Archives For iphone

The tech news sites are all over the new Google Maps for iOS app, so they already cover the fact that public transportation, walking directions and turn-by-turn navigation are included in the new app. I thought let’s look at new technologies and user experience elements in this app.

Google Maps 3d view

Fast 3d maps but no offline access

The maps, including 3D versions are fast! OpenGL is used, and runs pretty fast on my now ancient iPhone 4. They even support iPhone 3Gs with iOS 5.1, so they really did a terrific job on optimizing speed. Apple Maps for iOS requires an iPhone 4S for 3D views, also satellite 3D views. Offline access would be great to have when you drive through areas with no cell phone reception. No iPad version as well, no voice input.

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Apple's developer portal

Apple’s developer portal

When you as a iOS developer want to send out beta versions to testers, you need to create a build of your app with an ad hoc profile that contains the UDID’s from all the devices of your testers. Not only is that a painful process, you are also limited to 100 devices. That is, a 100 devices per developer license per year. When the iPhone 3 was released that was OK, but now it is becoming a major hurdle to do testing. It is time for Apple to change this policy. Here’s why:

  1. fragmentation – now you have the iPhone 4, 4S and 5 as well as the iPad 2, 3, 4 and iPad Mini. Don’t forget iPod Touch 4 and 5. Also iOS 5 is still around (not for iPhone 5, iPad 4, iPad Mini or iPod Touch 5), so times 2 major iOS versions = 14 different devices.
  2. developers create more apps per year – imagine a company that publishes 10 apps per year, for 10 different demographics. That 100 device limitation is for that one publisher, meaning you can have max 10 testers per demographic.
  3. quality standards have gone up – There are 700,000 iOS apps out there. Only the best that get in a top 25 make money. High quality is required, so developers have to test thoroughly.

What could Apple do? Continue Reading…

Finally, Facebook has released an update of their iOS app. Whereas older versions used HTML technology in combination with UIWebViews, the new version as it looks now is (almost) fully developed in native iOS technology, Objective-C. As I have written in the past, it is hard to get a well performing app using the hybrid approach of native and web. The UIWebView is not as fast as when it runs inside of mobile Safari because the Javascript engine Nitro is not available for 3rd party apps, and it doesn’t seem to be so in the new upcoming iOS 6.

My testing by network sniffing confirms that no more HTML is returned from the Facebook servers but JSON, the preferred format when using REST technology. JSON just gives you the data, formatting needs to be done by the code inside of the app. Most iOS apps that retrieve server data use JSON technology, so that was a no-brainer. According to their development blog post, many more different optimisations were implemented, including offloading actions to background threads (iOS 101), caching of computations how long text should be displayed, caching of heights of rows in the UITableView. Most of the app is native now. Still some lesser used parts are leveraging HTML technology, to allow for flexibility.

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It’s the week of the Facebook IPO, and a lot of talk in the Facebook roadshow is about its mobile strategy. Out of the 900 million monthly active users, 500 million use Facebook on mobile. Mobile is booming and will so the next few years as these numbers are showing, so rightfully so a lot of attention goes to mobile.

On the iPhone in 2008/9, before the iPad was out, the first version of the Facebook app was seen as one of the great examples how to build an iPhone app. It was developed by one person, Joe Hewitt, and parts of the app were open sourced as the Three20 project. When he left Facebook and stopped working on the iOS app, a new team took over which resulted in a complete rewrite for a universal app that also supported the iPad (November 2011). In spite of growing numbers, not a whole lot of users actually like the current iOS app. In the US iTunes store, the rating average is 2 stars, with out the 21,803 ratings, 11,839 1 star ratings (!). One star ratings are often a sign of frustration, and you can see that in the comments. For most of the apps an average of 2 stars is deadly, but we all use Facebook so yes we will all have to use its iOS app if you own an iPhone or iPad.

So what is wrong with the iOS app?

  1. app is slow 
  2. inconsistent information notification icons say there are new messages or responses, actual window does not show anything new.
  3. app is slower than mobile web site while everybody is used to speedy apps, the Facebook mobile web site is faster than iOS app, and offers almost the same functionality.
  4. tons of other bugs scrambled views, photo upload, text boxes disappear, no sharing.

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I got some annoying app requests on Facebook from this one app. They came via friends that I know click on too many apps and games, so I ignored them. Yesterday I saw a post about this very app called Syn on the Dutch iPhoneclub, where it was deemed a spam app. Worse, somehow it had made it to the number one position in the paid top 10 of all apps, in spite of an average rating of 1 star (!). My first reaction was that the company behind the app, Falkor, inc must have hired some shady firm to boost downloads to get that high in the ranking. But so many people complained about spam, I thought let’s dig deeper and do some research.

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I had this blog post drafted already, and originally had it titled “iTunes App Store sucks, and Apple doesn’t give a shit”. Well, after the acquisition of Chomp Apple shows it knows. Finally!

To be more precise, I think that app discovery in the app store sucks, and this hurts both users and developers.

Right now, the only ways users find apps are through New, What’s Hot or the top 25 of a category. With almost  600,000 apps,  that is basically an Office Depot with aisles that are 50 miles long. You look at the top 25, but that’s it.  App search is just really bad. Genius? Anybody ever used Genius more than once? Genius is a joke like Ping is. Apparently, Apple is just not good at social.

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OK, your iPhone app is about to be released. You and your teammates think the app is perfect. You just want to ask a couple of friends to test the app. Should you?

Yes you should let others test.

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