SoundForest: Patterns and Beats

SoundForest – Free on the App Store

Years ago, when I first got an iPad, I remember playing around with GarageBand. Sure, it was fun to strum on the on-screen guitar, but I actually play the guitar, so that got old pretty quickly. What was fun, however, was the drum machine. There was a grid on the screen, with two axis labeled “Loud/Quiet” and “Complex/Simple.” You would drag each element of the drum kit somewhere onto the grid, and it would play a beat for you. It was honestly really fun.

SoundForest immediately brought me back the enjoyment I used to get from GarageBand. It’s a similar idea, drag icons onto the screen to create music, but even better. In SoundForest, your song moves left to right, playing each “note” that you’ve placed in order. You can stack different icons to play two sounds at once, or play two of the same sound, which changes it slightly. I’d talk more about it, but it’s honestly better to just watch it yourself. Here’s a tune I made:

Best of all, SoundForest does this with really neat, minimalistic artwork of trees and flowers and animals that you might find in, well in the forest. It’s a gorgeous app. Simple, fun, and beautiful. What more could you want?


Thanks for reading! Have comments or feedback? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com. And be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Medium!

Link

Link: The iPod-Phone Prototype

iphone_prototypes-0

Image Credit: The Verge

http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/6/14188624/apple-prototype-iphone-ipod-click-wheel

This is a fascinating article.  Obviously, it took Apple some time to land on the design of the first iPhone, but I’d never seen any of their other attempts.  This design basically took the old iPod interface (remember the click wheel?) and added the ability to make phone calls.  The result is… unpolished, maybe even unusable.  The most mind-boggling part is that the click wheel isn’t hardware, it’s on screen (although the article does say that might just be because it’s a prototype).  It’s clear why Apple didn’t go with this design, but it’s really neat to see an idea they attempted.  It was natural to think of the iPhone as an extension of the iPod, so it probably seemed natural to attempt this with the UI.  Fortunately, however, this idea didn’t win out, and we got iOS instead.  ••

My Tech Changes in 2015

If I’m being honest, 2015 was a really good year.  Graduating high school is always a plus, and I’m loving college.  2015 was also a good year in the technology department for me.  Looking back, there’s been a lot of changes to the devices and apps that I use on a daily basis.  Here are the biggest three.

First up, I finally got an iPhone!  I’ve had an iPod Touch since 7th grade, but I didn’t get an iPhone until just last January.  My iPhone is the device I use most often, for the most things, and it’s absolutely an integral part of my life (maybe a little too integral, if I’m still being honest).  It’s so nice to not have to carry around two devices anymore (a dumb phone and an iPod), and obviously it’s also nice to have a data plan.  Getting an iPhone was definitely the biggest tech event of the year for me, and I’m still loving it.

Next up was photos.  iCloud Photo Library launched way back in October 2014, but, to me at least, it wasn’t useful until Photos for Mac happened last April.  iCloud Photo Library is really great; it’s so nice to just have the Photos app sync on all my devices, instead of having a Photos app full of photos from that device and another app full of Dropbox photos.  Not only that, but Photos for Mac has great support for facial detection, geotagging, and smart albums, so all in all it’s just a great way to organize all my photos.  Thanks to Apple upping their iCloud pricing tiers, I’m still only paying 99¢/month, and I now get 50 gb.  Totally worth it.

Finally, Apple Music launched last June!  I discovered Spotify in December 2014, and I used it religiously for the first half of 2015.  However, when Apple Music came out, I just had to try it.  After the three month free trial, my family decided to keep paying for it.  We ended up on Apple Music mostly because the family plan is actually usable (unlike Spotify’s), but in generally I’m happy with Apple Music.  Since honesty is, apparently, a theme in this post, Apple Music still has a long way to go to be as good as Spotify.  Frankly, Apple Music is still pretty buggy.  However, there are things about Apple Music that are better than Spotify will ever be, like built in Siri support.  Being able to use Siri to control music in the car is definitely my favorite feature of Apple Music.  And as far as the bugs go, I have confidence that Apple will continue to fix those too.  I’ll be patient.

So that’s my 2015 technology year in review.  As I said, it’s been a good year.  What’s your year been like?  Get any cool new gadgets?  Find that perfect cloud service that you’d always hoped existed?  Let me know what kinds of tech you love in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter @NickFoster56.  Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!  ••

October App Review: Runkeeper

App: Runkeeper
Developer: FitnessKeeper, Inc.
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’m doing a charity 5K run at the end of this month.  This means that I need to get into shape!  For this, I’ve downloaded an app I’ve used a lot before, but had fallen out of the habit of using lately: Runkeeper.


Here’s how Runkeeper works: You click start, and then run.  That’s what’s so awesome about it; it automatically tracks your time and distance over GPS, and also calculates pace, elevation climb, and other stats.  Runkeeper also will periodically give you audio cues telling you your time and distance, as well as any workout intervals (run for one minute, walk for one minute, and so on).

There are four main tabs in Runkeeper.  The first is the one right in the middle: Start.  This is where you go to track a workout.  If you don’t want to track your workout over GPS, or you can’t (swimming would be difficult), you’ve got two other options.  The first is called Stopwatch mode, and it’s more or less exactly what it sounds like: it’s just like GPS mode except you put the distance in at the end.  The other option is manual logging.  Put in what activity you did, how long and how far, and click save.  This doesn’t give you as many details about the workout, but if you forget to track something, it’s nice to be able to add it manually.

Next is the Me tab.  This shows some basic stats: miles per month, workouts per week, etc.  This is also where you can view your goals.  This is one of the best features of Runkeeper in my opinion.  Simply put, progress bars motivate me.  A lot.  Setting a goal is a great way to keep myself on track.  Put in a total distance and when you want to complete it, and Runkeeper will show you your progress over the weeks.  I don’t have any goals set right now because I’m using a training plan (more on that in a second), but I’ve used them a lot in the past.  Since we’re talking about stats, it’s a good time to talk about Runkeeper’s pricing tiers.  You can use Runkeeper totally free, and it works just fine.  Subscribing to Runkeeper Go gives you more stats, as well as some other benefits like more training plans.  If you’re a serious runner, it’s useful, but most people won’t miss it.

The next tab is Training.  I’d never used this until getting ready for this race, but I really like it.  It shows a simple calendar, showing you what workout to do each day.  Straightforward and easy to use.

The final tab is Friends.  This is a neat feature, almost like a social network.  It’s a simple feed that shows you all activities from you and your friends.  I’ve never used this with other people, but it seems like a cool idea.  You can even like and comment on each other’s workouts.

Runkeeper does a good job of showing you plenty of data from your workouts, but what if you want that data elsewhere?  Runkeeper will integrate with MyFitnessPal and Apple Health, which is cool.  I’ve got it set up with the Health app, which is nice because I use other fitness apps too, and Health shows me all that info in the same place.  Runkeeper also has a step counting app called Breeze, which I’ve used on and off before.  Even though it’s a separate app, if Breeze detects that you went on a walk, there’s a button to push that data to Runkeeper as a workout.  Clever!

Runkeeper has been my go to workout app for years now (at least during the periods I’ve been exercising), and there’s lots of good reasons for that.  Runkeeper does its main job well, while still offering a host of other features.  I’ve really been enjoying using it over the past few weeks, and I think I’m going to do really well on that 5K this month.  ••

iOS 9 is Here!

Last Wednesday was the official release of iOS 9.  After updating a day late, I’m really liking the new version.  There’s lots to talk about, but I’m going to highlight my two favorite features: the improved Spotlight search and iPad Multitasking.

Spotlight
Spotlight has been moved to a new-old home, to the left of the first home screen.  This is where it was before iOS 7 (interestingly enough, however, you can still access Spotlight by pulling down from any home screen, but you won’t get as many suggestions).  Right at the top of the new Spotlight are “Siri Suggestions” – contacts and apps that iOS thinks you may want to use right now.  So far, they just seem to be recents, but Apple has said that these will slowly tailor based on your usage.  Check Twitter and Facebook every morning?  Those apps will show up at that time.  Under that is “Nearby” – a group of buttons for finding restaurants, gas stations, and the like.  These too will change based on whether it’s breakfast or dinner time.  Finally, underneath that are a few top stories from the News app, which makes its iOS 9 debut.  What’s cool is that you get all this information by just swiping into the Spotlight screen.  If you actually start to search, you’ll see similar results to what you’d have seen in previous versions of iOS.  Except for one major thing: you can now search the content in third-party apps right from Spotlight.  Dropbox, among others, has already added support for this feature, and I think it’s going to be super useful.

iPad Multitasking
Unfortunately, iPad multitasking is a little fragmented.  Let me break it down.  The iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, and the iPad Pro (so the newest model of each size), can truly run two apps at the same time.  This can be done either with both apps taking up half the screen or with more of a 3/4 split.  So that’s great, but I have an iPad Mini 2.  Well the iPad Mini 2, 3, and 4; the iPad Air 1 and 2; and the iPad Pro can also do what’s called “slide over.”  This is where one app keeps running in the background, and an iPhone-width app slides over it on the right hand side, taking up about 1/4 of the screen.  Like this:


This is useful, but so far not many apps have been updated for it (disappointingly, not even all of Apple’s apps support it.  Why doesn’t Music?).  Hopefully this will get better though.  The final feature of multitasking, which comes to the same models that get slide over, is picture in picture.  This is available both for video apps like Netflix and things like FaceTime, so that’s really cool.

The last thing I want to talk about is performance and battery.  I mentioned in my WWDC post that iOS 9 is available for all phones that got iOS 8.  I was hoping that this, coupled with the fact that Apple trumpeted iOS 9 as improving performance, would mean that iOS 9 wouldn’t slow my phone down.  So far, my phone has been about the same (hooray!), but my iPad is definitely slower (this makes no sense, they’re the same model year).  Still, this is better than the usual performance hit we’ve gotten used it.  So far, battery doesn’t seem to have taken a hit either.  I’ve yet to try out the new Low Power Mode, but I think that’s a good idea too.  All in all, I like iOS 9, and I hope developers continue to add support for all the cool new features.  ••

Taking Action on Notifications

One of the first iOS 8 features I wrote about last summer was actionable notifications.  Basically, this feature allows notifications to have buttons that let you respond to them without even opening the app.  When I first saw this feature, it was in the context of banner notifications on the top of the screen.  I thought this was definitely a cool idea, but not quite an earth-shattering one.  However, once I realized that these actions are also available on the lock screen, I realized how much time this feature would actually save me.

Let’s go through a hypothetical situation here.  Let’s say I’m sitting in class and my phone is buzzing off the hook.  I’m not going to look at it in class, so when it ends, I have a bunch of notifications.  Let’s say I’ve got a text from my brother, asking me a question about church tonight.  I’ve also got 16 texts from a group message, a notification from WordPress that someone linked to my post, two emails about my scout troop, a Twitter mention, two Instagram likes, and a Snapchat.  (Of course, I rarely open my phone and see notifications from all of these apps at once, but for the sake of this example, I’ve named lots of apps which have notifications I can act upon.)  Let’s go through each of these one at a time:

First is the text from my brother.  Since Messages is an official Apple app, it can have much more functionality than Apple would allow a third-party app.  Because of this, I can swipe right on this notification and tap reply.  A keyboard then pops up right on the lock screen, allowing me to respond to the text (rest assured, random people who find your phone can reply to your texts only if you’ve turned this feature on).  The only thing that’s annoying about this is that iOS won’t let me use SwiftKey on the lock screen, because that keyboard requires full access, and I guess they don’t want it to run unless I’ve put my passcode in.

Next are the group texts.  If it’s not something I want to reply to, I can just read them all right there on the lock screen, and then swipe right and dismiss the most recent one.  Now the cool part happens: I don’t have to dismiss every text.  If I dismiss one text from a thread, all texts that came in before that also clear.  The assumption is that if you’ve read the most recent, you’ve read them all.  This is great, because sometimes I open my phone to 50 or more group texts.

After dealing with all the messages, I’ve got a WordPress notification.  Since most of my pingback notifications are from my own blog (which is a whole different can of worms I can gripe about), I just want to approve them right away.  Fortunately, I can swipe on the notification and tap “Approve.”  The only annoying part is that this doesn’t mark the notification as viewed in the WordPress app; messages, in contrast, are all marked as read when you dismiss the notification.

Now come the emails.  I was a Boy Scout for seven years, but I aged out last fall.  I’m technically an Assistant Scoutmaster, but I don’t really do anything in that post.  That being said, most of the troop emails don’t apply to me.  With actionable notifications, I can swipe on each notification and tap “Mark as read.”  And they’re gone.  This is also nice because, while my read states do sync between devices, this process can take a while.  So if I read an email on my iPad, then see it on my phone, I can easily mark it as read.

Now on to social media.  More than likely I want to favorite that Twitter mention, and I can do so right from the lock screen.  As for the Instagram likes, I can just dismiss them.  Like WordPress, these don’t mark as viewed in the Instagram app, but I can just clear them next time I’m there.

Now all I’m left with is the Snapchat.  The difference here is that you can’t do anything to Snapchat notifications on the lock screen (besides clear them), so I have to unlock my phone for this.  Since Snapchat focuses on pictures, there’s not much they can do with actionable notifications.  However, I’ve just gone from 24 notifications to 1, without even unlocking my phone.  That’s a major boost in efficiency, and even better, one that I can use every day.  ••

A Brief History of iMessage

Six months ago I didn’t have iMessage.  Sure, I had it on my iPod Touch, but I only ever used it a couple times to send photos.  Most of the time, I was using regular SMS texting on my old phone.  But then that changed when I got an iPhone last January.  Suddenly, I was exposed to the world of iMessage.  What is iMessage?  Basically, it’s Apple’s replacement for SMS.  It only works from one Apple device to another, but when it does work, it’s dramatically better.  Even more genius, Apple has managed to make sure that just about every iPhone owner uses iMessage.  So how did iMessage evolve in just four short years?  Let’s look at its history.

2011, iOS 5
iMessage was first announced at WWDC 2011, and right from the start it contained all the core features it needed to be a success.  The most important part of iMessage, in my opinion, is the way it handles picture messages.  SMS takes forever to send a picture, and then it’s a scaled down version.  iMessage sends pictures way faster, and at full resolution.  It even includes all the original metadata (date, location, etc.).  This is great.  Even regular texts send faster over iMessage.  It’s able to do this because it works over the internet (WiFi and 4G) instead of on regular phone service.  Because of this, it just works better than SMS.  Even at this early stage, iMessage also included the ability to send locations and contacts, as well as read receipts (the option to tell someone that you’ve seen their message).  So from the start, Apple created iMessage to be good.  But then they went in for the kill.  Using iMessage would be completely automatic and take place in the same app as SMS.  This meant that users would have to do essentially nothing to start using this service.  After that, their iPhone would automatically determine whether or not the recipient of a text had iMessage.  If they did, it would send an iMessage (colored blue).  If not, it would send a regular SMS (colored green).  There was nothing the user had to do.  This was genius.  Any other messaging app would have to force people to download it, then remember which app to use for each person they text.  But Apple got around that.

2012, iOS 6
The most important iMessage feature to come to iOS 6 focused on the iPad.  From the start, your iPhone could send iMessages from either your phone number or the email address for your Apple ID.  However, your iPad could only use the email address (“because it’s not a phone,” was the original argument I guess).  However, that all changed with iOS 6.  Now, you could receive iMessages sent to your phone number on any device.  This, like the bundling of iMessage into the existing Text app, reduced the friction and effort required of users to almost zero.  Good move, Apple.

2013, iOS 7
iOS 7 didn’t bring many feature updates to iMessage, it mostly focused on the look at feel of the Messages app.  There were, however, a few new features to make it easier to view sent images or the contact information of the person you’re talking to.  However, like much of iOS 7, the Messages app mostly just got a visual facelift.

2014, iOS 8
iOS 8, on the other hand, added lots of new features to iMessage.  Most of them focused on group messaging.  iMessage has always supported group messaging, but it hadn’t gotten much special attention until now.  iOS 8 allows you to rename, mute, or leave group messages, to make sure you don’t get stuck receiving dozens of notifications from a group you don’t care about.  This is really helpful.  As someone who spends a lot of time in group messages, these improvement are all more than welcome.  iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite also gave the Messages app new abilities regarding, ironically, SMS text messages.  With these updates, you can now send SMS messages from your iPad and Mac, as long as your iPhone is on.  This can be a little buggy, but it is nice whenever I have to text a green bubble friend from my computer.

2015, iOS 9
According to Apple’s iOS 9 Preview page, there aren’t any earth shattering new features coming to iMessage this fall.  However, there could be plenty that we don’t know about yet.  Perhaps the coolest thing we know about as of now involves improvements to Siri.  In iOS 9, if you’re looking at an email, webpage, or iMessage, you can say, “Hey Siri, remind me about this when I get home.”  Siri will then create a reminder for what you’re seeing on screen.  The entire reminder is essentially a link; clicking on it takes you back to what you were looking at before.  Definitely useful!

So as you can see, iMessage is actually pretty complicated (especially for something that’s so simple to use).  The smartest thing Apple did with iMessage, though, isn’t in the list above.  Apple made iMessage exclusionary.  Now that I’m used to iMessage, regular SMS feels archaic and obnoxious.  I have no idea if my Android friends got my messages, I can’t send them photos easily, and you can just forget about sending videos.  I’ve heard more than one person I know say that they don’t want to switch to Android because they’ll miss out on iMessage.  That’s the kind of feature that Apple does best: one that’s so good that you’d never leave their ecosystem because of it.  ••