Apple is on the right track

Rewinding a bit, each morning when I go out on my early bike rides I have my iPhone running Spotify with a local playlist and Beacn as my sports activity tracker,  paired with a TomTom bluetooth heart rate monitor. Every minute my position is reported to Beacn’s web site and that’s pretty much all my phone is doing while I’m out, besides the usual push mail and 4G, 3G, E switching as I move along - oh and I stop to get one or two pictures.

Each ride takes about an hour, give or take 5 minutes. When I first used the iPhone 6 I wasn’t expecting much difference in the battery consumption but I was glad to see that unlike the 10% drop in the previous model, the regular 6 dropped only 8%.

Today I took the 6 Plus for a ride: When I got home I still had 98% left.

Anyway, maybe it wasn’t that better, maybe there’s a lag in the battery indicator because after I finished my ride within the app and published it on Twitter, the battery dropped 2% more. Overall, even if it’s just 96% (which makes a lot more sense comparing the battery capacities), the thing is a real winner, I was still above 60% at 7 pm, 12 hours after it was unplugged.

Aside from that, I’ve experienced random crashes in Safari and Mail. Also, the list of apps that still gets scaled is amazing: Flightradar24, Facebook, Youtube, Home banking, the list goes on to include almost everything except the built-in apps and Twitter.

I’m still complaining about the lighting port HDMI adapter not working ever since the iOS betas and I’m not even going to mention 8.0.1.

BUT,

This is exactly what Apple needs to be doing to survive, and the only thing they have to do is get better at it, not change or slow down.

Taken with an iPhone 6 Plus:

Beacn 3.0

I have finally submitted Beacn 3.0 to the AppStore and here’s what’s new:

  1. It’s universal (Long story short, every iOS device can run this thing now, as long as it’s running iOS 7)
  2. UP BY JAWBONE™ Integration
  3. HealthKit Integration
  4. New voice feedback scripting options
  5. Social network sharing have stats embedded images
  6. Step counter removed
  7. New App Icon (Again)
  8. Changed the main screen to have a new main menu and a list of activities performed in the current month

Just for fun, here’s all the sizes when looking at the main screen:

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iPhone 4S

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iPhone 5S

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iPhone 6

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iPhone 6 Plus

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iPad

Going universal is probably the most significant change, even the 4S has exactly the same features and there’s no “ifs” anywhere in the code.The iPad is particular interesting because it offers the most space to admire your rides. Check out the video:

And here’s an actual demo of it running on a real iPhone 6 (made driving with the macbook connected to the iPhone and QuickTime as the screen recorder):

The iPad begs for synching, which will be addressed on a future release. It really is great to “touch” your sports activities and fiddle with all the stats you gather. 

The concept is evolving towards an activity tracker that focuses on activity journaling instead of just tracking lines on a map and showing lots of numbers. 

A word about the future, AKA Apple Watch:

Right now it seems like the fitness side of the watch is more of a secondary screen to a main app running on the phone. That can be useful because right now you get voice updates at regular intervals but sometimes you’re so in to it that you forget what was just said and you loose track of time or performance (pace, average speed, etc) and having that displayed on a watch is just great. Even if you have your phone strapped on your arm it can be tricky and if you’re biking, hazardous.

That will probably be my first Swift project, later this year when a proper SDK comes out.

Brave new app world

On one of the last ATP podcasts, someone (I think it was Siracusa) talked about some people working on apps as a way of expressing themselves and I identify with that completely. Beacn is something I crafted out of frustration with other solutions and it keeps going only where I see fit, with my own vision and no plans to make it a viable business, even if the app is paid and offers in-app purchases!

It is really hard to make an app these days. We’re facing iOS version fragmentation, different devices and screen sizes, a ton of work on the app store side, with dozens of screenshots and videos to mess with. All this combined with less profitably in the ecosystem makes things even better for crazy lone wolves like me, because we have the longest runway in the world.

BTW, Beacn 3.0 is finished. I’ll post something about it later tonight.

Flying the Phantom 2 Vision +

Some notes about flying in general and the Phantom 2 in particular:

  1. Always be aware of the equipment limitations - range, compass interference, wind tolerance, battery consumption and especially, understand that GPS is not as precise as you think, at least not the one you’re operating - RTFM, seriously!
  2. Weather is important, make sure you understand how winds work with altitude and how it affects flight in general. 
  3. Study your locations beforehand, think like a real helicopter pilot, know the 4 W’s: Wind, Way in, Way out and Wires (The wires part can include trees, buildings and other stuff that you might hit)
  4. Choose your takeoff and landing spots wisely. Look for level and hard surfaces. Avoid dusty places, slopes and if you need to improvise, use your own car rooftop as a landing pad
  5. Always remember that you don’t have to takeoff. The final tip is to understand your own limitations. Avoid the urge to fly the drone if conditions aren’t right (strong winds, tight places, wires)

Here’s one of my first flights over water.

Phantom 2 Movie

Beacn in iOS 8

Finally did some work with Xcode 6:

Location manager is broken and requires authorizations… Delegates and the usual iOS 7 fallbacks.

Size classes and auto layout are nice if you start afresh. Existing projects is just too much work, so it will all go into code.

Speech synthesizer is inop in the simulator and I don’t know if any of the iOS 7 bugs have been solved.

Things that were deprecated in iOS 7…

On App Pricing

Beacn is now 4.99 USD - That’s right, up from 1.99 USD.

I made this app for myself. It solves most of the GPS tracking, safety and privacy issues I had with the big apps.

So instead of running it free or dirt cheap or even ad loaded, I decided to make more “expensive”.

I’m not hurting anyone else in this category by making it 5 bucks, in fact I might be helping in some ways such as not being a rip-off of Edmondo, Runkeeper or Runtastic - it’s a niche within the same category. Mind you, all these apps are just great for most users.

I’m still competing on price, in a way, because if you need this app, the number of usage-hours you’ll get for under 5 dollars is ridiculous!

Since I can run the whole thing indefinitely, not worrying about sales, I’m making this my utopian political statement. :)

Apps

It looks like everybody is reaching the conclusion that the App business model isn’t something you can live on, killing the Indie dream that a lot of people have, and forcing a lot of the first movers to go back to working at regular companies. Check out Inessential if you’re not familiar with the subject first.

While some are seeing the “writing on the wall”, others are still hopeful that an upgrade feature on the app store or something like new categories such as iOS 8 Extensions can make it worthwhile again. 

Some are even considering going to the OS-X platform, where the app store is not as populated and prices are still high enough to support a business. The problem is that … well you know what the problem is, desktop apps? Seriously?

The fact that we love writing software and want to do that for a living clouds our judgement when facing reality.

The reality is that software without a service or hardware associated is now worthless. 

There might have been a lot of factors that led to this and it doesn’t seem to be just AppStore’s fault. I won’t focus on the why.

If your app is “just” a piece of software that everybody can also make, then it will have 100 competitors and the average selling price is 0 USD.

If you have a service attached, like Dropbox, you can charge something.

If you have a piece of hardware in the mix, like Fitbit for instance, you charge almost 100 USD upfront and there’s no problem with that.

The problem is that for you to have such a setup, you’re not an Indie developer anymore, but only just a developer in such a company.

You can argue that developers brought this problem on themselves but there’s a much bigger picture to look at, and that’s the new role of software in our industry. 

Just open a new Macbook and watch all that free software in there: OS-X, iPhoto and company, Productivity apps, all free, no junkware, no trials!

What do you have left? Lots of boring industries where you can develop boring software and make money because no one wants to go there. And you need to provide support, storage and whatnot to justify a 50 USD/mo/user license. I’m sorry, but that’s it.

This of course, requires a company with sales people, support geeks, legal, designers, accounting and all those things Indie lovers were trying to get away from in the first place.

Routes with turn by turn directions, even off-road.

At first I thought it wouldn’t be possible. Then I made some progress and think that it could work, sometimes! Now I’m obsessed about shipping it.

Here’s how it will work:

  1. Given an activity, Beacn will process it to find the places where you change direction
  2. You can edit the waypoint list and add notes for playback at certain places (such as, “mind the drop, slow down”)
  3. Upload and share the route with anyone on Beacn
  4. Before starting an activity, select a route
  5. Beacn will work the same way but add the turn and notes as voice feedback and will warn you if you get too off-course. 

Can be useful for training notes, reminders of sites of interest, or warnings if you’re new to a specific route.

ETA: August 2014

Bellow is a sample of work in progress. First, the route as captured by the app, and after that, the direction vectors detected. 

I can’t say much about the algorithm except that it works exclusively with your GPS data, as most of the time you will be riding off-road. It doesn’t aim to be 100% right, hence the route editor.

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Usual activity GPS plot

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This turn, auto detected 

No Man’s Sky

If you haven’t seen No Man’s Sky Gameplay Trailer | E3 2014 | PS4 please do so before reading any further.

Gigantic games are now becoming more common. Planet Annihilation is one of those where you zoom in on entire planets and command a vast army of robots against each other and although is not much different from say, Dune 2, the scale of these things is just mind boggling to say the least.

Even Notch - creator of Minecraft - wanted a space shooter where you lived and upgrade your ship, traveled through space and landed on planets - You usually get one of these sub-themes as an entire game - but has somehow abandoned the idea.

Enter No Man’s Sky with its procedural universe. Freaking awesome demo and I think the game will consume plenty of hours exploring, fighting, mining or just gazing dinosaurs.

Not many details have surface though, so I’ll take the chance and guess what we’ll get:

1) the universe is fixed. Everyone gets the same universe even though it’s generated. There won’t be a lot of network traffic because of this and I hope it’s true!

2) When you get to a planet or space region, significant changes made by others will be downloaded, this is where things get complicated as more and more people explore the universe but there’s a solution: The universe it so damn big that you won’t get tons of updates because not a whole lot of people have been there before you.

3) The demo looks like there’s no plot or story besides the in-game credits for upgrading your ship in order to make progress to the center of the galaxy (or universe) but the truth is you will be in a very dangerous world and you will probably need to survive first - inspired by the first night in Minecraft maybe? - and slowly build your ship later.

Technically, from what they shown on the video, I’m still scratching my head! At first it seemed like the transition between a planet’s surface and space used the atmosphere as fade out effect for going to space or vice versa, offloading all those polygons as you went from one place to the other but later you see the ship diving on a planet and it all seems to be continuous. Maybe only a PS4 class of device can cope with that but it looks fucking awesome!

Even more impressive is the fact that it’s all being done by a small group of people that can still be called an Indie studio - Hello games - and if you’re curious as to what they’ve done before, look for Joe Danger in the App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/joe-danger/id573859785?l=en&mt=8

I can’t wait for this game!