Flex Map Applications on the BlackBerry PlayBook

Finally it is possible to side step the IPad and run applications on rival devices. The IPad has been a device of discussion and controversy; centred around how Apple have restricted applications which run on the devices. The lack of Flash Player has irked many developers including myself. And though now there are ways around this limitation, via Flash CS5 for example, it remains a less than clean solution. So the release of the BlackBerry PlayBook in March, if you believe the rumours, is an exciting development. In anticipation of the release Research in Motion (RIM) and Adobe have worked together on developing a simulator. Allowing developers to build applications and run them on the device which is on their PC’s. There are some excellent documents on the steps needed to set this up (see the links at the end of the article).

It took me a minute to set things up. Now I have it running, I’ve started building applications. Figure 1 is a screenshot of an OpenScales application I built. You can link to a video of the application running on the simulator here. I’ve uploaded this application to BlackBerry App World. Figure 2 is work in progress, but I have also built an ArcGIS application for the simulator. I’ve made a video of this application too, available here.

Open Source OpenScales Map Applications

Flex Openscales running on the BlackBerry PlayBook

Figure 1: Flex Openscales running on the BlackBerry PlayBook

ESRI ArcGIS Map Applications

Flex ArcGIS running on the BlackBerry PlayBook

Figure 2: Flex ArcGIS running on the BlackBerry PlayBook

BlackBerry PlayBook Map Design

One of the issues which is much discussed with the IPad is application design. Things are different on mobile devices. The IPhone is different to the IPad which in turn is different to the PC. The key difference is screen real estate. There are a range of recommendations for building applications including:

  1. Buttons should be a minimum of 44 px in width and height
  2. Use 14 point font
  3. Use San Serif, Arial or Verdana
  4. Use high colour contast between overlapping items
  5. Use opaque backgrounds over transparency

I have traditionally built applications designed similarly to Figure 1. So maximum map real estate, simple title overlay, floating tool bar with tool icons, simply styled pop ups which are can be closed and moved etc. I have written about two of my favourite geo-based applications which run on the IPad; Weather Channel and Weather Bug here. I like their tablet-centric approach, which offers new possibilities for interacting with maps, opening widgets and turning on/off layers of interest; clouds, rivers etc. I’d like to see how use-able the design in Figure 1 is on the actual PlayBook. The videos show the simulator using a mouse. Clearly the buttons will need enlarging. The zoom control and overview map (which allows users to zoom the main map by resizing the red rectangle) may need adjusting. I’m hoping to get a pre-release of the PlayBook. When I do I will update this article with my findings.

Reach me at: rory <at> webmapsolutions <dot> com

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