Aug 2014

Stimulus Program

Dave Winer, How to stimulate the open web:

If I create a tool that’s good at posting content to Facebook and Twitter, it should also post to RSS feeds, which exist outside the context of any corporation. Now other generous and innovative people can build systems that work differently from Facebook and Twitter, using these feeds as the basis, and the investors will have another pile of technology they can monetize.

Waffle on Open Standards

The New Old World:

…more than anything Twitter and Facebook needs to get some competition from something that’s as approachable as Twitter and Facebook and has a clear road ahead to being an open standard.

There are many people clamoring for open standards. I don’t want them because I love open standards, I want them because they are brilliant means to an end.

297,897 Social Media Gurus

B.L. Ochman, writing in June of this year: Twitter bios show epic growth — to 297,897 — of self-proclaimed social media gurus.

The list now tops 297,897 — up from a mere 16,000 when we first started tracking them in 2009.

By January, 2013, the count has swelled to 181,000, causing us to note that social media experts were multiplying like rabbits.

(Via Jamie Zawinski.)

Functions Returning Functions

Justin Driscoll, First Class Functions and Delayed Evaluation in Swift:

This concept of “functions as data” enables the development of complex systems composed of small bits of reusable logic in an elegant and concise way.

Gabe on Truncated Feeds

Macdrifter:

From the perspective of someone writing on the Internet, it’s so incredibly difficult to get someone to care about what I think, I can’t imagine making them work for it. It’s such a huge privilege to have anyone contemplate my words, that I feel obliged to roll out the welcome mat.

On Taking Breaks

Marco was recently in a fight on the internet. I missed it and don’t know what it was about. I have no interest in being a spectator in these kinds of things — and if they were to happen to me (they don’t) I’d stop using my Twitter account.

Because that’s the thing — though it may have been started by a blog post, it all happens on Twitter.

Even though I follow people I like and respect, there’s no way around seeing some of the crap that happens on Twitter. Even if you don’t use Twitter at all, you will have seen articles about people being harrassed and threatened. You will have noticed the pure toxic sludge that pours through the service. (A hypothetical “Dawn of the Idiocracy” prequel would feature Twitter prominently.)

And it’s worse than any blog comments system, because if you use it, anybody can put something in front of your face whether you want it or not.

Twitter is also wonderful, and I get so much value out of it. But it’s like 51% good and 49% bad.

I don’t see it getting any better. Hopefully it can hold the line at just-barely-worth-it. (But the recent changes to the timeline make that a little less likely.)

So here’s what I do: I think of Twitter as part of my workplace. When I’m done for the night, my iPhone and laptop stay in my office. I’ll often pick up my iPad and do some reading — but there are no Twitter apps on my iPad and I don’t go to twitter.com on my iPad.

Some other things: Sheila and I eat all our meals together, but we don’t take out our phones while eating. We don’t take out our phones while going for our nightly walk.

In other words: if we’re hanging out, we’re hanging out with each other rather than with ourselves and the entire Twitter world. That world can go away for a while — it’ll still be there later, and it will still be the same stuff it is every single day.

Twitter is addicting in the same way slot machines are. You get small bits of pleasure at random intervals, and it doesn’t really change. So you keep pulling the lever or pushing the button.

And it’s cheap, too — 140 characters can’t compare to the grown-up pleasure of a good conversation with a real person.

So I just leave it alone more. And I’m fine. Better than fine.

Greg on CloudKit

Greg Pierce explains why Drafts 4 will use CloudKit:

Why am I willing to make these trade-offs for CloudKit, despite its limitations? Because, ultimately, developer perspectives aside, I felt it was the right choice for my customers.

Tim on CloudKit

Tim Schmitz, Web Services, Dependencies, and CloudKit:

That got me thinking about how CloudKit fits into this picture. As an iOS developer, CloudKit is immensely appealing at first glance. The API is low-level enough that you have a good deal of control over how your app interacts with the server. At the same time, you get a lot of server-side functionality for free, which leaves you with more time to focus on building a great app. But I still have a lot of misgivings about it.

I’ve written about CloudKit before. It seems well-designed, and I suspect (though not based on experience yet) that it’s better-executed than earlier broadly-similar services from Apple.

We would have been tempted to use it with Vesper — but it would have meant, for instance, that we couldn’t do a web app version of Vesper.

One Indie Developer’s Tale

Gabriel Hauber:

Call me mad. Call me whatever you want :)

Great story.

A Vesper Performance Enhancement

Vesper 2.003 came out earlier this week — and it includes a syncing performance enhancement which I thought I’d write up.

Performance enhancements aren’t always as straightforward as the one I’m about to describe. Often they require the hard work of revising the data model, adding caching, or doing your drawing the old-fashioned way (as opposed to just setting a property on a layer, for instance).

This one happens to be easy to write about, so I will.

But first I’ll say that Vesper is already fast and gets plenty of praise for its performance. I’m a speed freak with zero patience — except for the considerable patience required to make sure my software works for people like me.

So this performance enhancement isn’t something that any current users are likely to notice, but it will become important in the future as people create more and more notes.

* * *

Here’s what we noticed: the initial sync on a new device, with a large number of notes (more than almost anybody has; more than I have), seemed unexpectedly slow.

My first thought was that the server was having trouble handling this. It wasn’t — it was returning all the data quite quickly with no complaint. And the amount of data was around the same as a typical image file. A lot, sure, but not an insane amount for a first sync.

So I ruled out the server, networking, and JSON translation as issues. Next I did some poor-man’s profiling — I hit the pause button in the debugger a few times as the app was syncing.

And the same function always appeared: getUniqueID. It’s a little C function that calls SecRandomCopyBytes to generate a random unique ID for a note (VSNote object).

The answer was clear: that function either needs to get faster, or we need to not call it so often. Or both.

Not Call It So Often

The syncing system creates a VSNote object for each JSON note pulled from the server that does not exist locally. On first sync, that’s every single note.

The problem: VSNote’s init method generates a unique ID by calling getUniqueID. This is superfluous in the case of notes coming from the server — those notes already have a unique ID.

So I did the obvious thing: I created an -initWithUniqueID: method that allows the creator to specify a unique ID, which means I could avoid all those calls to getUniqueID.

Awesome. Problem solved. Done.

I could have stopped there, but I didn’t.

Make the Function Faster

It still bothered me that that function was so slow. It didn’t really matter, at this point. But why would SecRandomCopyBytes be so slow? Something like that could be a little slower than some other system APIs, but still the numbers I was getting seemed weirdly super slow.

So I did a straightforward timing test, and SecRandomCopyBytes itself is plenty fast enough. What gives?

I thought it might be the collision check. There’s an NSMutableSet of all note unique IDs, and we check the returned value of getUniqueID to make sure it’s not in that set. Profiling told me that that’s not the slowdown. (As expected, since the collision check happens in getUniqueID’s caller, not in the function itself.)

What I found was that it was the limits on unique IDs that were causing the problem.

The limits are this: it has to be a positive 53-bit integer (instead of 64-bit), and the integer has to be greater than the constant VSTutorialNoteMaxID. (Which is 100.)

The body of getUniqueID is actually a loop. It calls SecRandomCopyBytes repeatedly until it gets a uniqueID that fits within the limits.

I had thought, naively, that it would typically take one to three calls to get a suitable uniqueID — but I was wrong. Ten passes through the loop wasn’t that unusual, and it could be more.

The solution here was pretty simple: if the number is outside the range, use some arithmetic to get it inside the range.

If it’s negative, subtract it from zero to make it positive.

If it’s greater than the 53-bit limit, divide in half. (In a loop until it fits within the limit.)

If it’s less than VSTutorialNoteMaxID, add VSTutorialNoteMaxID.

This made it so that getting a unique ID that fits within the limits takes exactly one call to SecRandomCopyBytes instead of potentially many calls.

There is still the possibility of collision with an existing ID, but that would be so rare (most likely never), and the consequences are just a second call to SecRandomCopyBytes, so I didn’t worry about that.

But, again — most performance issues I run into don’t have nice straightforward solutions like this one. When they do, I don’t mind. It used to be that I’d beat myself up for not doing this better the first time, but these days I don’t. I’m just glad that I learned something and made the software better.

Tuples All the Way Down

David Owens suggests using named tuples instead of structs in some cases.

(“It’s tuples all the way down” is a new joke to iOS and Mac programmers. I know you’re groaning, but let us enjoy it and feel clever for a few minutes.)

Matt On Swift and iOS 8 Evolution

Old pal Matt Neuburg is interviewed on MacVoices.

There’s a video version and an audio version — I’m playing the audio version in the background right now.

Matt’s a dynamo. He should be on podcasts more often.

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The week starting Sept. 1 (this Monday) is available — as are later weeks. See the Sponsorship page for more info.

Web Services and Dependencies

Tim Schmitz asked me on Twitter:

Curious on your take on dev services re: social network post. Should devs avoid svcs like Azure because an app may outlast it?

(He’s referring to my post from yesterday.)

You can’t escape dependencies — even if you’re running Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP on a virtual machine — and so you need to evaluate everything.

Some questions to ask:

How long will this service be around? How difficult would it be to move? How much of this service’s unique features do I use? How much benefit do I get from those?

This extends to software, too. What is a given package’s reputation for security? Is it likely to be maintained in the future? Will upgrading to get a security fix also mean revising some of my code?

You have to plan for scale. Will this service and and those software packages allow room for growth? (Sharding, running multiple instances, etc.)

And you have to balance developer time. The point is to do less housekeeping and more bug fixes and features.

With Vesper we chose Azure Mobile Services on the grounds that it’s likely to be around a very long time and it’s based on Node (which is well-supported and runs in many places). The folks there were extremely helpful as we were making our decision, and that helped us decide. (You want to go where you’re wanted, for one thing.)

That said, we still have contingency plans, because anything could happen. There are no cases where you wouldn’t want to plan to be able to move. (In fact, we have two: one for moving from Mobile Services to another Node provider and one for moving to another service running Sinatra, in case we have reason to get off Node.)

Our contingency plans aren’t specified to the smallest detail, but that wouldn’t be more than a day of work, which is acceptable. (One reason not to get too detailed: the options will look different in six months, one year, three years, etc.)

I have no expectation that we’ll ever need to move. Azure is a big bet for Microsoft (the new CEO comes from the Azure group). We’ve found that the system performs wonderfully (we get praise for efficient syncing) and there’s a ton of room for growth — we’ve barely scratched the surface so far. (We run with just one instance, and that’s well more than enough.) We’re entirely happy with our choice.

That’s what works for us. But every app and every developer is unique, and there’s no way out of evaluating all the dependencies and making the best decision. I don’t think there are easy answers — it takes diligent research and thinking.

Developer Blogs

Before there was Twitter, I used to say that if you want to be a developer, you need a blog.

I still say that.

Would you trade any of these blogs for their Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram accounts? I wouldn’t.

Gus Mueller
John Gruber
Dave Wiskus
Daniel Jalkut
Justin Williams
Manton Reece
Marco Arment
Mattt Thompson
Ole Begemann
David Owens
Kyle Sluder
David Smith
Craig Hockenberry
Dave Winer
Guy English
Michael Tsai
Nick Bradbury
Graham Lee
Keith Harrison
Waffle
Mark Bernstein
Matt Drance
Mike Abdullah
Brett Terpstra
Wil Shipley
Casey Liss

My most sincere apologies to everybody who’s not on the above list who should be. This was made via a quick glance through my RSS reader, and I just stopped when the list felt big.

Notice that the domains are all custom. Some of these may be hosted on Tumblr or WordPress.com (I didn’t check and don’t know), but since they have their own domain name they can move their blogs.

Stingray

It’s not just military equipment for the police that’s bothersome. It’s also surveillance equipment that the Tacoma police (for one) uses:

Known as Stingray, the device — small enough to be carried in a car — tricks cellphones into thinking it’s a cell tower and draws in their information.

According to the article, the Tacoma police has had this capability since 2008. It’s not a new thing.

Apparently the police have to be the army and the NSA.

A Rant About Stack Traces

Rusty Rants:

Yes I know, ha ha Null Pointer, Java, LOL. But that’s an exact line number friends. What did the user do? They tapped the subscribe button. Which page where they on? The Podcast Dialog. Zero ambiguity. Guess how many of our Android crashes we get that for? 100%. In iOS we’d be lucky if even 30% of our crashes had stack traces we can line up to actual things we can then reproduce.

Via Michael Tsai. (I’ve said before and I’ll keep saying that you should subscribe to Michael’s feed. If I had to cut my subscriptions down to two, I’d go with Michael’s blog and Daring Fireball.)

Justin on Auto Layout Debugging

Justin Williams shows how to use layoutDebuggingIdentifier to help when debugging auto layout in iOS 8.

This sounds very useful. It’s private API, so you can use it for debugging only, but that’s totally fine.

I might have taken an alternate approach with the code, though. Instead of NSSelectorFromString, the clang pragmas, and performSelector:​withObject:, I would have done this:

#if DEBUG
  NSString *identifier = @"Email Label";
  [self.emailLabel setValue:identifier forKey:​@"layoutDebuggingIdentifier"];
#endif

Not tested, but ought to work.

Waffle on Social Media

Community Services:

The reason I don’t like social media is that it takes two things that are polar opposites and duct tapes them together. Your own utility – to save links, to write text, to move files or materials, to keep notes, to communicate with yourself in the future, to communicate with some other specific people – and the social media outlet’s desire to fulfill its own objectives first.

I’ve heard blogs classified as a type of social media. Maybe that’s true, and maybe not — I don’t care.

What I do care about is that my blog isn’t part of a system where its usefulness is just a hook to get me to use it. It works the way I want to, and the company running the servers (DreamHost) doesn’t care one fig what I do.

My blog’s older than Twitter and Facebook, and it will outlive them. It has seen Flickr explode and then fade. It’s seen Google Wave and Google Reader come and go, and it’ll still be here as Google Plus fades. When Medium and Tumblr are gone, my blog will be here.

The things that will last on the internet are not owned. Plain old websites, blogs, RSS, irc, email.

Facebook Alternative for Schools

A parent I know complained to their school that using Facebook for organizing and communicating was a bad idea, since Facebook’s mission is to know everything about everybody everywhere, and she doesn’t really want to help them reach that goal.

The school agreed and switched to Edmodo.

Now, I don’t know if Edmodo is good or bad, but I do very much like the idea of services like this that can replace Facebook for specific uses. They can be better for those specific uses.

Faux Pas for Xcode

Faux Pas is a linter/checker thing for Xcode projects. I haven’t downloaded it yet, but I will. Looks cool.

PS I’m back from vacation (beach, island, undisclosed location). It was lovely.

Ian on the Responder Chain

Ian McCullough, Responder Chain Redux!:

Guy indicated that he feels like the decoupling offered by the responder chain is too great — that sending an arbitrary message up the chain, with only the sender for context, is insufficient to convey user intent.…

The delegate-based approach also “cuts off” the chain early, and the argument seems to be that it cuts it off at the “right” level: where context first appears. But what if there’s more than one “right” level, or more than one scope of context?

I’ve always taken it as a clue that action methods take (id)sender as parameter — which I take to mean: “Here’s an action name and a thing. Figure out what to do.”

This is probably more true on Macs, since sender might be a button, menu item, whatever, and the action method may have to do some digging to figure out intent.

But if it’s deterministic and not a guess, is that wrong? I’m not sure.

Update 10:00 pm: Guy responds on his blog:

When the table view cell was asked to perform an action it could simply pass it up the responder chain with itself as the sender. With the simple convention of an -(id)representedObject method (or Protocol if you want to be fancy) we can at least glean from the sender which item to act upon.

More Indie Numbers

Allen Ding posted revenue numbers for his app Saved.

Getting Started with Sinatra for Cocoa Programmers

Sinatra is the little brother to Ruby on Rails.

You’d think that a Cocoa guy like me — someone who’s quite happy working with a large application framework — would prefer Rails, but I find myself attracted to the smaller and lighter-weight Sinatra.

Sinatra and Node are very similar. But as awesome as Node is, it has one giant drawback: you have to write in JavaScript.

That’s also Node’s advantage. JavaScript is easy to learn and lots of people already know it. But while JavaScript, well, exists, Ruby is lovely.

Ruby has a whole lot in common with Objective-C. Both languages count Smalltalk as an ancestor: both are object-oriented and both use dynamic dispatch. I think you’d like it.

The rest of this post will get you up-and-running with Sinatra. Quickly. In like a minute.

(Yes, I know that many readers of this blog know Ruby and web services far better than I do. This is for the ones that don’t.)

Get Sinatra

In Terminal: sudo gem install sinatra

You already have Ruby, since it comes with OS X. gem is Ruby’s package manager. (Think CocoaPods, or think npm if you’re a Node developer.)

You’ll see some messages in Terminal as it downloads and installs Sinatra and its dependencies.

This tutorial will convert some Markdown text to HTML. There’s a gem for that too:

sudo gem install rdiscount

(Markdown? Discount? Got it.)

Create the Server

Create a folder on your desktop called CoolWebSite.

Inside that folder create CoolFile.markdown. Its contents should be simple:

# It Worked!
This is a cool web page served by Sinatra

Then, also inside that folder, create CoolApp.rb.

Its contents are your actual Sinatra-based server.

The top two lines are the equivalent of import statements:

require 'sinatra'
require 'rdiscount'

Then we have Sinatra’s router, where you match http methods and paths to code. This example has just one route which matches a GET request to /.

The code matching that route does the following:

  1. Read the contents of CoolFile.markdown.

  2. Turn the Markdown text into HTML.

  3. Add the HTML bits to the start and end of the HTML.

get "/" do
  file = File.open("CoolFile.markdown", 'r')
  file_text = file.read
  file.close
  markdown_text = RDiscount.new​(file_text).to_html
  page_text = "<html><head><title>​It Worked!</title><body>#{markdown_text}​</body></html>"
end

You can see, I hope, that at this point you’re not that far from a blogging engine that reads Markdown files on disk and returns HTML.

Run the Server

In Terminal, navigate to your CoolWebSite folder. Type the following:

ruby CoolApp.rb

You’ll see that WEBrick starts up, and you’ll see a message like this:

== Sinatra/1.4.5 has taken the stage on 4567 for development with backup from WEBrick

Now, in your browser, go to http://localhost:4567. You should see the It Worked! page, in glorious HTML. (You can view the page source to confirm.)

That’s it. Now you’re a web developer — and, what’s more, you have an easy-to-learn and lightweight framework plus a language that should feel very familiar. (No square brackets, but I’m confident you can get by without them.)

Swift Literal Convertibles

Mattt Thompson, in NSHipster, brings up a potentially controverial issue.

This seems like another giant area for abuse and misuse. It worries me less than custom and overloaded operators, since it feels like something people would do less often.

And I can actually see myself potentially using the feature myself. Maybe.

But my criteria still needs to be: can somebody else read and understand my code?

Michael on Swift and Dynamic Dispatch

Michael Tsai, “It’s a Coup”:

The costs for not using message passing, on the other hand, can be high because they make the code more rigid. You cannot retroactively make compiled code more dynamic. And yet, since dynamic is not the default, the odds are that a lot more methods will be static than need to be. Most of the time, objc_msgSend is not why your code is slow, yet Swift acts like it needs to protect you from this.

I’m no fan of swizzling and don’t care what happens to it. I throw swizzling in the same bucket as SIMBL and APE and haxies, and I’m glad they’re not screwing up my apps these days. (Newer Cocoa developers have no idea what I’m talking about, I realize.)

But I do care about KVO. Very much. (Warts and all.)

This die-hard speed freak has never been concerned with the speed of objc_msgSend. I’ve noticed it in Shark and in Instruments, but the real performance issues were elsewhere in my code.

That said, it hasn’t escaped my notice that most of the time static dispatch would be fine. And most of my classes could be marked as final. So I’m not actually outraged or anything — I keep an open mind that I would actually get noticeably better performance from Swift.

Especially given that now we do have the dynamic modifier.

Objective-C is supple by default. Amazingly so. But I shouldn’t pretend I use that suppleness more than I do. And if Swift isn’t so supple — well, that’s probably closer to what we actually need than what we think we need.

Still, though, there is code in Vesper that can’t be ported to pure Swift. (Model code.) The point that you can use something like Core Data but couldn’t write it in Swift remains important. But, then, Swift is young, not even 1.0, and part of the deal is that it’s up to us developers to communicate our needs.

Server-side Config Files

Brian Schrader, Changing App Behavior Server-Side:

…it seems to me that it should be entirely possible to make iOS apps that are mostly configurable from the server-side. This got me thinking. Why not build the app to download its configuration file (i.e. plist, or Localization.strings file) remotely?

With Vesper we use DB5 for configuring things like fonts, colors, and sizes. What’s stopping us from hosting a DB5.plist on a server, and changing the app on-the-fly?

Nothing. In fact, this is how TapLynx works. (TapLynx was two-projects-ago for me; I worked on it before Glassboard.)

TapLynx is DB5’s dad. The product itself was an Xcode project and static library. You’d configure your app using a plist (they were publication-style apps, made of RSS feeds). You’d set colors, graphics, titles, feed URLs, app structure, etc. — all without writing any code.

The configuration file would ship with the app, but the file could optionally include the URL of a configuration file online which the app would download and then use. That file could be changed at will.

The configuration file could also include URLs to graphics, which the app would also download and use. (Think of graphics for tab bar items. That kind of thing.)

We haven’t done anything like that with Vesper because we don’t anticipate needing it. All it takes a server that can host static files (S3, for instance), but it’s still more moving parts, and I’d rather limit the number of things that can go wrong.

And the kinds of bugs this system can fix are limited. It doesn’t change any actual code.

Update 4:40 pm: Folks on Twitter told me about Ground Control, Mattt Thompson’s thing, which looks cool.

Guy on Responder Chain and Table View Cells

Guy English says not to wire up buttons in table view cells to first responder:

If I find a UIButton tossing some message up the responder chain, documented nowhere else except in the Interface Builder UI? That sucks. Do you think I’m being funny?

I’ve done this myself. Possibly even often. (Though it’s likely I wired it up in code rather than in IB.)

The thing is: I want the enclosing view controller to get the action message. When something needs to happen — changing the model, presenting another view controller, etc. — it’s likely that it’s something the view controller should do. Table view cells shouldn’t have that kind of power.

Guy writes:

Simply sending a message up the responder chain that some sub-item of a view has been tapped doesn’t help make the user’s intention clear except under the most superficial or specifically co-ordinated conditions.

My cases may be superficial. I expect the message only to go as far as the nearest view controller, and the only things it needs in order to know what to do are the message itself and the button that triggered it (the sender).

(If you have the button, you can find out what cell it’s in, get the index path of that cell, then look up what model object it refers to. Which sounds like a pain but actually isn’t.)

I think, though, that it’s likely I’m doing this in cases where I’m not using IB, since there’s no way to wire up the action to the view controller in code without somehow giving the table view cell a reference to the view controller, which I don’t want to do.

Is it possible in IB to wire up a button in a cell to an action method in the enclosing view controller? I would think so. (Memory is hazy on this.) If so, being explicit like that is probably a good thing, especially for the sake of the next person to look at the project.

But there’s a case that worries me: table view cells may be reused in different view controllers. In that case, I think you do want to wire up actions to first responder. (But then document them in the code, so Guy doesn’t have to go crazy.)

There’s a small case like that in Vesper: the Typography settings screen has a text preview feature, and that table view cell is the same table view cell used in the timeline.

(However, there are no buttons and no actions in this case, and so the issue of action targets doesn’t actually come up.)

* * *

Update 4:45 pm: Well, Guy’s right. The way you should do it is to create a protocol that the view controller conforms to. The cell’s delegate is the view controller.

(This way the cell doesn’t need to know about a specific class of view controller: it just needs to know about that protocol. I have real-life cases where a specific UITableViewCell subclass is used by different classes of view controllers.)

The button should be wired to an action method in the cell. That action method should call the right method on the cell’s delegate.

It’s likely, in this scenario, that you also want the cell to have a reference to a model object. I myself would make this opaque — the cell could have an id representedObject property, which is set when the view controller configures the cell.

This way, inside an action method in the cell, to actually do the thing, you’d have code like this:

[self.delegate doAThingWithAModelObject:​self.​representedObject];

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Gus on Apple and Seattle

Gus Mueller suggests that Apple should open a Seattle office:

So when Apple says “Hey, we’ve got a job down in Cupertino,” the usual response is “Uh, that’s great. I’m going to stay here thank you very much.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Seattle area is home to the largest Cocoa developer community outside California. And we already do have remote Apple employees here.

It’s a beautiful city and a beautiful region. And it’s progressive — we have marriage equality, legalized marijuana, and a $15 dollar minimum wage (well, coming soon).

Me, I’ve already got a thing. But if I didn’t, and I were looking for a job, and Apple had a local office, I’d strongly consider it. But I wouldn’t consider leaving Seattle.

Shiny Snippets

Nick O’Neill’s that thing in swift shows how to do things in Swift you know how to do in Objective-C. (Via the very awesome iOS Dev Weekly, which you should subscribe to.)

Mark on Design

Mark Kawano, writing for Inc.com, The Biggest Lesson I Learned as an Apple Designer:

Waiting to launch a product until its “magical” moment goes against the concept of MVP, or minimum viable product, which has become so trendy in business over the last few years…

…entrepreneurs need to be very careful in their interpretation of what a minimum viable product actually is. If you’re launching something in a space where there are a lot of people trying to do something similar to you — for example, with a consumer product — then the bar for MVP should be ridiculously high.

objc.io on Testing

As always, the latest issue of objc.io should be read from cover to cover.

An Appreciation of The Leftovers

Informal polling tells me that most people don’t love The Leftovers.

I don’t love it either — but I like it and I watch it.

It has no likeable characters and you don’t care what happens to them. You don’t understand a bunch of it: a bunch of things are unexplained.

It’s creepy — sometimes massively creepy — but not in a fun way: there’s no thrill-of-the-creepy. It’s sad, tedious, and ugly.

There are no redemptive moments or moments of hope. Things start out as unspeakably awful — and go south from there.

And just when you think somebody is getting somewhere, just when you think there might be a break, the darkness snaps shut tight.

It reminds me in a way of The Metamorphosis. It starts out bad — the protagonist has been turned into a giant bug — and then he suffers, and then he dies. He’s not likeable (you suspect he deserved this fate) and his family is even worse.

And there’s no explanation for why he turned into a monstrous vermin.

And there’s no explanation for why I love The Metamorphosis so much.

It’s not like other stories that are so awful. The British version of The Office was kind of like that — so sad, so yucky — but then you find to your surprise that you care about the characters, and the big and small good things that eventually happen shine even brighter for the contrast against the bad things.

The Leftovers is not like that.

It makes me think of an America that’s one terrible step away.

After September 11, after years of war with no end, after the horror of the lack of horror over our beloved nation torturing people, after the militarization of the police and the rise of the prison and surveillance state, after the worst economic shock since the Great Depression, after the realization that climate change is devastating cities now and our can-do country can’t summon the political will to save itself — it feels as if The Leftovers is just one trauma away from where we are right now.

As fiction I love it, because I love the courage of stories like The Metamorphosis — and, well, there’s probably something wrong with me.

As social commentary it’s an angry warning, and worth paying attention to, before we end up living in it.

Chris on Implicit Optional Chaining

Chris Lattner responds to David Owens on implicit optional chaining on the Apple Dev Forums. (Login required.)

The gist: the ? lets you know that subsequent sub-expressions may not be evaluated.

Josh on Vesper

Josh Ginter reviews Vesper. It’s about typography and how it fits into his analog workflow. I love this review.

National Moment of Silence - Seattle

It’s not a protest or occasion for speeches — it’s silence. Two locations: 4th and Pine downtown and the Queen Anne Baptist Church. Details are here.

Kyle on Presentation Controllers

Kyle Sluder, UIPresentationController is (currently) a deficient API:

Note that this implies that the popover presentation controller does not exist until after the call to -presentViewController:…. As such, the popover can’t be configured until it’s already been presented!

Xcoders Thursday - Code Reuse and UIViewController Containment

Hal Mueller is talking about architecting for code reuse. Tim Ekl is talking about UIViewController containment. This Thursday, 7 pm at Omni.

After the meeting we’ll go to Cyclops.

carlfish

Charles Miller tweets:

It’s a time travel story. A community just got sent to the “future” and are mostly teaching each other how it all works.

I love that tweet. He’s writing about people (like me, and possibly like you) who’ve been programming in Objective-C for the past decade (or more) and are now trying to figure out Swift.

Part of me feels like a monkey who’s just picked up a hammer and is trying to figure out how it’s better than the rock I’ve been using. (Knowing that it is better, somehow.)

Another part of me feels like a Jedi who’s trying to switch from a lightsaber to a blaster. (Why would I want to do that?)

I’ll get over both feelings in time.

Alex on the Changing Business Models

Alex King, The Race to the Bottom Benefits Platforms (not Developers):

More complex apps will get made. They just won’t be built using the model that indie developers are used to.

Ita Design Writeup

The Mohawkians write up Ita 2.0 as a Case Study for List App Design:

With Ita, we’ve focused on the act of marking items complete (a single tap) and reordering items (a long press). This is because when you are using a list, these are the actions that you do most often.

The article looks at Reminders, Clear, and Wunderlist as well as Ita, and explains the Mohawks’s design decisions.

Optional Optionals

Airspeed Velocity, Yo, dawg:

That an optional that contains a nil optional is not equal to nil is pretty important.

I haven’t internalized optionals yet. I still have to think. I look forward to the day when this feels obvious.

Mattt on Swift Operators

Mattt Thompson, in Swift Operators, talks about overloading operators and proposes some guidelines.

He provides some examples that seem reasonable. 2 ** 3 could mean two-to-the-third-power, for instance.

Or =~ could mean is-regex-matchable. Or √4 could take the square root of 4.

I wasn’t a C++ developer and I don’t have any horror stories — and yet I’m still extremely wary of custom operators and operator overloading.

One of the great things about Cocoa and Objective-C is how easy it is to read other people’s code. If we’re both following the conventions and standard patterns, your code looks much like mine. This blows that up.

There’s an argument against every example I’ve seen so far (in this article and elsewhere). One or more of the following seems to apply in every case:

  • You can’t type the thing without copy-and-paste. (The √ character, for instance.)

  • You don’t know what it means without looking it up. (The ** and =~ examples.) Function names are easier to read than symbols, even mathematical symbols (except in the most common cases, which are already part of the language).

  • You lose out on auto-complete that you get when you use functions like pow, sqrt, and match instead of operators. Operators are thus often less convenient than functions.

Mattt’s guidelines are pretty good — especially “Don't create an operator unless its meaning is obvious and undisputed.” I’d argue that one only of his examples (√) is obvious and undisputed, and it suffers from the copy/paste problem. (It’s way easier to type sqrt, especially with auto-complete.)

Brent’s guidelines on custom operators and operator overloading would be simple and short: don’t use them.

Maybe in a year or two we’ll nominate someone suitably diligent — Manton Reece, perhaps — to try a custom operator in his code. We’ll ask him to report monthly on his health and well-being, and after another year — if he hasn’t ripped it out of his code, if he isn’t suffering from any ill effects (blurred vision, headaches, joint pain) — we’ll ask him to post it as a gist so we can see it.

Then let’s take another year to decide who can go next. After a decade or two we’ll have an idea whether or not cautious, limited use of custom operators is okay in some rare situations.

(You think I’m exaggerating.)

Russ on Swift Function Currying

Russ Bishop, Swift Function Currying:

Great, we can curry functions. Why should we care?

It allows us to control state or ambient contexts without resorting to actual mutable global state or creating boilerplate objects.

This is another of those Swift articles that I don’t understand with a quick read — it needs a second, more-careful read.

That’s no complaint. Quite the opposite. I’m so enjoying the stretching.

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Tickets are on sale now and include genuine Philly cheesesteaks (grab one quick, CocoaLove is limited to 150 attendees).

(PS — Brent here — I’ll be speaking at CocoaLove.)

Swift and Properties

Justin Driscoll explains how he deals with UIView subclasses and Swift properties:

Now the compiler’s off your back and and you can move on with your life, or at least what’s left of it after choosing software development as a career.

Louie on Tinkering

Louie Mantia talks about how he got started as a designer by tinkering:

Just as an engineer might. You start with something that exists and you change it to understand it. You do things on your own. But now… companies like Apple have locked down things like theming. It’s so hard today that no one even bothers. Changing icons is hard too. With some apps you can’t even do it without an app breaking because of code signing.

How will kids these days be able to tinker, Louie asks, when everything is locked-down?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m not too worried about it. A little bit, but not that much.

Here’s the thing: when the Mac came out in 1984, people asked the same question. The Apple II was a great machine for tinkering — and Macs didn’t even have BASIC. How were kids — and adults — going to write programs? It seemed like the end of tinkering as a hobby.

But it most definitely wasn’t.

It always seems like the age of tinkering is over. But, at least so far, it’s not. Tinkering is a strong human drive, and it will find a way.

Vesper 2.002

Vesper 2.002 adds a new feature — when you’re viewing a single note, tap at the bottom of the screen to see the date it was created. Tap again to see the modification date. Tap again to character or word count. (Character count if the note is short; word count if not short.)

Other changes include some small cosmetic fixes, fixes for a couple crashing bugs, and a change to how photos are synced: it syncs low-resolution versions first, then high-resolution versions. (This makes photos syncing faster.)

Vesper is still on sale for $2.99.

Dave on Video

My fellow Q Dave is on YouTube. You’ve heard his voice. Now… witness the corner of his apartment where he keeps his alcohol.

Samuel on His New App

My pal Samuel Goodwin wrote up how he took his old app (Parts) and made a much better app (Chainguard).

The issue was design, in the broad sense of the word. (Which is usually the case.) Nice write-up.

App Camp for Girls in Seattle

App Camp for Girls came to Seattle, and I was lucky enough to get invited to the pitch session. (And Sheila was on the panel, which was very cool.) It was a big room and so there was enough space for not just the parents and camp counselors and volunteers but a few local folks like me.

The pitch session is kind of like the recital. At the end of the week, three teams of four girls each present their app. They talk about what it does and how it works, and they talk about competition, marketing, and how they plan to make money. (They all got the same memo about for-pay apps we did — the apps are free with in-app ads.)

It was wonderful.

I was a fan before, but actually seeing it — seeing the energy of the girls and the cool things they made, and seeing how happy (and happily tired) Jean MacDonald, Liz Marley, Kristina Sontag, and all the volunteers were at the end of the week — put me over the moon. This is the coolest thing, by far, that’s happening in our community.

If you can help, help. If you can sponsor a team, do it. If you can donate, donate. And, if you get so lucky as to get invited to a pitch session, go. Don’t miss it.

Maybe Let’s Not Make Array Subscript Return an Optional

Airspeed Velocity:

…developers would probably start to get unwrap fatigue. They inspect the code, see that there’s no way the index could not be valid (there’s no index arithmetic going on there, just use of an index that is guaranteed to be within bounds), and just force unwrap instead.

This is a slippery slope. Once you start doing that, you do it all the time.

Kyle on targetViewController

Kyle Sluder, targetViewController​ForAction:​sender: is smarter than it seems:

targetViewController​ForAction:​sender: does indeed walk the view controller hierarchy, sending -canPerformAction:​withSender: on the way. But if a view controller returns YES, it will then determine whether the instance’s method for that selector is an override of a UIViewController implementation for the same selector. If not, it keeps looking up the chain.

That’s kind of weird. But, well, it’s pragmatic, too.

Summer Sale on inessential.com Sponsorships

Since August is the slow season, we’re running a summer sale on sponsorships. It’s about one-third off: just $500/week and $400 for each of two or more weeks. The sale runs through the week of Sep. 15 - 21.

Want to appear on the blog with the smartest readers in the world? See the sponsorships page for more info, or get in touch with me.

Dynamic Type and Self-Sizing Table View Cells

Keith Harrison shows how it’s done and provides work-arounds for a couple small issues.

New iPhones and DPI

In Adopting Adaptive, Pablo Bendersky considers whether or not new iPhones would have a higher DPI.

One possibility for the higher-DPI case:

If Apple wants to have the text look the same size, they might tune the Dynamic Text default sizes on the new device to compensate for the higher DPI.

This could account for why Dynamic Text has been so strongly encouraged.

Also from Pablo:

There are some apps that rely a lot on custom fonts, such as Vesper. Since Dynamic Text does not allow you to use custom fonts, I wonder how those apps will work around a different Dynamic Text default size. There are tons of valid workarounds, like fetching the system font size and base your custom font size on it, but an Apple blessed solution would do a lot to help in this direction.

Brianna on Women in the Apple Community

Brianna Wu, writing for Macworld: Eve wasn’t invited:

But this is just the first step: Getting young girls interested in tech cannot be our only focus. A recent New York Times article revealed that women end up leaving tech in numbers three times greater than our male counterparts. Without also addressing these issues in the workplace for adult women, our girls will simply grow up and leave in similar numbers.

Custom vs. Standard Controls and Accessibility

(Apple folks can look at rdar://17927379.)

I’ve written a couple times recently about wanting to use standard controls instead of custom controls — but we have a bunch of cases where we need to use our app’s embedded font, which doesn’t go well with the system font, and most standard controls don’t let you use a font other than the system font.

Going custom is more work, yes, and more to maintain. But there’s another aspect, easily overlooked: standard controls come with built-in accessibility features, and you need to roll your own with custom controls.

Which means it’s even more work than expected. And it’s a good bet that Apple’s ace accessibility teams have done a better job than I will.

So I filed a Radar asking for the ability to set the font (via attributedText or other means) on standard controls, so we can take advantage of the great work Apple has already done. It’s in nobody’s interest that we go custom.

* * *

I never really thought about accessibility that much until one day in 2003 when a NetNewsWire user sent me and Sheila an audio recording of what it was like to use the app. And, because NetNewsWire used standard controls exclusively — or lightly customized, but not from-scratch — it just worked. It was so cool. I hadn’t done a thing except to use AppKit as intended, and this user had an app that worked wonderfully for them.

I’ve grown even more attached to the issue of accessibility later as I came to understand it’s not about just one thing — it’s about a range of different things. And I can see it in my own life. At age 46 I’ve started to get far-sighted, and it’s difficult to read some text on my iPhone.

And I’ve been near-sighted since third gradeterribly near-sighted. With my contacts out I have to hold a screen so close to my face that, even on a retina display, I can see the pixels. I have to close one eye. I have to physically move an iPad to read text at the bottom of the screen, since that distance is farther than I can see.

My case is easily manageable — but still, it means that accessibility is for me too, not just some people I haven’t met.

Swift Arrays and Optionals

Airspeed Velocity, Null Pointer Exceptions fixed, next up…, suggests that Array.subscript should return an optional.

David on Functional JSON

David Owens writes about functional JSON.

I didn’t understand the article. I’m sure I’d get it on a second, much-more-careful read.

But this goes to a growing realization that Swift is complex — more so than Objective-C — and it’s going to take a while to learn it well.

That’s not a criticism, by the way. I expect I’ll value the things I don’t get yet, and it won’t be long before I’ll wonder how I got by without them.

I’m not the only one realizing this. Collin Donnell on Twitter:

I originally thought I got Swift pretty quickly. I now think it might be a good while before I'm fully comfortable.

Objective-C vs. Swift Performance

Jesse Squires shows how Swift improvement has advanced — it’s now faster than Objective-C. Quite a bit faster. (At least for these particular tests.)

(Via @SwiftLang.)

iOS 8 Size Classes

Justin Williams wrote Thinking In Terms Of iOS 8 Size Classes shortly after WWDC this year.

Since I use and recommend Interface Builder, my work load is significantly less than those that are still living by the “write everything in code” mantra. If you find yourself still in that camp, I’d highly recommend using iOS 8, Xcode 6, and trait collections as an opportunity to get on the Interface Builder bandwagon.

More from Clark on the End of Separate iPhone and iPad apps

Clark Goble, Developers, the iOS Line and Reactive Design:

I’d be shocked if, a year and a half from now, the separate iPad/iPhone categories don’t disappear. I suspect they’ll maintain some semblance of them for legacy apps but will start requiring all new apps be universal. Again it won’t happen quickly. Give it a year and a half. It’s coming.

Maybe. But here’s the thing — while developers should come to see it as a gradient of device sizes instead of separate families, users still see iPhones and iPads.

And it’s also a cinch that lots of iPhone apps already in the system won’t be updated to work well on iPads. And plenty of iPhone apps to come still won’t work well on iPad, even though Apple has made that much easier. (And vice versa, but to a lesser extent.)

And there may be some apps that really only make sense on small or large devices. Panic’s Status Board, for example, makes perfect sense as an iPad (big-screen) app, but much less sense as an iPhone (small-screen app).

I’m skeptical. It’s a radical change. It makes sense, mostly, but… I don’t know.

Clark also mentions that some indie developers count on the iPad version as a separate app — it’s another SKU, another source of revenue. It’s unlikely that these same developers can go universal and raise the price of their app to compensate.

So this change, if it comes to pass, makes making a living on the App Store incrementally harder. Which is not a reason Apple shouldn’t do it.

Sign All the Things

Daniel Jalkut writes up how he code-signs his Mac app. It’s a good solution — that I hope I never have to do.

I haven’t been in this position yet — I haven’t had a Mac app distributed outside the Mac App Store (or a Mac app at all) in a few years.

But I bet my solution will be to not use embedded frameworks.

It’s still possible to use shared code, after all. Even sub-repositories. It’s just that the files are included in the app target, rather than built as frameworks.

It may be less elegant in some ways, but it’s the way I’ve been doing things on iOS for a while now, and it’s working fine for me. It has the added benefit of allowing me to pick and choose what I need from a set of shared code.

Example: Q Branch Standard Kit includes some XML parsing stuff, but Vesper doesn’t need it. If we had a Q.framework that included everything, then Vesper would include code it doesn’t actually need.

Ita 2

Congratulations to our pals at Nice Mohawk on a nice update to Ita, their list-making app (App store link).

Jeff on Frameworks and Codesigning

Jeff Johnson, Breaking the resource rules:

As TN2206 indicates, custom resource rules no longer work on 10.9.5 or Yosemite Developer Preview 5. The effect, for us, is that none of our shipping apps will currently be accepted by Gatekeeper on those versions of OS X.

Because of frameworks and headers. Jeff provides the solution.

Device Sizes

In an article on making it in the App Store, Clark Goble says:

Apple appears to really want people to make reactive design so that one app will adjust for multiple screen sizes. Thus the loss of the extra income for a separate iPad app. I’m sure they’ll allow dual pricing for a while but I’d be shocked if that pricing will last for long. I bet by fall 2015 Apple will begin demanding a single app for all of iOS.

I would think that Apple would strongly encourage developers to publish universal apps. I doubt they’d switch to actually requiring universal apps.

But we should nevertheless shift our thinking about iOS apps in this respect: rather than think of iPhone apps and iPad apps, we should be thinking about iOS apps.

The addition of size classes and adaptability (and UISplitViewController and popovers to iPhones) means that we need to think more like web developers: we don’t know screen sizes in advance.

We shouldn’t even think about different types of devices (iPhone vs. iPad) — instead we should design for adaptability.

This gives Apple the ability to create devices at different sizes. Imagine devices midway between current iPhones and iPads. Imagine even smaller iPhones or even bigger iPads. It becomes just a range of sizes, not two separate families of devices.

Apple has redefined what a good iOS app does. A good iOS app adjusts to any screen size, and doesn’t care (or even know) if it’s an iPhone or iPad. Or something else.

Update 11:30 am: An earlier version of this post said that userInterfaceIdiom was deprecated. I got that from my notes on session 216 — but it appears I was using shorthand with myself. It might as well be deprecated — but it’s not actually deprecated.

Also, Pablo Bendersky wrote on Twitter:

I’ll go even further: I think bigger devices might default to different font sizes with Dynamic Type.

I’ve wondered why Dynamic Type was so strongly encouraged. That’s a pretty good explanation.

Buy All the Things

Stuart Hall continues his series of App Store Experiment posts.

One thing I had noticed in a number of apps with IAP is their top download was an option to buy everything, forever.

So I tried it…

And people seemed to like it.

Dave on iOS and Embedded Fonts

Dave Wiskus, The Colour and the Shape:

Retina screens have once again placed typography at the forefront of design, allowing us to breathe life into words themselves as imagery. It’s a damn shame we’re not given more room to do so.

Dave asks for the ability to use custom fonts in alerts, share sheets, under-the-cell buttons, menus, and so on. I want that too — I’d be able to work more efficiently and use standard controls most of the time.

Other Favorite Swift Blog Moved

David Owens was blogging about Swift on Medium, but he moved to GitHub, at owensd.io. Here’s the RSS feed.

For Flux’s Sake

Reminder — the Swift in Flux documentation (which I’ve linked to before) is a great resource.

Swift Beta 5 Changes

Airspeed Velocity covers the changes in the Swift Standard Library in beta 5.

It may be my favorite Swift blog. I subscribed to the feed.

Justin’s Advice

Justin Williams proposes a rule-of-thumb: don’t take more than 90 days on your 1.0.

Here’s the thing, though: I want, as a user, to see apps that take longer. More interesting, richer, harder-to-make apps have value and shouldn’t disappear from the world or be the sole province of corporations (who won’t make these apps anyway, for the most part).

So I’d modify the advice to say: don’t take more than 90 days, unless you can afford to and you truly believe your app warrants it. But be sure.

On Vesper and Working Efficiently

The great thing about the Cocoa frameworks is that we get a ton for free, so we can spend our time working on what’s special and different in our apps.

But, of course, that’s only true when we actually use those features. If we spend our time making from-scratch custom controls instead of standard controls — for instance — then our apps are more expensive to create than they need to be, and it’s harder to make a profit.

In App Rot, Marco goes beyond just the issue of custom vs. standard controls and says:

Efficiency is key. And efficiency means doing more (or all) of the work yourself, writing a lot less custom code and UI, dropping support for older OSes, and providing less customer support.

Apple is greatly helping our efficiency. Every version of iOS brings new capabilities that make previously difficult features much easier. iOS 7’s redesign gave indie developers a huge advantage by making the stock UI cool again.

So true. I’m constantly thinking about ways to work more efficiently.

But, because we’re talking about software development, once you get to the concrete level of an actual app, it’s full of hard choices and dilemmas. I’ll talk about some of these choices we have to make as we work on Vesper.

The Problem of Fonts

Vesper has a ton of custom UI. Alerts, various popover-like things, the sidebar, swipe-to-reveal table cell buttons, and so on. Things that look like navigation bars are custom. Even the search bar handling — which stays pinned to the top of the screen instead of scrolling with the table — has a bunch of custom code, though the search bar itself is (almost) standard.

Some (not all) of these custom things exist only because we want to use Vesper’s font instead of the system font. (This isn’t unique to us. Plenty of iPhone apps use embedded fonts. Overcast is a recent example.)

Though we need to work efficiently, design still matters, and Vesper is designed around typography. We’re not even going to think for one second about dropping the embedded font.

But that leads to this dilemma: do we switch to the standard controls that don’t let us use our font, or do we stick with our custom controls?

If we stick with the custom controls, then we have more code to maintain, and, to a certain extent, we have to track Apple’s changes with each iOS release.

If we switch to standard controls, how do we justify the cost of switching? It may lead to less code and an easier-to-maintain app — but it’s more work right now, and doing that work doesn’t fix any bugs or add more features. And then we have that situation we didn’t want, where Vesper’s font and the system font compete with each other.

It reminds me of pre-Yosemite OS X, which distinguished between system and user fonts, and both were sans-serif. It was weird. But at least on OS X that was an established thing, where on iOS it’s most definitely not. And clearly the direction of UI design is to use just one font, not two.

(Yes, I could hack into the view hierarchy in some cases and change the font. But that’s bad engineering and I don’t like it. Vesper does it in exactly one place, so that the Cancel button next to the search bar uses our font.)

View Controller Transitions

Vesper was written during the iOS 6 days. The main screens use view controller containment, but the transitions were written before iOS 7 introduced standard ways of doing custom transitions.

iOS 8 is coming, and we’re still using iOS 6 code. Should I revise this code to use the new features in iOS 7 and 8?

That might not actually simplify things, but it’s been my experience that you don’t want to get too far behind on things like this. And there’s always the possibility that another coder could help with the app some day — and they’d be less at sea if they saw what they expect to see rather than my custom transitions system.

But it’s more work to make the change, and, again, it’s work that doesn’t actually fix any bugs or add new features.

Nevertheless, you’d have to call this technical debt, and technical debt should, in general, be dealt with.

But it’s not clear to me yet that we could actually accomplish replacing Vesper’s current transitions with the new system. And I’d hate to do all that work only to find out it’s not do-able. That would be an incredibly inefficient use of my time.

I actually don’t know know what to do. The default — doing nothing — may be the best call.

Swipe-to-Reveal Table Cell Buttons

iOS 8 lets us customize the buttons that appear when you pan a table cell to the left. This is great.

Since we can’t customize the font, we’re not sure we can use this. But the pull toward looking and feeling like a modern iOS app is very strong.

And it gets a little worse: Vesper lets you swipe a note to archive it, without having to stop and tap an Archive button. This isn’t supported by the new UITableViewRowAction feature. We’d have to take away the archive-in-one-motion feature — which would be a shame. It’s an integral part of Vesper.

And then it gets just a little bit worse still: Mail on iOS 8 does have the ability to keep swiping to get the default action. Mail must be doing this as a custom thing or using private APIs to get this.

Which means that if we adopted the standard behavior, people would ask us why we don’t “just” do what Mail does.

Which argues for not touching this at all, since we already do a custom thing which works.

But that, again, means we’ve got this custom code to maintain and a bit of UI that’s quite unlike what users expect. (Which isn’t necessarily the worst thing. There can be good reasons for doing something different.)

Lessons

You can learn a few things from my experience.

One is that doing an app with an embedded font is expensive, far more expensive than just the cost of licensing the font. If you’re willing to accept Clash of the Fonts — your font is used everywhere except in system-generated UI — it’s not so expensive. But if your app is at the place on the design curve where an embedded font is a good idea, then it’s probably at the place where you wouldn’t accept that conflict.

Another is that working efficiently from the start is a good idea. You want to avoid the situation where you’ve done custom work and are now faced with either going standard or revising your custom work — because both options require work. If you’d started with standard stuff you’d have less work to do. But there are also the cases where you created something custom that becomes a new standard part of iOS in a later release, and the dilemma is unavoidable.

A last lesson is that you can’t avoid doing some work. Even standard controls and features get deprecated and replaced, and you need to think hard about when and how to deal with iOS changes — and iOS changes come every single year. Can you give up every summer, every year, to getting your apps ready for the next version of iOS? You might have to, no matter what you do.

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Jared’s Lessons

Jared Sinclair, Five Hard Lessons Learned from Unread:

If your plan is to make a tidy living building the next beautiful _______ for iOS nerds, then you are destined to repeat my mistakes. Don’t follow in my footsteps. Focus on a difficult problem that matters to a significant number of normal people. Don’t worry about being the prettiest or the most featured.

App Store Numbers

David Smith, App Store Longevity and Freshness:

It is, however, a bit staggering to think that these numbers mean that there are around 300,000 apps on the Store currently that have seen an update in the past 3 months. It took over 2 years for the App Store to even reach 300k apps listed. That speaks to me of a very wide developer community clamoring for attention in the App Store.

The percentage of apps that don’t get updates may be smaller than you think. Later in the article David Smith puts the percentage of effectively-abandoned apps at 40%, which is a smaller number than I would have expected. (I would have guessed 60%.)

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Update 1:15 pm: Thanks to the CocoaConf folks for sponsoring this week. Future sponsorships are open.

Lukas on App Disillusionment

Lukas Mathis:

The Mac software market was exciting. By rights, that — and more — should be what the iPhone software market is today.

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