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Programming Magic Brings Arty Gravilux App To Slow-Poke Kindle Fire

Scott Snibbe, the mind behind some of iPad’s loveliest apps, had to work some programming magic to bring his work to Amazon’s low-end tablet.

Programming Magic Brings Arty Gravilux App To Slow-Poke Kindle Fire

Amazon’s “not an iPad,” also known as the Kindle Fire, has been somewhat damned by faint praise since its debut. It’s cheap and a great gateway for buying a lot of stuff from Amazon, but “almost the entire interface,” writes Instapaper creator Marco Arment, “is sluggish, jerky, and unresponsive.” So why on earth would a world-class multimedia artist like Scott Snibbe–who helped develop Bjork’s “Biophilia” app — want to port one of his immersive iPad creations to the Fire? Because, apparently, he can do so without making it suck.

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Snibbe’s studio just released a Kindle Fire version of Gravilux, a hit iPad app that “lets people touch a universe of simulated stars beneath their fingertips, exerting gravitational push and pull to twist stars into an infinite variety of colorful new galactic forms.” In order to make these immersive interactions function on Amazon’s low-end hardware, Snibbe had to reach deep into his bag of programming tricks.

“The processor on these devices is slower than an iPad, and, the far bigger issue is that Java is an interpreted rather than a compiled programming language (compared to C++ and Objective C on iOS), which introduces the greater slowdown,” he tells Co.Design. “However, with careful tweaks that brought me back to the old days coding for the early Apple and PC computers, it’s possible to bring responsiveness up to full frame rates.”

Interestingly, Snibbe is going all-in on the Kindle Fire, launching this version of Gravilux exclusively on the Amazon Appstore. (It will only appear in the Android Marketplace after the run with Amazon ends.) Why? Because of the Kindle’s connection to books, which Snibbe says “are one of the last media in which people focus in rapt concentration. Amazon’s Kindle Fire has the potential to promote this kind of attention with other forms of media, such as apps and games, and it’s the type of attention we hope to sustain with our uniquely creative, mind-expanding apps.”

I don’t own a Fire, so I can’t vouch for whether Snibbe’s programming-fu has actually delivered version of Gravilux as seamless as the iPad original. But there’s something refreshing about his willingness to go beyond Apple’s walled iGarden and focus his interaction design chops on the oft-neglected Android platform. With Gravilux as an example, maybe other high-end iOS developers will follow suit.

[Buy Gravilux from the Amazon Appstore for $1.99]

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About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets

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