Tag Archives: apple

Fin 2.0

About six months ago, I started using Fin to time my Chemex coffee brewing in the morning. Not exactly what I had in mind when I made the app, but it actually worked well for that initial 30-seconds of letting the beans “open up” with just a little water before pouring in the rest over the remainder of the 4 minutes.[1]

But here’s the thing: I wanted the first warning to go off at exactly 3 minutes, 30 seconds, so that my screen would change color when I was supposed to start pouring. After all, I’m doing this before my first cup of coffee in the morning; I could use all the help I can get.

With Fin 1, there was no way to do this. The warnings were hard-coded to 10, 5, and 2 minutes.

Right away, I knew I wanted customizable presets and warnings to be the flagship feature of version 2. And so it came to be. 12 presets that include not only the main timer, but the times of each of the 3 warnings as well. Two taps, and you can switch your whole setup to your most-used timers.[2]

I also wanted this version to be a little more helpful for Toastmasters members. The presets will be a big help, of course, for timing speeches of different lengths. But I also added an optional second color scheme for the three warnings. The classic Fin colors are yellow, then orange, then red. The new scheme fits the classic Toastmasters use of green, then yellow, then red.

Another thing that excites me in this new version is the new layout. Thanks to this tip, I finally figured out a better way to handle the custom Courier Pro font alignment issues that were plaguing me for the better part of a year. The new layout is far more smooth and allows for much larger numbers on the main timer. Fin should now be much easier to read from a distance, which comes in handy on big stages.

Finally, I added some delight where I could to the app, to make it respond more to your touches. A little bounce here and there always makes the app feel more fun, and it’s one of my favorite things to do.

I hope you enjoy this 2.0 update to Fin. I’ve been using various progressive versions of it for months now for the podcast, and of course for my coffee brewing and presentation practice. I think it’s more useful than ever.

You can grab your copy here on the App Store as a Universal app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.

Of course, I made a new video too, to show off the new bits. Enjoy.

  1. I never much bothered with timing my brew precisely when I used the Aeropress, but for the Chemex it really seems to make a difference.  ↩

  2. Maybe 12 is overkill, but I can imagine some of my customers needing that many timers.  ↩

x2y Version 3.0

Today, I’m releasing version 3.0 of x2y, my aspect ratio calculator for iOS.

As I’ve said before, I want to continually find ways to improve this app, as it’s something I use regularly myself. When I first started with this next version, I had only intended to add theme support, as a fun way to change up the colors of the interface for those who didn’t necessarily like the default dark appearance. As I worked on the themes, though, I thought of other features that I’ve wanted to add for a long time but just didn’t think I could figure out easily for a minor update. In the end, I decided to tackle a lot more than I orginally planned and make this the major update for 2014.

Thus, the app is now at 3.0. With the original theme support idea in place, plus a few other key features.

There are four different themes from which to choose, and if you experiment a bit throughout the app, you can actually find four more that are hidden by default. I’m usually not a fan of “easter eggs” as I mentioned on episode 42 of Release Notes, but my cohost Charles Perry convinced me that it might be cool to experiment with hiding some themes if they were discoverable enough not to frustrate people. I think anyone who utilizes most of the features of the app regularly will have no trouble finding all four.

Next in 3.0 is iCloud support, which was far easier to implement than I had imagined. Probably because the data being synced in this app is so simple, I was able to get it implemented in a few weeks of my spare time. I know a lot of developers with far more complex apps have had many issues with iCloud, but for simple key value store sync, I found it to be quite manageable. (At least I think. We’ll see if people report major issues.)

Another big feature I added was support for copying your calculated results to the pasteboard. Just tap and hold on the calculated result, and a dialog will pop up, allowing you to choose from a few different formats to copy. One of the formats is CSS width and height, which I’ve been using quite a bit when coding web sites on my iPad in Textastic and Diet Coda. It’s quite handy.

Finally, I reworked the entire Help section of the app, adding the proper mail delegate to my support link, and using table views as opposed to a giant Web view.

All in all, the under-the-hood changes in this version go far beyond what the user sees. But they make me happy, as the app has matured quite a bit from a “first effort by a novice iOS programmer” to something that is much more solidly based on good design patterns. I still have a long way to go as a programmer, but I learned a ton just in the past few months getting this update ready.

I hope the new improvements will be well received. I want to thank my friends who have been coming out to IOSIRL who helped me with some advice on how to implement all of these new features, especially Soroush Khanlou. And, as always, I’ve gotten some great advice from Tim Cochrane at Bombing Brain on certain implementation details.

I hope that if you like the app and you find the new features useful, you’ll consider leaving me a review on the App Store. Positive reviews help me keep improving the app, and they help others to discover the app for themselves.

And of course, no new major version of one of my apps would be complete without a new video, which I’m embedding here. Enjoy.


As more details emerge in this massive scandal over employee non-poaching agreements, I can’t help but think of something I said to my brother a few years ago: If you don’t own a piece of the company you work for, you’re always getting screwed. It doesn’t matter if you’re a senior VP making 30 Million a year. You’re still getting a sucker’s share of the overall take.

What Jobs and Schmidt started here was absolutely atrocious. But it’s not even remotely surprising. Executives serve boards, boards serve shareholders, and shareholders always want maximum profits. That’s the inherent nature of any corporation. And if the goal is to maximize profits, you have to—by definition—minimize cost of goods sold. Which means keeping salaries as low as possible.

Like I said, if you don’t own it…

The funny thing is, though, and I may be extremely naive here, I suspect that for Jobs the motivation for this scheme in the beginning had less to do with keeping salaries low and more to do with a serious case of paranoia about being betrayed. I think when Bill Gates screwed him over so badly with Windows, Jobs became permanently scarred and was always looking for ways to prevent others from screwing him again. He wanted loyalty, and this scheme bought it for him. Later, as the practice spread through the industry, I imagine that keeping down wages became a stronger motivation for most other CEOs.

Again, probably naive of me, and still unforgivable regardless.

If you want to be sure something like this isn’t happening to you, the only choice you have is to run your own company. Otherwise, you are part of a system that is designed to pay you less than you’re worth.

My Adventures in Audiobooks

One of the things I always admired about Steve Jobs was his willingness to call out things that just plain sucked.

And so here I am, saying that syncing content with iTunes just plain sucks.

Today’s example:

There’s a good review of the Jony Ive biography over on Asymco. Since I tend to think Horace is a smart guy, I figured his recommendation was reason enough to go get this book for myself. So I followed his link, on my Mac, to the iBookstore.

But just before clicking “buy” I thought to myself, “Well, I have about ten iBooks I haven’t yet read sitting on my iPad. I probably won’t get around to this for a while.” And so I decided to check and see if there were an audiobook version instead. After all, I spend lots of time walking around the city, trying to get some exercise, and it’s been ages since I listened to an audiobook, so why not?

Why not, indeed.

There on the iTunes page for the iBook, I clicked on the “related” tab and saw that there is indeed an unabridged audio version of the same book for sale, on iTunes, no less. Narrated by Simon Vance, even. Perfect. So I bought it.

And at that very moment, I screwed my chances of listening to this book on my iPhone.

You see, unlike most forms of content on iTunes, audiobooks don’t sync over iTunes Match. They also can’t be downloaded more than once. I learned this the hard way, when I turned on my iPhone and fired up the Music app, expecting to see my new audiobook downloading automatically. It wasn’t. I also couldn’t find an audiobooks tab anywhere, even in the “more” section of the Music app. Hmmm. Did they move Audiobooks to another separate app?

I search the App Store. Hundreds of audiobooks apps; none of them from Apple, none that can read files bought on iTunes. I search the Internets. Confirmed. Audiobooks are still in the Music app, though some people are having issues since the iOS 7 update. Not a good sign.

So how to get the book over there?

I know, I’ll put it into a playlist, and that playlist will sync over iTunes Match, right? Nope. Playlists with audiobook files don’t show up in iTunes Match.

Okay, I’ll open up iTunes on my iPhone, search for the audiobook, and just download it again directly on the device, right? Nope. If I want to download it again, I need to purchase it again.

Okay, fine, I’ll bite the bullet and do something I never wanted to to again—I’ll plug my iPhone into my Mac and sync the audiobook using iTunes like a barbarian. First I try to simply drag the book over to the right side of the window to manually sync it. No dice. It gives me a blue highlight, as if to say, “go ahead and drop the file here.” But then nothing happens.

Then I go to the books tab and set it to sync just audiobooks, and I get a warning telling me that since I’m using iTunes in the Cloud on this phone, syncing this one audiobook file manually will force me to erase the entire contents of my music library on the phone first. Am I sure I want to do that?

No, iTunes. I’m not sure I want to erase 50GB of music off my phone to get one audiobook.

Not one to give up so easily, I drop the audiobook file into my Dropbox, hoping I can open the Dropbox app on my iPhone, and use “open in…” to send it over to Music. Nope. (Sidenote: Downcast gallantly attempted to open the file, but couldn’t get past Apple’s DRM. “A” for effort on that one.)

And so here I am, with a 9-hour audiobook on the least-likely device I’ll ever want to use to listen to it: My 27-inch iMac.

Thanks, Eddy Cue. Bang up job you did there.

As an absolute hail Mary play, I decide to plug my iPhone back in one more time and try the manual drag and drop of the file in iTunes. This time, it starts a sync without any warnings, and I get a progress bar at the top. So far so good. My cursor beach balls for about two minutes, but it doesn’t crash. The progress bar switches over to “Finishing Update” and I’m filled with hope. And then it keeps saying “Finishing Update” for another fifteen minutes. Convinced it must still be working on it, I wait. And Wait. If I turn on the iPhone, I can see the Audiobooks tab now in music, and the Jony Ive book appears to be there. But I can’t play it. And iTunes is still “finishing.” So I wait some more.

Forever Finishing

Finally, I get impatient and try to cancel the sync. Won’t cancel. I tap the eject button in iTunes, and I get a warning telling me that the sync is still in progress. Do I want to eject anyway? No. Another five minutes.

Okay, this time, I just want to eject it. So I say yes, I do want to eject anyway. Still “finishing” but I get an additional window, no close boxes or cancel buttons, called “Syncing iPhone.” with its own independent progress bar that never shows any progress. I guess this is iTunes’ way of scaring me into not unplugging.

The Second No Progress Bar

Another ten minutes. Remember, this is all for one audiobook. I realize the file is 250MB, but over a USB cable, what should that take? Maybe two, three minutes, tops?

Finally, I get bored and yank the Lightning cable. We’re already way past the point where any sane human being would have given up, aren’t we?

Look, if it’s all or nothing with iTunes in the Cloud, then everything you sell on iTunes has to work over the cloud. Everything. Not most things. Otherwise, if audiobooks are special and can’t be synced over iTunes in the Cloud, give me some other way to sync them without wiping out my whole library. Is that too much to ask?

And if manual sync is supposed to be the way to do that, then make sure manual sync actually works. Because it sure doesn’t seem to work as far as I can tell.

Also, let’s keep in mind that I’m more than a little savvy with this technology stuff. And so are a lot of my Twitter followers. And none of us could figure this out. If this is possible, and I’m missing it somehow, you get an F minus for usability, Eddy. There’s no way a “normal” person would have tried this many different things.

Seems pretty obvious to me, since you still sell audiobooks on the iTunes Store, that there should be an easy way to listen to books bought on your Mac on any of your iOS devices. I’m not talking about some obscure old content I bought ten years ago. I’m talking about a file I bought today, for crying out loud.

Still, third time’s a charm, right? And I want to be thorough for the sake of this post. So I give it another go. I plug in my iPhone and try the manual drag and drop in iTunes for the third time. I’m about to eat dinner, anyway, so how can it hurt? First three times I drag, it gets stuck in “preparing” to update and I have to cancel. So I quit iTunes and relaunch, drag it a fourth time, and just walk away.

Thirty minutes later when I return from dinner, the progress bar is gone. iTunes is sitting idle. I fire up the Music app on my iPhone, and sure enough, the file is sitting there. Tap it, and it starts playing. More than three hours after I purchased the thing, I can now finally listen to the Jony Ive audiobook on my device of choice.

Isn’t this the sort of thing for which we usually make fun of other companies?

My advice: Don’t ever buy an audiobook from iTunes. Or, if you do, buy it on the device where you want to listen to it, because you won’t be able to move it after the fact without wanting to punch someone.

And this is but one small example of how crappy it is trying to sync content to an iPhone from iTunes. This is no isolated incident. I don’t have the heart to tell you the one where I tried to turn off iTunes in the Cloud and go back to manual syncing all my music last year. That’s a whole day I’ll never get back.

Fix this stuff, Apple. Seriously. iTunes is a multi-billion dollar business. You should be embarrassed of how piss poor this experience is.

Apple takes the lofty route for iPad « Observatory

Apple takes the lofty route for iPad « Observatory: “But — while this spot can be seen as uplifting and inspirational, it can also be seen as incredibly pretentious. One must admit, it’s a bit of intellectual overkill for those who just want to do their email, surf and shop — which probably covers most of the tablet-buying public.”

(Via Ken Segall.)

That, in a nutshell, is exactly Apple’s problem with the iPad. People think it’s an email, surf, and shop machine. If it continues to be just that, the iPad is never going to meet Apple’s expectations. Thus, the “loftier” ad approach of the Verses series.

People raved about the Misunderstood iPhone commercial over Christmas, but I actually think these spots are much more important to Apple’s long-term future. Thanks to Apple’s misguided driving of the App Store into Crazy Eddie’s Discount Bonanza, people are losing sight of just how powerful a tablet can be. They clamor for a “bigger” iPhone, because they figure that would do just about everything they do on their iPads well enough to no longer need an iPad. And that’s certainly not good for Apple.

Sure, the message is lofty, and maybe it only appeals to Apple’s current customers. But those customers aren’t getting as much out of their iPads as they deserve. Sometimes you need to start with a lofty message to reaffirm your core values. Sometimes you have to remind people that you’re trying to improve people’s lives.

If Apple wants to continue selling iPads, it needs to carve out a space where the iPad is seen as essential to the things we want to create, not just a luxury toy for watching movies on a plane.

Thumb Gymnastics – x2y 2.2

One thing that has bugged me since I got my first 4-inch iPhone is the “thumb gymnastics” involved whenever I need to reach a control that’s near the top of the screen. You know what I mean. Holding the phone one-handed, touching controls with my thumb, I can reach the top left and right corners of the screen for those navigation bar controls, but it’s not exactly comfortable.

I can’t fix this issue for every app on my phone of course, but for my own apps at least, I figure I can do something about it. Put as few controls as possible that far out of reach, and make them controls you don’t need to use often.

For the latest version of x2y, I took a look at the basic flow of how you type in your three values to get to that calculated fourth value. Tap the x1 field, erase what’s already there, type in the new value, tap the y1 field, erase, type your new value, tap the x2 (or y2 if you’re solving for x), erase, type your new value. That’s three times you need to stretch your thumb up from the number pad to change the fields. And erasing the existing value usually involves multiple taps. There had to be a way to make this easier.

Fortunately, x2y has a custom number pad, so I can do pretty much whatever I want with it. I considered adding “next” and “previous” buttons somewhere, but I didn’t want to play with the existing sizes of the buttons already there. The sizes of all the numbers and the delete button match the built-in number pad perfectly.

I could add previous and next buttons to the accessory toolbar above the number pad, but there are already four buttons up there, and I’d still have to move my thumb off the number pad to hit those buttons.

Then I thought, how about some sort of gesture? Swipe from left to right across the number pad to go to the next field, swipe right to left to go to the previous field. Super simple. Not discoverable, but this is a convenience feature, not a necessary gesture to make the app work, so I was comfortable with it. A “power user“ feature.

Since I was adding some gestures, anyway, I decided to add a long press gesture to the delete button as well. Hold down delete, and it’ll empty the entire contents of the field. Much easier than hitting delete three or four times to clear the field.

So now the process of entering your three values is tap and hold delete, type your value, swipe right, tap and hold delete, type your value, swipe right, tap and hold delete, type your value. Your thumb never leaves the number pad.

x2y 2.2 is now available on the App Store.

Riccardo Mori’s Essential iOS Apps

Riccardo Mori » My essential iOS apps — Part 1: “This article may disappoint some people. It doesn’t want to be an in-depth guide to ‘The 30 best iOS apps you must have on your iPhone or iPad’. It’s not going to be another piece along the lines of ‘The best iOS apps introduced in 2013″ or ‘iOS apps that everybody must have’. Instead I wanted to focus on a selection of apps that have proven to be indispensable to me over the years, making this article more akin to a retrospective of sorts rather than a review of ‘what’s hot in the App Store now’. Perhaps you’ll find something useful among my ramblings.”

(Via Riccardo Mori.)

Special thanks to Riccardo, as x2y got a special mention in Part 3 of this series.

Lists like this always intrigue me, for the same reason seeing pictures of people’s “1st and 20″ iPhone home screens intrigue me. I love to see how others use technology. The things we have in common, the things that we do differently. I often learn a lot, and sometimes I get a tip on an app or two that I hadn’t yet discovered.

There are some really great apps on Riccardo’s list.

The Tim Cook Keynote Format

Whither Liberal Arts? The Missing iPad Story: “There are no stories, and there are no humans. It’s clever yet abstract, remarking upon what has happened, without a vision for what is now possible. That’s the thing about stories: the best storytellers – like Jobs – are so compelling because they have vision. They see what we don’t see, and they can’t be more excited to tell us about just that.

Does Apple still have vision? Yesterday’s presentation did not, and I wonder just how costly last year’s departure might have been.”

(Via stratechery.com.)

Great article, as always, from Ben Thomson. But a couple of things that strike me:

  • There were way more products to be announced during this Keynote than there used to be, because the product cycles of so many products have been shifted to October every year. (I still feel like this is a weird strategy, but it seems to be working, so I won’t question it too much.) But having more products to announce necessitates a more rushed pace, I think. Less time to talk story.

  • Tim Cook seems to prefer shorter, rather than longer, Keynotes. No parade of third-party demos from unpolished third-party execs or long recaps of past announcements from months ago. Just short updates and recaps, followed by announcement after announcement, machine-gun style. That’s different from Jobs, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. There were many occasions during Jobs Keynotes where I wished I could fast-forward through the “boring” parts.

  • Cook is much more willing, and maybe anxious even, to hand over the mic to his underlings. I think that’s a great thing. We’re getting to see the Apple execs shine more than ever before. Phil Schiller, who used to be a court jester to Jobs, is now charming and funny in his own right. Federighi and Cue are competing over who can make the most self-deprecating jokes, and it’s all good fun. I think it helps present Apple as a team, rather than a one-man band, and that helps sell the products. It’s part of Apple’s story, if not the story of a particular product, and it does give Apple as a company a more human touch. [1]

  • Scott Forstall may have been enthusiastic and emotional, but to me he always came off as completely insincere. Maybe that’s unfair, and I know a lot of Apple nerds will disagree with me. But I always found him to be a terrible presenter. Especially in contrast to Jobs, who was naturally emotional and gifted, it always felt like Forstall was trying too hard. I have massive respect for his work on the original iOS. But I also think Apple Keynotes are way better off without him.

  • The Jony Ive situation is what it is. He clearly doesn’t like to be on stage, so Cook, always wanting to show as much of the team as possible, plays too many Ive videos to compensate. I agree, again, with Thompson, that iOS 7 is in many ways less usable than its predecessor. But it’s a work in progress. Those of us who design software for a living figured it would take some time for even a genius like Ive to master it. The hockey puck mouse may be a good analogy, but the hardware has come a long way since then, and Ive’s software design will, too.

  • I agree that third-party apps are a huge part of the iPad story. As a developer, it also pained me to have Cook not even mention the names of any of the apps being used in that video. Then again, I can’t say I wanted to watch a parade of developers showing off their apps one after another, either. It almost never played well, the many times Jobs did it. I don’t think Apple cares a whole lot about the developer community at this point, so I think it’s better they don’t pretend they do.

  • Cook isn’t as good at Jobs at conveying emotion on stage. His personality is such that when he tries to say something heartfelt and sincere, he just can’t sell it like Jobs could. When Jobs talked about the loftier ideas and how Apple was improving people’s lives, with tears welling in his eyes, we believed him. We sensed his emotion. With Cook, not so much. The few times he’s tried, it came off as prepared and nervous to me. I wasn’t able to connect with him the same way. So personally, I prefer it when he doesn’t try to get emotional. He has vision, but he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

  • The most uncomfortable part of any Cook Keynote is the end. The part where we’re expecting him to be Jobs. But Cook will find his own way to wrap up the show, and we’ll learn to let go of that expectation eventually. The rest of the new format is already well on its way to being on target.

No, we’ll never see the presentation panache of a Steve Jobs at Apple as long as Tim Cook is at the helm. But I don’t think that means Apple has lost its vision. Just it’s charismatic co-founder.

  1. I can’t wait to see Angela Ahrendts on that stage. While I don’t recall Apple bringing out its Retail SVP to talk during a Keynote in the past, I think Ahrendts would be more than happy to change that. There’s usually a retail update at the beginning of the presentation, anyway, and it sure wouldn’t hurt for Apple to have a woman on that stage, if even for a few minutes. (The number one complaint I get from the women in my life when watching these presentations is “Where are the women?”). And from what I gather, Ahrendts doesn’t have Ive’s stage fright problem, either. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her up there next year.  ↩

“We’re Not in the Junk Business”

Cook, Ive, and Federighi on the New IPhone and Apple’s Once and Future Strategy – Businessweek: “To Cook, the mobile industry doesn’t race to the bottom, it splits. One part does indeed go cheap, with commoditized products that compete on little more than price. ‘There’s always a large junk part of the market,’ he says. ‘We’re not in the junk business.’ The upper end of the industry justifies its higher prices with greater value. ‘There’s a segment of the market that really wants a product that does a lot for them, and I want to compete like crazy for those customers,’ he says. ‘I’m not going to lose sleep over that other market, because it’s just not who we are. Fortunately, both of these markets are so big, and there’s so many people that care and want a great experience from their phone or their tablet, that Apple can have a really good business.’”

(via. Business Insider)

This quote from Cook describes our philosophy at Bombing Brain to a T. This is why we don’t care about top paid charts, going freemium, or getting more “installs.” We charge a relatively high but fair price for a product that appeals to the second of Cook’s “segments”. People who want to solve a specific problem and are willing to pay to have that problem solved.

I completely understand and respect those in software who want to attack that first segment. There’s a lot more money and potential to strike it rich over there, I’m quite sure. But there’s also a much better chance as a small indie that you’ll get crushed by the billion-dollar venture-backed companies that are dominating that space as well. Mostly, though, it’s just not a business in which I’m interested. I’d rather sell to customers who are more like me, because I understand their motivations and I know how to make them happy.

The dumbest thing you can do in life is assume that there’s one way to succeed at anything. Living your life via stats, following whatever “most” people are doing is a surefire way to die a mediocrity. 

Mansfield and Cook

I have no idea what’s going on with Bob Mansfield, and frankly neither does anyone else, save a few people inside Apple. But it sure looks to me like the man keeps trying to leave the company, and Tim Cook wisely keeps giving him strong incentives to stay.

Stripping a man of his SVP title might sound like a demotion to some, but if the guy has plenty of money, doesn’t necessarily want the spotlight, and wants to spend less time stressing out about work, getting to report directly to the CEO on “special” projects without the overhead of large departmental responsibilities sounds like a strong incentive to stick around to me.