Today is a good day to code

Conflicted About App Store Policies

Posted: April 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

Last night I started down a train of thought that I wish I hadn’t. I started thinking about what the world would be like if Apple had been the dominant player, and Microsoft had faded away into semi-obscurity, if Linus hadn’t created Linux. What if the app store had come about years ago, and had become the primary method of reaching any significant number of users, with what other blogs are saying existing in their developer agreement.

What that future looked like was something that frightened and disgusted me in many ways. First and foremost, scripting languages, like Ruby, Python, Perl, and PHP would have been mostly prohibited on significant platforms, and thereby would have been relegated to mostly research oriented platforms. IE, no serious development of those languages would have taken place. Java would have been killed almost before it began, resulting in a much weaker web environment, as well as eliminating much of the boom that accompanied the web development land rush. Some very innovative companies would have had a much harder time achieving scale without the efforts of OSI around them, many of them would likely have never come to full bloom. Companies like Google and Amazon would have had to first develop their own operating systems free of Apple patent infringement, and free of the app store.

Much of the above is an argument for no software patents, which I generally agree with, but I think that isn’t where we should focus our attention. The main issue is that basically the fundamental structure that we all take for granted came about because there was always a viable alternative, that was open, and that the distribution of software was never limited or conflicted. Microsoft may have been many things, most of them negative, but one thing it got right was realizing that an open and free developer community is critical to the growth and improvement of the art. It will sometimes cause issues, and produce hideous products, but it is not the responsibility of platform companies to protect users from developers. Rather it is to assist in the developer-consumer conversation, especially as regards features and capabilities of the solutions being developed for them.

I actually hate Flash, I think it is outmoded and needs to go away, that being said, I can, and should be able to choose to develop solutions for my customers in whatever language or framework meets their needs. That choice needs to be made by the developer and the consumer of what that developer produces.

Apple has every right in the world to prevent developers and consumers from doing whatever Apple decides is wrong on their platform. That is their choice. Apple’s scale and access to customers, however is forcing am uncomfortable choice on their developer base. It is a choice that will itself go away if developers don’t do something about it now. It is the choice to either develop the way Apple wants, the solutions that Apple wants for it’s customers to have, or get off the platform and develop somewhere else. If developers don’t nurture alternative platforms, that ultimatum will become, either develop the apple way or don’t develop.

For those who think this is far fetched, Apple is poised to pass Microsoft in market cap, and probably has one of the strongest brands in history right now. They are almost the only game in mobile, with Android and Blackberry chasing, Palm, obliterated, and Microsoft marginalized. Mobile is every bit as important as desktop, in some ways more so.

My application, Mides, is actually being caught as collateral damage in this apparent developer agreement mess. It was my hope to create an environment in which developers could create and and test their web products using the scripting environment of their choice, be it ruby, php, or python. Apple had prohibited this sort of thing, by my interpretation, basically from jump, deciding that it was a feature that users of it’s products would never be able to have. That may have been an inadvertent choice, but it speaks to the types of use cases they have in mind for their devices, any uses that someone can come up with, even if there is a market for it, are prohibited. The end user volume that Apple has seems to say hay the end user likes this model, however I would argue that they don’t know what they are missing yet.

What does this amount to for me? Well, I am not going to make any overarching claims about developing for the Mac/iPhone platform, and I am not going to claim that I am going to stop using Apple products, they really are amazing products, but what I am going to do is vote with the only two voices I have, my money and my development efforts. I don’t like the way this app store pattern is going. I want a future where kids have access to modify and do crazy things with the devices and software that they use. I want for them, and for myself, to think differently, and try things that don’t work, or cause problems, because in the end, that is how humans learn. To have someone else decide for me what is safe, or what is cool, or how I should do what I do is the very anthesis of what I believe in. Designing amazing user experiences is one thing, dictating how I interact with the world through my computer and its peripherals, is completely different. I feel that Apple has pushed across the line of consumer advocacy, and has moved into something more sinister.

What I am going to do is to actively develop for other platforms, such as the web, Ubuntu, and Android, even though I am still angry with Google for banning me from their user group for no reason. The rationale behind my decision is that Google doesn’t control Android, anyone can fork it and do what they want. If I want to push out a beta, I can, if I find a bug I can push out a release in the morning and my users can have it in the afternoon. I am back in the loop with the conversation that my customers and I are having without having a disinterested intermediary in between. I will from now on, very carefully think about my consumption of Apple hardware, and their software and services, before buying them.

This line of thought completely knocked my Apple fanboy hat off, if Apple cares, and I hope they do, they will work to re-establish that childlike sense of wonder in me that I am developing for the best platform in the world, if not, it’s not a big deal, if I am alone in the way I feel, Apple has millions of developers and consumers, they don’t have to care about one, but I’m betting that I am not alone, and throwing all of our weight around is going to be a big deal to them. Apps make and break a platform, and by capriciously throwing away the developers of those apps, Apple is making a huge mistake.


Google Will Buy Palm

Posted: April 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: android, Apple, Companies, Google, iPhone, Palm | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

I hear a lot of prognostication about who will buy Palm now that they are officially up for grabs.  People are suggesting that HTC, Lenovo, or even Apple would be the most likely to buy them, however I don’t think any of them will get Palm.  I think that Google will get Palm for around 1 billion dollars, and here is why.

Primarily, the main reason is that Palm’s WebOS falls directly in line with Google’s philosophy of web first, native second.  That with the Google Native Client could make for a compelling addition to Android.  One could argue that Android is lacking only in UI, and WebOS has a UI second only to the iPhone.  Secondarily, buying Palm would give Google patent ammunition to use in assisting HTC in their legal battle with Apple, especially since it is Google’s Android OS that is causing the issue.

It doesn’t make sense for Apple to get Palm, even if they are in the bidding, because Google has shown in the past that it is willing to go way above a company’s valuation to snag them.  This makes just too much sense so it has to happen, that is my prediction, it is sort of hopeful because I like WebOS and Palm, and would like to see it continue, albeit in a more pure HTML 5 sense.


Hands on Review of iPad Vacation Update

Posted: April 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, iPhone, mides | Tags: , | No Comments »

For the past week and a half, I have been on vacation with my family, my iPad had come a day before we were scheduled to leave. I wanted to write an addendum to my earlier quick hands on review since I have had some time to work with it for a few days.

In many ways, the iPad is a breakthrough device, changing the game as far as usability as well as functionality. But for someone like me, a software developer, it misses the mark a bit.

The only significant bug I have encountered while on vacation is the Wi-Fi bug. It has bothered me at almost every hotel, with the device frequently failing to connect to the netwok, or to obtain an ip address. Otherwise things have pretty much worked as I had expected.

Without the ability to use Xcode, let alone GCC, and with the prohibition on downloading and executing additional binaries, however I haven’t been able to fix simple bugs with my iPad / iPhone application, Mides.

Right now, for someone like me, the MacBook Air, 13″ MacBook Pro, or my old trusty 15″ would be much better. For the weight, the MacBook Air would be a much better travel companion for an Objective-C coder.

I have been able to do a bunch of JavaScript / CSS / HTML work with Mides on the iPad, thanks to the Bluetooth keyboard, but serious software work will not really be practical on this device.

However, as a media consumption device to keep the kids happy, this thing has been awesome. The netflix, and other streaming video applications, has been fantastic, when the wi-fi worked. The 3G version should take care of the wi-fi issues, via not using it, but I am looking forward to the 3.2.1 update.

I’ll write another more comprehensive review, when I get back, as well as using my MacBook Pro to get Mides’ bugs fixed.


Mides 1.8.1 Endless Keyboard Popup Issue

Posted: April 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

The Mides 1.8.1 release should have fixed a bunch of the startup, and SFTP stability issues, but there was one lingering issue. The endless keyboard popup issue. The fix is to disable the “Twist to complete” feature in the iPad settings app.

The reason this is an issue is that the accelerometer values for the iPad are way more extreme than the iPhone due to it’s size, so the code that I had to ignore small movements of the device is not working on the iPad. I will remove twist to autocomplete for the iPad in a future release as it doesn’t make sense for this device, and since there is now a button for it.

This issue shouldn’t affect the iPhone, it is an iPad only issue. There was no way to find then issue before I had hardware since the accelerometer is not available in the way I need on the iPad simulator. But at least there is a good workaround.


Hands on Review With The Apple iPad

Posted: April 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Today at around 9 AM my opinion of the Apple iPad changed. In one of my previous blogs, thoughts on the apple iPad, I commented that I wouldn’t buy the iPad if I weren’t a developer, and if I hadn’t I would be seriously disappointed that I hadn’t.

The first thing that I noticed was that the iPad feels really sturdy. It feels as strong as s piece of solid aluminum. The on screen keyboard is pretty good, in fact, I’m using it right now to create this post. But using the Apple Bluetooth keyboard with it makes it clear that this thing has the ability to replace my laptop for most of the reasons I carry one. My own app looks great, although not without it’s minor bugs. A friend found a way to get into an endless loop with the code completion dialog. It took me a while to figure out a work around, it turned out to be changing the orientation.

Browsing the web is just …. Natural … There is a quality to using the web on this that is difficult to describe, but it is like nothing else. I would recommend that if you can wait, the 3G version would be better if you don’t mind AT&T, and you don’t mind paying them extra. If you do not have an iPhone, it may make sense to pay the extra. If you do have an iPhone already, then it just doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. I will probably get a MiFi somewhere and just sign up for a contract.

I would recommend getting a case as well. While I am not afraid that it will break, it is bigger than it feels in your hands and as such is a pretty likely candidate for some unintended bumping. The battery life is stellar. I don’t even think about it, and at the end of the day I still have 47% power.

The app situation is pretty unclear. I added a bunch of apps to my iPad hoping that more of them would have been optimized for the iPad. But it seems that most developers opted to create completely separate applications for the iPad. I was going to do that as well, but I didn’t want the headache of having to maintain two separate applications with the same functionality. The doubled applications range in usability. I found that most of the applications were very usable in their iPhone form.

In summary, my opinion has been changed. The iPad is a game changer. Mides on it is excellent, especially with the bluetooth keyboard. The iWork suite is fantastic. I love this form factor, it feels like you are playing with the future. It is also awesome to be able to stream episodes of Top Gear on my iPad with the Netflix app. I am glad that I got the 16 GB version, I really find that I don’t need more storage since I always have my iPhone with me, I haven’t found that I run out of space, especially with the convert to 128kbps AAC option in iTunes 9.1. Since this is a first impression, I’ll check back in after my experiment to see if I can live with the iPad instead of a laptop for a couple of weeks.


Mides 1.8 Release

Posted: March 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

On Thursday I submitted Mides 1.8 to Apple, hoping to get it in for the big launch of the iPad store. However, it got kicked back to me because the reviewers approached it in a pattern that I hadn’t tested. They exposed a bug related to some #ifdef code that had hung around after my refactoring.

While I am disappointed that I didn’t make it for the launch, I am happy that Apple found that bug before my customers did. I have since fixed that bug and fixed some other minor issues related to SFTP. So all in all, this release should be a really good one. Unfortunately I’ll have to wait a few days to resubmit until my iPad comes in the mail. It’s better to test on real hardware. I could sit here and pretend that I didn’t want to release until I had the device to make sure that I had everything just right, but I am too honest for that.

I think that this is a huge launch and would have loved to be there at day 1. Suprisingly I just missed the 2.0 launch in much the same fashion. But I was in the store about a week or two later. Fortunately we won’t have to wait that long this time.

The announcement that Apple was accepting apps before the hardware shipped caught me by suprise. I thought they would make everyone wait until the device was out. 1.8 is a very ambitious release, trying to get SFTP and the iPad refactoring into it.

I’ll probably keep plugging away on 1.9 until I can resubmit my 1.8 branch. Mides on the simulator is awesome. I can’t wait to load it up on my shiny new iPad, I can’t wait for everyone who is supporting and using mides to do the same!

*EDIT* 4/2/2010

Mides actually will make the launch of the iPad app store.  In fact, it is in there already!  I am super jazzed to have a launch title on the AppStore.  The iPad version is pretty cool.  Just having more screen real-estate is huge.  I hope that there are no strange bugs.  Once I get my iPad on Saturday, I’ll sanity check it and try to fix any bugs that I notice.  Apple did pretty good due diligence on the app though, so I figure it is OK.


Why I Decided to Raise the Price of Mides

Posted: February 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Cocoa, Companies, iPhone, mides, Objective-C, Programming | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

A few days ago I completed an analysis of what my profit and loss looked like for both of my applications. What I discovered was very disturbing, or would be to any entrepreneur.

I have to date put around 200 hours of work into Mides and around 90 hours into CycleMetrics. So far I have made less than $2,000 total on either of them.

Part of this is my fault, I started out with something of a flawed concept with the design of Mides because I was in love with the idea of nested code, self closing tags, and closures. This ended up eating away almost all of the devices’ memory, and was so recursive as to be nearly unmaintainable.

So I killed my darlings, went in for a heavy refactoring of the code without nesting, and ended up with a pretty decent mobile IDE.

However, at what my hourly rate is at this point in my career, based on my salary plus benefits, I am as of now, with all of my original plus ongoing effort into the software, about $30,000 in the hole on Mides, and $10,800 in the hole on CycleMetrics.

When I launched my app, shortly after the app store launched, I thought that I would be able to make back my money in 2 years and get positive. It has been 2 years, and I’m nowhere near making my investment back.

This is mostly O.K. since I have an awesome job, and I’m not missing a house payment or anything, but I think it is unwise to basically give away software that you keep shelling out effort on. I can’t let it die either, that doesn’t make sense, I love the idea of programming on your mobile, and I love the idea of being able to code on the apple tablet even more.

I also hate ads, and don’t want to do the ad driven thing. So while I’m still subsidizing the hell out of Mides at $9.99, it isn’t the slap in the face that $4.99 was.

So as a result, I have decided on $9.99 for Mides. I am putting in a fair amount of work to get to the tablet in an intuitive and sane manner, I also have a bunch of features planned. Some of which have been suggested by the awesome community at getsatisfaction.com/mides, and others that fit in with my dream of Mides.

I am still not sure what I want to do about CycleMetrics, but I have some online features that should be able to drive more reveneue for me. I don’t want to go to ads, and I don’t want to lock users in or try to steal their personal info to try to make a buck on it. That just doesn’t jibe with my philosophy.

We’ll see if the market thinks Mides is worth $9.99. I still think it is worth way more, but that is because I see it as it will be, not as it is. If people don’t think it’s worth $9.99, then they will later, but I can’t promise to keep the price there as I struggle to make it my dream of a fully featured mobile development environment.


What if Apple’s Vision of a Modern Platform is Right?

Posted: February 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Cocoa, Companies, Google, iPhone, Microsoft, Objective-C, Programming | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

This past weekend, I was thinking more about the iPad.  One of the thoughts that kept coming back was about the iPhone / Cocoa Touch development ecosystem as a platform, and how that looks in comparison to existing platforms.  The conclusion that I came to was a bit disturbing to me as a developer concerning the future of application development in general.

It is somewhat useful to quickly recap the development environments of the past to contrast them to today.  First we need to talk about Microsoft and what a platform meant to them.  To Microsoft, the computer was a tool for technical users.  Even if their said goal was to put a computer on every desk, the engineers clearly have and had difficulty putting them into the place of their users.

As the computers’ abilities increased, so did their complexity, and the complexity of the OS.  Doing simple tasks like taking a piece of text from a word processing program and putting it into your spreadsheet program in DOS was mostly ridiculously complicated.  Windows made things a bit easier initially, but only for the most technical users.  Doing what should be mostly simple tasks were still difficult, DOS was still around and necessary to do many common tasks.  The thing booted from DOS which created no end of problems.  It just wasn’t an optimal solution for the mass of computer consumers out there.  This was evinced by a proliferation of “computer” classes which were supposed to take the burden of designing something that was easy off of the engineers who designed the system.  That it did, and they proceeded to make a system that was even more of a tangle.

For those who would say that the Macintosh is much easier, I take issue with the word “much.”  In reality Unix / Linux / Mac OS X.x is not terribly easy to use.  To someone who has a good understanding of the computer, and conventions it is much simpler and more straightforward to use and manage.  For a technical user Apple does a fantastic job of making most things that normal people want to do easy without preventing technical users from doing complicated things, but the underlying complexity is not without its cost to the typical end user.

Now, if you were designing a platform today, for millions of people worldwide, with different levels of technical ability, the issue of computer and operating system security looming large, and the ever increasing abilities developers have to make computers do insanely complex things in the blink of an eye, how would you develop it?  Would it be like Windows, putting the burden of learning, understanding, and protecting themselves on the user?  Would it be like Unix / Linux, putting the burden of everything on the user, but exposing incredible levels of customization to the user?

What you would do would depend on what your goal was, but if your goal was to provide the best possible user experience, you would likely ( I know that I would ) take it upon yourself to protect your users from viruses, phishing, hacking, malware, etc…  You would likely make it difficult or impossible for developers working on your platform to make choices that would negatively impact the usability of the platform.  You might choose a somewhat difficult language combination for development to make a barrier to entry for developers, to make sure that the developers that did create for your platform were of a caliber such that they could actually make compelling content for your devices.

You might establish a certification board of some sort to determine if the applications being developed for your platform met your requirements for ease of use, stability, and security.  You may come to the conclusion that the only way to enforce your vision of the platform and be the ultimate consumer advocate, you would have to make sure that every application went through this board before they were available on your platform.  Once available for your platform, you might make the installation and configuration experience as painless as possible for the user, even if it meant imposing further complexity of implementation on the developer.

Does any of this sound familiar.  When I went through, designing a platform as a consumer advocate, what I ended up with was pretty much like what Apple has for the iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch development environment.  With one exception, I was actually more stringent in that I wouldn’t allow wapletts ( web application applets ) on the platform.  I would require those developers to just build a web application customized for the experience.

The funniest thing, or strangest if you don’t like that colloquialism, was that designing the platform as a developer, it didn’t look anything like this, in fact, it looked much more like the development experience around Ubuntu linux.  Where I ended up is that perhaps as developers, we are heaping too much responsibility on the average user trying to use the platform.  I think that Apple has the right mix with the app store experience for the types of devices that are running the Cocoa Touch framework on Objective-C.

That being said.  I don’t like it.  However, I understand it, and the UX / UI Designer at my heart rejoices at the emergence of this paradigm, where the responsibility for security and workflow consistency are on the developer, not the user.  But the programmer in me rebels at having someone tell me how to design and implement what I want on my device.  Having someone lord over me as to what is an acceptable software application is irritating to say the least.  I think the UX designer, and consumer advocate in me wins, and there are platforms like Mac OS X that I can work on to satisfy the programmer urges in me.

I predict, however that Apple will do away with the use of the existing Mac OS X on the MacBook,the iMac, and the MacBook Air.  I think they will start running this Cocoa Touch OS with all of the restrictions and HIG guidelines as the iPhone.  I think that there will be an app store for these devices, and I think that it will be the only way to install software.  Seeing iWork on the iPad is the first example of the migration of Cocoa Touch to a full fledged computer operating system.

Apple will probably, keep the MacPro line and the MacBook Pro, perhaps adding an iMac Pro running Mac OS X.x in the way we have always come to expect it, and it will likely become even geekier than it already is.  The most floor slapping, hilarious thing is that Apple has come full-circle to an old Microsoft idea that was right on, however, big surprise, was improperly executed.

Originally Microsoft had its Windows Professional and Home lines, they had Windows 2000 for business and Windows 98 for home users.  The concept was that they wanted to have a much simpler OS for normal consumers and a much more complicated, and powerful, platform for businesses to use.  Apple has slightly turned this on its head, they, in my humble opinion, want to have a platform that is an awesome one for media consumers, and general consumers, and a platform for the programmer geeks that have made Apple what it is.  It is for that reason that I anticipate a iPad Pro soon after the launch of the iPad, perhaps even as soon as WWDC ’10.  The iPad Pro would likely run a Cocoa Touch OS that was less restricted, and more like Mac OS X.x.

Ultimately, I think Apple wants, and will make everyone happy, but we are at the beginning of this incredible consumer platform, and I think that for its stated goals, the App Store, the “awful policies,” et cetera, are the best possible way to get to it.  However, I think for its perception among geeks, Apple needs to communicate their strategy as soon as possible.  If they intend to make all of their devices like the iPod Touch, then we have a problem.  However, this is extremely unlikely.  I can’t wait until WWDC this year!


Thoughts on the Apple iPad

Posted: January 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

First off, let me say that I am an apple fanboy to the highest degree.  Prior to today, there has been only one Apple device since 2001 that I have not really wanted in its original form, that product is the Apple TV.  Today, there are two.  In the rest of this post I’d like to explore why I feel this way.

There are bound to be many, many people who will find a tablet like the on Apple described yesterday to be wonderful.  I am coming from a slightly different place, as I have a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, and a Kindle.  What I was looking for was something innovative enough to replace all three, and the tablet isn’t it.

Looking at my needs for a portable computer, we can eliminate the tablet right off.  It can’t run GCC, it can’t run clisp, PHP, etc… So for me as a developer it isn’t practical, as a writer, it is.  Between iWork’s pages and the keyboard attachment, it will make a fantastic transportable word processing device.  The biggest problem with this is that I can’t run openoffice or word.  Not that I would necessarily want to, but if all of my files are in word format, and Pages mangles them, then this is a non-starter.  Also, without the ability to move files easily onto and off of the device, I’m sure there will be a mobile me tie-in here, it just isn’t as flexible as my laptop, ahem… netbook.

On the smartphone front, this device is way too big to put into my pocket, doesn’t have a camera, and doesn’t support standard cellular voice.  Of course I could use skype, etc… but sometimes, for as much as we complain about AT&T, it is nice to just make a regular voice call and have it not be complicated.  On top of that, since it doesn’t tether to my iPhone, something that I should be able to do just in general.  Instead, I have to, on top of the data plan that I already pay for for my iPhone, pay an additional $29 per month to use the internet.  The 250 MB plan is a joke, as soon as I watch a few Hi-Def youtube feeds, I will have gone through it.  This doesn’t replace my smartphone, iPhone.  It doesn’t even really work together with my iPhone.

While the iPad, even with its unfortunate name, has a really beautiful ebook reader application.  The books are way more expensive than the Kindle, and the screen is still a backlit LCD.  I can read my Kindle just fine in the high-noon sun, which I do a lot.  I can read my kindle with no problem at the playground with my kids.  I can’t even see what is on my laptop in the sun, perhaps the iPad will be better, but it doesn’t even come close to the readability of the Kindle.  It is great that the battery life on the iPad is 10 hours, I can’t look at the screen reading text for that long.  So it doesn’t really replace the Kindle in its current form.

Overall, it is awesome at some things, but it doesn’t really replace what I have, is it better at browsing the web than my laptop with a 3G card?  No, not really, I can use Verizon or Sprint 3G, I’m not stuck with AT&T, I have the choice to use Firefox or Google Chrome, I’m not stuck with Safari.  I like Safari, but Chrome and Firefox have better features.  Is it better at media, since I tend to consume a lot of audio podcasts, no it isn’t.  For users like me the iPad is just what I hoped it wouldn’t be, its a big iPod touch.  I already have an iPod touch and an iPhone and a laptop.  There is nothing that the iPad does that would make me replace any of them, not even the iPod touch, since I can actually put that in my pocket and take it with me.  There is also the neck pain that comes from looking down into your lap for 4 hours that we have all felt from playing games on the iPhone.

I don’t intend to buy the iPad, at least in its current form.  I was really hoping that Apple would come in and do something super cool with gestures or something to make that form factor work, what they have done is smart in that they aren’t really challenging the other markets, they are trying to make a niche that is there own.  I think the super wealthy digerati will buy this, and some people who don’t already have an iPod Touch or a Kindle, or even some people who don’t have a laptop, but most people will still spring for the $300 netbook over the iPad.

It has dawned on me though that the iPad is a megaton bomb on Google’s Chrome OS hopes.  iPad Safari will be able to run all of the google apps in the same fashion that Chrome OS likely will, from an icon on screen, so to the majority of users they will be the same.  Google does have one advantage, and that is its openness.  Google is talking about allowing NSAPI plugins that run native code on the platform, Apple can claim that one could just write a native application, but it doesn’t allow augmenting the web browser to provide additional functionality to web applications.  The lack of openness could end up biting Apple as we transition all of our desktop environment to the web.


Mides 1.7 New Features and Changes

Posted: January 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, iPhone, JavaScript, mides, PHP, Programming | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I wrote Mides originally to help me to write web applications when I am on the go.  A huge part of web application development is JavaScript.  The iPhone / iPod is an awesome device for heavy client JavaScript apps.  So as a result, I added JSLint in Mides 1.7 to make debugging JavaScript easier.

The main problem with the developer setting in Mobile Safari is that it is inaccessible to other applications.  Since one of the main purposes of Mides is to enable development with either no, or an unreliable internet connection, it wouldn’t be possible for Mides’ internal HTTP server to run and serve the mobile safari application with content.  This is the entire reason I wrote an HTTP server for Mides, so that JavaScript XHRs would work correctly for testing.

What I have done to help out with JavaScript debugging is to modify Douglas Crockford’s JSLint library slightly to make it work on the iPhone.  It helps out with outright errors, but also with many excellent tips for writing safe and readable JavaScript applications.  You can see the errors and optimizations by tapping on the burst and exclamation point icon when it appears over your JavaScript or HTML.  This feature is optional and can be disabled in the iPhone settings.

Another issue I wanted to address with a new feature is that I always forget the argument, or the exact PHP method call that I want to use, especially around MySQL.  I already had the documentation in there, but since it is a full-text search, it tends to take a while.  So I added a new feature that allows you to look up just the method signature, that is the method name and the arguments to the method.  I didn’t want to put a button in there for this, it just didn’t seem right.  I tried for a while to come up with something usable, and I think I have figured out something that works.  You just need to twist the phone to the right ( or left ) to do the code-completion on the method.  If the text before the cursor matches one or more PHP method signatures, then it will add that value in context, in line into your code with the argument types.  If it matches more than one, it will display a modal dialog that will allow you to choose from the top 5 PHP methods that match what you have typed.

One fix that a customer asked for on getsatisfaction.com/mides was that I make tabs parse properly.  I also added that in Mides 1.7, now your tabs will be properly displayed.  To create a tab, just space 5 chars into the document.

I am adding features both at the request of customers on the burgeoning community on getsatisfaction, as well as through my own usage of the product.  I probably won’t implement all of them, but please keep the suggestions coming.  They help tremendously.  Some of them are really tough to implement, but if they make it more usable I’m all for it.

One of the main issues around Mides is moving files onto and off of the phone, Apple hasn’t made it easy, and FTP is not the best solution, it is a nightmare to support, and difficult for users to set up.  I thought about having a small application that you could install on your Mac and PC that would make it much easier to transfer files with, but this didn’t seem like the best solution either.  I am actively thinking through better ways, but nothing so far has really stuck.

At any rate, I am constantly trying to make Mides more useful, I know it has been rough, but I’m glad to see that some of you are starting to get real use out of Mides.  I hope to keep making it better and eventually to rival and in some ways improve upon the desktop coding experience.