My name is Charles, and I'm an iOS developer (Picky, Kobo).
This is my blog of related ramblings.
Opinions are my own (but feel free to share them).

Apr 23 2014

These BuzzFeed quiz ideas will restore your faith in humanity

Online quizzes are all the rage again, and I think I’ve figured out the right mix of pop culture, nostalgia, and humour to generate some great viral content. I don’t actually feel like putting together these quizzes though, so feel free to run with these ideas!

• What HBO series’ intro music are you?

• What fictional coffee shop are you?

• Which season of Twin Peaks are you?

• What film director’s editorial pseudonym are you?

• What defunct online social network are you?

• Which of Johnny Depp’s characters’ hats are you?

• Which pronunciation of the word ‘niche’ are you?

• Which David Bowie guest spot on an Arcade Fire song are you?

Feb 4 2014

Try, try again: two years selling Picky in the App Store

Last Friday marked the two year anniversary of the launch of my music app, Picky1, in the App Store. I started writing a big post reflecting on its development (which actually started way back in January of 2011) and various milestones along the way, but I wasn’t happy with how that was turning out. So here are Picky’s sales figures2 and update history, which tell nearly the whole story:

As you can see, sales were very slow up until quite recently3. I think the update history is also quite telling:

Version  Release Date
1.0January 31, 2012
1.1March 19, 2012
1.2May 30, 2012
1.2.1June 13, 2012
2.0July 31, 2012
2.0.1September 11, 2012
2.0.2September 19, 2012
2.0.3April 15, 2013
2.1September 26, 2013
2.1.1October 8, 2013
2.2October 23, 2013
2.2.1October 30, 2013
2.3November 25, 2013
2.4December 17, 2013
2.4.1January 17, 2014

After relaunching the app as Picky, I went over a year without releasing another major update, and even the work on that minor update in April 2013 was almost all done a few months prior (I don’t know why I waited so long to submit it – apathy?).

* * *

As of today, Picky has been downloaded a total of 1,708 times and earned me $1,370 in revenue (that’s after subtracting Apple’s 30%4). The interesting thing is that just about 90% of those sales were made in the last four months or so since the release of my big update for iOS 7.

Up until I actually started using iOS 7 on my phone (when the GM was released), I hadn’t planned on updating Picky again. But I found the updated Music app to be even less usable than before (at least for my listening habits), and I was suddenly incredibly motivated to get Picky in a state where I’d still be happy to use it. This meant fixing several new bugs that had popped up, as well as completely overhauling the UI to match the new (and improved!) aesthetic of iOS 7.

It seems that I wasn’t the only one unhappy with the changes Apple had made to the system Music app, and for the first time Picky began to gain a small but steady stream of new customers. Along with these new customers came some great feedback and feature suggestions, which I’ve found to be very rewarding, and really fuelling my work on the app. I’ve released six additional updates since, which have been really well-received by my customers. My mid-December update, featuring a colourful version of the playback screen, even lead to a burst of interest from Reddit’s iPhone community.

Fast-forward a month or so later and sales have started to slow down; there’s probably only so far word-of-mouth can take you. I’ve tried reaching out to several app-centric websites, but there’s yet to be a single one to review Picky, which can be frustrating. But I’m going to keep at it, and I’ve got plans for several big feature enhancements (one of which is currently in progress): features I really want for myself, as well as some others that I’ve been getting a lot of requests for.

Earning around $1000 (after expenses) for hours and hours of work over three years is hardly profitable, but I now think of Picky as a successful hobby. Working on it is fun, hearing from satisfied customers is rewarding, and at the end of the day I’m scratching my own itch and building an app that I really want to use. Plus, there’s something to be said for having complete creative and business control over something – especially when you’re picky5.

  1. Though for its first six months it was known as Pod+ (a name I was never happy with).

  2. I hope that my sales data is useful. As far as I know, there aren’t very many developers sharing that kind of information (probably for good reason), and I think Picky’s rebound is kind of an interesting case.

  3. That one small spike in September of 2012 was from when TUAW ran an interview that they had filmed with me back in WWDC of that year. Those five days represented half of Picky’s downloads to date.

  4. I launched the app at $1.99, and have changed the price to $0.99 and back a few times since. The majority of my sales have been at $0.99.

  5. Cue groans from anyone reading this.

Dec 31 2013

My favourite albums of 2013

There was a ton of great music released this year, and as 2013 is drawing to a close I figured I’d put together a list of my very favourites.

10. Sleigh Bells - Bitter Rivals
The aural equivalent of sugary candy. Really loud candy.

9. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels
A fun, concise hip-hop album, and El-P’s production is great as usual. Also, it’s a free download — check it out!

8. Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks
An interesting, if slightly inconsistent, return from Trent Reznor. Copy Of A is one of my favourite songs of the year.

7. Atoms for Peace - Amok
Thom Yorke and friends’ groove-y follow-up to The Eraser.

6. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
A very un-Daft-Punk album from Daft Punk. Brilliant nonetheless.

5. CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe
One of the best debut albums in recent memory. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

4. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
Neko Case’s best yet. Alternatively joyous and sad. Lovely.

3. Kanye West - Yeezus
Obnoxiously brilliant.

2. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
A sprawling album chock-full of great songs.

1. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
The band’s best album yet. Great, catchy, clever songs.

Dec 18 2013

Picky is now a lot more colourful

I’ve just released version 2.4 of Picky, which features a redesigned playback screen that adapts to the current song’s cover art.

Here’s a big collage of examples I put together – I think it turned out really well!

Nov 25 2013

Picky 2.3

I released another update to Picky today and what I thought was interesting (apart from the actual changes to my app) was that every feature addition in this update was sparked by customer feedback.

Suggestions and questions coming in on Twitter, by email, or from posts in this massive Apple Support Communities thread have been contributing to my feature backlog (managed in Vesper, not Rally) with increasing prominence, and I’m quite pleased with the results. It’s really satisfying to have what started out as just a tiny personal project actually resonate with people.

Here’s what’s new in Picky 2.3:

‣ Picky now includes a list of all your albums, which you can easily filter by number of tracks, by genre, or by multiple genres. There’s even a shuffle button so that you can shuffle your filtered list one album at a time.

‣ You can now choose how to sort artists’ album lists: by title, by release date from oldest-to-newest, or by release date from newest-to-oldest.

‣ If you’re using the ‘Artist’ or ‘Album Artist’ grouping options the Artists list will take iTunes’ ‘sort artist’ and ‘sort album artist’ fields into account.

‣ The album and playlist detail views now have handy shuffle buttons.

‣ The Artists list now also lists the number of albums each artist has.

‣ Artist, album, and song filtering options now go up to 30.

‣ Tapping-and-holding on the Now Playing view’s back button now takes you all the way back to where you started from.

‣ Sorting has been improved to better handle titles and names that start with punctuation.

‣ Various small bugs and crashes have been fixed.

Nov 10 2013

A simple trick to clear up problems with your iPhone’s lightning and headphone ports

If you’re finding your iPhone’s lightning cable isn’t staying connected, or your headphones’ audio is cutting out, try following these steps:

  1. Find a small unfolded paperclip, or a similar object (a SIM tool or wooden toothpick should work well too).
  2. Gently poke the paperclip down into your iPhone’s lightning or headphone port, and make a scooping motion upwards.
  3. Repeat as you pull out months’ worth of unsightly clumps of pocket lint and other detritus.

This solution seems obvious in retrospect, but I think a lot of people are probably jumping to other conclusions first. Case in point: during WWDC this June, I started having problems getting my phone to charge overnight (which was especially problematic, being out of town). The lightning cable was plugged in but the little charging icon would come and go. I tried two different cables, with many different outlets, and I came to the conclusion that my then nine-month-old iPhone 5 needed repairs or replacing.

One quick lint cleaning demonstration at the Apple Store later, and I felt rather foolish. Fast-forward another four months, and I’m feeling like an idiot yet again. For the last few weeks I’ve been convinced that my headphones' cord is on its way out, as audio has been cutting in and out if I move my phone in my pocket in certain ways.

It happened again today while my phone was sitting on my desk, and I finally realized that it might just be lint buildup in the headphone jack, preventing the connector from staying put securely. One quick cleaning later (and with a disturbing amount of lint removed) and sound doesn’t seem to be cutting out anymore.

So if you’re having problems with your iPhone’s lightning or headphone ports, try cleaning them out.

Oct 19 2013

Here’s a sneak peek at a new feature I just finished up for Picky 2.2: filtering your songs by genre (or by multiple genres).

Sep 28 2013

Here’s a short video of the new iOS 7-ified version of Picky – including a fun animation I’ve just added in for the next update.

Aug 23 2013

Filling in the ██████ left by #19445

Blackbar, a spare but stylish game from Neven Mrgan & James Moore, was released early this morning, and it’s managed to really capture my imagination. The best way I can describe it (without giving too much away) is as a cross between a dystopic science-fiction story and a crossword puzzle. It reminds me of a series of the kinds of one-off puzzles you might find yourself stuck on in a classic point-and-click adventure game.

Blackbar is fairly brief, though its length largely comes down to how often and how long you get stuck on a word. I reached the end tonight, after playing on-and-off (and thinking about some of the more puzzling blanks while away from the game) since this morning. These types of unique experiences are a rarity in the App Store; one puzzle in particular even had me grinning like an idiot at its ingenuity (spoiler: it was the mirrored one – which had me holding my phone upside-down against the closest reflective surface I could find).

As an iOS developer I find it so inspiring to see an app so well thought out, concise, and different. Why not spend your $2.99 on an intellectual piece of interactive art instead of an anthropomorphic jalepeño in-app purchase1?

  1. Though the aptly subtitled Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time is a lot of fun, albeit of a very different sort (and the in-app purchases are basically just optional cheats, though they still rub me the wrong way).

Jun 13 2013
One of Apple’s photographers got a nice shot of Craig Federighi explaining something to a few of us in the line for Presidio today (I’m on the far left).

  Craig Federighi lines up for sessions just like the rest of us. Had a nice chat with him about Mavericks and iOS 7 stuff. What a cool guy! (https://twitter.com/lessthanuthink/status/344884050718236673)

Photo via the official WWDC app

One of Apple’s photographers got a nice shot of Craig Federighi explaining something to a few of us in the line for Presidio today (I’m on the far left).

Craig Federighi lines up for sessions just like the rest of us. Had a nice chat with him about Mavericks and iOS 7 stuff. What a cool guy! (https://twitter.com/lessthanuthink/status/344884050718236673)

Photo via the official WWDC app

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