Android apps

An intro to on{X} – a new community powered app for coding how you want your phone to behave

June 18, 2012 | by Darren Meehan

Android apps

onx android app, example rules

on{X} is a new app for Android that exposes your phones different hardware capabilities – its GPS, accelerometer, compass, gyro, mic and speaker, Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth and for the newer phones, NFC. It exposes these different tools in such a way that developers and technology enthusiasts can relatively easily use them to improve our lives with different programmes, or rules as they’re called in the on{X} community (which is already flourishing, more on that later).

How does it work?

After installing the app on your phone and signing up on the website, you can take a look through the different rules/recipes that have been shared publicly, once you come across a rule or recipe you’d like to try you then push to to your phone. Recipes consist of different rules written in Javascript. Rules are composed of a trigger and an action. This is where the name on{X} comes from; when {X} happens, do {Y}. You’re also able to write your own recipes, built using Javascript, so while the need of Javascript will rule out a lot of people there are some great guides online for learning how to program using this language, this may be the perfect excuse for learning your first programming language.

Open Development, from Microsoft

onX is developed by a team from Microsoft, which makes this experiment all the more interesting. The reason the on{X} team have went about it in the way they have, building more of a framework than a finished working product, is to see what interesting uses of the technology people come up with.

on{X} is a very new app, only released on 3rd of this month so there are bugs being ironed out as well as changes being made as the team figure out more about what people want. More of Android’s API is being worked on at the moment, and features are being polished and improved. So for these reasons I don’t think the app is just ready for a proper review, though i do recommend checking the app out.

Community

Only 2 weeks in, there’s already a great community surrounding the app and using it in development of different rules for your phone. You’re more than welcome in the official forum, and asking for help is the norm. There are also fan built sites starting based on adding the the community element of on{X} with their own offerings of recipes. Though as they’re only running a few days its difficult to say if they’ll be around long, only time will tell.

Check out some example Recipes, and why not build your own if you’ve app itch to scratch. There’s plenty of documentation available on how to develop your own recipe. If you’ve any ideas for great recipes, or have even built your own please do share as I’ve be interested in hearing about it, or even trying it out on my phone.

Authentication with Facebook

A common problem people have with the app is its use of using only Facebook as a means of authentication. If you don’t want to use Facebook, or don’t have a Facebook  account, you can’t use on{X} just yet. The development team has announced they will be releasing different ways of authenticating with the app though so you shouldn’t have long to wait. I think using Google Accounts would be an obvious choice, along with Microsoft’s Live accounts – a totally separate on{X} specific account system would be great for those not wanting to use any of the other choices too, though I don’t know how probably this will be.

Conclusion

While on{X} is a very new app, the idea isn’t all that new, with apps such as Tasker already available. Tasker is designed more for consumers to use while on{X} requires some coding skills and could potentially add more control. How different these apps become is difficult to gauge as this experiment isn’t set in stone – something I thoroughly love the thought of. While my Javascript skills aren’t great I’m giving it a shot and seeing how it goes, so far I’m enjoying the process, as well as the results on my phone.