Ajnaware’s Weblog

Web, Mobile & iPhone software development

Oz Weather Plus – Why I’m releasing it as a new app

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The Oz Weather iPhone app was first released on 20th Nov 2008 – yes that’s more than 5 years ago!!! By all accounts, it’s been a highly successful app. Notably, in January 2009, it reached #1 ranking for paid apps in the Australian app store and stayed there for about 10 days, during the period of an intense heatwave, and deadly bush-fires. And over the entire 5 year period, the app has been installed onto hundreds of thousands of devices.

There have also been more than 30 free app updates released during that period, and also an attempt to use in-app purchase to provide new, advanced features, which were much appreciated by a number of users. This also attracted a lot of very negative and vocal feedback from users who thought they should be getting it all for free, and as a result I eventually re-integrated those features into the app and removed the in-app purchase. But the damage was done, and with a competitor who crowed loudly that their own app’s updates would be free forever (they’ve since reneged of course), Oz Weather lost its lead in the app store to them.

And here’s how Oz Weather sales have gone, over the last few years…

Sales_2010_2013

So as you see, despite the many app updates (seen as comments bubbles in the above graphic) new sales have trailed off considerably. There are a number of reasons for this. The biggest one is that competition has increased a lot over the years. In fact it seems that my own openness in posting my app’s sales figures during those early years probably encouraged quite a few other developers to try their hand at it. And then there were the bigger players in the Australian weather field, such as “WeatherZone” and “Elders Weather”, who had just been slow to get into the app store, and eventually figured out how to make their apps more appealing. Some of those competitors innovated with new types of features that I didn’t think would be as appealing to users as they actually turned out to be. More recently still, it seems to have become something of a trend amongst app developers to use weather apps as a kind of test playground for new app design paradigms. And there have indeed been some really nicely-designed weather apps coming out, especially with iOS7 style interfaces.

And it is indeed the iOS7 operating system update that finally prompted me to consider starting afresh. And with this impetus, suddenly there was a surge of new enthusiasm to create several innovative new features, some of which had been floating around in the back of my head for years, but not seen the light of day due to lack of motivation stemming from the various issues described above.

The big issue was, of course, whether or not this could or should be offered as a (necessarily free) update to the existing Oz Weather app, as opposed to creating a brand new app. I’m sure readers of this post will be well aware of the many precedents for creating new apps as opposed to providing free updates – the first big one of which was Tweetie – and they got some really bad reactions, although over time there has been greater and greater acceptance that this is pretty much a necessary way to go in order for app developers to survive, in particular given the shortcomings of in-app purchases, and the fact that they simply aren’t workable in many types of non-game category apps.

A key metric to consider in my own case is that I’ve spent around 1000hrs building the new app and its associated server code. Even if I were to value my time with only a modest hourly rate, at the current rate of app sales, it would take much more than a year of ongoing income, in fact maybe several years, to pay for the time I’ve invested in it. Obviously that would not be a sustainable way to work or run a business.

Also, many of the existing Oz Weather users bought the app more than 3 years ago – most of them paid around $2.49 for it, although it’s since gone down to $1.99 due to Apple changed pricing tiers, combined with ongoing downward price pressure from the competitors. Further, many users do continue to use the app on a daily basis – so it would be hard for them to argue that they haven’t got good value for money.

Then, of course there are those users – a much smaller number – who bought the app more recently – and it will probably feel less fair to them not to be getting a free upgrade. However, I am not intending to stop providing data feeds to the existing app, at least for the foreseeable future. (I don’t want to make any rash promises that I might not be able to honour – it might be necessary to drop the feed at some point down the line.) So those users will continue to have a fully-featured, working app – the same features that were advertised to them in the app store, and which they paid for. I do know it will suck a little bit more for those who bought it only really recently. So if you really feel that badly about paying for the upgrade, and are financially stressed by it, what the hell, why not send me an email, via the app’s About / Email us button, and if you really make a good case, I’ll see if I can help out.

There it is – that is why I’m releasing the new version of Oz Weather as a new app. For better or for worse. So may god help me. Amen. ;-)

Written by ajnaware

Wednesday, 20 November 2013 at 4:56 pm

Sun Seeker Sizzles!

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The Sun Seeker app has continued to be enhanced and honed in a series of updates, the most recent being v2.8, which includes a modernised interface – yep, those are indeed flat button faces. ;-)

Sun Seeker v2.8 compass screen

Sun Seeker v2.8 Compass Screen

These updates seem to have attracted a bit of positive attention resulting in several new blog reviews, culminating in the following fabulous review from top-notch reviewer John Martellaro (@jmartellaro) of The Mac Observer. This is a must-read review, not just because it is positively glowing, but also because John saw fit to include my detailed answers to his probing questions, including some inside information on how the app works, and especially importantly on how to ensure optimum compass calibration of your device.

Just to show a little more of the app here, my own favorite feature update is the ability to select date and time on the map view via a scroller.

Sun Seeker Map View

 

Written by ajnaware

Thursday, 4 April 2013 at 4:17 pm

Sun Seeker for Android!

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After a long development period I’m delighted to announce that Sun Seeker is now finally available for Android devices!

Click on this logo to see it in the Android Marketplace.

Available in Android Market


Is is real or is it Memorex? (You have to be of a certain age to remember that advertising slogan!)

Yes – it looks just like the iPhone version in most ways, and includes all the same features as the latest iPhone version.

I’m especially interested to see how sales go, and find out just how different the app sales may be between the two devices. Of course Sun Seeker on iPhone is well established, and it may take a while for the Android version to find its momentum. We’ll see!

Written by ajnaware

Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Sun Seeker Test Shots

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Here are a couple of images from Sun Seeker put together (unsolicited) by a generous and enthusiastic New York based photographer/cinematographer – Hal Hansen.

He’s currently revamping his website and I’ll provide a link to it here when it’s ready. Thanks Hal!

I love the way he’s featured an iconic yellow cab which is a New York signature. Did anyone notice that it’s not actually the same cab in each shot? That’s clever photography! ;-)

Written by ajnaware

Thursday, 24 March 2011 at 3:20 pm

Posted in iPad, iPhone, Software & Hardware

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Sun Seeker Update v1.5

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As part of a series of planned updates for the Sun Seeker augmented reality iPhone app, the latest update v1.5 has just been approved by Apple.

For a video demo of Sun Seeker see this earlier blog post.

The main changes for v1.5 are:

  • Enhanced performance for smoother compass dial rotation
  • Added new table of annual rise and set times
  • Added new table of sun’s daily azimuth and elevation
  • Added tap action to rise/set label to see local times instead of intervals
  • Better handling of disabled Location Services
  • More efficient use of GPS – now only used briefly on startup
  • Fixed some minor bugs and issues with date changes

[Note - v1.5.1 update has been submitted to fix OS3.0 backward compatibility and missing sunset times for some locations west of GMT.]

Following is a more detailed description of some of these items.

1. Enhanced Compass Dial Rotation

The compass dial in Sun Seeker includes text which retains its orientation relative to the device regardless of the compass rotation, and this means that at least part of the image needs to be re-rendered for each incremental rotation of that dial as the compass rotates. Previously the whole image was being redrawn each time, and that performance hit meant that the dial motion was quite jerky when it needed to make large rotational changes. The new implementation involves much less redrawing, and hence allows the compass to be much more responsive.

2. New Tables

The table of rise and set times spans the entire year, and hence allows you to look up rise and set times for any given date.

The table of the solar path lists the sun’s azimuth and elevation at 15 minutes intervals throughout the currently selected day.

3. Tap action to see rise/set time instead of intervals

This was added simply for clarity. Tapping on the rise/set labels on the compass screen toggles the display between showing the rise and set time in local time versus showing time duration between now and the rise and set times.

4. Better handling of Location Services status

A problem to date has been if the user has switched off the device Location Services or (perhaps accidentally) disabled them for this particular app. In these cases the app can only use its last acquired location data, and in this case the app shows data which is correct for that old location, but incorrect for the user’s current location.

This issue has been the biggest generator of email support requests to date, but I now expect that this will lessen considerably, because I have implemented clear warning messages which pop-up whenever location services are disabled, each time that the app starts up or resumes from background.

5. More efficient use of GPS

Previous versions of the app left GPS on continuously while the app was active (although off when inactive or in background), and this presented the app with ongoing positional updates while it was open. But for the sake of efficient use of GPS, it seemed unnecessary to leave it on once the location had been determined to a reasonable accuracy, so GPS is now only on as long as location has not been found to reasonable accuracy. However an important point here is that the app should re-query its location not only every time it starts up, but also whenever it resumes from background. The reason for this of course is that the device may have changed location while it was in background – for example it may resume from background after the user has traveled somewhere by air!

6. Future Updates

By far the most common request from users has been to allow selection of other cities/locations rather than just the current current, and this is the next major feature planned. But please note that it is not a trivial update! A particular difficulty here is in ensuring that the local times reported for other locations respect the correct timezones and daylight savings rules for those locations throughout the year. However, I do have a solution planned, and hope to be able to do this within a reasonable timeframe.

The next most common request has been for an Android version. Due to the particularly technical nature of the app, and the fact that I personally have no grounding in Android development, this is a much more difficult proposition. However I have been looking to outsource it. I apologise to those who have been waiting impatiently, and I can assure you that these plans are progressing.

In the meantime, I hope you continue to enjoy the app!

Written by ajnaware

Saturday, 19 March 2011 at 12:18 pm

Dynamically adding UIActionSheet buttons

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Every once in a while I come across a seemingly simple iPhone coding requirement, but Apple documentation just doesn’t seem to give enough pointers, and nor does web search throw up anything useful. It may just be my inability to find the right keywords to search for, but it might also be that no-one else has posted anything about it. So here is just one such thing in case it proves helpful to anyone.

The UIActionSheet is a very useful class, and I use it frequently in my apps, but its initialisation method doesn’t allow you to add buttons from an array. Instead you apparently typically just add them hardcoded as an initialiser parameter  - and almost all code examples on the web seem to use this method.

Standard example – hardcoded buttons:

- (void)testActionSheetStatic {
	// Create the sheet with buttons hardcoded in initialiser
	UIActionSheet *sheet = [[UIActionSheet alloc] 
		initWithTitle:@"Static UIActionSheet"
		delegate:self
		cancelButtonTitle:@"Cancel"
		destructiveButtonTitle:nil
		otherButtonTitles:@"Item A", @"Item B", @"Item C", nil];

	[sheet showFromRect:view.bounds inView:view animated:YES];
	[sheet release];
}

So that is all well and good if the option buttons are known in advance and never change. But what if I need to change them at runtime? It seems easy enough to add buttons dynamically instead, by leaving out those button declarations from the initialiser, and adding them afterwards instead, and the following code shows how you might assume this should be done.

Dynamically added buttons (first attempt):

- (void)testActionSheetDynamic {
	// Create the sheet with only cancel button
	UIActionSheet *sheet = [[UIActionSheet alloc] 
		initWithTitle:@"Dynamic UIActionSheet"
		delegate:self
		cancelButtonTitle:@"Cancel"
		destructiveButtonTitle:nil
		otherButtonTitles:nil];

	// Add buttons one by one (e.g. in a loop from array etc...)
	[sheet addButtonWithTitle:@"Item A"];
	[sheet addButtonWithTitle:@"Item B"];
	[sheet addButtonWithTitle:@"Item C"];

	[sheet showFromRect:view.bounds inView:view animated:YES];
	[sheet release];
}

The problem with this becomes apparent when you run it – the cancel button appears at the TOP of the sheet, whereas standard practice seems to be that it should be at the bottom. How to achieve this? I didn’t manage to find a way of doing this while adding the cancel button in the initialiser. Instead I eventually found a way of doing so by adding it also as a dynamic button.

Dynamically added buttons (also with dynamic cancel button):

- (void)testActionSheetDynamic {
	// Create the sheet without buttons
	UIActionSheet *sheet = [[UIActionSheet alloc] 
		initWithTitle:@"Dynamic UIActionSheet"
		delegate:self
		cancelButtonTitle:nil
		destructiveButtonTitle:nil
		otherButtonTitles:nil];

	// Add buttons one by one (e.g. in a loop from array etc...)
	[sheet addButtonWithTitle:@"Item A"];
	[sheet addButtonWithTitle:@"Item B"];
	[sheet addButtonWithTitle:@"Item C"];

	// Also add a cancel button
	[sheet addButtonWithTitle:@"Cancel"];
	// Set cancel button index to the one we just added so that we know which one it is in delegate call
	// NB - This also causes this button to be shown with a black background
	sheet.cancelButtonIndex = sheet.numberOfButtons-1;

	[sheet showFromRect:view.bounds inView:view animated:YES];
	[sheet release];
}

In this case the cancel button appears at the bottom, and all works as expected.

The main remaining question I had was what on earth the destructive button was (also apparently not explained in Apple documentation). Some experimentation seemed to show that it was effectively identical to a cancel button with the exception that it had RED background instead of a black one. So if you change the last example to set the destructiveButtonIndex instead of the cancelButtonIndex, then the only difference is that the button labelled “Cancel” would have a red background.

For completeness and sanity, this is the delegate code that goes with all of the above examples.

- (void)actionSheet:(UIActionSheet *)actionSheet 
		clickedButtonAtIndex:(NSInteger)buttonIndex {
	if (buttonIndex == actionSheet.cancelButtonIndex) { return; }
	switch (buttonIndex) {
		case 0:
		{
			NSLog(@"Item A Selected");
			break;
		}
		case 1:
		{
			NSLog(@"Item B Selected");
			break;
		}
		case 2:
		{
			NSLog(@"Item C Selected");
			break;
		}
	}
}

Written by ajnaware

Saturday, 26 February 2011 at 9:21 am

OptimalClub – A Powerful Golfing Aid

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OptimalClub is the latest iPhone app that I have developed, created in association with Todd Kos of QualityGolfStats LLC, who is the app publisher. Todd has a long history in golf software, being the creator of the industry-leading OptimalFlight desktop software, used for club fitting by the pros.

Official OptimalClub App Website

OptimalClub uses the very same physics simulation model as the desktop software does, but makes it available on your iPhone in real-time, along with live local weather observations, in order to provide an accurate simulation of the actual golf shot path superimposed onto local satellite imagery of the course, according to the clubs available in your bag. This allows you to see at a glance and select which of your clubs best suits the current distance required, and also shows how far to the left or right you will need to aim in order to adjust for wind deviation, which can be substantial, even in only moderate wind conditions. Below are four screen shots showing the effect on the the shot of the wind coming from four different directions.

In this case the best club selection varies from an 8 iron (when wind is directly behind) to a 1 hybrid (when wind is head on), and the aim varies from 32 metres to the right of the target to 26 metres to the left of the target when the wind comes from either side, instead. That’s quite a range! And that is just for a 27 kmh wind (17 mph). By the way, the units used for distances and weather are of course selectable in the app settings.

The weather engine used in the app is very similar to that used in the See Breeze augmented reality wind visualisation app. However, due to the possibility of very localised wind variations or sudden weather changes in some cases, we felt that we needed to offer the user the ability to override the weather reported by the nearest weather stations, and therefore there is an option to choose between automatic and manual weather settings.

In order to customise the app to your very own set of clubs and your own unique skill and style, you can enter details of your own clubs and the typical distances you get with them. The app then uses its advanced built-in shot physics simulation to estimate the club launch parameters (speed, launch angle and ball spin) for each and every club, after which it can predict, with surprisingly good accuracy, the actual shot path and distance you will get in the field for any given set of wind and weather conditions, as well as altitude variations and changes in elevation between the tee point and the hole.

Once your clubs are set up, all you need to do is to set up the individual shot you are about to take ie. to specify your shot origin point and your target, using the side-toolpanel.

As soon as you have specified origin and target, the app shows you the nearest 5 club distance arcs – again taking into full account the current wind, weather and elevation differences.

In the above example, the wind is from the left, and due to the short distance (62 metres), the nearest shots are all partial swings using a pitching wedge (from 30 to 70% swing effort). The arcs on the map are color coded to identify which club/swing they are showing. And once you select a club (by tapping on it), you will see the full shot simulation for that club/swing, as shown below.

The hole-in-one odds are also shown for your entertainment, if you have them switched on in the app settings. Good luck!

Of course I’ve only covered some aspects of the app here. Considerable effort was put into getting the map display right (which is even rotatable via finger-gesture), and the sequence of actions required to setup a shot with as few steps and as quickly as possible, so as to minimise interference with actual game play. All-in-all this is an app that I am particularly pleased with. It has taken considerably more development effort than any of the other apps I’ve worked on, and the result is something quite unique and powerful. Of course now the challenge will be to see how much traction and visibility this app may get now that there are 300,000 other apps competing for eyeballs.

To start things off we are offering a limited time introductory sale price – 50% off ie. US$9.99, so if you are at all interested, it may be well worth your while getting it now. (NB – Sale is still on at time of writing this article.)

Written by ajnaware

Tuesday, 15 February 2011 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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