Controllers vs Mouse and Keyboard

November 20th, 2016

This was (and is, until tomorrow, November 21st, 2016) a free weekend in Overwatch, so you can download and play the game for free on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. I play a lot of Overwatch on the PS4, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to try it on the PC.

I’m not very good at aiming using a game controller. I find it constantly frustrating trying to line up a shot and overshooting the target. I’ve been trying to get better, by using techniques like roughly aiming with the aiming controls and then moving my player for the fine aiming. This works, but it never feels precise.

I installed Overwatch on the PC and spent a few hours playing it, and first impression is, wow. I can aim! What a difference.

Second impression is: Uh oh, so can everyone else. Snipers seem a lot more dangerous on the PC than on PS4.

When you get killed in Overwatch, the game shows you a replay from the perspective of the person who got you, and it makes me feel better to see, on the PS4, other players having the same trouble. Lining up a shot, overshooting, slowly repositioning … sometimes people make a lucky shot but often it shows other people struggling with the same imprecision I do. 

That levels the playing field, and probably explains why they’ll never give us cross-platform play (PC and console gamers in the same game). The PC gamers would run away with it.

I’d switch back to the PC, but main reasons for going console in the first place still apply: That’s where my friends are, cheaper long term hardware cost (no buying new hardware as minimum requirements rise), and RSI.

I use a trackpad on my Mac, because when I used to use a mouse, I’d start to experience carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. Wrist pain. Switched to the trackpad and the symptoms vanished. Game controllers are fine, trackpads are fine, but for some reason, I just can’t spend a lot of time gaming with a keyboard and mouse anymore.

But it was nice to jump back into that world for a few hours. Yes, console gamers are at a disadvantage, but we’re all at the same disadvantage, which evens it out. Makes me feel a little less bad about my crummy aim.

Xcode Errors in Source Editor

November 19th, 2016

Here’s a problem I was having recently. My project would build and run fine, but the source editor was showing errors.

Sometimes the errors wouldn’t be there, sometimes they wouldn’t. Sometimes they’d interfere with things like autocomplete, and it made working with the affected source files rather frustrating.

The problem was that the source file was used in more than one target, and one of the targets in a scheme other than the one I was using to develop the app had build settings that were causing the file to not build successfully.

In my case, I’d added some Swift source to the project, and configured the bridging header in my main target, but not in the UI Tests target. This is hard to discover, because there’s no way that I can see to build that target directly from Xcode.

But there is an indirect way to get it to build, and it’s probably a good idea to enable this anyway:

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Pick “Manage Schemes…” in the dropdown that appears when you click on your project name in the picker on the Xcode toolbar, 

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Now when you Analyze your project, you’re analyzing not just the main target, but any other targets you select as well. This will show the build errors in Xcode and make it easy to go fix them.

More RAM Please

November 1st, 2016

Here’s my two cents on the new MacBook Pro’s, not that anyone is asking.

This tweet sums it up:

“I’m struck by the cultural divide between dismissive Apple defenders and people who buy an expensive mac for real work every four-five years” – @pinboard

The main reason I’m uncomfortable dropping that much money on a new laptop right now is RAM. My current Mac Pro, late 2010, has 20GB RAM, and my current laptop, a 2012, has 16GB.  I use a lot of RAM, because I use big, RAM-hungry tools, and I’m frequently near using all of it.  I just checked and right now I’m using 15.59GB.

When I bought my laptop, four years ago, 16gb was way more than I needed. But usage increases over time. I’m uncomfortable buying a new computer, expecting it to last another 4 years, with the same amount of memory in my current hardware.

I know it’s probably Intel’s fault, and that’s fine.  What matters to me is that these new laptops aren’t the computer I want to upgrade to, so I will wait.

 

 

“Free” Photo Storage

October 25th, 2016

Google is giving free, unlimited, full-resolution photo storage to all customers of their Google Pixel phone, and giving unlimited storage of “optimized” photos to everyone. This is an attractive deal, and Google using the storage warnings on iOS in their advertising will resonate with a lot of people. I think this will be a real, long-term threat.

How much storage is a Pixel user going to use, over the life of the phone? It really depends on the user, of course, but since the Pixel is a high-end, expensive phone, I’d expect the people who buy them are going to be heavy photo and video users. I could easily see using a few hundred gigabytes of photos and video over a couple of years. Video is large.

Apple added 4K video and Live Photos to the iPhone, features which more than double the per-item storage requirement. In a world where Apple makes a profit from either users buying higher-capacity devices, or paying for iCloud storage, that’s great for Apple. But it makes it more difficult to compete with Google’s free storage option, since it would simply cost Apple more to store the data generated from the same amount of customer usage.

But why is Google doing this? I don’t believe it’s simply to sell more phones.

Google is making hardware as a way to protect their ad business. Everything Google does can be viewed through this lens. Chrome was a way to keep the browser vendors from using an alternate default search engine. Android was a way to keep Apple from cutting Google out of mobile. Google needs you to be using Google services, and is systematically removing anything that gets in the way of that. You can have Google fiber to your Google Wi-Fi to your Google phones, and Chromebooks. It’s Google all the way down.

But, specifically, why photos? I don’t have any inside info here, but from looking at a few obvious trends, I have a hunch.

Recognizing things in images is becoming easier. The search capability that Google has introduced for Google Photos lets you search for photos that contain whatever terms you want to type in. Your phone knows where you are when you take these photos, so Google can tell a lot about the places you take pictures.

For example, it’s obvious from my photos that I have a dog. Why wouldn’t Google use that signal in their ad-selection algorithm? It makes sense, and it’s feasible, so they will.

There’s so much Google could learn about your home, your style, colour preferences, clothing, furniture, and so much more just by analyzing your photos.

That’s the price for free photo storage.

Determine form-sheet or navigation controller presentation

June 29th, 2016

I recently ran into a situation where I needed to determine if a view controller was in a form sheet, or pushed onto a navigation stack.

A pattern I use for things like Settings in a universal app is to push the Settings view controller onto the stack, when on the iPhone, and wrap it in a UINavigationController and present that as a form sheet on the iPad. This works well, but I’ve been working on making my apps adaptive, and my old method of deciding which to use based on the UIUserInterfaceIdiom is not going to cut it in an adaptive world.

One odd thing about UIPresentationController is it doesn’t seem to have a way to determine how a view controller is currently presented. You can find out how the view controller would like to have been presented, but this doesn’t always match what it actually did.

In the end I kind of cheated, but I feel like it’s a good cheat so I’m sharing it.  It boils down to this:

    if (self.navigationController.viewControllers.count > 1) {

        // No “Done” button when in a navigation controller, use the Back button

        self.navigationItem.rightBarButtonItem = nil;

    }

If the view is the only view in its navigation controller, then I want the done button, otherwise, the user will use the navigation controller’s Back button to navigate away.

Writing with Tools

November 28th, 2015

I have always wanted to write more. Every time I get the itch to write something substantial, there is a pattern that plays out. The first thing I do is think “I need to find a great app to write in” and get totally sidelined by downloading and trying out writing apps.

This makes no sense, of course. I know most of what I read is written in BBEdit, Scrivener, or Microsoft word, and that it doesn’t matter. It’s all text, and all a writing app needs to do, most of the time, is make sure the keys you press on the keyboard show up as words on the screen.

But, as I am typing this in Editorial on the iPad, I am looking for a word count and not seeing one. Now I am distracted. It also doesn’t support iPad multitasking. That’s no good. Hmm, what else do I have.

So, now I am in Byword, which supports multitasking and which has an on-screen word count indicator, although it takes up a lot of space. Must resist.

The next challenge is how do I get text from Byword onto my blog. It would be nice if I could use a WordPress extension. Let’s see if that works.

Nope, although I could post directly to Tumblr if I wanted to. Maybe this is why people rave about the Workflow app. Back in a minute.

Playing with Workflow. Hang on.

Ok I think I have a workflow that will let me post this, and Workflow is cool, but it seems that if I want to edit this post later that would be a whole different process. Still, if this makes it to the blog then at least my tool indulgence has resulted in some output.

Nope, when I tried to run the workflow, I got a cryptic “unsupported URL” alert.

But I see Byword has direct support for publishing to WordPress. Let’s try that.

Does anyone else find the tools this distracting?

I published this in Byword, but I don’t see how I can update a post in Byword, so here I am I the WordPress app updating this post.

Darkness under Navigation Controller

September 13th, 2015

Translucent navigation bars are cool. The content that scrolls up off the visible area alters the look of the navigation bar. But they do introduce some complexity, and sometimes you just don’t need it, because your content doesn’t scroll.

So let’s say you’ve got an app that has some content that does scroll, like a UITableView, so you turn on the translucent navigation bar. But then you want to push a view controller that doesn’t scroll.  

So you go into Interface Builder, select your view controller, and turn off “Extend Under Top Bars”.

Under Top Bars Off

But now you get this:

Dark Navigation Bar

It’s almost as the invisible content underneath the translucent navigation bar was black. And that’s because it probably is.

This looks ugly, and it looks especially ugly when it’s animating in, because the white turning black is part of the push animation.

The best way I’ve found to fix this is to put a view above your main view, that acts as a white filler that the navigation bar can use for its translucency.

Drop in a new view, and update its size and position so that it’s above the navigation bar.  You may want to calculate the navigation bar height at runtime, but here I’m just using the size that’s applied since the dawn of iOS, 64 points:

Filler View Size

Make sure to set up the autoresizing mask, or constraints, so it adjusts automatically for different device sizes.

End result?  No more smudge underneath the navigation bar.

After

Much nicer.

 

Apple Ads on the Web

August 5th, 2015

Listening to a recent episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber and Jason Snell were talking about advertising.  John’s talked about this before, about the mess that is web advertising these days, and Jason gave some great insider perspective, as a long-time MacWorld editor.

Setting aside whether ads are good or bad, the web today needs ads to run. But the way that advertising is currently implemented is terrible. The sites that create content, like iMore or MacWorld, have to insert JavaScript from ad networks with no idea what’s going to end up being inserted into their pages, and often what ends up there is poor quality, both in content and in implementation.

John also brought up page load times, and ads are a big part of that.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a single, web-wide ad tracking standard?  And wouldn’t it be nice if your phone had the ability to pre-cache the ads, so that loading ads wouldn’t be slowing down your web surfing?

Nice is relative of course – having your phone downloading ads in the background for later presentation actually sounds kind of terrible, but look at it this way – your phone could download ads overnight or while on WiFi, so that on a slower network, the ads would already be local. 

There’s one company in a position to actually do this. Apple.

An Apple-provided extension to iAd that took on web advertising, not just in-app advertising, could really improve how ads are presented on iOS, in ways that no other ad network could. You’d save bandwidth and battery while surfing sites that used Apple’s ads, and the sites would load faster.

I have no idea if Apple is working on this, but changing the status quo, for the benefit of end users, in a way that makes their platform better, sounds like something they’d do.

Google could do it too, but in my mind it’s not as good a fit for Google.  More mobile web surfing happens on iOS, and richer ads are better than simpler ads.  Apple dabbled in rich ads with iAd, and I could see them taking this father.  A cached rich ad “experience” can be presented with no download time, and could be much more effective than the typical Google ad inventory.

App Store Curation

July 8th, 2015

Now that Apple Music is out, and people are seeing how well the curation works, I’ve seen people ask about curation in the App Store.

Seems to me Apple is already doing this, and has been for a long time

Go look at the App Store.  What do you see?  Almost all of the iTunes front page is curated content.

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Big banners at the top for hand-chosen featured apps.  “Best New Apps”, again hand-picked.  “Best New Games”.  “Trending Apps & Games” (which I believe is also hand-picked, although likely hand-picked from the actual trend data).

Then there’s a collection of curated lists of apps.  “Disney Bundles”.  “Editor’s Choice”.  “App of the Week”.  “Essentials”.  “Great Free Apps”.

“Recommended Apps & Games”.

“15 Most Challenging Games”.

“Backyard BBQ” (apps for planning, cooking, and fun at your BBQ).

This is curation, and the App Store is doing a great job of it.

Personalized recommendations is a different ball game. Apple Music algorithmically chooses curated playlists to recommend to you; it’s a mix of curation and data mining.  The App Store doesn’t seem to do any of the latter – it doesn’t use what it knows about you to suggest apps to you.

Getting Comfortable with Apple Music

July 5th, 2015

Apple Music is a big change. No matter what you used for music previously, Apple Music is different. It’s an exciting service, and it’s doing a great job of getting me back into music. But it’s also confusing.

I’ve spent a lot of time with Apple Music lately, and I wanted to share some things I learned that have helped me get comfortable with it.

Think of the tabs as separate apps.  This is an important point, because sometimes what you can do depends on where you are.

If you tap on a tab, it will take you to where you last were on that tab (if you’d tapped on a playlist, or artist, for example) but tapping the tab again will take you back to that tab’s home. Remember that one, it’s useful.

Curated Playlists

The curated playlists are a big part of Apple Music, but conceptually you can think of them as albums. Unlike algorithmic music services, these playlists are fixed length, typically about 80 minutes, and are assembled by humans, so they tend to be a pleasant collection of songs that work well together.

This means you can do things with playlist suggestions like add them to you music library, and make the songs in them available for offline listening, something you can’t do with a radio station.

For You

This is Apple Music’s main recommendation engine, and using your preferences and some other data (it’t not exactly clear what, but I believe your previous play history has something to do with it), Apple Music will add albums, and curated playlists, to the For You recommendation list.

This list keeps growing as you use the app, so you don’t have to worry about losing recommendations as new ones become available.

Right now, for me, “Modern Breakup Songs” and “Rush 80’s” my top For You recommendations.  If you don’t like a recommendation, tap and hold on it for a second, and the menu that appears has an “I Don’t Like This Suggestion.” menu item.  Tap that, and hopefully you’ll see fewer suggestions like that in the future (although in practice, it hasn’t make a lot of difference in my case, yet).

Pull to refresh.  If there are new suggestions, they will appear at the top. 

The plus button adds stuff to your iTunes Music Library, essentially adding it to the My Music tab.  This doesn’t make it “your” music, the same way purchasing it does, which is a bit confusing. What you’re adding is more like a shortcut to the music in Apple Music, that will disappear if you ever unsubscribe.

Radio

There are two things here:  Beats 1, which is live, and you have no control over, and algorithmically-generated radio stations.

If you tap on a station, like “Pop Hits”, the app will start playing an appropriate song.  If you don’t like it, you can skip it (although skipping it does nothing to change the content that the station will play).  There’s no way to feed back that it made a bad choice.

You can create a new radio station from a song or album. I don’t know if there’s any human curation involved in these playlists, but they seem roughly equivalent to the same feature on Spotify.

Now Playing

When you’re listening to a song, there’s a bar above the tabs that shows the song that’s currently playing.  

Tap the heart to indicate that you love a song. This feedback is used to help improve the suggestions on the For You tab, and apparently have nothing to do with radio stations.

Tap and hold the fast forward or rewind buttons, to have the app skip forward or back within the current song, instead of instantly switching songs.

One question I have about the heart, and liking music, is what happens when a song is on more than one album?  Liking it in one place doesn’t automatically like it in the others, so what does that mean for how it uses that data for recommendations?

New

New is a weird tab.

Here you can find new music.  But you can also Apple Editor’s Playlists, Activity Playlists, and Curator Playlists. 

There’s a drop-down at the top for picking a genre, which changes some of the content on the tab, but not all of it. The curated playlists don’t seem to change, but the top lists and other content does change to match the genre you picked.

Honestly I spend very little time on this tab, except when I want to find music to match a mood (something Spotify was pretty good at).  There are a lot of great playlists in here, but you need to tap the New tab, scroll to Activity Playlists, and then pick a genre to get to them.

The “Hot Tracks” and other top playlists don’t take my taste into account at all, and so are generally useless. There’s definitely an opportunity to do better here.

Connect

Connect is a curiosity at this point.  Sometimes there’s interesting stuff in there, but I don’t know how valuable it will be.

Clean vs Explicit

Apple Music respects the setting you set in the Allowed Content section of Settings / General / Restrictions in the system Settings app. It’s a shame there’s no easy way to toggle this, because for me it really depends on “are there kids in the car”.

Search

Search is global – it doesn’t matter where you are in the app when you hit the search button.  The app will present search results from all over the service, including curated playlists, music videos, and results from your own music library.  It works pretty much as you’d expect.

Offline

Figuring out exactly what you can listen to offline isn’t obvious, but you can take any song, album, or playlist in the My Music tab and tap it’s menu button to show the menu, and then pick “Make Available Offline”.  This will copy the files to your device. You can change a setting to indicate whether Apple Music is allowed to use cellular data to stream music, but unfortunately, like the Clean setting, this is buried off in the system Settings app, so it’s awkward to change on the fly.

If a curated playlists calls for a song that you have locally on your device, then it will play the local copy.  Seems obvious, but I think this is a cool feature.

Overall

I have a lot of music – over the years I’ve bought hundreds of albums, and they’re all ripped and in my music library, but the challenge has been finding a way to really enjoy all this music.  Genius tried, but wasn’t very good. Spotify didn’t seem to really care much about my music collection, nor did Rdio.

Apple Music often suggest I listen to music I already have, often music that I haven’t listened to in ages. And then will stream it from my local copy.

With Apple Music, I’m finding it’s easier to just get some music playing that I like, and that’s what it’s all about.