Why Android is winning

We’re hearing so much about Android at the moment in our line of work. We’re still developing iOS applications of course, because the operating system is very much part of our world. It’s necessary for consumer applications, and great for organisations large enough to use the Enterprise Program and who can run an in-house app store.

However, Android has many advantages for businesses large and small, as well as for end users.

For a start it gives complete control and the same freedom old Windows mobile devices offered. So, for instance, a small company could buy ten handsets of their choice and load their in-house application without having to ask permission. And there’s no bureaucracy.

There’s a wide choice of hardware too. Android is available on low-end phones, high-end smartphones, cheap tablets, and robust, weatherproof devices like the Panasonic Toughpad.

It’s also available on processor modules for integration directly in to your own hardware.

Then there’s the ease with which user interfaces can be developed such as modern touch-based screens. And it supports development of USB device drivers, which can control custom hardware.

Android also enables custom application launchers for single purpose devices, and it’s possible to ship a completely customised Android image on your own hardware.

So while there’s still a place for iOS, Android is winning the operating systems war.

We’re recruiting! Join the Humboldt team

Tired of working on the same type of projects day in, day out? Looking for something a bit more varied and challenging where you can use your problem solving skills?

You could be just the person we’re looking for!

We need an enthusiastic, generalist developer with a good knowledge of Linux, as well as C experience, to join our small team in Camberley. You’ll also be eager to try your hand at a wide range of projects, and keen to learn new things.

Our clients are mainly small to medium-sized electronics companies; we work with them as a trusted, experienced partner. You’ll find the work varied – for example you could be working with a leading university to develop an app one month and the next integrating a company’s existing systems to make them more efficient. Or you could be upgrading products to enable them to take the latest technology. Read about some of the projects we’ve worked on here.

You’ll enjoy challenges and problem solving. And you’ll need to be flexible – some clients like us onboard from the beginning and others call us at the last minute to help them complete their project.

As well as Linux, it would be useful, but not essential, if you know about some of the following:

* Device driver development

* Git version control

* Understanding component datasheets

* Embedded build systems such as Yocto

We’re offering a salary £28k – £35k depending on experience.

So if you think you’re the new team member we’re looking for, please call us on 01276 415787 or email us at info@humboldt.co.uk

Visit our About Us page to find out who we are and how we work.



MD evReader for iPad

Download on the App Store

The iPad app we’ve developed for Royal Holloway University is now in the app store. The MD evReader helps people with macular disease (MD) to read eBooks using the eccentric viewing technique. Eccentric viewing involves a person trying to see by making use of the peripheral, rather than central vision. The technique is like trying to see ‘out of the corner of your eye’ and can be a useful way of enhancing visual tasks such as reading. The app scrolls text, one line at a time, with the speed and direction of scrolling controlled by a track pad on the iPad screen. Large fonts can be used and the text can be presented onto a digital TV screen via HDMI.

Development required overcoming a number of technical challenges to ensure steady performance while rendering large fonts to two screens simultaneously.

Building Bespoke Mobile Software

As mobile apps have taken off in consumer applications, it’s become more difficult to build an application for a customer to use in-house. Many new platforms have launched without an easy way for an in-house developer to release bespoke software to their customer, and tracking the start of the art can take time. Here’s an overview of the current options:

iPhone / iPad

The devices are certainly popular. iOS is what everybody wants, and Apple now offer two methods for an in-house app: enterprise distribution, and the Volume Purchase Program. As the Volume Purchase Program is only available in the US, I’ll skip over it.

The iOS Enterprise program requires our customer to join the developer program, and then sign the app with their own key. This puts extra workload on to the customer, though it can at least be outsourced to a corporate app store such as Appaloosa. There’s no requirement to submit the app to Apple, so bug fixes can at least be pushed out quickly.

Popularity: 5/5 Waterproofing: 0/5 Developer Ease: 4/5 Customer Ease: 3/5


Apart from a few locked down devices, Android is the closest to the freedom of desktop operating systems. No bureaucracy required, good development tools, and a wide range of hardware. Some of the hardware is even waterproof. If you’re deploying to a large enough number of devices, then a corporate app store may help, but there’s nothing stopping you from simply placing the file on an internal web server.

Popularity: 4/5 Waterproofing: 4/5 Developer Ease: 5/5 Customer Ease: 5/5

Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5

Windows Embedded Handheld allows us to develop applications using .NET, and an administrator can place them on the device with no requirement for approvals. A few years ago, this was the default, with good tools and rugged, waterproof devices available. Unfortunately, the OS and the available hardware are showing their age, and Microsoft don’t give much confidence about the roadmap.

To add insult to injury, the development tools require Visual Studio 2005 or 2008 Professional, and Visual Studio 2010 Professional does not come with downgrade rights. This makes the entry fee for development very high.

Popularity: 0/5 Waterproofing: 5/5 Developer Ease: 3/5 Customer Ease: 4/5

Windows Phone 7

The initial release of Windows Phone 7 required all applications to be distributed through the public Marketplace, but Microsoft now support Targeted Application Distribution. Apps distributed through this method still require certification, but do not appear in public searches. The app is available to anyone with the private URL. Provided that the app connects to an authenticated service, this is a minor problem.

This leaves us to jump through the certification hoop and may delay release of bug-fixes, but it puts little workload on our customer.

Popularity: 2/5 Waterproofing: 1/5 Developer Ease: 4/5 Customer Ease: 5/5

Windows 8 Tablet

This isn’t here yet, and signs are mixed. For Metro apps on PCs, administrators should be able to manage app installation:

In addition, enterprises can choose to deploy Metro style apps directly to PCs, without going through the Store infrastructure. For Windows 8 Beta, IT administrators can use group policy to permit Metro style app installations, as long as the apps are signed by trusted publishers and the machines are joined to the domain

For Windows 8 tablets, we don’t know yet. We know the consumer position:

Consumers obtain all software, including device drivers, through the Windows Store and Microsoft Update or Windows Update.

Steven Sinofsky’s use of the word consumer may be significant.


While Blackberry is neither trendy nor waterproof, it is a straightforward platform for deployment of corporate software.

Popularity: 3/5 Waterproofing: 1/5 Developer Ease: 4/5 Customer Ease: 4/5