What I… (February, March 2017)

“What I…” is a monthly column where I write about what’s been going on in my life as an independent Mac and iOS developer over the last month.

… Did

Contract Work

Probably the main reason why I do these blog posts less often lately is because I’m busy with contract work I can’t talk about. I’m involved with two very interesting and challenging iOS projects right now. One is in the realm of audio, the other has to do with video.

It’s interesting work, and both are challenging in different ways. Regarding the audio project, there was an existing code base which I had nothing to do with, so getting into that code, understanding and ultimately working with it was very challenging (it wasn’t documented at all, some things were implemented multiple times, in different places, there were bugs). But with anything you do, if you stick with it, you’ll figure it out. I’m still having trouble here and there (the app itself is quite complex in the first place) but as The Beatles say, “It’s getting better all the time”. We’re now at a point where we’re mostly done with bug-fixing and are now fine-tuning the app for a slightly broader roll-out.

The video app, on the other hand, I have total control over. We did a fairly quick prototype last year, sort of a proof-of-concept, and are now in the process of producing version 1.0. Naturally, I feel far more comfortable working on a code-base I started and thus am completely familiar with. I’m making a point of properly documenting what I’m doing in the app, so that if someone else were to work on it, they wouldn’t have too hard a time to do so.

Of course, there are things I worry about: source-control commits, for example. For my own projects, I can basically do whatever I want – write descriptive commit messages (which is what I usually do) or very short ones, when I’m pressed for time or just “not in the mood”. For someone else’s project, that’s clearly not an option. And that’s where the worrying comes to play – is the commit message descriptive enough, did I take everything into account, did I mention all issue-tracking-ticket-numbers, and so on. Then again, perhaps the bar is not that high – I saw one project, where the commit message was just “commit”. Welp.

Another example: Unit Tests. I have no idea what to do with them or about them. I’ve never written a single unit test for my own apps (I don’t say that proudly). Guess I should start at some point.

The pre-dominant thing I worry about working on other people’s projects is: less time for my own. I’ve been working on Transloader 3 in February, but March gave me little time to do so, and the trend seems to be continuing into April. Yoink could do with an update as well, not to mention ScreenFloat. It’s very stressful, really.

Found a Copy-Cat of Yoink. Ugh.

By members of the press and multiple customers of Yoink, I was made aware of a possible copy-cat of the app. I’m not going to name or link to it here. From what I could see, they copied the look-and-feel of the app, down to the marketing material. It’s a shame they didn’t use the time copying my app to create something unique of their own… I contacted Apple about it (if this should happen to you, you can contact them here) and started a dialog with the developer through that channel. Of course, they denied everything and started bringing up lawyers, and that’s where we stand now. I doubt I’ll proceed, it’s not worth the money, the nerves and seeing as customers recognize it as a rip-off of Yoink anyway, I can leave it at that and be somewhat happy about it. Still, personally, I think Apple should recognize the rip-off nature of the app and remove it from the Mac App Store, but that’s their decision, not mine.

Some comments from customers:

  • via mail: “it looks like they just duplicated your efforts under their name”
  • via mail: “Please check the Apple Store for a tool named “…” it is a rip off of Yoink.”
  • on a software-review site: “Appears to be a blatant rip-off of Yoink!!!”
  • via twitter: “that’s not the only app they have ripped off either”
  • on that note about another app of ‘theirs’ on a software-review site: “Okay this looks total rip off of Disk Diet.”
  • another: “I’ve read some comments in the App Store calling (…) a rip-off of Coconut Battery, and I can definitely see where the comparisons are coming from, the two are extremely similar”

It’s not just me. Phew.

… Didn’t Do That I Had Planned

Work on Transloader

I had quietly hoped to be able to finish Transloader 3 by the end of March and release it some time in April. That doesn’t look likely now. With all that contract work keeping me busy, I had to postpone my plans and am now working on-and-off on the app, whenever there’s a little time left over. But this situation is not going to last forever, perhaps another week or two, then it’s the backend-guy’s turn again, leaving me to my own apps for a while :)

… Downloaded

Underpass Mac App IconUnderpass (mac app storewebsite)

By developer Jeff Johnson (here on twitter), this is an end-to-end encrypted chat app, with encryption implemented from the ground up – it doesn’t use a third-party service, like other apps. “It’s just you, your chat partner, and a password. Peer-to-peer. There’s no signup. No account. No phone number, email, contacts, or any personal information requested, not even your real name.”

Thimbleweed Park App IconThimbleweed Park (mac app storesteam, gogwebsite)

Released today (March 30th, 2017), I can’t wait to play this game. I backed it on Kickstarter as soon as I heard about it and I’m happy they were so successful with that campaign. Their development blogis worth reading!

… Read

70 Cents Put Me on the Mac App Store Charts (lapcatsoftware)

“The charts do not accurately reflect how (un)healthy the store is and how widely (un)profitable it is to third-party developers.”

I Worked for Steve Jobs, and This Was the Best Lesson He Taught Me (huffingtonpost)

“Telling the truth is a test of your character and intelligence. You need strength to tell the truth, and intelligence to recognize what is true.”

First Dinosaur Tail Found Preserved in Amber (nationalgeographic)

“ “Maybe we can find a complete dinosaur,” he speculates, rather confidently. “

… Listened To

Erich von Däniken Lecture (website)

My girlfriend and I had the pleasure to attend a lecture given by author Erich von Däniken in Vienna. His theories are interesting and thought-provoking. Some of it is fantastic, of course, but he’s very good at making you see things from a different point of view.

… Watched

Beauty and the Beast 2017 Movie PosterBeauty and the Beast (itunes)

Not as good as the original. I don’t see why it had to be done with real-life actors in the first place, but ok. Instead of creating something new, it seems Disney’s more fond of re-visiting old material and re-doing it, like The Jungle Book. It wasn’t that bad, though. It had its moments.

… Ate

Saffron RiceVegetable-Pistachios-Rice with a Saffron Crust

… Went to See

Venice, San BarnabaAh, Venice.

Venice, drying clothes

Venice, San Marco in the distanceAt the end of February, my girlfriend and I went for a one-day-trip to Venice (by bus, we started Friday night from Vienna, were in Venice on Saturday, 7AM, and returned to Vienna 8PM that same day). We had great weather and great fun, but were quite groggy afterwards – after a walking distance of over 18 km and very little sleep. We had a constantly quarrelling older couple sitting right behind us, and they would. not. shut. up. But that’s beside the fact. Venice is great. And they filmed Indiana Jones there!

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What I… (November 2016 – January 2017)

In  “What I…”, a monthly column, I take a look back at what went down over the course of the passed month.

As you can tell by the title of this blog post, I missed the last two months – my apologies.
It’s partly that I’ve been busy and partly that I couldn’t really get into my blogging mood and -mindset.
But now I forced myself to finally get down to it, so here’s what I…

… Did

Touch Bar Support for Glimpses (website, mac app store)

On a hunch that Apple would show-case apps that adopted the new MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar on the Mac App Store, I set out to add support for it to my still motion video app, Glimpses.
The API is lovely, so I made progress fast – implementing and testing took about 2 days altogether.
Touch Bar in Glimpses allows you to import photos from flickr or Instagram, sort your photos and adjust your project’s settings and more – all without having to look up from the Touch Bar.

Glimpses Touch Bar Support - Import from Flickr

Sadly, it didn’t make the cut for Apple’s “Enhanced for Touch Bar” Mac App Store-feature – even begging didn’t help, like, at all…
I wish Apple would give some feedback to developers as to why an app was (or wasn’t) chosen – does the app just suck? Does it not sell enough? Is the rating too low? Does the Touch Bar implementation suck?
Nonetheless, now I know about the Touch Bar APIs and I can put that knowledge to good use in some of my other apps for sure.

Released Yoink v3.2.1 (website, mac app store)

A simple bugfix update, version 3.2.1 fixes a bug with “private” dragging pasteboards, reacts to memory pressure events and cleans up stuff it doesn’t need and fixes a nasty bug where the video in the preferences’ “Behavior” tab would play, even if the preferences window was closed.

Worked on Transloader 3 (website, mac app store, ios app store)

Right after implementing Touch Bar support in Glimpses, I took to Transloader to see how (and if) it would work there, and I think can make things more accessible, like when switching between different views (these GIFs are of a software that’s still in development, so things might change before release) :

Touch Bar support in Transloader 3

or when assigning a download to different Macs:

Touch Bar Support in Transloader 3

Other than that, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the “backend” (read: CloudKit) side of the app – the stuff that should just work and the user never gets to see. I’m finally happy with the approach I’m taking (which I wrote about here), so now I can polish it up.
I’m also working on the UI of course and am playing around with alternate progress bars instead of Apple’s standard progress bar UI:

Transloader Progress Bars

It’s very easy to see if a download has succeed, failed or was cancelled, or how far a running download has progressed without having to read the status below.
Transloader 3 is progressing slowly but nicely, and I hope to be able to make an announcement in the first half of 2017 (yes, that’s very vague, but I’m not good at keeping my own deadlines and I don’t want to commit to a date too early).

Worked on someone else’s code base

For someone else’s iOS app (which I can’t talk about), I had to work on a very complex code base I was completely unfamiliar with.
One part of the complexity comes from its very extensive sync API (basically anything you do in the app is synced back to the server) and knowing the current state of data in the app, the other part is that it uses Core Data, which I only ever read about but never actually used.
Naturally, I had to go through a pretty steep learning curve (including Core Data), and it didn’t help that the initial coding was outsourced to a seemingly unexperienced developer from India, as some parts of it are very, very confusing and sometimes implemented twice or more.
Incidentally, for Christmas, my brother gave me the book “Your Code as a Crime Scene”, which helped identifying parts that needed attention and belonged together – I can wholeheartedly recommend that book.
The app is a very compelling and interesting project and gets me to think about another app besides my own – a break can do wonders on how you view certain problems or issues.

… Thought About

Yoink Removed from the Mac App Store’s ‘Invaluable Utilities’ Feature

After having been featured in ‘New Year, New Habits’, a front-page feature of the Mac App Store all through January 2017, Yoink was (silently) removed by the Mac App Store’s Editorial team from its ‘Invaluable Utilities’ feature.
I noticed by chance, and this pretty much sums up how I reacted when I saw it:

The Simpsons, Ralph gets his Heart broken by Lisa

Of course I went on to iTunes Connect to see if everything was in order with the app – it was – so I decided to write Apple directly (I don’t have any contacts in their editorial team – does anybody besides the big guys? I just used iTunes Connect’s ‘Contact Us’ form).
Unsurprisingly, they couldn’t tell me anything. I thought perhaps they could tell me the app was not updated frequently enough (which I doubt, since other apps in that feature were last updated earlier than Yoink) or that it didn’t receive enough ratings, but I got the standard “the editorial team giveth, the editorial team taketh away” response. I really wish Apple were more transparent here – it would only do the developer economy good, knowing where you’d do well to improve.
Anyway, the feature has been removed from the Mac App Store entirely now, so perhaps a new Utility-promotion is coming our way on the Mac App Store soon?

… Downloaded

Oceanhorn IconOceanhorn (app store)

A great game I’m playing on my Apple TV – always reminds me of playing the Zelda games with my cousin. Good times.
At first I thought using the Apple TV Siri Remote to play it would be clumsy and a turn-off, but it works surprisingly well. I’m not quite done with the game yet, but I’m very close to the end. 

Stardew Valley IconStardew Valley (gog)

If you don’t have time to spare (which I don’t) or accidentally spend way too much time on that particular game you just can’t get enough of (which I do), do not – I repeat: do not – get this game.
It’s awesome and will make hours seem like minutes. Seriously.

Water Minder IconWaterMinder (app store)

I’m notoriously under-hydrated. I drink some coffee in the morning and maybe one, or two glasses of water over the course of a day. Now, that might be enough, as some say, and it might be way too little, as say others.
I’m giving it a try and so that I can keep track of things, I’m using WaterMinder – an app very well designed to take care of these water-intake-tracking-needs. 

… Read

The Andromeda StrainThe Andromeda Strain (ibooks store)

“Five prominent biophysicists have warned the United States government that sterilization procedures for returning space probes may be inadequate to guarantee uncontaminated re-entry to the atmosphere.”
Michael Crichton sure was a genius.

Ancient Aliens Book CoverAncient Aliens – The Official Companion Book (amazon)

I gave this book to my girlfriend Britta for Christmas and somehow wound up reading it before her – even though I’m quite skeptic about these things (aliens being the ones who created us thousands of years ago), I still enjoyed reading it a lot – it gives you a different perspective on things.
“Transporting readers around the globe, Ancient Aliens® explores the fascinating enigmas and mysterious artifacts our ancestors left behind, from incredible objects to amazingly accurate ancient maps; from the Great Pyramid of Giza and stone megaliths at Gobekli Tepe to the Nazca Plains and mysterious structures of Puma Punku.”

Your Code as a Crime Scene Book CoverYour Code as a Crime Scene (pragmatic programmer)

As I stated before, I received this book from my brother for Christmas and read it in about two evenings.
“In this book, you’ll learn forensic psychology techniques to successfully maintain your software. You’ll create a geographic profile from your commit data to find hotspots, and apply temporal coupling concepts to uncover hidden relationships between unrelated areas in your code.”

Designed for Use Book CoverDesigned for Use (pragmatic programmer)

“Expert developer and user interface designer Lukas Mathis gives you a deep dive into research, design, and implementation – the essential stages in designing usable interfaces for applications and websites.”
I’m still reading it, but already I feel like I know a lot more about how I should go about future projects – BEFORE writing code ;)

The Murder of Roger AckroydThe Murder of Roger Ackroyd (ibook store)

Having read “Death on the Nile” (after having seen the movie like a gazillion times), my mind is now set on reading all books featuring one Monsieur Hercule Poirot by Agatha Christie.
“Village rumor hints that Mrs. Ferrars poisoned her husband, but no one is sure. Then there’s another victim in a chain of death. Unfortunately for the killer, master sleuth Hercule Poirot takes over the investigation.”

… Ate

Nachos with self-made Salsa

Nachos with self-made Salsa

… Went to See

Mariazell, Austria

Mariazell, Austria

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What I.. (October 2016)

“What I…” is a monthly column where I talk about what’s been going on in my life as an indie Mac and iOS developer during the last month.

… Did

Released Yoink v3.2.5 (blogmac app store, website)

Yoink, an app that improves and simplifies drag and drop on your Mac, has received a maintenance update.
Most importantly (based on the mails I received), this update fixes an issue with Photos.app on macOS Sierra, where Yoink wouldn’t properly accept photos dragged to it.
Additionally, it improves the app’s energy footprint and CPU usage, and fixes a couple of bugs here and there.
The update also fixes my “inactive checkbox” dilemma (see below).

More work on Transloader 3 (mac app store, app store, website)

I started migrating the app’s download mechanism from NSURLDownload to NSURLSession.
It works well (even background transfers), but there are a few caveats with FTP URLs.
Background downloads do not work with FTP URLs, and re-starting them (after they failed, for example) is iffy.
It’s interesting, because if I start an FTP download, stop it, then re-start the download, it often doesn’t work.
But if I start the download, stop it, quit and restart the app and the download, it works instantly. It may be some kind of internal caching in the NSURLSession system for FTP URLs (as http(s) works fine).

Released SiriMote v1.2.5 (website)

macOS Sierra caused SiriMote to misbehave – play/pause and volume up/down would not work properly.
The reason: macOS Sierra has rudimentary support for the Apple TV Siri Remote. You guessed it – exactly those three buttons.
So when you pressed play with SiriMote running, the system would receive the button press and start to play, then SiriMote would receive it and pause again.
SiriMote 1.2.5 disables those three buttons (temporarily while I look into other options) to make it play nice with Apple’s new operating system.

Guest Blog Post: The Story Behind Claquette – Animated Screenshots (blog)

A great post that goes into a lot of detail of what makes GIFs GIFs and creating the Mac app Claquette.
If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do – Thomas sure knows what he’s writing about here.

Blogged: How to badge an App’s Icon in the Dock (blog)

Inspired by a conversation with Jeff Johnson (of ClickToFlash fame), I wrote a quick tutorial on how to badge an app’s icon in the Dock while respecting System Preferences/Notifications’ settings.

Blogged: Follow-Up: Inactive Checkboxes Are Poor UX (blog)

After releasing Yoink v3.2.5, I finally was able to post my follow-up on my “inactive checkboxes” blog post.

Blogged: Yoink’s Revenue a Month After Localizing It (blog)

I saw a spike in Japan and China after translating Yoink into those languages.

… Thought About

Apple’s “hello again” Event

I couldn’t care less about the Apple TV TV app that won’t ever work outside the US anyway (*ahem* Apple News *ahem*), so let’s move on to what mattered (or didn’t).
So, the maximum amount of RAM in the new MBPs is 16 GB, because 32 GB would draw too much power, yet they decided to reduce the battery from a previous 99.5 watt-hour capacity to a 76 watt-hour capacity.
Yes, they couldn’t increase the battery due to in-flight laws, but did they have to reduce it, only to make it a little thinner, and then say 32 GB draws too much power? How’s that designing “for the experience” of a ‘pro’ laptop?
When the first thing they talk about during the introduction of new hardware is how much thinner it is, you know where Apple’s priorities are.
It’s not putting ‘pro’ hardware into a ‘pro’ laptop. It’s making it look good.
The CPU was not really mentioned in the keynote, so it’s likely not that big of an improvement over the previous generation.
And don’t get me started about the ports. I love Thunderbolt, but not being able to connect a brand new out-of-the-box iPhone to a brand new out-of-the-box MacBook Pro without extra dongles…
What happened to “it just works”? This is what Apple used to excel at!
I’m not saying these machines aren’t good. They probably are the best MacBook Pros (or MacBooks Pro? or MacBook Pro devices?).
But why not make them even better? Do professionals really care about thinner when they’re thin enough already?
I’m writing this on a rMBP from mid-2012 and I still marvel at the thinness of the thing. Why not keep it at that level and improve the performance in a way that blows every other laptop out there out of the water?
Where is the courage to say “it’s as thin as last year, but it’s so much more powerful”?
That being said, I do like some of the stuff they did with those new machines.
I like the Touch Bar and have already started working it into some of my apps (particularly, Transloader and Glimpses – it’s too bad background apps can not really put anything into the Touch Bar).
I like the bigger touchpad.
I like that you can charge it from either the left-hand- or right-hand-side ports.
And, after all, I do like the way it looks.
But why not make the MacBook the thinnest Apple can make, and the MacBook Pro the most powerful Apple can make?

… Downloaded

EasyRes App IconEasyRes (mac app store, website)

This app lets you quickly change your screens’ resolutions via a menu bar item (or the Notification Center).

Screenshot of EasyRes in Action

EasyRes in action (screenshot from the Mac App Store)

It shows more resolutions than System Preferences/Displays, that’s what makes this app very useful.

… Read

Does the Mac Still Matter? (cnet)

“We did spend a great deal of time looking at this a number of years ago and came to the conclusion that to make the best personal computer, you can’t try to turn MacOS into an iPhone.”

Is Metal a Game Changer? An Interview with Feral Interactive (macgamerhq)

“It’s not about making development easier exactly, but the new features in Metal certainly make more games feasible on Mac”

Why Apple’s MacBook Touch Bar was the Right Thing To Do (techcrunch)

“Having a discrete bar that can update with context (…) makes total sense. Far more sense than bolting a touch screen onto a non-touch-optimized OS and forcing you to poke at tiny buttons meant for a mouse.”

Experimenting with App Store Search Ads (glimsoft)

“I’ve been thinking about it some more, and it seems like participating in Search Ads will almost be mandatory, if you want any source of traffic from App Store Search.”

iPhone 7 Plus Depth Effect is Legit (prolost)

“Sometimes that makes the photo prettier. Often, it can make the photo.”

… Watched

Blair Witch Movie PosterBlair Witch (itunes)

Only recently I found out a new movie in the Blair Witch franchise would be released (as it was kept under wraps during production).
I loved the first one and despised the second one, so this movie could have gone both ways. And it did.
I liked it in general, but some elements were just a blatant copy of the original, which is kind of sad. But it was scary, and that was what I was looking for. So the movie delivered, but I still felt a bit disappointed.

… Ate

Krautstrudel

Krautstrudel

… Went to See

Me lying in a coffin

“The Long Night of Museums” – My girlfriend and I went to the cemetery, where you could try lying in a coffin. It’s eerily comfortable.

My girlfriend Britta and I at the Austrian Bundeskanzleramt

We also went to the Austrian Bundeskanzleramt. The chancellor was nowhere to be seen, his office closed. Big let-down. But we got a nice picture out of it.

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