Author Archives: Tim

OnlyNotes – A COVID Detour

Have the last six months gone like anyone thought they would? They certainly haven’t for me.

My last update on here shared my optimistic plans of reworking In & Out so that it’s fully up to date for modern iPad features as well as able to be used on iPhone. I said it’d be done in weeks.

That update was in April, and if you judge based on the lack of updates since then, you can probably tell that it hasn’t gotten done. Truth be told, I haven’t really worked on it since probably May.

Why is that? Well, while working on the update, I found myself wanting a simple notes app that I could use when I had thoughts and ideas about changes I wanted to make in the app.

I tried the Apple notes app, but I still think it’s one of the most hideous notes apps out there. I guess it’s better than the yellow, lined paper with Marker Felt font, but it’s still a faux paper background. Aesthetically, I just can’t handle the Notes app.

I wanted a simple notes app in the style of Vesper (RIP). Just an app I can open and write notes with a white background and black text. No frills or clutter.

The problem was, I didn’t really see one that I liked. So I figured, I’ll spend a night making one the way I like, and then I can use that from now on. Can’t take too long, right?

Well, apps will always take longer to make than I plan on. But I have to say after I got working on it, I figured, why not just finish this up and put it on the App Store? And thus OnlyNotes was born.

So in the coming days, OnlyNotes will launch on the App Store.

It’s a free, plain text notes app. Very clean and simple. Syncs with iCloud.

And it’s exactly what I wanted.

In & Out – iPhone Compatibility

Since it launched in 2015, In & Out has been only available on the iPad. There are a couple of reasons for this, and this post is going to be completely honest about what those are.

Auto Layout Is Hard

Since In & Out was my first real app that I ever worked on, a lot of its creation involved me learning as I went. I knew enough to make a pretty good iPad app, but I lacked the knowledge and experience to make it look how I wanted it on both iPad and iPhone. Auto Layout in Xcode was still sort of a mystery box to me, and rather than spend the necessary time to learn, I figured I’d just stick with an iPad only layout. This was pre-iPad Pro and all of the screen sizes and resolutions that have come since then, pre- split screen multitasking, and really pre- a lot of the changes that Apple has made in Xcode to make supporting different screen sizes easier. So iPad only it was.

A Market for iPhone Visitor Registration

Another reason I was ok with sticking solely with iPad support was that I wasn’t sure of the market for iPhone visitor registration apps – especially visitor registration apps that would store all data directly on the device. Would a business want a visitor registration app that lived on one iPhone and couldn’t sync to another? I didn’t know. And that lack of certainty of an available market made me just decide to write it off.

Why Add Support Now?

My first reason to not support iPhone – that Auto Layout is hard – isn’t really a reason anymore. With my better understanding of Auto Layout and the support I’m building in for split screen multitasking, there’s really no reason not to support the iPhone’s screen size. It’ll take very little effort to go from supporting a compact screen on iPad to supporting an iPhone screen. And since it’s going to be so trivial to add support, whether or not there’s a market there doesn’t really matter. If it’s so easy to build, why not try the market out? Maybe there’s a huge market for iPhone visitor registration. I don’t know, but it can’t hurt.

In & Out 2020.1

Included with the new update that should be out in the coming weeks is going to be iPhone support. The same features will be there as are in the iPad version.

We’ll see how it goes.

Proper External Display Support for iPadOS

As I mentioned yesterday, I feel the iPad is moving closer and closer toward a traditional laptop replacement. One area that I have long felt the iPad to be lacking just happens to be another thing mentioned by Federico Viticci in his ongoing articles about iPad that he’s been releasing lately – proper external display support.

I see proper integration with external displays as the next big item to tick on Apple’s checklist. Right now, the iPad Pro can mirror its UI to external displays via USB-C, HDMI, or AirPlay; the default UI mirroring mode is limited, however, by pillarboxing, which prevents apps from fully taking advantage of an external display. […]

Here’s what I think Apple should do: the company should introduce a new API that supports iPadOS’ UIScene technology for multiwindowing and allow users to choose which windows (window in the sense of an iPad app window – more details here) should be placed on an external display; unlike the current UI mirroring mode, those windows should be able to fill the entire display and users should be able to control them using the new native pointer. The fact that Apple added pointer support in iPadOS 13.4 rather than waiting for 14 later this year makes me somewhat optimistic about getting a new integration with external displays in the near future.

I really hope proper external display support comes to iPadOS 14. Fingers crossed that we hear something about it at WWDC in June.

Revisiting iPad Pro as a Laptop Replacement

Back in 2018, I wrote about my thoughts on using the iPad Pro to replace a laptop. We had recently decided to give the 10.5” iPad Pro to all of our faculty and high school students and it was going really well.

Since then, I’ve been using a 2018 12.9” iPad Pro as my daily work device and it’s even better than I thought it could be. With the release of iPadOS last fall, the iPad continues to grow into the productivity device I’ve wanted it to be. And with full cursor support in iPadOS 13.4 that came out last month, I’m even more confident that the iPad Pro is the work device of the future.

Federico Viticci goes into excellent detail in his piece Modular Computer: iPad Pro as a Tablet, Laptop, and Desktop Workstation

The more I think about it, the more I come to this conclusion: the iPad, unlike other computers running a “traditional” desktop OS, possesses the unique quality of being multiple things at once. Hold an iPad in your hands, and you can use it as a classic tablet; pair it with a keyboard cover, and it takes on a laptop form; place it on a desk and connect it to a variety of external accessories, and you’ve got a desktop workstation revolving around a single slab of glass. This multiplicity of states isn’t an afterthought, nor is it the byproduct of happenstance: it was a deliberate design decision on Apple’s part based on the principle of modularity.

Federico Viticcci – MacStories.net

Apple’s original vision of how a tablet should work still rings true, but the growth of the iPad over the past several years to fill other needs has helped it transform into a powerful modular computer.

In & Out 2020.1 – A Major Minor Update

State of the App

In 2015 I saw a hole on the App Store – a visitor registration app that was easy to use, not an eye sore, and didn’t break the bank. New to iOS development, I took this as inspiration and decided to solve this problem myself. So after months of hard work, I released In & Out – my first app on the App Store. Five years later, In & Out is being used all over the world every day.

There are now many more visitor registration apps available on the App Store, but none of them hit the sweet spot of elegant, affordable, and easy to use visitor registration. In order to keep these values, that means I must spend time features I think are vital to the app. It also means saying no to requested features that will compromise my intended goals for the app. So what exactly can you expect from In & Out?

What In & Out Is (and What It Isn’t)

First, In & Out has a simple, clean user interface that is easy to learn and navigate for both the business owner and the visitors using it for registration. This was the thing that pushed me to create In & Out in the first place. I did not want to have an app as the first impression for my business that was ugly. So In & Out must remain simple and clean.

Second, In & Out uses only local storage for visitor data. Since there is no syncing, there’s no need for me to pay for cloud storage. This means there are no ongoing fees once you purchase the app – just a one time charge to buy the app. This was important to me as well as I have always been a fan of the App Store model of buy once, own forever. I know this is a hard business model for developers to make a living on, but it’s what I prefer when buying an app, so it’s what I prefer when selling an app.

Last, since iOS development is not my full time job, I view In & Out as mostly feature complete. This means it is an app that is perfect for simple visitor registration – capture names, email addresses, phone numbers, and more, and then view those visitors in app or export as a spreadsheet. That’s it. If that’s what you need in a visitor registration app, In & Out is for you. If you need more, I understand, but I won’t be adding more complicated features.

What To Expect Going Forward

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be releasing an update to In & Out that is both a major and a minor new version. While new features will be limited to the modern features that have been added to iPadOS recently (Dark Mode, Split Screen Multitasking, Dynamic Type in the app’s settings), there won’t be any obvious new additions to the app’s capabilities. This is because I am completely rewriting the app with the latest version of Swift and using modern API’s, allowing me to keep it up to date much easier. Currently, the app is using a mixture of Objective-C and Swift that started being written when Swift was brand new. This has caused a hodgepodge of code that seems to break with each major iOS release and is very difficult to maintain. Updating with a modern rewrite should make maintenance of the app so much easier, which will allow me to adopt Apple’s new system features much quicker. This will also allow me to fix bugs much faster. There’s currently a bug that causes issues sometimes with the passcode in the app, but the complexity of the older code has made fixing this issue slow. This issue will be fixed in the update and other bugs will be able to be fixed much quicker.

I’m excited to be releasing In & Out version 2020.1 in the coming weeks and look forward to much more consistent releases going forward.

If you currently use In & Out, thank you. I hope this update improves the quality of the app for you. If you don’t use it yet, I hope you give it a chance and like it.

Thanks for reading,
TH

Three Semesters of Teaching App Development

When I started teaching Intro to App Development with Swift a year and a half ago, I had never taught a high school class before. The only professional teaching experience I had was from my days leading workshops at the Apple Store. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to share my love of coding with the students, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. Now, closing out the third semester of teaching this class, I can say it’s been a big success and I have learned quite a lot along the way.

My class is an elective, which means it is something the students can choose to take but is not a requirement. This generally causes me to have two types of students: those that are genuinely interested in learning coding, and those that want a fun elective that is also relatively easy. The class size has been pretty small so far, with this semester being the largest with eight students.

What Has Worked Well

The curriculum that Apple provides for Intro to App Development with Swift is completely free, which is obviously a good thing. It is easy to follow along with, starting from an absolute beginning standpoint and going from there. This class isn’t just teaching students how to use Xcode, it’s teaching them the Swift programming language and coding concepts along with it. Each lesson has self-guided project files for the students to work through.

What Could Be Better

Overall the curriculum is a great starting point for offering this class – it’s hard to complain about something that is free and easy to use – but there are several ways that I think it falls short.

I appreciate that it starts with no programming experience required – very few of my students have any coding experience whatsoever – however, I feel like the beginning of the book stretches itself out too far. It could be condensed which would keep the students’ attention better.

The book also seems geared toward a self-guided approach. I really think you could download the book on your own and go through the whole thing without a teacher at all. Which would be nice if that’s what you want, but for a high school class it left my students wanting more. On the days that I would deviate from the book and try to do some sort of project together as a class, they were much more interested and engaged.

Going Forward

I plan to take the curriculum as a jumping off point and really make the class my own going forward. I may not even use the provided book. If I had an infinite amount of time, I would write my own, but realistically that probably won’t happen. However, I can write my own lessons that are more group focused rather than self guided.

I also plan to increase the pace of learning Swift. My plan will be to spend the first half of the semester focused on learning the major concepts of Swift, and then spend the second half of the semester making an app as a class from nothing. Maybe we can even come up with the concept for the app as a class.

I’m very grateful for the curriculum that Apple offers. Without it, my class may never have happened. But I’m excited to make the class my own going forward and see it continue to improve in the years to come.

Thoughts On iPad Pro As A Laptop Replacement

There’s a lot of talk about whether or not the new iPad Pro can be a laptop replacement and get real work done. While I don’t have a new iPad Pro yet (mine is on the way), we went with the previous iPad Pro this fall as the main/sole device we give to teachers, and overall, the response has been positive. There are always going to be complaints and growing pains when making a transition in technology (especially among teachers – no offense, teachers), but it seems like a definite improvement over the aging Windows laptops we were using. I’d like to go over some of the things that the iPad excels at as a laptop replacement, as well as some of the ways it could still improve to make it an uncompromising laptop replacement.

Ways It Excels As A Laptop Replacement:

The versatility of the iPad’s interaction methods mean it can be a perfect fit for anybody. Whether our teachers prefer to use the Apple Pencil and hand write everything, use the touch screen, use an external keyboard, or some combination of the three, the iPad easily adapts to what makes them most comfortable.

An iPad that is using AirPlay to display on a TV allows a teacher to be more mobile than a laptop that is tethered to a VGA cable. They can present from anywhere in the classroom with the iPad in their hand, which lets them better keep an eye on their students.

When it comes to portability, the iPad is light years ahead of the old Windows laptops we were using, which honestly isn’t that hard. But even compared to modern, ultraportable laptops, the iPad is hard to beat. I loving using my iPad as my main work device because it is so lightweight (it’s only 1 pound). Carrying it around with me on campus as I go from class to class and building to building is actually pleasant. Our teachers have really loved the drastic change in size and weight between their laptop and their iPad.

For our teachers, the iPad has been more intuitive than their Windows laptops. This is surely subjective, but it’s something that I appreciate as the head of technology. Any problem they can solve on their own frees me to handle the more difficult issues that arise.

Areas It Can Still Improve:

There are still a decent number of websites that think since you’re visiting from an iPad, you must want the mobile version of that site. On a 10.5” screen (much less an 11” or 12.9”) this just looks like poor design. You can hold your finger down on the reload button at the top of the window and choose to load a desktop version of the site, but this is hit or miss for me. I hope someday soon the web will treat the iPad like a regular computer and not a mobile one.

Apple has done a good job of bringing feature parity between its Mac iWork applications and their iOS variants. I’m not aware of things you can do on one that you cannot do on the other. The same cannot be said for both Google’s and Microsoft’s productivity suites – the iPad versions of these apps are definitely watered down. You can still access all of your files and get basics done, but there are going to be features missing. For me this hasn’t been a problem, but some of our teachers have missed certain PowerPoint features that they had on their laptops. Hopefully Microsoft and Google fix this. In addition to these, Apple also hasn’t brought their professional applications (Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro) to the iPad. As long as there are things that people need to do on an iPad that they cannot get done because of missing or watered down apps, it’s going to be hard to call the iPad a 100% laptop replacement for everyone. It works for us, but may not work for you.

Conclusion:

For our teachers, the iPad has been a definite improvement from what they were using before. As I said earlier, there are growing pains. It takes a little time to transition your workflow to something new. That said, the iPad has been an exciting new direction for us. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Series 4

I take a break from talking about education technology and app development to talk about how much I love this Series 4 watch. Going from the original watch to this is like a whole new world. This feels like how the Apple Watch should’ve felt all along.

 

In & Out 2.0.8

There’s an update out today for In & Out. This update fixes a bug that wouldn’t let you sign out a visitor if there was more than one person signed in with the same name.

We’re Going With iPad

Summer is in full swing, which means my life is crazy busy at work. So busy that I haven’t written an update in a while. A lot has happened since I last wrote about choosing between iPad and Chromebook for our students and teachers.

The final decision was made to go iPad not too long after my last post, but a lot more decisions needed to be made before everything was set it stone. This post will detail where we ended up. I have to say I’m really excited about where we’re headed.

iPad and iPad Pro

Apple recently released a new iPad that can take advantage of the Apple Pencil while staying at the education price of $299 (or $294 if you buy in packs of ten). We’ve decided this will be our iPad of choice for our middle school (grades 6 through 8). It should last them three years and be able to do everything they will need to do during that time. They’ll also be using the new Logitech Crayon rather than the Apple Pencil, which should be a little more durable for their age group as well as save us $40 per student.

As for high school (grades 9 through 12), we’ll be going with the 10.5” iPad Pro. We’re hoping this one will last four years, although Apple really tried to convince us to recycle both models every two to three. Since this is a brand new program, we’ll have to see how they hold up. I think the slightly bigger screen and faster processor will be a benefit for the high schoolers, as well as feel like an upgrade over the iPad they will have had in middle school.

Classroom Setup

The updated technology in the classrooms is something else I’m excited about. We’re replacing projectors that are embarrassingly old with 65 inch TVs that will have an Apple TV connected. Teacher will be able to use AirPlay to show any content on their iPad or the student iPads. Currently their Windows laptops connect via a VGA connection in the wall to project onto a Smart board that is equally as old as the projectors. Being able to show what they want from anywhere in the room is going to be a game changer.

Another benefit is going to be the app Apple has released called Classroom, which lets teachers manage all of the student iPads in their classroom. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s amazing.

Going Forward

This is a huge project for us. We’ve been behind in technology for a while now, so it’s thrilling to be jumping so far ahead. But jumping ahead means a lot to plan and prepare. Here’s hoping for an exciting school year that builds a technology program that we can be proud of for years to come.