, the process is dead easy.

Then under the settings menu I was able to import contacts from my sim. Unfortunately this didn’t work the first time round with only some contact getting imported for some reason.

So I put the sim card back in my N73, deleted all the contacts on the sim and then copied the N73 contacts to the sim again.

I then put the sim back into the iPhone and imported the contacts again. This time it worked like a charm.

My first phone call

Showing off, I called my wife. To be honest the sound quality didn’t seem as good as my N73 and the iPhone seemed a little block-like in my hand.

Vodafone sux

Next I tried to fire up the maps and web browser but received a rude error message:

“Could not activate cellular data network. PDP authentication failure”

So I gave Vodafone a call and asked them what was up. The very helpful lady informed me that to use the iPhone I needed an iPhone data plan and I need to sign up for 24 months.

WTF ? I’m happily able to use my N73 to surf the web with the data plan I have, why do I need a different plan to use the iPhone and why do I need to sign up for 24 months ? This just confirms my previous rants about Vodafone just not getting it.

Currently the iPhone reports that it has been used for 3 hours and 4 minutes and sent 1.2MB of data and received 13.2MB on the cellular network

So I’ve put the original sim back into the iPhone and for the next few days will have to carry two phones around.

_Update: A little birdie has sent me this site: which lets you download a new 3G config if you visit it with your iPhone. It appears to change the APN for the 3G network to the one that everyone normally uses. This should allow you to use the iPhone without a “special” iPhone plan. Haven’t tried it so I don’t know if it works. Makes me wonder if the default APN for the iPhone has a better quality of services or if this is just a way for Vodafone to lock you in. Would the commerce commision be interested in this ?_

Wifi to the rescue

A very, very nice feature of the iPhone is that it will use a WiFi network in preference to the 3G network if it can find one. Since I have WiFi at work and home this sure helps cut down on those data charges.

General usage

As with most Apple products the iPhone is a pleasure to use. The touch based user interface feels very natural and the form factor makes it fantastic mobile internet device.

Occasionally I did struggle with the interface, where options are a bit hidden and some interactions are not obvious.

For instance I still haven’t quite figured out how to select a word in the predictive text dropdowns.

Update: All you need to do is press “space” when the predictive text dropdown appears. Doh.

Also the onscreen keyboard is very good but I keep clicking on M instead of N for some reason. The little magnifier that shows up when you drag to position the edit cursor in a text field is very cute.

Web Browsing

The web browser is very nice. It works with most sites and has some nice navigation features and animations when dealing with multiple open pages. The accelerometer that rotates the display when you rotate the device is also very cool.

You can also save your favorite website as an icon on your start pages which is useful.

GPS and maps

The GPS seems very responsive and integrates nicely with Google maps. Last night I tracked my journey home in the taxi and it tracked well even with the taxi’s erratic driving.

One thing that was odd is that the driving directions didn’t automatically scroll to the next instruction once you reached a “way point”.


You get a choice of email services to connect your iPhone too. I wired the phone to my gmail account without any issue.

Outlook calendar sync & Bluetooth

Syncing my Outlook calendar was a breeze, just setting a checkbox or two in iTunes and then connecting the iPhone with the USB cable to the PC.

I also had no problems bonding the iPhone to my PC using Bluetooth but iTunes didn’t seem to detect the iPhone when it connected via Bluetooth.


The camera seems decent but it needs good lighting as most mobile cameras do. Maybe I have just been spoilt by my N73’s 3.2 megapixel camera.


Using the integrated (and via iTunes) app store, I was able to download several applications. Obviously this is a major feature of the iPhone. As it is early days, these apps vary greatly in their quality.

The Facebook application is an example of a good application. It is easy to use, is well thought out and integrates with features of the phone. For example it is hooked to the phone’s camera so you can take pics and upload them to straight to Facebook. When you pull up a friend’s profile, clicking on their phone number dials them, clicking on their email launches the email client. All very smooth.

Quite a few of the applications make use of the GPS feature of the phone. Some are pretty lame in that they simply redirect to a web site with the correct region pre-selected.

Others like the LocalPicks application from Tripadvisor pulls back a list of all the bars and restaurant nearby. Although the app is a little buggy (the scrolling is sluggish) it did bring back a useful list of bars and restaurants near my house with ratings, contact phone numbers and addresses. Unfortunately all the distances were in miles and it had no map integration but it is still a cool idea.

I think I will have to port Bubbles! to the iPhone when I get the chance.


The iPhone rocks, Vodafone sux. However I’d buy one if the data costs were more reasonable and I had a some cash to spare:)

Get your iPhone now ! Only $6000

Yep so Vodafone announced their plans for the iPhone release this week in New Zealand; what a disaster…

After getting everyone all frenzied last week with statements like “an iPhone from $199” the ugly truth emerged: Sure you can get an iPhone for only $199 but you need to sign up for a two year plan which will cost you over $6000 !

Check out this Vodafone sales exec getting beaten up in a TV interview:

YouTube Preview Image

One of the key things in the interview is the statement that the iPhone in New Zealand is been marketed as a premium product.

That I believe is the fatal flaw.

For years telcos have been trying to offset the declining revenue from voice with revenue from data services. In New Zealand mobile data services have been mainstream for almost 10 years but the costs have been so steep that most consumers have been trained to not even consider using them.

The iPhone is a perfect platform for mobile internet and in fact without good Internet access the usefulness of the device is eroded.

What Vodafone should have done is set their data plans to match (or even undercut) typical ISP broad plans and then gone to market with a “hey the mobile internet is here” campaign using the iPhone as the flagship device. Even if you had to pay a grand for the device people would have still gone for it (for years high end phones have sold for around $1000 and the iPhone is also an iPod and GPS unit so well worth that kind of money).

In a few year consumers would become so accustomed to having good, cheap mobile Internet that everyone would use it and of course Vodafone would then become the de facto supplier (and mostly likely make good in-roads into other ISPs market share as well).

But I suspect this will never happen instead they will just gouge early adopters and then sit around wondering why no one uses their data services. Sigh.

One ray of hope: Rogers, a telco in Canada, which suffered a similar public reaction to their plans has just backtracked and offered up some better deals.

Perhaps Vodafone New Zealand will see the light too.