Every time I release an update or a new iPhone app, I get this question. Will there be an Android version? When can we have it?
It is very very flattering that you are so interested in these apps. I wish, it was easy to just write these apps for every platform. I would even like to be able to do them for PalmOS and WebOS. But it's a simple game of economics that keeps me from doing it.
Incident Light Meter is a hobby project, it's pretty much a very small niche app that I've written myself, in my spare time. Chances are that through app sales I won't even recoup the time that I have invested in the research.
The only reason I could do Incident Light Meter is because I already spent a lot of time to acquire the basic skills and infrastructure to write iOS apps (this includes a ton of paperwork). It was an interesting experience, and it was very much outside of what I actually love to do, teaching photography.
I actually spent time and tried to get comfortable with Android development, but got stuck fairly early in the process. Then there is fragmentation. Even if I could to develop an Android app, to make the experience as good as with the iOS PocketChris apps, I would have to have at least 5 to 10 different Androids devices lying around here for testing. Different screen sizes, different processor capabilities, different operating system versions.
The dirty truth is, most developers don't make a lot of money with their apps. None of the PocketChris apps are mainstream enough to be a big seller. And I don't have the marketing power behind these apps that others do. So in the end, they serve a small audience, and I am glad that they make just enough to recoup the development costs.
And it only works, because I do most of the work myself. Johannes might disagree, as he has written the framework for the educational PocketChris apps. But he only had to write that once. For every new educational PocketChris app, it is full writing and sorting and editing and picture editing effort for me.
So again, I wish I could do PocketChris for every single platform, but if I don't learn these skills myself, chances are it won't happen. And I don't see my core competency see in writing software, it's in teaching photography and making people better photographers.
… unless you are an excellent Android developer who wants to prove me that it is easy and that it can be done without much effort and with excellent results across different Android devices and OS versions.
How much information is enough? And how much is too much?
In the context of PocketChris this was a question that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out.
If you have ever been on one of the workshops, you know that getting me to talk about photography is a lot easier thangetting me to stop talking.
After having built several test versions with different chapter lengths and after carrying them around on my iPhone for a while, about 1000 words per chapter felt about right. Short enough to provide for a quick five-minute information snack, but long enough to feel like you got your money's worth.
This is actually a huge problem that a lot of writers face. Writing a lot of text is easy. Expressing an idea in many words is simple. Simple for the writer that is. It places most of the strain on the reader, who has to sift through more text to pick out the good information.
So less words in a PocketChris article does not mean that I was too lazy to write more. It means that more time has gone into making the chapter contain all the important information in an as easy to digest way and in as little writing as necessary. One thousand words to be precise.
There are audiobooks that cost a lot more in their abridged form just for that reason. Time is a valuable good in today's world as much as I don't want my own time to be wasted, I don't want to waste anybody else's time.
I didn't always manage to hit the 1000-word mark. Some of the articles are over 1200 words long, but I still feel comfortable that I've managed to boil things down enough to give you your money's worth.
I have often been asked why I don't just add new chapters as in-app purchases instead of doing several apps in parallel.
Here's my reasoning behind that:
Size vs. Ad-Hoc Download
I want to keep the purchase hurdle for PocketChris as low as possible. If an app is over 20 MB in size, you can only download it over WiFi or through your Mac that the iOS device syncs with. I have often ended up at a point where I wanted to impulse-buy an app, but couldn't because I was on 3G or EDGE. In some of these cases I forgot about it againand didn't buy it once I was back home.
There are several ways to provide in-app purchases. One is to deliver the content with the app, but only making it accessible to the user once they paid. This could easily drive the app over the 20 MB limit. See above. An alternative way is to download content from a server after purchase, but that would mean to maintain server infrastructure, and potentially a lot of it, depending on how successful the app will be.
Maybe it's just me, but I kind of like to buy something and know that I own the whole thing. The freemium model where you get the app for free and then buy advanced features as in-app purchase never really appealed to me, because it always tends to give me the feeling that I'm being cheated. I'd much rather deliver individual apps that are complete entities, and where you know what you'll get before you buy. The PocketChris model is very traditional: you can try it out because the first app is free (but still gives you great value), and if want more of it, there are other packages in the series that you can purchase.
The collector's instinct is strong. A lot of People want things to be complete. The greater plan is to make PocketChris into its own little universe of apps that complement each other. iOS folders facilitate this with ease, and my hope is that PocketChris owners will have a PocketChris folder on their iPhone that they fill with good content over time.
Wahoo, look, PocketChris made it into the New & Noteworthy section in the Photography section of the US iTunes store (Update: and of the German one), right on the first place in the left top!
That's YOU who did that!! Thanks to all who left comments and who bought the app in the first place, you wonderful people you!
If you're still on the fence, have a closer look here.
Addendum: I also really liked this search results page in the German iTunes store when searching for the term photography. No, liked is the wrong term, I'm actually mighty proud of it!
This one is about the lizard brain and how it gets in the way of shipping stuff.
With shipping Seth meansabout anything that you produce, anything that gets out there and that can be criticized. By you, by others. It goes even beyond that, but we'll stick with this for the sake of this article.
Several years ago I underwent an important transition. I began to allow myself to not be perfect. To ship stuff that my lizard brain would've not be happy about. This lead to a lot of good things. I got more practice in shipping stuff and thus got better at it. With practice I became better at judging when things were ready enough to be shipped. And as a result I gained more experience in dealing with the things that frightened me.
I learned that people will accept it even if it's not perfect. People will even appreciate to see that you are a human being with flaws like theirs. You will not be ripped to pieces when making a mistake. As long as you own up to it and fix it.
Case in point: Today I got an email from my friend Andres in Argentina. He has an old iPod touch that is caught in iOS 3.1.3. No update possible. I though it was a good choice to release PocketChris Advanced with a minimum requirement of iOS 4.0. What I didn't account for was that iTunes on a computer will allow you to download any version of an app, no matter if your device supports it or not.
So here's a case where people potentially can spend a couple of bucks on something and then find out they won't be able to use it. Not a lot of people, but still too many.
Instead of spending a lot of time trying to think up each and every corner case that might happen, and in the process losing a lot of time, I decided to take a decision that felt right and go with it. As a result we now have a problem. But we also have an app out there that works for 99% of iOS device owners out there.
A quick conversation with Johannes who does the software dev on PocketChris and I knew we had a way to fix it.
So the fix is now in the app store, PocketChris Advanced Photography will be available on devices as low as iOS 3.1 and we'll work around the potential issues with that inside the app.
So there, lizard brain!
Update: We found a way to work around the technical issues and I submitted a new version of PocketChris Advanced Photography the other day. It will install and run on devices as low as iOS 3.1, so you will be able to run it even on your old iPod Touch!
I'm receiving lots of questions with regards to PocketChris and what devices it is for.
In short: it's an iPhone app. It was written for the iPhone form factor. It will also run just fine on the iPod Touch, with one caveat (see below).
PocketChris is not an iPad app. However, it will run on the iPad, and it will even look pretty good on the iPad if you run it in 2x mode. That's because we included high resolution images and parts of the UI are high resolution, so you will get the best possible experience, given it was not written specifically on the iPad.
This is important: PocketChris requires iOS 4.0 or higher. An iOS device that is not on 4.0 or higher will not allow you to download and install PocketChris. Unfortunately Apple does not keep you from downloading the app on your Mac, but at least it makes a clear note in writing on the iTunes screen that the minimum required iOS is version 4.0.
iTunes doesn't know what devices you might want to sync with. If you have a device that is below 4.0, you will then run into the issue of this app not being able to install.
So please make sure that if you download the app using iTunes on your Mac, you have a device that allows to run it. This is an issue inherent with the concept of the iTunes store.
You will not run into this issue if you download the app right from your device.
May I introduce a new member to the family?
His name is PocketChris Advanced Photography I (and yes, that's a long name, I know, but there are reasons).
Several months in the making, and we are proud of him!
He's bringing you eight (!) new chapters of information for your photographic advancement, and he is planned to have several little siblings who each know a lot about a different area of photography.
You can get a copy of PocketChris Advanced Photography I on your device from an App Store near you.
This discussion started with someone on Twitter telling me the name PocketChris was a bad choice and I should change it.
I then asked my followers if they thought the name needed changing, and got pretty mixed results back. The majority of the responses was to keep the name, but in general they fell into two categories: "The name is just fine" and "The name doesn't say photography clear enough."
Actually the name PocketChris hasn't been chosen on a whim.
Here are some of the thoughts that went into deciding for it:
a) it should be unique, so it can be easily found in a sea of photography-related apps
b) it should be playful and fun and likeable
c) it should be linked to existing brands
d) it should be photography related
e) it should be easy to remember
I think we also managed to cover our bases at b). I base that on a lot of feedback that I received from users of the app, and from the reviews PocketChris has received. Most people seem to like the thought of having a tiny version of their photography instructor in their pocket.
The brand thing under c) is a much more difficult one. Is TFTTF its own brand? Or is TFTTF = Chris? What would TFTTF be without Chris? And what audience whould PocketChris be for? All important questions that we mulled over quite a bit. Fact is that with all the things I do, I have been strengthening the Chris Marquardt brand a bit more by centralizing more things on chrismarquardt.com over the last months, so from my perspective (and in my plan) TFTTF is just one of the many things I do.
While a lot of people still only know me as the guy who does TFTTF, I'm also the photographer, the photography instructor, the TFTTF guy, the PocketChris guy, the videographer, .. so in the end I personally think it makes sense to have PocketChris be its own thing, but still have it loosely linked to TFTTF.
Some said the name needed to be more photography-related or people wouldn't find it. Actually the name is very much photography related. The full name that is! The official name of the free app is PocketChris Photography Basics, the name of the advanced app is PocketChris Advanced Photography and you can bet your biggest lens that the future PocketChris apps will have photography in their name too. A quick search for the term photography on the App Store shows that PocketChris is visible among the other photography apps. In some international stores more visible than in the US store, but we're getting there, and that's also where your reviews and my cunning plan to make all of you buy all of the future PocketChris apps will help ;)
Also have a look at the app icon. If that doesn't say photography, I don't know what does.
Finally point e) - is the term PocketChris easy to remember? You betcha!
By the way, a very interesting side effect of PocketChris that I hadn't even anticipated is that even though initially it was mostly the existing TFTTF audience downloading it, the app has already reached quite an audience outside of the TFTTF realm.
These are people who have never heard of TFTTF, they download PocketChris and send me questions. I in turn send them over to TFTTF and I hope that will help spread the word about the show and the workshops and the other things I do. It's one big circle and I'm not sure those people would have gone for a Tips from the Top Floor app which doesn't have photography in its name at all.
But that's just me trying to make sense of many things and in the end all I hope for is that PocketChris will be one of those little seeds that falls on fertile ground and turns into a big and healthy tree that in turn will carry a ton of tasty fruit for people to pick.
Pretty early in the design process we decided for PocketChris to be an app that is purely portrait oriented.
My reasoning behind it was that I think even though there is a lot of content to read inside PocketChris, users are most likely to use it in a casual way, either as a quick reference, or toread a few paragraphs here and there or to quickly show someone a concept.
In my mind this is done best while holding the phone naturally (e.g. in portrait orientation) and while using the thumb to navigate.
This decision also allowed me to prepare the content in a way that would look its best and not have to consider several different orientations.
Today on Dec/30/2010 I submitted the first version of PocketChris to Apple. The process involves having Apple review the app and then hopefully see it pop up on the App Store soon. Usually within less than 10 days, sometimes dramatically faster.
This feels a bit like a historic event to me. It's the first time I am actually selling an app, and the seemingly simple PocketChris user interface doesn't really convey how much time and effort was spent tomake it that simple and easy to use.
The PocketChris Fun Facts on this blog might be a bit of an indication.
It's all in the hands of Apple now, the app is waiting for review and it might take a week or longer until you can finally get your hands on it.
PocketChris Advanced Photography will have eight chapters about various topics: Stability, Histogram vs. RAW, Metering, Perspective, Pattern Matching, Zone System, Sensor Sizes and Focal Length.
PocketChris will be available at an introductory price of $1.99, the regular price will later be $2.99.
I can't wait to hear what you think about it!
It wasn't until pretty late in the game that I realized what we had actually built here.
PocketChris was initially trying to be radically new and different, but I found that keeping things within the realm of the already known would be more intuitive for people to use.
The initial name for what we now call a chapter was a toy. A PhotoToy. Because it is about playing, about exploring, about a haptic experience.
Over time I realized that PocketChris was much more a new type of interactive book than anything else. So I returned to calling the different chunks of content chapters.
Fun fact: internally in the source code, we still refer to PocketChris as PhotoToys in many areas.
But that's alright, because as I work on new content for the app, it keeps reminding me that it is a constant process that got us here.
Did you notice the clicking sound when you swipe the wheel inside PocketChris?
It was clear to me from the beginning that in order to make the app feel right, it would need acoustic feedback when you turned the wheel.
Apple has done a great job training its users to the subtle click sound when operating different controls. The scroll-wheel/ball in the Magic Mouse makes a clicking sound when you turn it. It's artificial (unplug the USB port and turn the ball and you won't hear the sound). Tapping the keyboard on the iPhone makes subtle clicking sounds to give you feedback. The iPod click wheel even has itin its name.
It's an acoustic cue to trigger a tactile sense. And it works.
So I have borrowed it from Apple.
The wheel inside PocketChris clicks. This gives it some weight. And some tactile component. Biggest issue: trying to find the right sound.
It've been trying a lot of different sounds, many electronically generated, some from the real world. I pitched up sounds from various areas to get the high-pitched click I was looking for, but I failed.
Until someone (I think it was Johannes) told me to try a mouse click. Which I did, and I was instantly in love. All it needed was some slight pitching up, a few test runs with different volumes to find the one that just felt right and we were there.
So what you hear when you swipe the wheel inside PocketChris is the click of an old Logitech mouse, recorded through an Electro-Voice RE20 microphone, run throughan Aphex 230 voice processor, then slightly pitched up using Wavelab.
There are reasons why the PocketChris user interface has the layout it has.
The SD cards give you large and hard to miss targets to tap on. This way mis-taps are virtually impossible and the app is very likely to do what you want it to.
In my initial concepts, the wheel in the chapter viewer was a slider that went up and down next to the right of the viewing screen. This would have put left-handed usersat a disadvantage though, making it harder to use for them. It would also have taken away screen real estate from the picture viewer.
So the decision was done to come up with some sort of wheel in the lower third of the screen, which is the natural place your thumb would go when holding the device.
Initial wheel layouts were in a way that would allow the entire wheel fit inside the screen, but only once we made the invisible parts of the wheel seriously overlap the size of the screen, it came together.
The wheel being mainly behind the picture viewer also gives it a certain connectedness to the pictures, thus making it feel more logical that the pictures change when you turn the wheel.
The click sound does the rest to drive home the mechanical nature of the app, adding a layer of perceived mechanics and weight to the wheel, almost like an intricate clockwork that is hidden behind the scenes of the app.
We tried a few different things for the chapter selection buttons in PocketChris, including CompactFlash cards, which, coming from a Canon 5D Mark II, are more familiar to me than SD cards, which tend to be rooted more in the consumer space.
In the end we went with SD cards though.
One reason was that it just fit much better into the interface and could be tiled much nicer in the portrait interface.
Another reason was that the target audience for PocketChris is more in the consumer thanin the professional photography space.
So I put several SD cards on my scanner and sent the best ones off to Peter, and he did a great job making them into something that looked the exact right amount between being stylized and real.
One thing that didn't look right was the split second after you tap a card and it zooms up to you. If we used a small graphic, it would pixellate during the zooming and destroy the illusion. If we used a large graphic, the downsized version would get jagged edges and look wrong too.
What Peter and Johannes came up with together is pure genius: they built their own MIP mapping.
MIP mapping is a technique from computer gaming where you use the same texture in different resolutions depending on how far they are away from you.
Each of the buttons is actually two buttons, one for the small version in the interface, and one for the larger version while it zooms up to you. During the transition they are smoothly blended over to create a perfect illusion.
By the way, the SD cards come in red, blue and black, and there is a logic behind the choice, which should become apparent when more PocketChris apps are out in the App Store. Can you tell what the logic is?
Update: Thanks all for your great reviews! AAAAAND the winners are:
If you read this article through to the end, you'll get the chance to win a free copy of the soon-to-be-released new PocketChris.
Here's a very typical Chris train of thought:
As PocketChris Advanced Photography I is nearing its release, I would really love it to get off to a good start.
One key way to achieve that is to have the free PocketChris Photography Basics on as many iOS devices as possible. Reason: the news system that is nowin the v1.2 version will allow me to subtly remind every user of the free version that there's an advanced version available. And yes, it is really subtle, and it doesn't do push notifications, so you'll have to start PocketChris to get the notification.
Cunning plan, right?
It just hinges on one important thing: how many people have the latest version of PocketChris.
And here's how can we get PocketChris in as many hands as possible. Noticed how I said "we"? That's because you have a key role in this plan, you are my accomplice. This plan would be nothing without you.
The best way to get PocketChris in front of more people is to give it more visibility. On blogs, on Twitter, and on the iTunes store. As of writing this, the most important keyword "photography" returns PocketChris as #4 in the photography category. That is really really awesome!! Unfortunately the universal main results page of the iTunes store on the Mac and the PC only shows the first three results, and you'll have to click to see more. Getting into the sacred space of the top three photography apps is therefore really really important if you want your app to be seen a lot.
And here is how you can help push PocketChris up that ladder (and win something in the process): simply write an iTunes review. It doesn't have to be long, it doesn't have to be elaborate, it just has to be written.
Update: I changed the links above, let's hope they work now. Follow the link, then click "View in iTunes under the big icon. If the links don't work for you, you can also just go to iTunes, search for PocketChris and leave the review right at the product page.
On Sunday, Jan/2, five reviewers will be drawn from all those that have submitted a review between now and that date. That is two weeks from now. And those winners will receive an iTunes code for a free version of the upcoming PocketChris Advanced Photography I.
Can we do it?
I received several questions about if or when there would be an Android (or Windows Phone 7, or even WebOS) version of PocketChris.
I am completely thrilled that so many people want to use their smart phone to learn about photography! I believe that carrying an app like PocketChris in your pocket all the time is a truly great way to learn.
And I truly wish PocketChris was available on each and every current mobile platform.
But it isn't, and to help you understand why there is no version of PocketChris for your specific platform yet, I'd like to point you to this article on my private blog that might give you a bit of insight into all the thoughts and considerations that make an app like PocketChris.
The short version is this: so much detail work and fine tuning has gone into PocketChris to make it the smooth feeling clockwork that it is, so much testing and fiddling with little bits of timing, pixelation and animation, that at the moment I'm not sure it would ever work the same way on any other platform.
And I will definitely not cobble something together, just to end up with a sub par version of PocketChris. That's just not me. Either it's great or it's not going to happen. Developing on any platform requires a lot of fine tuning, a lot of testing, preferably on several different devices of several different hardware generations and operating system versions.
In my case, adding a new platform before the existing one has even taken off, would mean having to give up something else.
My plans for 2011 include to keep producing two (mostly) regular podcasts with audio and video, to hold 16 workshops on three different continents, to do paid photography for my clients, to move, to finish the content for at least 3 more editions of PocketChris, and to see where this mix will take me.
In the end, porting PocketChris to another platform also depends on overall interest, size of the user base, ease of getting the app to users, and the financial potential of the platform.
It's really hard for me to do a good judgment on all these factors at the moment.
On the other hand, if you happen to be an accomplished Android developer and you have time on your hands and think you can pull off a port that will be as good as the iPhone version, I'd definitely like to talk to you. Never say never...
Which begs the question: does the world need yet another photography app?
I've spent lots of time wading through the photography category, and while there are lots of fancy filter apps, photo taking apps, apps that swap faces, apps that show off someone's photography, ... while there are so many of that type, I found one type to be virtually non-existent: apps that teach photography.
I know I know, there are a few that try to use the iPhone as a teaching platform, and some of them come close, but none of them gave me what I was looking for.
Here is what I am looking for in an iPhone app:
It's an app about photography, it HAS to be visually appealing. It cannot be a run-of-the-mill clicked-together-in-the-UI-builder type app. When I started the project, I tried this approach. It simply didn't work.
The visuals need to correspond with real-world experiences. A photography teaching app must be fun to use, because people simply learn better while having fun. They need to have something that they love to interact with to lower the learning hurdle. The haptic component is the reason why we've been using SD cards as the chapter buttons, hand-written labels, black material similar to a camera's surface, checkered paper, a real-world click sound when swiping the wheel, and a cut out paper look to little PocketChris.
The app needs to feel zippy and fast. It cannot be clunky in any way or people won't love using it. In those rare few places where it needs a second to think about something (unpacking chapter pics for example), the app must give the user the feeling something's happening by employing visual wizardry in the form of smooth animations.
The app has to allow the user to explore and find stuff on their own, without any need for documentation or too obvious hints in the app. Thus the article drawer inside the chapters, or the wheel that you can explore, or the shenanigans Chris does when you just watch him.
The content in such an app cannot be too shallow, but it also cannot be too deep. Striking the right balance between the visual and the reading side is crucial for the success of the app. I usually write over 1500 words for one chapter, then tighten things down to leave out anything superfluous. This is especially important in a smart phone environment where casual use of apps is the norm. Providing real value to the use is a key component in making them come back.
Tickle The Senses
Addressing multiple senses helps to make the app appeal to different audiences. In PocketChris you have a tactile component, a visual component, and a written component.
I keep getting feedback from people who have turned themselves into photography teachers using PocketChris. They say that if someone asks them about depth of field now, they just open up PocketChris and show them. Having PocketChris in your pocket and with you all the time enables you to help others learn.
A Great Team
I'm a very lucky guy to have a great little team that has helped me make PocketChris what is is now. Johannes is an excellent programmer with a keen sense of anticipating next steps and often when I mention the idea for a new feature, he returns with an answer along the lines of "it's already prepared to do that". Peter is my brother, and he also is a great graphic and interaction designer. When I think something within PocketChris might be solved best a certain way, he often comes up with a more elegant solution, making everything just that little bit more easy or logical for the user.
I have the feeling we managed to tick quite a few of these with PocketChris.