Transloader – A (pseudo) Post-Mortem

Transloader Mac Icon

You might have heard about my new app, Transloader, for OS X and iOS.
I’d like to give you a little background info on the app because it’s been an interesting process creating it and getting it out to users.

What Is Transloader?

Transloader (né Lifeline – as in a line that keeps your connection to your Mac alive) lets you send URLs from your iOS device to your Mac for download.
Say you’re browsing on your iPad and come across a Mac demo app you’d like to try. On your iPad, you can’t download it and even if you can, there’s not much use in it since it’s a Mac app. This is where Transloader is useful.
Enter the URL to the demo into Transloader on your iPad and it gets synced to Transloader on your Mac where the URL will be downloaded to your Downloads folder, ready for you to use when you return to your Mac.
That’s it. Pretty simple, isn’t it?
Creating it, however, wasn’t ;)

Got To Get You Into My Life

The idea for Transloader, like for all my other apps, came out of a need I had myself, a little more than two years ago (and I’d been sitting on pins and needles ever since, thinking someone else might come up with a similar idea and beat me to it).

I browse the web a lot on my iPad. And it’s not unusual that I come across a zip or dmg file, or even a movie I’d like to download for later.
What I used to do was send myself an eMail containing the URL to the file – and I can’t tell you how much that bothered me.
It’s so much unnecessary work to do it, it’s so tedious:

  • Copy the URL
  • Open Mail
  • New Mail
  • Enter my eMail address (I have several, so I need to find the right one in the list)
  • Paste the URL into the mail’s body
  • Send
  • Confirm I don’t want a subject for the eMail
  • Sent

And when I’m back on my Mac:

  • Launch Mail (if I don’t forget I sent myself a link)
  • Find the mail
  • Copy the URL
  • Launch my browser
  • Paste the URL into the browser and wait for the download

I believe in writing apps for a single problem, even if it’s a very small one. I like to keep things clean. And to their purpose. I don’t like using eMails to remind myself of something. That’s what the Reminders.app is for or perhaps the Notes app (though I can’t tell you how many times I forgot I put something into Notes.app for later, and only months later found it by accident).

I wanted a much simpler way to do this. So I had the idea for Transloader. The workflow would be very simple:

  • Copy the URL
  • Launch Transloader
  • Add the URL

and on the Mac:

  • If Transloader’s not running either launch it
  • or if it is running – do nothing.

Let the app take care of everything else. The sync, the download – that also has the advantage that the user does not have to initiate the download. It starts downloading as soon as the URL is synced – and, ideally, the download is ready once you’re back at your Mac. That was the idea for Transloader.

We have all the time in the world

To reiterate, I had the idea for the app about 2 years ago – before Apple introduced iCloud.
So I had to find a way to make the iOS app talk to the Mac counterpart.
I basically copied the way Apple’s Remote.app on iOS handles the connection to iTunes on the Mac, asking for a PIN.
The setup needed to be done by the user. Start the server app on the Mac, launch the app on iOS, add the server by entering the IP and the port to connect on and then enter the random PIN displayed on the Mac.
Once the setup was done, the app worked pretty much the same as it does now. Add URLs on iOS and it would get transferred to the Mac directly.

There were quite a few things different, though.
Due to the direct connection to the Mac, more control was possible. For startes, you could have multiple Macs you could differentiate between and send URLs to. You could interrupt downloads, you could see how far along the download on your Mac was and how fast it was going and you could delete the downloaded file from your Mac once it was finished, remotely from your iOS device.
On the other hand, to add URLs, an internet connection was mandatory at the time of entry and the setup to get the app working was tedious. The Mac had to be running, so did the Mac app. Also, adding URLs over the internet was only experimental, only the Bonjour service (meaning you had to be in the same WiFi network for it to work) was really supported. (Although I must say I never had a problem with adding URLs over the internet, but it depends on your WiFi router, port forwarding, etc).

Part of why it took so long to release the app was that I wasn’t completely sure if the “experimental” internet connection would go over well with users. The purpose of the app was to be able to add URLs while on the road, somewhere in a café for example, not at home where you’re at your Mac anyway.

Lifline on MacLifeline, the first iteration of Transloader, on the Mac.

Lifeline on iPhoneLifeline, the first iteration of Transloader, on the iPhone. Server Selection.

Photo 3Lifeline, the first iteration of Transloader, on the iPhone. Showing progress and speed of the download.

Stuck inside a Cloud

Some time went by where I didn’t do any work on the app. Only using it myself and showing it off to people to get feedback.
Maybe half a year passed. Perhaps a little more.
Then what happened was that Apple announced iCloud. At first I didn’t make the connection, but I soon came to realize that it would be the perfect fit for my app.
I always hated the fact that a server/client configuration was necessary for the app to work. I didn’t want to put the user through any of that.
Also, with iCloud, at the time of entering a new URL, a connection to the internet is not necessary and the Mac app doesn’t have to be running. It gets synced as soon as there is an internet connection again. Big plus.

I realized I wouldn’t be able to give the user the control they would have had with my own implementation (mainly getting feedback on the progress of the download and its speed) and that I would make myself rely on a service that might not be available at times, but knowing that using the app would get much simpler, especially first setup (of which there is basically none now), was enough to make me go for it. And I haven’t regretted the choice since.

Changing from my own system to iCloud was a complete re-write of the app. Obviously.
However, it took way less time than the first implementation since I didn’t have to deal with any server/client implementation or communication between the two. All of that is handled by iCloud.

It took maybe two weeks to get the app working and basically finished (no polish, of course). In comparison, the first version took me a few months.

She feels good, she knows she’s looking fine

Once I got the app working and finished from a coding standpoint, it was time to get the UI done.
Everything you see is the creation of the brilliant Alexander Käßner who, I think, couldn’t have done a better job with the app.
And customers seem to agree, they do like the graphical elements very much.
After maybe two days I had a mockup and a few days later, the graphical elements were done and put into the app. It was a quick and painless process.

Do what the rest all do, or face the fact that the Apple Store Review Team may have no other choice than to reject you (in short – DAMN, Transloader was rejected)

I usually submit new apps to the App Store well knowing the first submission will likely result in a rejection.
Transloader was no exception. Not because of the usual reasons (Sandbox, for example, or a stupid unnecessary bug I overlooked in final testing), but because I was using iCloud in a different, unexpected way. And I kind of felt it was going to cause problems.

And I wasn’t wrong. It didn’t take too long until I got a call from a very sweet, patient and understanding representative of the Review Team, telling me Transloader got rejected for using iCloud as a transport mechanism and an iCloud account being necessary for the app to work.

I tried making the point that at no point is any file stored on iCloud and that the sync was used as a sync, not as a transport mechanism – it syncs the URLs to all devices. What the Mac does with that link is a different story, but of no concern to iCloud, because the actual download has nothing to do with iCloud or the sync.
I also tried arguing that if the reason for rejection was that an iCloud account was necessary, there shouldn’t be any twitter, Facebook, flickr or instagram apps allowed on the App Store either because they all needed accounts for their respective services as well (a cheap shot, I know, but I was frustrated).

Anyway, my points didn’t go over well. The rejection was done.

Reconsider, Baby

At this point, I was kind of desperate. I was so close to finally releasing the app but couldn’t have been farther away at the same time.
I resubmitted the app to Apple with a video explaining how the two apps worked together and a lengthy review note providing even more details.
Yet again, no dice. I got another call from the representative, asking me not to submit the app again without significant changes to how it worked.

So I considered going back to my original implementation. Users would just have to endure the horrible server/client setup.
I just wanted the app out at this point. I got lots of positive feedback from friends, family and colleagues about the app so I was confident it would do ok.

I started to work on re-implementing the first implementation when about two weeks later, I got another call. They were sorry it took so long to review, it was a complicated, different way of using iCloud and they had to make sure it all was in order. It would be live on the App Store in a few hours. I just sat there in amazement, mumbling out a “Wow, thank you” and hung up.

I seem to have a guardian angel and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Don’t ask me what I want it for if you don’t want to pay some more

You might have noticed that the iOS app is free and the Mac app is $4.99.
I had to find a way to make sure Windows-PC users wouldn’t pay for an app on iOS they couldn’t use.
Transloader for iOS depends on the Mac app, and the Mac app depends on the iOS app. One without the other is completely, entirely, utterly useless through and through.

Another angle, obviously, is that Mac users might not have an iOS device but pay for the Mac app. I had to decide for one way or another, though, and I figured the chance of a Windows user having an iPhone is higher than a Mac user not having one.
Plus, I added a disclaimer in the apps’ descriptions that both a Mac and iOS device are necessary. So far it hasn’t failed me.
There have been enquiries to develop Transloader for Windows, though :)

Now you’re expecting me to live without you…

Transloader is the first app I don’t provide a demo for. It’s not because I don’t want to, it’s because I can’t.
iCloud needs a provisioning profile in the app bundle that is only available to apps downloaded through the Mac/iOS App Store which makes a demo impossible.

It’s been quite a journey and I’m so very happy I was finally able to release the app. I’ve got a few things planned for it and I’m looking forward to putting out updates and implementing some of your amazing suggestions. Keep them coming :)

Thank you for your time :)
Take care,
Matt

NSBegin*AlertSheet(…) with ^Blocks

Open-Source: NSBegin*AlertSheet(…) with ^Blocks

There’s NSBeginAlertSheet, NSBeginInformationalAlertSheet and NSBeginCriticalAlertSheet, so the * is a wild-card for all those functions.

Apple Opensource Icon

picture credit: Apple, Inc.

What is this?

I’ve been growing more and more tired of always having to set up a callback-method (in the worst case, two, for didDismiss and didEnd) for NSBegin*AlertSheet(…) calls, like

- (void)alertSheet:(NSPanel *)panel endedWithCode:(NSInteger)returnCode contextInfo:(void *)info
{
 …code here…

Especially, since we have such a great thing like blocks where you can pass blocks of code as arguments to methods and functions, just like an Objective-C object.

So instead of having to set up callback methods for NSBegin*AlertSheet(…), I created ESSBegin*AlertSheet(…). Instead of callback @selectors, it takes blocks for didEnd and didDismiss callbacks.

I find it also makes for cleaner code having the callbacks right in the ESSBegin*AlertSheet(…) calls as you don’t lose the context of what’s happening before the call in my code.

Available for OS X Snow Leopard and up

Blocks were introduced with OS X Snow Leopard, so I assume (yes, I assume since I’ve only tested this on OS X Mountain Lion) it should run on Snow Leopard as well.

Download and Usage

NSApplication+ESSApplicationCategory Github Repository (refer to the read me for how to implement it in your projects)
Eternal Storms Software Open Source Projects

 

 

 

Enjoy! And let me know what you think :)

Take care,
Matthias

On displaying “positive” error messages

useless error message

“Positive” Error Messages

For me, “positive” error messages are alerts that tell you something “failed” because the user has already done it before and so there’s no use in doing it again.

Like in the example screenshot above. The user added, at some point in history, a photo to their favorites. Now they stumble upon this photo again in some user’s photo stream and add it to their favorites again. And this error pops up, telling them they’re an idiot for not remembering it’s in their favorites already.

Necessity of Feedback

Giving the user feedback on what they do is very important, no argument there. But you have to be careful not to cross the line from giving helpful feedback to just being outright obnoxious or worse, unnecessarily interrupt the user’s workflow.

Alert panels are a good way of telling the user something went wrong when it needs their (immediate) attention. But halting the application to tell the user something has already been successfully done – what’s the use in that?

Example: flickery

flickery is the app where I run into this most often. “Photo already in favorites”. “Already in Group”. “Already in Set”. “Already in Gallery”. “Already member of the group”. etc.

Early versions of flickery did have these alerts in them. Actually, I hadn’t given it much thought at the time. But using the app a lot myself it quickly became clear to me that it’s just plain annoying.

flickery does have a “flying” animation when adding photos to favorites, sets, groups and galleries. Isn’t that all the feedback necessary in that case?
The user is informed something happened and that’s what counts. And if it’s already in there – who cares? Putting it in there was the point all along.

I do the same thing in ScreenFloat. When you add a shot to a category and it’s already in there, you won’t see an error panel telling the user it’s already in there. That was what they wanted anyway.

So, what’s the point?

Short and simple: avoid alerts, if you can.

They disrupt the flow of the app and take the user away from what they’re currently doing. There are many better ways to let the user know something happened – especially if it’s positive feedback.

Updates for OS X Mountain Lion

NewImage

© Image by Apple, Inc.

OS X Mountain Lion

OS X Mountain Lion has hit the shelves on the Mac App Store and it’s off to a very good start.

So where are the updates for Yoink, ScreenFloat and flickery?

For all of my apps, I’ve submitted updates to the App Store at the beginning of July but they’re still “In Review” or worse, “Waiting for Review”. Here’s the run down of what’s working or not working on OS X Mountain Lion.

Yoink

Yoink works perfectly fine in the currently available version (2.1.1). The upcoming update is a bugfix and minor feature release.
Nothing really changed for Yoink in OS X Mountain Lion that would break the app.

ScreenFloat

ScreenFloat has some minor issues. It works well, but you’ll notice that the “Launch ScreenFloat at Login” checkbox in the preferences is enabled although it shouldn’t be and will crash the app when clicked.

Another issue is with running ScreenFloat with the Dock icon enabled. Floating shots will not follow you to fullscreen apps or spaces. I’m currently looking into that. In the meantime, you can disable the Dock icon and it will work.

flickery

flickery is the most troubling. Not because of OS X Mountain Lion (some minor issues aside – like, the “Nearby” search doesn’t show up – it works well).

The troubling part is that flickr is shutting down their flickrAuth authorization mechanism by July 31st. Yes, that’s very soon and there’s no update out yet for flickery.
I’ve requested an expedited review by Apple for it and I hope they grant it.

If they don’t (and still, if they do, there’s a chance), it might take longer than July 31st for Apple to review the app. What that means is that authorizing flickery to work with your flickr account will not be possible. Also, although flickr doesn’t explicitly state this, it’s inferred that anything done over the flickr API with an old authorization token (an authorization token is what an app receives from flickr when the user authorizes the app to work with their flickr account) will not work anymore. So browsing, uploading, really anything you can do with flickery, will not work.

Please be aware that the upcoming update does include the new OAuth authorization and will make flickery work again with flickr. Until it is reviewed and released by Apple on the App Store, please have a little patience. I know it’s not ideal, but at this point, I’ve done all I can do.

Concluding,

aside from some minor issues with ScreenFloat and flickery, everything basically works on OS X Mountain Lion. For these issues, updates are currently “In Review” or “Waiting for Review” by Apple and should be released soon.

As for flickery, I’ve requested an expedited review and I urge you one more time to consider having a little patience :) Trust me – it troubles me more than anyone.

Thank you for your time,
Take care,

Matt 

ESSVideoShare now available for iOS

Docset Icon

picture credit: Apple, Inc.

What is ESSVideoShare?

ESSVideoShare is a framework Cocoa (Touch) developers can use in their projects to easily implement uploading videos to the popular video sharing services YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and Facebook.

With a few lines of code, developers can implement this functionality and the framework will do all the heavy lifting.

Now available for iOS, additionally to OS X Lion

Originally, I had designed this framework for OS X Lion only. However, since the code base is mainly dependent on the Foundation framework which is available on both the Mac and iOS, I figured it would be a) really neat and b) easy to bring this framework to iOS as well.

The actual process of implementing the framework in your iOS project is a little different than for OS X – on OS X, you build the framework from the source and then add that framework to your project, on iOS, you take the source files of the framework directly and copy them to your project. Other than that, everything else remains the same.

Sample Projects and Links

ESSVideoShare open source project on GitHub

OS X Lion Sample Project (~250 KB)

OS X Lion How To

iOS Sample Project (~3 MB)

iOS How To

 

Enjoy – and please let me know if you use this in your projects, I’d be happy to hear about it :)

 

Update on what’s going on

Logo

Hi, everyone.

I wanted to try something new, so instead of a blog post, I’ve recorded this ~6 minute podcast for your listening (dis-)pleasure.

Here are the relevant links and time codes in case you want to jump to a specific section:

00:00 – Intro
00:25 – New website (http://www.eternalstorms.at)
00:47 – Yoink (http://www.eternalstorms.at/yoink)
02:46 – ScreenFloat (http://www.screenfloatapp.com)
03:21 – flickery (http://www.flickeryapp.com)
04:06 – GimmeSomeTune (http://www.gimmesometune.com)
05:09 – New apps (http://www.eternalstorms.at)
05:39 – Outro

I hope you enjoy it :)

Podcast-download (best viewed in QuickTime Player or iTunes for chapter selection)

Take care,
Matt

Presenting Yoink 2.0 – the drag’n’drop helper app for OS X Lion

NewImage

Presenting Yoink 2.0

Screenshot of MarsEdit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A picture usually says more than a bunch of words.

What is Yoink?

Yoink is an created to make “drag’n’dropping” files easier.
It shows a “shelf” when you start dragging files or content from applications so you can drop them onto Yoink. This way, your mouse is free for you to move between Finder windows, apps, spaces, fullscreen applications, etc.
Once you are where the files are supposed to go, you can drag the files out of Yoink again to drop them to their destination.

What’s new in version 2.0?

I got a lot of feedback on Yoink 1.0 from customers (thank you very much, by the way) and the changes you see in Yoink 2.0 are a direct result of it.

As you can tell from the image above, there’s a new look – done by the very talented Dietmar Kerschner.

Secondly, you can finally drop content from application onto Yoink – meaning images, text passages or links from within websites, for example. Or files on a server from the FTP client Transmit.

Also pictured in the image image above is a file stack. New in Yoink 2.0, when you drag multiple files onto Yoink at once, they’re not separate items in the list but just one item so you can easily drag them out at once again.

I’ve added a hotkey so you can manually show Yoink’s window so you can drag files from a Dock’s stack or applications like iTunes or Adobe Bridge that don’t trigger Yoink’s window for technical reasons – they use a non-standard NSPasteboard instance to do their dragging duties.

There are four new positions available – left, pinned to the top, left, pinned to the bottom, right, pinned to the top and right, pinned to the bottom (additional to the already existing left center and right center).

Availability and Pricing

Yoink is available exclusively on the Mac App Store for $2.99. But as usual, there’s a free, fully functional 15-day trial available at Yoink’s website (direct download). There’s also a quick screencast that shows exactly what Yoink does, and how it does it.

Feedback Appreciated

I really appreciate your feedback, input and criticism, so please do not hesitate to write me if you have any comments on my apps. Thank you kindly :)