The iPad Air

Apple made a few announcements this week… And like many I had been hoping that the fingerprint reader would be added to the iPad … Like others, I was hoping that Apple would announce a Retina version of the iPad mini.  So I guess I should be 50% happy. Realistically, I think the fingerprint reader is a bigger disappointment to me than the iPad mini is a positive.  I really don’t need the mini.  I like the larger screen of the iPad Air (the new name).  I’ve gotten so used to the fingerprint reader on my iPhone that I really wish they would add it to every apple device that needs some level of security.  Heck I think it would be great to add it to the Apple TV remote so I could use it to require an approval before renting a movie to watch.  Oh well, I guess I will have to settle on having a much lighter, much faster, and thinner device than my old iPad 3.

Having said that, I will write up a review after I can pick one up (hopefully on Friday the 1st).  I will not be getting up early and standing in line for the iPad, like I did for the iPhone 5s just a few short weeks back.  So I hope I can get mine shortly.

G-Wizz! Plus Review

While I was at the Google Glass event a few weeks back, I met the developer of G-Wizz! Plus (Google Apps Browser Plus). He has written this app a while back, before all the really great Google apps were made available for iOS. We had a nice / brief discussion and I decided to see what his app was all about. There is both a free version called Google Apps Browser, and the paid version I picked up. I picked up the paid version and was amazed by all the apps that this app supports: Gmail, Facebook, Google Maps, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Google Voice, Google News, Google Music, Google Drive, Tasks, Blogger, Google Calendar, Tumblr, Flickr, Instagram, Yelp, Google Finance, Google Groups, MySpace, YouTube, Picasa, Images, Places, Books, Translate, Shopping, Offers, AccuWeather, Yahoo! Mail, and Hotmail!! Wow that’s a ton of Apps. If you only could install one app, this would be the one.

Having said that, the basic approach of this app is that it provides you with a single app that keeps you logged into the website for each of these services. This would be a fine app a few years back, but I have found a few problems that make it less than useful. For example, the Twitter tab prompts me with a screen to either install the twitter app, or sign-up for twitter. This is probably a problem with the Twitter mobile site, because if I say create account, I finally get to the sign in option.

Given the great apps that are available for each of these services, I may still play with this app, but it doesn’t hit a need for me. I love supporting local developers but this is an app that has outlived it’s value.

Local Engineer’s cool Pen

A couple of months ago I was given a PressurePen by Chuck N, from the local Triangle Mac Users Group. The idea was to play with it and write up a blog entry. I had been running iOS7 most of the summer, and the app didn’t seem to work with iOS 7 on either my iPad or my iPhone. So It’s taken me a while to write up this post. Having said that, I’ve now had some fun playing with this pen, enabled via a Kickstarter.

Let’s begin with the device itself, it is a set of open source designs that allows you to print our a shell for a pressure pen. A pressure pen is used by artists to behave much more like a real pen or brush. Applications sense the amount of pressure being applied to the pen and translate that into things like the width of the stroke, the amount of “paint” being applied, and how fast the “paint” is used up from the brush. The goal is to make the process of creating digital art, more like traditional art.

I’ve tested the pen on three different devices and two different apps. Due to the iOS7 problems, Charles Mangin (the creator) suggested I test on my Android tablet (a Samsung Tab 2) with Infinite Painter app or if I wanted to test on iOS that I use an app called Pen & Paper. Both of these apps worked fine. My artistic skills are bad, so I won’t post any pictures of any of my “art”. If you want to use the Pressure Pen app on iOS7, it currently does not recognize the pressure off the pen. Charles does not have an iOS device, so there may be a delay on support. I have offered to test it for him, if there are others who would test, comment on this post and perhaps we can help Charles update this app.

So how does the PressurePen work? The pen is battery powered, so don’t forget to turn it on. The novel idea is the Pen plugs into your audio jack on your device and uses that to send the pressure levels to the tablet. Pretty simple. To that end I found the pressure to be a little less response than I expected, however, as I am not a digital artist, it may be that I’ve not yet trained myself to understand the limitations of this medium over pen and paper.

Overall, I think this is a very cool idea and I wish more apps supported this type of pressure pen. I find it would make a great addition to a photo manipulation application. What do you think? Go pick one up, it’s designs are open source and most of the parts a very inexpensive (there’s a kit available for $35 at the Pressure Pen website – or you can get a preassembled Pen for $65.

Autolayout improvements

Ok, well not really improvements to auto layout on iOS, but improvements in my understanding of Auto Layout. The biggest thing I learned is that it is easier to setup and manage constraints in code, then to try and use Storyboards to define and modify the constraints.

If you have not used AutoLayout, Apple recommends that you start with doing it in Interface Builder. I find that this is not necessarily easier, and in my mind, it seems that using the code based method is much easier. The second thing I found was that the Visual Forma language is very powerful and easy to use. For example @”[self(<=128@800, >=64@800)]” indicates that the object has a minimum width of 64 points and maximum width of 128 points withe a priority of 800. You can set relationships between objects and to themselves. By doing this, you can setup very dynamic layouts that automatically resize and will adjust certain constraints over others. The priority, lower numbers == lower priority. 1000 is maximum priority and 0 is the minimum.

A great way of thinking about constraints is to think of constraints of the object on itself, then in relationship to things around it, and finally in regard to the entire view. If you’ve not watched the WWDC sessions from 2012 and 2013 on Autolayout, go watch them now! They are fantastic.

Off Topic – Blogging and Comments

It’s been over a year and a half that I’ve been working this blog. Not a long time, compared to some of my podcasts, but still a lot of posts, and some good traffic. What I’ve not figured out how to do is to get comments in any significant number. So here is a request to the people who read this blog:

What makes you comment on a blog?

I know that some people like to write posts that are controversial, just to get an argument going in the comments. This drives traffic and I guess if that is your only goal then I guess it makes sense. But to me, I don’t want a yelling match. I have no problem if people comment that I like Apple more than Android, it is a true statement. However, my goal is to learn about all platforms. I would be glad to pick up a Windows RT device, or a Windows Phone, if I thought it was that much different than Windows 8. I have an android device to learn about, and to test writing for that platform. However, I am an old C programmer, and Objective C on iOS is the perfect platform to leverage my skills.

Others like to write posts to review products, with a goal of getting free stuff. I don’t do that because I like to support the developers who make stuff. Years ago I wrote a few shareware programs. I register all my shareware (when that was a thing) in order to ensure that the developers could make enough of a living to keep doing the things they love.

Perhaps I should try and write funny posts, one of my favorite bloggers is the Pintester. She is way too funny. But I don’t think that would be appropriate.

So, I will keep writing my posts about the topics that interest me and that support local developers. If you know a local developer who is focused on mobile apps – let me know. I would love to promote their work and see how their work can help you become a better developer.

The Google Glass Interface

In my last post I asked, rhetorically, was Google Glass a view of the new interface to come. I didn’t answer the question, nor even really think thru it, as I wanted to thinking on the question overnight.  So is it?

I think Google Glass does  a great job of changing how you interact with your mobile device.  It does so in the same way that Siri and other voice tools changes how you look up information or dial the phone.  So to that end, it is nothing new.

However, how it is different is the way you consume the data.  Google has a page for developers on how to work with the interface: here.  The idea is simple, show what needs to be shown, and get the rest of the interface out of the way.  If you’ve been using Google Now and their new Card interface, then you’ve already experienced how Google Glass will provide you data.  If you are a developer and have started working on mobile apps or Chrome apps, and are already using Cards, then you understand the basic framework for defining your interface in Google Glass.

In my other podcast, Games At Work dot Biz, we talked about how Augmented Reality apps and the world of Neuromancer are coming together to change the way we interact with devices.  An example that came to mind was the ability to two people to work together to perform a task with the use of AR and Google Glass.  If you image a doctor or a mechanic performing an unfamiliar task.  They can learn by doing, and by wearing Google Glass, see a projection of an expert performing the same task with their hands out in front of them.  This POV (or Point of View) experience would allow the to mimic the experts movements, and all to the expert to see the action in a virtual 3D world using something like the Oculus Rift technology.

Bringing these two technologies together, Google Glass and Oculus Rift, could change the way we learn and practice new hands on activities.  It also could, dare I say it, “Change the World“.

Is Google Glass the interface of the future?

Your host in Google Glass.

Your host in Google Glass.

I had a chance to head over to Google’s Google Glass tour this morning.  They are starting their tour of the US with a stop in Durham.  Durham has a great startup community, and being surrounded by multiple colleges, universities, and tech companies, it is the home of great app developers.  So it was a natural for Google to start their tour here.

The line was long, but it moved quickly.

The line was long, but it moved quickly.

When I got there, right at 10am, the line was already several hundred people long.  It moved pretty quickly, which was good, and I was in the door and playing with glass in right at an hour.  Overall, it was very easy to use and did a pretty good job of dealing with all the noise in the hall.  Given I have glasses now, having had to give up contacts a while back, I was also pleased that the display was clear and legible.  Looking up into the sky lights, it did a good job of handling strong sunlight too.

Where all the action was.

Where all the action was.

The only problem I ran into was the wireless network.  My glass lost connection and we couldn’t get it to reconnect.  So I had fun taking video, pictures, and looking at the interface, but couldn’t get it to answer any voice queries via Google.