Another app is born. :-) This one has the potentially grandiose title “Everywhere“. But in fact that is exactly what it’s about! This app keeps you in touch with the world.
At a glance, you can see
- Current local time
- Current temperature and weather
- Next forthcoming holiday
You can create a list of any locations that interest you – for example, where-ever your family, friends, colleagues and business associates live and work.
And as an additional tool to help you work out the crazy timezones of this world, it offers a fantastic scrolling full-screen visual zone comparison table. So no longer any need to accidentally call your uncle when it’s 3am in his part of the world.
And along with the time is a color-coded time-status that indicates, again at a glance, whether each location is in normal working hours, normal waking hours, nighttime hours, or public holiday hours.
In fact this app is not entirely a new creation – it has heritage (and pedigree!), being a re-incarnation of a much older Windows app called ZoneTrekker, which had the notable achievement of having had the Pentagon, no less, purchase a site-wide multi-user license for it. That harks back to the days when I made my living as a Windows desktop app developer. But with such an illustrious past, I felt it was time to re-birth the concept as a mobile app – so now here it is as a universal iOS app – and in fact much nicer than the original in a number of ways!
Key to Colors
Color-coding is used in various places in the app to indicate time status, for the location in question. The colors are:
- ■ Light Blue – normal working hours (9am to 5pm)
- ■ Dark Cyan – non-working but waking hours (7am to 9am, 5pm to 10pm)
- ■ Dark Green – night-time or sleeping hours (10pm to 7am)
- ■ Pink – public holidays waking hours (7am to 10pm)
- To add a location, tap on the + button, and type in a city name.
- To delete a location, tap on the Edit button, and then on the – button at the left of the cell.
- To re-order locations, tap on the Edit button, and then drag entries into the desired order using the drag-bars on the right of each cell.
- To see a list of the current and next year’s holidays for a given location, tap on the ellipsis on the right hand side of the cell.
- Note that public holidays are shown with Pink, whereas “observances” which are not usually taken as public holidays are shown with Dark Cyan.
So there is is! Now what are you waiting for? Go and get it!
Here is an interesting take on just who are the most influential indie Apple developers, using a tool for ranking people’s influence in their particular field, based on twitter and website stats.
As a result of my special association with him (yes, he’s my brother), I had the opportunity to apply it to my own field of endeavour, and I think it does indeed provide a valuable insight into who the influencers really are. Note that I’ve included myself in the list, not so much for vanity as for the sake of having a good control point. ;-)
Here is a snapshot of the rankings as at
11th March 2015 18th Jul 2015. Note – As this is a graphical snapshot, the green buttons are inoperative – they normally would show you the twitter handle and website link used. I hope to replace this with a fully-functioning *live* version, eventually.
Selection criteria I used for appearing on this list
1) Have developed successful Mac and/or iOS apps
2) Write publicly via twitter and/or blog/website about app development, app store and Apple
3) Be posting (only or mainly) as an independent developer i.e. have own website or blog
4) Reasonably prominent – anyone scoring too low in this ranking system may be dropped from the table, for the sake of expediency and avoiding overload
Please note – I have compiled an initial list based on my own conjecture about who was reasonably prominent in this field. If you have a suggestion about who else to add, please let me know via twitter @gpdawson. Note that the individual must have 1) a twitter account and 2) a website or blog for which they are the primary contributors. Generally, anyone with a company website with multiple contributors can’t realistically be included without distorting the results.
I am living with 6 LIFX light bulbs in my home – and I just love the way this allows me to redecorate my working and living space to my whim, both with simple and complex, dynamic lighting schemes. In fact, with these lights, I can’t see myself ever wanting to paint my walls with any particular color scheme again. It’s just no longer necessary – and now seems far too static and inflexible a way to make my home attractive.
I’ve had my fair share of teething problems with the bulbs – at one point, after lengthy email exchanges with LIFX tech support, I returned the entire batch for a new replacement set, after a seemingly endless series of problems with lights falling into and out of being unrecognised by the LIFX app. But to their credit, with the newer bulbs, and more recently with the migration of LIFX to the cloud, the system is now working really nicely – almost glitch free.
In fact it is this migration to the cloud which has finally allowed the bulbs to achieve some of the amazing potential that they have to make life more fun and more beautiful. Amazing things were promised, but not delivered by previous incarnations of the LIFX apps, which could only perform simplistic local control functions. These were fine for setting up a lighting scheme manually, or showing off the bulbs via a brief light show, but simply didn’t allow any significant form of automation.
This is how my lighting system is set up
- Hallway – 2 lights (Door, Hall)
- Living Room – 2 lights (Behind TV, Couch Lamp)
- Office – 2 lights (Desk A, Desk B)
I have three “scenes” that I can set manually via the LIFX app on my phone
- Evening – Living Room lights switched to semi-dimmed warm (orange) glow (and all other lights switched to off) – this creates a warm,relaxed atmosphere
- Work – Office lights switched to bright cool (blue) glow – this helps concentration and aids clear seeing of detail
- Arriving Home – Hallway lights switch to semi-dimmed warm (orange) glow – this is helpful when coming home, especially at night, if the lights are off when I come in
So these formed the backbone of the system, and covered 8o% of my lighting needs – the remaining 20% of finer adjustments came by controlling bulbs individually, or just occasionally by selecting some of the special effects offered by the app – one my favourites being a dynamic northerns lights type display, which unfortunately seems to have dropped out of the latest version of the app. However, there is still plenty of scope for playing and fun with the effects provided, and realistically, this is more of a show-off feature than something I’d want to use on a regular basis.
Turn on lights at sunset
When the Weather channel notifies me that it is my local sunset time (trigger), the LIFX channel fades in my Office lights.
Purpose – This is designed to help me maintain good light when I am sitting at my desk, without needing to manually activate the lights.
Cons – If I am not at home, or not sitting at my desk, these lights come on anyway. In order to counter this, I need to take note of the iOS notification that I receive when the sunset trigger occurs, and then manually switch off the lights.
Turn off lights at sunrise
When the Weather channel notifies me that it is my local sunrise time (trigger), the LIFX channel fades out all my lights (if any happen to be on).
Purpose – This is designed to avoid leaving the lights on unnecessarily, if I happen to have gotten up early and switched on the Office lights manually before starting work. Without this, I often find later that the lights are still on despite having sun streaming through the window.
Cons – No major cons to this one. Perhaps if there is heavy cloud cover, then I wouldn’t want to lights to go right off, but it is easy enough for me to make a manual adjustment if I see the lights dimming themselves and want them brighter.
Turn on lights when I get close to Home
When the iOSLocation channel notifies me that I have entered the area around my home (trigger), the LIFX channel fades in my Hallway lights.
Purpose – This is designed to ensure that lights are on when I open the door, so I don’t have to fumble around in the dark, and use my phone to switch on the lights.
Cons – Unfortunately the IFTTT system doesn’t allow me to combine this trigger with a daylight/nighttime condition, so if it is still daylight, then I don’t actually need lights on as there is already sufficient daylight in the hallway, and in this case I have to switch them off manually after I get home. Another, more subtle, issue is that just occasionally (once in a few days), this trigger gets activated even though I haven’t actually left home. My best guess is that this is due to occasional inaccurate GPS readings which, momentarily, locate me far enough from my true home location so as to trigger the re-entry event once the accuracy improves again. It might be possible to reduce the likelihood of this happening by choosing a larger radius for the trigger area – I’ll experiment with this further over time.
Note that a common factor in the cons of these automation methods is the lack of ability to combine triggers. After all, it seems a fairly basic need to have your lights to come on automatically only once it is already dark. As the IFTTT system does not allow you to combine triggers from different channels, it seems that the only way to achieve this would be for LIFX to make an addition to their own IFTTT channel by adding an extra trigger condition i.e. whether or not it is currently daytime or night-time at your given location. I will be bringing this post to their attention. If you agree with me on this one – and it does seem to be a crucial issue for allowing LIFX bulbs to achieve more of their true potential – then please let them know you want this too: Submit request to LIFX
Here it is! I’m excited to present my first new app in a long, long time! It’s called HyperAltimeter, and it’s all about pressure and altitude, and pushing the limits of what can be done with the new barometer sensor that is embedded in your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.
Whilst most smartphones are already equipped with GPS receivers, which do provide altitude readings, these are not typically very accurate. The GPS system is designed to obtain your horizontal position to a good degree of accuracy, but accuracy of altitude was not a key design factor.
However, the new barometer sensors are very sensitive, and can detect pressure changes as small as those experienced just by raising the device from your chest level to above your head. This means that it excels at measuring changes in height as you climb stairs, or walk or run a course.
However, longer term changes in pressure due to moving weather systems means that height changes can only be determined accurately over short periods of time, and similarly it also means that your altitude from sea level cannot be determined accurately from barometric data, alone.
The solution to longer term accuracy in height changes and absolute altitude measurement comes from combining the device’s barometric data with weather data i.e. readings of local pressure and temperature.
Amazingly, from first idea to this app becoming available in the app store was just six days! I’ve typically spent one to three months developing each new app, and then many more months, over time, enhancing and refining them. But in this case, by leverage code and experience from my other apps, I submitted the app to Apple after just five days. And then Apple’s approval came within twelve hours. By comparison, review time for app submissions is currently averaging about twelve days. So it seems Apple is especially keen to help along apps that make use of the iPhone 6’s new capabilities.
About the App
This app measures your altitude via three very different means (or via two means if your device doesn’t have a barometer sensor). This allows much greater accuracy than relying only on the device GPS sensor alone to find your altitude.
In fact the standard GPS readings of altitude are far less accurate than the other two methods, so it is provided here mainly just for the sake of comparison.
The three methods are:
- GPS sensor
- Online mapping survey data
- Barometer sensor combined with current local atmospheric conditions
This screen shows all available altitude-related data, as well as showing your current location on a map. The displayed data items are:
- GPS Altitude – this is the altitude from the standard GPS sensor. Note that the given accuracy is one returned by the sensor, although by observation the stated accuracy range is sometimes too small, and does not overlap the more accurate measurement taken via the two other methods.
- Map Altitude + Δh – This shows the altitude for your current location as determined via online mapping data. It is generally very accurate in relation to gound level. If you are in a high-rise, use the Height Above Ground field to enter your local height – this will automatically then be included in the altitude value shown in this field.
- Barometric Altitude – Barometer sensor combined with current local atmospheric conditions (means sea level pressure and temperature), which are then used to calculate your actual altitude. Note – this method is only available on devices which include a barometer sensor.
- Device Pressure – Shows the actual pressure reading from the device barometer, as used in the altitude calculation.
- MSL Pressure – Shows the mean sea level pressure from the nearest available weather observation location, as used in the barometric altitude calculation. Tap on this cell to see detailed information about the local weather data it is currently using.
- Height Above Ground (Δh) – this is a value you must enter yourself, if you are in a high-rise building or otherwise abve local ground level, and is used to refine the the Map Altitude calculation, above.
This view allows you to see how altitude is changing with time, via a constantly updating graph. The three option are:
- GPS Altitude – Shows the altitude data returned by the device GPS sensor.
- Barometric Altitude – Barometer sensor combined with current local atmospheric conditions (means sea level pressure and temperature), which are then used to calculate your actual altitude. This value is retrospectively adjusted when each new local mean sea level pressure reading is obtained, to take account of the atmospheric pressure trend. Due to these adjustments, this graph should show reasonable stability over the long term.
- Δ Altitude – Shows the relative difference in altitude from when you first started the app, or tap the reset button, based on changes in pressure. This is very accurate for measuring short-term altitude changes, such as going up or down stairs, taking short walks or runs across terrain etc. Over longer time periods it will likely suffer from drift due to changes in atmospheric pressure, due to moving weather systems. For this reason you may want to reset this graph just before using it to make a measurement of change in your altitude.
- Pressure – Shows the raw pressure readings from the barometer in your device. This value changes over time for two reasons – one is when you move up or down, as pressure changes with your altitude, and the other is changes in local atmospheric pressure due to weather systems and wind gusts. If you keep the device stationary, then this graph will reflect only atmospheric pressure changes.
So what are you waiting for? Go and get it from Apple’s app store!
I’ve just submitted an update to Sun Seeker for iOS – v4.3.
This update contains an experimental feature which addresses one of the most difficult aspects of using the device’s compass to obtain an accurate heading, when using the augmented reality 3D view to see the solar path. This article seeks to explain what this feature is about, and how best to use it.
Note that the Android version of Sun Seeker does not yet have this feature. I will be relying on feedback from iOS users before deciding whether to implement it in the Android version.
In the last major release (v4.2), I introduced the ability to toggle between Compass+Gyroscope mode and Gyroscope-only mode. This was already a big leap forward, because the gyroscope-only mode allows users to manually adjust the 3D View heading simply by dragging it manually.
The gyroscope-only mode allows you to set the heading manually, and the device then holds your setting relative to the gyroscope. Although there is likely to be a slow drifting of the gyroscope-only data, provided that you were able to set the heading accurately, this will work well for short periods of time – more than likely long enough to get all the information you need from the app.
Of course this all depends on you being able to set the heading accurately yourself. If the sun is out, then this is very easy – just line up the sun icon in the camera view with the actual position of the sun! Easy. :-)
But what if the sun isn’t out? Well this is where the new “Azimuth Finder” feature comes in. Tap on the settings (gear) icon in the 3D View, and you will see two new options at the bottom of the list of settings.
- Show Reference Azimuth – If you have already selected a location, use this option to to toggle the display of an azimuth line corresponding to the selected location.
- Set Reference Location – Tap this to open the “Azimuth Finder” view, and select a location or landmark within your line of sight, to use for your reference azimuth.
All you have to do in this view is to use the map to browse to a landmark or location that is visible from where you are now. It must be somewhere that you can identify when looking later through the 3D camera overlay view. When you have found a suitable location, just tap and hold to drop a marker. The app will use geocoding to assign a name or address to the location, and calculate it’s azimuth from the current device location.
In this particular example, I am (just) able to see the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from here, despite the rain and low cloud, so that makes a good landmark to use.
Then, as soon as you tap “Done“, you are returned to the 3D View, and there is now a new line showing the azimuth of the selected location. Note that you will only see this line if you are already looking in approximately the right direction! Otherwise you may need to pan around until you bring it into view.
You may be able to make out the Sydney Harbour Bridge in this screenshot – just to the right of the chimney, directly below the centre cursor.
As this 3D View is already in gyroscope-only mode, all I needed to do next was to manually drag the white azimuth line to the actual location of the bridge – in this case four degrees to the right. And, voila, we now have a very well-calibrated heading!
Note that if you leave this for a while it may drift off again little by little, due to gyroscope drift. In that case, simply repeat the same calibration procedure.
Once you’ve selected a particular landmark for calibration, it is remembered (and the heading automatically adjusts itself if you change location yourself), so you can just switch the reference azimuth line on or off via the settings icon. And at any time you can choose a different reference location too, as you will obviously need to do if you move to a new location from which the original landmark is not visible.
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…
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. ;-)
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. ;-)
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.