Facebook Home

Facebook announced a brand new experience for Android users today. It is called Facebook Home.

I am not an Android user or developer, and mostly a passive Facebook user, but wanted to share some thoughts. There are valid concerns about users’ privacy and ads on home screen, but I am more excited about the general approach and concepts here.

Core theme around FB Home is seamless integration across messaging, photos, etc. This feels like the inception of next generation of communication – app-to-app as well as user-to-user – in the App world. From what I’ve understood about FB Home so far, it seems that there’s no reason for it to be just FB specific. What I mean is – it’s an advanced workflow that is integrated across contacts, photos, messages, news and so on, i.e., content that we tend to consume frequently. Imagine iOS and Android doing this at the core OS level and allowing to even include content from different social platforms (twitter, pinterest, etc) as well as from non-social apps. It makes the need for cross-linking between apps so much more prominent and obvious.

It would be great if iOS 7 shipped with such integration features/API. Not specifically an implementation at launcher or home screen level, but in terms of API available to developers, so that they could build integrated experiences.

Thanks to Facebook for leading us into this – it will only challenge and advance other apps, services and platforms to deliver similarly seamless experiences.

Looking forward to the next generation of cross-linked and integrated apps!

A Developer’s Wishlist for WWDC 2013

Here’s a quick list of top level iOS features/improvements that I would like to see as a developer this June:
(in no way a comprehensive list and your mileage may vary)

  • WiFi tethering from Xcode to run code on (dev) iOS devices on the network. This showed up briefly in the early days of Xcode 4, but was buggy and hence removed
  • When I am installing dev builds to an iOS device from Xcode, let Xcode unlock the device without a passcode.
  • Be able to add testers to an app in the App Store rdar://13275881
  • Some sort of Alarm API. We all need our apps to wake up and do something from time to time and then go back to sleep. Push notifications work, but they still need users to react for the app to be foregrounded. I understand why an alarm API might be a bad thing due to possible exploit/abuse, but wonder if a server based alarm API, sort of an extension to the Push notifications protocol will prevent some, if not all, abuse.
  • Minor, but please have a preference to disable auto layout in Interface Builder. Apparently there is a way to do this in Xcode’s file templates, but it gets overridden with updates.
  • This might be a stretch, but it would be nice to see what’s my current spot in the app review queue. I don’t have to see who else is in the queue, but something like – X apps ahead of me, Y apps behind me. I know this could be a bit of TMI for Apple to share on what’s going on behind the scenes; may be there is a middle ground as in just show me some kind of projected number of days for my app to be reviewed in. I currently use app review times setup by the nice folks at Shiny Development.

Minus the alarm API; the above is what comes to mind in terms of making my daily app development life easier…  As far as alarm API goes, I’ve had enough scenarios in my apps that could benefit from it and I hear other developers mention it from time to time. 

Rdar is full of bugs and feature list and I am sure I am missing many. Also, this is not a coverage for next generation end-user features or for that matter even new development SDKs (e.g.: AppleTV).

Would love to know what you would like to see?

WWDC Alert App

I have been anxiously monitoring the WWDC page to go live for this year. Many folks are doing the same and using various options like,

  • going crazy by repeatedly refreshing the browser window with WWDC page open
  • setting up their own scripts
  • using pingdom
  • paying to a premium service like WWDC 2013 Notification by Oisin Prendiville. It in turn runs scripts to monitor the WWDC page and uses Twilio to send an SMS and can also call you

It occurred to me that I frequently refresh the WWDC page on my iPhone and it might be useful to write a small app that will do it for me and notify when the page updates. So I ended up putting together WWDC Alert App and have pushed it on github – https://github.com/rmatta/WWDCAlertApp for anybody to download and install.

Here’s a quick list of its features,

  • Manually refresh WWDC page
  • Display a timestamp of the last time it refreshed
  • Check for updates on WWDC page every 2 mins in the background
  • If the page changes, locally notify on the device
  • If there was an error loading the page, notify as well
  • If for whatever reason app is terminated by iOS or killed by the user, notify
  • Every notification also puts a badge on the app icon, which is cleared the next time app is opened

Quick Note on Battery and Location Services Usage:

The app runs in background by using location services so be aware of two things,

  • On startup it will ask to use location service. Make sure you permit it, otherwise it won’t work when backgrounded
  • Due to the use of location services and constant network to refresh, it uses higher than average battery power. On my iPhone 5, it used about 15% of battery over 6 hours.

Please be aware that this app was put together in an evening and is not well-tested. I have been using it for past 12 hours and it seems to be running fine. But if you find any issues with it please do let me know and I will try to fix it. Also feel free to update, refine, improve and send git pull requests 😉