Some people have commented that we’ve been quiet for a while now, and want to know what we’ve been up to. Well today we’d like to start filling you in. First cab off the rank is a brand new product:
Our latest submission to the app store is a thing of pure beauty. For a while now we’ve wanted something we could have running on our desks at work, that would show us weather information, as well as the time. We call it Time BOM and it’s going off! I think it speaks for itself:
It updates with the latest weather automatically, and also transitions between showing you the 6 day forecast and current conditions. It comes in two very unique and classy skins.
Another thing that we’re really proud is that there are no in app settings for anything you’d want to do day to day. Want to turn the seconds off? Simply tap on them to make them go away. Want to change between the current conditions and the forecast? Simply tap that area of the screen. Want to control the brightness? Simply tap and hold any area of the screen to get a brightness control. Want to change skins? Simply swipe left or right.
Of course for the obsessive, there are still settings inside the iPhones ‘Settings’ application, but they are for things you’ll only set once (like how often you want the application to update it’s weather).
One last thing to note: this application is not another skin for Pocket Weather AU. It’s an entirely new product that’s more of a desktop appliance than a weather application. We don’t intend to cram every single feature of Pocket Weather into this application, but rather to keep it light, elegant and useful. We intend to add an alarm clock feature, as well as new skins with some really funky ways of visualising the weather. As with Pocket Weather we intend to keep updating this application for many years to come.
So what are you waiting for, go and buy it!
p.s. Don’t worry Pocket Weather fans, we haven’t forgotten you, tomorrow we’ll discuss what’s new in Pocket Weather AU 2.1, followed by what’s new in Pocket Weather World 1.1. In the meantime, why not show us some lovin’ by buying Time BOM?
Pocket Weather AU 2.0 was released to Apple in the wee hours of this morning (2am to be precise) so please excuse the spelling mistakes grammer-erratical errors in this post. On Tuesday we explained the new Radar features in v2.0, yesterday we talked about how adding locations will be different, so today to celebrate the apps release (to Apple that is, it’s not on the store just yet…) we’re going to unveil the big ticket feature for 2.0!
A picture speaks a thousand words…
Vanilla push push baby! Pocket Weather AU 2.0, your iPhone will love it 😉
Things are eerily quiet in the shiftyjelly Offices, which may lead you to think that we’re all sleeping on the job. The truth is that we are working harder than ever on some of the biggest updates that the Pocket Weather world has ever seen! So what’s coming?
Pocket Weather AU 2.0
We haven’t forgotten our Australian app, instead it’s getting the biggest update it’s ever seen, here are just some of the things that are included:
- New Terry Hills radar, and a framework to add new radars on the fly without updating the app.
- New radar functionality that we’re keeping mum on.
- Some 3.0 features that will blow your socks off (and maybe even make your head explode!) Again we’re keeping mum on exactly what’s involved.
- Real-time UV updates, handy for summer so you can see exactly when you’re mostly like to turn into crispy bacon…mmmm bacon…
- New options including disabling rotation, and more control of when the app auto-loads.
- A lot of code re-writing and optimising, making for the smoothest, slickest and most complete version yet!
Pocket Weather World with Push 1.1
Our newest app, and the one we’re still exciting about updating
- Support for weather warnings, and push notifications on those warnings.
- Support for animated radars
The obvious question is when are these coming out? And the answer is simple: ‘When they’re done’. We are talking about weeks, not months, but we will take as long as we need to, because we want to release updates oozing with quality, instead of jumping the gun and getting shot in the back.
It would seem lately that every man and his dog has been posting things on how much they dislike the app store. I think they all have valid points, but are also missing the forest for the trees. A lot of people ask us what we think of Apple and the App Store, so we thought we may as well write a quick post on it:
Firstly, let’s start with the positives, and there are a lot. Apple provides a distribution mechanism to well over 20 million iPhone/iPod Touch devices worldwide, and all they ask is a $US99 fee and 30% of the revenue generated. They handle all the payment processing, bandwidth, customer complaints and refunds without a developer having to life a finger. A lot of developers seem to forget that this platform is unique, I mean where else in the world can a fart app earn you close to a million dollars? Apple also copy protects your work for you, meaning you don’t have to worry about serial numbers and licensing. The system is not uncrackable, but the bar is set high enough that you don’t normally have to worry about piracy.
Then there’s the advertising side, for the lucky few Apple advertises our products for free. Apple picked our application Pocket Weather AU as a ‘Staff Pick’ and sales tripled overnight, and stayed high for well over a month. Our competitor Oz Weather gets even better treatment, being splashed all over magazine ads, and lit up in fluorescent glory in all the Apple stores around Australia. All this Apple does for free. I accept that if you’re not one of the chosen ones that’s not a bonus, but there is always that lucky dip aspect of magically appearing in the Staff Picks, What’s Hot or What’s New sections, or sometimes just being featured with other applications that are similar to your own.
Finally there’s the store itself, which supports browsing, reading reviews, screenshots, suggestions and a lot more. All that is great, but the better part is that this store is installed on every single iPhone and iPod Touch sold, and also on most of the desktop computers that these devices sync with.
Of course it would be remiss of us not to mention the many flaws in the App Store as well:
- Review times can sometimes be almost a month, even for minor updates. As a developer there is only one thing more frustrating than releasing an application that contains a bug, and that’s not being able to get the fix to the bug into your users hands for weeks on end. It’s painful, trust us.
- Reviews are fairly random, and things that got through in one release may not pass the second time. Every rejection (even for the most minor of matters) puts you back to the start of the queue.
- The Review process is opaque. There’s no way to know where your application is in the queue and how long it will be before it’s looked at or approved.
- The App store contains over 50,000 applications, even if you do a brilliant job it may still be hard to rise above the noise. Add to that the fact that competition drives prices down, and you may have a hard time charging anything more than a few dollars for your work.
- There’s no way to charge for upgrades on the store, which is a downside if you run a server (like we do) with ongoing costs. It also discourages developers from putting effort into bigger and better releases. This is a real problem if you intend to create an application that fills a small niche, because you sure as heck can’t make up for the difference by volume.
- When you have a problem getting paid, or with the store in general, there are no phone numbers to call, and emails more often than not don’t receive responses. At one point Apple violated their agreement with us (and many others) by not paying within 45 days of the end of the month and we emailed all the different contacts we could find, without a single response. Eventually they paid us, but it’s a damn good thing we weren’t relying on that money to feed our families.
As you can see, most of the downsides are most probably related to staffing problems at Apple. If Apple can figure out how to make the review and email processes scale, then 70% of the problems would be gone overnight and developers would be free to concentrate their whining on that last 30%. Overall the App Store has been a roller coaster that we’ve enjoyed riding. Despite that we are still holding out hope that Android and the Palm Pre take off, and give Apple the much needed incentive to improve the experience for all the developers that have made their phone such a success.
For those of you keeping up with the latest news on Pocket Weather AU you would know that we released v1.3.4 to Apple on the 5th of March, which according to my maths is about two weeks ago. This is a long time to wait for a minor update, and we had no information as to what was going down in Apple Town. I assumed that they were all busy with firmware 3.0 (more on that later), but I assumed wrong. I got a call from Apple today, which got me all excited…did they finally want to give us some promo lovin’? No, actually they objected to some text on our iTunes description page, specifically the part that said:
“The built in weather app on your phone gets it’s data from yahoo.com, and is wildly inaccurate”.
Would you be kind enough to remove that they asked? Sure we said, we’d do anything for the people who hand us a cheque every month, and can cut off our access at any time and leave us in review limbo. The person I spoke to was pleasant enough, so I quizzed him a bit about the review process. In true Apple style he basically said that he didn’t know that much about it, and even if he did he wouldn’t be allowed to say. Fair enough I said, I guess that claim was a bit inflammatory (even though it’s an accurate statement).
So what of firmware 3.0? Well I’ve installed it on my iPhone 3G and for the most part it’s a nice incremental improvement. I can only talk about the things that Apple has publicly showed off this morning, but I’m happy to report that except for the absence of MMS (I think Optus would have to push a carrier setting for that to turn on) everything else works as advertised. There are some cool new developers features which we’re excited about, but the only one relevant would be the push notification. We could do some cool things like push the current temperature to your application as a badge, or even harass you with what the weather is doing a certain time each morning.
Another cool feature is the incremental payment system they showed off. This would also be very cool for book publishers, one app would let you buy many books (instead of one book per app). As a band you could also provide an app that showcased your music and charge per song for it. The problem is where do you draw the line. There are 50,000 registered developers for the iPhone, and currently 25,000 apps. You can guarantee that with those kind of numbers there will be some people who just abuse the system. Imagine if you will an app that charges you for every new level, or object in the game. Would you really want to spend $50 decking out your Sims house? More specifically to Pocket Weather, how would you feel about us charging $1 a year for access to our server? We are after all paying hosting costs (that keep going up as we add more users each day) and if the downloads dry up we’d be forced to pay for those out of our own pocket. Would that be seen as a reasonable request, or an attempt to gauge you, our adoring fans? We don’t have any plans to do that at the moment (so relax) but I would be interested in hearing any comments you may have about it?
Just a quick post to let you know that Apple has finally approved version 1.3 of Pocket Weather. At the time of writing it’s not up on iTunes yet but it should be shortly.
We’d love to get some feedback once you all have it in your hot little hands!
N.B. There is one known bug in this version, being that the moon phases are wrong in the tides view, this is something we have already fixed in our code, but we haven’t deployed it to the server yet. Apart from that it should all be smooth sailing! (har har)
I have to admit, being a developer working for Apple really has it’s moments, at times (like when we were #1 in the store) you are ecstatic, people are actually using your software and deriving enjoyment from it. I won’t lie to you, it’s a good feeling. Another one last night: we were having a family outing at Brighton watching the tide come in, and were wondering if we’d be able to get back over the water with our 8 month old in his pram. So my wife fires up Pocket Weather, clicks on tides, then Brighton, and we see instantly that we are at the highest tide as we speak, and it’s on it’s way out. It was a nice little moment.
There are other times though, when you feel like punching someone, you really do.
Today was one of those days. First some history: We submitted Pocket Weather 1.3 to Apple 2 weeks ago, and everyone here at Shifty Jelly was ecstatic, it was an awesome release that we think people will love and we really love too. A full week later, Apple rejected it. It was rejected because there was an edge case that would cause the find weather by GPS function to crash (a race condition when the iPhone was unable to find your location in 15 seconds). We had actually seen this reported once before but were never able to get to the bottom of it. Apple attached a crash log which helped us fix it. So apart from the week of waiting, I guess you’d call that an amicable conclusion.
We then submitted the fixed version a full week ago, only to receive another email today. “Version 1.3 of your application, Pocket Weather, cannot be posted to the App Store at this time because…” my heart literally sank. We had waited 2 full weeks only to get another email like this. This time it was another crash, and I was angry…how could I have missed it! I pushed every last button 100 times! So I dutifully went off and studied the crash logs (symbolicating them so I could see the line numbers) and mea culpa, another edge case to do with national radars…one that only happens on a clean install of our application, and only on the very first launch. I guess the person I should be punching is myself…but now we come to the interesting part. I have resubmitted our application, and hope against all reason that it won’t take another full week for Apple to look at it. The problem is, I’ve done some research on this, and am not holding my breath. You see it turns out that with only one exception that Apple has only ever approved our products at around 10am Tuesday, Cupertino Time. This almost seems like Apple is running it’s own little ‘patch Tuesday’ ala the way Microsoft does bug fixes.
So what gives Apple? My guess is that you are either testing our software only once per week, or that you find these problems a lot earlier and only ever tell us about it at this specific time. Either way I find this situation to be unacceptable. Apple are making an incredible amount of money from the App store, so I would think that it would only be fair for them to do whatever they need to do to improve this situation! Imagine the scenario where after each problem report Apple had looked at our new version the next day. You would have had Pocket Weather in your hot little hands over a week ago.
Can any other app developers who may be reading this comment? Do you find that your software has a similar day of the week that it’s always approved?
Now if you’ll excuse me…I need to go and punch myself 🙂