How Broken is Discovery on the App Store? This Broken.

Much has been made over the years about how the App Store could be improved for both developers and customers. Areas like interactive reviews, trial periods, an App Store VP and paid upgrades are all important. One of the key areas many agree is the biggest problem Apple has yet to correctly address is discovery. For small developers like myself, a potential customer’s ability to find your app on the App Store is critical. If customers can’t easily discover and download your software, your app (and indeed your business) has little chance of survival.

The App Store now has over 1.2 million apps available to consumers and with such a wide range of products, it’s more important than ever people are able to quickly find and what they are looking for. Developers have known for years that searching for something in particular doesn’t always yield the results you’d expect, but often it’s downright ridiculous.

Take Twitterrific, the 3rd party Twitter client that my company, The Iconfactory, created back in 2007 and released on the App Store in 2008. Twitterrific was there at the launch of the App Store and the latest iteration, version 5, is available even today, seven years later. Despite many 3rd party Twitter apps going the way of the dodo, Twitterrific, Tweetbot and a few other hearty Twitter clients have survived and sometimes even thrived. This despite Apple’s search results, which bear little resemblance to what a typical user might expect when searching for a simple, straightforward term like “Twitter” on the App Store.

The following list was generated by a manual App Store (iPhone) search on Nov 15th, 2014 for the term “Twitter”. To make the list easier to parse, I’ve called out all apps that allow a user to directly read AND post to Twitter in bold. Everything else is either a game, a utility, or some other social network enhancement. The official app from Twitter is naturally the first result, but the next actual Twitter client (Hootsuite) doesn’t appear on the list until #20 and the next one after that comes in at #62. Even the mega-popular Tweetbot isn’t returned in the results until position #81 and even then, the older v2 of Tweetbot (for iOS 6) comes first. Where’s Twitterrific? Although it contains the word “Twitter” in the app’s name, Twitterrific isn’t seen in the list until you scroll all the way down to #100.

1. Twitter
2. Instagram
3. Framatic
4. Tweegrow
5. Pick Jointer
6. Happy Park
7. Crop Pic
8. Wayze Social GPS
9. Flipboard
10. InstaCollage Pro
11. Symbol Keyboard
12. Find Unfollowers
13. Cool Fonts
14. Symbolizer
15. Big Emoji
16. Get Followers
17. Framatic Mess
18. Alarm Clock HD
19. Textgram
20. Hootsuite
21. Emoticon Art
22. Textizer Fonts
23. 4 For Follow
24. Pixable
25. Just Unfollow
26. Unfollow for Twitter
27. ColorEffects
28. Photobooth
29. G-Whizz
30. New Cool Text
31. Google+
32. Step
33. Tweetcaster for Twitter
34. Vine
35. Camera Awesome
36. InstaEffect Effects
37. Emoticons and Emoji
38. TwitBoost Pro
39. PickGram
40. Insta Scrapbook
41. SpaceEffect
42. Orbs
43. MB2:YouTube
44. Facetouch HD Light
45. Paper Toss Friends
46. Vodio
47. Frame UR Life
48. HayWire Text Free
49. Nimble Quest
50. InstaCollage Pro
51. TweetBoost Pro
52. Right Behind
53. Emoji>
54. Follow Tool for Twitter
55. Color Cap
56. Emoji for iOS 8
57. Camera+
58. Emoji Emoticons
59. Text2Pic
60. Emoji 2 Emoticons
61. Fonts-Cool Font Maker
62. Echofon Pro
63. LiPix Pro
64. Alarm Clock HD
65. Smilebox Moments
66. Everypost for Social Media
67. Google Apps Browser Plus
68. Clipchat
69. VPN Express
70. ÜberSocial for Twitter
71. You Doodle
72. TweetBot 2 (iOS 6)
73. Stocks Live
74. Stocks Live Essentials
75. GameFly
76. Trendyful
77. Oz Quake
78. Buffer for Social Media
79. Yahoo! News Digest
80. Wefollow for Twitter
81. TweetBot 3
82. Photo Notes HD
83. Emoji Art and Text
84. Find Unfollowers Pro
85. Followers for Twitter
86. Follower Boost for Twitter
87. Color Effects FX HD
88. Double Ball
89. TwitGrow for Twitter
90. Twittelator Pro (iOS 6)
91. Emoji Art
92. TwitBoost Pro for Twitter
93. Jedi Lightsaber
94. Get Followers for Instagram
95. Aqua Emoji Keyboard
96. Bloomberg
97. Emoji for Messaging
98. Facely HD for Facebook
99. Timehop
100. Twitterriffic 5
101. IFTTT
102. FollowBoost for Twitter
103. Hyperlapse for Instagram
104. Freebie
105. PhotoFrame
106. Text Pics Free
107. Funimate
108. Followers + for Twitter
109. Emoji Keypad
110. Follower Plus
111. TweetBoost
112. Wow Followers for Twitter
113. Table Top Racing
114. TwitBird Free for Twitter
115. Singing Texts
116. Dice World 6 Free
117. Cool Frames and Picture Effects
118. Bamboo Wallet
119. JustFollow for Instagram
120. Twitter Check
121. TurboBoost for Vine
122. PhillyD Official
123. Hybrid Fonts
124. Mixgram
125. Color Zen
126. Keyboard Pro
127. Symbol Keyboard
128. Tweetlogix for Twitter

148. Echofon for Twitter

167. TweetList (iOS 6)

Every app in bold on this list should precede every other app (save the official client) in the results. This is especially true of apps that are not optimized for iOS 8, yet some apps built for iOS 6 (not iOS 7, 6!) come first. Why? Why games appear on this list at all is a mystery, they are by far the least relevant and don’t even get me started on #18 “Alarm Clock HD” and #93 “Jedi Lightsaber” (really?). Twitter’s own Vine app doesn’t appear here until #34 and some would argue it should be result #2, and rightfully so. It’s obvious that Apple’s search algorithm needs adjusting so it’s weighted not towards downloads or popularity, but relevance.

Finding apps for a small niche category like Twitter clients is relatively easy. Imagine how hard it must be to find a particular game in the vast wilderness that is the App Store if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Until Apple decides to take definitive steps to improve search results, either via human curation, or by lowering dependencies on popularity, easy discovery in the store will continue to be a major problem. Unfortunately for small developers who need paying customers to survive, time is quickly running out.

***

PS – One thing I learned while compiling this post is that there are a lot of apps that purport to help you boost your follower count on Twitter. Like tons. That and emoji apps. Who doesn’t like emoji though? :-)

PPS – One of the ways developers let Apple know that something is broken is by filing Radar reports for a given bug or improvement. Lots of developers have filed radars for the App Store’s irrelevant search results including Radar #18265234 from Simon Booth. In his report, Simon describes just how badly a search related to his music app Smilophone returns results. If you’re an Apple dev, dupe his radar, hopefully it will do some good.

Why ‘Gotham’ Is Awesome


MINOR SPOILER WARNING: This post talks about general character direction, minor plot points, settings, etc. for Fox’s Gotham. If you know Batman lore, then you’re probably safe to read on, otherwise head back to the Batcave.

I consider myself a superhero fan, but not a super-fan. That is to say my love of the genre comes more from movies and TV than it does from knowing every little detail about a particular character’s origin, backstory and development. I haven’t read Batman comics since I was a kid and I don’t play the Batman video games. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why I’m enjoying Fox’s new show – Gotham so much. The show takes place in its name-sake city, just after the brutal murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and plays out like a gritty crime drama in the biggest, grittiest metropolis of them all, Gotham City.

Like Smallville that tracked the formative years of Clark Kent on his road to becoming Superman, Gotham gives us a sneak peek inside the young mind of Master Bruce Wayne, his guardian Alfred, Detective Jim Gordon and host of future super-villains that will one day make life a living hell for the denizens of Gotham. The comparison to Smallville ends there however. As is true so often, Batman’s story is far more interesting than Superman’s ever hoped to be. I’m a HUGE Superman fan but for some reason I could never could get into Smallville. On the other hand, Gotham has me firmly in its grasp. There are a bunch of reasons for this and I just wanted to outline a few of them here for people who are thinking about watching but who are rightly skeptical. The show just had its mid-season finale which, if you’ve not watched so far, is a great time to dive in and catch up.

Young Bruce Wayne & Alfred

Without Bruce Wayne, there’s no Batman and even though Gotham certainly plays out like a crime drama, full of colorful criminals, crooked cops and political corruption, at its heart the story is about how Bruce eventually becomes the Dark Knight. Perhaps more than any other entry thus far, Gotham gives us a unique insight into the mind of the recently-orphaned Wayne and what makes him tick. From the comics (and countless portrayals in movies & TV) we know Bruce’s parents are killed in front of him in cold blood, but from there we typically jump years ahead, learn how he discovers the Batcave, travels the world training in martial arts and eventually returns to Gotham to don the familiar cape and cowl… and that’s it.

With a weekly TV series like Gotham, writers have a unique opportunity to explore Bruce’s character like never before and show us why he changes from that frightened kid in the alley to the powerful, dark vigilante he’s destined to be. Bruce becomes obsessed with finding the person who not only killed his parents, but also learning about the crime network that made it possible in the first place. He quickly realizes he has the resources to keep tabs on just about everyone, laying the foundation for becoming a master detective in the process. He also begins to test himself, holding his breath in the family pool for as long as possible, balancing precariously on railings and more so he can become stronger both mentally and physically.

Perhaps most importantly, his legal guardian, the loyal Alfred, is there every step of the way to protect him and try and help him make sense of the tragedy that surrounds him. In subtle ways, Alfred unknowingly guides Bruce to become his future Bat-self. When Bruce is bullied at school, Alfred not only teaches him how to physically defend himself, but also makes it directly possible for Bruce to confront his attacker. All of these scenes give depth and meaning to the familiar struggles Alfred endures as Bruce fights for his life as an adult. In the universe of Gotham, Alfred has become the ultimate enabler and in my opinion, it’s the single best reason to watch the show.

The Rogue’s Gallery

Another awesome aspect of Gotham is the entire ensemble cast of characters and getting to explore the intricate web of relationships they have with each other, and ultimately Batman. The show’s primary focus on the fresh, young Detective, Jim Gordon is appropriate and Ben McKenzie does a fine turn as does Donal Logue as Gordon’s partner, Harvey Bullock. Gordon is the one good cop in a bad city which makes the monumental task of cleaning up Gotham seem even more impossible. There are crime bosses like the delightfully villainous Fish Mooney played by Jada Pinkett Smith, and of course Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot played wonderfully by Robin Lord Taylor who steals more scenes than a pickpocket steals wallets.

There’s a corrupt mayor, police commissioner, hired mercenaries and an odd assortment of crazies that Gotham just seems to breed like some twisted, evil puppy mill. It’s easy to see why the city needs a protector but until Bruce comes of age, Gordon must fill the role for the time being. Sometimes Gotham hits us over the head one too many times with the name of a character just to make sure we “get” who they are, but it’s a concession I’m willing to grant them at this early stage in the game.

Overall, the interplay of the large cast of characters is interesting and contains enough twists and turns to keep us guessing, which I like. I’m also looking forward to Morena Baccarin joining the cast as Dr. Leslie Thompkins after the mid-season break. Dr. Thompkins is an important figure in Gotham lore and should provide some much-needed matriarchal balance in Bruce’s tumultuous life. If there’s one criticism of the cast of characters, it’s that the producers rely a bit too much on the comics. I like meeting characters I’m not familiar with that have been created specifically for the TV show like Fish Mooney. Not every bad (or good) guy has to come from the comics.

Production Design

From the cavernous Gotham PD interior, to the on-location shooting in and around New York City, to the thoughtful costume design and especially the amazing CGI long-shots of the city’s waterfront, the visual design behind the Gotham is inspired. Perhaps more than any other TV show I’ve watched in recent memory, Gotham seems like an actual place. The city feels epic in scope and situated just perfectly between retro and modern styling (there are no smartphones, flat-panel monitors, etc) for today’s television audiences.

Each week, Gotham looks and feels more like a film than a TV show. It also manages to strike a great balance between shots designed specifically for television but inspired by the comics. The city itself feels huge and sprawling and a character in its own right, which was one of the things I loved most about Twin Peaks, and that’s a good thing. I especially love the long, sideways tracking shots that give us glimpses down between the city’s towering buildings. The CGI and lighting in these shots is masterful and totally realistic. Gotham’s top-notch production design sets it far above other superhero TV entries like Lois & Clark, Smallville, and Arrow and makes the stories that much more convincing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say only Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s universe feels as fully realized as Gotham’s.

Conclusion

There are lots of great reasons to watch Gotham, but perhaps the best one is that the show manages to make perfect sense of the fantastical world of Batman. Watching the stories unfold and seeing how the characters evolve from week to week brings info focus the incredible mythos that is the Dark Knight. Bob Kane created a wonderful character in Batman 75 years ago, but in all that time we’ve really only learned a little about what motivates Bruce Wayne to do what he does as well as those who surround him. Fox’s Gotham shines a bright light in that dark corner of the comic book world and the results are fun, unexpected and visually stunning. I only hope the show lasts long enough to watch Bruce grow up into the hero he’s destined to be.

I’ve Got An ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Theory


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you’ve not watched up through S2, ep 6, back away from the blog post! I’m about to talk about stuff you probably don’t wanna know. You’ve been warned!

This season of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has really been firing on all cylinders. After a slow and rocky start, the show started to really come into it’s own after the universe shaking events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier debuted in theaters. Since the fateful emergence of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s nemesis, Hydra and the subsequent dissolution of the agency, the drama has really been amped up for Coulson and his now, tiny, rag-tag team.

One of the best story lines we were introduced to at the start of S2 was Agent Jemma Simmons’ infiltration of Hydra in order to gain critical intelligence on their base of operations. Simmons (played brilliantly by Elizabeth Henstridge) worked as a scientist in one of Hydra’s top labs, flying under the radar of the big bads who, as we learned, have a penchant for brainwashing talented and gifted people to turn them into weapons against S.H.I.E.L.D. Jemma managed to feed intelligence reports to Coulson until she was discovered and rooted out in ep 5 – A Hen in the Wolf House. Thankfully she escaped unharmed and un-brainwashed – or DID she?

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Here’s my theory – Before she escaped with the help of Mockinbird “Bobbi” Morse, I think Jemma was indeed seized and put through Hydra’s brainwashing program and turned into an eventual mole against Colson, May, Skye and even the now-damanged Fitz. There are a bunch of breadcrumb clues that will make this seem obvious later on. Firstly, Ward tells Skye in the brig that Hydra’s brainwashing is only done in special cases, they have to have a certain type of personality for it to take. Jemma has always tried to be a good agent, following orders and making her superiors proud of her, in other worse she’s perfectly suited to obey programmed commands.

Second, when Morse returns Simmons to the team, Simmons thanks Coulson personally for getting her out before she was made to “Happily comply with all their commands”. Unless I missed something, there’s no way Simmons would know about Hydra’s brainwashing program, let alone the key trigger phrase “You will comply”, unless she had actually been through it herself. Trust me, she’s been turned into a sleeper agent behind our backs, and it’s going to be awesome.

The writers of S.H.I.E.L.D. have demonstrated their willingness to pull the rug out from under us as they did with the fantastic realization that Ward was a secret agent of Hydra in season 1. I think they have something similar planned with Simmons in S2. I’m not saying she’ll re-join the ranks of Hydra permanently, but I do think her story line and that of her close friend, Fitz will intersect in a most dramatic way. At some point, Fitz is going to return to his fully-functioning self and wouldn’t it be the biggest kicker if just as that happened, he and the rest of the team was betrayed by the re-programmed Jemma? Fitz would go literally off the deep end, plunging even further than he did in that box at the end of season 1. The kind of dramatic climax that represents would be off the charts and one that would make for some seriously awesome TV. Or perhaps Fitz will realize Jemma has been brainwashed and his need to protect and cure her will finally coax his brain back into working order.

Any way you cut it, this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is shaping up in fantastic fashion, with tons of action, hidden secrets and wonderful character development. I’ve enjoyed the addition of the new agents, Kyle MacLachian’s turn as Skye’s creepy father and Ward staying a bad guy and not being turned back to the side of right. I can’t wait to see what happens next, but in the meantime, I’ll be keeping one eye squarely focused on Simmons in the weeks ahead and so should you.

You Just Lost A Customer

News today that some businesses have begun disabling the NFC readers in their retail locations so as block customers from using Apple Pay. When I read this, I have to say it filled me with rage. I don’t yet own an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, but I will soon and one of the reasons why I’ve been looking forward to owning one is the secure, easy transactions that Apple Pay represents. Now we learn that a group of merchants wants to introduce their own payment processing system, one that favors the merchants by eliminating credit card fees, but is most likely far less secure, and most certainly more difficult or confusing to use.

If you’re an iPhone owner who’s as upset as I am, I’ve designed this helpful flyer that you can print a stack of and hand to the clerk at CVS, Rite Aid or anywhere else that refuses to accept Apple Pay. Simply put, you’re telling them that you’re going to take your business elsewhere until they come to their senses and accept your money via Apple Pay. Why any business owner would actually refuse a customer’s money in this economy is bewildering to say the least, but we need to let the corporate owners know we have choices and we chose not to give them our money.

Download the PDF version. If you want, sign your name at the bottom and then see they get into the hands of businesses in your area that insist on doing what’s better for them, instead of what’s best for the consumer.

You can also contact CVS and Rite Aid electronically and tell them that they need to support Apple Pay or risk alienating millions of iPhone users. The more our voices are heard, the harder it will be for them to ignore us.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Ollie!

While preparing for the onslaught of technical support that accompanies new releases of our most popular app – Twitterrific, I was curious about just how many updates we’ve actually released over the years. I looked back through the app’s version history as well as a fun timeline of Iconfactory software releases I created a few years ago to find this week’s 5.8 update is the app’s 50th since its launch in the summer of 2008.

If you had told me back then that we would still be coding and improving the little blue bird that could almost seven years later, I probably would never have believed you. Back then Twitterrific 1.0 was a fun, but unproven app for the then newly released iPhone from Apple. It was released along with the launch of the brand new App Store where users could browse hundreds (yes hundreds) of apps for their shiny new phones. At that time there was no official Twitter mobile client, I’m not even sure there were ANY other Twitter apps in the store at launch*.

Fast forward to 2014 and 50 updates later and we arrive at v5.8 for iOS 8. Given the rocky history 3rd party developers and Twitter have gone through the last few years, I’m honestly surprised we’re still here today. Over the years Twitter has focused more and more on controlling their own user experience and branding. This meant imposing design and interaction guidelines on 3rd party devs like the Iconfactory as well as capping the number of total users who can actually own Twitterrific. Thankfully, since Twitterrific was there at the very beginning, our token pool (at least on iOS) is quite large and we can afford to continue developing the app as long as it makes money. The same can’t be said for so many other smaller 3rd party Twitter developers who have either given up or sold their apps to other larger developers. One of the reasons why the Mac version of Twitterrific still hasn’t been updated is due to the limited number of user tokens available to us on the Mac platform, a policy I sincerely hope Twitter re-examines one day.

When I think of all the hard work, hand-wringing and ultimately, satisfied customers, Twitterrific has gone through over the years it really boggles my mind. Knowing that so many people use and love something you’ve created day after day is a wonderful feeling. You keep downloading and sending us positive feedback, and that motivates us to refine and improve the app. Twitterrific would never have flown as far and wide as it has if it wasn’t for all of our loyal customers, and for that we are truly thankful. If you’ve not tried Twitterrific in a while, I invite you to check it out. Everything old is new once again!

* There was at least one other 3rd party Twitter app in the store at launch – Twinkle.

Troubleshooting Broken App Store Downloads

For the past several weeks I was unable to download any app, paid or free, from the iOS App Store. Every time I tried, once I tapped the button to buy an app and input my iTunes password, the App Store would display the progress indicator as if it was about to download and then return to its default state. The app itself was never downloaded to my device.

At first I thought it was a temporary problem that would resolve itself. I tried restarting my iPhone and iPad (it was happening on both of my iOS devices) several times but that didn’t fix the issue. I tried signing out and back into iTunes via iOS Settings, but that didn’t seem to fix the issue either. I waited several days and tried again and again with no luck. My patience finally ran out and I made an appointment to see an Apple genius at my local Apple Store and thankfully he helped me resolve the issue. I thought I would share the steps he took with me for all those out there that might be having the same problem.

Here’s how he corrected the issue and got me back downloading apps on iOS:

1) Open iOS Settings > iTunes & App Store > tap your Apple ID and sign out

2) iOS Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings

NOTE: This step will clear all of your current network settings including wifi passwords. You’ll have to re-sign back into all of your saved networks, but unless you have a ton of them, it really isn’t a big deal.

3) Restart your iOS device

4) Re-connect to your current network by re-entering your password

5) iOS Settings > iTunes & App Store > log back into your Apple ID account

If all goes as well as it did for me, you should now be able to download any and all apps from the App Store once again. Before you go through the steps of resetting the network connection completely, you might simply want to try logging out and back into your Apple ID first. The genius told me that this sometimes solves the problem, as does logging out and back into your account from another (different) device like a Mac.

Hopefully this process will work as well for you as it did for me and save you a trip to the Genius Bar. Good luck!

Space:1999 + LEGO = WIN!

Builder Joe Klang recently posted images from his LEGO construction book Build Your Own Galaxy in which he features a few builds based on the cult 70′s science fiction TV series Space: 1999 and if you’re a fan of the show like I am, the results will have you beaming. Joe built incredibly detailed models of Eagle One, a large portion of Moonbase Alpha Main Missions and even minifig versions of the command crew itself including Dr. Russell, Commander Koenig and Maya. What I wouldn’t give to have his LEGO Eagle One sitting on my desk, ready for lift off. I’ve been obsessed with Space: 1999 ever since I was a boy and seeing Joe’s creations, crafted out of LEGO’s brought me right back to my youth. Bravo, Joe!

Hat tip to The Brothers Brick for this post.

The Eyes of Alfred Hitchcock

This clever and somewhat disturbing collection of moments from the films of Alfred Hitchcock is mesmerizing, strange and totally amazing. It also reminds me just how many of his films I’ve yet to see. I’m going to make an effort to correct that oversight as I’m reminded yet again just how much of a master film maker he truly was.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Conscience of the King’

The Enterprise is called to Planet Q by Dr. Thomas Leighton, a research scientist and friend of Captain Kirk. Leighton’s suspects Anton Karidian, the leader of a Shakespearean acting troupe currently on the planet, is, in fact, Kodos “the Executioner”. Kodos was the former governor of the earth colony Tarsus IV, and was responsible for the massacre of over 4000 people—including members of both Kirk’s and Leighton’s families—20 years before. Kirk decides to take the traveling troupe of actors onboard and try and discover if Karidian is truly Kodos.

Our one perfect shot comes as Karidian performs Shakespeare’s Hamlet on board the Enterprise, as he peers out from behind the metaphorical mask he’s been wearing for the past twenty years. ‘Conscience of the King‘ is a wonderful dramatic episode of Star Trek, one cited by writer and BSG creator, Ron Moore as one of his all-time favorites. There’s a great deal of allegory in the writing and its connection to Shakespeare which makes it all the more compelling as a murder mystery.

Our next episode cleverly brings the deep-sea submarine hunts of WWII to outer space in ‘The Balance of Terror’.

Muting Messages in iOS 8

One of the most useful (and hidden) features I’ve come across in iOS 8 is the ability to mute IM threads in Messages. Think of it like Do Not Disturb but on a case by case basis. I first noticed it by accident when a tiny crescent moon icon appeared next to one of my IM threads and so I Googled it to figure out what exactly it was.


When do not disturb is turned on for a particular message thread, you won’t be notified when that person(s) replies via text or iMessage. This can be really great if you want a way to ignore a person or group discussion that’s gotten out of hand. It can also be really frustrating if you happen to activate it by accident as I apparently I did without realizing it (or perhaps a bug in iOS 8?).

To turn Do Not Disturb for individual message threads on or off, tap the Details text at the top right of the Messages window to open that thread’s detail view. Next, scroll down to Do Not Disturb and toggle on or off as desired. When this feature is turned on, you won’t receive notifications when the person sends text messages or IM’s and you can go about your life notification free.

The Details view also gives you quick access to all the images that person has shared with you, as well as the ability to share your location information with the people you’re chatting with which is a nice feature as well.

The more I play with iOS 8, the more little things I find that truly set it apart from iOS 7. It’s wonderful that Apple is giving us more control over our digital world, I can’t wait to see what else is in store.

PS – I love Louie to death and would never mute his IM’s. He was gracious enough to let me use our conversation as an example. Thanks Louie! :-)

Get Your Groot Loops!

Designed by Bamboota and Elliot Fernandez, these amazing Marvel heroes t-shirts not only look great but are filled with your daily allowance of vitamins and minerals! Well, not really but they do make fantastic t-shirts and would make super-fun real-life cereal products. My personal favorite has to be Groot Loops, but Thorrios swoop in as a close second. Head on over to Sharkrobot to check them out or pick up a few for yourself, they even offer them in big sizes.

Hat tip to iO9 for this post.

A Bright Climate Future Shines in ‘What’s Possible’

Created specifically for, and presented to world leaders at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit in New York, this cool short film portrays climate change as a challenging, but solvable problem. Written by Scott Z. Burns, and produced by Lyn Davis Lear, it features the narration of none other than Morgan Freeman and stirring music by composer Hans Zimmer. Its hopeful tone reminds me of the reboot of Cosmos which recently aired on FOX which also dealt in-part with global warming.

By itself, ‘What’s Possible’ is just a single, small step on our journey to dealing with man-made climate change. Hopefully, the world leaders who experienced it, understood its message and what it means for future generations. Time is growing ever-shorter to deal with climate change which will surely be humanity’s defining challenge for the next 50 years. As Carl Sagan said in his famous essay The Pale Blue Dot:

“The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.”

Will our species stand up as Carl said, or will we continue to be consumed with short-term monitory greed and political posturing? I prefer to think we’ll come to our senses and do, not only what’s possible, but what’s right.

How to Get Sh*t-Faced Watching SyFy’s ‘Faceoff’

I admit to loving the SyFy network’s makeup reality show Faceoff. Budding young artists square off against each other each week to try and create the most elaborate, fantastic and convincing characters they can. In the last few seasons however, Faceoff has slipped into a formulaic approach where we repeatedly experience the same tropes over and over again.

It’s gotten so bad I started thinking it might actually make a great drinking game. I’m not a drinking man by nature, but if I was, a Faceoff Drinking Game would get me shit-faced (see what I did there?) super-quick. Next time you host a party and want to get sloshed with your friends, cue up any episode of Faceoff and drink whenever you spy any of the show’s oh-so-familiar trappings. You might even get drunk enough not to care that SyFy cancelled Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge. :-(

• A contestant is “excited” about this week’s Spotlight Challenge

• Two contestants who don’t work well together, naturally get paired up

• One person on a team strongly disagrees with the design direction of the other but is too timid to say anything until it’s too late

• Contestant’s makeup specialty is the very subject of this week’s challenge – zombies, vampires, steampunk, etc. (this person usually ends up being the one to go home)

• A contestant doesn’t have a “clear idea” for the direction of their makeup

• Contestant listens to sage advice from makeup master, Michael Westmore, but decides to ignore it and proceed with their own poorly designed creation

• Contestant uses a material / process they have little or no experience with

• One of the contestant’s molds “gets stuck” (take a bonus shot if said contestant starts crying on camera)

• Stuck mold miraculously freed in the last few minutes of day 2

• One of the models has an allergic reaction to a material used in their makeup

• Contestant leaves painting until Last Looks

Glenn Hetrick’s outfit is especially goth/vampire/over the top

• One of the judges complains about the poor asymmetry of a makeup

• One of the judges points out a contestant’s makeup has little or nothing to do with this week’s challenge

• The rest of the contestants give out a collective sign of “Oh no!” when they find out which one of their talent-less peers is going home this week

iOS 8 Favorite Features

On the surface, users coming from iOS 7 may not notice the myriad of changes and improvements Apple has made in their latest mobile operating system, iOS 8. Visually, iOS 8 is almost identical to its immediate predecessor, but under the hood there’s a great deal to like and even some to really love.

Much has been written about the new OS, but now having used it for a few weeks, I thought I would write about my own personal observations from the user’s perspective. I could write an entire other post about the good and bad parts of iOS 8 as they relate to developers (and perhaps I will), but for now, here are the parts of the new operating system that I’ve been enjoying the most.

3rd Party Extensions

Without a doubt, iOS 8′s single greatest feature is the ability to extend the system via 3rd party extensions. Early iPhone adopters will probably remember what the device was like before the advent of the App Store – it was cool, but killer apps made it a “must have”. I liken extensions in iOS 8 to that early invitation of 3rd party devs to the iPhone party. The most well received extension so far as been Agile Bit’s amazing security utility, 1Password. Thanks to iOS 8′s extensions you now can access your secure passwords directly within apps reducing friction and making your information more secure.

Other notable extensions include PCalc’s Today View which gives you handy computation abilities right from your iPhone’s lock screen and another personal favorite of mine – Add to Wunderlist which lets you add web pages directly to new or existing lists. Perhaps the most exciting part is that we’re just in the early days of iOS 8 extensions so we’re only seeing a fraction of the potential that 3rd party extensions represent. More great stuff is sure to come and I for one am very excited.

Directly Replying to Notifications

Swipe left on a notification on your device’s lock screen or downward from a notification within iOS 8 itself to reveal the ability to reply directly to instant messages. I have to admit that I’ve found myself using this one more and more. It saves so much time being able to reply directly it’s incredible. This is one feature I really wish Apple had implemented earlier, but I’ll surely take it now that it’s here.

Siri’s Visual Feedback

Apple’s digital assistant, Siri, has taken a cue from other popular voice-activated services like Google Voice Search and now displays helpful visual feedback when dictating text or commands in iOS 8. This really comes in handy when you have long blocks of text you want to enter and can see in real time how well (or how badly) you’re doing. It’s still not as fast or precise as Google’s version, and I don’t know how Siri stacks up against Windows Phone’s new assistant, Cortana, but it’s a big improvement none-the-less. Siri’s real-time dictation even works within 3rd party apps like Twitterrific, which was an unexpected and delightful surprise!

Perspective Zoom: OFF

Remember the old “Genie Effect” from Mac OS X where minimizing an app would make it snake down into the magic lamp of the Dock? It was kinda neat the first few times you tried it, but if you were like millions of other OS X users, you probably turned it off pretty quickly. The 3D parallax effect in iOS 7 was the Genie effect reborn for iPhone and was one of the very first things I turned off when I went from iOS 6 to iOS 7.

Now, thankfully in iOS 8 you have even greater control over the parallax effect and can turn it on or off for just the Lock Screen, the Home Screen or both. When you go into Settings > Wallpaper and choose an image to use as your Lock or Home screen, iOS 8 gives you the ability to turn Perspective Zoom on or off when you confirm the choice. Why anyone would choose to leave it turned on is beyond me, but at least now you have granularity when it comes to these cutting-edge, effects that can cause motion sickness in some people. Yay!

Recent Contact List

With fewer and fewer people using the built in Phone app, Apple wisely added a row of recent & favorite contacts to the top of the multi-tasking view. This handy list of people and places you’ve called, IM’d or written is a great way to initiate contact with them quickly and easily.

The only downside is that since I’m seeing their faces a whole lot more, I feel compelled to assign all my contacts decent looking photos for their avatars. Needless to say, not all of my friends have great pictures of themselves and this, as they say, has proven to be “challenging” to say the least. I guess we can’t all look like models from a GAP ad :-/

There are still more than a few rough edges that need sanding in iOS 8. Transition animations can be jerky, apps are prone to crash more often than in iOS 7 and devices can have problems staying connected to local WiFi networks. If history is any indication however, Apple should iron out these wrinkles in pretty short order. In the meantime there’s plenty of cool, useful new features in iOS 8 to keep all of us busy for some time and we haven’t even experienced Apple Pay or Continuity yet. The best, I suspect, is yet to come.

Star Trek: Next Gen Wallpapers for iPhone 6

UPDATE: Both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus versions have been updated to correct some minor alignment issues, took a shot at a version for Windows Phone as well as added a new more “authentic” Next Gen color scheme to choose from.

If you enjoy Star Trek as much as I do then you’ll love these free, Next Generation mobile wallpapers I designed for use with iOS. I’ve updated my original LCARS Star Trek lock screen for the brand new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus so you can be the geeky envy of all your friends. For those of you still running the smaller iPhone 5, don’t worry, there’s even a version here for you!

I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek Production Designer, Michael Okuda since day one and this project was my way of saying “Thank you!” for the wonderful, futuristic operating system that Next Gen fans know and love as LCARS. With the iPhone 6 Plus approaching the size of actual padds from Next Gen, it only made sense to bring this amazing aesthetic to the palm of our hands.

How to download and apply the wallpapers on iOS 8:

1) Click to view the wallpaper that best fits your device:

• iPhone 5 Series – Original / TNG Colors
• iPhone 6 – Original / TNG Colors
• iPhone 6 Plus – Original / TNG Colors

• Windows Phone – Original / TNG Colors
I don’t own a Windows Phone and make no promises about how this version will work for you. These are provided as is!

2) Tap & hold on the image in mobile Safari & save it to your photo library

3) Open Photos, view the image then tap the Share button in the lower left

4) Scroll to the right in the Share menu and tap Use as Wallpaper

5) Pinch Zoom OUT on the image to size it exactly to the screen

6) Turn Perspective Zoom OFF

7) Tap Set > Set Lock Screen

That’s it! Sleep/lock your iPhone and the next time you activate it, you can pretend you’re Captain Picard himself receiving an important message from Starfeet Command. I hope you enjoy this fun treat & help spread the word via Twitter and Facebook. Engage and enjoy!

Uhura’s Mysterious Armband

You have to understand, I have seen every episode of the original Star Trek series dozens of times so when I spot something I’ve never seen before it’s like receiving a wonderful, geeky present. I recently came across startrekhistory.com, an amazing repository of original Star Trek deleted scenes, unseen photos and production resources. There’s an entire section of the site dedicated to the construction of the original 11-ft model of the Starship Enterprise that no Trek fan should miss. There’s also a section devoted to deleted scenes and visual miscellany, one of which comes from the classic episode The City on the Edge of Forever – Uhura’s mysterious black armband.

I must admit that even after nearly 40 years of watching Star Trek, I had never seen this costume element before. The band is worn on her left arm and is only shown in the opening sequence. What is it? Why is it there for only this one scene? Is it simply a goof or something else that we never got to see? The authors at StarTrekHistory theorize it might have been a velcro strap that Uhura could attach her famous ear piece to when not in use, similar to how the crew wore their phasers and communicators. That theory sounds pretty plausible to me and since it never appears in any other scene in the original series, we’ll probably never know. Tiny details like Uhura’s armband may seem like minutia to the uninitiated, but to life-long Star Trek fans like myself they bring nerdy joy. I LOVE that even after all this time, I’m still discovering things about Star Trek I never knew. Utterly fascinating.

One Perfect Shot: TOS’s ‘The Menagerie Pt. I & II’

There are a few shots from the original series that fans like myself consider highly iconic. Today’s one perfect shot from the two-part episode The Menagerie is one such image. The shot features a medieval-looking castle on the planet of Rigel VII where Captain Pike (in the foreground) is forced to fight a large, hulking Kalar. This wonderful frame features a matte painting by artist Albert Whitlock that was actually improved for the re-mastered version of the original series.

The Menagerie’s skillful use of scenes and elements from the original, un-aired Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was Gene Roddenberry’s way of taking some of the pressure off the show as the schedule of the original series started to slip from week to week. By creating essentially a “flashback story” with a dramatically shorter script (just 64 pages long, shorter than the scripts for most single-part episodes), Roddenberry was able to give the production and writing teams crucial time to get back on schedule with NBC for episodes currently in production.

The castle would again be re-used in season 3′s Requiem for Methuselah as the lavish home of the immortal recluse Mr. Flint. When the re-mastered version of Requiem aired, the original shot from The Cage was replaced by an all-new, CGI version of Flint’s home on Holberg 917G.

Next up, Captain Kirk discovers the play’s the thing wherein he’ll catch The Conscience of the King.

Star Trek: The Next Generation S7 on Blu Ray

All good things must come to an end (see what I did there?) and such is the case with the high-definition conversion of Star Trek: The Next Generation on blu-ray. The final season 7 has just been announced and to geeks like myself, this is positively great news. Not so much for the episodes in S7, but hopefully because this means CBS will be that much closer to starting work on HD versions of my favorite Trek series – Deep Space Nine. All kidding aside, there are some great stories in season 7 including ‘The Pegasus’ ‘Attached’ and of course ‘All Good Things’. This final set also promises to be chock full of cast extras that should be worth the price of admission.

Head over to Amazon to pre-order your copy of Next Generation, season 7 on blu-ray today. Yes, this is an affiliate link and yes, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-ordered from my blog. Thanks for your support! :-)

‘Star Trek’ Actress Arlene Martel Dies at 78

This past week has been tremendously sad as we’ve lost several notable stars of the big and small screen. Arlene Martel, who Star Trek fans will remember for playing Spock’s Vulcan bride, T’Pring in “Amok Time,” died on Tuesday, August 12, 2014. She won’t be recognized by nearly as many people as Robin Williams or Lauren Becall but to Trek fans like myself, she holds a special place in our hearts. I’m not afraid to say I had a huge crush on Martel as T’Pring as a boy and although she appeared in other TV series including Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, The Wild, Wild West and Battlestar Galactica (1978), I’ll always remember her as the coldly logical vulcan who managed to outsmart even Spock. Rest in peace, Arlene.

Talented Pianist is Talented

Passengers at the Václav Havel Airport in Prague waiting for their flight were recently treated to an impressive display by musician Maan Hamadeh. In the clip he performs Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” in multiple styles and then around the 2:30 mark turns to the theme to ‘Titanic’ in amazing fashion. I’m always astounded by people who possess such ability for musical instruments. I tried and failed at the drums and piano as a kid but always enjoyed watching and listening to my father play the piano when I was growing up. If you have a few minutes, take a moment and enjoy this brief clip, it really is wonderful.