Under the Bridge

Tip: Firmware Downloading

Ever tried to find a particular version of iPhone/iPod firmware on Apple’s servers? Yeah, good luck with that. But courtesy of this iPhoneSDK thread we have a couple of handy places to take care of finding the right one for you:

Handy if you need it!

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Snippet: Data Sharing

Now here’s a snippet which will probably be a surprise to you: How to write a file to be shared between applications from within your sandbox! Yes, we said “from within your sandbox”. No, really, we did. And simple once you know how, of course — here it is:

BOOL result = [@"malc" writeToFile:@"/private/var/mobile/Media/DCIM/
malc.txt" atomically:YES];

Why does that magic incantantion work? Well, if you’re a particularly clever spark, it occurred to you that

I discovered this when I realised that the UIImagePickerController writes camera photos to that folder too, so your app must have write access, which it does :-)

Yes, when you think about it, indeed it must, mustn’t it now? And whilst I’m quite sure from Apple’s perspective this counts as unsupported, at first glance it doesn’t appear to be actually illegal by any currently published standards … so assuming that you put in appropriate writability verification in case the picker’s path changes or they get pickier (heh) about allowing access in future, this seems like a most excellent way to approach the problem of application data transfer/sharing on the device!

h/t: iphonesdk!

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Snippets: Generic Controllers

Over at iPhone Development they’ve  been writing a series of articles describing a variety of handy controller classes:

Source for the first four is handily available here. Enjoy!

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Source: Networking

This looks like an excellent tutorial on implementing Bonjour-based networking in your iPhone application, and of course there’s source code provided. Yes, most direct applications of this will probably be more appropriately addressed with GameKit.framework in OS 3.0 — but it certainly can’t hurt to supplement Bluetooth local networking with WiFi local networking … or, of course, offer both! Also note that the author offers ByteClub, a paid multiplayer gaming platform.

And in order to do that, an excellent place to look is MYNetwork the Mooseyard Networking Library from the redoubtable Jens Alfke … who has his own commentary on the above tutorial, and has even forked the above source to use MYNetwork. For any networking needs past GameKit only, that’s definitely where we’d start!

[UPDATE: And speaking of GameKit ... there's a pre-WWDC release of a contact sharing application and full source code here!]

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Tools: Reverse Engineering

So let’s round up resources for reverse engineering iPhone executables today, just for grins, shall we?

If you’ve been around the Cocoa world for a while you’ve probably heard of class-dump, and there’s a version of it that’s iPhone-executable savvy called class-dump-x. That gives you class interfaces; if you want to dig directly into disassembling the code, your tool of choice is otx. If you want to dig around and see just what the environment is like at runtime, the usefully named Runtime Browser is your tool, source now up at Google Code.

And for digging through the output of an iPhone application or the system itself, don’t miss the invaluable iPhone/iPod touch Backup Extractor for turning opaque iTunes backups into individual files and SQLite databases just right for mucking with.

Here’s a selection of other useful tidbits and background:

How to classdump SpringBoard header files and patch it

Armchair Guide To Cocoa Reverse Engineering

Reverse engineering Apple’s OS X

[EDIT: Check out this post on reverse engineering system_profiler!]

Now, there should be just about nothing that can be kept a secret from you! Any other useful little tools or tidbits to suggest, anyone?

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Tips: Site Design

Here’s a blog post worth reading if  you’re planning to make your website more iPhone-friendly than “yeah, installed WPTouch, there we go then”, like we’re going to get around to doing one of these days — no, really! — discussing how the dejal.com website looks so good on the iPhone. (Seriously, it does. Go check it out. A model for us all!) and most thoughtfully providing the CSS that enables all the nifty formatting discussed in this earlier post. Good stuff!

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Social Platform: OpenFeint

Whoops, we’re really not on top of the iPhone gaming industry that well; we just noticed that a whole whack of the cool kids have put together a social networking platform for iPhone gaming called OpenFeint. And it has a bunch of nifty features:

  • cross-promotion between participating games
  • Facebook & Twitter integration
  • cross-game lobbies
  • leaderboards
  • game chat rooms
  • privacy controls

Whew! That’s quite the list. Now, I can see a few issues here, for starters how does their per registered user cost account for the 50% to 90% or so of users that seems to be the general consensus are pirates? — but since they say it’s free to join for free games, well, we’ll certainly look into trying this out with a free game sometime!

h/t: TechCrunch!

UPDATE: So ok, there’s a variety of social platform options! Let’s line them up:

Anyone have direct experience with any of these? And are we still missing any?


09.06.17: scoreloop vs open feint vs plus+
09.07.13: iPhone Social Gaming Service Roundup
09.07.15: iPhone Social Platforms Compared
09.07.17: Social Platforms Revisited

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Tools: Accessorizer

This looks like it might be a handy tool for the Xcode programmer: Accessorizer!

Accessorizer saves you tons of time … Those minutes add up  to hours, days and weeks over the lifetime of a project.

Accessorizer selects the appropriate property specifiers based on ivar type – and can also generate explicit accessors (1.0) automagically …  but Accessorizerdoes much, much more …

Accessorizer will help provide you with the init, keypath, keyed-archiving, indexed accessors, accessors for unordered collections such as NSSet, copyWithZone, KVO, key-validation, singleton overrides, dealloc, setNilForKey, non-standard attribute persistence (Core Data), locking, headerdoc, convert method to selector, NSUndoManager methods and more.

Well, it does sound handy, doesn’t it now. Anyone out there tried it? Worth the price you figure?

h/t: iPhone Development Blog!

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Custom Fonts

So we have an occasion to be interested in embedding custom fonts in an iPhone application. Specifically, this DS-Digital font. It turns out that custom fonts are not quite as easy as one would hope to work with in an iPhone application. As a matter of fact, if you look around the ‘net, you’ll find opinions ranging from “it would be really hard” to “it’s not actually possible”, with people doing things like rendering fonts into UIImages to do that kind of thing since they can’t sort it out from the documentation. Yoiks! We’re looking for something rather more transparent than that! (Although we do note that the tool linked there would be quite handy indeed for using custom fonts in actual OpenGL work, like games … as would that author’s texture creator here.)

But fear not — although rather (unduly, in fact, someone less gracious than ourselves might observe…) challenging, it is, indeed, perfectly possible to use honest-to-goodness embedded CGFonts for text rendering in your iPhone app! To skip over lightly all the pitfalls, simply download this fine, fine piece of work which sorts out all the issues with a FontManager class to load the fonts and a FontLabel class to display them, with a CGFontRef-savviness category on NSString to help out … and:


Sweet! The only trivial bit of trickery left to use it exactly as provided is to make sure that your font file name matches the font contained therein. Which the DOS-friendly filename from the above link didn’t, of course. But that is trivially corrected by double-clicking it in the Finder and reading off the name it displays.

So now that you know how, let’s round up sources of free fonts for your embedding joy, shall we? We focus on free sources here not because we’re cheap but because common license terms of commercial fonts are going to not be happy in the slightest with redistribution through application embedding. So unless you’re absolutely 100% sure that the IP lawyersharks aren’t going to hunt you down and feed on your entrails for unauthorized distribution of commercial fonts that you have bought, it behooves you greatly to only use fonts with freely redistributable license terms. Which we believe that you’ll find in abundance — or at least here and there — at these sites:

Any other sources of license-unencumbered embeddable fonts you care to recommend, Dear Readers?

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Displaying PDFs

So if you want to display static content from HTML and PDF in your application, you probably know that it’s pretty easy to just throw the files into a folder and display them in a UIWebView something like this:

NSString *basePath = [[[NSBundle mainBundle] bundlePath] stringByAppendingString:@"/html/"];
NSURL *baseURL = [NSURL fileURLWithPath:basePath];
NSString *dataPath = [basePath stringByAppendingString:FILENAMEHERE];
NSString *dataType = [dataPath hasSuffix:@"pdf"] ? @"application/pdf" : @"text/html" ;
NSData *infoData = [NSData dataWithContentsOfFile:dataPath];
[infoView loadData:infoData MIMEType:dataType textEncodingName:@"UTF-8" baseURL:baseURL];

which works just fine, if your data is formatted nicely for iPhone display. Which for HTML is easy to sort; but it’s rather less likely that the PDFs you’re provided are suitable for iPhone display, they may be unduly large, inappropriate compression, yadayadayada. Well, here’s how you fix that quickly: just get the handy-dandy PDF Shrink desktop utility and apply iPhone-targeted compression settings. Convenient, yes?

Now, if you’d prefer a free alternative, or if you’re interested in perhaps putting programmatic conversion into a utility of your own, here is a useful walkthrough of creating a Quartz Filter to apply to exporting from Preview.app, which presumably you could apply from within your own code as well.

But if you really want your PDFs to get displayed professionally with table of contents and everything, here’s just your thing: The fellow who published the book ‘Scientific Scripting with Python’ exclusively on the App Store has very kindly provided a detailed walkthrough of constructing the application, formatting the document for the device, providing a table of contents … all with BSD-licensed open source!

If you decide to publish your own book using the source code, here is what you will need to do:

  1. Create a document like the one I made in Pages, with the same or similar page layout and text formatting.
  2. Generate a PDF from the document, and include it in the Xcode project.
  3. Change the value of the BKPDFFileName variable in BooksViewController.m to point to your PDF file.
  4. Change the data in the TableOfContents.plist file so the table of contents is correct.
  5. Double click the ‘Python’ target, and change the name to something suitable for your book.
  6. In the Build settings of the target, change the ‘Product Name’ setting.

That should cover most of it.

Sweet! Not that we have any actual full books to publish at the moment, but hey if we ever do we certainly know where to start!

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