Major Updates Coming Soon for iOS 8 and iPhone 6

After a needed break from software development, I am back at it and more excited than ever for the future of Yoctoville's iOS apps. There are some really great new features and enhancements in the works.

I've been working hard on major updates to Errands and Alarmed. They will take full advantage of the new features in iOS 8 as well as the larger screen sizes and capabilities of the iPhone 6 & 6 Plus. To do this properly, laying a solid foundation for upcoming features, has been a tremendous amount of work and I will not be releasing updates immediately on the launch of iOS 8 and the new iPhones. As a solo developer, I can't say when the updates will be ready, though hopefully quite soon!

In the meantime, I haven't found any major issues with the current versions of my apps running under iOS 8, so you should be good to go until the updates to my apps are available.

Thanks to all of you for the fantastic support and encouragement over the years. It really means a lot to me.

Back to work :)

A Summer in Middle Earth

To me, Oregon is symbolic of Middle Earth, at least how my mind likes to envision it. Not the cities, of course, but the forests. With green everywhere, mossy stuff dripping from trees and lots of above-ground roots. The forests here seem very much alive.

I spent the summer in the mountains of the coast range. It was remote and quiet and I was surrounded by acres and acres of tree farms that had extensive trail systems. The only downside of all this was the trails were so remote and so unused that I got nervous about walking by myself. My cell phone got no signal and there are bears and mountain lions and many ways to twist ankles or break bones. If something happened to me, I would be a desiccated corpse before anybody even bothered to start looking. I still hiked the trails, but often just walked down country roads with almost no traffic and still in the middle of forest.

I'll miss this area, but it is time to leave as the rains are on their way. Actually the rains have already been here (we just had a multi-day storm which set record rainfall for the month of September in many areas). I like rain, especially in the Pacific Northwest, but my spaceship is not really suited for a winter in the rain. When it gets cold and rainy, my windows stay wet on the inside, my dog stays wet, I stay wet, my shoes stay wet, nothing ever dries, black mold starts to grow in corners. Not healthy or fun. So, I'm gonna go somewhere a bit further south. No idea where yet. That will unfold with the coming days.

A few photos of my summer adventures... 

I lived just off this road. When I arrived, it was raining. And it is rainy as I leave. But the summer was gorgeous :) 

I lived just off this road. When I arrived, it was raining. And it is rainy as I leave. But the summer was gorgeous :) 

IMG_1884.jpg
Sleeping Dog, Happy Dog

Sleeping Dog, Happy Dog

I was surrounded by tree farms. Most of them were unharvested with large trees, but this section had been recently harvested (clearcut). If you look close, you'll see baby Douglas Fir that have been planted and covered with protective sleeves. Another 50 years or so and they'll be cut again. The cycle continues.

I was surrounded by tree farms. Most of them were unharvested with large trees, but this section had been recently harvested (clearcut). If you look close, you'll see baby Douglas Fir that have been planted and covered with protective sleeves. Another 50 years or so and they'll be cut again. The cycle continues.

The view from the top of a clearcut area.

The view from the top of a clearcut area.

Tall trees :)

Tall trees :)

A maturing stand of trees on the left, a young stand on the right.

A maturing stand of trees on the left, a young stand on the right.

IMG_2161.jpg
Oregon has many shades of green.

Oregon has many shades of green.

IMG_1972.jpg
IMG_1955.jpg
IMG_1960.jpg
IMG_1974.jpg
IMG_2099.jpg
Buddha spends a lot of time in the driver's seat. 

Buddha spends a lot of time in the driver's seat. 

Some morel mushrooms. Yum!

Some morel mushrooms. Yum!

IMG_2038.jpg
An Oregon red-spotted garter snake. We saw LOTS of these on our walks. Very pretty and totally fearless (if I got close, they would take a defensive posture rather than slither away).

An Oregon red-spotted garter snake. We saw LOTS of these on our walks. Very pretty and totally fearless (if I got close, they would take a defensive posture rather than slither away).

My spot for the summer under some towering Douglas Fir trees.

My spot for the summer under some towering Douglas Fir trees.

IMG_2101.jpg

Molly Molly Molly

I spent three weeks at McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, Texas and was able to enjoy two wonderful weekends with my beautiful and awesome and amazing daughter who is going to school at the University of Texas in Austin.

I can't put into words how much I love Molly. Or how much I miss not being able to see her more often. We had the absolute best time together. I can't wait to do it again.

Since words can't do justice, here are some photos...

MollyAustin 4

IMG 1510

IMG 1614

IMG 1623

IMG 1660

IMG 1625
Molly baked some sweet potato treats for Buddha!

IMG 1545

IMG 1574

IMG 1597

MollyAustin 6

IMG 1629
This is blurry, but I like it anyway. Molly took me out for dinner at a sushi restaurant called Uchiko. Some of the most creative and tasty sushi I've ever had. A very magical evening :)

IMG 1639

IMG 1094

IMG 1101

IMG 1649

IMG 1651

IMG 1671

IMG 1110

IMG 1115

IMG 1118

IMG 1127

IMG 1130

IMG 1133

IMG 1676

 

 

A Tiny Town, A River, Lots of Birds & Dwarf Palmettos

I spent five weeks at Palmetto State Park, about 12 miles north of Gonzales, Texas. It was an interesting park. The San Marcos River runs through it, twisting and turning. It was quite low while I was there, but can flood on short notice and occasionally they have to evacuate the entire park. The park itself was right next to a tiny town (less than 100 people) called Ottine and the now abandoned Warm Springs Foundation for Crippled Children. The whole area had a bit of a creepy feel. The park has many swampy areas (and lots of signs to watch for snakes!) and is full of dwarf palmetto palms, creating a unique landscape. While walking out of the park boundaries I kept running into packs of barking dogs that didn't seem overly friendly, but I finally found a safe road that went past a farm with cows & horses. There were a ton of birds in the area, including groups of turkey vultures (perhaps, I'm not very adept at bird identification) that hung around in trees and got all excited when I walked by.

IMG 1425

IMG 1420
Dwarf Palmetto Palms in the background

IMG 1417

IMG 1430
An old abandoned house in Ottine

IMG 1432

IMG 1434
Swamp!

IMG 1442
Bug!

IMG 1454

IMG 1462
The cows followed us as we walked down the road :)

IMG 1485

IMG 1493
We ran into 3 horses on the trail. The one with the white stripe was very curious, but I had to shoo them away as I didn't want to get too close in-case they got spooked.

IMG 1501
To me, this looks like a deep-sea fish.

Alarmed At the Drama

Alarmed has been a successful app for me and I have hundreds of thousands of satisfied users. I have learned (from past experience and general observation) that users dislike big changes in software, even if it is for the better. I recently got a taste of just how true that is!

When I first created Alarmed, it was focused on reminders & timers, but I later added a wake-up feature. I realized at the time that I was making a potentially "dangerous" move as some users would only want the reminders & timers and have no interest in an alarm clock. Or the other way around. I was creating a polarized app. But there was some utility in having a true "all-in-one alarm app" so I went with it.

Things were fine until Apple released iOS 5. Without going into technical details, Apple doesn't make it easy to create a functioning alarm clock app in iOS. Much of this has to do with restrictions on multitasking imposed by Apple on third-party apps. In iOS 5, Apple changed some of details of how things worked beneath the surface and this had a big impact on the wake-up feature in Alarmed. I found a way to keep the app all-in-one, but it required me to use an older version of the development toolset.

Eventually this became untenable and I knew I had to make a fundamental change. In addition to the technical issues which made an all-in-one app impractical for future development, the app itself was starting to become bloated. I found myself unable to add in new functionality without making it harder to use and certain aspects of the clock couldn't operate as I wanted by being stuck into an all-in-one app. I considered many alternatives, but decided that I would split the wake-up section out into its own app and refocus Alarmed on just reminders & timers. I started the process by creating Yocto Alarm Clock in the late spring of 2012, but then got busy with other things and didn't get around to working on Alarmed until the fall of 2012.

When I released Alarmed 3.0, which removed the wake-up section, I knew I would have some unhappy users, but I was (and remain) convinced that it was the best choice I could have made. One big problem was that there was no way to warn users in advance of removing the wake-up section. I had long ago abandoned the old developer tools (they weren't even installed on my system anymore) so I couldn't do a quick release of the existing codebase to say that change was coming. And since Apple doesn't allow developers to access customer contact info (for good reason!) there was no way to send out a mass email or anything similar.

The best I could do was a) make it clear in the What's New update notes and b) display a pop-up alert when the app was first run after the update explaining the changes and pointing to Yocto Alarm Clock as a replacement for the wake-up section. I also included a detailed description of my reasoning for the split both within the app itself and on my website. To make the transition less painful, I released Yocto Alarm Clock as a free app with *all* features included. There is a "tip jar" for those who want to support my efforts, but no extra or bonus features.

It is one thing to have disappointed users, even upset users. But I didn't expect the sometimes angry and bitter reactions that I received. People made all kinds of crazy assumptions. Some thought the split was a clever ploy to make more money (not even close!). Some accused me of bait-and-switch marketing (again, makes no sense!). Some thought I was just evil and being vindictive, purposely trying to hurt my users (huh?). Others were freaking out at the thought of having to accept one more icon on their home screen (the horror!).

Some users even went so far as to give a one-star rating for Yocto Clock simply as a protest to the Alarmed 3.0 split. 

One of the amusing trends were users who assumed incremental updates were solely for the purpose of erasing the negative reviews. This couldn't be farther from the truth. The 3.0 release was a major update with a total rewrite of some portions of the codebase. It was bound to have a few bugs and I squashed them quickly with small updates. Even so, if I wanted to avoid negative reviews, I would resist updating, not the other way around. The angry horde is always waiting to post their rants as soon as an update is released, but the glowing reviews come in at a slower pace, eventually far outnumbering the negativity.

Oh, another nice touch … some angry reviewers say they deleted the app, but continue to leave new reviews with new updates. Seems like they just pretended to delete it and are anxiously downloading the updates just for the pleasure of trashing the app.

Many of these angry people never both to read my explanations for the split. But some do and still don't "get it". Sort of reminds me of those who think that Microsoft ruined DOS when they added a graphical front end to it (i.e., Windows). Software evolves. It is the way of the world.

Without dragging this issue on further, I am disappointed at those users who were openly angry, bitter and full of bile. This is simply not called for. It is a piece of software. Why all the anger? If you don't like it, find something else among the 3/4 of a million apps on the App Store! I can't respond to the App Store reviews, but do respond to all the direct emails. In almost all cases, when I calmly responded to a ranting angry tirade from a user, they emailed me back to say they were sorry. They were just upset, but now understood and were happy again.

I truly think that some of the most angry users were upset not so much at my app, but rather at something else in their life. It could be their job, their significant other, just about anything. It is not easy living in our modern, fast-paced society and people sometimes need to vent. They build up anger a little bit here and a little bit there. Then something happens (an app splits in two) and they lose their cool and have a full-blown tantrum.

As I write this, most of the drama has settled down. The new features in Alarmed 3.0 are being very well received and most users are finding Yocto Clock to be a superb replacement for the wake-up section in Alarmed. In this case, two apps are truly better than one!

As a developer, I always try to make the right choices. For everyone involved. Having happy users is the best reward and my prime motivation in doing all of this work. The negativity surrounding this particular change shook me up a bit, but now that things are settling down, I feel good again. Lots more is in store for the future. Thanks for your continued support!