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.
It's not the camera, it's the photographer. We all know that. Do we live it? Not always. Which is why I did a deliberate "lesser photographer" thing.
Where I would usually have the iPhone in my pocket as an emergency or backup camera, this time I made a deliberate decision to go out and shoot with nothing but the iPhone. No big medium format camera. No DSLR. Just the iPhone 4s.
Our creativity strives under constraints. Some of the greatest photography has been made with cameras that some of today's photographers wouldn't even touch with a ten-foot-pole. So I went an extra step and instead of using the iPhone's built-in camera app, I used one that most people would call crippled. Its name is NoFinder and it is pretty much what the title of the app says: a camera without a viewfinder.
Now adding that kind of a restriction might initially sound silly, but it has turned out to be surprisingly good for the creative side of things. Not being able to look through a viewfinder helped me concentrate on the actual scene a lot more than if I had looked through a viewfinder. Pointing the camera without a display also left a certain margin of error, but in the end for many shots that lead to interesting and unusual framing choices that I wouldn't have made with a viewfinder.
Most of those accidental choices of frame weren't that exciting, but then there were a few that I found really interesting. And again: I wouldn't have arrived at them any other way.
The last two constraints that I placed myself under turned out to be pretty much the most beneficial ones: my decision to set the app to only take square pictures and to work in black-and-white only.
The lack of a viewfinder initially made it harder for me to judge the angle of view, but after a few shots it became pretty clear how much would be in the picture. As an added benefit I now have a pretty good idea of the field of view that I can get from the iPhone. I didn't really have that angle visualized before.
And in the end that's how Frog Umbrella came into existence. Being able to see the entire scene with my two eyes, I could watch the umbrella kid walking away from the building and while it was doing so, I fired three shots while trying to anticipate the framing.
And the third shot was the charm. That's my kind of picture - everything fits nicely, the frog's eyes are doubled in the building, every element in the photo feels like it belongs exactly where I put it. I'll be happy when I bring home one single picture like this every time I go out shooting. I'm still working on that.
» Frog Umbrella on Flickr (leave a comment)
I just ran across another blog article that asked the question if mobile phones would take over in the long run and overthrow all other cameras because the sensor technology and the fact that you tend to have one with you all the time.
I'm not so sure for a two main reasons.
1. Control. Cameras tend to get better and better, but even the best automated decisions will not necessarily reflect your intentions.
An example: think about a backlit portrait. Without built-in intelligence, the camera's light meter willtell the camera that there's a lot of light and the image that comes out is likely to be a silhouette of a person. Most cameras nowadays will detect this and compensate for it, resulting in a well-exposed person (and most likely a slightly overexposed background). I guess in most cases that's what the person behind the camera wanted anyway, so it's okay.
But how about the times when a photographer intended to produce the silhouette picture but didn't have a way to tell the camera that that's what they wanted?
The way the current mobile phone cameras look, it's very hard for me to believe that they will get to this level of control any time soon.
2. Sensor size. Different sensor sizes result in different depths of field (DOF) and control over DOF is a very important tool for most photographers.
In-focus and out-of-focus areas in a picture are one out of a whole array of essential tools for photographers when it comes to telling a story in a picture. Focus will show or hide things, focus will help you guide the viewer's eyes through a picture.
Smaller sensors make it very hard to control DOF. Everything tends to be in focus. Bigger sensors make it easier to control DOF. A photographer can place focus where it's important. And as things look right now, mobile phone cameras are pretty unlikely to get larger camera sensors.
Even if mobile phone cameras got larger sensors, that would mean that the lenses needed to be bigger and further away from the sensors, adding bulk and size. Very unlikely.
Will newer technologies and computational photography replace the need for bigger sensors in the future?
Who knows, but at this point in time, even the Raytrix and Lytro cameras cannot do their job without a certain level of bulk, and the results are by far not where they'd need to be.
What do you think? Are we going to see DSLRs disappear any time soon?
I have used iTunes Match for a few days now, and it has quickly turned into one of the best things since sliced bread for me.
No more sync trouble, as everything is available on all devices, either to download or to stream*
The complexities of multiple-device sync and having to decide what to take with me on which of them turned into the main reason that I never rippedmy entire CD collection (and there are several hundred of them, I'm *that* old ;)) - in the end maybe only 20% of my music was on my computers, distributed between several machines and iTunes libraries. Bit of a mess.
As a result of the new convenience I have now gone back to rip all the music that was still sitting on my shelves, I'm about halfway through my CDs (the picture above shows a small fraction of it) and every time I open the music app on my iPhone and see new/old stuff popping up, it makes me smile as I rediscover some great music I almost had forgotten about.
Thanks for making things quite a bit easier, Apple!
* quick note about the "streaming" part: apparently it's not really streaming. There seems to be a fine distinction between streaming and the "playback while download" implementation that Apple chose, possibly for political reasons. Factually it doesn't make a difference to me as an end user. What I particularly like is that even though if you play an album from the cloud, the first title takes a second to begin playing, the subsequent tracks are 100% seamless. Apparently it's implemented so that it starts downloading the next track if that is less than one minute away. This should pretty much guarantee continuous playback even on slower connections. I like that a lot!
The next Himalayan Workshop is getting closer, a bit over one more month and we'll meet Jon and the new group of photographers and trekkers in Kathmandu, and not only does that mean I'm in the middle of shaping up a bit, it also means that I'm in the process of figuring out how to stay in touch while in Tibet.
Tibet is in China, and as you know there's the infamous Chinese Firewall that makes some forms of online communication rather tricky. Last year the most reliable way seems to have been via mobile data, so I've been looking into plans and options to at least be able to send out the odd tweet or email.
Only issue with mobile data is that, as you know, it's super expensive, especially if you try to use your plan on a different continent. The cheapest option for me seems to be a package that gives me 50MB for roughly 25 Euro. Each 100KB on top of that will cost me 0,79 EUR, that's 7,90 EUR per effing megabyte or 395 EUR for another 50MB. Believe me, you don't want me to elaborate on how I feel about the wholemobile data roaming cost issue, so I better not write about that here.
Long story short, in order to squeeze the last bit of usage out of those 50MB, and in order to not step into any financial traps, my iPhone will have to go on a serious diet, so here's the plan:
Switch off: First of all there are a lot of tiny little background processes (aka daemons) constantly running on an iPhone, and some of them use data. As a result I'll have to switch off everything that potentially might call home in the background, such as automatic mail checking, push notifications, calendar syncs, etc.
No really, SWITCH OFF: Simply switching those services off might do the trick, but having worked on Unix-based systems for over 20 years (and the iPhone is a Unix-based system), I don't really trust the peace. In fact, having my iPhone just sit there with push switched off and without it checking emails seems to use up some small trickle of data that might sum up to something bigger over time. Remember, 50MB is not really a lot in today's times where a single web page can very easily exceed one MB. So to be on the safe side, I'll have the iPhone in airplane mode whenever I don't use it to communicate.
Identify data sources: I have identified two must-haves and one nice-to-have. Sending tweets is on the must-have side, email for emergencies is too (I run a business and need to be able to communicate, even though I don't really plan to, it's just a safety net). Receiving tweets would be nice, but if data usage dictates it, I should be okay with the send-only option while we're in Tibet.
Counting bits: Important question: how reliable is the iPhone's built-in byte counter? I couldn't find a lot of good information about that other than Leo Laporte's story about it not being accurate (he had to pay quite a bit extra after a trip abroad) but it's the best option I have for now. Other options include apps that check on T-Mobile Germany's network, which means they'll cause more data usage and I don't even know how up-to-date their data is. So it's the iPhone's built-in counter and a bit of a safety margin for now I guess.
Twitter: Twitter's own iPhone client uses up too much data. Not only does it send tweets, it also reads them, updates several timelines, checks periodically. I don't have exact numbers, but a quick check shows that simply starting the Twitter app and letting it do its initial sync used up 76KB, and that's just starting it. Subsequent tests showed 91KB and 105KB on startup, and sometimes even more, which probably has to do with the length of the timelines it has to download.
mobile.twitter.com: Twitter has a mobile web page, which I thought might to the trick. It doesn't. Loading it uses up a whopping 458KB of traffic in my case. That's almost half a megabyte.
Birdhouse: Next I tested two Twitter clients that only send tweets, they won't use any data to receive tweets, they won't update any timelines, they'll use the Twitter API and send one tweet at a time. The first one is Birdhouse. It's a nice client because it lets me save tweets in a list, then send them out later. This functionality has by now been incorporated into the official Twitter client, so I don't use it that much anymore, but it's still nice to have around. Even though it only sends out data, it still uses up a little data every time it you start it, probably from checking connection to the server. The iPhone's built-in bit counter tells me Birdhouse uses up 15KB per start. Not too bad, we're getting somewhere here.
Chirpie: I was almost going to settle on Birdhouse, when @schlingel suggested Chirpie. It's also a tweet only client, it does one thing: it lets you send a tweet. And even though it didn't consistently clock in with the exact same data usage, I got it to start up with an average of about 6KB of data usage. I sent a tweet with almost 140 characters and the entire process clocked in at 17KB. If I didn't use any other data, this would allow me for about 3000 tweets. Guess that covers the Twitter side. Write-only for me, but anything that also reads will significantly inflate data usage, so I'll stick with it.
E-Mail: e-mail will be tougher. Even if I had an iPhone client that would allow me to only download the mail headers via POP3 (is there such a client?) that would be significantly more data and probably squeeze the life of that data plan. A quick fact check: the iOS mail app uses about 6KB to check my two mail accounts if there's no new mail. With new mail it seems to download the headers first. In a test case that I just did that ended up being about 35KB worth of data. Tapping on the mail then downloaded the rest of the mail (a Flickr status mail, HTML body, two small pictures that you can't disable on the iPhone) and that alone drove data usage up to 304KB. And that wasn't even a big mail and it didn't have any attachments. Half a megabyte for ONE mail.. that would allow me to read 100 mails on the 50MB plan. Or I wait until I'm near Wifi when we are back in Kathmandu. Guess I'll scratch mobile mail for now then.
Conclusion: I'm pretty glad that I used to be in system and network adminstration in one of my former lives and that I know a bit about Unix. Chances are I'll survive the trek on a 50MB international plan while still being able to keep everyone at home in the loop.
I still have a few open questions:
1.) Is there an iOS app that counts data usage more reliable than the counter that is built into the iPhone? (or is it reliable enough?)
2.) guess I have the Twitter side figure out, but do you have any suggestions with regards to very-low-data emailing?
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!
A day spent with photography is a great day!
We spent the first day of this year in the Autostadt in Wolfsburg, the huge Volkswagen museum right next to the VW factory.
They are very photography friendly there, especially if you're there almost by yourself. January first is not traditionally a day where the Germans go to car museums. So instead of the thousands of visitors that have usually entered the premises by noon, in some of the exhibit houses we were amongthe first ten. And the employees even helped us get the best pictures by adjusting the lights and getting out of the way.
We made two major decisions upfront: analog only and medium format. The third decision was dictated by availability of film and the fact that most of the photography would take place indoors:
We had no choice but underexpose and push the films. By quite a bit in some cases.
At this point, instead of saying anything to those who keep going on about how much you're going to lose out of an ISO 100 film when pushed by three f-stops using Rodinal, I'd just like to show you some pictures (click goes big):
The other film I had with me was the good old Ilford HP5+, which I used to shoot a lot with back in the 80s but kind of lost track of. I'm glad I gave it a shot the other day, and I'm glad I did a one stop push, the tonal distribution that came out is just wonderfully creamy, and the push development managed to give it a nicely steep-ish gradation curve.
Some of my learnings of the last two days:
a) I'm turning into more and more of a fan of push stand developments using Rodinal. With the right film the results can be wonderful.
b) In order to push Efke 100 by three stops, you'll have to make sure to get the exposure spot on, as you won't have much to play with later on.
c) Spending a weekend with photography, playing and trying out new things and learning lots in the process is FUN FUN FUN!
For those of you who want to give this a go themselves, here is some information on the films and the development:
The first three pictures were shot on Efke 100, underexposed by 3 stops, stand-developed in Rodinal 1:50 (for Sean: that was 12 milliliters for a 120 film) at 20 degrees Celsius for 70 minutes, 30 seconds mild agitation at the beginning, 10 seconds mild agitation 35 minutes into the development. Stand development means that after the first agitation you do not even think of touching the development tank. Hands completely off until it's time to agitate again.
The last three pictures were shot on Ilford HP5+, underexposed by one stop and developed in Rodinal 1:25 (24 milliliters) at 20 degrees Celsius for 8 minutes, 30 seconds initial agitation, then a few light swirls each minute.
All pictures were taken with the Pentacon six and an almost uncoated Biometar 2.8/80mm lens. Exposure metering was done using an iPhone 4 with the free Pocket Light Meter app.
Monika wrote a German blog entry here with more pictures from the same day, that she shot with her Pentax 6x7, which we call "the beast".
Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear from you in the comments!
Warning, this is another iPhone post. No photography here. Move along, nothing to see here...
Every year I reach the point where I need to start planning the workshop schedule for the next year. This usually takes place after summer. And every year I find myself trying to find an application that helps me do that. A simple year planner. One that allows me to see the entire year on one screen, and where I can define time blocks and move those around on a calendar. Preferably it integrates with the calendar on my Mac. Shouldn't be too hard to find, right?
This is the third year where I've spent hours to try and track down this software. I would happily pay for such a software. But no luck. I've looked into project management software. Too bulky or too expensive, not elegant enough, or simply too big and complex for my purposes. I've looked into calendaring software. None that offers me a decent or usable year overview. Or if they do show the entire year, they really only show you the year but they don't populate it with any of the calendar information.
The situation is even worse on the iPhone. The built-in Calendar app is nice, but if you want to get more serious, it's pretty much useless. Look at the month screen for example. Just a dot on the days that have entries, and the day overview hidden away in a tiny portion of the window on the bottom. This would be a perfect opportunity for app developers to come up with great calendars, but Apple has put the kibosh on that by not providing a calendar API. That's right, no iPhone app can directly interface with the iPhone's calendar data, so all of them have to be isolated applications.
Google Calendar to the rescue!
And that's where my recent research weekend where I found the solution to unfreeze my iPhone 3G 3.1 helped in a way.
Apparently Apple doesn't mind iPhone apps to sync with Google apps, and that's true for Google Calendar too. So there are quite a few iPhone calendaring apps out there that work just fine using Google Calendar.
And as I have already moved my calendar subscriptions over onto Google Calendar and as it's working flawlessly so far, why not go he whole hog and move my main calendar over there too?
So my next steps were to a) find a great iPhone app that syncs with Google Calendar and b) move my main calendar over to Google.
Twitter to the rescue!
What a great community! Just a few tweets later, and @stke was there with a great app tip: Pocket Informant. Thanks for helping trigger one of the biggest calendar reconfigurations I've done in a long while.
Admittedly, it doesn't really solve my year-view issue, and it isn't necessarily a planner, but it solves a host of other problems that I've been having with the built-in Calendar app and it throws in some new and awesome todo features on top.
Introducing Pocket Informant
Where its previous versions seems to have had some issues, version 1.1.0 of Pocket Informant is one of the best mobile calendars I have seen in a while. It's not for everyone, it will require some level of configuration, but when it comes to my personal preferences, I believe I have found a keeper here. It will happily run in its own little sandbox, but if you are ready to switch to Google Calendar and set Informant up to sync that to your iPhone, you will unleash its full potential by enabling iCal sync functionality, albeit indirectly through Google. This way you can see and edit the same data on both the iPhone, iCal, and even online in the Google Calendar web interface while you're away from your beloved gadgets.
Pocket Informant gives you an agenda, a day view, and a month overview. Nothing special so far, until you see everything in action. Where the iPhone's Calendar app does its job .. well, in a doing-its-job kind of way, this one is on steroids. What I haven not mentioned yet is the week view, and for that view alone I would have made the switch. Why? Simple: Apple's Calendar app doesn't offer that. And for the way I work with calendars, a good week view is essential. In the month view, Informant will even give you tiny little time bars on every day that show you which portions of your days are booked. You can even opt for small text entries. And these are just a few of the cool things it does.
Generally Pocket Informant is highly configurable. Actually it might be even too configurable for some. Luckily there's a free light version of the app to find out.
But what really blew me away is its todo integration. It allows you to keep a todo list GTD style. With projects, contexts and the whole thing. Or do you prefer the Franklin Covey style, giving you the active, in progress, overdue and due items? It can do that too. If a todo item has a due date, you can see it on the calendar. And if that isn't enough, get this: this is not an isolated solution. It syncs with the cloud, or more specific with the Toodledo service. All you'll need is to get a free account there and you're set. Even better, Toodledo itself lets you integrate your todo lists with other things, such as Twitter. When I'm in Twitter and I all of a sudden I think of something I'll need to do, I can just send off a direct message to @toodledo and it'll end up as a new todo in my list. In Pocket Informant. On my iPhone. I have also added Toodledo to my iCal, so now I can even see (but not edit) the todo directly in iCal on the Mac.
There is a free version of Pocket Informant [App Store link]. The full version [App Store link] isn't cheap (€ 10.49 as of writing this), but after working with it for a day, I can say it's worth every cent.
Just for disclosure: I'm not affiliated with these guys.
What's even more interesting: After I have moved my high-volume calendars to Google and now syncing my calendar(s) from Google back to the iPhone using Pocket Informant, I can all of a sudden use all of them again without running into the low memory issue that killed my iPhone experience since the upgrade to 3.1 - something that I believe has to do with how efficient this app manages its memory. And it has to do with the fact that the Apple Calendar app stays open in the background - something that only a few Apple apps are privileged to do - and thus permanently uses a lot of memory if you have a lot of calendar entries, while Pocket Informant doesn't run in the background and frees up the used memory once you leave the app.
Calendar alerts are provided by making use of the push notification feature. Or you can opt to use Google Calendar notifications via text message, web alert, and so forth. Or in my case, I have added my main Google Mail/Calendar to the iPhone as an Exchange account, which syncs the calendar entries of my main calendar (and only those) with the iPhone's Calendar app and therefore gives me the alerts this way. I know I know, things could be a bit easier, but this way works just fine for me.
Shake to sync
The app is pretty smart about how and when it syncs with Google Calendar and Toodledo, but if you want to force a sync, you can enable the shake to sync feature, something that I initially thought was just a gimmick, but that I have come to like quite a bit during testing of the app. I'll probably disable it though after the honeymoon is over and I go on to use the app as a simple every-day work-horse.
No, this isn't the year planner that I was hoping for. If you know an app for the iPhone or for the Mac that provides that in an elegant way, please please please let me know about it.
What it is though is a really powerful calendaring and productivity application that - used correctly - will put a lot of oomph at your fingertips.
Integrating it with Google Calendar and Toodledo allows me a lot of flexibility about how and where I use calendars and todos, and keeping that data in the cloud makes it much easier for me to access everything.
And using the pretty well integrated GTD part of Informant, I will probably stop using Things, which I sill love, which I think looks much nicer, but which simply isn't as fast and integrated as Pocket Informant is.
Here's my very short one-item wishlist for Pocket Informant:
Please think about year planning, if anyone can pull it off, it's you guys. I'd love to be your guinea pig! But whatever you change in the future, please don't sacrifice speed and integration.
Do you use an alternative calendar on the iPhone? Let me know in the comments!