WWWJDIC for Android 2.2

After a long break, a new version of WWWJDIC for Android is available on the Android Market Google Play. The new release comes with a new UI and a fresh set of icons, support for more dictionaries and widget improvements. It also marks 2 years since the first public release (0.1).

Once again, WWWJDIC makes use of the excellent ActionBarSherlock library to make app features more accessible and easier to use. ActionBarSherlock 4.0, based on Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) source code, backports all features of the action bar found in Android 4.0 to Android 2.x and 3.x devices. Of those, the one most prominently used in WWWJDIC is the split action bar. Android's action bar can host multiple action buttons to let users easily access app features, but on handset screens the number of buttons is limited to 2 or at most 3, in order to leave some space for the activity icon and title. Actions that don't fit in the action bar are by default moved into the overflow menu. Since they are hidden, it's harder for new users to find them, and some app features may go undiscovered for quite a while. The solution to this problem, introduced in ICS, is the split action bar. An app configured to use it will display actions in the top action bar when space is available (in landscape mode and/or on tablets), but show a secondary action bar at the bottom of the screen when running on a narrow-screen device. Since the app icon and title are displayed at the top, all space can be dedicated to action buttons (usually up to 5). Most WWWJDIC screens now make use of the split action bar, and some features originally accessible via inline buttons have been moved to the bottom bar. Here's how the main screen looks like now:

All major app features (handwriting recognition, OCR, multi-radical search and favorites/history) now have their own icon in the bottom bar (new icons created with Android Asset Studio). This  makes app features easier to discover for new users and provides a consistent look across the whole app. The main  action bar (with home icon and app title) has been removed to make sure all features are accessible without scrolling even on devices with small screens. You can switch between the dictionary, kanji and example search modes as before: by selecting the appropriate tab or swiping left or right.

Another major change in WWWJDIC 2.2 is how contextual actions are handled. Up till now, long-pressing on a list item would display a pop-up contextual menu with available options. In 2.2, contextual actions are displayed in the contextual action bar, similarly to regular action buttons. This lets us make it explicit on which item the action will be performed by highlighting it, without the pop-up menu getting in the way. Additionally, displaying the action buttons in a place users are accustomed to seeing them results in a more consistent user interface. As an example, here's how context actions for kanji are displayed. Icons for the available operations are displayed in the contextual action bar, and the check mark on the left lets us dismiss the contextual mode and clear the selection. As with the regular action bar, if you are not sure what an icons represents, long-pressing on it will show a small textual hint.

Native Android sharing has been added to all details screens, so you can now send the dictionary entry, kanji or example sentence you are viewing to any Android app that accepts plain text simply by pressing the share button. Copying to the clipboard is available as before, but has a new icon (the middle on in the screenshot below). Note that details screens are using the split action bar now, and some inline buttons have been moved there: the kanji stroke order button bellow, as well as the example search button, previously displayed on the dictionary details screen.

The stroke order diagram backend, running on Google App Engine, has been migrated to the High Replication Datastore. This should result in faster stroke order display time and less errors/downtime. Additionally, the backend is now a paid app with additional quota to let it handle traffic spikes and assure faster response time. Supporting the app is still relatively cheap, but not completely free, so buying the donate version is appreciated.

The kanji of the day widget also gets a few improvements in 2.2 (along with a pesky details layout bug, already fixed in 2.2.2). In addition to the previous random selection mode, there is now a sequential display mode as well. If you select it in the configuration screen, the kanji of the day will be displayed in a predictable order: either  JIS Level 1/2 order or as defined in the JLPT kanji lists for each level. The widget configuration screen has been added to Settings, so now you can change how the widget is displayed without having to remove and re-add it (only enabled if there is at least one widget on the home screen). Less visible, but important for people trying to squeeze the best performance out of their devices, is how network connectivity changes are handled. In previous versions, WWWJDIC would receive a network change notification (connected to WiFi, offline, etc.) and try to update the widget if the previous update failed due to lack of Internet access. The check would be performed even if you were not using the widget, causing a new WWWJDIC process to be created (if not already running) for each check. As of 2.2, the app only registers itself for network notifications if you have at least one widget installed. That should save a few CPU cycles for people not currently using the kanji of the day widget.

Last but not least, WWWJDIC (the site) introduced support for a Japanese-Italian dictionary in February. The Android app now supports Italian (text-to-speech also available) as well, and can access some of the less known WWWJDIC dictionaries: Japanese WordNet, Combined English-Japanese as well as the Work-in-progress dictionary.

Finally, a short statistical recap to mark the app's second birthday: 86 thousand total downloads, 40 thousand of which are active users. 70% of users are in Japan, followed by the US with 12%, then Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom and France with 1-2%. The most popular devices are Toshiba Regza, Samsung Galaxy S2 and the original Galaxy S. There is still some way to go until 100K downloads, so if you are not already using the app get it now and help it join the 100K club!


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