Tag Archives: iPhone

x2y version 4

It was all the way back at WWDC 2014 that my friend Hans vershooten suggested what eventually became the marquis feature of x2y 4.0: Percentages.

x2y has always been able to calculate x or y dimensions for you automatically. It would be nice, Hans suggested, if it could also tell you the percentage difference between the original image and the new one. So if you want, for instance, a rectangle that’s exactly 245% of the original, x2y should be able to calculate both the x and y dimensions for that.

And now it does. (Sorry it took so long, Hans.)

Other new features in this update include 3DTouch shortcuts on the home screen, for devices such as the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. You can jump straight to a particular aspect ratio with one gesture. To customize which aspects end up in the shortcuts, simply put them at the top of your customizable common aspects list.

Also new in this update, two new color themes. I have fun changing up the look of x2y on occasion, so I wanted to add a few more options. Also, all themes are now unlocked by default, so no more hunting around looking for ways to get all the themes to unlock.

I’m a bit surprised that years after this app was first released, I still find myself using x2y several times a week. This was my first app, and I never imagined that I could take it so far. Once again, I can say with confidence that I’ve spent more time thinking about aspect ratio calculators than anyone else on iOS.

x2y an invaluable tool for any designer or developer who needs to resize images often, particularly in code. You can download it on the App Store here.

More Space, More Buttons

Seeing this tweet a lot today in my timeline.

The comparison is wrongheaded, because the people sharing it are confusing points with pixels.

The original iPhone screen did indeed have 320 horizontal pixels. It was also a 1x screen, which means it had 320 points, as well.

The iPad Pro’s screen, on the other hand, is a 2X Retina screen. Thus, the 324 pixels between the app columns on the home screen represent 162pts, or roughly half the width of the original iPhone’s screen. Even that isn’t quite accurate, because the two screens also have different pixel densities. But the point is, the comparison makes no sense.

I am typing this on an iPad Pro, and I assure you, an original iPhone’s screen wouldn’t come close to fitting in between the home screen columns of the Pro.

More importantly, the point those who are sharing this are trying to make is also flawed. More space on the home screen does not mean we should jam pack it with more icons. Just because you have the space, that doesn’t mean you should fill it with more options. This is UX design 101.

I don’t know what the maximum number of icons on a screen is before the number of options becomes too confusing to the average user, but I’m willing to bet Apple does. I’m also willing to bet there’s value to having a little bit more consistency between the layouts of the various home screens of our iOS devices. Imagine setting up your new iPad Pro from a backup of your old iPad Air. Having all your apps not only restore, but restore to their familiar layout goes a long way to making that first run experience more familiar and pleasant.

“But the home screen just looks ridiculous with all that space between the icons.” This is an unbelievebly dumb reason to add another column or row of icons as well.

There’s no doubt in my mind Apple tested the Pro home screen with more densely packed icons and decided it was a bad idea. They obviously have the technical expertise to have the Springboard space icons in various ways, because they’ve done it with the various screen sizes of the iPhone. Perhaps in this case, the extra icons didn’t add value. Perhaps they have research from their customers that users find it annoying having inconsistent layouts. Who knows? The assumption that Apple is simply being lazy, or that average Twitter guy knows better is astounding, though.

Setlists 2.0

Setlists 2.0 finally hits the App Store today. It’s a huge update that involved not only tons of under-the-hood improvements to take advantage of Apple’s latest iOS technologies, but also the addition of a large number of our most requested new features. To say it was a massive undertaking is an understatement. The team really outdid themselves on this one.

Setlists 2

I can’t wait to use it on stage during the next few Airplane Mode gigs.

The most interesting aspect of this update for most of my readers, I’m guessing, is the change we’re making to our pricing strategy. For years, Setlists has always been a paid-up-front, “premium” app at $9.99 USD. This time around, though, we’ve decided to experiment with making the app free to download, with a single in-app purchase to unlock the app’s full potential.[1]

Will this make Setlists a better business for us? We’ve looked at a lot of other apps that have similar strategies, and we’ve tried to avoid the pitfalls others have warned us about—but time will tell what the results of our experiment will be.

One interesting way to look at this switch is that our marketing no longer has the burden of making the sale. Our web site, our screenshots, whatever press we get, whatever ads we buy—all of that now only needs to convince people to download and try the app. Still not an easy task, but it’s easier than asking them to fork over money for an app they’ve never used.

The app itself now has to make the sale. And that sits better with me. I’d rather be judged by the app than the ads we place for the app or how pretty our screenshots are. Whatever the downsides of freemium (and there are many) that one change is certainly a good thing.

We’re confident once musicians try Setlists, a large number of them will find it suits their needs. So much so that we made the price to unlock $14.99 rather than $9.99. This might not be a “free trial” officially, but as with a free trial, our buyers aren’t being forced to take as great a risk, and thus we can charge accordingly.

In any event, everyone at Bombing Brain is looking forward to much smaller, incremental updates for a long while after this.

  1. I know, we’re late to the freemium party, but we’re still not at all convinced that freemium is right for every app out there.  ↩

Throw the Southpaws a Bone

Apple has done such a remarkable job with accessibility in all of its software on iOS. It’s way past time that they addressed another group of individuals who have a hard time navigating their iPhones: the left-handed.

I’m picturing a simple switch, in the Settings app, where I can let my iPhone know that I’m a lefty. That one switch would automatically shift stock UI elements, such as table views, to have a left-handed bias.

Many apps feature a lefty table view navigation, where you can slide along the left side, instead of the right side, of the list to navigate quickly. But this is a custom control created by thoughtful individuals. It should be baked into UITableView.

It’s bad enough Apple won’t make me a phone that actually fits in my hand anymore. Making me reach across the oversized screen just to get to the bottom of a list quickly is just pouring salt in the wound.

I’m not suggesting that the whole interface get flipped horizontally. After all, speakers of Western languages still read left to right, regardless of handedness. I’m just thinking of the little things, the small UI details that are easier to reach on the right side that could easily be moved to the left. It seems Apple could make that happen quite easily, and millions of people would benefit.

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.