Posts tagged themes
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
Having written recent posts on theming the iPhone and jailbreaking the iPhone, it would be remiss of me not to note the recent release of a very cool theming tool for jailbroken phones called ColorKeyboard.
This is a paid for app on Cydia, but I think worth it for what it does. Those that are familiar with iPhone theming may know about an app called iAcces. This is an app that was originally designed to provide Asian language keyboards, but has been hijacked by theme makers to provide themed keyboards for their themes. However, there are a few drawbacks (at least from my point of view) of iAcces. First, it’s damn expensive. Secondly, it is it’s own keyboard “system”, so it effectively replaces the native keyboard, and behaves quite differently – it takes a lot of getting used to. Thirdly, it takes up a lot of RAM, which can be a problem on a device that has limited RAM. Fourthly, it drains my battery faster than it would otherwise with the native keyboard.
ColorKeyboard is different from iAcces in a number of respects. It basically themes the native keyboard, so all of the downsides to iAcces I’ve listed above don’t apply. Furthermore, customising the keyboard theme is very easy – although you will have to get your hands dirty in a bit of XML style configuration. The finished product looks pretty good. So if you’re into iPhone theming and want to take things a little bit further, download and start playing with ColorKeyboard. They have a good tutorial on their website on how to make a theme for it.
If you use the Prestige theme, here’s a copy of my theme file.
With the recent release of the pwnage tool and redsnow providing an untethered jailbreak for iOS 4.3.1 I thought it might be time to write down some of my favourite apps for a jailbroken phone. Having imported a first gen iPhone from the USA, jailbreaking and unlocking it was essential – otherwise I’d spent $800 dollars importing a brick – I could pick one of those up from my back yard for nothing. So I’ve been jailbreaking and unlocking since the inception of the jailbreak scene. Thankfully I now own an iPhone 4 on a supported network, so unlocking is a thing of the past. But I couldn’t go back to an un-jailbroken iPhone. It would be like … being in jail!
Anyway, if you don’t know what a jailbreak is, or an unlock, or how to do it, check out the plethora of tutorials on iClarified.
Now on with the show. These are the apps I think are essential to get the most out of your iPhone:
ThemeIt.app is a reasonably recent addition to the Jailbreak scene. For a very long time, Cydia has been the main “app store” for Jailbreak apps. For a brief time, there was “Rock”, but this merged with Cydia last year, leaving a monopoly. ThemeIt.app, put together by the awesome designer, fif7y is now the place to find the best themes for the iPhone. Great UI, and great package manager.
While the iPhone’s default UI is pretty, when compared to some of the art and design work of the themes available on themeit.app, it’s looking a bit dated. It hasn’t been updated since the first gen iPhone and is showing its age. So ditch it, and find something a bit more your speed. There’s plenty out there. See this post for my favourite themes. If that’s not to your taste, then explore. There are some pretty wacky layouts out there, and some pretty cool widgets to put on your lockscreen. Also, don’t be afraid to mix and match.
Battery life on smart phones can be a real issue. The iPhone is, relatively speaking, not too bad, but it’s not that great either. One of the biggest drain on battery life is 3g. While you can turn 3g on and off in the settings, it’s not particularly convenient, which means you never do it, and so your battery life suffers the consequences. Auto3g takes care of when 3g is on, and when it’s off. Personally, I have 3g turn off when the phone goes to sleep and when I’m on wifi. This has had a significant beneficial effect on my battery life.
Lockinfo is a nice application that puts key information on your lock screen. It means you can see mail, SMS, missed calls, calendar appointments, weather info and a lot more without having to unlock your phone and open an application. Very convenient if you just need to quickly see essential information. You can also manipulate some of the information – mark mail as read, or delete it, or reply to an SMS. You can also see the lockinfo screen on your springboard by swiping down from the statusbar.
SBSettings is an application that gives you access to essential settings without having to find them buried many levels deep in the settings app. Just swipe your finger across the status bar and “settings at your fingertips”. You can toggle on/off things like bluetooth, 3g and wifi. You can turn off all background processes – rather than doing it using the stupid task switcher apple provides. You can also turn off, reboot or lock the phone using the “power manager”. There’s also some pretty cool functionality buried in the “more” section, which power users of the iPhone will appreciate.
BiteSMS is an alternative to the built in messaging app. It adds a whole lot of functionality that should really be there already. Like rendering emoticons. What Steve Jobs has against the humble emoticon, I have no idea. Anyway, biteSMS shows contact pictures in the message list, so it’s easy to find a conversation in the list. You can forward a message or create a template from it just by holding your finger on it. But the killer feature for me is that the popup that appears when a message arrives is actually useful. You can reply right from the popup and then go back to what you were doing without having to change apps. The popup even let’s you scroll back to see previous messages in the conversation. You can also forward the message from the popup as well as other functions. If you want to send a new message, just hit one of the volume keys, tap the speaker popup and you can send – no need to open up an app, or change from the one your using. Once you have this functionality, it is very hard to go back to using apple’s basic messaging app.
For the uninitiated, SSH is a secure network protocol for accessing the shell of another computer. What this means for the iPhone is that you can access the unix shell which underlies iOS. For someone not familiar with unix-like operating systems this will be somewhat daunting. However, it does have uses although only probably for users at the “power” end of the spectrum. SSH allows you to access your phone’s file system via SFTP. You can then use SFTP aware file managers (cyberduck, winscp, pretty much any Linux filemanager) to manipulate files on your phone. This can be useful if you want to customize themes, or use the storage on your device as a portable drive.
This is a simple file manager for the iPhone which packs some serious power behind it’s simple interface. Good for manipulating the file system on the phone itself.
This little tweak shows profile pictures in your contacts list. Just makes finding contacts in a big list that much easier.
This is app folders done how they should have been in the first place. This allows you to put more than 12 apps in a folder. The folder still shows a maximum of 12 apps, but you scroll down to see more. Just as you would expect. Intuitive and simple.
This is a task switcher that is far more intuitive than the one that comes built in. Just hold down the home button and all your backgrounded apps appear either as cards, or in an expose type grid. You click on the app to give it focus, or on the ‘x’ to kill it altogether. Much easier than holding down an icon and waiting for it to jiggle before you can kill it.
This is a very cool tweak – ever decided to reorganise your apps and got frustrated with moving one app at a time across many screens? Well this little tweak will ease your pain. With this app, you can choose icons to move (as many as you like), move to the screen you want them on, press the home button and they all move at once. A major timesaver.
Ever got a calendar popup, looked at it, and thought – yes, must do that, popup disappears, and you immediately forget it. This tweak adds a “snooze” option, which means the popup comes back 5 minutes later. Bloody useful.
This app allows you to print to a huge range of printers straight from your iPhone. Again breaking the shackles of the in built printing functionality that comes via air-print, or whatever it’s called.
Winterboard is the basic Theming platform for iPhone at the moment. There is a pretender to the throne – dreamboard. But this is still in heavy development, and there are very few themes for it. So winterboard it is.
Backboard is essential, if like me, you like to swap between themes relatively frequently. This app backs up all of the configuration of each theme, including icon layout, winterboard settings and many more bits and pieces that help make up a theme. A great time saver.
Barrel basically animates the transition between springboard screens. It makes flicking between screens fun.
Bytafont is a little app released by iphoneruler which changes the fonts on your iPhone – either globally, or selectively. iphoneruler has released many font packages on Cydia to be used on bytafont, so there’s plenty of scope for enhancing themes with cool fonts.
Gridlock allows you to place icons wherever you want on the springboard. This means you can organise them in patterns, or in ways that utilise space to group certain icons together so they’re easier to find. Works well, in tandem with iconoclasm.
The default springboard comes with a 4×4 layout of icons. Iconoclasm can basically create pre-set positions for icons anywhere on the sprinboard. Theme makers have been using iconoclasm to break this 4×4 restriction to give their themes interesting layouts both to enhance design and usability. This is what I use to get the nice 3×3 layout in the centre of the screen in the screenshot of the Prestige theme above.
I use this to allow me to show 5 icons on the dock at the bottom of the screen. It does have a lot more functionality allowing an infinite number of icons on the dock, which can be scrolled left and right. Why you might use this, I don’t know, but it’s there if you want it.
If you like showing lots of different widgets on your springboard screens, perpagehtml is for you. A couple of problems I’ve found with it is that it’s quite complicated to set up, and the more widgets you have running, the more memory you use and the worse your battery life is. Use with caution (IMHO).
If you’ve got lots of springboard pages, springjumps allows you to jump directly to a particular page by touching an icon. This can make navigating a multipage setup a lot easier.
Well, that’s the list. The only thing left to say really is that having installed all of the stuff above, you’d better get the pkgbackup app, so when you move to the next iteration of iOS, all your apps can be restored automagically. Happy jailbreaking.
There are literally thousands of themes available for a jailbroken iPhone. However, to be quite honest most of them are crap and a large proportion of the remainder are atrocious – just look on Cydia. Most of the themes are incomplete, and only really provide a wallpaper and change a few icons – often using icons that have been downloaded from the internet.
Obviously there are a lot of “complete” themes, appearing on the new ThemeIt.app store and in the new themes section in Cydia. But I’ve found these themes to be missing UI elements here and there, which just stand out like dogs balls, and ruin the whole aesthetic of the theme. Furthermore, most of these themes have a ‘metallic’ motif of some sort and are just too ‘busy’. The iPhone’s hardware design is elegant and the UI should reflect that.
That being said, there are two themes that I think have pushed iPhone theming to a whole new level:
This theme is only available on the ThemeIt app. In fact it is made by the developer of that app. As you can see from the screenshots, this theme has a simple, elegant and professional look, with hints of colour here and there to enhance the UI. Every part of the UI is themed from the keyboard to the landscape calculator, to common Cydia like BiteSMS. It also comes with a number of alternate lockscreen widgets that can display weather, time and calendar info. The theme is just stunning.
In the screenshots I’m using a 5×5 iconoclasm (look it up on Cydia) layout for the Springboard icons. Using Gridlock (another Cydia app that allows you to place icons anywhere you want in the grid), I’ve placed the icons in a nice little square in the middle. I’ve also set 5 dock icons using Infinidock – you guessed it, another Cydia app.
Revi-Krs is a theme released recently by an (apparently) well known iPhone theming dude known as “Krs” (surprisingly). Whilst this theme doesn’t have the same “elegance” as Prestige, it is fully complete and furthermore includes two sound themes. It also has more colour, but is not over the top or too busy.
Again, I’m using a non-standard layout from iconoclasm. I’ve also included a shot of the Springboard using the icons from the azui signature mod – available on Cydia. Revi-Krs is also available on the ThemeIt app.
The developers do charge for these themes, but in my view the small amount they charge is definitely worth it. So if you want to theme your iPhone like a boss, get these themes – don’t forget you’ll need to Jailbreak first.