Cosmos Mobile Wallpaper

I’ve created a simple, fun wallpaper for your iPhone or iPad to help commemorate the premiere of the new Cosmos series on Fox. If you love all things space, head on over to the updated Goodies page to download the wallpaper for your iDevice of choice. Don’t forget to also check out my profile on Dribbble for more fun iOS downloads.

Why I’m Buying an iPhone 5c

I’ve owned an iPhone 4s for almost 2 years now and had been patiently awaiting the successor to the iPhone 5 until this week. When the 5 was first introduced, I was off-cycle for a discounted upgrade from AT&T and when I finally was eligible I thought I might as well just wait and see. I was hoping the increasing popularity of larger-screened smartphones would encourage Apple to release at least an iPhone with a 4.6″ screen in their next rev, but as I tweeted this past week, it seems Tim Cook’s pigs have yet to fly.

Now I have a choice to make. I can go with the fancy new iPhone 5s, complete with 64-bit hardware, a greatly improved camera and a cool fingerprint scanner, or I can “settle” for a 5 wrapped in a lickable, candy-coated plastic shell, the iPhone 5c. The gadget freak in me says to go with the snazzy 5s. After all, its increased speed would hold up better over the next 1.5-2 years and the pictures I took would no doubt be greatly improved from those I snap now. The 5s is more expensive, but that wasn’t the deciding factor, at least not for me.

I’ve chosen to go with the iPhone 5c for a couple reasons, but mainly because of comfort. For my money, the most comfortable smartphone to hold and use was the iPhone 3GS. Its slightly rounded back, smooth plastic construction and tight edges made it a joy to hold and use. When the iPhone 4 was introduced, I really didn’t like the device’s form factor. The metal band creates sharp edges that fatigue the fingers and collect dirt. In addition, to me the device is *too* thin to hold safely without a case. The new iPhone 5c’s smooth curves, and seamless sides call out to the scifi geek in me and the colors, oh the colors! It’s much more streamlined, minimal in appearance and seems easier to pick up off the table. I must admit however, if I could have the 5s’ guts inside the smooth, plastic shell of the 5c, I’d opt for that in a plastic heartbeat.

I know that no matter which model I pick, either will be a great upgrade from my 4s. Although it’s served me well these last two years, I’m more than ready for the increased screen size, faster processor power and increased battery life of a new iPhone. With any luck, around this time next year Apple will be introducing a 4.6″ iPhone that will sport an all new form-factor as well as all the neat-o gadgets that are sure to make the iPhone 5s a huge success. In the meantime, unlike Kermit, it’s easy being green.

PS – iOS 7 is awesome, you’re gonna love it!

Watershed Moment

Ever since Apple announced iOS 7 at WWDC, developers have been coming to grips with what the new operating system will mean for them. There’s little doubt iOS 7 represents a huge opportunity for developers to get their updated products in front of massive numbers of new users almost overnight. But there’s another opportunity here for developers, one that’s been largely ignored up until now – paid upgrades. To be more precise, all new, iOS 7 paid versions of existing applications.

I’m sure many users are expecting developers of popular applications to simply update interface elements, compile some code and easily drop a brand spanking new version of their app onto the App Store for free. There’s little doubt that the majority of iOS 7 updates to existing apps will be free (which will please Apple), but I suspect there will be a surprising number of developers who will use the launch of the new operating system to completely re-boot their app, and why not? The visual and interactive paradigms iOS 7 mark a natural breaking off point and a perfect opportunity to re-coup costs. Some existing paid apps might even adopt an iOS 7 only strategy which means they’ll have no choice but to charge again.

As any developer knows, software doesn’t magically grow on trees. Significant reworks of existing apps can represent hundreds of hours of development time and depending on the complexity of the apps in question, require much more than simply updating graphics. Taking full advantage of new APIs, designing new interactions and more can represent a healthy investment, time is money after all. At what point in the update process does a developer decide she needs to charge for it? How many users will be alienated by charging again? Will these users be offset by the *huge* influx of new people Apple brings to the table with the launch of the new OS?

Perhaps a better way to answer the question might be, how willing would you be to re-purchase your favorite apps if they are optimized for iOS 7? Look at your device’s home screen and go down the list of apps you use most and ask yourself if you could live without it once you upgrade. I think that most users (at least those that matter to developers) would answer that they would gladly pay again if it means having the latest and greatest version of their favorite apps, at least I would hope so.

With the full-priced launch of Logic Pro X, it’s now pretty clear Apple won’t be implementing a paid upgrade mechanism in the App Store. Developers are forced into either giving free upgrades for life, nickel-and-diming users with in-app purchases or occasionally launching new, paid versions of their apps. At the Iconfactory, we typically offer new paid version of our apps (xScope, Twitterrific) about every 18 months with many free upgrades in between. Though there are always users who will complain about having to pay for all-new versions, the vast majority know that in order for an app to survive and flourish, they occasionally have to do their part and support its development. Hopefully the upcoming wave of apps updated for iOS 7, both free and paid, will help people fall in love with their apps all over again.

UPDATE: Just when you thought there was hope, a new report out indicates that the average price of apps in the App Store is now at an all-time low of just $0.19. Consumers continue to expect world-class software experiences in exchange for basically nothing. The author says that the freemium model may be a “wiser business move” in the long run but I disagree. It is much harder to recoup the cost of development if you have to postpone revenue much beyond launch of your product, especially if you cannot even guarantee success. If the trend continues, I don’t see how developers can make a living on the App Store.

Entrenched

Over the past few years, there’s been a significant increase in the polarization of people’s opinions in this country. More and more, folks are unwilling to put themselves in other people’s shoes, to see their side of the story or even just listen to what they have to say. Increasingly, we as a society are either unwilling or unable to compromise on important topics that affect the vast majority of us. I’m not sure where or when this started, but I do think much of it has to do with the Internet.

Since it came into wide-spread adoption, the Internet has been a way for people of widely varied viewpoints to express themselves on any number of topics. We can read, post, blog and tweet all from the comfort of our own homes and what we say is seen by hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. More importantly, when we say something online we do so from the relative safety of digital anonymity. Although some people hide behind pseudonyms online, these days it’s more common to see people representing themselves honestly and openly. Just because they do however, doesn’t mean that we “know” them or are friends with them or even have met them in real life and I think that is an important distinction.

When we sit down and have a conversation with our family, friends or even acquaintances, we often censor ourselves for the good of our relationships. We may think someone’s opinion isn’t valid or is something we consider to be foolish, but we probably won’t tell them that to their face. Instead we often try and steer those we disagree with towards mutual understanding, we give and take, we compromise. I love my family very much but I disagree heartedly with many of their political viewpoints. When I get into a discussion about these topics with them, I don’t call my Uncle an idiot or a bozo, I calmly listen to his opinion, and if I’m feeling feisty I’ll attempt to convey some opposing viewpoints. If he listens great, if he entrenches himself and refuses to hear what I’m saying I often change the subject and move on. I love him too much to risk hurting him or his feelings and so I censor myself to some degree. I firmly believe it’s for the best.

But when I frequent political blogs and forums and told I’m an “ignorant liberal” or when I tweet about Apple’s court victory over Samsung and am called a “typical Apple fanboi”, the people that do so have no pretenses about censoring themselves. Indeed, I too am more likely to let loose when I’m exchanging ideas and thoughts with someone I’ve only met online than I would if I were sitting with them face-to-face in a restaurant or coffee shop. Yesterday, Macworld editor Dan Frakes tweeted this about Apple’s original iPhone:

As soon as I saw that tweet, I knew Dan was in for an earful. I had tweeted several times on Friday about the $1.01B judgement against Samsung by Apple and was not prepared for the amount of staunch anti-Apple sentiment that flowed into my Twitter timeline as a result. It seems that in platforms, as in politics, people have firmly chosen sides. You’re either with us or your against us and for some reason there can be no middle ground. I make my living using Apple products and have enjoyed them for well over 20 years so I have a strong affinity for technology that comes out of Cupertino. I also like to think that I’m fairly objective and have criticized Apple when I strongly disagree with a position they take. Sadly, some don’t see it this way. Apple is either the perfect corporate citizen who can do no wrong or a demon that is out to destroy open standards and lock all smartphone users into walled gardens manned by underage Chinese workers from Foxconn.

The reality, of course, is somewhere in-between. Apple’s victory over Samsung can be right and just in accordance with U.S. patent law but that doesn’t mean they “invented rounded rectangles”. It also shouldn’t mean that you and I can’t have a friendly discussion on the topic without it devolving into the digital equivalent of the Jerry Springer Show. Admittedly, when we are so entrenched in our positions it is difficult to give up any ground, especially when one feels passionately about something. However, if we are to survive and flourish as a society and have meaningful conversations, we all need to try and make a concerted effort to climb out of our fox holes and meet somewhere in the middle.

The Murky Future of 3rd Party Twitter Apps

Magic 8-Ball, it’s been a while but I have some questions about Twitter’s recent blog post. You know, the one where they talked about “stricter guidelines” for how the Twitter API is to be used by third party apps. Since Twitter isn’t talking, I was hoping you might be able to clear some stuff up for me. Can I ask you some questions now?

Yes

All this talk about stricter guidelines and a “consistent Twitter experience” seems pretty ominous, should developers of 3rd party Twitter apps like me be worried?

Reply hazy, try again

I mean some people are calling Twitter’s non-announcement a “bombshell”. Are things really that bad?

Better not tell you now

What do you mean? Are you saying that 3rd party apps are about to become extinct or that Twitter just wants each app to display the timeline in a similar fashion?

Concentrate and ask again

I know Twitter’s got to start making serious money to pay for it’s massive overhead, are we talking about ads in the timeline?

Outlook good

If we’re talking about ads, I can deal with that. I’d rather have promoted tweets in Twitterrific than being forced to stop developing it completely.

What about expanded tweets, will Twitter force us to build some form of them into our apps?

Signs point to yes

If we don’t, do you really think Twitter would restrict API access and hang 3rd party apps out to dry?

Better not tell you now

That’s very comforting, thanks.

Don’t you think Twitter’s users would revolt if they took away our Tweetbots, Hibaris and Twitterrifics?

As I see it, yes

Damn straight they would. There are many developers and companies who have build their livelihood around the Twitter API since 2007. We even helped Twitter evolve and grow to where it is today. Are you saying none of that matters now?

Without a doubt

Frak.

Some developers are already suggesting we start creating a web-based, open alternative to Twitter using something like RSS. Would that really work? Would users really switch away from Twitter for a grass-roots service?

Don’t count on it

Do you think it’s a good idea for developers like us to keep coding away on their apps for now?

Most likely

Could the folks at Twitter have done a better job with their blog post to help stop the spread of paralyzing FUD?

It is certain

You really haven’t been much help to me. One last question…

Is the golden age of 3rd party Twitter apps over?

Ask again later

Meh! What do you know, anyway!

Ski Safari: 007 Edition

Lately I’ve been playing a great deal of Ski Safari, a wonderful casual game from Defiant Development for iOS. The game is a high score climber similar to the awesome Tiny Wings, in which you play play Sven, a skier trying to stay ahead of an ever-approaching avalanche. The object of the game is to simply get as far as possible, picking up coins, speed boosts and various forms of animals like penguins and even Yeti’s in a high-paced race to stay alive. Developers Brendan Watts & Shawn Eustace have done a marvelous job of making Ski Safari fun, addictive and immensely satisfying to play. I have a bit of a competition going on with a few of my friends as we play a high-stakes game of one-upmanship on the snowy slopes of the high Alps.

The game is pretty awesome as it’s designed, but I recently discovered I could make amp up the coolness by a factor of 10 or so simply by turning off the default music in the game and substituting my own action-packed soundtrack. And what soundtracks are best suited for racing down snow-covered mountains at breakneck speeds? Why none other than the ultimate spy, James Bond, of course! If you own any of theme tracks from the James Bond films, simply start them playing on loop and then turn off the in-game music to give yourself the ultimate action sequence experience. I’ve found that “Runaway” from Roger Moore’s For Your Eyes Only and “Bond 77” from The Spy Who Loved Me, are the perfect Ski Safari tracks, but your death-defying milage may vary.

Maybe the developers of Ski Safari will eventually see fit to make a James Bond-esque version of their game complete with bad guys on black snowmobiles, machine guns and deadly helicopters chasing you, but until they do, this is the next next best thing. Have fun and do try and come back in one piece, 007!

Ramp Champ’s Ticket to Ride

Back when Ramp Champ was released for the iPhone in August of 2009, it was one of only a handful of boardwalk style games in the App Store. Although it had taken much longer to produce than we had initially thought, all of us at the Iconfactory and DS Media Labs were proud of the effort. From its pixel-perfect artwork, and the fantastic original soundtrack to the design of Ramp Champ’s in-app purchases, every part was crafted with love. I wrote back then that the game was a huge risk for us as developers, but no matter what happened, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. All of us had tons of fun creating the game and the effort was hugely rewarding. Fans loved the rich graphics and cleverly designed puzzles that brought back memories of arcades and boardwalks long gone.

Shortly after Ramp Champ’s release, Skee-Ball by Freeverse hit the App Store and quickly stole Ramp Champ’s momentum. Skee-Ball was limited in its game play and far less graphically rich than Ramp Champ, but thanks to its straight-forward approach and realistic 3D physics, it became a huge hit. With Skee-Ball’s success, dreams of hitting the top 25 of the App Store quickly faded and although the game held its own, it never rose to the level that we had hoped it would. We produced several new add-on ramp packs for the game, but both the Iconfactory’s and DS’s resources were limited and we each turned our attention to other projects.

With the advent of the iPhone 4′s retina display 4 in June of 2010, Ramp Champ fans clamored for an updated version of the game with new high-resoultion graphics. The problem was that most of the content for the game was produced using raster (bit-mapped) graphics, not scaleable vectors and re-creating the entire game for retina proved cost prohibitive. For a while there was talk of a sequel that would be designed around all new vector graphics, and an internal prototype was even built, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Sometimes it’s difficult for small companies to devote time and money to a project when success is far from assured and such was the case with Ramp Champ. Its future seemed bleak indeed.

Then near the end of 2011, Ben Stahlhood and I started talking about DS Media Labs taking the reins of our favorite gaming son. DS had gone through some restructuring and was hiring fresh new talent to position themselves well for 2012. It’s always tough handing one of your most treasured creations to another to foster, but with Ramp Champ the move made sense. DS had been a fantastic partner in the game’s creation and we knew that if anyone was going to give Ramp Champ a bright future it would be them. With our development efforts focused on xScope, Twitterrific and the upcoming Astronut for iPad, we finalized the arrangement and I’m pleased with the result. I don’t know what’s in store for Ramp Champ any more than you do, but DS’s recent press release promises at least updated retina graphics, and I’m confident there will be much more to come after that.

All of us at the Iconfactory wish Ben and the gang at DS Media Labs all the best in their success. We look forward to rolling balls, knocking down those damn ducks and collecting tickets for even bigger and better prizes when Ramp Champ ultimately gets the update it so badly deserves. Good luck gang!

Review: Paper for iPad

There are literally dozens of drawing/painting apps for iOS. Some of my favorites include Procreate, Penultimate, ArtRage and now Paper from FiftyThree, Inc. This new app burst onto the App Store recently and has been receiving a great deal of attention for its fresh approach to the genre of the sketch app. Much has already been written about Paper and so I’m going to try and cut right to the chase with my review by detailing things the app does well and areas where it’s lacking. If you want to know how Paper may or may not fit into your work flow, then by all means read on.

The Good

Simplicity

Above everything else, Paper keeps the interaction between the app and the user simple. This design decision is by far its greatest asset, but it is also its greatest weakness (more on this later). Getting into your sketchbook and starting work is dead simple. Thumb through drawings, access tools, and draw away. You can also add pages to your sketchbooks and share your work via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or email. There doesn’t seem to be a way to send drawings to the camera roll, but taking a quick screen shot does the job in a pinch. The entire app feels light, easy to get around in and, for the most part, doesn’t suffer from being over-designed.

Brushes

Paper has one of the best media engines I’ve ever encountered in a painting or drawing app. The pencil tool as well as the watercolor brush behave almost like their real world counterparts and are a sheer joy to use. Drawing speed helps determine stroke width with certain tools, and opacity with others. The overall effect is wonderful.

In-App Purchases

Some will say this isn’t a plus for an app like Paper. Many users don’t appreciate having to unlock functionality inside of an app that they thought was initially free, but Paper’s implementation of their in-app purchases is extremely well done. You buy only the tools you want and the app even lets you test drive the brushes prior to purchase so you can get a feel for them. Finally, there is an “Essentials” bundle that gives a small discount compared to buying all of the individual tools separately. If I find an app compelling, I certainly don’t mind paying for it and Paper’s in-app purchase model lets me pick and choose the parts I like most.

The Details

Customize the cover of your sketchbooks. Blend colors with the paint brush. Effortlessly flip between drawings that beautifully highlight your work. The devil is in the details and Paper does a deft job of getting them right.

Could Be Better

Rewind/Undo

The two-fingered gesture to step back (or forward) through your drawing is clumsy. Often times it takes me far longer to get to just the proper undo point with the gesture than it would if undoing was a simple button. I also sometimes make stray marks on the page when attempting to make the undo gesture. In addition, the number of undo states is far too small, especially when using techniques like cross-hatching. I also wish that rewinding would take you back through drawing a stroke little by little, but it doesn’t, it removes the last stroke in its entirety.

Colors

The selection of colors in Paper is extremely limited. There are a total of nine to choose from and of those, none of them are any shade of blue. The developer encourages users to go old school and mix colors to form new ones but the inability to select custom colors is a major deal breaker. I can’t use the app to sketch concepts for clients (or even myself) if I don’t have access to the entire range of colors I need, especially ones like blue and red.

Landscape

The app is perpetually locked in landscape mode and it’s extremely frustrating. I presume the developers did this to accommodate the wide screen design of the main menu, but I sincerely hope they add the ability to use Paper in portrait eventually.

Immutable Drawings

Unlike many other drawing/painting apps, once you place a mark on the page, that’s where it stays. There is no way to re-position a drawing or even a portion of one once it’s made. Some would say this simply echos a real-life sketch pad, but if I wanted a real sketch pad I would use one. I use Paper and apps like it because they give me additional flexibility when creating. Not being able to re-position elements on the page is frustrating and feels antithetical to the app’s overall design.

The Bad

Zooming

I want the ability to be able to zoom in and add details to my sketches or out and fill larger areas with colors quickly. Adding zooming would almost eliminate the need for various brush sizes, so if I had to choose between the two I’d take zooming. In addition, my brand new retina iPad has millions of pixels at its disposal. Paper’s lack of pinch zoom means a good many of them are going to waste.

Fills

The app desperately needs a fill tool. The watercolor brush does an inadequate job of filling large areas with solid colors and sometimes that’s just what you need. I’d love to be able to sketch in white pencil on black paper, but that isn’t possible in Paper. A fill tool would rectify this glaring deficiency rather nicely.

Sortable, editable layers would have been nice here.
Layers

Adding layers ala Photoshop would significantly increase the app’s complexity and FiftyThree may be unwilling to go there just yet which is fine. I do hope it comes eventually however because I often wish for the ability to erase or tweak individual elements of a sketch independently of the rest. I’m sure the talented folks there could find a way to add drawing layers to Paper in a simple and elegant fashion. I’d also like a way to lock a sketch once it’s done so I don’t accidentally add stray marks, which seems to happen often.

Conclusions

If you’re looking for a simple, straight forward tool for sketching you’ll probably find Paper both fun and elegant. I suspect this is what Daring Fireball author John Gruber meant when he said the app was “Exquisitely well-done”. I wouldn’t go that far but there’s a great deal to like in FifthThree’s initial effort. The app is a testament to beautiful user interface design, unfortunately it lacks too many features in my opinion to be used as anything more than a simple notebook. Paper’s limited undo states, narrow color palette, in-ability to re-position elements on the page and lack of zooming all force me to turn to other drawing apps when I want to truly create.

The good news is that Paper is a 1.0 product and as such I’m confident that improvements will come quickly. If the app simply added a long tap on color wells to bring up a picker and the ability to zoom in and out of a drawing, Paper would instantly become about 10x as useful as it is now. Since the app is free to try with the built-in quill pen, there’s no reason not to download and check it out yourself. I’ve definitely enjoyed exploring the app and it’s given me new reasons to try drawing with various styluses, but that’s blog post for another day.

My friend Dave Caolo recently told me that his kids love Paper. They each have their own sketchbooks and enjoy doodling and coloring very much. This comment is telling because right now Paper feels very much like a kids app. It has lots of potential but it’s too immature to really be useful. In their quest to make a dead simple iPad sketch app, FiftyThree may have sacrificed a bit too much functionality. Paper may be just what you’re looking for to jot down notes and quick sketches on the go, but I personally hope FiftyThree eventually lets Paper sit at the grown-up table.

Retina iPad Roundtable

Rene Ritchie, Seth Clifford and Marc Edwards invited myself and App Cubby’s David Barnard to discuss the new retina iPad last week. Ep. 18 of the IterateTV podcast ended up being a smart discussion of the new devices’s strengths and weaknesses, tools and processes we use to develop for it and our take on the future of resolution independence. I spend some time talking about the Iconfactory’s upcoming retina work on Carcassonne and generally try to keep up with the huge brains of the fine fellows gathered around the microphone. If you design for iOS or just want to hear our take on Apple’s new hardware, check it out.

Effortless Unboxing

Apple already has one of the best unboxing experiences of any company on the planet. The industrial, packaging and graphic designers have gone to considerable pains to make sure that customers are extremely satisfied when they first open and activate their new Apple hardware. With iOS 5′s ‘PC Free’ technology, in combination with iCloud, Apple’s customers no longer need to attach their new iPhone or iPad to a desktop computer to start using it. All this is wonderful, but could Apple’s unboxing experience be even better?

Yes it could.

Imagine opening your new iPad that arrives by FedEx this morning, turning on the device and finding it already ready to use. No input of your Apple ID, no syncing of contacts, bookmarks or even apps. You turn the iPad on and it’s ready to go. Using the online ordering service via Apple.com in conjunction with your existing Apple ID, this kind of effortless unboxing experience could easily become reality. Ask any Kindle owner how awesome it is power on their new device and find all their books already there, ready to read. I could easily see an option at the end of Apple’s online ordering system that would give permission to use your Apple ID to pre-sync your new iDevice with your iCloud content.

There’s something to be said for the actual process of setting up your gadgets. The geek in us loves the discovery and rush we get from seeing, touching and exploring new technology and in that way, perhaps the current unboxing experience is superior. It gives Apple a chance to highlight just how elegant the process really is. That said, Apple is always designing for the 80%, not the geek and if that means giving customers the ability to simply open the box and go, I’m sure we’ll see it in the very near future.

[Hat tip: @BigZaphod @dlanham and @TandyQ contributed to this post]