April 14, 2013: Tasker Profiles and Tablet Talk
June 30, 2013: Updates Regarding Tablet Talk and Home Screen
This post is dedicated to the software running on my tablet. I use some terms that are specific to the application being discussed. For example, I talk about "profiles" when discussing Tasker. If you do not understand, you will after using these apps.
As stated in my first post, my tablet is unlocked and rooted. The custom ROM I installed is CleanROM Inheritance (CROMI) version 3.4.7. The reason I chose this ROM is the developer updates frequently (that's an understatement) and it's received positive reviews.
Tasker: This is a must-have app for anyone installing an Android tablet. I won't go into a full review or recap its features because that's beyond the scope of this post. Briefly, Tasker is basically an automation application for Android. It operates based on "triggers" and "tasks." Tasker waits for a trigger and then carries out a task once it happens. For example, when the tablet receives power, Tasker can change the Display Timeout to 12 hours. This is useful for a car install because the tablet will turn on once the driver turns on the car. Conversely, when a driver turns off the car then the tablet should turn off accordingly. Tasker can accomplish this by changing the Display Timeout to 15 seconds once power to the tablet is shut off. This is a simple example and Tasker can do so much more. For more details, see this guide and YouTube videos.
In regards to configuring the software side of this install, setting up Tasker has been the most frustrating part thus far. The first thing I did since my first post was buy Tasker and configure it. The first task I wanted to configure was turning the screen on and off. And of course, this was the most difficult thing to do. The first trigger I tried was "power any." My thought process was that if Tasker senses any power, then it can turn on the display and change the time out to 23 hours (max allowable in Tasker). What's interesting is this worked only when Tasker cold booted. And more importantly, it only worked once. The tasker would not re-trigger until I rebooted the tablet. So basically it did not work. I tried several times for 2 weeks and I could not get it to work. I think there is something quirky about the Transformer Infinity when it's docked. I noticed that once the tablet was fully charged, it would not draw power from the engine. I'm actually assuming this is the case because the lightning symbol disappeared from the charging icon. However, if this were true, then Tasker should technically turn the screen off because it should assume no power is being received thus indicated the car is off (even though it's not). But this did not happen either. The enter task would only work once and the exit task would never trigger. Over the course of 2 weeks I tried various settings, added wait commands, re-installed Tasker, switched around enter and exit tasks, investigated the error logs and still could not find a solution.
Since the "Power Any" trigger did not work, I tried "Bluetooth connected." My thought process was that my tablet automatically connects to the Bluetooth dongle when the car starts. This would tell the tablet that my car is on and the display should turn on accordingly. But this didn't work either. After turning off the car, the Bluetooth dongle receives power for a few more minutes. After the dongle turns off, then my exit task is triggered. This is not the ideal solution because the screen would be on after I leave the car. Additionally, the car actually powers on the Bluetooth dongle when you get in the car EVEN if you don't intend to turn the car on. The reason is the car is basically "getting ready" for you to start the car in case you do. But if you forgot your cellphone and go back an hour later, then the screen could turn on. Furthermore, the enter task didn't trigger consistently anyway. This took another 1-2 weeks of my time.
At this point I was completely lost. I could not figure why those two Tasks did not work. I was sure Tasker was working properly because I created some simple tasks that worked fine. It's possible another app was interfering with Tasker, but I had so many installed that finding the problem would be difficult. I decided to start from scratch. I wiped the entire tablet and started fresh. I only installed Tasker after the first boot and completed an initial set up. But still I could not get the previous tasks to work.
The next task I tried was "USB Connected" and this finally worked. Every time the car starts, my USB hub receives power and the external HD is mounted. This was finally the task that worked and it works every time. Here's how it's set up:
Profile Name: Turn Screen On
Trigger: USB Mass Storage Connected
a) Display Timeout = 23 hours
b) Wifi = On
a) Wifi = Off
b) Display Timeout = 15 seconds
I never thought it would take ~3-4 weeks to get one task working, but it did. This was an extremely frustrating process. In case anyone is wondering, I created two widgets called "Wake" and "Sleep" that I used to change the settings while trying to get Tasker to work. These two widgets are on the home screen and I pressed one depending what I needed.
I am very relieved that this Tasker Profile finally works. It's the first and, probably, the most important profile that needs to work for any car install.
Once this was completed, I moved on to my next Profile which was syncing my media. FolderSync is a great app that, obviously, syncs files with the cloud and home networks. Best of all, it has a Tasker plug-in. After installing FolderSync, I set up two folder pairs to sync music and books. For me, my home network houses all of my content and serves as the master. All of my TV Shows, Movies, Music, and Books are located on my home network. When the tablet connects to my home Wifi, it triggers the sync process for music and books. For my music, FolderSync uses the home network music folder as the parent and only maintains an exact copy of the home network folder. If I delete a song on the home network, then FolderSync will do the same on the next sync. If I delete a song on the tablet, then FolderSync will re-copy the song IF it's present on the home network. For books, I set up the folder pair to copy new books to the tablet and delete the books off the network drive. This entire sync process is triggered every morning before I leave for work and ONLY when connected to my home wifi:
Tasker Profile: Sync Music and Books
Trigger: WiFi Connected to "Wireless Internet" (Wireless Internet is the name of my home WiFi)
Context: Time is Mon-Fri, 6AM - 6:30AM
Enter Task: Start FolderSync
Those are the two Tasker Profiles I currently have set up. There's a lot more I want to do, but nothing worth mentioning yet because nothing is complete.
Tablet Talk: It basically creates a bluetooth connection between your cellphone and tablet allowing you to respond to text messages and initiate/end phone calls from your tablet. There's not much more to say except that it works well. My address book is synced and so are my text messages. When I get an incoming phone call, a pop-up is displayed on the tablet which allows me to answer/ignore. And finally, if you're connected to the internet or tether your tablet to your phone, you can respond to text messages via voice. Google speech recognition works really well, but requires an internet connection. Another good feature is there's a tasker plugin.
The tasker plugin for Tablet Talk simply starts the service. I have Tablet Talk start whenever the car is turned on (this action is triggered by "USB Connected"). Tablet Talk waits for 10 min and then turns off if my phone is not connected (the 10 min time is a setting in Tablet Talk). There are times when I do not want to connect automatically. For example, if I have people in the car and are worried about what SMS pops up. To deal with this, you can turn off SMS pop-ups in the Tablet Talk settings. Another thing, which I do, is I have my phones' BlueTooth turned off normally. When I get in the car, I can turn on BlueTooth and then it'll connect to the tablet because Tablet Talk is already waiting. If I have people with me, then I usually keep BlueTooth off and it'll never connect.
One issue I have run into is upon disconnection. On the phone, when you turn off bluetooth, the tablet bluetooth also turns off only if both are still within range. But if you try to re-enable it under settings, it won't turn on so you're forced to restart the tablet. Not sure what's going on there, but the simple fix is to walk away from the car and then turn off bluetooth.
The apps that "make" the Infinity tablet a "head unit" are: Tasker, FolderSync, and Tablet Talk. Which is the reason I described them first. But Tasker is the most important. Even though it was very frustrating, Tasker and its Profiles need to work for everything to function properly. Some tips I can offer people who are setting up Tasker for their car are:
a) Set up your power Profile first. Make sure this works because if it doesn't, you'll drain your battery. This may not be an issue with people whose tablet is removable. But mine is not and I need to run the car to charge it.
b) If you're setting up a task with multiple actions, make sure each action works first before adding another. Creating a complicated Profile all at once is not a good idea. Something will inevitably go wrong and it'll be more difficult to troubleshoot.
c) Use actions or pop-ups to confirm a task works. Often times a task is completely behind the scenes and there is no user interaction at all. This makes it difficult to know if a task works or not. If you have Tasker play a sound or pop-up a message at the end, then you get confirmation it works. Once you're confident the task will always work, then delete it.
d) Tasker has a Log built in. Use it to troubleshoot.
The next issue I tackled after getting Tasker to work was my home screen. The Home Screen, to me, is very important because its the screen everyone sees and should be the screen people interact with a lot. I wanted a home screen that was simplistic, doubled as a app launcher, displayed currently playing music, and was easy to use. Finally, the most important was making sure it resembled the stock Mercedes system in terms of color and layout. I wanted both systems to appears similar to ensure a semi-stock look.
I spent a majority of March and June playing with the home screen. I trialed many different home screen replacements like Apex Launcher, Nova, and Buzz. The launcher I settled on was ssLauncher the Original. I chose this because ssLauncher does not have any grids. When arranging icons and widgets, many launchers fit things to a certain grid. This makes it difficult if you're trying to get a specific look or need your widget in a certain location. Without any grids, I was able to arrange everything in the exact position I wanted.
There are several apps that allow you to add various bits of information to the home screen. For example, you can add the current date, battery %, current GPS location, 5 day weather forecast, etc. There are individual apps to add information like this, but there are also more comprehensive apps. These comprehensive apps are like "drawing" on the home screen. You can add shapes, colors, lines, etc. Eventually, you can make amazing home screens like ones at MyColorScreen. I tried Simple Text, UCCW, and others. The one I like is Zooper Widget Pro. It's very easy to use. Zooper Widget allowed me to add some of the info I just listed (forecast, current date, etc), but I also added 4 large text links: Games, Read, Travel, and Watch. Clicking the text will launch Sixaxis Controller, Moon Reader Pro, GPS Navigation & Maps, and Mizuu. These 4 apps are the ones I use most.
In addition to those 4 apps, I have many more installed that I do use less frequently. The easiest way to access these was with CircleLauncher. CircleLauncher is basically an app folder, except it displays things in a nice way. Similar programs like Simi Folder exist, but are lacking in the visual department. I added 4 more icons and arranged my apps into general categories as previously mentioned: Games, Read, Travel, Watch. You can probably guess what types of apps are in there. All of my emulators and android games belong under "Games" (that's probably obvious) and apps like work email, gmail, Google+ are under "Read." The categories don't quite match up, but I can live with it for now.
And the final piece to my home screen is PlayerPro. PlayerPro is my main music app and I placed a widget in the center of the screen to display currently playing music. There are three buttons: back, pause/play, forward. And this is all you need. To open the main app, you click the album art.
All of these work well and I've created a home screen that's easy to use, easy to read, and easy for passengers to use to. In terms of colors and arrangement of the widget, I was inspired by a home screen called Symmetry 2 by badbrad. He has a great YouTube tutorial that really helped me. The look, for some strange reason, reminded me of the stock Mercedes system. I used elements from this and eventually made what you see below.