Replying to App Store Reviews →

Matt Gemmell:

The problem with responding publicly is that it’s soul-destroying. If you’re able to respond to reviews, you’ll be checking them obsessively, and you will respond. Worse, you’ll inevitably do so in a snitty, defensive way that pleads the value of your time, or the extremely modest investment the user has made, or your need to support your family, or the triumph of rational thinking. Don’t be that guy. Nobody cares, least of all some idiot sixteen-year-old, or Mr. I’m-An-Important-Lawyer. You’ll only lower and tarnish yourself. You’re screaming at the wind.

Another good piece about the App Store review process. Matt presents great argument for why public responses are not the answer.

Future of third party Twitter apps →

Were I a Twitter client developer, I would get in touch with other client developers and start talking about a way to do what Twitter does but that doesn’t require Twitter itself (or any specific company or service).

Once we came to a consensus, then we’d add support for whatever-it-is to our apps. We wouldn’t drop Twitter support — we’d just add the new thing. Do both.

And then we’d promote the new thing, encourage people to use it, help it grow. Then drop Twitter some day — or wait till Twitter cuts off our apps. Whatever. And not care, because we’ve got the new thing.

I’m not a fan of the direction that Twitter is going with it’s API restrictions. If I am not able to use third party apps like Tweetbot, then Twitter becomes a much less interesting service to me.

Brent has an interesting idea about to make Twitter clients work without actually using Twitter, but it would only really work for nerds. Normal people would just use the standard Twitter app (which is what they want).

Contradictions: Mark 1:1-3

One of my favorite subjects to read about and discuss is apparent contradictions in the Bible. Some are as easily explained as texts being taken out of context, while others take more work.

I am going to start a series that addresses these alleged contradictions in order to show that they are actually not. If you have any suggestions, send them in and I will write about them (or link to an article that does).

This question was addressed to The Gospel Coalition:

The Gospel of Mark begins, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way.'” Only problem: that quote is from Malachi, not Isaiah. Did Mark just fumble the ball here? How do we make sense of this apparent error in Scripture?

The apparent contradiction is found in Mark 1:1-3. As the question states, it appears that Mark is citing Isaiah on a piece of scripture that was actually written by Malachi.

Rikk E. Watts goes a great job of explaining why this is not a contradiction and how it was a literary technique that Mark used over and over in his Gospel. It is a good article and well worth a read.

Google Chrome coming to iOS today

Over at Google IO, Google has announced that the their popular web browser Chrome is heading to the App Store later on today. I am not a Chrome user myself, but this is exciting because it is the first major third party desktop browser to make the jump to iOS [1]. It is also interesting because it points to two major limitations to the App Store ecosystem [2].

The first limitation will probably gain the most attention because it is a customer facing problem. There is no way for users to set a default browser on iOS. So if a user opens a link from Mail or any other app, the link will only open in Safari. This makes it hard for any other browser to get any real traction.

The second problem is more of a developer issue, but it interests me more. The Chrome that iOS users get is not really Chrome. On Android, Mac, and Windows; Chrome uses a custom forked version of Webkit and a custom Javascript engine. These will not be allowed on the iOS versions because Apple does not allow apps that can run other outside code. So the Chrome that iOS users get is a custom wrapper on top of an Apple supplied UIWebView. This means that the performance of web browsing on Chrome for iOS will be noticeably worse than in Safari, and there is noting that Google can do about it.

The first problem can only be fixed with a major change to the OS. The second is just a policy change. I hope that, with time, both of these issues will be addressed. It would go to make the App Store and iOS platform better for both consumers and developers.

  1. Sorry, Opera doesn’t count. Firefox also does not get any points for announcing without actually releasing.  ↩
  2. Neither of which look to be fixed in iOS 6.  ↩

iTunes Overhaul this year?


Apple Inc. plans an overhaul of iTunes that would mark one of the largest changes to the world’s biggest music store since its 2003 debut, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

I really hope this is true. iTunes frustrates me more than any other app on my Mac (except perhaps Xcode). However, I hope Apple takes this further than the article says.

In Mountain Lion, Apple broke features out of apps and put them in their own separate app. Reminders were taken out of iCal and Notes were taken out of Mail. This was done so that the experience on the Mac would match the experience on iOS.

I really want them to do a similar thing with iTunes. It should be broken up into multiple apps. The App Store could be moved over to the Mac App Store. Music, Videos, and Podcasts could be broken into multiple apps the way they are on iOS with each one having a portal to buy content. But music from the Music app, TV shows and movies from the Videos app, and so on.

iTunes has becomes increasingly bloated and is in need of a complete overhaul. I hope they take the opportunity to actually overhaul it and not just add more feature-bloat.

Simplifiing Life

Last night at church, out college pastor Adam Barnett talked about ways to simplify your life in our overly complex, digitally centered world. I thought the list was thoughtful and well done, so I figured I would post it here for you all to see.

  1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
  2. Avoid anything that is producing addiction in you.
  3. Develop a habit of giving things away.
  4. Refuse getting the newest gadget.
  5. Enjoy things without owning them.
  6. Develop a deeper appreciation for Creation.
  7. Don’t buy now to own later.
  8. Use honest speech.
  9. Reject anything that causes the oppression of others.
  10. Rid you life of anything preventing your from seeking The Lord first.

Review: Podcasts for iOS

The Apple rumor mill got another one right today as Apple released a standalone podcasting app on the App Store. On the surface, Podcasts looks like a nice alternative to third party alternatives such as Instacast, Instacast HD or Downcast.

However, after fiddling with it for 30 minutes or so, I made up my mind to stick with Instacast for the foreseeable future.

The Good

Before getting into all the reasons why Podcasts is ultimately not going to be my primary Podcast app, I will talk about what I did like about it.

Visually, I think the interface actually looks pretty good. You can view all your subscriptions in a grid format or a list. I really like the look of the grid, but unfortunately I would not be able to use this format because there is no indication of unread counts for individual shows. But it does look good.

The list is a bit more conventional and shows unread counts for each show and also includes another list for all unplayed episodes. My only complaint here is that the unplayed episodes are sorted newest first (with no option to change), which is the opposite order that I would typically listen to them in.

While the organization here is not great, it is workable.

My favorite part of the app is the playback screen. It has a skeuomorphic that a lot of people will not like, but I think it looks really good. The background consists of two tapedecks that animate; and as the episode plays reels visually move from one side to the other [1].

Grid of subscribed shows
Grid of subscribed shows

Playback is controller by large buttons that are easy to tap without having to stare at the screen. The playback screen also includes options for speeding up or slowing down playback speed for people who use stuff like that.

Playback screen
Playback screen

Another cool feature (although one I would never use) is the Top Stations section. With Top Stations, you do no subscribe to a podcast like normal: you pick a topic that you want to listen and listen to the newest shows about those topics from the iTunes library.

For me, that is where the good in the Podcasts app ended.

The Rest

The thing that I was most excited about when I saw Podcasts was the ability to have everything in sync between my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Currently with Instacast, I use iCloud to keep things in sync between my iOS devices, but it does not always work well and that does not leave me with a way to listen on my Mac.

An Apple-provided solution gave me hope that I could sync across all devices (heck, maybe even my AppleTV too!). And after looking in the app, you can sync across Podcasts on iPhone, Podcasts on iPad, and iTunes on Mac.

With a cord [2].

All syncing has to be down through iTunes. Apple has a great cloud solution that is perfect to syncing this type of metadata across all your devices. They already do it with things like iTunes Match and iBooks bookmark syncing. And they chose not to use it for their podcasting platform.

This alone was enough to keep my from switching to Podcasts from Instacast. But don’t worry, there is more.

On the app, you are limited to subscribing to shows that are listed on iTunes. This is great for most shows, but there are other shows that have a legitimate reason for not being on iTunes. One is Shawn Today, which is a near-daily shows by Shawn Blanc for members of his site. As it is a members-only show, having it listed on iTunes is not really an option. I can still listen to the show in the app, but I have to subscribe on iTunes and sync every episode over as they come out.

Dave Caolo at 52 Tiger also pointed out that show note links are not clickable. I regularly use the show notes links, and not being able to use them is a deal breaker.

Wrap up

As someone who listens to 6–8 hours of podcasts a week, I am glad that Apple is turning their attention to the platform. However, I don’t think this app is even good enough for me to recommend to people who only casually listen to podcasts [3].

I am glad that they made this first step, but I hope their second step is a lot further.

I got something wrong in my review. Playback syncing does work with iCloud, but subscriptions don’t. So it is not quite as bad as I thought.

  1. This is one reason that I never liked the fake-book look in iBooks. No matter what page of the book you were on, it always looked like you were in the middle of the book. Podcasts fixes this problem.  ↩
  2. I guess you can use iTunes Wifi Syncing, but it has the same affect.  ↩
  3. If they made syncing work through iCloud, then it would be good enough for this group.  ↩

Responce to App Store Reviews →

Instead of a user getting a blank text field to fill in willy-nilly, Apple could stage the review process. They could query the user up front to see if it’s actually a review they want to leave, or if there’s some other reason they’re there. A few pertinent questions and flow options, and Apple could remove a huge amount of “not review” content from the App Store.

Report a bug. Request a feature. Get help. Get a refund. Post review.

Based on the response, users could get properly routed to better tools for handling their specific needs, including actually posting a review.

I have wanted Apple to implement a way for developers to respond to reviews on the App Store. Others have pointed out that this would just lead to a flame war, which is definitely possible. I have always thought a better way would be for developers to be able to respond privately, but Rene Ritchie of iMore has come up with a much better solution.

I will be filing a bug report to Apple with a link to his post tonight. You should too.

Review: DocSets for iOS

While standing in line for a session at WWDC [1], I overheard another developer talking about an easy way to view Apple’e developer documentation on his iOS devices. I was immediately intrigued.

Apple has not made it easy to view their docs from an iPhone or an iPad. When viewing on the phone, you just get the standard page. This does not look too bad, but it does make it hard to search for things.

On the iPad, things are much worse. The standard docs page would have been fine on the iPad, but instead Apple built a fake UIKit wrapper over the docs. I am never a fan of websites that try to look like apps, and Apple’s documentation web app is a perfect example of why. It is slow and unresponsive.

Neither of of these solutions offer any kind of offline access, so you have to download the pages each time you visit. You could save out PDFs of pages you frequent and put them in iBooks, but it is slow and takes a lot of time to save out each one individually. Also, you cannot follow links in the docs to other pages if they are in iBooks.

So when I heard another developer talking about an easy way to view the docs on iOS, I had to know more. The solution he was referring to is DocSets.

DocSets is an open source documentation viewer. It displays the docs in the same HTML view that you would get if you were to look at the docs on Apple’s dev site or in Xcode. It has a powerful and fast search, and all the docs are saved locally on the device so you always have access.

You can save bookmarks for pages that you frequent, and these bookmarks will even sync between devices using iCloud. There is also a shortcut menu on the right to quickly jump down to particular sections of methods.

You can download any of the public docs directly from the app [2], but you can also install other doc sets by dragging them into iTunes. I was able to use this feature to get the docs for iOS 6 in the app along with 5.1.

As useful as it is for looking up quick references on the go, my favorite use case for it as a document viewer while coding. Since I use an 11″ MacBook Air as my primary coding device, I am limited on screen space. Before, I would have the Apple docs opened up in other Space on my computer and would constantly switch back and forth between my text editor and my docs. With DocSets I can always have them both open side by side; one on my Air and the other on my iPad. It has become my primary document viewer.

If you are a developer, I encourage you to check it out. You can download the source and install it from Github or just grab it from the App Store for $5. I recommend getting the App Store version because it you get automatic updates and you get to support an independent developer.

  1. This represents about half the time I spent there.  ↩
  2. It will probably take awhile. Most of the docs sets are around 500 mb each.  ↩

Why Apple Is Making the Mac Harder to Use →

The App Store is for the average user. Apps that don’t fit in the App Store guidelines are simply not for the average user. That matters because the apps that don’t fit those guidelines can/will/could cause a massive support headache for not only Apple, but for the resident family geek. 1 Users should be able to make the reasonable assumption that anything they download from the App Store cannot and will not mess up their computer in any way that uninstalling the app won’t fix their computer.

Ben makes some good points about the type of apps that Apple does and does not want to have available on the Mac App Store. Even with his reasoning, however, I am not happy about the direction the store is moving.

As a customer, I would much rather handle purchasing all my apps through the App Store. Only one company would ever have to handle my credit card information and I could receive all my updates from a simple source. It also makes moving over to a new machine much easier. Just sign in and install everything without having to dig up old app codes [1].

My personal wishes aside, I can understand why Apple would want to restrict the types of apps that customers can get here. If the Mac App Store had started off with these types of restrictions from the beginning, I would not have near as much of a problem with it [2]. My biggest problem is that a little over a year ago, Apple was encouraging these developers to put their apps into the Mac App Store and now they are banning some of those same apps.

It seems to me that Apple has pulled a bait & switch on their developers.

  1. Although this is not too bad with 1Password.  ↩
  2. I would still be annoyed though.  ↩

Chuck’s Chatter: Why is there no substantive NWS training? →

Chuck Doswell:

We can argue about how good our meteorology education is, but I know for a fact that at the end of a four year undergraduate program, new graduates still don’t know very much about the atmosphere and how it really works. For myself, it was well into my doctoral The human component of the NWS is the single largest budget item. The science and technology behind automated, “objective” weather forecasting has been underwritten by hundreds of millions for decades and is ongoing today. Yet, to this day, we have no idea what it takes to be a good weather forecaster, because that involves learning about people, not about differential equations and computer code. We meteorologists learn math and physics in school – that’s education. We can argue about how good our meteorology education is, but I know for a fact that at the end of a four year undergraduate program, new graduates still don’t know very much about the atmosphere and how it really works. For myself, it was well into my doctoral studies before I began to obtain a dim understanding of processes in the atmosphere. Nearly forty years later, I’m still learning, of course!

As someone who just graduated with a degree in meteorology, I completely agree with this statement. My main takeaway from getting my degree is how little i actually understand about the atmosphere. I think Chuck’s idea for a certification process for forecasters in the NWS is a great idea.

Reeder 3 for iPhone

Reeder, my favorite RSS app, just had a major release to its iPhone client. It added a few features that I won’t personally use such as Fever support and better Readability integration.

It also improved its core functionality, which is accessing your Google Reader subscriptions. It added the ability to manage your feeds and has a much nicer interface for reading.

Both Shawn Blanc and Federico Viticci published great reviews of it this morning. I recommend giving them a read.

Bible Study with Accordance

One of my favorite things that was released yesterday had nothing to do with Mountain Lion, iOS 6, or even WWDC. Monday night, Oak Tree Software released their biggest update yet to Accordance [1], their universal Bible study app for iOS.

In my quest for trying to find the perfect Bible app for my iPhone and iPad, Accordance is what I keep coming back to. That being said, Accordance was (and frankly, still is) far from perfect.

Feature wise, Accordance has everything I want. They have a massive library of different translations and reference materials. Once you buy the content, it is available on your iPhone, iPad, & your Mac [2].

The two areas that I have had issues with Accordance for iOS in the past both had to do with the visual interface and the usability. I considered both the usability and the visual look of the past versions to be pretty bad. So bad, that I have often thought about writing my own Bible app that would fix these UX and UI problems. The main reason that I have never started this project is I know that I would not be able to even come close to the feature set of Accordance without many years of work.

Luckily, Oak Tree made some major improvements with the latest release that addressed a lot of the problems that I had in the past version. Visually, the app is much better than it was before.

They removed the default black toolbar (which I have never really liked in any app) and replaced it with a much better looking custom black textured toolbar. They introduced a full screen reading option that gets rid of all the chrome and just shows the text [3].

The user interaction has also improved quite a bit. They added a quick way to return to reading after performing a search. This was desperately needed before.

I still think there is a long way to go before Accordance is the perfect Bible app that I am looking for (the module management and presentation needs a complete overhaul), but it solidified itself as the best app for people who want a Bible app that does anything more than basic reading. I am slowly losing the desire to write my own Bible app as this one improves.

I hope the trend of constant development and improvement continues.

  1. They actually changed the name from “Accordance” to “Bible Study With Accordance”. Not sure why they did that. To me, Accordance was the perfect name for a Bible study app; so that is what I will continue to call it.  ↩
  2. There are a few modules that are Mac only, but most will work across all their platforms.  ↩
  3. As excited as I was about this feature, it is still not perfect. When in full screen, there is still a black bar where the status bar would be. I hope they change this so that full screen is truly full screen. Still a major improvement though.  ↩

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