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TIP: Adapting to Tablets

TIP: Adapting to Tablets

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A while back someone asked on stackoverflow how to adapt a Codename One app to tablets. I provided quite a few references in the answer and following discussion but I think a better approach is to explain what we did with the recent Codename One Build app because that’s what I’ve been doing in all recent apps I worked on.

I call this approach the “phone first” approach for universal app development. It starts by forgetting about the tablet and focusing on building a good looking phone app. In this app I usually subclass Form for all the classes which instantly creates an app that’s very suitable for phones.

When this is done I give some thought to how I would like the app to work as a tablet app. In general I want the app to have a permanent side menu and one Form where the content is replaced.

To accomplish this I change all the existing subclasses of Form so they will derive from my private class BaseForm which is basically something like this:

public class BaseForm extends Container {
    private String title;
    private static Form tabletForm;

    public BaseForm(String title, Layout l) {
        this.title = title;
        if(!(l instanceof BorderLayout)) {

// rest of code

Since there is only one form in the tablet I can keep it as a static global, that’s obvious.

But why is the title a variable?

Where are the rest of the methods we expect in Form?

Simple, we create every method thats missing and make it work in such a way that makes sense for our applications tablet design. E.g. this is show() which is one of the bigger methods here:

public void show() {
    if(isTablet()) {
        if(tabletForm == null) { (1)
            tabletForm = new Form(title, new BorderLayout()); (2)
            getUnselectedStyle().setBgTransparency(255); (3)
            tabletForm.add(CENTER, this);
        } else {
            replaceTabletForm(true); (4)
    } else {
        if(getParent() != null) { (5)
        } else {
            Form f = new Form(title, new BorderLayout());
            f.add(CENTER, this); (6)
private void replaceTabletForm(boolean dir) {
    Container c = tabletForm.getContentPane();
    c.replaceAndWait(c.getComponentAt(0), this, CommonTransitions.createCover(CommonTransitions.SLIDE_HORIZONTAL, dir, 300));
    tabletForm.setTitle(title); (7)
1 If this is the first form shown we create a new Form for the case of a tablet
2 The BaseForm is in the center of a border layout which means it will take the available space, we can use more creative layouts e.g. with 3 panes
3 By default Container is transparent but this looks bad in replace animation so for tablets we make the containers opaque
4 If this isn’t the first form we just use the replace method below
5 For a phone we wrap a BaseForm in a Form so they are effectively identical, we can reuse the Form instances
6 This code is almost identical to the code in the tablet mode but happens multiple times
7 Since we reuse the same form in the tablet mode we need to update the title value

Once we do this there would be compilation errors for various methods of Form that we relied on. These are mostly easy to fix as they just mean implementing the logic for every Form method you need e.g.:

public void showBack() {
    if(isTablet()) {
    } else {

Generalization via API

I tried to generalize this process through a standardized API multiple times in the past and failed. It’s easy to solve the simple use cases but converting a “best practice” into an API is more challenging.

If you have thoughts or ideas on how this approach can be adapted to create a more versatile API I’m open to suggestions.

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