Better Weigh in the App Store

So earlier this year I decided to write an app for the iPhone. In my case I wanted to loose a little weight before working to add on some muscle for a planned summer trip. I’d not been particularly happy with anything I found to track my weight before, so I decided to write my own. Thus was born Better Weigh.

 better-weigh-screenshot

The app focuses on helping you track your weight and spot trends such as subtle weight gain before weeks of dieting is required to lose unwanted weight. It works if you’re looking to lose weight, gain weight, or just maintain your weight

Just normal changes from diet, exercise, and other activities can cause your weight to vary by several pounds per day. These daily swings make the real changes over time of your weight hard to track. Better Weigh smoothes out these variations showing you how your weight is really changing and helping you reach your goal.

You can enter your weight manually or sync with FitBit. More syncing options are planned. You can find it on the App Store or see more info at http://betterweigh.me.

Thoughts on iOS 7

Earlier this week Apple demonstrated the new version of iOS 7. I watched part of the keynote live and the rest while travelling later in the week. So what I’m putting here is based just on that along with what I’ve seen and read publically and not actually using the beta myself. I do have a test device for that, but won’t be doing that until home later this week. Also since I’ve been on vacation and not following the news out of WWDC in depth I might have missed something and will update/correct this as needed. These are what stood out when watching the keynote and reading a few online items off that.

What I liked

The overall look. I’m odd in that I like Windows 8 overall. And iOS 7 really reminds me of Windows 8. It’s not a clone or copy, but it’s inspired by the same design principles that inspired that system. And I like it. The icons aren’t all perfect, but this is a beta and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them polished a bit before the final release. I do think the overall look answers the concerns about the outdated look to the interface, but of course actually using it will do much to see how well it works.

The control center is a great feature and one that excites me from an ease of use view. The toggles for things like Wi-Fi and flight mode are great when travelling. My recent vacation reminded me how long it takes to hop into settings and turn on airplane mode when getting ready to get onto a plane or when going somewhere with little or no cell reception that drains the battery so fast you can almost watch it count down. I do hope that those quick access links at the bottom can be customized, but I doubt it given’s Apple’s past track record.

Better multitasking is finally here too. This was the one of my two biggest hopes that were addressed. Don’t underestimate the ability to start and app and not have to wait for it to update. Compare bringing up a mail app to say bringing up a news reader where it takes a minute to update before you’re done. Background runs are a great feature, and I expect Apple’s implementation will mitigate battery concerns.

Activation lock is a big deal. Working for a company that deals with nearly 1,000 iPads anything to reduce theft makes a big impact. And personally I like the idea that if I lose my iPhone or it’s stolen then it might not be useful to the finder and means I’m more likely to get it back.

Notification Sync. No more clearing the same notification from multiple devices.

I can finally put as many icons in a folder as I want. No more adding numbers to the end of a folder name or jailbreaking for this purpose.

What I’m Not As Excited About

I think that a lot of these features seem interesting, but not there yet or just won’t work for me. I love the idea of a browser integrating secure passwords into the browser, but I’m not sure I feel a lot of trust to iCloud for it at this point. And for me the iCloud, and therefore Apple only, nature of this solution makes it a non-starter for me. I’ll stick with RoboForm, though if I was a developer of a password app I’d be looking into iCloud integration if that’s possible.

AirDrop looks nice, but the rather limited selection of devices it will work on I think means it will be of limited use until older devices cycle out of common use. I know a lot of people still running iPhone 4’s.

The radio service really doesn’t show me anything that would move me from a program I was currently using. I think Pandora might be in the most trouble since it seems the closest to what Apple produced. I’ll play with it, but don’t see it moving me from Slacker. Again the Apple device only likely makes it a non starter for me.

What Disappoints Me

Still doesn’t look like any good inter-application communication. I still have to hope every developer integrates use for the systems I want. My photo site of choice is 500px and I’d love if they could write a 500px share target and then I could send a photo to it from any app. I’ve hoped for this for a while and really though that it might show up this year. I still think we’ll see this feature, but really wonder how much longer Apple can put this off?

Last Thought

There are always software products that look in trouble after the new version appears. This year thought I think the biggest might be the jailbreak community. Each jailbreak version seems to take longer than the last and I’ve noticed each time I’ve missed the jailbreak a little less. A lot of the things I’ve turned to jailbreak apps for now look built in. I’m not sure at this point I’ll be that worried about jail breaking when 7 comes out which will be a first.

Apple Maps and What’s the Problem

Every iPhone release seems to bring some kind of debacle varying from real to merely a search for clicks on the web by writers. The commentary usually starts with the normal “Apple is finally losing it” to “Apple can do no wrong” and then somewhat sane reality comes in. The iOS maps debacle, which is an iOS issue and not an iPhone issue, looks to be the most valid and worst of them. I’ve followed this one with some interest as I’ve planned to upgrade to the new iPhone.

The issue was driven home a bit to me over the weekend. I was in the northern part of the Cumberland Plateau in Middle Tennessee Sunday looking for two places. One was a place that I’d last visited in my college days and the other one I’d only read about. Along with me were some directions and notes. Neither was a spot you could just plug into a GPS and get directions which admittedly is my normal way of getting somewhere now.

The first spot I found with no problems between good directions and vague memories. It was in fact a more lovely location than I remembered. The second I never found though I drove within a few miles of it. The reason, my directions left out a single turn, a short trip of less than a quarter mile, that meant I never saw the road I was searching for. As a result eventually we gave up and had to abandon the quest for another day.

While driving back home I thought back to when several years ago I learned that at least one major GPS had a mistake on the addresses on the street where I live. The street is a circle, a short loop of about thirty homes. That brand of GPS, or more exactly the map provider they used, had the addresses backwards so that if you followed them you’d likely end up exactly on the opposite side of the circle from where you actually meant to go.

In the daytime this was a  minor issue since the address numbers on the home would tell you that you were in the wrong spot. At night where these numbers were invisible, it wasn’t so clear. More than once someone I’d provided directions to my house wound up knocking on the wrong door or realizing something didn’t look right and calling me while from the street. It’s how I learned there was a problem and for a while I always added the warning when someone visited the first time.

Both of these had the same basic issue. Bad data. The GPS data was beyond my control and I did the only thing I could do, warn visitors not to trust the address on their GPS. The never found place on Sunday was my largely my fault. I could have checked or verified the directions before I left or at least checked a map well enough to have realized something was off in time to get to the right spot. In both cases though the data I had failed me.

The first time I remember using a computer map system to find directions to a place I’d not visited before it told me to use a bridge that no longer existed to cross a river. On a trip in Kentucky a couple years ago a road under construction and not in my GPS caused it so much confusion my GPS actually crashed and had to be restarted. A construction project I drive through several times almost every day has shifted the entrance and exit patterns to a shopping center, college, and mall several times in less than a year and will do so several more before being complete where the pattern will be completely unrelated to the original one.

And that’s the problem Apple is facing with maps. Map data is often inaccurate. Even good data is often behind. It’s so much easier to travel now with GPS data and maps available on demand on your phone. I’ve learned the art of interpreting the GPS, trusting it enough to get me there, but also expecting it to be wrong at times and using common sense.

The bigger issue is that the overall accuracy of the data doesn’t matter. What matters is how the data is where I want to go. All I know is that one of the two sets of directions I used Sunday was wrong. It doesn’t matter if every other one on the site is perfect, I’ll remember the one that was wrong and never trust them the same way again. Right now that’s what people think about Apple’s maps

It doesn’t really matter where it might be wrong because it will always be a little wrong somewhere and each time I or someone I know gets wrong directions that will be reinforced. I’ll probably take a long time before I trust Apple’s maps to get me there which might be the biggest problem they face now. Apple has to make maps that work not as well as Google, but better and for long enough that everyone forgets how bad a start they got off to.

What I Want in IOS 6

By the time IOS 6 likely comes out in the fall I’ll have been using IOS for two years.  Overall I enjoy my iPhone and iPad in spite of the occasional quirks.  No technology is perfect and I’m too much of a technically minded user to ever completely like any system that I didn’t create.  With IOS 6 likely to be announced soon, I thought I’d throw my two cents on the changes I’d like to see in the next version of Apple’s mobile OS.

A Common Documents Storage

Many of my annoyances with IOS would go away with this single change.  I’m not talking about a full file system access to everything on the device, but just a single document area that all apps can access.  I want to be able to create a file in QuickOffice and be able to edit it in Pages.  I want to be able to save a file as a PDF in one app and then read it in GoodReader later.  The independent silos where all apps are self contained mean I often have the same file on my device multiple times.  I think this is the biggest obstacle to using the iPad as a creation device.

Another thing a centralized document system would allow are easier email attachments and multiple attachments to an email.  Imagine being able to email two photos at the same time to someone.

Better Data at a Glance

With IOS an icon generally tells me nothing other than I can tap it to start an application.  I can get a number, but a single number can only tell you s much.  It’s useful for how many like unread messages or voicemails I have, but tells me nothing about who sent those messages or called.

Microsoft is doing this right in Windows Phone and Windows 8.  The weather apps shows me at a glance if I need my umbrella that day.  The sports app shows me who won last night.  I’d love a small block on my iPhone to show me these things.  When I’m busy let me find what I need and go.

Conduits Between Apps

Why does every developer have to write DropBox integration into their App?  Give an interface that app developers can write against and then let DropBox, SugarSync, Google Drive, and everyone else write their own handler of that interface.  If I want to use Microsoft’s SkyDrive to store my files, I don’t want to worry about if the developer chose to integrate it.  Let Microsoft write an implementation of SkyDrive and then every app instantly supports it.

This would work for so many things.  Let’s say I have a program to manage my photos on my device.  I use 500px to post my photography, so why not a search interface that let’s me search for photos there just like searching for photos on my device?  The integration options would really open up apps to the world.

Better App Organization

I really don’t need or want two folders with the same name because I have one more than the limit Apple decided I should keep in one.  There is no way that having Games 1 and Games 2 makes sense.  Let me put more things into a folder or even better let me put as much as I want into a folder.

Centralized Communication

I’ve always wanted a unified communication point.  I want all my email, text messages, even phone calls and voicemails in one place.  I want to see Facebook updates, RSS updates (yes I still use those), Google+ posts, and tweets there too.  Tie this in with the connectors mentioned above so that anybody could make their service available to the hub.

Bring my digital life to a centralized point and let me choose what I want to see at a given time.  If I’m meeting someone for dinner I may want to just look for any texts or emails from her or for a tweet about being traffic letting me know she’ll be a little late.  If I’m coming back from a week’s vacation in the mountains, I want to see everything work related from the last week, but only from co-workers.

Stop Worrying So Much if Apple Gets it Cut

I know this one has zero chance of happening, but it’s just an annoyance I’d like to see go away.  Apple seems determined to make sure nothing happens on the device where Apple doesn’t get it’s 30% cut.  Want to buy a book for the Kindle App?  Have to go to the web site as Apple’s rules would require Amazon to give Apple a 30% cut if it could be done there.

This simply makes my life less convenient and isn’t making Apple any more money.  Vendors have overwhelmingly shown that they’ll just remove the functionality to purchase in app and rely on their customers to find them somewhere else.  And it’s working.  I don’t use iBooks because it’s more convenient, I use Kindle because it’s what I want.  My audiobooks come straight from Audible.

That’s my wish list for iOS 6.  Anyone else with requests?

There’s Going to be a Jailbreak

Updated this post in August 2011 with a few other jailbreak apps that I’ve installed since May

I did jailbreak my iPhone.  Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t admit that online.

In any case I’ve had a jailbroken phone for a few weeks and have found a few apps that I think improved the experience:

Action Menu Plus – Just handy that adds some extra options to the standard copy/cut/paste options

CameraLock – Puts a link to start the camera on the lock screen.  Pretty much taken from iOS 5

Five Icon Dock – Lets you keep an extra app in the dock

Five Icon Switcher – Adds extra icon to the switcher

Infinifolders – Probably my favorite app as I have way too many apps on my iPhone and this lets me organize them better

ManualCorrect Pro – Never again send an inappropriate text message to someone

MobileNotifier – Another one that probably becomes obsolete in iOS 5.  Makes notifications less of a pain

My3G – Let’s you convince the phone it’s on wireless when its not

PkgBackup – I just like knowing all the stuff on my phone is backed up.  Backed up to the cloud is even better.

QuickReply – Makes replying to text messages faster

My First Couple Months with an iPhone

A couple weeks after getting an iPhone in mid-February, I wrote up a few thoughts on the new phone.  I thought that I’d add a few thoughts now that I’ve had more time to get used to the phone and really integrate it into my life.

In short I love the iPhone more now than then.  I’ve used a smartphone since getting a Motorola MPx220 that ran Windows Mobile back around 2004.  The iPhone works better than any phone I’ve had for just about everything.  With every other smartphone I’ve owned I’ve restarted it at least every once a week.  I have probably restarted the iPhone a couple of times in four months.  Using the phone just feels natural.

I really think that apps do much to improve the experience.  Without apps, the iPhone would just be a nice phone and not as useful as it’s become.  Actually the apps are half the story and the other part would be data.  Before I just used data for email and web browsing.  Now I use data all the time for Twitter, maps, and really everything.

Most of the concerns that I mentioned in my first post still bother me.  I did figure out how to get the alerts the way that I wanted, but I still feel it could be more flexible.  Six years of having phones that managed being silent or making noise when appropriate spoiled me.  I still find myself forgetting to set the phone to vibrate or, more often, forgetting to turn sound back on after a meeting.  One feature my earlier phone had was the ability to set the phone to be silent for a set period of time when you could estimate how long you’d want quiet such as when going into a restaurant or movie and then it would turn sound back on automatically.  I’d like to see that option.

The texting interface has grown on me.  I’m using texting more now and I’m not sure if the iPhone has led to more texting or if my greater texting led to me getting more used to the iPhone interface.

I decided to Jailbreak my phone and will be looking at the Cydia store to round off some of the rough edges.  Will report on what I find then.