Category Archives: iOS

The Mobile App Gap



The history of mobile applications dates back to simple games such as Snake, Pong, Tetris, and Tic-Tac-Toe included with candy bar phones.

As phones became “smarter,” Windows Mobile phones of the mid-2000’s and others included the ability to install third-party software, both paid and free.

Next came the era of the high noise level platform app stores that we know and love/hate today. There are tons of both free and paid apps. Some apps are useful to accomplish very specific, pointed tasks with high efficiency. Others apps are arguably less than useless. The good and the bad, the useful and the useless are packaged together in a cacophony of brightly-colored graphics and flowery sales language, all on equal footing and demanding attention. App discovery is often painful, unpleasant and risks device app bloat.

Mobile device ownership and management requires a learning curve. In phase one, the mobile device novice is at high risk of downloading seemingly every app encountered, while actually making use of very little of that which has been installed.

Phase two of the learning curve is typically marked by out of storage memory errors.

Phase three requires the user to decide which useless apps should be deleted so that the mobile device can continue to be updated and/or functional. When deleting apps, there is a tendency for the user to hang on to installed apps if there’s even the most remote of chances that the user might conceivably use the app.

The key test to determine whether a particular app should simply be deleted is to ask yourself whether or not you would reinstall it after a factory reset.

It should be noted that apps that the user has paid for will tend to have a higher psychological value placed on them, regardless of whether they are actually useful or not.

In this noisy mobile app jungle, where crap is right alongside cream, people are trying to squeeze the most out of their mobile devices, to extract the maximum productivity.

Mobile devices make great content consumption devices. Proof is all around us. At any given moment when people are around, how many of those people are absorbed with their mobile devices?

As mobile devices become ever more powerful, the next step in the evolution of the mobile device usage learning curve is revolving around increasing demand to accomplish real-world productivity tasks. While some productivity tasks can be accomplished, others are difficult or impossible – not because of computing power limitations – after all, today’s mobile devices often have quite powerful processors – no, because of software limitations.

Mobile device operating systems have grown larger and more sophisticated along with the more powerful processors. However, there is a problem plaguing both iOS and Android in the form of an app gap. Apps are wannabe pretenders when it comes to genuine software sophistication. No mobile device apps can compare on equal footing with desktop computer software. Both major platforms – iOS and Android – suffer from this problem.

There is nothing stopping software vendors from developing highly sophisticated mobile software, other than the fact that it’s typically just not worth it. For whatever reason, mobile device owners have a pervasive “it has to be free or very low cost” mentality. We are willing to spend upwards of a thousand dollars or even more for a high end mobile device, but balk at the idea of having to pay more than a few dollars for single apps.

If you have ever tried to push a mobile device to better take advantage of its powerful processing capabilities, you quickly run into a problem. Go beyond a certain level of task sophistication, and the apps typically fall flat very quickly. The ultimate test for mobile apps is to take a mobile device and plug it in to a 1080p or higher monitor. Attach a keyboard and if it’s an Android device, attach a mouse or trackpad. Try to use the mobile device and the installed apps like you would a full computer. For example, try to push the experience to its limits by editing a long, complex video and see how well it goes. The mobile software will play back high resolution videos without any trouble at all, but try to do something really productive and things quickly fall apart. The problem isn’t the processor, but the software.

The mobile app gap situation doesn’t look as if it will improve anytime soon. In the meantime, as mobile device owners and users there are a lot of questions we should be asking ourselves.

How much are you willing to pay for mobile device apps? What has been your experience? Have you ever paid for an app and then realized later that it was a waste of money? What is the most you have ever paid for a mobile app and why?

Why are people willing to pay sometimes hundreds of dollars for sophisticated commercial desktop class software without batting an eye, yet close their wallets when it comes to paid apps for mobile devices? Do people perceive mobile devices to have as big of a potential payoff as a desktop or laptop? If mobile computing devices don’t have the same payoff potential as a desktop or laptop, then why not? What is the difference between the two systems? What can be done to increase the potential payoff value of mobile computing devices?


Cook Reluctant To Fundamentally Alter iOS?



Created with Microsoft Fresh PaintCould Apple be faced with the classic innovator’s dilemma?

About 10 years ago I got bit by the Apple bug. A friend sold me his original Mac Mini running a G4 processor, and I was immediately hooked. At the time the machine was no powerhouse, however it was quite capable for basic computing tasks of the time. It died a few years later following lots of use, probably of a failed hard drive, though by then totally obsolete and not worth trying to repair.

Once Apple made the switch to Intel chips, I was all in. Apple computers were more expensive, but at that time Apple gave good value for the extra cost. My first two Apple laptops could actually be upgraded with larger capacity hard drives and more memory. The now 9-year-old white plastic MacBook still boots up and works well helped by the addition of an SSD, and the 17” MacBook Pro from 2007 still works though has developed a stuck mouse button problem. The problem with both of these machines is that technology has continued to move forward and my expectations have changed.

If we look back, technological devices are continually converging. The most useful functions of a particular device almost always get recombined into new convergence devices. The original devices may end up going completely away, or can end up as specialty devices. Device convergence pressures are relentless, driven in large part by new technical knowledge.

Steve Jobs seemed to have a particularly good knack for being able to pick out which convergence devices would catch on with the public and position his company to take advantage of what he saw coming. Like an expert surfer setting himself up for major waves, Jobs did this with the iMac, the original iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Jobs also had the ability to pivot if he saw that his personal predictions were wrong, for example adding apps to the iPhone after famously saying people didn’t want apps on their smartphones.

After he knew his death was impending, Jobs is said to have left Apple with at least 5 years’ worth of new product ideas.

Since the death of Steve Jobs more than four years ago on October 5, 2011, Apple has gone on to become the richest corporation in history. However, that success is perched precariously on the continuing phenomenal sales success of the iPhone.

In the meantime, technology and customer expectations have marched on. The pressure for device convergence yields for no one. Capacitive touchscreens now dominate the landscape. Gordon Moore’s Law continues its march forward towards smaller, cheaper and faster.

In portable computing, I now have a tablet in the form of a Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10 that is also a real PC capable of running desktop software. Since getting the Surface Pro 3, I am using it for everything – writing articles, podcast audio recording and editing, HD video editing including 4k, watching movies, and another use that turned out to be a total surprise. The Surface Pro 3 (and 4) comes with the Microsoft Pen. I now find myself motivated to learn the skill of drawing and digital art, which came completely out of left field.

My computing expectations have changed. I want a true convergence device. Apple doesn’t offer such a device. Furthermore, Cook keeps resisting the convergence idea itself.

Tim Cook again today discouraged the idea of making a Mac/iPad convergence device. Quoting Cook:

“We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad. Because what that would wind up doing, or what we’re worried would happen, is that neither experience would be as good as the customer wants. So we want to make the best tablet in the world and the best Mac in the world. And putting those two together would not achieve either. You’d begin to compromise in different ways.”

Why not experiment? Cook’s statement is couched in terms of “protecting” the customer, and “worrying,” but I believe something else is going on. Cook is afraid of radically altering the iOS experience, after all the iPhone is Apple’s giant cash cow. Why wouldn’t Cook want to innovate iOS beyond altering its cosmetics? Is Cook reluctant to tamper too much with the iPhone for fear of damaging iPhone sales?

Has Apple ran into the innovator’s dilemma?

Alas we have perhaps run into a fundamental difference between Tim Cook and Steve Jobs. One of the hallmarks of Steve Jobs was his willingness to cannibalize existing sales with new product convergence devices. For example, the iPhone cannibalized iPod sales because the iPod function was converged directly into the iPhone.

The new iPad Pro at the end of the day is just a physically larger, faster iPad. Trying to use the iPad for anything more than a media consumption device is a genuine pain. The iPad itself is just a giant iPod Touch. An iPod Touch is an iPhone without the phone.

Thus, the innovator’s dilemma. Does Apple come out with a tablet that is also a touchscreen Mac similar to the Surface Pro 4, or a touchscreen Mac that also doubles as a tablet similar to the Microsoft SurfaceBook? Would such a hybrid device cause customer expectations for the iPhone to change in ways that might negatively impact sales?

Apple as a corporate machine is showing signs of rusting around the edges. Recent software and hardware product releases haven’t gone smoothly. Products seem rushed out the door before they are ready for primetime. Some customers waited months for the pointless Apple Watch. The new generation 4 Apple TV has interface problems, as well as bugs. The latest version of OS/X El Capitan is afflicted with many continuing bugs. iOS 9.x has continuing bugs. Even the new iPad Pro was inexplicably put on sale without the availability of the Apple Pencil stylus or the Apple Keyboard, both initially sold as being fundamentally important to the existence of the product. These problems would have never been tolerated or allowed to happen if Steve Jobs were still around running the Apple show. The well-oiled machine that was Apple under Steve Jobs is starting to fall into corporate dysfunction.

Apple has plenty of money in the bank, and iPhone sales are likely to continue to be strong in the short to mid-term, even if the nature of the iPhone itself isn’t fundamentally altered. That being said, technical knowledge and Moore’s Law continue to march ahead. Customer expectations change – will Apple?


Neko Atsume is Now in English



Neko Atsume gameNeko Atsume: Kitty Collector is an adorable game where players collect cats. The incredibly cute artwork caught my attention right away. A recent update allows players to toggle between Japanese and English in the game.

The adorable artwork was what first attracted me to this game. All of the text in the game was written in Japanese, and this left me guessing about how to navigate through the menus and what the different items were called. Although most of the game is fairly intuitive, there were times when I needed to search online for an explanation about things.

Neko Atsume in English

The recent update of Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector allows players who use iOS devices to toggle between Japanese and English. Suddenly, I could read the names of the gifts that some of the cats have given me. I discovered that some of the mats were actually heating pads. Some of the item descriptions are amusing. At this time, the update that enabled English is only available on iOS.

This cute collector game is extremely simple to play. Fill the food dish and put some toys, beds, or other items into the space. Random cats will come and visit (until the food runs out). Check in periodically and you might find a cat taking a nap or playing with a toy that you left out for them. If the food runs out, you won’t get any more cats until you fill the dish again. Unlike other pet related games, the cats don’t die if the food runs out. (They just stop visiting you for a while).

The overall goal seems to be encourage all of the different cats to visit. There is an album that shows players information about the different cats that have appeared, and the kinds of things they like to play with. Some cats will decide to become your friend and bring you a special gift.

Cats that visit will “pay” you in fish. Those that were especially happy will “pay” you with golden sardines. These are the two currencies in the game. Eventually, you will collect enough to buy more stuff for your cats to use. This game is appropriate for kids to play, and they can use the in-game currency to shop in the store for more stuff. Parents should be aware that the purchase of additional golden sardines costs real-world money.


Zoom Function Broken in iOS 9



iOS 9 logoIt can be a gamble upgrading to a new version of any operating system. The latest iteration of iOS has proven this true once again. Users are reporting a wide range of bugs and quirks after updating their iPhones and iPads to iOS 9. For example, Apple’s proprietary Podcasts app began constantly crashing after the iOS 9 upgrade.

Another problem I’ve noticed is that the system-wide zoom function, found in the Accessibility section of iOS’s System settings, is now very erratic. Sometimes, it works as expected. But most of the time, it doesn’t.

Most iOS users probably aren’t even aware of this zoom function. But as a visually impaired person, I rely on it all the time. Once system-wide room is enabled, it’s engaged by doing a three-finger double-tap on the screen. From there, a three-finger drag allows the user to adjust the magnification level of the zoom. It’s an indispensable feature, especially for apps that don’t utilize the standard pinch-to-zoom function.

I visited the Genus Bar of my local Apple Store on Tuesday. I wanted to make sure that this problem wasn’t the result of something I’d overlooked. My genius stopped just short of saying it was the iOS update that caused the problem but she did say it looks like a software issue. She also said that doing a full wipe and restore of the device might help. But that was no guarantee.

I have reported my findings thru Apple’s official product feedback system. Now, all I can do is wait and see if a future update fixes the problem. I had hoped it’d be resolved with the 9.0.1 update that came out yesterday. But the problem is still there.


Apple has Approved the Hinder App



Hinder appHinder is an app that was created by Lizz Winstead. As you might know, she is a co-creator of the Daily Show. She’s also a writer, producer, comic, and part of Lady Parts Justice, which is a group of comedians who use comedy and satire to bring attention to legislation regarding women’s access to birth control and abortion.

The Hinder app could be described as a form of political satire. It functions similarly to Tinder, but instead of showing you people whom you might want to date, it shows you politicians. You can see a photo of the politician and a quote that he or she actually said about women, women’s health care, and issues relating to equality.

In addition to a photo and a quote, Hinder gives you more information about the politician who is on the screen. If you think that politician is a horrible person, and you want to warn your friends about him or her, you can. Swipe left, and Hinder will let you share that information with your friends on Facebook or Twitter.

What if you happen to agree with the politician’s viewpoints (and/or actions), and want to share that with your friends? Swipe right, and you can share that information with your friends after you make a donation to Lady Parts Justice.

Like Tinder, Hinder can show you politicians who are “in your area”. Pick the state that you live in, and you can see politicians, (and judges) from that state.

Hinder is an iOS app. Earlier today, Huffington Post reported that Apple had blocked Hinder from the iTunes store. Apple felt that the content violated Rule 14 of its app review guidelines, which bans apps that are “defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harms way.” This rule is lifted for “professional political satirists and humorists”.

Clearly, Lizz Winstead fits that description. There was a social media push to convince Apple to reconsider. Within nine hours, Apple chose to approve Hinder. You can get the app from iTunes or the Lady Parts Justice website.


PicLab HD: Spice Up Your iPhone Photos



hd-iconLike many photographers, I’ve spent countless hours experimenting with a seemingly endless stream of photo apps for iPhone. While Photoshop is great for hardcore RAW editing on a desktop, sometimes you need a quick and simple solution for editing photos on the go. The latest addition to my mobile photo arsenal is a beautiful little tool called PicLab HD.

PicLab HD is a powerful design studio that enhances your photos with a plethora of effects and overlays. Just import a photo from your photo library and browse through the extensive catalog of filters, moods, stickers, and overlays. You can also perform basic adjustments such as contrast, brightness, saturation, and blur.

The cool thing that sets PicLab HD apart from other photo editors is its wide variety of text and artwork overlays, all created by professional designers. You can customize the size and color of the overlays to create the perfect addition to any picture. The $1.99 app includes several collections of these stickers, and you can purchase additional packages for $0.99 each, or purchase the entire catalog of artwork for $2.99.THIS TO THISThe free version of PicLab doesn’t include as many features as PicLab HD, but it’s a good place to start experimenting with what the PicLab ecosystem has to offer. You can upgrade from within the free app to access the features of the HD version, or download PicLab HD directly for $1.99 in the App Store. If you’re a serious photographer/designer/artist/enthusiast, I recommend making the plunge and buying PicLab HD– it’s most definitely worth it!


App Review: Thyme for iOS



Thyme logoCooking meals at home used to be a way of life for most Americans. But over time, we’ve become more accustomed to dining out or ordering in. Having food prepared outside of the home is nice, but that food is often more expensive and less healthy than home-cooked fair. And for those of us who are trying to rely less on carryout and more on our own kitchens, there are a variety of apps that aid in the process. One such app is called Thyme and I’ve been using it for awhile.

Thyme bills itself as “the smart kitchen timer app.” And that’s a pretty accurate description. The app is very straightforward and dead simple to use. Upon loading, Thyme gives you a familiar-looking graphic that mirrors the layout of a typical stove, with four circles on top that represent burners and one larger circle at the bottom that represents an oven.

Thyme app

Thyme suggests that you “tap a plate” to set a timer. Doing so brings up a screen that allows you to set that specific timer. Pick the time you need by dragging a finger around the edge of the timer circle.

Thyme app

Thyme begins counting down on that specific timer. Repeat the process for as many other items as you need to time. Here’s what Thyme looks like when one burner and the oven are being timed simultaneously:

Thyme app

When a timer is completed, Thyme will send a push notification including an audible alarm sound. If you have the app open when a timer expires, it looks like this:

Thyme app

Keep in mind that if you have your iOS device’s volume turned off, you won’t hear the alarm when it sounds. So, make sure the device hasn’t been switched to silent before starting a timer.

Thyme isn’t packed with features but it’s a fine little app for what it does. Thyme is available for $0.99 on the App Store but it does occasionally turn up as a free download. Check this app out if you’re in need of a comprehensive kitchen timer.