Posts Tagged ios

Why I Ditched My iPhone (but probably not iOS)

I’m a huge fan of the iPhone and iOS for a lot of reasons, but I just picked up a Lumia 920 for my next 2-year AT&T contract. As a developer, I have no intentions of abandoning iOS–it still has the best ecosystem by far, and it’s a lot of fun to tinker with (once you get everything set up). I’ve published three apps for iOS, one for WebOS, and none for any other platform. Part of my desire to switch comes from wantering to tinker with something new, but that’s not enough reason to abandon the most robust mobile ecosystem.

When thinking about smartphone usage, I break things into a couple of categories: how often do I do something and how important is it that it be awesome?

Critical Tasks:

  • phone calls and texting: maybe 5% of my phone usage
  • driving directions: maybe 10% of my usage
Medium Importance Tasks:
  • finding restaurants / phone numbers for ordering takeout: 5% of my usage
  • listening to music while driving: 20% of my usage
  • reading email: 10% of usage
  • showing people pictures of my kid: 5% usage
Casual / Not So Important Tasks:
  • reading twitter (and occasionally FB) feeds: 10% usage
  • looking up random things on IMDB/Wikipedia: 5% usage
  • playing games / using other misc. apps: 30%

How has the iPhone treated me over the last 4+ years at each of these tasks? Pretty well. In both phones that I’ve owned, though, there has been a steady degradation of performance for anything web-related over the two-plus-year lifespan of the phone. Apple, bless their hearts, does not give two shits about backwards compatibility (backwards performance, maybe? is that a thing?). They are in the business of selling phones, and it is in their best interests to keep you on the upgrade treadmill. I fucking love gadgets, so I’m actually fine with this. But I need the phone to last at least two years. For both my iPhone 3G and my iPhone 4, I feel like I got about a year and a half of amazing phone and six months of pissed-off frustration. My wife was able to grit through the slowness of her 3G (we got our original phones at the same time) and get a 4S, so I’ve actually been able to compare my iPhone 4 against her 4S.

I can’t count how many times in the last few months I’ve searched for something in the browser only to get a timeout. Or been unable to calculate directions. Or unable to perform a search on google maps (I held out from upgrading to iOS 6 in the hopes that performance wouldn’t degrade even further, never mind the maps “upgrade”). My first instinct would be to just blame AT&T for shitty cell service (even though I usually have full bars). But this go-round the blame was squarely on Apple–for the past month or two whenever I get “stuck” on my iPhone 4, I’ve been grabbing my wife’s 4S and performing the same task (with, theoretically, the same cell coverage). No problems.

To be fair, I’ve never had any problems with the phone as a phone–but from my shortlist above you can see that the two things I care most about in a smartphone are reliable maps and the ability to use the phone. For the whole two year lifespan of a phone. Even in the medium and casual-importance tasks, though, I’ve been getting frustrated. The iPhone mail client is a disaster and hasn’t been updated (as far as I can tell) since my original iPhone 3G. It takes me forever to get into a photo album on Facebook (not strictly Apple’s fault, but the internet degradation plays into the slowness), which I’m doing more and more now that I have a kid. Twitter and FB time out all the time (internet). The only place I haven’t gotten frustrated is with Spotify (which is great) and with the wealth of apps available. If you subtract all those great 3rd-party apps, though, I’m mostly left with a bunch of 5-year old, half-baked, un-delete-able apps that all get thrown into a folder called “Default Shit.” Except that you can only put 12 apps in a folder, so Newsstand gets its own page behind everything else.

With this in mind, I decided a few months back to switch to a Lumia 920. I haven’t had it long enough to form a full opinion of the hardware/software, but here are my initial thoughts:

Apps: Facebook, Twitter, Kindle, Netflix, OneNote, Chase (bank) — all seem about the same as the iOS counterparts except the FB app, which kind of sucks. I love that it pushes photos to the lock screen, though.

Missing Apps:

  • Pleco (a Chinese flashcard/dictionary/OCR translator that I paid $50 for on iOS… well worth it!) — I also have this on my Kindle Fire, so I’m still using it.
  • Mint — I’m a compulsive balance checker. I hope this is coming.
  • 8Tracks, Spotify — Nokia Music seems pretty inferior so far, but I’ll give it a few more weeks. I downgraded my Spotify back to the $5 plan until they get a WP8 client (they have one for 7.5, which is weird)
  •  Nike+ Fuelband — can still synch at my computer, but it’s not as cool
  • Scramble With Friends — (WP8 has Words w/Friends & Draw Something, but no Scramble) I’m liking Wordament better so far. Most of my friends beat the shit out of me in Scramble, but the nervous “need something to do and i like spelling” compulsion is nicely served by Wordament
  • Tiny Wings/Bejeweled Blitz/Robot Unicorn Attack — these are my “keep coming back to” games, which I’m giving up
  • Starmap — another pricey iOS purchase ($10? it’s been awhile). there are a couple for sale on WP8, but none seem as feature complete
  • Ecobee — my thermostat has an iOS app to let you set the temperature without leaving the couch. it’s neat, but i never used it that much

Camera: supposedly a lot better, but I haven’t noticed a big difference in still yet. the videos seem much better (i’m not the most steady)

Notifications: silence! Obviously I haven’t bloated my lumia with as many apps as I had on my iPhone, but so far I’m enjoying the lack of notification barrage.

Pinning Contacts: when I say using my phone as a phone is important, I mostly mean calling/texting with my wife, which is probably 95% of how I use my phone as a phone. The ability to pin “her” to the home screen is awesome.

Email: still getting used to it, but so far it seems a lot better than the iPhone mail client. I also like how easy it was to synch my google calendar. Each synched mail account also gets its own tile, so no more wondering if it’s a work or personal email from the notification jewel.

Maps: so far I’m not in love with Nokia’s maps (despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews). i haven’t used them a ton yet, so the jury’s still out. the search seems much worse than the search in Google Maps for places of interest, but luckily the Yelp app works fine for that. i haven’t used the turn-by-turn yet.

Ringtones: for what’s supposedly one of the “customizable” phones, I’ve had a hard time getting my ring-tones onto the phone from my iMac. I’ll dust off a Windows machine and give it another go, but that’s been a sore point so far.

So now, one day in, I’m cautiously optimistic. The only major step backwards has been the lack of Spotify (for how I use it, at least). If I decide that I can’t do it, I can always return the phone (within the next 30 days) or hock it on eBay and buy an iPhone 5. As for keeping up with iOS ( critical for both work and as a gamer ), I’m not sure yet. My old iPhone 4 works fine on wi-fi, and I’m rarely away from my desk. If I can ever let go of my grandfathered unlimited plan with AT&T, the new mobile share plans all allow tethering. Most likely I’ll pick up one of the new iPod touches or the iPad mini. I still like iOS. A lot. I just don’t think I can rely on an iPhone for two years for my critical-use cases.


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Announcing Color Tangle for Flash, FB, and iPhone

I’ve been neglecting my blog even more than usual since joining CrowdStar last February (working on Happy Island and It Girl), but honestly I haven’t had a ton to report for personal projects. Until yesterday, when I finally released Color Tangle as a standalone flash game on Kongregate and Newgrounds, aFacebook app, a standalone website with Facebook Connect, and an iphone app.

I’d played single-color knot games before, but never had any interest in building one. I was actually working on a prototype for an explosive based game using APE (the same physics engine in Filler) when I had the idea to use APE’s grouping system to create collision rules–particles that collide with some but not all of the other “stuff” on the screen. I whipped up a quick prototype, and instantly recalled other knot games I’d played. It seemed like a perfect fit! I had the “first” level up and running in less than a day. I’d been looking for a simple project (and this is a very simple game) to try a multi-platform (facebook, web, iphone) launch, and this seemed like a perfect candidate.

The next task was building an editor–which took about a week. WIth editor complete and a dozen puzzles or so in hand, I next built out the website from scratch (Ruby on Rails hosted on Heroku). I got to play with Sass and Compass (which are awesome), got to play with the Facebook API (not so awesome), and experimented with the blueprint CSS framework (also awesome). I built a widget using LocalConnection so players on external sites could connect to the game via FB connect (which I thought was pretty damn slick). I even started on the iPhone app using OpenFrameworks, getting it to the point where I could play my handful of levels.

It was right about that point that a recruiter pitched me on joining CrowdStar, and the project just… died. In my year and a half plus at CS, I’ve learned more about web programming and games than any other time in my life, and I really haven’t had a lot of time to tinker.

I could’ve just released it–the flash app was working, the website was working, and the facebook app all worked. But I learned from Filler how important it was to be first to market on mobile, so I just let the project sit for a few months while I threw myself into my work on Happy Island. I jumped off of Happy Island and started working on It Girl in June. Between that and getting married last October, I had no free time at all for tinkering. My schedule finally started cooling off around February/March of this year, so I picked the iPhone version up and “finished” it. The only problem was puzzles. Creating a couple puzzles on most nights, it took me roughly 2 months to get up to the 50 puzzles I thought I needed for launch. I submitted the app to Apple in June and it was approved the first time around. I set a release date of August 25 (my birthday) to give me a couple of months to polish up the webiste.

Having not touched the website code for over a year, the FB API was horribly out of date. I got distracted by another project along the way (look for another iPhone app soon), but my self-imposed deadline of August 25 finally gave me the pressure I needed to get my ass in gear. After a couple of weekends to get everything migrated over from FBML to pure iframe Canvas, I invited a few friends to start testing it last weekend and launched it fully yesterday.

I don’t think it will do all that well on FB (I know just a little more about designing for FB now that I’ve been doing it for a year and half), but I wanted to carry the original project vision through to completion. In the end, it was a really fun technical project, and I really enjoy playing it.

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