Things have been quiet with the mobile product recently but that’s only because we have been working on some new features that we didn’t want to talk about until we had them running reasonably well on a variety of devices. Well, we have made some great progress and now I’m happy to start talking about it.
What’s the big secret?
So what have we been working on…..? Taking the entire X-Plane 10 Desktop flight model and aircraft systems! That means all of the physics, all of the systems, all of the datarefs, as well as 99.9% of the panel system and instruments*. I cannot emphasize enough how unprecedented this is on a mobile device…and it will be free of course. Read on for specifics…
Flight Model History
Let’s rewind time back to 2007 when the original iPhone was being released. We had about 25MB of memory to work with and a very limited processor. There was absolutely no choice but to prune the flight physics and all of the systems back to the bare minimum. This has been our mobile product’s foundation for the past 9 years…a reasonably good approximation of flight physics and systems that is adequate for mobile devices…but very limiting for us as developers and also a bit limiting for users as well. Lately, we’ve been moving over pieces of the desktop flight model a little bit at a time (for example, Airliners required a better slat and flap system) but it’s time consuming and tedious.
Where we’re headed…
Over the last couple of months we’ve been reorganizing our systems and now have most of the desktop systems running on our mobile product…even on the older devices that we support like the original iPad Mini/iPad 2/iPhone 4s. We’re still actively integrating the systems so it’s not ready for release just yet, but a lot of the work is done.
So what does this mean for users? Archimedes said “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth.” The mobile product sharing the flight model and systems with desktop is a HUGE….MASSIVE….LEVER. It means that mobile instantly gets an FAA Approved flight model…the same one that real pilots train on. An instantly improved autopilot, no more bounced landings (unless you fly like Ben…in which case you’ll still bounce ;)) full electrical, hydraulic, engine, prop, fuel, radios, navigation, pressurization, starter, trim and gear systems.
With all of those systems available in their entirety, it means that the beautiful 3D cockpits that our artists have been developing can come to life with interactivity to touch and manipulate all of the same systems that you can on desktop. Start/Shutdown the aircraft the right way, tune all of the radios, operate the full autopilot etc.
This is the symbiotic relationship that we’ve been talking about since the launch of V10 Mobile. Mobile feature development will improve the Desktop product, and Desktop features will trickle down into the Mobile product.
When is this happening?
Soon? I expect much of this to be done and the first update to happen by the spring for iOS and Android. It will not be done in one release but over several.
The release schedule and contents are still not completely concrete at this point but if I were to take a guess, I’d say that the first release will include the complete flight model. This will be an incremental update for end users because while the flight dynamics will change, the interaction will not change much. It will have the same simple 3 button autopilot and minimal interactivity with the 3D cockpit.
The second and subsequent releases will start to expose much of this new system to users. I would expect to see a new 2D autopilot UI that exposes the complexity of the desktop autopilot…heading, altitude, speed, LNAV, VNAV etc. I would also expect that some of the aircraft panels will have been updated with manipulators that allow you to start touching all kinds of buttons and knobs.
With this kind of leverage, we can release new features faster than ever before. I’ll have more details on that specifically when the time is appropriate.
*We will not have a working 430/530 on mobile in the short term nor will we have a few very uncommon and extreme instruments.
X-Plane 10 Mobile is among the first games to be released for NVidia’s Shield set top box.
Part of the work of doing this release was putting game controller support into X-Plane mobile – you’ll be able to use a game controller on your Android or iOS phone or tablet too.
And part of the work was making the entire user interface accessible from a game controller, e.g. only button presses, no touch screen input. That code is going back to X-Plane 10 Global for keyboard navigation in our next generation user interface.
The 747 is out for X-Plane 10 Mobile too (iOS and Android):
The 747 started on X-Plane 10 Global and has been moved over to X-Plane 10 Mobile. We’ve tried to keep the two versions synchronized, so we can move some of the improvements from mobile back to the desktop version of X-Plane.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog entry because…I’ve been working in the dungeons, coding for Android, unlike Ben who spends his days at Starbucks sipping lattes and writing blog posts all day. 🙂
Seriously, if you have not yet heard, we’ve finally released X-Plane 10 for Android. It was a long, arduous process. Maybe I’ll write about the experience in a separate blog post if anyone’s interested. Anyway, back to the product…It has the same features and pricing model as X-Plane 10 for iPhone/iPad and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. I don’t expect Android to lag behind like it has in the past. If anything, it will probably be the first to get updates since there’s no painfully slow Apple approval process to sit through.
Where’s the iOS Update?
This initial release on Android is identical to the current release 10.1.0 on iOS except for the additional of liveries! This update will be available for iOS as soon as Apple approves it. It’s currently sitting in their queue.
What’s the Android Plan?
Currently I’m in firefighting mode! As of today, there are 7,654 supported devices so needless to say, there are some device-specific crash bugs…most on devices that I was not able to acquire myself during testing. I’ll admit however, there are fewer than I expected. We’re currently seeing 90.4% crash-free users. This is low compared to our iOS stability of 99.5% however the industry metric for games is supposedly 97%. I can’t remember where I read that, but that’s been my pseudo-goal so I plan on releasing frequent patches until we get there.
Aside from hardware-specific OpenGL issues, the biggest source of instability seems to be with Google’s In-App Billing service. I’ve found and fixed some issues in their sample code which will help, but many users cannot even link up with the service! I have not gotten enough data to fully understand that yet.
An update to 10.1.4 has been pushed this morning. It should go live in a couple of hours. That should fix stability issues for some people but I don’t expect it to move the needle significantly until the In-App Billing issues have been resolved. Until then, I’ll keep at it!
What’s next for Mobile?
Android is a top priority at the moment. Until we reach stability there, almost all of my efforts will be focused on doing so. Once Android has settled down a bit, the work that we do will be for both platforms.
I know the map is a source of annoyance for a lot of people. It appears, unsolicited, when trying to operate the throttle. I can look into that.
We do of course have more aircraft and missions coming. I can’t talk about the specifics of those yet but our artists are very busy at work making more stunning planes.
But where’s the “meat and potatoes” features? Unfortunately, a lot of the feedback that I get is not specific enough for us to use. I see things like “I like Infinite Flight/Aerofly better!” which is fine…that’s a matter of preference. But WHY do you like it better? What features are you missing most?
So here’s your chance to chime in. What’s important to you? What will make the app fit your needs better? Please feel free to comment below. Get your friends to comment too. The more feedback that I get, the more I can make sure our customer’s needs are being met.
We’ve been quiet on the Android front for X-Plane 10 Mobile but typically around here, quiet is a good thing because it means we’re busy!
We’ve put in a lot of effort and we’re at a point now where we’re going to begin testing the product. More on that in a minute…
First, I’m excited to say that for the first time, our iOS and our Android products will be the same! In the past, Android came around much later than iOS did and the Android operating system and the devices running it were quite a bit behind Apple’s so we had to make our Android product different. This is no longer the case. Google offers all of the same amenities that we’re currently using on iOS. We will have leaderboards, achievements and multiplayer. The product itself will be effectively identical. It’s the same X-Plane Engine, flight model, scenery packages, aircraft etc. There will be no teaser screenshots because…well….it looks exactly the same as all of the iOS screenshots that we’ve already been posting.
Our goal, once the Android version is released, is to keep the iOS and Android products simultaneously up to date. If a new feature is added to one platform, it will be available on the other platform almost immediately (store approval times permitting).
We’re going to begin testing relatively soon. I have a few odds and ends to tie up before we’ll be ready to go but i’d say in the next week or so we’ll begin our first round. If you want to be considered to be a tester, you can click on the link and submit a request. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get in. We can’t play favorites.
This testing will be slightly different from the norm. Typically we let users Beta test our products to find some bugs early and help us stabilize. With Android however, our goal is to release an early Alpha version to a small number of users and then slowly increase the size of the test group until we’re confident that it’s running properly on a wide range of devices. Then we will expand the group even more and begin Beta testing per usual.
Why are we doing things differently? With iOS, we had one operating system version to worry about (iOS 8) and twelve different devices (every supported iPhone and iPad) running one brand of GPU to test against. Between Ben, Tyler and myself, we essentially own one of everything. On Android, we have three (4.1.X, 4.4.X and 5.X) operating system versions, four major GPU manufacturers and (wait for it….) over six thousand different devices. Needless to say, we do not own one of everything! We need to ease into the testing to find driver issues and other device-specific problems early which is why we’re doing the Alpha test.
We’re mainly focused on testing the Android-specific pieces because 90% of the code is the same as what’s running on iOS which has already been thoroughly tested.
When will it be released?!
As soon as it’s ready! Awwww (sad face), I know you hate that answer…but it’s true. Our goal is to release it as soon as testing shows that it’s stable! This will probably be in a number of weeks, not days but also not likely months.
Hi Guys, it’s Chris. I haven’t written a blog post in ages. They’ve kept me locked in the basement like Milton Waddams, unwilling to let me out to see daylight until I finished X-Plane 10 Mobile. And they stole my #$%#^ stapler!
We recently released X-Plane 10 Mobile for iPhone/iPad and while the Apple users were ecstatic, some Android users were puzzled while others were frustrated.
“Will there be an android version?”
“When’s it coming to Android?”
“Where’s the Android version? 60% of all smartphones run on Android but I guess that Apple-Fan-Boys are more important in your company”
“Why do you guys constantly focus on iPhone first when most users are on Android?”
Before I get into the real point of the blog post, allow me to answer some of those questions. YES we are planning on shipping X-Plane 10 Mobile for Android. YES we have already begun development. We do not have a release date. We do not have any hints. The only thing that I can say, is that we want it out just as soon as you do. NO we do not view Android as a lesser/inferior platform…We value Android customers just as much as we value our iOS customers. A customer is a customer. I think we’ve demonstrated by supporting Windows, Mac and Linux all these years that we’re not trying to play favorites. We want everyone to be able to enjoy our products. BUT, that doesn’t mean that the costs of development and the speed and efficiency of development is equal on all platforms.
Historically, we’ve always developed for iOS first and then Android second. I’d like to be open an honest about our reasons and hope that even if you disagree with them, you’ll at least understand why we have historically developed for Apple first. I will warn you, everything I have to say is completely my opinion, my impression, my feeling based on my experiences. I’m going to sound a lot like an Apple “fanboy”. I will admit, I do have a high level of respect for Apple’s commitment to polish and detail, but I also own a dozen android devices and respect them for their cutting edge features, their openness and their friendliness to customization.
At the end of the day however, I’m paid to be efficient and thorough and my thoughts below explain why that means Apple has historically come first.
I will also warn you…I don’t want this blog post to turn into a flame war between Apple and Android users. We’re talking about phones here people, not religion. At the end of the day, they’re just small piles of plastic and silicon that let us surf the web, make phone calls and play games.
We Can’t Develop Apple and Android In Parallel
Sure, we do this on desktop by releasing Windows, Mac and Linux versions in unison 100% of the time. Developing for desktop is pretty different than developing for mobile. We use very few 3rd party frameworks on desktop and it’s an open environment. On a mobile phone, it’s a very closed environment. What this means is that developing Apple and Android in parallel requires a lot more effort than developing for Windows and Mac in parallel.
Can it be done? Absolutely! Plenty of companies are doing it. But they also have large teams with large expenses. We’re still a pretty small group of individuals and we like it that way. The tradeoff however is that we can only focus on one platform at a time.
One alternative that we could consider is delaying shipment of an Apple product until the Android version is done as well. That’s a loss for everyone. Apple customers lose out on having the latest software and Android customers may lose because…we don’t have the revenue coming in to support the Android development costs. That’s right…Apple sales get reinvested into the company to fund Android development!
As Ben mentioned earlier…Apple and Android mobile sales fund desktop development…and desktop development funds mobile development! This is a very important fact to remember. I’ll admit, we laugh and roll our eyes when desktop users complain about the company working on mobile products, and mobile users complain about the company working on desktop products….and android users complaining about us working on apple products and vice versa.
The company has found equilibrium creating both desktop and mobile products. There’s adequate revenue to fund adequate staffing to continue to develop both.
We Develop On Mac Hardware
This is no secret. It’s been this way since the company started. We just find Apple products allow us to be more productive and don’t get in our way.
Historically, Apple’s Mobile Platform Has Been More Mature
Apple had both a technological advantage as well as a time advantage over Android when they began.
Apple already had an Operating System, supporting frameworks and a development environment to leverage. Making mobile versions of those things required them to port existing, time-tested code to a new platform. From a stability standpoint, Apple had the advantage in that they already had the code, the engineers and the process in place to do this.
On the other hand, Google had to start from scratch. They had to put together a new team to create a new operating system to run new frameworks…and they had to create a set of tools for developers to use.
In addition to all of the technological advantages Apple had, they also had a head-start of well over a year. We were already selling X-Plane V9 for mobile before Android was even announced publicly.
That meant we were already established and familiar with the iOS platform as developers.
When I began the Android port for X-Plane V9, I had to pretty quickly put it down…and wait. Android at the time only supported Java apps. X-Plane is NOT a Java app. 99% of it is written in C/C++ and Android had absolutely no support at the time…and so we waited….and waited….and waited.
Finally, many months later, Android added their NDK which allowed us to have C/C++ support. But it was completely minimal. None of the standard libraries that we were used to using were available. This meant a lot of effort on our part to get anything done. If you’re not a developer, a reasonable metaphor might be a carpenter that’s trying to build a house, but he first has to build his own hammer, nails, square and saw because the tools he’s used to using don’t exist on this job.
Finally it came time to release V9 for Android. For iPhone/iPad, we uploaded our 400+mb app to their store and we were done. On Android however, the store had a limit of 25MB. So that meant we had to buy servers and write code to download the resources from a farm of servers. Again, this added more time and more complexity.
Apple Has Fewer Devices
For this latest release of X-Plane Mobile, we support iPhone 4S/5/5S/6/6+ as well as iPad 2/3/4/Air/Air2/Mini/Mini2 and iPod Touch 5. That’s 13 devices to my recollection. But it’s even simpler than that…because they all have the same GPU manufacturer, they all support the same PVR texture compression, and they all pretty much just work interchangeably from a development standpoint. The only major differences between them are the processor speeds and the screen resolutions. We can literally test on every single device and be sure that the app runs the way we expect it to.
As of the time of this writing, our X-Plane V9 is running on 7,072 devices. You read that right….SEVEN…..THOUSAND…..DIFFERENT……DEVICES. Each device has a different combination of CPU, GPU, screen size, screen density and drivers. We cannot possibly test them all. Admittedly, many of them “just work” and there are of course only a handful of CPU and GPU manufacturers to worry about…but at the very least, it means at least three different texture compression formats. PVR is proprietary and unless the mobile device has a PowerVR chipset, they’re not going to get PVR. So we have to support various formats. That requires three different versions of our app to be created and tested and distributed. That requires three different resource packages to be created and tested.
There’s just no way to have the same level of stability as we can have with the iPhone/iPad platform.
Apple Has Higher OS Upgrade Adoption
Without carriers and other manufacturers getting in the way, Apple can release a new OS with features and bug fixes, and we can be sure that they exist on the majority of the devices that we care about in no time. This means that if there’s a driver issue that needs fixing, it will make it out to the masses and eventually the problem is gone.
Android’s fragmentation has really hurt them in this area. We encountered several devices over the years that violated some OpenGL spec. We worked with the manufacturer to isolate the issue. They release a patch to fix the issue…and most users never had a way to get the patch because their phone carrier dropped support for that phone model.
Now the user’s stuck with an App that they paid for that doesn’t work and there’s nothing that we can do about it.
We like Apple’s Developer Tools Better
As I mentioned earlier, Apple’s developer IDE has been around for ages. We have access to various performance analyzers and can now even analyze an entire OpenGL frame, one draw call at a time. This means we can really tune the crap out of the app before we make it public. In addition, all of the tools come in a single package that just works out of the box. Apple has also always had a simulator that’s hardware accelerated. This means for a lot of things, i don’t need a device plugged into the computer to debug something.
Android’s solution was for less “out of the box” in that they were using various open-source pieces that all had to be installed and fit together just right. Android had an emulator that was not hardware accelerated. It took longer just to boot than it took me to find a phone in my house, get it, plug it in and push an app to it.
Honestly, I think both sets of IDEs are sorely lagging behind features that Microsoft’s Visual Studio has had since 2000, but I digress.
We develop for Apple first because it’s easier and faster for us. It allows us to get the product out the door, running as efficiently and as reliably as possible. When we port the app for Android development, we can be sure that most bugs that come up are specific to Android and are therefore much easier to resolve in a timely fashion.
We are not playing favorites. We have no personal issues with Android and have no personal ties to Apple. The day that Android becomes the faster and easier platform to develop for, it will be the one that we develop for first. It’s just a business decision!
In the meantime, Android users should remember that the way things are currently being done means that they sometimes have to wait longer for new updates, but the updates that they receive will likely be more stable as they’ve been tested harder.
I will also note that we are closing the time gap between iPhone and Android releases. In the past, we were over a year behind on the Android release…because Android didn’t exist. 🙂 Now that it’s becoming more established, the gap should be shrinking more and more.
When I was very young, it was hard to watch my younger brother get presents on his birthday. I was jealous! Why should he get all of the attention? I was here first!
When I was just a little bit older, I realized that my brother’s birthday was actually a pretty good day for me too. You see, my brother and I had one big pile of toys, so whatever my brother received as a gift would be available to me too; all I had to do was be patient and not snatch his toys for a few days.
The new announcement for X-Plane 10 Mobile is clearly trying to whip up a little bit of sibling rivalry: “X-Plane 10 Mobile will make our desktop users jealous.” Besides being a chance to plug X-Plane 10 Global to mobile users, it is also a reference to the inevitable emails we did get (for X-Plane 9 vs X-Plane 9 Mobile) and will get from desktop users who are jealous of the development resources we spend on the mobile product.
Here are a few notes on X-Plane desktop and mobile and the relationship of the two products.
First, X-Plane 9 Mobile funded the development of X-Plane 10 Global. Had we not shipped X-Plane 9 Mobile, there would not be an X-Plane 10 Global, and I probably would not still be working at Laminar Research. So even if you ignore leverage and synergies between the code and you consider mobile products to be a distraction from the true purpose of X-Plane (desktop flight simulation), you can’t ignore that mobile is part of our business, perhaps a part that should not be discarded.
Second, we have been moving to a “two fronts” strategy where we can actively develop both products at the same time, and we have hired more developers so that we can do so. X-Plane 9 waited while X-Plane 9 Mobile was developed, and then the mobile product was more or less frozen for years while we worked on X-Plane 10 desktop.
The level of ping-pong hasn’t been as bad for X-Plane 10 mobile. We shipped 64-bit support, deployed the airport gateway, ported to Steam and shipped a brand new GPS while developing X-Plane 10 Mobile.* This has not been easy, but I think it indicates that we’re making progress towards “two fronts”. Both desktop and mobile suffer if they have to sit in the penalty box for years on end while the other is developed.
Finally, mobile devices are now powerful enough that we can share code and art assets between the two code bases. A few examples:
- Our minimum OpenGL requirements for the mobile product is OpenGL ES 2.0; our minimum desktop OpenGL version is OpenGL 2.0. And the capabilities required by both (render-to-texture via VBOs, vertex and fragment shaders) really are as similar as they sound.
- I have an iPhone 6 and a 2008 8-core Mac Pro. I ran the particle system performance test code on both and they run at almost the same speed. Obviously the Mac Pro is 6 years old and the iPhone 6 is a top-end phone. But there is no gap. This means that an older but supported desktop device will have similar characteristics to the top end of mobile devices. It’s just one big spectrum of computers now.
A lot of code was moved from desktop to mobile for X-Plane 10 mobile. But code was also developed for X-Plane 10 mobile with the intention of moving it back to the desktop version of X-Plane.
My take-away point: if you use our desktop product, you don’t need to actually be jealous of new toys in X-Plane 10 Mobile. Those toys are meant to be your toys too.
* One thing to note about this list: our ability to do more than one thing at once is mostly limited by who will do the work. Different developers and artists in the company have different skill sets; our developers are not interchangeable robots. Well, one of our developers is a robot, but I’m not going to name names.
It has been brought to my attention that Android users that have Webroot’s Antivirus app for Android installed are getting false reports that X-Plane contains a trojan virus.
This is of course a complete false-positive on the part of the Anti-virus software. I’m doing my best to get ahold of Webroot’s developers to aid them in correcting their software. In the meantime, rest assured we’re not doing anything dirty to your android device.
If you have an Android device, check your market for the new update. The update allows users to purchase aircraft and scenery add-ons if they wish. This is an “a la carte” style system. We hope you’ll find it more cost effective as a user to buy the aircraft/scenery that you want instead of having to buy an entirely new product for $9.99 just to get at a couple of planes that you like.
Google announced today that the Android market is now available on the web. It’s really quite nice and the best feature is that apps can be purchased directly from your desktop computer and installed over-the-air (that means no tethering like in iTunes) directly to your Android device. It’s quite cool!
Here are the links to our stuff. Please share them with your friends. You can even tweet about it right from the market listing.
Just an FYI: when it rains it pours. Normally betas increase load on our set of update servers. To compound this, one of them is suffering a midlife crisis^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hhard drive failure.* We’re working on it now; hopefully it will be resolved in the next 24 hours.
EDIT: the update server is back up – our host not only swapped out the drive, but the whole box. We’ll have to take it down one more time in the future, but for the most part I think we’re out of the woods.
Another note on servers: Chris has restructured X-Plane for Android to separately download the art assets from our servers, rather than contain all art assets in the actual download. What he found after several painful weeks was that the Android store is not yet reliable for large apps. While the official app size limit is 50 MB, many phones have problems with their configuration that cause downloads to fail. When the user buys our app and the download fails, they get angry at us. (X-Plane may have been, until it was restructured, one of the largest Android game APKs. The other games with large amounts of 3-d content were already doing separate downloads.)
We originally wanted to build a monolithic app (everything in the APK) because we thought that this would provide the simplest, easiest configuration to maintain, and thus hassle-free installation for our users. You get the APK, you install it, you fly! Unfortunately, the Android Market isn’t reliable for such a large download, so we had to re-evaluate.
The new system downloads only the core app from the Android Market and then pulls the art assets from one of our servers. So far this appears to be an improvement. If/when Google provides an integrated solution, we will probably switch back to it to simplify the process again (right now we have two points of failure: the Android Market and our server farm, which, per the above notes, sometimes does fail). But for now, we’ll host the apps and try to give people the best download experience we can.
Finally, I will try to roll out at least a beta of new installers some time this week. The new installer simultaneously downloads from multiple servers, with a more efficient HTTP implementation; this should hopefully result in better download times and also lower server load per demo.
* Chris pointed out: most normal humans don’t know what this ^H^H^H^H is about…it’s nerd-speak for the delete key, e.g. to undo a text. ^H is control-H, which you may find works just like the delete key. Yes, I’m a huge nerd.