iOS 7 first impressions: Anything but flat

It can’t have escaped many geeks’ notice that on Monday, Apple previewed the forthcoming new versions of their desktop interface, OSX 10.9, and their operating system for handhelds, iOS 7.

Everybody can view the presentations from Monday’s World Wide Developer Conference keynote, and the marketing information that has been released. As a registered app developer who will have to make sure their app is iOS 7-ready in time for the public launch in the autumn, though, I can get legal access to the first beta.

And while (as early betas can be) it is slow and crashes more often than it should – the changes in iOS 7 are only apparent when using it on an actual device. Watching a slick video doesn’t give you the full impression.

NB: There are swathes of non-disclosure agreements surrounding early access to iOS 7. This article is based purely on hands-on access to the features publicly disclosed by Apple, and experience of previous iOS upgrades.

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What Twitter for iPhone 3.3 gets wrong

When it comes to iPhone apps, one thing the world definitely does not need more of is Twitter clients. There are so many out there it’s unreal. And as a heavy Twitter user, I’ve tried most, if not all, of them at some point.

I was a loyal user of the paid-for app Tweetie 2 by Atebits, and when Twitter bought it and converted it into a free application, I continued to use it. It seemed to strike the right balance for me of allowing some access to more sophisticated functions, while keeping them unobtrusive when you didn’t need them.

One of the ways it achieved this was by hiding advanced features – picture uploads, autocompletion of @ usernames and #hashtags, location marking, etc. – behind the keyboard. If you clicked the button that displayed the number of characters remaining, the iPhone keyboard would slide down, revealing the additional options.

I suspect that some of these functions were so well hidden that some users didn’t realise they were there at all. Which is why, I’m guessing, that with the latest update, to Twitter for iPhone 3.3, the key ones are now visible as you compose your tweet (compare with this screenshot from GigaOM’s review of Tweetie 2):

Twitter for iPhone's new editing screen, with completions and geotagging

Also previously hidden, the ‘shrink URLs’ option is now an automatic function, with Twitter using its t.co shortening service on the fly. When tweets are displayed, the t.co link is replaced by an abbreviated version of the destination URL, making it easier to spot where people would like to send you should you click on their links.

All this is great. They are gradual refinements that shows that great iPhone design eschews gimmicks in favour of straightforward, simple and practical application.

If only the rest of the app followed the same rules. I’m going to set aside the repeated crashing I had with version 3.3.0 – when it comes to apps that repeatedly crash on startup, I’ve been there, done that, and feel the developers’ pain – and concentrate on some of my bugbears.

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My first iPhone app, a week in

Earlier this week, I blogged about how an iPhone app I’d written was now live. A week in, and things are moving on quite quickly.

Midweek, The Stage Jobs & Auditions was selected as a “staff favourite” on the UK App Store, which meant that it got a slot on the App Store main page within iTunes, albeit one well below the fold. Still, that certainly contributed to an increased number of downloads and a peak of number 3 in the “free apps” version of the Business apps chart.

At least, I thought it was a peak…

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My first iPhone app

UPDATE, 2 July: the app has been added to Apple’s ‘Staff Favourites’ list, and is currently no. 2 in the Business charts for free apps!

Over the weekend, my first iPhone app went live on the App Store. A free download, it’s a simple little app that allows users to browse The Stage’s jobs and auditions that are advertised online (and, in most cases, also in our weekly print edition).

The Stage Jobs and Auditions app (which we call just Stage Jobs for short) is free to download and use (save for your own 3G/internet connection costs). It briefly hit number 3 in iTunes’ chart of free business apps, which probably says more about the small number of downloads in that category than any soaraway success.

The bulk of the app takes the data from The Stage’s recruitment section, served up as XML via a private API (thanks to our web developer James, who implemented the server side of the API). This is converted to the iPhone’s standard drill-down format of clickable lists which, when clicked, slide off to the left to reveal more information – either a list of subcategories, a list of adverts, or the advert detail itself.

Going from proof of concept to a workable prototype was remarkably quick – a matter of weeks – thanks to a few things.

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