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19
Apr

Good Apps, Well, They Take Time

shifty3

Cast your mind back to April of 2015. What exactly where you doing? I’m guessing most of you have no idea, but I know exactly what I was doing. I was deep into planning Pocket Casts 6.0 and Pocket Weather 5.0 updates for our iOS apps with my Co-Founder Philip. We spent many long days (and plenty of nights) meticulously planning what would go into each one, and when we could expect them to ship. After the planning was finished we realised one really obvious thing: if we wanted to ship either of these apps before the year was out, we’d have to hire another developer. We heard rumours of some things that were coming to iOS 9 in a few months time and we knew that Swift was maturing. We also knew that both of these iOS apps (one which started in 2008, the other in 2010) were in need of a low level overhaul.

Let me back up a little bit. At the time we were a company of 4 people. A designer, Chris. A support and administration officer, Monica and two developers, myself and Philip. I was responsible for all of our iOS apps, as well as occasionally doing some of the lower components in our Android apps. Philip is our Android developer and he also works on all our server infrastructure.

So back to April of 2015: it was clear that to overhaul both Pocket Weather and Pocket Casts would take at least 2 developers, not only that but we’d need talented ones. Jokes about me aside, we began searching for the right developer to join us. As luck would have it, it turned out that Jeff Tan-Ang was available so we convinced him to come and join us. Our plan was simple, but ambitious. Jeff would work on Pocket Weather, pressing the reset button and building it 100% in Apple’s new programming language Swift, iOS 9 and using all the latest frameworks at our disposal. We’d incorporate a Today Widget, Watch app & complication, iPhone 6 and 6Plus screen size support and biggest of all iPad split-screen multi-tasking. For the non-developers out there, that’s a lot of work, but we felt confident Jeff could finish it in 4 or so months.

Meanwhile, and in parallel, I’d be building out Pocket Casts 6.0. In this case it was a matter of refining the existing code base rather than rebuilding it from scratch. I also decided to build all the new functionality in Swift to give us a bit more future proofing. We wanted both of these products to go for another 3-4 years based on these changes we were making, so getting everything in order was our priority.

When I returned from WWDC in June of 2015, the work began in earnest. Jeff began working full time on Pocket Weather and I had already met with some Apple Core Audio Engineers to refine our Android volume boost and silence removal features and bring them to iOS. The core of our new playback engine was coming together nicely, so I began putting in place the groundwork for all the other Pocket Casts changes I needed to make. It’s an obvious thing in hindsight, but in both cases we under-estimated just how much there would be to do, and also how long it takes to get things working to a level that we’re happy with and proud of. Anyone can ship an app the second a piece of functionality is added, but we have higher standards than that. We want everything to work, and work seamlessly. So during the next few months we’d build prototypes of new things, refine them, then add them to the app. We’d build and rebuild so many different bits of each app as we deployed them to phones and tested them out.

Fast forward to September and things seemed to be tracking well. Both Pocket Weather and Pocket Casts were cruising along, and we felt fairly confident in our estimates. So we did what any tech company does in this case, we published a blog post. In it we (foolishly, in hindsight) said we’d ship both Pocket Casts and Pocket Weather before 2015 was done. There was a real buzz at Shifty Jelly, this was going to be an awesome set of releases!

Then, the inevitable happened. Pocket Weather development was slowing down as we were realising just how many things the old app did that the new one didn’t yet do. There was also the matter of taking an app that really was a completely different iPhone and iPad interface and trying to meld those into something coherent. In hindsight leaving iPad development until this point was a huge mistake. We had to rework so many things to get split screen multi-tasking to work, and it introduced so many new and crazy bugs. We now had a decision to make: we promised both of these apps before the year was out, it was clear that we couldn’t get both of them out the door. It was a hard decision to make, but in the end we decided that Pocket Weather was the app that was most in need of an update, so I joined Jeff and began working full time on that. Obviously at this time Pocket Casts development ground to a halt.

By November of 2015 Pocket Weather was really shaping up. There were still bugs left, and bits of functionality we hadn’t added yet but the huge array of things we had (Today Widget, Watch App, Watch Glance, Watch Complication, iPad Multitasking, Bigger iPhone support, day/night themes) were coming together nicely. We still had a problem though. Even with Jeff and I working full time on the app, we realised that it was still possible that we might miss the mid-December cut off for submitting apps to the Apple App Store. Now we had to make another decision: to remove some things from the app, or to delay it even further. We were feeling the heat from our customer base, who were all extremely eager to get their hands on the app. Rightly so as well, we’d told them it was coming in an official post. So we decided to remove a few features and try to ship the app before our self-imposed deadline. The dedicated iPad interface was dropped (in favour of the iPhone one scaling up and down based on how you used multi-tasking) and other features like the night theme where also removed.

By December of 2015 we had an app that we were really proud of. It looked and worked so much better than the old one, and we’d at least met one deadline. We had a dedicated group of around 50 beta testers that weren’t reporting as many issues with it as they were in previous builds so we had a high degree of confidence that it was stable and ready to go. If we’re being honest we still had some concerns about it not being in beta testing for long enough, but as the end of the year loomed large we submitted the app. We were ecstatic, to work so long and so hard on something, and to finally see it ship is a great feeling. It was approved by Apple days later and it went live in the store.

As the feedback started pouring in though, we realised we’d made a huge mistake. The app had shipped with bugs that neither we nor our beta testers had found. Our customers were furious about the lack of a dedicated iPad interface. To make matters worse, Jeff had been offered a job at Apple. Now Jeff is an amazing guy, he told us he was applying for that job before he came to work for us, and even asked for our permission to do so. We of course told him to follow his dreams and see where they lead. So this is in no way his fault, but we’d now lost him as a future resource for bug fixes. Jeff had, however, graciously agreed to give us more of his time than we’d originally planned, so that we could fix the bugs and get out a more stable build. So 5.0.1 and 5.1 where born. Meanwhile, our Pocket Casts customers were naturally curious about where the update was, so we decided to give them something, a sign up form for the beta which we’d start in the new year. It wasn’t the update we’d promised, but it was something at least.

After the holiday period, we regrouped in January. Jeff would spend as much time as he could give us working on version 5.2, which added a dedicated full screen iPad interface, and I went back to work on Pocket Casts. We started inviting the first few hundred beta testers into the Pocket Casts beta and that app started to tick along once again. In February we waved goodbye to Jeff as he flew to America, and I spent a few weeks finishing and testing Pocket Weather in anticipation of a 5.2 release in March. All the while though, I lost a lot of sleep knowing that Pocket Casts while it was still moving, must look to the outside world as if we’d abandoned it completely. We wrestled with how much or how little to share with our customers, knowing that we’d already made the mistake of telling them a ship date, then missing that date. So we made the difficult decision of taking Pocket Weather 5.2 down to 1 day a week, with Pocket Casts taking up the other 4. Happily it worked, a full day on Pocket Weather saw 5.2 come together and ship in April, to the delight of so many of our customers. Our rating went from an average of 1.5 stars, to a 4.5 average overnight. It was a huge relief to see that turn around. We’re not done with the app yet of course, but most of you are probably here to find out when Pocket Casts is due!

Well, the beta is looking great, I’ve been running it now for at least 3 months, adding features and cleaning things up as they are reported and we find things that need tweaking. We’ve had some amazing feedback from our beta testers (we’re full, please don’t ask to join, sorry) that has helped shape some things that we’d normally ship, then refine, to being able to refine before we ship. I’m working on it full time now, 5 days a week. When will it be out? When it’s ready. That answer may sound arrogant or aloof, but all we’re promising from here on out is that we’ll work on it until we’re happy with it. Then we’ll spend a long time testing it and once it’s damn near perfect, that’s when it will ship. I know some of you want to hear that it’s out today, I’m sorry. It is however being worked on today, and tomorrow, and every day after that until it’s ready. It’s our core focus, our singular mission. So if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to coding. See you on the other side!

Russell

13
Apr

Pocket Weather 5.2

Welcome to the Pocket Weather Autumn update!

pocketweather5.2@2xWe know a lot of you have been eagerly awaiting this update to see where we took it and how we could take your feedback on board. We’d also like to thank all those people that joined our Beta Program and have provided us with bug reports and improvement ideas over the last few months.

But let’s talk about some of the big improvements, first on the iPad:
We’ve been hard at work on a brand new interface that utilises the space available on your iPad so that you can get to all your data without having to drill down into it. At the top you’ll find the timeline card which now shows you full weather information at a glance. Below it all the observational data you could ever need. Below those the full graph, radar and tidal information for your location. You can also turn any of these cards on or off, or even re-arrange them to suit your needs. Split screen support is still there, and the interface will intelligently adapt to whatever size you choose.

And of course there’s the iPhone as well. Here we’ve redesigned the header to make information more easily accessible and easier to read. We’ve improved the speed at which the app opens and the speed it refreshes at. We’ve fixed bugs like the Today Widget not updating sometimes. We’ve gone through all the automated crash reports we receive and fixed those issues one by one as well.

Overall it’s a smoother, nicer weather experience that you can enjoy as the temperatures start to dip in our great southern land. Once again to our Beta testers we say thanks for helping us get this release ready. To our loyal customers we say thanks for your constructive feedback and for holding us to the high standard we’ve always set for ourselves. And more importantly to you all, go enjoy some of the nice weather headed our way.

This update means that we are now able to turn our full attention to the long awaited Pocket Casts iOS update, with small, incremental updates to Pocket Weather going forward. Everybody wins! 🎉

19
Jan

Pocket Casts 5.3, Android

The first update for Pocket Casts Android is out. Version 5.3 brings a host of fixes and even a few features to make the app even better.

A look back

The full change log:

  • You can now filter episodes by time. In the filter settings page there is a new option called “Released in the last” which you can set to 24 hours, 3 days, 1 week etc. We have changed the episode filters new users will have and this update will also add them to your list of filters.
  • Marshmallow Auto Backup feature added so if you have app backups turned on (System Settings app -> Backup & reset) it will backup your Pocket Casts settings and database so after restoring a phone your app should look a lot more like it did.
  • Switched to Marshmallow permissions. We now only have one permission that requires user approval, the storage permission. The app will only ask for permission for this if you change your storage location to a custom folder.
  • Stats page data is now included in your sync account so if you reinstall they aren’t lost. The stats page is now a summary of stats across all your devices.
  • Improved switching to a custom location so it picks up any existing episode files in the new location.
  • Improved the search for podcast interface.
  • Improved voice control. Give these a try after you have said “OK Google”
    “Listen to PODCAST NAME in Pocket Casts”
    “Listen to PLAYLIST NAME in Pocket Casts”
    “Listen to Up Next in Pocket Casts”
  • New discover Nearby animation.
  • Added a message for the podcast grid if you don’t have any podcasts.
  • Faster podcast unsubscribe.
  • Fixed issues with video player in landscape.
  • Fixed mailto linking in show notes so it opens your mail client with all the fields populated.
  • Fixed sync issue with very old starred episodes.
  • Fixed the episode time left not updating in the list when returning to the app
  • Emojis are now supporting in the show notes and episode titles.
  • Lots of little fixes
15
Jan

Pocket Weather – Android Update

Fresh from Shifty Jelly HQ to you, Pocket Weather 5 arrives on Android.

pocketweather_android@2x

Some of the highlights include:

  • Design refresh which brings our app into the colourful and amazing world of Material Design.
  • Dark Theme! Almost anyone you bump into with an Android phone will tell you the amazing virtues of dark themes on OLED screens. By default it will auto switch to being dark after sunset, but you can also change it manually as well.
  • 2016 tides, because fishing, diving, boating and general water activities shouldn’t be left in 2015.
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow support, mmmm, so good, roasted on the bonnet of my Mitsubishi wagon…
  • Lots of other small tweaks and improvements, my personal favourite being the new week overview graph. Hint: When the dots go red, it’s time to huddle in your air-conditioned homes and offices.

So what are you waiting for, go grab the update. Tell a friend. Convince an enemy to buy it.

17
Dec

Pocket Weather 5.1

pocketweather5@2x

Thanks for all your feedback to date, we’ve been reading it all and making improvements to the app based on it. This update is mainly a bug fix and minor update release, but rest assured that there are bigger updates to come. The iPad interface in particular is something we intend to focus on. We intend to roll those out slowly and deliberately with lots of testing rather than rushing them out before the holiday break.

Some highlights for this release:

  • Added ‘Graph Feels Like’ option in settings for those that are into that
  • Added current temperature reading to the location list
  • Current temperature on the main screen now has 1 decimal point
  • Fixed an issue where turning on bold text would cause some temps to not be displayed. You can now turn Bold back on in your accessibility settings if you’ve turned it off to get them to appear.
  • Fixed issues with the warning icon and accessibility settings
  • Fixed app icon badge not updated properly when you close the app
  • Fixed crashes related to re-ordering locations
  • Fixed an issue where the warning icon would wander off down the page. No idea why but it really didn’t want to be in the top right. Rebels are like that sometimes.
  • Fixed performance issues with older iOS devices
  • Tweaked the order of the layers on the radar card so that important things are still visible when it’s raining
  • Warnings can now be opened directly from a notification, also fixed issues with loading of warnings
  • Drastically reduced memory usage of the app
  • Tide height now updates as you scroll the tide graph
  • Lots of other small performance fixes and improvements

We hope you enjoy 5.1, and your holiday break. We’ll see you all in the new year!

10
Dec

Pocket Casts iOS Update

It doesn’t feel like that long ago but in mid September we published this in a blog post:

Timing wise it will also ship this year, but we’re keeping the date a secret until just before launch.

Since then a lot of you have been sitting on the edge of your seats waiting for this release, and we know the clock is ticking. So today we have some news for you all!

pocketcasts_beta@2x

As you’ve guessed, we haven’t been able to finish the app in time to make the end of year cut-off. Delays to our other app that we shipped last week, Pocket Weather, spilled over into delays for Pocket Casts. This is, alas, how software development often goes.

That said we don’t intend to leave you empty handed. You’ve all waited too long, and hassled us (in the nicest possible ways) too much. So we’re going to let 100 lucky people into our TestFlight beta that we’re prepping. The beta will be available next week. You can register here http://play.pocketcasts.com/ios/beta. We’ll notify you if you get accepted and you get to be part of shaping the future of our iOS app. No pressure.

19
Aug

Sharing is Caring

discovernearby@2x

We live life in the fast lane. Not just us, you too Fred, and you, Sally. When was the last time you stopped to smell the roses, or made time to connect with someone? Introducing, Nearby for Pocket Casts Android.

You can now open up the Nearby tab in Discover to find nearby Android Pocket Casts users (get them to do the same), and see what they’re listening to, easily subscribe and share your own subscriptions. It’s never been easier to discover great new podcasts and spread the word.

Of course, we’re all about freedom of choice, so while we share this cool new Android feature with you, we’re also working on a massive update to Pocket Casts on iOS. We’re not quite ready to share it with you, but with the overwhelming support we’ve received in response to our 5.0 update to Android, we know what you want in the next generation of Pocket Casts on iOS, and we’re working hard to bring it to you soon.

In the meantime, head over to Google Play to update Pocket Casts Android (also includes a bunch of fixes) and remember: stay cool.

29
Apr

Pocket Casts for Windows Phone

We made Pocket Casts v1.0 for iOS back in January of 2011 with one clear goal in mind: we loved podcasts and wanted them on our phones. It turns out a lot of other people wanted exactly the same thing, the app really took off in a big way.

After releasing it we started to get a lot of requests from an entire group of phone users who were left out in the cold: those running Android. At first we ignored them. We felt like we were too busy and neither of us had ever used an Android phone. But they kept wearing us down, and eventually one of them mailed us a phone. So we did the crazy thing (believe us, a lot of people said it would be our downfall) and brought out an Android version. Today it outsells our iOS version in a big way, it’s the most popular product we’ve ever made.

In 2014 we brought desktop users into the fold with our web version. Again people told us we were crazy to not build natively for the desktop first. Again, the app was a resounding success. Our web app, at a once off $9 fee has outsold most other podcasting apps on any other platforms. People love it, they can easily fire it up at their work places, or at home, or any computer they find themselves in front of. And yet again we learnt some valuable lessons: ‘sometimes you need to ignore common wisdom’ and ‘making podcasts available in more places can only be a good thing’.

So as 2015 was looming large, we were once again having déjà vu. A whole new group of users were left out in the cold: those on Windows Phone. Yet again none of us had ever used a Windows phone and we made the same argument “we’re too busy”. It rang hollow though, our team is now 5 people, bigger than the 2 it was in 2011 when we launched our first version. We have more resources and less apps than we used to. And again and again, these people would tweet at us, email us and just generally tell us how much they were missing the Pocket Casts experience on their Windows Phones.

So yet again, we’ve done the crazy thing. The unconventional thing. We gave those people what they wanted and brought podcasts to another platform that needs them: Windows Phone. Today we’re extremely proud to announce that it’s available right now in the store:
pic

Version 1.0 is all about making sure we build an app that is both true to Windows Phone and featured enough for us to love. I myself have been using it as my only podcasting app for the last month, and each time I felt something lacking with it, I added that in. Some of the highlights include:

  • Sign into your existing sync account (or create a new one) and watch all your podcast subscriptions, episode filters and play statuses sync over. Of course any new podcasts you add, and where you’re up to also syncs back from Windows Phone to your other Pocket Casts devices!
  • Take advantage of variable speed playback and listen to your podcasts at your pace.
  • Turn on auto download to always have your podcasts ready to go at a moments notice.
  • Create your Up Next list, and enjoy continuous playback of your podcasts in any order you like.
  • Discover brand new podcasts in our featured and trending sections. We’re amazed at how many new podcasts get their start in life thanks to being featured on our platform.
  • Configure our skip buttons to your liking and skip the boring parts, or jump back to the bits you’ve missed.

Just like all our other app launches, this is version 1.0. Your feedback will help us shape version 1.1, version 2, and so on. Shifty Jelly is committed to supporting and updating what we release into the world, this new platform is no different.

But enough talk, if you have a Windows Phone, come and join the fun.

5
Mar

It’s finally here

header

We’ve been toiling away on this update for many months now, incorporating a ton of feedback from you and we’re finally ready to share the latest and greatest version of Pocket Casts ever. We know you’re keen to jump right in and check it out so here are some brief highlights of the features we think you’ll be most excited about:

Material Design

We’ve given a lot of thought to Google’s Material Design visual language to produce an app that includes bold graphics and meaningful animations, while maintaining a familiar interface. This is much more than just a skin and we’re sure you’ll agree that both light and dark themes look amazing.
playerbutton

Up Next

Up Next has been brought to the forefront of the UI for easy access and control of continuous playback. You can now add, remove and jump between episodes, all from the mini player.

miniupnext

Episode Management

Managing episodes has never been easier. Swiping to the left on an episode row will toggle between played and unplayed.

markasplayed

Audio Effects

We worked long and hard to answer the question: ‘How can we improve your listening experience, without interfering with what the podcaster intended for you to hear?’ Enter, audio effects. Volume boost works by increasing playback volume without changing your device volume, allowing you to listen over loud background noise without fear of blaring notifications. Silence removal helps you get through more podcasts faster by reducing the length of extended silences, while maintaining the natural pacing and cadence of your favorite hosts.

audio-effects

Listening statistics!

You can now learn about and share your podcasting habits with the world.

Android Wear

Control the app from your Android Wear device, just like a superhero/ine. Launch Pocket Casts, jump between queued episodes, play, pause and skip, all from your itty bitty wrist.

Lots more

Of course, no update would be complete without bug fixes and performance enhancements, so we’ve included a bunch of those for good measure.

Version 5 of Pocket Casts is a free update and is compatible with Android 4.1 and up, so why are you still reading this? Head over to Google Play and try it out or here to learn more.

4
Mar

A look back, and a peek into the future

A look back

The last year has been an amazing time for podcasts and before we get too far into the next generation of Pocket Casts, we’d like to take a look back and share a few of our highlights.

In early 2014 we ventured out from our fortress of mobile devices and into the browser with Pocket Casts Web, and we’re glad we did. The feedback we’ve received has been overwhelming and we have some awesome plans for new features in the future. If you haven’t already, you can try it out for free here.

Pocket Casts 5 for iOS was released in November 2014 to support iOS 8 and Apple’s gargantuan 6 and 6+. Handoff to Pocket Casts Web is still one of our favourite features, cross-platform syncing has never been so seamless.

Serial! It would be remiss of us not to mention what Serial did for podcasting (and by association Pocket Casts) in 2014. Along with the rest of the world, the Shifty Jelly team obsessed over the conclusion to season 1 for weeks on end. We think 2015 is going to be even bigger and better for podcasting, with plenty of new voices and more from your favourite shows.

Finally, Pocket Casts 5 for Android is coming. Very soon. We’re in the final stages of testing and can’t wait to share it with the world. If you’d like to be notified when it’s released, follow us on Twitter.

Onwards and upwards!