Mobile app hackathon 2011

This weekend, Chris, Andrew, Elijah and I went to mobile app hackathon in Seattle, a free event for mobile app developers or people interested in development. Both Chris and I had hacked some mobile applications before, but neither Andrew nor Elijah had much experience in mobile development. The night before, Andrew and Elijah hung out here at the apartment, installing IDEs, SDKs and signing up for github accounts. Then we played around with mobile APIs and looked at javascript docs late into the night.

The next morning, Chris showed up and the four of us drove out to the F5 building, just west of the Space Needle. We arrived about an hour early, but we got good seats and first go at breakfast. The morning was presentation after presentation of different mobile-specific SDKs, APIs and services from a number of different companies. Particularly interesting to me were Phonegap, a library that allows the developer to write a mobile app in HTML5/CSS3/javascript, wrap it in Phonegap to get an app that runs on Android, iPhone, Blackberry, and a couple other smart phone operating systems. Another company that had a cool presentation was Sencha, whose product, SenchaTouch, is a javascript library for creating mobile UIs. Amazon came to promote use of AWS as well.

At around noon, developers that wanted extra help and developers that wanted a project to work on milled around in the middle of the room, forming groups for the afternoon hack session. The four of us already had our own ideas so we just began hacking right away. Representatives from the companies that presented in the morning milled around, helping developers with problems using their libraries. Elijah and Andrew worked on College Divestment. The link to the website version of their app is here. I used Sencha and Phonegap to work on an app that I haven’t quite finished yet. Hopefully I’ll finish within the next couple weeks. I’ll post here when I finish.

I spent the first couple hours of the hack session trying to get Phonegap and Sencha to work. It was a little confusing at first, but with the Sencha representative’s help, I was able to get started. He recommended developing the javascript app in the browser, in order to have access to standard javascript debugging tools. After a little bit, it was starting to concern me how slow my app would load on my phone. Whenever I clicked the launcher icon, a white screen would appear on my phone and it would be a full second before the rest of the app loaded. This behavior was consistent and I could replicate it in my browser. I took the problem to the Sencha rep, who looked a little concerned and didn’t know what the problem was. He grabbed a copy of my sourcecode and headed back to his laptop to poke at it for awhile. After another half an hour of trying to figure out the problem, I was getting frustrated with Sencha and decided to head back to native Android. Another half an hour later, the Sencha guy came back and told me he found the bug. It was a bug in the Sencha library that caused the library to wait for a specified amount of time before loading. He pointed me to a specific place in the code to fix the bug, and things worked much better after that. I didn’t end up being able to finish my app, but I got a sizable chunk done, which I was fairly pleased with.

At 6:30, different groups of developers presented their apps to the rest of the group. There were a couple that were interesting, some were boring. Amazon gave $25 gift cards to the developers of the top apps. Andrew and Elijah made it into the top 6! Another winner made an app that blinks green, white and black to attract taxi drivers at night. Congrats to all the winners!

All in all, the mobile hackathon was super fun. We hung out, wrote code, had free food, a free t-shirt, learned new APIs and SDKs. It was also pretty nice to get in-person help with the developers of those libraries. I hope they put on more events.

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