The Leo Collection

I was wrong about stickers.

Sitting in a hotel room, watching the WWDC keynote address with some friends this past June, Curtis Herbert commented that “Stickers will be huge” no matter how much developers make fun of the whole concept. I remember thinking, of course they would be. It didn’t even occur to me to make fun of the concept. There was no question stickers would be immensely popular. But there was no way I was going to use them.

I’m the guy who doesn’t even use emoji. What chance was there that I’d want to do the sticker thing?

Shortly after the announcement, I started drawing some guitars and basses in Illustrator. I’ve always enjoyed drawing musical instruments, and guitars in particular. They are beautiful objects, and they are relatively easy to draw, if you are comfortable with a bezier tool.

Olympic White J Bass. Part of the Leo Collection

Olympic White J Bass. Part of the Leo Collection

Once I got a few made, I thought, heck, why not do a whole set and release them as a sticker pack? I still wasn’t going to use them, but I’m sure other people would like to.

After all, stickers are one type of app where I have a serious advantage over most of my developer friends. While I may not be nearly as crafty with code, I can draw in Illustrator.

So I spent some spare time throughout the summer building out various guitar models.[1] It was a blast. I figured I could get a set done by late summer when iOS 10 would be released. I didn’t even bother opening Xcode, as I had watched the presentation on setting up a sticker pack, and I knew that part would be a one-day project, at most. Even if I chose to add some interaction elements.

And indeed it was. Creating an iMessage app could not be easier from a developer’s perspective. Of course, you need original artwork. So that’s where I spent the bulk of my time.

Sunburst paint jobs took some time to master

Sunburst paint jobs took some time to master

All the while, I kept thinking these stickers would be cool for others, but that I’d probably never use them myself.

Then a short while back I got a message from John Voorhees over at MacStories. He had been paying attention to my progress on the sticker pack and wanted to know if there were a beta available on TestFlight.[2] Beta? That hadn’t even occurred to me.

When a journalist asks to give your next product a test drive, you say YES. So I finished up the sticker images, watched the demo again from WWDC to review how custom interactions were done, (because I wanted to add the option to make the instruments left-handed) then built the iMessage extension in a few hours. I tossed a build up on TestFlight and invited some people to join.

The response was great. A lot of people seemed interested in trying out the stickers. Great. I fired up my phone and started playing around with the stickers myself. As I sent them to myself and to the people on my beta, something clicked. This was pretty cool. I could actually see myself using stickers in my iMessages.

Holy crap. I actually understand the appeal of something popular.

I can’t wait to see some of the other packs of stickers people have built. I have a feeling I will become a collector. And I want to make more stickers soon. I’ve done a set for Curtis’ Slopes app, and I hope to do a lot more for clients.

Image from the Slopes sticker pack

Image from the Slopes sticker pack

Contact me if you are interested in getting a set made. The fact that sticker packs send links to people when they don’t have your pack installed is bound to make stickers an incredible catalyst for word-of-mouth downloads.

Meanwhile, The Leo Collection is available to buy now. I encourage you to check it out.


  1. Though the drawings are all inspired by specific makes and models of real-world guitars, I’m very careful not to try to associate my drawings with the manufacturer of those instruments. These are simply a collection of drawings. Not an official pack, or an endorsement of any kind.  ↩

  2. ProTip: always be marketing. While I was drawing guitars, I’d occasionally share one or two via Twitter. Part of it was I was proud of my little drawings and wanted to show them to my musician friends. But part of it was about gauging interest in a potential new product. If I hadn’t been talking about this process publicly long before I even had a product to sell, I likely would not have gotten the attention of someone in the press.  ↩

More thoughts on Music in iOS 10 (beta)

Last time I left off at the artist listing screen. Today, I want to dig into the individual artist view, album view, and the now playing screen.

One of the reasons I chose to give Music another try in iOS 10 is that Apple has finally given us a proper artist album listing, with albums that drill down into their own screens. This means we can finally choose an artist, then play a single album without it continuing on to the next album. Sounds like a small thing, but I dropped Music altogether years ago for that one reason alone.

Best iPod we’ve ever made, my ass.

Artist Album Listing

Artist Album Listing

Unfortunately, unlike iTunes on the Mac and Windows, Music on iOS still only sorts albums by name, giving us no option to sort them by date instead.

This is one of those head slap moments that makes you wonder if anyone at Apple has ever been a serious music collector. As far as I’m concerned, Apple cannot claim that it loves music ever again until it gives us the option to sort albums by date. No self-respecting music geek sorts albums by name. I don’t care if you hide the option in the Settings app, just give me the option for date, you wankers.[1]

Sorting issues aside, I like most everything else about the Artist page in Music. Album art is square and large, as it should be. There’s a quick option to shuffle all albums, in case that’s your thing. And, as I said before, choosing an album gives you a separate view with just that album’s tracks.

At the bottom of the artist page there’s also a new link “See more by…” that takes you to that artist’s other music on Apple Music. I’m not an Apple Music subscriber, but I guess it’s okay to be able to see what tracks are available without having to bounce into the iTunes app.[2] Unfortunately, any links inside here only give you the option of subscribing to Apple Music. You can’t link over to iTunes to buy any tracks you find. You can’t even preview tracks to see if they’re worth subscribing to get. It’s subscribe, or go screw yourself.

I’m sure the artists love that.

What’s so hard about offering a link, even via 3D Touch, that takes you to the iTunes store to buy a track?

Buy a track? Come on, Joe. Who buys tracks nowadays?

Oh yeah, that’s right. People who LOVE MUSIC.

Once you choose an album, you get the track listing, as you’d expect. Shuffle is right up there at the top again. Okay. Not something I ever use, but I guess a lot of people like shuffle. (More on this in a moment.)

Choose a track, and it starts playing immediately. At the bottom of the screen, just above the tab bar, you get a new bar for now playing, which stays there no matter where you go in the app. I like this a lot. I always hated how hard it was to get to the now playing screen on my old iPod and on Apple TV. This makes it one tap away at all times, which is brilliant. Music also doesn’t assume that once I’ve chosen a track I want the entire screen to be filled with now playing. This is also a good design choice. Once my music is running, I may want to select something else to play next, or keep reading the rest of the track listing, or just go exploring more through my catalog, etc.

At the bottom of the album page, there’s “More by…” again, only this time with albums and images listed. There’s also a “You Might Also Like” section with music from similar artists. Okay, now I’m getting annoyed, Apple. I switched Apple Music off in Settings. I’m clearly not interested in joining Apple Music. Fuck off , already.

Note: “Showing only music on this iPhone” is a lie in this case, Apple.

Note: “Showing only music on this iPhone” is a lie in this case, Apple.

Again, every link in these two bottom sections I didn’t ask for give me no option to even preview tracks from these suggested artists. Just subscribe now.

No thanks.[3]

The now playing toolbar has convenient buttons for pausing and skipping the current track. Another great design decision. One-tap access to pausing is essential, and sometimes you really do need to skip that one track you hate immediately.

Tap into the full-screen now playing view, and you are treated with nice big album art and some more controls in an overlay “card” type view that is reminiscent of Palm’s WebOS. I mostly like what they’ve done with this screen. But there are a few odd choices here.

The big one that others have mentioned before: Where are the shuffle and repeat buttons? For all the emphasis on shuffle being at the top of the past few screens in a row, I get to now playing, and shuffle has disappeared. Turns out, the now playing view is scrollable, and shuffle and repeat are just below the “fold.” Why? No reason I can discern. There’s plenty of room under the volume slider for more than two buttons.

Also, if you’re going to make this screen a scroll view, some indication that it can be scrolled might be a good idea. I know several people who had no idea that they can scroll this view at all. And that’s a shame, because what’s down below the fold is actually quite nice: an Up Next listing, where you can manually reorder or remove tracks from the upcoming cue.

Up Next is a pretty powerful thing. Setting up a quick one-off track listing for a party, for instance, becomes quite easy. I never use playlists, but I often will select a number of albums to listen to in a row when I’m in a certain mood, or I have people over the house, or when I’m on a road trip, etc. The “Play Next” and “Play Later” options on albums and tracks make setting up a quick cue super flexible and easy.

Overall, I actually like Music in iOS 10. The app is far from perfect, and I really want the heavy-handed Apple Music sales pitch to go away, but otherwise, for my listening style, this app is greatly improved over iOS 9 and earlier versions of Music.

And, lo and behold, since I’ve started adding tracks back to my iPhone, I have yet to experience the old issues I was having with files disappearing, doubling of tracks, tracks that simply won’t play, etc. Maybe the file system bugs I was experiencing are gone? I may just upgrade to a 128GB or even 256GB iPhone in a few weeks. I’d love to retire my old iPod again for good.


  1. They do have a “Sort Songs and Albums” option buried in the Settings app, by the way. But it’s for the songs and albums sort views. It has no effect on the album listing for individual artists. And there’s no “by Date” option, in any case.  ↩

  2. Never mind that I’ve checked the “Show Apple Music” switch off in preferences. I’m getting links to Apple Music all over the app, anyway.  ↩

  3. None of these Apple Music “features” were in the early betas, by the way. I wonder if this is a bug, or if these screens will make it into the GM for non-Apple Music subscribers.  ↩

Two Nitpicks in watchOS 3

The improvements in watchOS 3 over watchOS 2 are still, to me, the most exciting thing happening with Apple this summer. I would have skipped the iOS 10 beta altogether if not for the fact that I simply couldn’t wait to get watchOS 3 on my Apple Watch. The difference in day-to-day practice is staggering.

That doesn’t mean that watchOS 3 is perfect, of course. There are still two little things bugging me that I wish Apple would address.

First, the Activity rings. It’s great that there are a few Activity-centered faces on the watch now. I use both the analog and digital versions quite a bit. But neither face, and none of the complications for Activity give me the one piece of information I want most often: whether or not I’ve reached my stand goal for the current hour.

I can read how many hours I’ve stood quite easily, even in the complications. Divide a circle in 12 pieces, and it becomes a breeze to see which number of hours you have currently fulfilled. But there’s no way to know whether one of those hours is the current hour. Once I get to the 50-minute mark, of course, I will get a notification if I have not yet stood. But what about at 38 minutes? The only way to find out is to launch Activity, then scroll down all the way to the chart that shows the hours of the day listed out one by one. I do this several times a day, and it’s annoying. Seems to me that this information could easily be provided in the complication, on the Activity watch face, or at the very least on the initial view of the Activity app.

Second, the charging screen. When my Apple Watch is in its charging stand, and I tap it to light up the screen, there are only three possibilities for what I currently want to know:

  • Is it actually charging?
  • What time is it?
  • What’s the current charging percentage?

The first two are covered well. The lightning bolt icon at the top lets you know it’s charging, and the watch face gives you the time.

For the current charging percentage, however, it’s a different story. When you first connect it to the charger, you get that nice big circle showing the current percentage (which is also a more obvious indicator that charging is actually happening at the most important moment—when you first plug it in). But any time you tap the screen after that, there’s no way to see the current percentage on the screen. You need to type in your passcode, then swipe up to get your command center, where you can finally see the percentage.

Every iOS device gives you a nice big battery icon with the current charging percentage listed under it when it’s charging. Why not at least put the percentage next to the lightning bolt icon?

Even Nightstand mode, which I never use, doesn’t give you the percentage. Seems like a silly omission.

Backdrop

I’ve been recording music on my Mac for the better part of 20 years. Once I learned that I could combine my love of music with computers, it became my favorite way to spend my free time.

Sometimes I would record individual songs. Entire collections of songs. Half-baked songs that never went anywhere. It didn’t matter. It was always a fun outlet for my creativity.

Whenever I create marketing videos for various Bombing Brain projects or my own apps, my favorite part has always been making the background music. I spend far more time than is probably reasonable crafting short pieces of music to play under videos. Luckily, my cohorts at Bombing Brain have always indulged me, allowing me to experiment with many styles of music, rather than forcing me to stick to the corporate hipster jingles found in most modern product videos.

The other Bombing Brain guys are also accomplished musicians. Bombing Brain has provided rich soundtracks for a few games over the years. And we like to jam for a bit whenever we get together.

So it only made sense to us at Bombing Brain that we take this love of creating music and turn it into a service for others. After all, if we needed background music several times a year, certainly our Teleprompt+ and Setlists customers do, too. Not everyone has in-house talent, and not everyone can afford to hire a musician to produce bespoke background music on demand.

There are other royalty-free music services out there, but none with licensing terms as generous as ours at backdrop.audio. With a one-time low price, you no longer have an excuse not to add some music to your apps, your marketing videos, your YouTube tutorials, your podcasts, or whatever multimedia projects you create. We don’t charge you yearly to renew your license, and we don’t care how big your audience is. Pay once and use the track forever.

We’re starting with a very small catalog, as it takes a lot of time to produce each track. But we will be adding much more over time, in all sorts of styles. And that’s where we can use some help. If you have suggestions for genres you’d like to hear more of on our site, you can contact us to make requests. We plan to create new tracks based on the styles most requested by our customers.

If you have the budget, you can also hire us to make a unique track just for your project. We’re happy to quote you a price.

Our hope is that we make it just a little easier for small indies to get quality background music into their projects. If you occasionally have a need to drop some music into the things you create, check out the catalog backdrop.audio. And let us know what you think.

Some thoughts on Music in iOS 10 (beta)

So the Music app experiment on my iPhone is going well. Only one instance of a song that I had transferred to my phone refusing to play so far. Deleting it and dragging it back over via iTunes fixed the issue. Hope this isn’t a sign of more to come, though.

Meanwhile, I had mentioned that the new redesign for iOS 10 included some changes that warranted me reconsidering using my phone for music again, but that the app was still problematic for a number of reasons. I wanted to begin exploring the app a bit further today.

This is in no way meant as a slam on the team of designers at Apple working on this app. I’m just offering some constructive criticism from a music-lover’s perspective. I understand that an app with such a wide audience can’t possibly make everyone happy, but there are several things, minor tweaks, that would just make better UI sense.

Anyway, let’s start with the opening screen.

Launch Page of Music in iOS 10

Launch Page of Music in iOS 10

The list of sort types is customizable, which is awesome. Tap edit and remove all the sort categories you don’t use. Reorder them any way you like. In my case, I’ve removed everything except Artists, since that’s the only way I ever sort my music.

Editing the List of Sort Options

Editing the List of Sort Options

Note, you can’t remove everything off this list—you need at least one sorting criteria, of course—and Downloads doesn’t even show up as an option to remove. (In beta 1, you could uncheck Downloads as well.)

Speaking of Downloads, that label has been updated from Downloaded Music in beta 1. Personally, I think Downloaded Music was more descriptive, but I get why they wanted to change it. After all, I have comedy albums, spoken word performances, etc. It’s not all music. But the word “Downloads” is problematic. Are those tracks I’ve already downloaded? Tracks that are downloading? Tracks that I can download? I think “Downloaded” would be a better word for it. Or “On this iPhone” or “On My Device,” as it’s listed in iTunes. But I digress.

Below the list of sort options is the Recently Added section. I can see how this would be handy to a lot of people, though I doubt I’ll use it much myself. I do like the use of album art here, as it makes the albums easily recognizable. And the albums seem to be sorted by date added, rather than alphabetical, which is good. Not sure it’s worthy of taking up the bulk of the opening screen, but I can chalk that up to me not being the average listener. I’m guessing a lot of listeners like having super fast access to the stuff they’ve very recently purchased. Most people listen to one or two albums on repeat over and over again until they get bored, I’m told. I seldom listen to the same song twice in the same month.

Downloads Page

Downloads Page

Tap into Downloads (which is where I will want to be 99.9% of the time) and I get an almost identical screen, only with a grey bar at the top, reminding me I’m only seeing songs that are on the phone and ready to play, no Downloads in the list, since I’m already in downloads, and then an updated Recently Added that only shows recent music that is actually on the phone. I get why they want to show me the recents again, given this is a different list of albums. But since I’ve opted to remove all sort categories except for Artists here, it would be very nice if Music were smart enough to skip this screen and just take me to a list of my artists.

So it’s two taps to get to where I’d like to start my quest. Not the end of the world. I would love it if Music remembered where I was the next time it launched and always started me here. It does remember as long as the app is only backgrounded, at least.

Now we get to the first screen that really bothers me. The artists list.

Artist List

Artist List

The list of artists is alphabetical, which is great. Words like “The” in an artist title are ignored, so The Beatles ends up in B rather than T. Excellent.

But to the left of the artist names—and this is not new for iOS 10—there are pics for each artist. What is Apple thinking?

First, you want to ask yourself, what purpose do these pictures serve? If the answer is to make the screen look less boring, you’re not a designer. The point of putting pictures next to the artist names is to make it easier to recognize the artists more quickly. So what should those pictures be? Album covers, right? I know, albums are going away, and I don’t want to sound like an old fart who is stuck in the past. But a downloaded picture of an entire band at a size that tiny is completely perplexing to me as I’m scrolling this list. It slows down my ability to recognize and choose an artist. For solo artists, it’s a little better, but it’s still doing more harm than good. They might as well be pictures of stock people chosen at random, for all their recognizability.

Why not make them larger? I don’t mind a little more scrolling to where I want to go. And why not just make them easily recognizable album covers?

Album covers. Square album covers. Music art is square. It’s still square on iTunes. It’s been square since the dawn of the music industry. Please, please, Apple, ditch the silly circular pics downloaded from a random Google search and just choose an album cover? Do they think this makes the app feel more like my contacts, so I can have a more “personal” connection to the artists listed? It doesn’t. It actually makes me feel like I’m scrolling through a list of someone else’s contacts, because I don’t recognize any of the pictures.

I don’t even know what half the artists in my collection look like. I don’t want to know what many of them look like.

And, of course, because it’s Apple, and because this involves searching, a good chunk of my artists end up with no pics, anyway. Just a goofy looking generic microphone icon. If Apple chose album art from the artist, which is already sitting on the phone, this would happen far less often.

And what’s with that Iron Maiden pic being an oval instead of a circle? Yikes.

Someone at Apple thinks this is a good idea, and has thought so for a while. You can say “Hey, Joe, relax. This is just a beta.” But the currently shipping music app does the same thing. So I have little hope that anyone at Apple wants to change this.

Either make these pics square album covers, or remove the pics altogether and just have a scrolling list of names. That worked well on the iPod Classic.

In fact, as a homework assignment, every designer and exec at Apple should take an old iPod home with them for a weekend and spend a few days studying the UI of those devices. As far as selecting music goes, it really was much better. And I’m not one to say that sort of thing often.

Next up, the artist page, selecting a song, the now playing screen, and more.