Under the Bridge

Source: World Challenge

Now here’s something we’d sorta been pondering ourselves might be worth doing; this fellow’s taken the GPL’d crossplatform game Tux Racer and ported it to the iPhone

tuxrider

… for $3.99. Whilst providing a desktop build for free, and source downloads at the bottom of the product page which apparently this fellow feels meet the terms of the GPLv2 sufficiently.

We say “apparently”, because there is a body of opinion out there that since the casual consumer cannot edit the source code to an App Store-bought application and run the edited program directly on their phone, it is impossible to comply with the terms of the GPL with an application distributed through the App Store. We don’t subscribe to that personally, mind you; first off, nowhere in GPLv2 does it explicitly state that you must be able to run it on the distributed device — so being able to run your modified code in the simulator, which requires nothing but the freely downloadable Xcode toolchain, arguably satisfies the license adequately. And even if you do insist that the terms implicitly require that you run the modified version on the distributed device, then we don’t think that the $99/year developer program fee to Apple to be able to run whatever source you like on your phone is a condition that amounts to a GPL violation, any more than needing to buy a commercial compiler to do something useful with any desktop GPL’d source would violate it. But as the Free Software community is disproportionately populated with Apple-haters, mere logic is not always sufficient to appease them; and as this (to our knowledge) is the first GPL-licensed iPhone program that anyone has attempted to charge money for, if there is anyone out there willing to test their anti-iPhone interpretation of the GPL in court, well, this is whom they’d probably pick for a test case.

So we’ll be watching to see if any of the huffers and puffers get all indignant about this fellow’s entrepreneurial bent; and if not, we’ll probably look for some GPL’d game to port ourselves, as we would rather like to have an open source iPhone project to direct those who would like to see some demonstration of our coding practices to, and hey if it might make a buck or two that’s always great as well! In the meantime, if you’re a desktop Tux Racer fan, and not a programmer yourself — buy it to encourage more GPL’d source ports!

World Challenge

Colophon:Well, today was to be the final client-provided post of The Great WordPress Client Test, finishing up with über-text-editor

TextMate

TextMate 1.5.8!

but the actual testing ends up a DNF, as we couldn’t be bothered actually getting TextMate to work. See, its blogging extension’s bundle’s idea of configuration is to have you put your blog’s XMLRPC address in a text file. We gave it a couple tries at what we think that address should be for this blog, but it failed to make them work. And we figured we just wouldn’t bother to keep trying, since obviously there wasn’t going to be any useful conveniences here at all, so at best it would make it into the same class as the other non-WYSIWIG tools. So we’ll award it 2/10 to put it at the bottom of our ratings due to its completely beyond the pale requirement of “needing a clue about blog internals” and leave it at that.

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5

Buy A Top 100 Ranking

So if you decided you must have a Top 100 app at all costs, just how much would “all costs” be exactly? Well, according to those AdWhirl folks, the answer is: $1,875 a day!

Recently, after passing over 1500 iPhone apps across over 1000 publishers, we decided to investigate what strategies successful developers were employing in order to get their apps noticed. What we discovered was that, although only a handful of apps were achieving critical success, many of their publishers (Storm8, Trippert Labs, Digital Chocolate, I-play, Webworks, etc.) were the same guys releasing success after success, and these publishers weren’t all large brands with huge marketing budgets.

So we dived into our ad data and determined that it was actually possible to simply “purchase” enough ad units to brute force an app into the top 100. The cost? Unfortunately, around $1875 a day in ad campaigns.

How do you come up with that? From the well worth reading downloadable PDF report,

You need about 2500 daily downloads to crack the top 100 in a popular category (the iPhoneapp POW by Inedible Software hit top 60s in Entertainment with 2800 daily downloads).

With untargeted ad impressions converting at a high estimate of 0.2%, we need 1.25 million ad impressions to get 2500 downloads.

Ad networks typically sell inventory on a CPC basis, at a minimum of 5 cents per click. With top networks performing at around 3% CTR, 1.25 million ad impressions generate 37,500 clicks.

This translates to a one day minimum cost of $1875, which is probably too expensive for many developers.

Indeed. And should you think their vested interests are overstating that, here’s an anecdotal agreement:

Fortunately, I know someone from the original Grocery iQ team. Grocery iQ was able to win the triple crown of apps: a Top 100 ranking, Apple Pick of the Week, and being featured under “What’s Hot.” What was its secret to success? When Apple released its Top Apps of 2008, Grocery iQ was in the top 50. I think that makes the Grocery iQ team qualified to talk about App Store success.

Jason’s first response to the $1,875 per day price tag: “Yup, that’s about right!” The Grocery iQ team dabbled with paid ad networks and calculated that to make the top 100, they’d have to spend close to that amount for at least two weeks. “Small indie developers simply don’t have that kind of money,” Jason said.

So there you go then. Our general impression had been that people who had tried buying ads for their iPhone apps were completely unenthused about the results … and now we have some hard numbers to back that up!

Colophon:

And we’re just about done with The Great WordPress Client Test, ch-ch-ch-checking out

Qumana 3.2.4!

This one really pushes our definitional requirement of native application, since although it is technically an OS X application package, it’s a bundled Java application. Which means that conventional editing shortcuts don’t work, formatted pasting is apparently nonexistent, and in general it’s ugly and clunky. On the other hand, it actually works the closest to the way we’d like our ideal workflow to go of any of the clients we’ve tried! Not insignificant, that. And you definitely can’t beat the price, given that it’s free; apparently they’re providing this client gratis on the theory that you’ll click the ‘Insert Ad’ toolbar button frequently after joining up with their Adgenta ad service. Which doesn’t interest us particularly. And although we’d really like to give it the much higher rating it’s workflow design deserves, there’s just too much crappiness about a Java app and its not playing nice with content sources for it to rate better than a 5/10. Although, if they ever did come up with a native version that played nicely with others, that would oh roughly double, I’d say…

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2

Source: SonoDraw

If you happen to be doing any desktop Cocoa programming that involves vector graphics, an excellent place to start from is GCDrawKit, part of the open source collection of Graham Cox. Chances are if you’ve looked for anything of that sort you’ve found it on your own already, but here’s something new: full source code to a CAD application using it!

I thought that people might be interested in the source code for the latest build of our in-house CAD application SonoDraw. A full source bundle, including all supporting frameworks, can be downloaded from here:

http://www.sonoplot.com/SonoDraw/SonoDrawBundle-2.2.zip

This version finally integrates work that Allan Daly and Michael Caron have done on the DXFReader framework and its connection to DrawKit.

Peruse the announcement thread on the DrawKit mailing list, and enjoy!

Colophon:

Yes, we’re over halfway now in The Great WordPress Client Test, and today’s victim is:

1247351496.jpg

myWeblog 2.1!

Unfortunately, this one pretty much falls into the same category as MarsEdit; HTML editing only, no convenient rich text editing. And it’s not quite as polished as MarsEdit either. On the upside, it is much more focused directly on WordPress than anything else so far — particularly, this is the only tool (we think) that has support for WordPress pages as well as blog entries. Of course, we’re not actually using WordPress as a CMS so that’s not a compelling feature at the moment, but if we ever do get around to it we will *definitely* give myWeblog another goaround, since HTML-only editing would be ok for pages that we actually do want to craft in some detail, as opposed to our usual strategy of just throwing up something that we might want to search for later. In the meantime … we’ll give it a 6/10 tie with MarsEdit for the ‘semi-casual blogging’ problem space.

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1

Accelerometer Simulator

What’s the biggest annoyance about iPhone programming in the simulator? Well, if you’ve written any programs that use the accelerometer, we’ll just bet that you’ll put “accelerometer doesn’t work in the simulator” right at the top of your list. But ho! Here is how you fix that!

Accelerometer Simulator is an iPhone/iPod Touch application that transfers accelerometer data from the device to your computer using UDP protocol.

The main use case for the application is to allow iPhone application developers to create applications that require accelerometer, without having to do all the debugging on the actual device. By inserting two files into their project, they can use the Accelerometer Simulator to provide accelerometer data to their application when debugging on the iPhone simulator…

Nothing special about the simulator, mind you, this code could also be applied to sending realtime data from an iPhone app to any other desktop app. Which has some intriguing possibilities. In the meantime, grab the project from Google Code, and using it really couldn’t be any simpler:

To embed Accelerometer Simulator capabilities into your own application, simply add the AccelerometerSimulation.h and AccelerometerSimulation.m files from the Simulator classes directory into your project. Then in the source file where you configure UIAccelerometer, simply add

#import “AccelerometerSimulation.h”

This will override the default behaviour of UIAccelerometer when run on the iPhone simulator. When building for device, nothing is changed in your application.

And note also this extension which lets you use your MacBook’s accelerometer to provide the data. Not that we can really think of an actual compelling use case for that … but hey, it’s a nifty hack, and who doesn’t love nifty hacks?

h/t: If ( … ) then { … }!

Colophon:

And it’s day 4 of The Great WordPress Client Test, and today we’re using:

appicon_marsedit.png

MarsEdit 2.3.2!

Now this is a right switchup from yesterday, when we ran screaming from MacJournal because it doesn’t have a HTML editing view; today we’re tossing MarsEdit out of serious contention because it doesn’t have a WYSIWIG view. Yes, the live preview is excellent, and yes the immediate image uploading is well done, and there’s lots of other good things about it … but although we want optional control over all our HTML, we’re not interested in mandatory control, that’s just too much effort. So we’ll give MarsEdit a 6/10 for being a very nice tool indeed if you do want complete control, but being unduly complicated for semi-casual blogging like ours. Yes, we’re hard to please, we know. Just call us Goldilocks.

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5

Advertising: AdMob v. AdWhirl

So we really haven’t gotten into the advertising side of iPhone programming that much, aside from casually noting a few links, but we’re starting to notice that some people are doing better at it than actually selling their programs. At least, there’s enough money in it now for people to FIGHT! So break out the popcorn and follow along with the developing Clash of the Juggernauts!

Juggernaut A in this case is AdMob, which it seems is the current biggest ad server in the mobile space, and Juggernaut B is AdWhirl, which makes a pretty compelling case to sign up with it by acting as a mediation layer instead of a direct provider. This did not go over well with Juggernaut A, so they decided to take their toys home with them:

Beginning July 22, AdMob will no longer serve ads requested from iPhone apps that employ ad network mediation layers such as AdWhirl or Tapjoy. This change will enable us to provide our publishers and advertisers, as well as end users, with the best possible experience and results…

Yeah, sure. We were raised on a dairy farm, so we know exactly what we’re smelling here. And so do most others; the discussion on the iphonesb list was … spirited, with threads like Who hates AdMob today? Hard to miss that sentiment, indeed. However, as you can see in the admob blocked adwhirl, now what? thread, Admob does indeed generally make up the bulk of revenues. Which is why, as this particularly perspicuous post portrays,

My theory goes as such: AdMob is frightened. They have a dominant position, but suddenly an influx of competitors has put the heat on 
them. I mean, frickin’ 800-pounds-ads-gorilla Google is getting into the game. And AdWhirl allows them to switch at a moment’s notice.
So, they make the decision to “balkanize” the target: “with us or against us”. They say: if we stop serving ads to AdWhirl now, when competitors can’t match our inventory and payouts, the large number of people having us as a primary revenue stream will have to switch to the AdMob SDK or lose us as a revenue stream. Makes sense in context.
Of course, this situation is not going to last. Competitors will eventually start to catch up to AdMob (I mean, frickin’ Google). And AdWhirl is a mid-to-long-term competitive advantage too large to drop…

Yep, we’d agree with that. There’s lots of other good insight in that thread worth checking out, too, but you get the gist of it.

Also note the thread My E-mail to AdMob about the adwhirl isssue, which sideslips into a discussion of new ad player MdotM, in which the founder shows up to fill in some background on it; and some more hard numbers on advertising return for your consideration in that thread as well.

And finally, if you haven’t come to a firm conclusion about which direction to take your ad-supported iPhone programming yet, then read this last thread, Thanks for all the support – AdWhirl, from one of the AdWhirl cofounders:

In terms of updates, we’ve been in communications with AdMob and the big requirement for them was not that developers couldn’t use both AdWhirl and AdMob, but rather, since they couldn’t tell when a developer was using AdWhirl to cycle through AdMob ads (since we requested directly from the library), they had to ban anyone using AdWhirl. That was why, after talking to them, we immediately pumped out a new version of the library that pulled AdMob’s SDK out, and differentiated our ads from AdMob’s ads. Developers can now safely implement both AdMob and AdWhirl with their own logic, but of course AdWhirl has no visibility into what is happening with AdMob and can’t help facilitate any optimization, customization, or ad tracking. (our blog post about this is here: http://www.adwhirl.com/blog)
Keep in mind, though, AdWhirl isn’t just about maximizing revenue and optimizing fill-rates (although we do that, too!) – we allow developers to create their own custom ads dynamically (both icon+text as well as full-width banner images) and link to wherever they’d like to. We realize other ad networks / companies will soon be following suit with their own house-ads products, but keep in mind that, as an OPEN PLATFORM, AdWhirl is planning to open up our community of over 1000 publishers across over 1500 apps, such that you guys can soon start helping one another directly with cross-promotion and getting apps past the top 100 without paying several thousand dollars to an ad network. There’s value in this community as you guys have clearly known for awhile!
Plus, we’re going to be offering new ways to monetize soon that break the whole advertising paradigm.
The important thing is we’ve worked really hard to make sure you guys aren’t forced to make a choice, which is what our open platform is all about.

Well, we know who we’re going to bet on as the long term iPhone advertising success story here!

Colophon:

For day 3 of The Great WordPress Client Test, our post is courtesy of

MacJournal.png

MacJournal 5.1.3!

This one, well … it’s not called “MacBlog”, you may notice — and that is for good reason. Although I suppose this “journal” concept must appeal to some not insignificant body of people or else it wouldn’t be into version 5, it’s just not designed as a blog management tool. So there’s really no point listing specific issues with WordPress, we’ll just jump straight to the conclusion of “pick something else” and give it a 3/10 for getting a post up with a picture, although we had to sort out a really annoying amount of formatting and metadata afterwards, and HTML editing is just not available!, which puts MacJournal right off the WordPress coder geek reservation far as we’re concerned.

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1

Snippet: Intercepting Touches

Ever wanted to intercept touches on a view that generally eats them, like MKMapView for instance?

I’d like to allow my user to double-tap the map view to place an annotation marker, rather than the default zoom behaviour. What’s the preferred method of having my program intercept touch events, then either passing them along (single-touch) or not (double-tap)?

Well, here’s a question on Stack Overflow that answers that for MKMapView and probably UIWebView as well: create a wrapper view that intercepts the various touch events, then place the functional view inside it, like this:

#import <MapKit/MapKit.h>
- (void)applicationDidFinishLaunching:(UIApplication *)application {

//We create a view wich will catch Events as they occured and Log them in the Console
viewTouch = [[UIViewTouch alloc] initWithFrame:CGRectMake(0, 0, 320, 480)];

//Next we create the MKMapView object, which will be added as a subview of viewTouch
mapView = [[MKMapView alloc] initWithFrame:CGRectMake(0, 0, 320, 480)];
[viewTouch addSubview:mapView];

//And we display everything!
[window addSubview:viewTouch];
[window makeKeyAndVisible];
}

Colophon:

Second day of The Great WordPress Client Test, and today we’re checking out

ecto256.png

ecto 3.0!

Now this acts much more like a Mac program should. Interface is intuitive, category/tag/image composition beats Blogo all hollow, we like that ‘Amazon Helper’ plugin idea, … but there’s some quibbles here too:

  • The Preview window is resolutely blank. Blogo, now, it did a nice job of downloading all the appropriate templates from the blog. On the other hand, ecto actually uploaded it as expected and didn’t muck up the categories or lose text and so on … so we don’t count that as a major flaw.
  • Doesn’t seem to be a way to blockquote selected text, you have to click into blockquote mode then paste apparently. Not a dealbreaker I suppose, but I do rather like the online editor’s behavior that blockquotes the paragraph containing the insertion point.
  • It doesn’t maintain the Undo stack between HTML/text view changes either, even if you don’t actually do anything but switch between the two views.
  • Whilst in general the HTML creation and paste handling is excellent, and it’s a brilliant feature to actually force the HTML to be correct before leaving the HTML editor and offer to fix it for you like ecto does … in the particular circumstance where we’d like to paste source code in and slap <pre> tags around it, this feature actually gets in your way as it insists on making every line a new paragraph, which is not what we want as it loses the indentation. Perchance there’s a way around this, but it’s not immediately obvious.
  • The initial publish disallowed trackbacks/pingbacks. Presumably that’s a trivial setting fix somewhere, but allowing them really should be the default we think…

So yeah, we like this ecto thing overall, we’ll give it a solid eight from first impressions. Definitely worth an indepth evaluation probably … but we’ll see if we’re completely starstruck by any of the remaining five!

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1

Game Design

And something a little different for you today: Whilst digging around Gamasutra for stuff interesting to iPhone developers, we stumbled across this article dissecting a variety of CPRGs. If you’re at all interested in designing a CRPG at some point — and we do feel the iPhone has not been overly well served in that realm to date — this is an interesting read.

[In the latest in his popular Game Design Essentials series, which has previously spanned subjects from Atari games through ‘mysterious games’‘open world games’‘unusual control schemes’ and ‘difficult games’, writer John Harris examines 10 games from the Western computer RPG (CRPG) tradition and 10 from the Japanese console RPG (JRPG) tradition, to figure out what exactly makes them tick — and why you should care.]

Those other articles in the series all look quite interesting as well!

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0

Code: Plausible Blocks

So you’re all pumped up about this deft-sounding “Block” (aka Closure) concept that Grand Central Dispatch is going to bring to us in Snow Leopard … but it’s not out yet, and Snow Leopard does not run on the iPhone! So what do you do?

Well, if you’re really excited, you … implement it yourself.

If you caught the sessions on blocks at WWDC, you may be as excited as
I am to make use of them. Unfortunately, they’re only available for
Snow Leopard.

As a result, I decided to back-port block support to iPhoneOS 3.0 and
Mac OS X 10.5…

Dude. That’s hardcore. Here’s the announcement of Plausible Blocks; project page on Google Code; and a tutorial demonstrating its use with NSOperationQueue and UIActionSheet with sample code on github. Enjoy!

UPDATE — More good posts on blocks:

Using Blocks: Understanding the Memory Management Rules

Blocks, Episode 1

Blocks, Episode 2: Life Cycles

UPDATE 2 — Recommendations from the 1.0 release announcement:

Joachim Bengtsson’s Programming with C Blocks

Mike Ash’s Series on Blocks, Part I

Mike Ash’s Series on Blocks, Part II

Landon Fuller’s Using Blocks 1 (as mentioned above)

Landon Fuller’s Using Blocks 2

Google Code Project FAQ

h/t: iPhoneSDK!

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