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The PebblePad Portfolio Competition

November 8, 2013 •

Uh. So, I won an iPad Air today. Totally wasn’t expecting that. ^_^

Since I’ve been dropping cryptic tweets all day, I figured I better come clean and explain what happened.

A little while back, ECU (The university for which I am currently working.) started to implement a service called PebblePad for use by all of the course schools. PebblePad is a web system that allows users to quickly build professional grade online portfolio websites, that can then be used to present to potential emplyers once they have graduated.

As part of an initiative to promote PebblePad around the university, the PebblePad co-ordinators decided to hold a competition where people could submit their own portfolios in PebblePad, showing off their own skillset and learning evidence, with the prize being an iPad Air. There were 5 categories, ranging from first-year students through to academic staff, each with an iPad up for grabs.

The competition featured two components: produce a portfolio of sufficient quality to get short-listed, and then those short-listed would present their portfolio to a panel of judges at this year’s ECULTURE conference.

Sounding very intrigued (Especially at the premise of a new iPad!), I asked the lead co-ordinator if it was feasible for myself to enter, and thankfully, she said I would be perfect for the ECU graduates category.

So with that all squared away, I built a portfolio in PebblePad and submitted it to the competition. It took a few days of reading PebblePad documents and watching YouTube tutorial videos, and a few extra days to actually design and implement the portfolio, but in the end, I was able to produce this:

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The Talking Pokédex App

October 4, 2013 •

Back when I was working on iPokédex, I had a pretty lofty, outrageous end-goal for the project: to get it to replicate the experience of a Pokédex from the TV show as closely as possible. Given the device on the TV show was a complete fantasy device in the year of 1998, I found the concept of owning a device with the remote possibility of realising that in 2008 incredibly exciting.

That being said, there was one aspect of a functioning Pokédex on iOS that was never quite possible for me to implement: the ability to synthesis audible speech.

Now, iPhone and iPad have had built-in speech capabilities since as early as iOS 3.0 (Well, iPhoneOS 3.o back then) . At that point, it was mainly used for accessibility purposes (So people with poor eyesight could interact with the devices), but it became way more exposed when Apple brought out Siri in iOS 5.

Unfortunately, the speech synthesis API has always been a private one, meaning it’s not normally possible to use it without a small bit of hacking, and even still, if an app containing it was submitted to the App Store, it would instantly get rejected by the automatic submission process.

Nevertheless, I had a play with this private API back in 2011 to see what it could theoretically be capable of.

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iComics is one year old!

October 1, 2013 •

Blimey, I’d been so busy working on iComics these past few days that this completely slipped my mind!

On the morning of September 25, 2012, Apple approved version 1.0 of iComics and made it visible on the App Store. iComics has now been officially available to the public for over a year. Holy crap, that was fast. XD

If I am able to reflect on iComics and its development right now, all I have to say is this: this project has been hard. Bloody hard. Possibly the hardest one I’ve undertaken yet. For something you’d think as simple as opening up an archive file of images and rendering them to the screen, it’s actually WAY complex than what I was ever anticipating when I first opened the project in November 2011.

The app is a constant psychological battle with the user to try to distract them from noticing any load times, at the same time, being a technological battle of co-ordinating multiple concurrent threads, ensuring the next set of pages is ready to go… hopefully without some kind of conflict crashing the app. If anything, this has made me appreciate all of the other comic reader apps on the App Store as well, as they would have all gone through the same thing.

Ultimately, when it came to the design and feature-set of iComics, I’ve ended up pretty much choosing the hard route for every design challenge I’ve faced. I’ve written pages of custom UI code for a tailored look and feel, I’ve re-implemented Apple code from later versions of iOS so it’s backward compatible down to iOS 5 (So I can PROUDLY say that iComics supports ALL iPad models :D ), and I’ve spent months developing a multi-threaded algorithm that can cache pages of a comic, simultaneously as the user is reading through it. For each of these things, there was always an easier solution, but I firmly believed that by taking the time and effort to perfect each of them (well… getting them to stop crashing), iComics will have become a great app that users will feel is better than the rest. :)

On the App Store, I couldn’t be more happy with the current ratings of iComics. It’s more or less 4.5 – 5 stars in most countries, with many glowing reviews. In any case, simply knowing that I made an app that most people agreed wasn’t a complete waste of their money is enough to put me over the moon. XD

At this point, however, iComics is absolutely no where near finished. While I was really hoping to implement collections quickly, I spent the majority of this year tracking down critical bug reports users were reporting (Mainly involving certain comics loading pages incorrectly, corrupted RAR files, and solid archives breaking) and having what new features I’ve added ruin the threading algorithm again. And on top of that, trying to work out a new design for iComics after Apple dropped iOS 7 on us. XD

In any case, while I can’t promise when the next version of iComics will drop, I can definitely promise that I will not give up until iComics is the most awesome DRM-free reader on the App Store.

Thank you very much to all of iComics’ users! I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

iOS 7

September 11, 2013 •

Since we’re only a few hours away from Apple’s new announcement, I thought now would be the best time to post my reflection on iOS 7.

Just before WWDC, myself and a few friends were speculating on what iOS 7 would look like. We’d heard the rumours that it would be ‘flatter’, but we were guessing that that would probably mean a reduction in all of the glossy elements, and the removal of the over-the-top skeuomorphic design elements in apps like Notes and Game Center, and that would be about it. What we actually got though… we totally did not see that coming.

So at this point, what do I think of iOS 7? It’s NOT BAD, but definitely needs TONNES of refinement.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely agree that iOS was definitely in need of a redesign. It’s gone through 5 years of looking basically exactly the same. But on the same note, I think Apple could have gone about it in a bit more of a subtle way.

On the whole, I like the design approach and directions its adopted. The unified status bar is a stroke of genius, and I love all of the new animations. Overall, the system looks really clean. But… there are a few things that bother me:

  • Making it so buttons convey their tappable nature via colour instead of a bordered edge can be extremely limiting, and sometimes messes with design pretty badly.
  • The thin typography can get pretty hard to read in places (especially in some places of iComics where bold text was prevalent).
  • Making heavy use of Retina pixels in design while there are still non Retina devices supported (iPad 2 + iPad mini) feels somewhat dodgy.
  • The elements in the status bar feel way too small.
  • ALL of the stock app icons. Yeesh. XD

After cruising around Dribbble for a bit, I personally find this design to be what I’d been hoping iOS 7 would have turned out as; a nice hybrid design that adopts some of the major new points of iOS 7, but still retains the major familiarity of iOS 6.

As it stands, I think the ‘flat’ motif of iOS 7 needs to be revisited a bit more. At the moment, it feels overly simple to the point where the UI feels like it’s wasting the build quality of the screen it’s being rendered on. And with the design of the current app icons, I feel like the experience may be at risk of losing its premium feel.

In any case, I have faith that Apple will fine-tune the system before iOS 7 makes the final drop.

I will most definitely be supporting iOS 7 in iComics, but I’ll also be continuing to develop it on iOS 5 and 6 to ensure all current users can continue to enjoy it.

And if worse comes to worse, there’ll always be iOS 8. XD

Pokémon X and Y

August 22, 2013 •

Of all the reasons for attending the Pokémon Game Show in Tokyo last weekend, probably the most very important one was the chance to get a sneak preview of playing Pokémon X and Y, the upcoming Pokémon title for Nintendo 3DS.

Naturally, I was there in a heartbeat to give it a try. :D

As was probably to be expected, a HUGE chunk of the game show floor was dedicated to the placement of Nintendo 3DS stations with copies of Pokémon X and Y running. To get in, you had to present your guide map from your Pokémon show bag, which would then be stamped (Assuming so people couldn’t keep going back for more. XD). A guide would then take you to one of the 3DS stations and give you instructions on how to play. :)

I probably don’t have to explain what the demo featured, as many people way more versed in Pokémon lore than me at this point have already posted about it, so I’ll just give my general impression about it. :D

Back in 2000, when Pokémon Red and Blue were being superseded by Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Stadium came out. When I first saw a demo of Pokémon Stadium, I had a grandiose vision of it that it was just like the (at the time 8-bit) Game Boy Pokémon series, with the full world-traveling storyline and everything, in full 3D. Sadly, that wasn’t actually the case…

… until now. :D

Basically, from what I saw in that demo, Pokémon X and Y fulfilled the vision that my 14 year old self had more than a decade ago. It. Is. Amazing. :D

And the weird thing is, it felt perfectly natural going from the pseudo-isomorphic 2D/3D feeling we had in Pokémon generations IV and V to complete 3D in generation VI. They absolutely nailed it.

Seriously. If Nintendo is having trouble pushing 3DS hardware at the moment, they won’t once this game hits the stores.

My only problem is that thanks to Nintendo’s policy on region locking the 3DS (Incidentally, go sign this petition!), I have no idea whether I should buy an Aussie 3DS or a Japanese 3DS. ಠ_ಠ

Anyway. Yes, Pokémon X and Y is amazing. Yes, it appears to cost more than previous generations, but yes it’s going to be worth it. :D

The Pokémon Game Show 2013!

August 17, 2013 •

It’s uhhh… probably fair at this point to say that I’m a pretty big fan of Pokémon. And naturally, I’ve been looking forward to the release of Pokémon X and Y

So when I heard about the Pokémon Game Show that was going to be held in Tokyo, which would be featuring playable copies of X and Y, there was no question about going or not. XD

The event was being held at Tokyo Big Sight, so less than a week after Comiket ended, I always already heading back there again. Thankfully, this time around, the crowd was SLIGHTLY smaller than what was at Comiket.

BigSight

After seeing such a massive crowd at Comiket (And also at Reitaisai), it was kind of weird to see Big Sight so empty this time around.

In any case, when I got a bit closer, I knew I was definitely in the right place.

Pokémon Game Show Sign

Unlike Comiket and Reitaisai, getting in was actually somewhat different. As it turns out, due to the volume of people in the show floor, it was actually necessary to stagger the entry of new people until the others had left. So after I initially went in (After a baggage check, interestingly enough), I was required to wait in line with a block of people for about 20 minutes or so. (I guess this is actually pretty normal, but coming from Perth, I can understand why I’ve never seen it before. XD)

After finally entering the show floor, I was immediately floored at the size and scale of it. Holy crap it was massive!

Pokémon Game Show Floor

Not only that, the place was fully decked out. There was an amazing light-show at the front door, there were giant Poké balls floating in the air, and there were awesome Pokémon stands featuring the starters and the legendaries from all of the games every 20 metres. XD

The show floor was divided up into multiple sections, each catering to different Pokémon related activities. In the corner, there was a Pokémon Tretta lab in the corner, where the prize for winning was an exclusive Red Genesect tile.

Pokemon Tretta

In the middle, there a dedicated section for video/ card game Pokémon battles, with a raised stage in the middle. Suffice it to say, incredibly awesome. XD

Pokemon Battle Stage

And in the far corner, was the Pokémon X and Y exhibition (Will write more on that later). :D

PokemonXYExhibition

Beyond that, there were a few other sections, of which I’ve uploaded photos onto my Flickr.

Overall, it was an amazing day. It’s sometimes hard to fathom just how popular Pokémon is; especially in Japan. But when there’s events like this, it blows your mind even more. XD

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