Under the Bridge

Review: Escape Plan

Bit of a diversion today; we’re cutting away briefly from our accustomed iOS programming captivation to give you Dear Readers a recommendation for some lifestyle reading material. So if you’re just here for the geek and not interested in discovering the wide world out there, see you next time; on the other hand, keep reading if “Escape Plan: Discover the World, Live Better for Less” sounds intriguing:

escape-plan-2-pbook008.png

Ah, still here. Excellent. As you may have picked up on if you’ve been hanging around here a while, trolls do like to traipse about; seen about a third of the world, depending how you go about counting. (TravelersCenturyClub.org is the grandaddy of the place-counting cliques, and comes up with 321 places; MostTraveledPeople.com aggregates a bunch of minor sources like the DXCC List plus splits larger countries into their provinces and adds a bunch of oddball specks and border quirks to come up with 873 places; and of course the true connoisseur logs their visits to the 981 and counting UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well.)

And we tend to get a reaction whenever this comes up of how ohmigod you must be so rich to do that. And we’re like, well, no actually, if you have some clue about figuring stuff out on your own instead of supporting travel agent chains by booking package tours, it’s actually not a terribly expensive solo hobby — cheaper than it would cost to stay at home (living in the most expensive city in North America makes that comparison easier, of course…) quite often.

And then they’re like ohmigod you go by yourself to strange places how could anyone ever do that scary scary eek! And we sigh. Same planet, different worlds.

So for all those of you who have that instinctive reaction to the idea of going wayfaring, this is the single best book we’ve ever encountered to change your view of the rest of the world. And for those of you who think long term travel is a great idea but impractical, this is the single best book we recommend for you to read too. Hey, we’re iOS programmers, get a data sim from Keepgo.com (née iPhoneTrip) and all we need to be productive fits in a carryon and can set up anywhere with a cell signal, amirite?

Even if you’re one of the jaded Bindere Dundats of the peripatetic lifestyle, yeah you know 99+% of this already no big surprise secrets in wait, but even so there’s probably a couple of practical tips you’ll pick up flipping through this to make it worth the read. For instance, we had not previously been aware of EarthClassMail.com which looks like a significant upgrade to our usual mail arrangements.

So yeah; we recommend to pretty much everyone that this should be put somewhere near the top of your personal development reading list. And if you don’t have one of those — why, nothing better to start it off with, click that banner NOW!

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Free Tapstream Analytics

Do you subscribe to iOS Dev Weekly? If not, you should be, it’s pretty much the highest signal curated development news around; and there’s an extra special good reason to this week — the ad. No, really, the ad.

Going beyond iOS 7′s pretty face

Getting your app in front of the pack this year will take more than a facelift. Tapstream, the simple app marketing analytics company, is running a special for iOS Dev Weekly readers this week only: sign up and activate the SDK within the next 7 days and get our $99/month Pro account at no cost for life.

Marketing analytics are an excellent idea if you like to know if you’re wasting your money or what, of course. The first baby step is to tag your Linkshare affiliate links, but for people who are more serious about it, there’s a whole market segment out there such as the Developer Economics collection we linked to from that marketing omnibus of a last post. Last month a project we were working on decided AppsFlyer was the way to go, but perhaps we’d have decided different if this offer had come along then. Check them out,

Tapstream: App Marketing, Unified.

and if their $99/month plan looks to you like having free for life, hey now you know what to do!

UPDATES:

This is a good writeup of applied Tapstream usage.

And so is How Veam Studios Increased In-App Purchases by 260%.

Deeplinking with Tapstream even works before your app is installed!

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Roundup: App Marketing 2013

It’s been quite a while since we last collected any goodies about educating yourself in marketing and discovery and all those topics you need to have somewhat of a passing familiarity with to put enough food on the table to keep doing the fun stuff, so let’s list off our collection of interesting links we’ve noted lately, shall we?

First off, let’s get the depressing news out the way: according to App Promo‘s 2013 Survey infographic, it’s not getting any easier to earn a living:

81% of app developers said that they would not abandon their app despite the same amount not making enough money to support a standalone business…

More developers are not breaking even in 2013 [67%] compared to 2012 [59%]…

Most Android developers [73%] are not breaking even and are 4 times more likely [41%] to have zero revenue compared to iOS [58% and 10% respectively]…

Yeah. Besides the cold comfort of being less lame than Android, not much happiness there. Of course, they figure that their paid services are the solution to your ills; but check out their white papers and marketing tips collection even if you don’t have the budget to consider that. Not to mention follow their blog, which looks like it has a pretty good signal to noise ratio.

Right then. So how are we going to make sure we get into that 19% that do have a standalone app business?

First off, make sure your app doesn’t suck. Yes, that’s rather obvious, but it’s also quantifiable:

A very nice visualization of the US iOS App Store over at App Store Rankings shows that a 4.5-star app gets downloaded on average 3.7x more often than a 3.5-star app (265K downloads versus 71K). Our own research has shown that developers that use performance or user analytics tools to improve their apps generate about 3x as much revenue on average…

(And in what will become a theme here, check out Developer Economics’ automated testing, beta testing, split testing, crash analytics, and user analytics collections.)

Then, make sure your non-sucking app has its pricing strategy well thought out. If it’s paid, read Understanding App Store Pricing — Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4 and Part 5. If it’s freemium style microtransactions, that’s a tricky design philosophy, not “marketing” as such. Unless you count “exploiting addictive behaviour” as “marketing”. It certainly can make you money yes … but we’ve seen real world people act way too close to gambling or drug addicts about their little dragons and such to be all that comfortable with ourselves if we intentionally designed apps that way. And that leaves free with advertising, a strategy that we’ve been investing time into the last little while with a little project that we might be able to tell you about soonish. If you get our drift.

(Check out Developer Economics’ monetization tools, ad networks, and cross-promotion network collections.)

Those fundamentals out of the way, you can move on to the attention generation parts of marketing that you prepare during development to be ready on release day. There’s lots all over about the importance of preparing landing pages and videos and descriptions (that fit) and icons and screenshots and all that for your App Store release materials and press kit, so we won’t belabour most of that further than was done in last year’s links above, other than to point out a really awesome example — just do it like that. The exception that merits belabouring is picking your keywords correctly (and using your title as an extension of your keywords), since they’re the only means of in-store organic discovery, plus you can only change them with a binary upload and review process. There’s some good backgrounders here:

App Store Optimization (ASO): App Name And Keywords

Creating A Successful Keyword List

and if you’d like to try out a paid service, the contenders are

App Store Rankings that we’ve mentioned before has a cool Visualizing the iOS App Store tool.

AppCodes: “The Swiss Army Knife for App Store Optimization.”

Appnique: “appnique’s proprietary scoring algorithms are one of a kind for the mobile app industry.”

MobileDevHQ: “Getting your app discovered should be the easy part.”

SearchMan: “Powerful SEO Tool for App Store Search”

There’s also a possibly interesting video course done by “The App Store Optimization Blog” guy who cares about this to depths bordering on the unplumbable. And also has a collection of marketing services at ReleaseMyApp.com worth checking out.

OK. So your ducks are in a row ready to go, and it’s launch time. If you have no significant budget your PR efforts probably begin and end with prMac — which is no bad thing, mind you; we laugh ourselves silly regularly at people who offer to, for something between $250 and $1500, do pretty much nothing more than write you a press release and send it to prMac. (For that matter, they probably subcontract the writing to prMac too). If you have more money, there’s no shortage of services out there; you might look at AppLaunch or AppClover or AppPromo or AppWhateverComesUpInGoogle and if any of them strike your fancy enough to pay for them, let us know in the comments how that worked out for you. And if you have a lot of money, why just buy your way into the top 10 for $96K. What, too much? How about top 25 for $7K? How about cross-promotion, or those free app a day places, or plain old banner ads like the ones you’re showing to make money yourself? Well, if there’s anything that makes success with any of those predictable — other than having an app that doesn’t suck in the first place — we haven’t been able to find it. If you’ve got any resounding success stories let us know, but for most people the cost of advertising seems to be more than the acquisitions are worth.

(Feel like trying your luck anyway? Developer Economics has cross-promotion and giveaway and incentivized and advertising collections.)

And then, for most people, it’s the long slog of trying to get noticed by press (of the non-ripoff type) and Apple. Which is pretty straightforward really, these links between them pretty much cover all you need to keep in mind:

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Getting Reviews On Top Blogs

Get Your App Featured And Drive More Downloads

How to get featured on the App Store

Here’s a few more links with useful and/or offbeat tips:

Marketing and Social Media Tactics from the Trenches

Notes from the AltWWDC App Marketing Sessions

An App Store Experiment

So once you’ve gone and launched it, the real trick is tracking what’s going on so you know what worked for you! AppViz and CommentCast are our desktop tool App Store monitors of choice, and we just stumbled across this AppBot service that promises to mail us new reviews as well as note Apple features, should we be so lucky. And there’s a variety of web services too for tracking financials and advertising campaigns, all of which work pretty much as well as any other from what we can tell; App Annie‘s what we’ve been using, but feel free to speak up and tell us if any of the others are working better for you.

(Yes, of course Developer Economics has store analytics and campaign analytics and user analytics and crash analytics collections.)

And that pretty much concludes our roundup. For further research, as you’ve no doubt picked up from the above Developer Economics is the most definitive curated collection of services we’ve found anywhere:

Developer Economics Tool Atlas

and there’s another good curated list here that covers the spaces discussed here and also things like crowdfunding, localization, CRM and so on worth your research as well:

App Marketing Tools For Developers

And hey, if you have any success stories about what’s worked for you, let us know!

UPDATES:

Appower is a marketing guide from AppSpire.me, another “Mobile App Marketing, Advertising, Guaranteed Rankings” service we overlooked above.

Designing App Store “screenshots” talks about using your screenshot uploads as billboards.

What ( I think) I know about advertising, as an indie game developer

App Store Competitive Intelligence: Creating Winners in App Store Optimization

How to write an app press release

oisin / app-release-checklist: “A checklist to pore over before you ship that amazing app that has taken ages to complete, but you don’t want to rush out in case you commit a schoolboy error that will end up making you look dumber than you are.”

An Indie Game Developer’s Marketing Checklist

How to Spy on Your Competitor’s iOS Keywords With the Keyword Spy Tool

Win In The App Store

iOS App Review Sites – 157 Sites For iPhone And iPad App Reviews

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Tip: Xcode 5 Launch Crash

So you installed the latest Xcode 5 DP hotness and … it crashes hard every launch?

The trick here is, it looks at the same folder your out Xcode 4 install does for plugins:

~/Library/Application\ Support/Developer/Shared/Xcode/Plug-ins

… and as a rule They Just Won’t Get On with the shiny new ARC-ified Xcode. So what you want to do is delete or rename that folder, and you’ll be good! Well, good as you can be without Alcatraz and all the other goodies you’ve pimped out Xcode 4 with, but progress is never painless, right?

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UI Design for iOS 7

Well, that’s rather quieted the talk of Apple lacking innovation, hasn’t it? “Polarizing”, indeed. From the frothing to the analytical to the philosophical to the satirical, no shortage of reactions anywhere across the spectrum out there. But here, we’ll skip straight to the practical:

START UPDATING YOUR APPS FOR IOS 7. NOW.

The key takeaway we’ve reached (after less than 24 hours playing with the iOS 7 Beta release) is this – every App must consider even basic updates to its UI to survive in a post-iOS 6 world.

We’re not talking about simply flattening the App icon so it matches alongside the Apple stock Apps new, sleek design. Fundamental elements – from borderless buttons to translucent bars through to full-screen layouts must be considered – and added – to allow your App to take full advantage of iOS 7.

What’s the risk?

Remember what non-retina enabled Apps looked like when the iPhone 4 was released? Well, this has the potential to be worse – much worse. And remember when many people said that iPhone-only Apps would look “just fine” on the iPad when blown up to 2X scale. Yeah, that argument didn’t last long.

Simply put, pre-iOS 7 Apps running on the new OS stick out like a sore thumb – looking aged, clunky, and well…just ancient.

Yep, that’s pretty much how we see it. And here’s stuff to help you get on that:

First off, the prerelease iOS 7 Design Resources at the mothership.

iOS 7 GUI PSD added by Teehan+Lax to their design resources collection.

Introducing iOS 7 GUI PSD

Free iOS 7 UI Kit from MediaLoot

iOS 7 UI Kit for Sketch

iOS 7 Icon Guides PSD

iOS 7 Home Screen PSD

New Open Source Project Bringing iOS 7 Style To iOS 5 and 6 UIKit Interfaces

iOS Library For Creating Great Looking Customizable Flat User Interface Elements

Free iOS UI Templates With A Sleek Minimalist Flat Style

UPDATES:

Open Source Control Providing iOS 7 Inspired Flat UI Elements

iOS 7 Icon Template For Photoshop and Sketch

Start making iOS 7 Icons with the App Icon Template 3.0

Parallax is an iOS library that reproduces the parallax effect of the iOS7 home screen.

Demystification of the iOS 7 Icon Grid Design

iOS Device Summary is a great visual representation of devices by screen, processor, and OS versions.

iOS 7 App Redesigns has reinterpretations of popular apps.

I’m busy curating iOS7 links, Everyday.

DevJuice: Glyphish icon set updated for iOS 7

JagCesar/iOS-blur grabs the UIToolbar blurring layer for your own views.

iOS 7 Wireframe Kit — blakeperdue.com

iPhone iOS7 Wireframe Kit — funsize.co

Rethinking Your Menu Buttons for iOS 7

Download 650+ iOS 7 Icons for Free

iOS 7-Inspired Line Icons

Unleashing Genetic Algorithms on the iOS 7 Icon

iOS7 Before and After Pics

After iOS 7 icons

Reproducing the iOS 7 Mail App’s Interface

The iOS Design Cheat Sheet

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DZone’s Definitive Guide to Cloud Providers

So we’ve made a few passing mentions as they caught our eye of iOS-focused cloud backend options, what the cool kids apparently call MBaaS (“Mobile Backend-as-a-Service”) these days, but haven’t even attempted to place them in any larger context of the BaaS and PaaS and IaaS and all the rest of the speech-impedimented flocks of sheep collectively referred to as “the cloud”. But, there’s someone who has! So, for some light pre-WWDC reading to distract you from fact-free frittering about what the morrow shall bring, why not check out — in their words –

DZone’s Definitive Guide Helps You Make the Right Cloud Decision for Your Organization

Have you ever tried sifting through the hundreds of cloud solutions available in today’s market? There are so many categories of cloud providers that it’s hard to know if you’re researching the right ones for your use case.

So how do you distinguish the contenders from the pretenders? Even if you have nailed down the type of cloud provider you need, you’re still facing a litany of choices.

The cost and time savings of choosing the right cloud provider can revolutionize your business and drive significant new profit, but the selection process is daunting. DZone observed many developers and IT professionals struggling to find the right solution for their organization, so we decided to mount this unprecedented research project to create a definitive guide to cloud providers.

The result is DZone’s Definitive Guide to Cloud Providers:

100 Pages of Cloud Solution Analysis

9 Categories of PaaS and IaaS Analyzed and Compared

35+ of the Most Active Cloud Solutions and Their Feature Sets

Research from 400+ IT Professionals on Cloud Preferences

Get your FREE copy of this guide and make the best decision for your organization.

“Definitive” might be a tad overstating it, there are a couple noted in our previous posts that don’t show up here, but it does thoroughly cover the generally acknowledged leaders in the various categories so far as we can tell; and hey, if nothing else, it’s a great resource for populating those build-vs-buy presentations for management!

UPDATES:

iOS – App42 iOS Cloud APIs for App42 Backend as a Service – BaaS

Make realtime multiplayer games using cocos2D and AppWarp

Flox: The No-Fuzz Game Backend

Developer Economic’s Backend as a Service collection

Test Drive Evaluation is about kwylez/KitchenSync for testing BaaS providers – FatFractal, Kinvey, Parse and Stackmob to start.

Fat Fractal Tutorial for iOS: Getting Started

cocos2d-iphone: Choosing backend

StackMob Announcement: “The StackMob Platform will cease operation on Sunday May 11th, 2014.”

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Tutorial: Local App Data Sharing

There’s a comprehensive — well-nigh exhaustive, in fact — roundup of the pre-WWDC state of the art options for data sharing here:

Tutorial: Sharing Data Locally Between iOS Apps

In the sandboxed world of iOS development sharing data between applications can prove difficult. There are a number of reasons you may want your application to share data with other applications:

  • Releasing a paid app upgrade with a new SKU.
  • Moving user data to a universal binary.
  • Releasing a suite of complementary applications.
  • Partnerships with other developers.

Since iOS developers can’t share data directly through the file system [Did they ever plug this hole? -ed.], they need to find alternate solutions for their applications. Some common solutions include:

  • UIDocumentInteractionController …
  • UIActivityViewController …
  • Shared Keychain Access …
  • Custom URL Scheme …
  • Web Service …
  • UIPasteboard + URL Scheme …

That last one being the one that it delves into the details of, with solution github project here.

Improvements to this suite of options next week are common rumours and wishes, so check back here after the show to see what the new shiny state of the art is!

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Library: Capture a Signature

This is a nifty little piece to bookmark just in case you ever need to do any nice smooth line capturing:

Capture a Signature on iOS

The Square Engineering Blog has a great article on Smoother Signatures for Android, but I didn’t find anything specifically about iOS. So, what is the best way to capture a users signature on an iOS device?

Although I didn’t find any articles on signature capture, there are good implementations on the App Store. My target user experience was the iPad application Paper by 53, a drawing application with beautiful and responsive brushes.

All code is available in the Github repository: SignatureDemo

… Here is an example of the final output using quadratic bézier curves, and velocity based stroke thickness creating a visually appealing and natural signature.

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Handy if you ever need it!

h/t: ManiacDev!

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Review: Cocos2d-x by Example Beginner’s Guide

If you’ve been luxuriating in the joy of developing games iOS-centrically the last few years, it’s a pretty good bet you’ve been using cocos2d-iphone. And it’s also a pretty good bet that the pressures are mounting to acknowledge the existence of other, lesser, platforms, if you get our drift. The path of least resistance to that is to go with the cocos2d-x fork adopted as part of the cocos2d coordinated releases. But up until now there’s been a substantial dearth of documentation for that option, which the good folk at Packt have now remedied:

7341OS_cov.jpg

The first chapter runs through getting you set up and doing the Hello World thing on a Mac with Xcode with the 2.0.4 version, which is the last stable release before the book’s publication date, just in time to be superseded by the 2.1.3 release, although the differences are pretty trivial; and recommends for your tool suite that you pick up Texture Packer, Particle Designer, Glyph Designer, and cfxr. Which we’d agree with across the board.

Chapter 2 goes over the basic structure of the cocos2d framework, introduces C++ to the native iPhone developer and discusses how to live without ARC, or conversely for the C++ programmer how to live with the root class paradigm. Not sure you’d ever manage to square that circle to anyone’s complete satisfaction, but what’s here is a good attempt.

Chapters 3 through 9 go through a series of mini-game examples, introducing

  • images (including retina), sounds, sprites, multitouch, bounding collisions
  • sprite sheets, bitmap fonts, background music, actions, universal apps
  • particles, drawing primitives, vector math
  • placeholder prototyping, terrain generation, platformed collisions
  • texturing terrain, parallax, sprite nesting, menu and tutorial modes
  • Box2D physics worlds, bodies, controls, and collisions
  • scenes, transitions, data loading and saving, notifications, accelerometer

That’s one solid amount of stuff to cover in a beginner’s guide! Plus there’s a very nice appendix on introductory vector math applications, nice touch there. And these games are rather polished for tutorial examples. Indeed, our first criticism of the book is that they’re not up on the App Store for you to check out yourself what you’d be learning, which you may recall we thought was a pretty compelling feature of the Creating Games with cocos2d book. But hey, you can see screenshots on the author’s blog here.

Chapter 10 — “Code Once. Retire.” — yep, that’s what we’re probably here for … and it’s a bit of a disappointment. It covers how to set up an Android “Hello World” project skeleton with Eclipse, and some arrangements for hybrid Android/Mac compilation … and that’s pretty much it. For the intended audience, that strikes us as rather a flaw. What would make this a five-star book is if all the samples were available on the iOS App Store, as grumbled about last paragraph, but also on the stores for at least three or four of the platforms cocos2d-x targets, and discussion in the book of just what was involved in customizing the code, assets, and deployment tactics for each.

So, depends what kind of “beginner” you are how valuable you’ll find this.

“Beginner” to cocos2d from scratch? Easy five stars, buy it now.

“Beginner” to cocos2d-x with an oeuvre of cocos2d-iphone code you want to get shipped on other platforms? Useful, but just barely gets you started on anything but porting your Objective-C to C++ code, which chances are you could do on your own if you’ve ever programmed anywhere but the iPhone. If you do have a solid C++ history and at least nodding familiarity with Android project setup, three stars; if not, four stars.

So overall we’ll give it a solid four stars; some more followthrough on deploying the examples onto non-iOS platforms, and we’d give it an unreserved five stars.

Postscript — Other cocos2d-x Resources:

Those awesome iPhone Game Kit dudes have a game called Paralaxer deployed to all the popular stores that you can buy the source of, to go along with a free book in progress.

The Wenderlich archives have a recently updated Cocos2D-X Tutorial for iOS and Android: Getting Started and Space Game.

And digging around the project’s wiki and hub pages always might turn up something interesting too.

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Tutorial: State Preservation and Restoration

If you’re like us and have been putting off puzzling out the State Preservation and Restoration stuff more or less indefinitely, here’s a great introduction to get you started on that:

State Preservation and Restoration

From the very first releases of the iPhone SDK Apple has encouraged developers to think about app startup and switching to make the experience as quick and transparent as possible for the user. The limited resources of mobile devices mean that App termination is a common occurrence. Returning to a previously running App that has been terminated by the system and finding it back at a startup screen is not a great user experience. The ability for an App to be suspended and resumed was introduced with iOS 4 and helps to reduce the problem but to make App termination transparent to the end user still takes developer effort.

There is a non-trivial amount of work required to save and then restore a deeply nested hierarchy of views and view controllers. Luckily with iOS 6 direct UIKit support for state preservation and restoration was introduced. This post is a collection of my notes on the basic steps to implement state preservation and restoration…

Supporting project at CodeExamples / Restorer for that and the followup

Restoration Classes and UIWebViews

I previously covered the basics of using state preservation and restoration but for the sake of brevity I did not provide an example of how to use a Restoration Class. This post will fix that omission and also take a look at how you can implement state restoration for a UIWebView…

Also note the current need to force reload tables, discussed here:

Bug Table View State Not Restored When Embedded in Navigation Controller

And there’s some extra nuggets to be gleaned here:

iOS State Preservation and Restoration

There, that should help you catch up with that new iOS 6 stuff just in time for iOS 7 to snow us completely under again!

h/t: iOS Dev Weekly!

UPDATES:

Checking Version and Device When Restoring State

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