Category Archives: iOS

iPod Touch

Why doesn’t Apple improve on the iPod Touch every couple years? Why not take older chip sets — maybe a model from last years iPhone — and leave the form factor alone? Just keep stuffing updated tech into the existing design.

There are folks that can’t afford to buy their kids an iPhone but the iPod Touch may fit nicely into their budget.

Yep, it's a rooster.As a developer this is also a nice machine for testing. The only issue I see is it hasn’t been revved in a long time. It’s still using an A8 processor but it is still slightly ahead of the iPhone 5s which uses an A7. that’s important because the iPhone 5s is the lowest end iPhone that supports iOS 12. That means we could get another couple years use out of the current generation iPod Touch.

The iPod Touch with 128GB of storage sells for $299US.

Fingers crossed Apple updates it soon.

UIKit for Mac

mar·zi·pan
[mahr-zuh-pan]
noun: marzipan

  • a sweet, yellowish paste of ground almonds, sugar, and egg whites, often colored and used to make small cakes or confections or as an icing for larger cakes.
  • a new Apple Framework for building Mac and iOS Apps from the same source code.

A unified Apple Framework makes sense. By this time AppKit is fairly old, it began life at NeXT and moved forward as Apple’s new framework on macOS. When Apple created iOS it made sense to reconsider the user interface and user experience for a touch based interface. Having support for mouse clicks and menus didn’t make a lot of sense for something so small controlled with your finger. Enter UIKit.

To say iOS became a shooting star, Apple’s crowning achievement, would be an understatement. It’s wildly popular amongst users and developers alike. So much so Apple has kind of pushed macOS into the background and allowed its younger brother to take center state. It’s not that macOS isn’t popular — because it is — it’s just that iOS is much, much, bigger than anyone could’ve estimated. As a result Apple spends most of its time working on iOS, or at least it seems that way.

In the episode Marzipan: Apple’s Next Big Software Thing! of Rene Ritchie’s VECTOR he discusses Marzipan with a lot of well known developers and writers. None of the folks go as far to think Apple could be making a monumental leap forward with Marzipan. What if Apple goes all in on a brand new framework completely written in Swift? I know it’s not likely to happen, but what if it does?

Obviously that would be hugely upsetting for the Mac and iOS ecosystem. But on the flip side it would give developers a clean slate to work with. Something designed to work for touch and mouse and keyboard input. It would give Apple the chance to shake off years cruft and reimagine applications and frameworks without the constraints imposed by Cocoa or Cocoa Touch.

Am I crazy? Yes, a little. I know current developers — especially Mac developers — would lose their minds. It would be the second time Apple changed direction on them in a potentially radical way. This wouldn’t be quite so egregious. The move from Mac OS 9 to Mac OSX was monumental. A brand new OS and a brand new way to code, not easy to adjust to after years of working with an OS and API. Carbon eased folks into it, but the transition was still extremely difficult for some development shops, like Adobe.

Duct tape. Fixer of all thingsOf course they don’t have to go all in. I doubt they’d be that extreme. There are simple things they could do to unify Cocoa and Cocoa Touch. An extremely simple example I can think of is unifying NSColor and UIColor. Over time we’ve seen some text attributes move to their NS* counterparts, why not start with the simple things and work down the stack?

I also don’t consider going from iOS to macOS cross platform. I know they’re slightly different but they are in the same family. If you’re doing iOS development macOS should feel somewhat familiar to you. Sure the controls are different on the platforms and there’s the matter of touch vs. mouse driven, but I believe calling Cocoa based applications cross platform between Mac and iOS is a bit of a stretch. If you’re taking one set of code from iOS to Windows that is what I’d consider cross platform.

Post WWDC 2018 Thoughts

Eat your own dog food.I penned everything above quite a while back, March 11, 2018 to be exact.

While on stage at WWDC Apple announced UIKit for Mac. Four UIKit for Mac applications will ship with macOS Mojave this fall; News, Stocks, Home, and Voice Memos. This is great news for anyone interested in bringing their own iOS Applications to macOS. It means Apple is dogfooding UIKit for Mac while it’s in active development. From all reports it’s really rough around the edges but we can all hope some of those edges are smoothed out before Mojave makes its debut but it’s ok if the applications and framework are a bit rough at first. Why? Apple said on stage UIKit for Mac wouldn’t be generally available until 2019 and that it was a multiyear project. This tells me we should expect a gradual move of UIKit downward into AppKit until UIKit either becomes a part of AppKit architecturally or the Mac specific bits of AppKit become a part of the “new” UIKit for Mac.

In many ways it feels like UIKit for Mac is the right direction. It’s been running on macOS for 10 years. If you’re a developer you’ve used the Simulator everyday to run your iOS Apps on your development machine.

UIAlertController
Definitely not what you want to see on your Mac

Any developer will tell you shipping software is difficult, especially if you’re driven by deadlines and not feature sets. Given Apple have already announced four applications shipping with Mojave they’re going to have to make really tough decisions to make sure these select applications are ready by fall. It seems reasonable to expect these first UIKit on Mac applications will have a decidedly wonky feel, not quite native. There will be telltale signs, little things, that drive native app seeking people crazy. Things like seeing a UIAlertController instead of an NSAlert when an app needs to inform you of something or ask a question. It makes the application feel unnatural.

 

Getting an error on your Mac can be frightening but at least this alert feels like it belongs on the platform.

At the beginning I’d expect UIKit for Mac to either reach down into AppKit to do the work or reach under the hood and use the same lower levels AppKit uses. Conceptually this is how UIKit living on top of AppKit looks. It’s a way to bootstrap your new Framework into being. Leveraging what AppKit already does seems a reasonable way to just make it work.

UIKit living off of AppKit like some kind of digital vampire.

As time goes by I would expect more of AppKit to move upward into UIKit. UIKit becomes the new preferred framework for building applications on Mac. Maybe it gets a new name? Maybe not? As that transformation begins taking shape we’ll see UIKit itself transform to feel native on each platform. Mac apps will feel like Mac apps and iOS Apps will feel like iOS Apps. It’s not rocket science. Applications for each OS should feel like they belong. No compromises. Hell, we can write Electron Apps if we want compromise.

UIKit consumes the heart and soul of AppKit becoming the ultimate application development platform for Mac and iOS Apps.

As Craig Federighi pointed out on stage at WWDC this is a multiyear effort. Expect things to be ugly at times from the user perspective and the developer perspective. In fact I expect it to be the development effort going forward for iOS and Mac UI Frameworks. Until — of course — the next shiny framework comes along.

@Gruber and Text Editing on iOS

This is from a July 2017 tweet. You see, I’m working on a blogging/editing tool for Mac, iOS, and Windows and it really caught my eye.

My note:

Today John tweeted that he was looking for a good iOS text editor. He was looking for recommendations because he wasn’t happy with iA Writer, Ulysses, or one other one I can’t remember.

It sounds like he wants Vesper back. That’s very interesting to me. He says they “don’t feel right.” That’s also interesting.

I checked out the apps he mentioned. They’re all beautifully designed. iA Writer looks super interesting as does Ulysses. It’s very difficult to put a finger on what appeals to John. I suppose Vesper is the answer?

A wonderful bouquet of flowers.Ultimately it looks like John is after TextEdit on iOS. Plain Jane — to the point — text editing. Makes sense.

Has anyone created TextEdit for iOS yet?

MacBook as iOS Device

Bloomberg: “Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter. “

This is something I’d welcome. I’d love to see a 12-inch MacBook sized laptop running iOS that allowed touch input and mouse input. That would be amazing.

I know that’s not what the article says, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time. I think Microsoft Surface Pro is a wonderful computer and I don’t see why Apple couldn’t make something like it. Of course there will be much gnashing of teeth, but it seems an obvious compromise for a hybrid experience.

Here’s hoping.

Guess I’d better hurry up and finish up my Mac App so I can get started on the iOS version?

Work Note: Loading View Controllers from a Storyboard

When I need to load a view controller from a Storyboard I like to create an extension to the view controller’s class and add a class function to it that does the work. It keeps things looking clean in the code where you use it.

I’m not sure if this is smart or dumb. I’m sure very smart people will let me know. Here’s an example.

https://gist.github.com/Fahrni/537fd42c38882a007a1c506369f3f2c6

Here’s how you’d use it in your code.

https://gist.github.com/Fahrni/fb03913774f026787892cd2d42ab741b

Old Apps

A cute little monkey.I got an email from Apple a week or so back letting me know I needed to upgrade one of my apps to 64-bit. I knew right away it was Arrgly but wasn’t really sure if I wanted to update it.

On Sunday morning I received an email from an Arrgly user asking if I was going to update it because he likes the app. It felt good to know someone else found my goofy app useful. I decided at a minimum I’d publish a little framework someone else could use to write their own version of the app if I couldn’t get to it, or couldn’t finish it on time.

It took less than an hour to create the project and get it published. If you’re doing Mac or iOS development and you need to shorten or expand URL’s for a YOURLS based service you’re welcome to use YOURLSKit. It’s all Swift 3 but should be fine with Swift 4 projects and iOS 11 or macOS High Sierra. It’s a tiny bit of code, but it does the job.

Scripting iOS

Last week Apple acquired automation workflow application Workflow. Of course there was a nice buzz around it and it was a big topic of conversation on various podcasts and websites.

This, of course, got me thinking about automation. I’ve always been a fan of open API’s and the ability to automate applications. We’ve also seen recently that Omni Group is opening up OmniGraffle to automation via JavaScript.

Back in 2010 x-callback-url was created as a way to allow applications to call into each other and return results so you could chain together calls to build custom workflows. Apps like Launch Center Pro and Workflow took advantage of x-callback-url to let you build those workflows and execute them. Now we have a bonafide standard, without a standard. The app ecosystem found a way to support automation without Apple’s help.

I’ve used Launch Center Pro but until recently I’d never used Workflow, and it’s pretty amazing. The Workflow guys did an amazing job creating a drag and drop UI for building what amounts to a program. Well worth a look.

So, this brings me to what I’ve been thinking about over the past few days. Given x-callback-url and App URL schemes in general it would be extremely cool to use those to create object hierarchies using JavaScript. Why JavaScript? Well, it’s native to iOS and applications can use the runtime. Given the advances made by the Workflow team why not take it one step further?

Allow applications to specify a  Scripting Dictionary or Type Library as part of the application bundle, this should allow runtime creation of objects. I know this isn’t rocket science and it’s been done many times over.

Short of adding support to the OS it would be pretty sweet if an App like Workflow, Launch Center Pro, or Pythonista would standardize on a way to parse a URL Scheme into an Object Hierarchy.

I’m going to use Evernote, Bear, Overcast, and Arrgly as examples.

What do you mean by Object Hierarchy?

That’s a good question. Here’s what I’m thinking. Since the Apps mentioned above all support URL Schemes we can derive an Object Hierarchy from them. Basically the beginning of a URI begins with a scheme. The scheme is the name. In the case of Evernote it’s evernote. Pretty simple, right?

Given the scheme name we follow that with a path. In the case of x-callback-url based URL schemes we will skip over that part and move to the second item in the path. This will be the action, or function, or the object we’re going to execute.

evernote://x-callback-url/new-note?type=text&title=EC%203

The above URL will tell Evernote to create a new note of type text with a title of “EC 3”. If we had a way to parse that in a runtime application we could present the user with an Object that has methods that take arguments, like this.

evernote.new-note(type, title)

Let’s do a couple for Bear. First the URL Scheme.

bear://x-callback-url/create?title=My%20Note%20Title&text=First%20line&tags=home,groceries

Now translated into code

bear.create(title, text, tags)

Overcast URL Scheme.

overcast://x-callback-url/add?url=

Code

overcast.add(url)

And finally, my favorite, Arrgly URL Scheme.

arrgly://shorten?url=

Arrgly Code

arrgly.shorten(url)

Pretty simple to turn all of those into objects. When I say you can create a hierarchy it means you could, by convention, lump groups of actions into objects, or like the above examples have a set of actions that all live on a single object.

Here’s what a object might look like as a URL Scheme.

thing://x-callback-url/document/add?title=
thing://x-callback-url/document/delete?id=

That would result in using it like this

thing.document.add(title)
thing.document.delete(id)

Of course this need more fleshing out and it would require app developers to decide on a well known convention to make it work as expected, but it could be done with a bit time and effort. It could be these become an extension of the x-callback-url specification?

Passion Project: Update #2

Back in November I talked a bit about my passion project. I’ve rewritten the Pharmacokinetics Math library for RxCalc in C++ and I’m rewriting the UI completely in Swift. It’s been a real blast. My November update talked about bringing C++ and Swift together with a tiny layer of Objective-C++.

Over my holiday break I didn’t code as much as I wanted to, but I did manage to get some done. Since returning to my day job I’ve felt a bit more excited about working on the RxCalc update at night. I don’t know why, I just have.

I now have the new mixed Swift, Objective-C++, C++ based app in a working state, but I have a lot of polishing to do as well as adding some new features. Of the remaining 1.x features I have to implement is Options. Once that is complete I’ll move on to adding IAP, Theme, and 3D Touch support.

I really love working in Swift. The code base feels so tiny compared to its Objective-C counterpart. Not that Objective-C is bad, just different.

Next up? The Android version. For that I need to spend some quality time with JNI.

I’m not in any shape to ship this release, but it’s getting close by the day.

App Stores

A snowflakeEvery once in a while developers drop interesting nuggets of information on Twitter or their weblogs on the state of Apple App Stores and how they relate to their businesses.

In late November longtime Mac and iOS developer, Panic, announced they would discontinue Status Board.

“First, we had hoped to find a sweet spot between consumer and pro users, but the market for Status Board turned out to be almost entirely pro, which limits potential sales on iOS — as we’ve learned the hard way over the past couple of years, there’s not a lot of overlap right now between “pro” and “iOS”.”

Panic is a shop I look to for direction and inspiration. They build solid, beautiful, easy to use applications. Their ratio of Mac to iOS Apps is pretty interesting. Their main Mac applications; Coda and Transmit, are aimed squarely at professionals. If you look at their remaining iOS applications two are complimentary to their Mac counterparts; Coda and Transmit, and the third, Prompt, is most likely built using code and knowledge gained from their other apps. That is not meant as a criticism. It makes total sense. Coda and Transmit are their big dogs, why not make iOS versions of them? I’m looking forward to Panic’s year end report. The last two have been amazing reads.

This morning as I was scrolling through my Twitter timeline, trying to avoid political talk, I noticed an exchange between Michael Love and David Barnard. As suspected, iPhone is the money maker and iPad is not pulling its weight.

Not long after that exchange I saw a nice tweet from James Thomson, of PCalc fame. It looks like the iOS App Store is his primary source of income.

Depending on the podcast I’m listening to, Core Intuition vs. Accidental Tech Podcast, I’m either excited about the state of the Mac or completely bummed about it. Regardless, it feels like Apple is pushing the iPad toward the Prosumer market and keeping the Mac alive for Professionals, mainly those creating iOS Apps (Hey, we need a platform for creating apps, right?)

Having said all that, I’d still like to take a shot at the Mac software market. I don’t need to make millions, but it would be nice to make hundreds. 😀

Passion Project: Mixing C++, Objective-C++, and Swift

I know a lot of folks have had to go through the process of bridging to C++ so you can use it from Objective-C or Swift. In my case I’m using it from Swift, so I thought I’d share what the middle Objective-C++ layer looks like. If you’ve done any Objective-C it will look like straight Objective-C, until you look a little closer. That’s when you’ll notice a C++ namespace, new, and delete statement. This code is a straight passthrough to the underlying C++ code — it’s here so Swift code can communicate with the C++ code.

Here’s the code that bridges to our Creatinine Clearance calculation.

https://gist.github.com/Fahrni/ed5c386bec659985b439306ac67cabd3

You’ll notice a class called PKMConvert that has a class method called genderFromPKMGender. I created a set of mirror enums. One on the iOS side the enums use NS_ENUM syntax, on the C++ side they’re straight C style enums, so this code converts between the two. It’s just a simple mapping.

Another thing you’ll notice is I’m still using “old” C++ syntax to create and destroy objects. I’ve been thinking about updating the syntax to C++11 so I’d use unique_ptr instead. We’ll see if that happens. It’s not a big deal.

Something I’ve been mulling over is releasing the entire PKMath C++ Library as an open source project once I have it working for iOS/Mac, Android, and Windows. I don’t know that it would be overly useful for anyone, but there you go.

Since I haven’t actually written any Swift code in the new RxCalc to use the Objective-C++ code I thought I’d share one of my unit tests for the Creatinine Clearance example above.

https://gist.github.com/Fahrni/423d34cc900679ff35f4bf99c9d0a778

Here’s how the different layers look from 30,000 feet. I like pictures, don’t you?rxcalc2layers