Technology
Computers and more, from using a stick as a sword all the way to supersmall, high-powered iPhones.

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The mess that is the App Store

The process of developing an iOS App is mostly well-designed.  Xcode is a great tool, Interface Builder makes interface design ridiculously easy, and the process of testing and uploading is mostly seamless.  A new developer will enthusiastically go through this, designing eye-catching icons, writing a witty description, and putting forth a quality app.  Yet there app will likely never be noticed.  Sure, there are over a million apps on the App Store, but there are also many users.  The problem is that these users only see the 40 apps Apple chooses to set aside, generally by big developers.  So why does this happen?

Well first of all….

It’s a well-known fact that the search is garbage.  Unless you know the exact title of an app, you are unlikely to find anything helpful.  I have discovered the majority of my most-used apps through word-of-mouth, news articles, and Google searches.  Just to test it out, I searched a relatively generic search, and after the first few results, I came across a whole list of apps that cloned Flappy BirdDon’t touch the White Tile, and 2048.  Not really what I was looking for.

Wait a minute

Why are these apps even in the App Store in the first place.  It’s pretty obvious that they are clones, not original content.  What’s the point of the week-and-a-half long waiting period if Apple doesn’t even check apps for actual quality?  And yet it’s obvious they are checking some stuff—we’ve seen plenty of popular apps rejected for useful features (useful widgets, torrents, etc.  My guess would be that the reviewers have their priorities wrong.  Instead of rejecting/accepting apps so as to build up a quality app store, they focus on apps they feel will get a lot of clicks and make quick money.  But instead this is just discouraging people from searching for apps at all.

So how can this be fixed?

Well first of all, fix the search.  If Apple’s really working on that search engine, they would have a great opportunity to vastly improve the app discovery experience.  Second, make the Discover page actually useful—maybe put apps your friends have bought, or interesting personalized recommendations.  Finally, change the mindset of the review teams.  Strive to fill the App Store with only quality apps, and cut down on the flotsam.

Any input?  Other ideas on how Apple could improve their discovery experience?

 

Anyone who has created an app knows that one of the time-consuming and trivial tasks that you must do is resizing app icons.  I often spend around 20 minutes just doing this, and than realize some imperfection in the original design.  The process repeats.

Currently on Cult Of Mac Deals, they are offering a package of Mac apps for developers, “The Free Mac Developer Toolkit”.  While the code editor is mediocre, one application, DevBox, is a gem.

DevBox describes itself as an “All-in-one mobile development toolbox”.  It certainly simplifies many parts of app development.

screenshot

DevBox’s main functions are graphic-centered.  It can generate placeholders, resize images, work with colors, and generate icon sizes (my favorite); but it can also validate .ipa files, display device capabilities, and create QR codes.

DevBox feels like it was created by someone who understood what an app developer has to do.  Its functions are intuitive and useful, and its interface is well laid-out.

So thanks to Untamed Interactive for your great product.  My one complaint is that the icon sizes are not updated for iOS 8, but that’s a minor detail.

Now, back to hotPotato development…

No one can deny that using an iOS device comes with restrictions.  A user can only download programs from the App Store, and App Store apps have very limited control over the device.  This is where profiles come in.

What are Profiles?

Simply put, a configuration profile is an XML profile that can change device settings.  Their goal is to allow developers to provide custom settings for a large amount of devices.  They can be installed through Mobile Safari, email, or with Apple Configurator.  Some common uses for profiles are requiring a password, disabling certain features, and creating web apps.

The GBA4iOS method

GBA4iOS is an emulator for iOS.  It allows iOS users to install a full Game Boy Advanced emulator on their device, without jailbreaking.  The website accomplishes this by installing a profile, specifically the MacBuildServer(MBS) Hello App Provision.  This profile allows other applications to be installed on the device.  Other applications can be found at iEmulators.  This provides a screen recorder, other game emulators, and even a full DOS emulator.  With iDOS and the help of iExplorer, you can even install Windows on your device.

Testflight and Hockey

Testflight and Hockey are both systems for developers to let testers download their apps.  They also use provision profiles to download apps that don't reside on the App Store.  Both make testing easy by simply providing a profile to download.  As soon as apps are available, testers can download the apps straight to their device.  This allows developers to test in a wider range of users, not just personal connections.

GBA4iOS, Testflight  and Hockey provide iOS users a way to download apps that don't come from the App Store, without jailbreaking.  More options are being worked on, as developers push the limits, finding other ways.

Do you use these?  Or any other methods?

 

Only hours ago, SquaredTiki released Dringend, a fully-fledged development app for the iPad.  It is now on the App Store for 10 dollars.

What is Dringend?

Previously, we reviewed Codea, which represented a huge leap forward in mobile development.  Now once again, Dringend has pushed that farther.  

Dringend is a complete app for developing apps on an iPad.  It lets you build applications on your iPad, and even immediately test them, if you have a developer account.  Otherwise, they can be sent to XCode for testing.  

Dringend already supports many features for coding including syntax highlighting, find and replace, automatic highlighting, code structuring, and additional keys.  With Dropbox, you can sync projects from the app to XCode.  It even provides the same templates as XCode.

One thing Dringend does not yet support, though, is visually building interfaces with the storyboard.  This requires the user to know how to programmatically design the interface, or design the interface with XCode.  Obviously, XCode is required for compilation and publishing.  "The Constructor" is a Mac app that allows you to connect to the Mac from far away and compile, and then have the test sent to the device immediately.

So Dringend obviously has some downsides.  It's only hours old, though, and is improving rapidly.  Some features, especially storyboards, will come with time.  Others, such as publishing, may require a change on Apple's part, one that could take many years and software updates.  Yet right now, it is the most powerful tool for developers working on an iPad.  And with syncing and The Constructor, it is a practical and useful app.  And at only 10 dollars, it makes mobile development a real possibility.

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I recently started downloaded and testing all the free games the App Store recommended.  After playing many of them, I began to notice a pattern.

The Problem

The problem for mobile gaming lies in the free model.  If the game is free, the developer has two choices: fill it with annoying in-app purchases and ads or provide very little content.  One of the most common models is to make everything take a long time to complete, and then provide some currency that will speed it up (crystals, anyone?).  Then the game helpfully provides a "get more crystals" option, using, of course, real money.  For instance, Createrria, by Incuvo is free, and has a relatively interesting concept.  The idea is that you can create your own games by using their numerous elements.  Then you can share your creations with the world.  The problem?  Virtually nothing is actually free.  I went in to the Create mode, where you create your own games.  After waiting for an extremely long loading time, it displayed my options.  Nearly any element, save for primitives like dirt and walls, cost "crystals".  And crystals cost, you guessed it, money.

The Cause

Why did this happen?  Before the mobile device explosion, games cost 15 to 50 dollars, and contained rich story lines and complex worlds.  So did mobile devices ruin games?  Not necessarily.  The real problem, it seems, is the App Store.  Both the App Store and Google Play store contain a mixture of all kinds of apps and games, many of them free.  Among all the free or 99 cent apps, a 15 dollar game looks expensive.  Even though that's cheap.  So developers are pushed to release games for a dollar or less, because that's what people expect.  As a result, most games come out with a very limited world, not much new gameplay, and a freemium model.  Endless runner games come to mind.

The other cause is the mobile part of mobile gaming.  A lot of times, a mobile gamer is just looking for something to do for a few minutes.  This leads to simpler games with not many changes.  But for someone looking for an actual engrossing game, many games become quickly boring.

Fixing Mobile Gaming

What can be done?  One possible solution would be to separate "Apps" from "Games".  If games were only found in, say, a Game store, then paid ones would look less out of place.  Then developers could make full mobile games, and release them for 15 to 25 dollars.

Mobile gaming is broken.  Most developers only release endless runners or weak platformers.  It can be fixed, but it will take time.  Otherwise, developers may just give up on making good games.

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The "autorun.inf" file is an important file for flash drives and CD's. Whenever you insert a flash drive or CD into your computer it searches for the file so that it knows the information needed to be displayed.

Some of the things you will be able to do with it is change the title and icon of your flash drive. Now, you may be saying to me that you already know how to change the name of your flash drive, but I the way I will be teaching you is better. This way will not make the name appear in all caps and will have no character limit.

However the "autorun.inf" file can only be used on a windows computer. A flash drive with an autorun file will appear unchanged on a mac.

Something important for you to know is the when I tell you to put a line of code in it will look like "This is my Code". All you need to put in file is whatever is in the quotes. Make sure not to type the quotes.

 

Setting it Up

Create a new text file in your flash drive and rename it "autorun.inf". Put this file in the first folder of the flash drive (the one that comes up when you first open the flash drive. This is very important because otherwise the computer will not find the file when you plug-in your flash drive.

Next you want to edit the file. The first thing you need to do is put "[autorun]" at the top of the line without spaces or anything else. On the next line under it write "label=", followed by the name you want to give your flash drive, without a space after the equal sign. Anything after the equal sign can contain spaces, and the case of the letter will matter. For me this line of code looks like "label=METSploration". This will name the flash drive METSploration.

On the next line, type "icon=", followed by the location and name of your icon file. Your icon will be a picture of whatever you like but it will appear really small so take that into consideration. My icon file is named icon and is in the folder METSploration. For me it would look like this "icon=METSplorationicon.ico". Note the .ico extension.

If you don't have an icon file you can browse for some here or if you have a picture in mind go to here.

Once you finish all of that, save the file, safely eject your flash drive, and re-insert your flash drive. This will allow the the changes you made to take effect. Since the "autorun.inf" file is only read when your flash drive is connected to the computer, any changes you make to the file will not take effect until the next time your flash drive is re-connected to your computer. If you did it correctly it should notice that the window that pops-up when you connect your flash drive has an icon for it and the name is not in all caps.

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Many newsreaders, web surfers, or random internet users, if they’re anything like me, may face a dilemma. They found a great website, article, or anything on the web, but aren’t sure the best way to save it. They try bookmarks, text lists, self-addressed emails, and it all results in more disorganization then before.

instapaperInstapaper and Pocket are both apps, bookmarklets, and extensions. With a simple click of the bookmark, extension, or app, you can save an article to your library. Your library syncs across device, phone, and computer automatically, and provides options for each.

Instapaper and Pocket both provide very similar options.  The main difference is interface—Instapaper has a minimalistic approach, while Pocket’s interface is more colorful.  Both are extremely easy to use.

Instapaper shows only the most fundamental options. It gives a “Read Later”, “Liked”, “Archive”, “Videos”,”Browse”, and “Folders” tab. Other controls are as simple as they come, with only a Filter, Sort, Search, and Edit button. The Edit button reveals several more options, like Archiving, Deleting, or moving to a folder. Sliding on an article provides the same options.

pocketPocket has very similar options, and a virtually identical experience.

Both are completely free, and though you can purchase a subscription, all the main features are available without purchase. Both have no advertisements, and no pop ups constantly asking for subscription.

The Problem

A new idea is quickly becoming widespread.  A group called Phonebloks wants to build a phone that would last.  The problem, they say, is that a new phone can only be used a short period, usually a couple of years, before it is obsolete or broken.

Their plan, then, is a phone made of detachable “bloks”, or components.  Each would do some function.  for example, a blok might be a screen, processor, or memory.  Therefore, when something broke or needed a repair, the user would only need to buy a new “blok”.  This would hopefully significantly cut down on electronic waste.

Even beyond repairs or upgrades, this has benefits.  Detachable components lead to customizability.  If, for example, you take lots of pictures and store them only in the cloud, you could replace memory with a bigger and better camera, therefore only having what you actually use.  Phonebloks even envisions a “Blokstore”, where any company could make components for the phone.  Camera companies could make a camera, processor companies could make a processor.  It would be open-source in the physical world.

The Plan

Phonebloks has partnered with three companies so far, and hopes to work with more.  So far CYSO, Solon Advocaten, and Motorola (from Google) have agreed to help.  Phonebloks still needs individuals, though.  On their site, they are asking for help in whatever field you are.  Sign up here.

This vision of companies working together to drastically reduce phone waste is an idea to last.  Phonebloks will have to overcome limitations like making companies to collaborate, and getting enough funding.  If everyone helps, though, it could change the world.

Please help!

 

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TI BASIC tips:

While programming on a TI 83 or 84 with TI BASIC, I have collected a few tips.calculator used for TI BASIC programming

  • Delete a program: 2nd→Mem→2→7→find program and press DEL.
  • Replacing “Done”: Simply write a value on a new line.  TI BASIC outputs this instead of “Done”, and it can even be manipulated by Ans.
  • Comments:  To add comments, simply write a string, surrounded with quotes, on a new line.  TI BASIC takes a value like this, or any variable, and “returns” it.  You can have as many of these as you want, and only the last value (put a 0 at the end) will be outputted.
  • Multiple commands on one line:  Sometimes, you may want to put multiple commands on one line, for space or formatting reasons.  To do this, write the first command, and then put a colon, “:”, and write the second command.  A good example looks like this: “:If condition:Then”.
  • Instructions in Lowercase: Outputted text with upper- and lowercase looks much more professional.  To use lowercase, simply install an Asm utility like mine.
  • “Functions” program: If a program uses several bits of code repeatedly, you may benefit from a “Functions” program.  Although functions are not supported by TI BASIC, there is a workaround.  In you functions file, put an If…Then statement checking one variable.  For each value, have the repeated code.  Then, pass the value to whatever code you need, and run the program from you main application.
  • Rename/Copy a program: Create new program with desired name.  In program, Recall whatever program you’re copying or renaming.  If renaming, delete old program afterwards.

Submit your own tips:

Please share any tips you have come across in the comments.  What do you find helpful?