dreamboard: a viable replacement for winterboard?
If you’ve been jailbreaking the iPhone for a while, you’ll know about the replacement for the iPhone’s default graphical “shell”, Winterboard. Winterboard is basically a theming engine for the iPhone’s UI. Whilst Winterboard is mature and (usually) pretty stable, no significant development has taken place on it for quite some time. Whilst theme creators and other developers have come up with some amazing workarounds to circumvent some of Winterboard’s shortcomings (eg. html based widgets, per page html widgets, iNav mods, backboard for quick theme changes, springjumps), as with all workarounds, they have shortcomings – they can be hard to setup, are sometimes slow and can chew up memory and battery life. As with many things, necessity is the mother of invention, and the frustration with Winterboard must have gotten under someone’s skin enough to come up with a new solution for theming the iPhone.
So, along comes Dreamboard. This app was developed by WyndWarrior – who is also responsible for the development of the Backboard and PerPageHTML apps (which, ironically, are tweaks for enhancing Winterboard). Now that Dreamboard has been on the scene for a few months (it was released in March 2011), and there have been a few themes developed for it, I thought it was time to give it another go and see how it compares to Winterboard.
Dreamboard is available for download in the Cydia store. Once downloaded and launched, you are presented with a “card” style interface showing the “default” theme, which is your current Winterboard theme. You can slide to the left and right to choose the Dreamboard based themes. Dreamboard comes with an Android-alike theme called Endroid. Click on this “card”, press “Apply” and it will smoothly expand to fill the screen.
The developer’s description of Dreamboard claims:
Advanced Theming Platform. Take control over SpringBoard! Dreamboard lets you place anything from widgets to apps where ever you want. Theming is no longer limited to just icons, or having to resort to complicated setup themes involving Iconoclasm, SpringJumps, etc.
Dreamboard makes it easy to switch between any theme in just a few seconds. Simply launch, choose and apply! And, Dreamboard eliminates the long wait of having to restart Springboard everytime you make a change. No more resprings!
So how does Dreamboard actually compare to the developer’s sales pitch and Winterboard?
Switching between themes is as advertised. Very smooth and no resprings required. Even changing back to your Winterboard theme is seamless (tunes playing on the iPod app continue playing through the theme change). However, the setup of themes is not that easy. Whilst the theme creator has total control over the placement of icons and widgets, there are still a lot of limitations on customising themes for individual users. By way of example, folders which are available in Springboard for splitting apps into logical groups are not available in Dreamboard. Theme developers can, and do, group icons in Dreamboard “folders” which a user can edit, but if the categories that the developer chooses to use do not reflect the way the user likes to group apps, then the user is going to have to dig into the configuration files to get it “right” for them. For example the Boxor Dreamboard theme provides three categoris “Games”, “Apps” and “Favourites”. I don’t play games very much and I certainly wouldn’t give them top billing. The “Apps” category contains every app on my phone in alphabetical order – not really a category at all. As for “Favourites”, I put my most used apps on the home page of my phone, so what’s the point of having them in a separate folder? Whilst I don’t mind digging around in configuration files – in fact I quite like it, the ability to categorise apps in Dreamboard is limiting and I don’t think most users would have the patience to dig around in config files to make it “right” for them.
theming is limited
Another shortcoming of Dreamboard is that it only themes what I am loosely calling the “launcher interface” of your iPhone and not the whole UI. By the “launcher interface” I mean the screne(s) that come up when you unlock the phone – the icons for launching apps, the wallpaper and the widgets that sit on the wallpaper. In contrast, Winterboard allows themers to theme all of these elements, together with the whole UI – all UI elements from buttons to sliders and text elements (what would be referred to in developer speak as widgets in a GUI toolkit). Interestingly, this means that once you launch an app, it is themed as it would be in Winterboard, which can often mean that the look and feel of the apps does not sit easily with the look and feel of the Dreamboard theme itself. Winterboard, although requiring a number of tweaks to match the flexibility of Dreamboard’s “launcher interface”, the overall coherence of Winterboard themes is unmatched by Dreamboard.
speed and memory
Another shortcoming is speed and memory usage. A lot of the graphical elements are html widgets, which can also be an archilles heal of Winterboard themes. However, generally Winterboard themes use only one html widget. Whereas because there are no limitations on html widgets in Dreamboard, theme makers tend to use a lot of them. This tends to chew up a lot of memory and because all the widgets are “live” and constantly refreshing, they tend to use up more battery than Winterboard themes. In addition, they can slow down the UI. Scrolling between screens of icons/widgets seems to be pretty smooth. But once you get into the app “folders”, vertical scrolling is very slow and jerky. Interestingly, as you open the app folders, there is a significant drop in available memory. Also interestingly, memory usage drops by 100MB by switching from the Boxor theme back to the default Winterboard theme. Relatively speaking that’s about 1/3rd of the total available RAM on my device – eek.
I think it is pretty clear that Dreamboard is not going to take over from Winterboard any time soon. In my view, the lack of easy user customisation is an issue. Most users will find that the default configuration of the theme does not fit their particular “workflow” but will not have the patience and possibly skill to tweak the configuration to their liking. Furthermore, whilst Dreamboard integrates a number of disparate Winterboard tweaks into a coherent whole, I think I’d rather put up with using a hotchpotch of tweaks in Winterboard to get the same look as can be achieved through Dreamboard, as well as have a coherent theme across all aspects of the UI. I hope Dreamboard can implement these features to become a true competitor with Winterboard, because without competition, Winterboard is likely suffer from the stagnation it has enjoyed for quite some time to come
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