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View Full Version : HTPC App Launcher (stop, start, and restart boxee, and other apps)


beekerstudios
June 4th, 2009, 09:18 AM
Let's face it, using VNC on an iPhone for a 1080p res screen, is more than cumbersome.

I needed a quick way to stop, start, and restart apps I used on a regular basis. One of them being boxee of course. Boxee crashes, I understand, it's beta, and I still love it, but the second it did, I had to get on vnc, and relaunch, or with this solution, 2-3 clicks of my finger and boxee is back up and running.

Great thing about this simple solution is that it can be expanded to work with anything outside of boxee. I know this isn't a strictly boxee solution, but my main goal was to make a solution to quickly restart boxee, and that's what this does.

To read about my solution (sorry for the plug here) got to my mind dump here:
http://www.beekerstudios.com/mind/htpc-app-launcher-iphone-web-app

beekerstudios
June 5th, 2009, 03:11 PM
I posted a video screen capture of how the web app works:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oa_xMdWNl8

I know this isn't really a remote, that's why I am calling it an App Launcher.

In that video, you can see how it functions a lot like an iPhone app, and starts, stops, restars, hides, and shows the apps I have designated it to.

Curious what people think, 36 views in this thread, and no respones. Either people don't think this is a remote, don't understand it, or think it's not useful, but at least I do.

:) Love boxee!

unisonband
June 5th, 2009, 06:06 PM
That app looks interesting...may I suggest getting it in the app store? I have no idea how to get anything on my iPhone without getting it from the app store...it's not jailbroken or anything (I'm sure I'm not the only one).

beekerstudios
June 5th, 2009, 07:24 PM
Thanks for the input, one thing about this, is it's not an "app" so to speak. It's a web app, that runs on my HTPC (which is permanently connected to my TV, and runs boxee, and other apps). It's merely submitting shell commands, with a nice iphone friendly frontend via a web server (MAMP).

Getting something into the app store would require that I actually write an iPhone app, and also that i pay $100 for the luxury of being able to publish it on the app store. Nice idea, but there are other contingencies I would need to examine if I did that.

Until then, people are welcome to use my idea, and even my snippet of PHP, to make their own App Launcher, like I have.

unisonband
June 5th, 2009, 10:35 PM
Is there an easy guide that noobs could follow to set this up? I also use a HTPC (my mac mini) that runs everything...it would be nice to use the mouse less and the iPhone more...

beekerstudios
June 6th, 2009, 08:12 PM
I will work on it a little more, and make a super easy method to add new apps, within the web app, so that will make it even simpler/easier for people to work with. I have ideas for how that could work.

Right now my simplest advice is...

- Install mamp (http://www.mamp.info)
- look at my PHP script I wrote (http://www.beekerstudios.com/mind/htpc-app-launcher-iphone-web-app#php_htpc_app_launcher)
- and download the iphone web app template my blog/mind dump points to (http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-19512_7-10114978-233.html)

The reason I can't just put up a website/web app to allow people to do this is because the web server has to run on the HTPC, to execute the proper commands via PHP. That's how it works. This is nothing new, but my specific use case for boxee, and also packaging/making it work and operate like an iPhone app, kind of seems newish to me (but maybe I am wrong about that).

Thanks for the response!

beekerstudios
June 12th, 2009, 03:41 PM
Getting a lot of hits to this topic, but not a lot of responses.

Just an FYI, I am working on making this web app work and function better, stay tuned.

If you have any input, please feel free to post it here, or on my blog.

Thanks for the interest!

beekerstudios
June 17th, 2009, 01:27 PM
Been working on the app.

Here are some screenshots...

beekerstudios
June 17th, 2009, 01:38 PM
It looks like the previous template I was using, was some early form of the iui which can be found here:
http://code.google.com/p/iui/

The new app I am working on, which is more developed version of what I show in the video, and on my blog, is now using the iui.

I should have a kludged, one download zip file ready soon for people to test out.

It consists of a modified version of the iui along with php scripts, and a couple of shell scripts (that have more complex applescripts, that need to be run).

A couple of notes on the attachments I posted above.

The app screen, detects if the app is running, and displays the proper switch interface. If the app is running, it gives the option to shut the app down, hide/show it, or restart. If the app is not running, the hide/show, and restart interfaces are hidden, until the app is running.

The app screen, also detects if the app is in the front or the background (hidden), and toggles the proper way, i.e show/hide

Everything can be setup in one php file, or via the app itself, including the password set, app add, app removal. It's super simple.

The interface also allows for apps that are within directories, without having to type the directory for every app you add. I had to add this after I realized Photoshop (which you probably wouldn't be controlling via this anyways), is within a directory. But there are other media apps, like VLC, which have typically been a "directory" install, unless you get wise. Other examples, Limewire (I know yuck, but just an example here).

I know I am talking a lot and not giving you guys much to test out here, but I will have a file very soon.

The app still requires MAMP be installed and running, and my web app of course, that's it.

beekerstudios
June 26th, 2009, 02:23 AM
I have packaged the web app into a zip file, and have done a little tutorial/writeup on how to get it running.

The mind dump/blog writeup:
http://www.beekerstudios.com/mind/introducing-htpc-launchboard-iphone-web-app

For those that cringe for the shameless plug, you can download the app directly from here:
http://www.beekerstudios.com/downloads/HTPC-Launchboard.zip

Also I made a new HD screencast of the new web app in action (iPhone SDK+iShowU HD FTW!):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gotpXDYc5iY

I appreciate any feedback or input. Thanks!

stustaff
June 27th, 2009, 11:47 AM
This looks good but surely its a lot easier to just buy the 'remote tap' app?

its a vnc type client but also has an option for launching and closing programs with one click.

my process goes like this, open remote tap on iphone, click on 'programs' icon, click on boxee icon, it then launches boxee.
I can then close boxee in the same way and shut my mini down or wake it up, control it via 3g from work etc etc all costs about $2.99.

Also lets you select a virtual apple remote and use that to then control boxee too, has a keyboard for typing in to boxee.

All seemless and works very simply.

beekerstudios
June 27th, 2009, 07:27 PM
if someone had told me about that app before I did all the work, I probably wouldn't have done it.

Either way, this is a little more extensible, and a framework, for other things. Controlling pretty much anything that one can control on command line, or via applescript. With a little know how, of course. Not sure if 'remote tap' offers that same capabilities. And I am giving this to anyone free. I know 2.99 isn't much, but some people (myself included), prefer FREE, and tinker/hackable.

Obviously it was/is also a lesson to me, and also I think it's a good example of how one doesn't need to "write" an iPhone app, to really get the features and functions, and "fluff", that one strives for on those apps.

BTW, Thanks for letting me know about that app, now I know what to compare this to.

P.S. I realize this path of building an "App" is limited, for instance, gaming, is impossible, but something with text data or otherwise is very easy.

stustaff
June 29th, 2009, 08:36 AM
I was thinking more about this last night and actually, Remote tap is limited in some ways and I think with the flexibility you could add to yours and the ability to tailor it to boxee and personal requiremnts you could be onto something.

for example im thinking of using Zinc http://www.zeevee.com/zinc to view Hulu content on and i guess your solution could allow a single press to switch between Boxee and Zinc? I can do that on remote tap but its not THAT straightforward.

also I need a simpler way to alter system volume with my setup which i guess would also be possible with yours.

beekerstudios
June 29th, 2009, 12:54 PM
Right now all I have is mute, but I just wanted to show the control of more than just apps, which being able to mute at all did.

I am planning to add an ajax slider volume adjustment, and the system volume issue is a little more complex than just mute. I'd like to be able to find out the volume level, and place the slider in the correct location. A simpler implementation, would be to just have an up down.

Also just so I am not blinded here, the remote tap app seemed to have a spaces switching feature (which my app could from what I understand, control as well). So I've heard people run boxee on one space, and other apps on another. So that might be what you need to do, to switch between your 2 apps quickly. That or, shutdown/startup each individual app, which is probably what I would do, just because of system resources issues. Either way, having a separate control app, outside of boxee, is almost a necessity.

When I showed this to a colleague of mine, his first reaction was, are you going to add any specific "insert name of app" functions. So the ability to create custom widget controls for individual apps is absolutely possible, but as you've said, not straight forward. One would need to create a separate link, and a separate if statement in the control php script, but yah, not terribly difficult. I could see a "Hide app A/Show app B" link/button that would accomplish what you are talking about.

And like I said, since this is nothing more than a web app, no update/wait for app store, no limitation of ONLY using it on the iphone. Sometimes I have my laptop in front of me, and I just want to do the same things, and having it as a web app gives me that control, without having to VNC as well.

Thanks for the feedback! Greatly appreciated!

stustaff
June 29th, 2009, 03:34 PM
Right now all I have is mute, but I just wanted to show the control of more than just apps, which being able to mute at all did.

I am planning to add an ajax slider volume adjustment, and the system volume issue is a little more complex than just mute. I'd like to be able to find out the volume level, and place the slider in the correct location. A simpler implementation, would be to just have an up down.

Also just so I am not blinded here, the remote tap app seemed to have a spaces switching feature (which my app could from what I understand, control as well). So I've heard people run boxee on one space, and other apps on another. So that might be what you need to do, to switch between your 2 apps quickly. That or, shutdown/startup each individual app, which is probably what I would do, just because of system resources issues. Either way, having a separate control app, outside of boxee, is almost a necessity.

When I showed this to a colleague of mine, his first reaction was, are you going to add any specific "insert name of app" functions. So the ability to create custom widget controls for individual apps is absolutely possible, but as you've said, not straight forward. One would need to create a separate link, and a separate if statement in the control php script, but yah, not terribly difficult. I could see a "Hide app A/Show app B" link/button that would accomplish what you are talking about.

And like I said, since this is nothing more than a web app, no update/wait for app store, no limitation of ONLY using it on the iphone. Sometimes I have my laptop in front of me, and I just want to do the same things, and having it as a web app gives me that control, without having to VNC as well.

Thanks for the feedback! Greatly appreciated!

No worries, firstly volume, please dont go the slider route... from a user point of view its one of the things i use very frequently and a + - buttons wprk imo much better I find the slider very difficult to make small adjustments.

Spaces would be fine except Im on leopard so no spaces :) however app switching on remote tap seems to work fine, i think it operates basically as if I have clicked the app in the menu bar, even if im in full screen something else. so automatically switches apps for me.

Take a look at some software called 'remote buddy', this has a very clever set up that can run on top of boxee or any app and let you launch close etc very quickly they already have some very user friendly ways of getting simple controls in place that may be worth taking a look at, very good video demos on their site too.

There more I think about the flexibility you can introduce actually the better it is, like you say you could have a main function 9up,down,left,right, select, menu, volume, which just by replicating keyboard controls could control most media apps, Hulu desktop definately can be tottaly controlled with 6 keyboard shortcuts, Boxee and XBMC a similiar number, and most of the others too. then add in some app specific shortcuts and common presses and you could have something amazing.

meatwad
August 27th, 2009, 06:33 AM
if someone had told me about that app before I did all the work, I probably wouldn't have done it.

Either way, this is a little more extensible, and a framework, for other things. Controlling pretty much anything that one can control on command line, or via applescript. With a little know how, of course. Not sure if 'remote tap' offers that same capabilities. And I am giving this to anyone free. I know 2.99 isn't much, but some people (myself included), prefer FREE, and tinker/hackable.

Obviously it was/is also a lesson to me, and also I think it's a good example of how one doesn't need to "write" an iPhone app, to really get the features and functions, and "fluff", that one strives for on those apps.

BTW, Thanks for letting me know about that app, now I know what to compare this to.

P.S. I realize this path of building an "App" is limited, for instance, gaming, is impossible, but something with text data or otherwise is very easy.

i'll through in my hat and give you a big thanks for your work on this. i'm trying to get my setup such that the machine will be 1-headed and function as a normal workstation, but if my wife wants to use boxee, she can:

1. wake the computer (there are free WOL apps on the store for this, but i bet we could get this web app to send out the magic packet too)
2. tell the computer to extend the display to the TV, launch boxee, and then use the remote app from there.

again, big thanks and thanks for not charging for it.

beekerstudios
August 28th, 2009, 06:54 PM
i'll through in my hat and give you a big thanks for your work on this. i'm trying to get my setup such that the machine will be 1-headed and function as a normal workstation, but if my wife wants to use boxee, she can:

1. wake the computer (there are free WOL apps on the store for this, but i bet we could get this web app to send out the magic packet too)
2. tell the computer to extend the display to the TV, launch boxee, and then use the remote app from there.

again, big thanks and thanks for not charging for it.

As my "web app" is required to be running on the "HTPC" you are trying to launch apps on, it's impossible to send the magic packets. If the computer is asleep, than so is the apache server that my app runs on top of.

Extending the display is something I understand, but unless there is some way to applescript it, I am not sure that's possible. Perhaps there is, but I don't know. It could be something I could add to the system pane of the app, but as my HTPC is connected to my tv 24/7 and ONLY to that TV, it's never something I would use.

Also forcing an app to launch on a different display is not something I am familiar with doing as well, especially a fullscreen app like boxee.

Sorry dead end answers from me. I am just a resourceful web developer that likes to tinker with OS X. Not a programmer, which is my app is a WEB app.

Even so, you are more than welcome to modify my "code" to suit your needs. It may be a little messy, but it works.

beekerstudios
November 9th, 2009, 04:18 PM
For anyone that is looking to record video directly from their STB, or just control it, I have added a STB firewire remote control to the HTPC LaunchBoard now.

It's built off of a command line tool called clover (I didn't write clover, at least not the first part), that I had to modify myself to get working (my stb didn't allow deterministic tuning). I then built an interface (in this HTPC LaunchBoard) to activate clover, and even record video via firewire, which can then be watched in boxee, immediately.

Technically speaking if boxee could open UDP streams, it could playback in real-time as well, but that's another story.

The image attached is a preliminary version of the remote app add-on.

Just to illustrate some benefit over this solution, as apposed to an iphone only app...

I can control this from anywhere in the world. I have to create an SSH tunnel, but that's my paranoid security method, that takes 2 seconds to execute. Once I do that though, it's just a browser click here and there, and I can start/stop apps, and now change the channel on my STB, and then start a recording, or even schedule a recording (haven't done that just yet, but I will). Why would I want to do this? Sometimes I forget to start my torrent client, or forget to turn on simplify media so I can listen to my giant library of music from work, or I want to VNC in, but Boxee is still running, and Boxee via VNC, is not always the most responsive app.

I still think this web/app server running on an HTPC is an all-around better solution to one-off iphone apps. Oh, did I mention this pretty much works on other web-enabled phones as well, as long as they can render the HTML properly (haven't tested it yet). So it's multi-platform in that way.

The app itself could also work on windows, rather simply actually. Recording and controlling a STB on the other hand, well that's just not something I have any interest in, so someone else would need to pick up that torch. I would be interested in making the app control part of this work on windows however, just haven't had time.

beekerstudios
November 9th, 2009, 04:25 PM
I forgot to mention something else, I figured out a bit more of the custom meta tags for making a web app live/work like an actual iphone app, so it has no address bar, no bottom bar, aside from it running on the web, it doesn't even look like safari or a web app. Pretty awesome, if you ask me.

If there is interest in the other aspects of my add-on, the STB remote, I may release that, but for now I am waiting to polish that aspect a little more, to re-release the updates I made to the app.