The Year to Date

In a preceding post, I mentioned that komorka has placed a renewed emphasis on higher production quality. One example of that is the work we recently completed for our friends at Keep It Local OK . For the project, we created a reference app that allows you to explore a growing roster of locally-owned member businesses. 

We chose the "drawer" model of navigation made popular by apps like Facebook & Path. This allows the menu to scale as additional features are introduced. I'm particularly proud of the merchant profile screens; we placed high quality photographs front & center, and used grouped table views to progressively disclose the information a customer is interested in. The app is free to download, so I invite you to check it out and share your feedback. 

In addition to the Keep it Local app, I've also provided advisory services for a few clients in the energy & advertising industries. This includes: evaluating existing apps in need of rehabilitation, completing a mobile device management study, performing a few code reviews, and contributing to the mobile component of a larger media project.

Finally, I've spent most of my time this year working onsite at a prominent healthcare technology company. As part of a larger team, I'm involved with design, implementation & mentoring of a suite of iOS apps used for administering healthcare. This has been one of the more rewarding experiences of my career, and the early results of our efforts have been positive. The first app was recently recognized with a Bronze Prize at the 2013 User Experience Awards.

 

Focusing on App Quality

David SmithJustin Williams, two developers that I admire, recently offered their thoughts about the "back catalog" of products within the iOS App Store. Each suggested that Apple would benefit by culling apps that were no longer actively maintained from the App Store.

David noted that Apple is taking steps to improve app quality, requiring that submissions after May 1 must include support for the iPhone 5 display. I suggest that Apple could do even more - it should consider removing apps that haven't been updated within the last year.

First of all, the iOS Developer Program is offered as an annual membership. Moreover, Apple requires review & approval before apps can be distributed in the App Store. It also aggressively deprecates device support with each update to iOS (e.g., the original iPad cannot be upgraded to iOS 6). As long as Apple maintains a cadence of nearly annual updates to its operating system, wouldn't it make sense to automatically deprecate apps that lack support for the latest & greatest features of the platform?

komorka recently released Edgewise 2.0 - an app that I am particularly proud of. Prior to that release, however, it had become an app that I was not so proud of. Due to a general lack of time, it had languished without a substantial update since May 2012. I considered removing it from sale, but every time I did, I would receive a positive review or an encouraging email that prompted me to reconsider. In the end, I'm glad that I persevered - the result is much more representative of the work that I strive for.

Unfortunately, however, Edgewise was not the only original komorka project. Each of the remaining titles represents a prior investment of time & energy, as well as an ongoing liability: the commitment required to both support existing customers and improve the products over time. Its disingenuous to continue marketing these apps when I know that I won't be able to devote much time to them in the near-term. 

Today I am doing my part to help cull the App Store's back catalog. Effective immediately, komorka has retired the following apps: StereoMatic, 123 Forecast, and Tannenbaum.

In the near future, I hope to share news about another project that more accurately reflects the quality of work komorka aims for. I also plan to discuss what's occupying most of my time this year. 

Renaissance

Tonight I'm returning from San Francisco, reflecting on my time at Renaissance, a conference focused on iOS apps and app makers. I wanted to share a personal account of its inaugural offering, January 21-23, at the UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco.

Some time last summer, I stumbled across a mention of a new conference called "Renaissance". There were a number of things about it that appealed to me: I was intrigued that Bill Dudney and Tim Burks were behind it; I liked the idea of a single-track format - each attendee would view the same curated content (i.e., no need to worry about making the "wrong choice" among competing presentations in a given time slot); and I was excited that Renaissance would adopt a holistic view of app-making, addressing equal parts design, development, and business. Finally, I liked the timing - January is roughly half-way between the typical WWDC date (June), so it makes for a nice cadence of attending approximately two events each year.

I purchased a half-price "Kickstart" ticket in August, and my excitement grew as speakers and topics were gradually added to the schedule. Aside from the outstanding keynote speakers (Brenda Chapman, Ken Segall, Tim Berry), some of my favorites sessions included:

  • Animating Your App to Life: Phil Letourneau (Black Pixel) began by highlighting some of what makes animation believable, citing examples from iOS that illustrate each of "The Twelve Basic Principles of Animation" posited in The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. Mark Pospesel (Y Media Labs) described the animation tools available to iOS developers, with an emphasis on UIKit and Core Animation. You should check out his demo.
  • Beautiful Text: Chris Clark (Black Pixel) provided a great overview of the history of typography, a discussion of digital fonts, and the like. James Dempsey (Tapas Software) explained how to apply great typography with a nice overview of Core Text, a framework introduced with iOS 6. He even discussed a subtle "gotcha" with UITextView.
  • Apps for Hire: As an owner of a small consulting business, I really appreciated the insight offered by exemplary service providers, large and small. The speakers in this session included Rob Rhyne (MartianCraft), Daniel Pasco (Black Pixel), Calvin Carter (Bottle Rocket), and Matt Drance (Bookhouse).
  • Aesthetics for App Developers: Louie Mantia (Pacific Helm) discussed the importance of having a good app icon, citing the importance of a memorable shape, color, and texture. Des Traynor (Intercom) focused our attention on delivering quality "microcopy", the text presented to users of our apps in elements like instructions, buttons, and warnings.

Many conferences have good content, but Renaissance also fostered rich interactions with fellow attendees. The single-track format definitely helped in this regard - with no need to change seats between sessions, I had the chance to interact with the same people at my table each day. I met a number of Bay Area locals, but I also got to know out-of-town attendees from Austin, New York, Des Moines, Portland and Stockholm.

After-hours activities were also enjoyable, as popular spots like The Chieftain and The House of Shields were less busy than they tend to be during WWDC.

In the end, it was evident that everyone involved - organizers, speakers, moderators and volunteers - devoted a great deal of time and energy to putting on a terrific event. If you care at all about the craft of making quality apps, then I would encourage you to follow Ferris Bueller's advice when tickets for the next edition go on sale: "if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."

Mini Makers

As an app developer, I have an assortment of mobile devices lying around the house. My kids are pretty fond of this arrangement, particularly the access this grants them to "hand-me-down" iPads. I like sharing them because it extends the life of the devices, and it provides Emily & Sam with a glimpse at some of my work projects.

While it's gratifying for your 8-year-old son to ask "how did you do that Dad?", I've found that it can be difficult to explain. It may be a bit early to teach him how to program in Objective-C, but I wanted to find other ways to cultivate the "maker" in Sam. This summer we found two such opportunities: Scratch Camp & Apple Camp.

Scratch Camp

Scratch is a programming language created at the MIT Media Lab. With an emphasis on visual constructs over syntax, it provides an ideal introduction to programming for children. In July, Sam attended Scratch Camp, a week-long introduction to the language offered by the Div Jr.

During camp, each student was introduced to the core constructs of Scratch, including blocks, sprites, scripts, and stages. The Scratch toolset includes a library of existing graphics & scripts, but it also includes tools for importing or composing your own assets. Students also benefit from the Scratch portal, where they can share their work or download other projects and "remix" them. Over the course of a week, Sam learned about basic scripting, animated stories, mazes, and other games. The week concluded with a "show & tell" where students presented their work to parents and fellow students.

Sam was pretty fond of mazes - feel free to check out some of the projects he shared on his Scratch page.

Apple Camp

Many people know that Apple Stores offer free workshops for adult consumers, but it's less well-known that they also offer youth workshops and camps for children. Sam attended an Apple Camp last week with the theme Make Movie Magic.

The first day of camp provided an introduction to GarageBand for iPad. Each camper was tasked with creating a motion picture soundtrack. Sam had homework the first night - he had to capture video for his movie. The next day he returned to combine his footage with the soundtrack in iMovie. The camp culminated on Saturday with a Film Festival, where each camper was allowed to present their creation in the Apple Store.

Sam devoted a lot of time to the plot of his story, a harrowing tale of a hamster that drinks a mysterious serum and transmogrifies into a terrible monster. The oversized villain (played by our dog Holly) proceeds to wreak havoc on a town of law-abiding LEGO® citizens. The protagonist, bearing a striking resemblance to Captain America, arrives to whisk the monster far away, saving the town and its grateful inhabitants.

A Very Happy Camper

A Very Happy Camper