Makers of iPhone, Android and Facebook apps founded in 2007,
dedicated to unique, entertaining and quality apps.
It’s been quite some time since an update and even longer since a new app. We’ve been working, slowly, behind the scenes, but sometimes real life gets the better of us. Even so, we have renewed dedication to bringing out some quality apps and we’d like to present the first new app today:
This app came about because we were sick of the majority of light/flashlight apps only turning on the LED light. We don’t know about the rest of you, but in the middle of the night that can be serious overkill. We did some research into how the eye works, what parts of the eye are affected by what spectrum of light, and we came up with our new app.
It has three different modes:
1. Stealth: A deep red, similar to military applications.
2. Ease: A light green, perfect to see farther into the distance.
3. Clear: A darker green, commonly used on nighttime heads up displays
And they work great. In addition, we left in the option to turn on the main light in case of emergency. Give it a try, it’s really fun! And hey, it’s good to be back!
"Boom." - Steve Jobs
And just like that, the loudest explosion in the tech industry made the smallest ripple. With Steve Jobs’ resignation, effectively, nothing aside from titles has changed. Jobs himself will come in to Apple for important meetings for high-level decisions from time to time, spending most of his days at home with his family. Tim Cook, successor to Jobs, will resume his role as leader of the day-to-day operations at Apple. This is the way it has been for at least the last few months. Anyone who followed Apple closely knew that this was coming, and that it would essentially be a symbolic gesture. And yet, it feels like so much more than that.
I’ve been surrounded by Apple products for nearly my entire life. My father and his business partner took out a huge bank loan in the mid-1980s at the insistence of a major client who needed digital files instead of the more common mechanicals. They spend over $20,000 on two workstations. And somehow, I was allowed to “work” on them. In elementary school, the computer labs were stuffed with Apple ][s, and we’d wither away the time playing Oregon Trail and learning keyboard shortcuts for Apple Works. In high school, I worked on the only three Macs in the entire place until all hours of the night, trying desperately to get the yearbook laid out for deadlines. For college, I inherited a PowerMac 5800 from my father’s company that became hilariously obsolete at the release of OS X. But a couple years before that, something strange happened: my parents bought the family an original bond blue iMac for Christmas. To this day, it’s one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received, and it wasn’t even exclusively for me. It was so different. So unorthodox. So utterly Apple. All those “Think DIfferent” ads were suddenly appropriate, and yet glaringly misplaced in the wrong era. In a word, it was “magical”.
And that magic came from Steve Jobs. The iMac was the first major product under his direction since I had used Apple products, and boy did he make it count. The iMac was a phenomenon. It was easily the single most influential piece of technology in the late 1990s. Suddenly, everything was teal and/or white translucent plastic. Staplers, kitchen utensils, furniture, garbage cans. All translucent plastic. Nothing in the tech industry ever had that kind of influence before, and nothing would have after, if it weren’t for the guidance of Jobs.
But his guidance transformed the company. In his absence, it had become a commodity computer maker with no vision and hemorrhaging money. It made printers nobody bought. And digital cameras nobody bought. (Remember those? Probably not.) Their design team consistently earned awards for products nobody wanted. Jobs recognized that the company had talent, but no drive or direction. So he gave it direction, focusing on building things he was certain customers would want, even if “experts” laughed. The iPod, released just 4 years after Jobs’ return, was famously panned for being under-featured. But he was certain people would respond to it. Subsequent releases brought a predictable cycle: Apple announces product, tech pundits complain, Apple sells out of product on day one, stock price goes up. Lather, rinse, repeat. Until you have the most profitable company in the world.
The thing people tend to miss, however, is that beyond all the impressive dollar amounts and success stories, is that Jobs’ vision for Apple seems to have made them able to make products that people can form a bond with. Other companies have dabbled in that—RIM comes to mind with the Blackberry—but Apple has done it consistently. And so we fans love our assorted devices with the glossy Apple logo as we would a pet. And look to the man who helped guide the company to create them.
So even though we know in our minds that nothing has changed, in our hearts, we’re all a bit sad, as though we’re in mourning. All the articles on the subject—this one included—read like posthumous homages; some outright read like obituaries. It’s tough to separate the mind from the heart when the man of whom we speak was so instrumental in linking the two together through technology like no one else has.
Comic-Con 2011 has descended upon San Diego once again. Huge conventions like this can very hard to navigate, especially if you’re from out of town. Luckily, a few well chosen apps will not only help you get around, but also can make a convention even more fun! Here are some entertaining and handy apps to have at your next convention:
Laser Tag (Real Life) - While currently only compatible with iPhone 4, this app takes advantage of locations services and the camera and lets users play a game of laser tag against each other. This can be insanely fun, especially when you’re waiting around in a large space and need to blow off steam by blasting your friends.
Half Tone - This app takes photos from your iPhone or iPad and makes them into panels in a comic book, complete with word balloons and boarders. After all, when you take a photo with Captain America, wouldn’t you want to enhance it so you’re both IN a comic?
Comics Creator - In the same vein as Half Tone, this app creates a virtual comic book from a series of photos. Turn your entire weekend photo collection into one long graphic adventure!
i-nigma - This free QR code reader will scan any barcode or square matrix code often found at convention displays and take your immediately to a the website associated with the code. Eventually this technology will be made obsolete when smartphones all contain near field communication (NFC) chips, but for right now these readers are still the industry standard.
Evernote - If you’re still using the factory-installed note pad and voice memo apps, you’ve been missing out. Evernote allows you to write text, record audio or video, take photos, and even add location data to your notes. The app even makes photo text searchable, which is immensely handy!
Twitter - If this needs to be explained, you might be going to some sort of stenographers’ conference in 1981. Through event-specific hashtags, Twitter allows you to find out what’s happening even if you don’t know the people post the information. Great for random meet-ups as well.
Yelp - It can be hard to find worthwhile restaurants and other services if visiting an unfamiliar city. Yelp will ensure that you can eat what you want at the price level you expect.
Comics - Easily the best comic book app for iOS, Comics gives you access to the DC and Marvel universes, as well as The Walking Dead! Best of all, the app comes with 300 free comics!
Shazam Encore - Most iPhone users probably have the basic version of this app to help them identify songs, but it’s only limited to 5 tags per month. The paid version gives you unlimited tagging, which will come in handy in those noisy auditoriums when you hear numerous unknown songs over the house speakers.
When it rains, it pours. For over 2 weeks, Google+ has dominated the tech news spotlight and early adopters have spent countless hours experimenting with it. Some have even tried to launch organizational accounts for their businesses, only to be told by Google to wait a bit. Obviously Google has a plan for such accounts, and they’ll most likely differ from the ordinary social stream that individuals are currently able to enjoy.
There’s been much speculation over what Google+ for business will do and how businesses will be able to utilize it to interact with customers and drive sales. While details are still under wraps, there are a number of considerations that developers should be making in order to better collaborate and promote apps using Google+.
Use circles. To anyone who’s used Google+, or even read some basic guides, this should be insanely obvious. Making a circle of known developers is a great way to network, share ideas and support each other. At Sinecure Industries, we do most of our external communication via Twitter, which has worked well enough. But since Goolge+ merges Twitter’s following system with Facebook’s lengthy character limit, communication can take place in more descriptive passages, with video and imagry to boot. This is a clear improvement on using Twitter as a communication system, assuming our developer acquaintances embrace Google+ as happily as we have.
We also plan to create a circle for app review sites, like one of our Twitter lists that serves much the same purpose. This will helps us communicate more effectively with potential reviewers who can give our completed apps visibility and feedback. Of course, at present, it seems as though making circles of entities would require knowing the real names behind an app brand or a review blog. We look forward to Google+ business accounts which will allow a kind of richer reproduction of our Twitter relationships, where real names are not necessary to connect.
Customers or friends? Facebook, by its very nature and history, is a place where people who know each other go to connect. By choosing the word “friend” to describe the relationship between users, it pigeonholed itself as a certain type of social network. Adding the ability to “Like” a business or organization was merely an afterthought that probably didn’t sit extremely well with most users.
As mentioned above, Google+ uses the Twitter model of “following,” which can be a one-way or a two-way street. This is more conducive to marketing and client engagement, and will probably make the jump from Twitter to Google+. The one big change is that Google+ is a content-rich environment, compared with Twitter’s bare bones approach.
Armed with a base of Google+ followers and the ability to post rich content (images, blog teasers, video), developers can now ofter more captivating nuggets to their fans. If you’ve done your work properly, your fans will share this content with their circles and help do the marketing for you.
Plus one. That tiny “+1” button isn’t just Google’s version of the “Like” button. It’s a way that Google will merge algorithmic search with the discerning tastes of users, producing a hybrid system for delivering personalized search results. If your Google+ content is consistently good, you’ll earn more +1s, and actually affect your own search results. Craft your posts wisely.
Once Google rolls out their business profiles, the potential uses and benefits to developers will be clearer. Until then, we’ll be waiting with anticipation.
We here at Sinecure Industries will be the first to admit: programming is not our strong suit.As hard as we try, we’re just not programmers. What apps we do have out (How Am I Feeling?, Free Bad Advice, Acts of Kindness and Backlash) took much longer to make than they should have, they were buggier to start with, and did not have all the features we would have liked to include.
Acts of Kindness was suppose to be more than a “good” clone of Free Bad Advice - it was suppose to include a searchable charity database - much more robust than what we have out there. The problem was, we could not figure out how to do that, and Acts of Kindness sat on the back burner for months until we decided we needed to launch another app since it had been quite some time.
Backlash lacks game center integration, a leaderboard, etc. I knew what I wanted to do with the game, but I had to accept the limitations of what we could do. I was thrilled that we were even able to come out with it, it’s been our most ambitious project.
So does that mean we were doomed? Should we give up?
No, it meant that we needed to change our strategy. Through making these apps we found what we excel in and it was made abundantly clear where we lack. We are great at content, user interface, visualization and graphic design. Those were the easiest parts of making out apps. Backlash may not be the most perfect from a programming perspective but I’m incredibly proud of the way it looks and feels.
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you may remember our entry Design for Programmers in which we discuss the short comings of a lot of developers. They may be amazing programmers but they do not have the skill/time/patience to deliver on the user experience, the graphics quality. They merely go for function over form. They’re playing to their strengths, as it were.
That’s when we started looking for straight programmers. People that love to program but are aware that they don’t have the ability to make a complete package. They complete our abilities, and we complete theirs. It took some time to find the right people, the problem we were running into is the “one stop shop” developer - those that think they can handle all aspects magnificently and put out great apps. Sure, there ARE people like that, but they’re the exception. I mean come on, look at the success of Tiny Wings.
Now we’ve got a few app projects in motion, with people that can do amazing things that we certainly couldn’t, and we can focus on our strengths: content and user interface/experience/graphic design. We can make the apps looks great, and they can make the apps function great.
So what does this mean to you?
It means don’t think you can do everything. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to admit that someone is better than you at something. Do you want to come out with an adequate app, or would you rather collaborate and come out with an amazing app? As time goes on and the app store gets more crowded, it’s more important than even to come out of the gate strong and wow people. Keep it in mind.
To this end, I’d like to offer up the services of Sinecure Industries for those looking to improve the look and feel of their apps. We pride ourselves on things looking slick and making the users enjoy their experience. If you’d like to contact us about your app, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to discuss your app. I’d rather see a lot of us succeed than get lost in the shuffle!
When attempting to promote a new app, or promoting your brand in general, it goes without saying that social media will be part of your strategy. You might take to Twitter and Facebook and even start a blog, but keeping these accounts active and interesting is a job all itself. Small app developers should be focusing on app development, otherwise there’s nothing to promote.
But this won’t enter the small app developer’s mind at first. He or she will try to tweet news about an upcoming app release, post status updates about new iOS or Android developments, and attempt to string together coherent musings on WordPress, all in the hope that this additional content will reach someone who’d never heard of his or her lowly app company and might wish to spend $1.99 and a minute downloading the fruit of hours of coding and design labor.
As the months drag on, however, it can be difficult to consistently create fresh content, especially when a new app release is in the relatively distant future. It might start to seem as though all this extra social activity is merely shouting into a void. Even if analytics can demonstrate that social media and promotion are benefiting the struggling app developer in the form of clickthroughs and added recognition, the process is sill time consuming and still diverts attention away from development.
It is here that we should remember an old cliché: “Work Smarter, Not Harder.” And smarter, more efficient promotion means knowing how to gain the most from the least amount of work. I recently found some interesting nuggets of information from Dan Zarrella, a self-proclaimed “social media scientist” who has spent a great deal of time studying how timing can affect the impact of blog posts, emails, tweets, etc. Zarrella states, for example, that accounts that tweet no more than once per hour have higher clickthough rates. This finding alone is very useful to us at Sinecure Industries, since sometimes multiple authors will post to our @SinecureInd account during peak hours (10am – 4pm EST) and create occasional instances of 2-post hours. Armed with this information, we intend to change our strategy.
We often update our Sinecure Industries Facebook page at the same time we post an important article on Twitter, but again we were surprised to learn from Zarrella’s research that Facebook users seem to “Like” pages that post every other day more than those who post every day. This one piece of information suggests that entirely different timing and frequency strategies ought to be employed when promoting via Twitter and Facebook, and we intend to implement these strategies soon to take advantage of these revelations.
More of Dan Zarrella’s work can be found in this free webinar (which is, in itself, a great form of promotion and a strategy worth examining for developers). It’s full of fantastic insight into using social media in a more productive fashion, saving time and effort for the all-important app development process.
By now you’ve most likely read or watched video about Apple’s iCloud service that will see general release this coming autumn. If you haven’t kept up to date, Ars Technica has a good recap here. Among other pretty exciting features, iTunes Match (the only subscription feature) has drawn a particular amount of attention. It’s been hailed as a missing puzzle piece in the search for a viable model for coaxing long-time music pirates into the fold of legitimate music downloads. Apple will do this by offering users, for $25 per year, the ability to “swap” non-iTunes tracks in their libraries for (probably) higher quality equivalents from iTunes’ vast, 18 million-song catalog. Apple also insists that any tracks that cannot be matched by iTunes will be saved in the cloud anyway (but Apple will be unable to upgrade them to a 256kbps AAC version).
This heady news started me thinking about a substantial portion of my library that iTunes Match wouldn’t upgrade for me since the tracks can’t be found on iTunes. While most tracks that most users have in their libraries won’t fall into the category, some users will find themselves with many non-upgradable files. Here’s a sampling of songs that a $25/year iTunes Match subscription won’t upgrade:
1) Led Zeppelin – “Moby Dick”
Album: Live Bootleg from the Rochester War Memorial Auditorium, 11 Sept 1971.
If you think Apple’s 256kbps can do anything to improve the distant, murky sound of this recording, you’re living in a dream. It’s so real, man, so live. No matching computer can touch this!
2) Everclear – “Annabella’s Song”
No, not that crumby version from Learning How to Smile that has all the weird 1950s Hollywood-esque vocal parts. I’m talking about that original version that you downloaded from Napster in 2000. The version where Everclear is still vaguely grunge rock. The version that was playing the first time you got the third base in high school. Nope. No iTunes Match for that.
3) Tool – “Pushit”
In fact, you can’t buy any Tool at all, as the band has been a long-time holdout. Most likely the band is against selling their albums in pieces, which is a model iTunes has embraced. In any case, your late night video gaming / aggressive acid trips / biceps & back day at the gym won’t be getting an iTunes upgrade any time soon.
4) AC/DC – “Ride On”
Album: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Ah, the pre-Brian Johnson days, when not all of AC/DC’s songs sounded the same. This track is one of the only slow, non-bombastic songs they ever made. It’s great for just sitting around on a rainy night, over a beer. And iTunes Match won’t match it.
5) Angry Salad – “99 Red Balloons”
Album: Angry Salad
For some reason you’ve held onto this band since your friend convinced you to go to their show on the campus of Brown University in the fall of 1999. Looking back, they sound like OAR and Matchbox 20 produced a malformed offspring. But you refuse to let them go. Even though the last time you listened to this track was 2 computers ago and your library shows the play count as zero on your current machine; Even though there are at least 4 better versions of “99 Red Balloons”; Even though the name is sooo stereotypically 90s alternative rock that it now seems a parody of itself. And why? Because if you delete it now, you’ll never be able to buy it from iTunes. Or anywhere else.
What songs from your collection won’t be matched by iTunes? Let us know @sinecureind.
I think we can all agree that Apple puts an awful lot of time and thought into the design of their products. It might not always be perfect, but it is almost always well-thought-out. (Look how long it took them to implement copy-paste on iOS.) And by design, I don’t merely mean the way things look; it’s the way everything works together aesthetically and functionally. It can be argued that the user experience is one of the main reasons the iPhone has gained so much popularity. With the popularity of the iPhone came the popularity of the App Store, and a great number of developers (Sinecure Industries included) wanted in on the action. Unfortunately, this seems to have created a bit of a problem: lots of developers are ignoring that large part of what made the iPhone popular in the first place.
This seems to be most true for single developers who are releasing things on their own. And it’s understandable: there’s only so much one person can do. With pressure to release, the priority becomes simply getting the app to work. Lots of developers excel at that; their programming ability is remarkable, and they build remarkable ideas. But lost in the rush to release are how the app feels to use and how it looks, and those remarkable ideas get buried in what become ugly, unusable apps. So if you’re a single developer or even part of a small team under a lot of pressure to “just get it out”, what do you do?
Before I answer, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Programming is much, much more difficult than resolving the design of an app. I come from a design background, and got into developing fairly recently after dabbling in server-side web development for a while, so I’ve seen both sides of the coin. Comparatively speaking, it takes a lot more time and effort to build a remarkable idea than it does to create the graphics and functionality of it. So even if you don’t think you have the time to put some thought into how your app looks and functions, you can trust that you will have time to at least improve it.
So the answer is simple (and some may say dismissive): just take the time to make it better. First of all, if you’re not building a game, Interface Builder is your friend. Some scoff at that because iOS makes it trivial to create interface elements programmatically. But even if you are creating everything in code, use Interface Builder it mock it up first. In it, you can place your elements, pick your colors and typefaces, and get the values of all the necessary parameters for creating the elements programmatically if that’s your thing.
For things such as freestanding buttons and table cell backgrounds that either aren’t included or aren’t fully supported in Interface Builder, search the web for iPhone interface elements. There are a number of people who have taken the time to created Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and freestanding mockups of all the interface elements you can possibly think of, and you can freely use those to mimic the standard Apple look, or modify it to fit your criteria if need be. Since the hard part of creating them is done, you don’t have to be a whiz to make it your own. The same goes for icons and other little details: if you don’t create it yourself, there are a huge amount of resources on the web from which you can take inspiration or license for your own use.
Speaking of inspiration, what happens if you just don’t have the chops to make it looks how you want? First off, don’t worry; you’re definitely not alone, and you can still do it. Because even if you don’t have the skills, you still have the taste. And design is mostly about taste. So if you have an app you really enjoy the aesthetic of—or even just one particular element—use it as inspiration and mimic it, but make it your own (read: don’t steal!). Adjust everything until it suits your taste. And if you think you need help, by all means ask a designer!
As far as functionality is concerned, I always ask myself just one question: would my grandmother be able to use this without explanation? If the answer isn’t a sure “yes”, then it needs more work. Everything in the app should be clear and obvious, if at all possible. A lot of that has to do with the graphics, but interaction has a hand (no pun intended) as well. Pay close attention to the way you switch views. Make transitions linear. If you have three views that come up in succession, make them animate in the same way, and animate out the opposite way.
Lastly, if you ever have any doubts or are stuck on how something should work in the interface, consult the Apple Human Interface Guidelines. As a matter of fact, put it on your reading list if you haven’t already read through it. It’s easily the most concise guide to iOS interface best practices. When in doubt, follow the HIG to the letter. But once you get the hang of everything, start to bend the rules a little here and there. You’ll be surprised at how much better your apps will turn out to be.
A great amount of work goes into producing a successful app. But unexpected setbacks can delay you on the road to success and lead to a derailing of the process. During these inevitable times, preservation of psychological momentum is as important to developers as persistence in the app creation process. After all, a poor mindset can make the smallest tasks seem difficult to complete, even near the finish line. One fantastic defense against these mental quagmires is to treat the components of app development like the apps themselves—simple, modular parts of a much bigger whole.
Setbacks that occur near the start of development are best thwarted with a wealth of alternate concepts. Keeping a well organized collection of other app ideas offers the opportunity to step back from a faltering concept and work on something else in the mean time. It can be difficult to place a great idea on hold, but with a well maintained collection of other good ideas, the developer can simultaneously expand on a second app while giving the primary idea room to “breathe.”
Another major stumbling block for developers is the coding and testing phase. Here knowledge limitations might cause work to stop while appropriate skills can be learned. Similarly, app testing may reveal serious design flaws that were not apparent in the planning stages. It’s in this phase of development where existing open source solutions are a great resource. Is there already available code similar to what you’re trying to achieve? Has someone produced an open source widget that solves a particular design problem? The modular nature of open source cannot be overlooked as a valuable tool in the developer’s toolbox.
The final phase—app deployment—requires similar skills and modular thinking. An app release may be delayed due to an overlooked broken link, or another small but important error. Luckily, the publicity for an app release can be safely retained in its original form until the app is ready and approved. A well planned announcement campaign requires the developer to never promise too much too quickly, and always create the release messages ahead of time. In many ways, this is the most forgiving part of the process since the real work on the app has already been accomplished. Yet, release is where the “rubber meets the road” and the app will be evaluated by many real world users, making this final phase extremely unpredictable in many ways.
Maintaining focus and productivity is important to the app development process. Success often hinges on knowing when to change strategy if an idea proves impracticable. Equally important is the ability to efficiently transition between strategies. This is where the modular approach saves both time and mental energy, and may even save your app. After all, great buildings are made of many parts, useful devices run multiple apps, and successful apps are brought to market by generating many ideas.