Smart Cylinders Finally Coming to Aussie Shores

A couple of weeks ago at the WWDC keynote Apple announced, among many other things, the HomePod; a smart virtual assistant box designed to become a permanent fixture in your home, to which commands can be spoken. In a move likely aimed at taking on the Google Home and Amazon's Echo, two very similar products already on the market.


The HomePod will come equiped with Siri, Apple's well-known virtual assistant. However, given the impressive competition Apple is positioning this device more as a high-quality speaker, for those that wish to fill their homes with music, rather than Siri for your house. A clever move and a clear selling point over the other smart boxes.

Another advantage the product may have, come its final release in Decemember, is its availbility in Australia. While massive brands, Amazon and Google often ignore markets outside their native US, and are currently doing so with their virtual assistant hardware offerings. It will be interesting to see if either company decides to step up their game and beat Apple to the punch down under, before year's end.

Update July 20
Google Home has officially gone on sale in Aus, managing the beat the Homepod to market by several months. Well done Google.

‘UXKit’: The Hidden Gem In Apple’s New Photos App

Last week Apple seeded the first OS X 10.10.3 beta to developers, bringing with it the initial build of the much anticipated Photos application for Mac. Some digging around by a couple of particularly inquisitive devs, Jonathan Willing chief among them, stirred up excitement with the discovery of a hidden UXKit framework linked to and presumably used by the new This framework appears to bring much of iOS’s UIKit to the Mac; the API behind most user interfaces on Apple’s most popular platform. 

To understand the interest garnered by this framework one must first understand the differences between UI code for the two operating systems. Today the equivalent of UIKit on OS X is AppKit, a nice but not exactly modern set of APIs, which in many places bares little resemblance to that of its younger brother. As Jason Snell of Six Colours puts it: 

For a while, iOS developers have complained that the UIKit framework they use to develop apps isn’t available on the Mac, making it harder to apply the same tools and techniques and code they build for iOS to Mac apps.

As a developer of apps for both platforms I can attest to this, while making anything remotely custom for Mac is possible its just painful when compared to iOS. The effort required to set a custom resizable background image and a separate foreground image on a NSButton is just ridiculous, a task UIButton makes trivial. Something similar to UIKit for the Mac would be a huge upgrade in my opinion and I hope Apple is indeed looking to make this available to all developers, even if some feel that’s unlikely. Bring on WWDC 2015!

Photos App

Apple’s TestFlight Takeoff Far From Faultless

The latest episode of David Smith’s excellent and oftentimes inspirational podcast, Developing Perspective, tackles the question of whether the App Store may be nearing capacity. With well over a million applications just a tap away I can certainly see the thinking underpinning Underscore’s query. However, quantity is never a substitute for quality and my philosophy is that while everything may have already been done, it can always be done better.

If you share a similar view, you too may sometimes wonder how good products seem to go backwards even when given every opportunity to evolve into something much greater. When Apple acquired TestFlight earlier this year many just hoped the folk at Cupertino wouldn’t let it fade into the ether as has happened with some other services in the past. Few were completely optimistic about the news, at best like me some were hopeful that arguably the best beta app testing platform for iOS becoming more tightly integrated with everything else Apple offers developers would come with huge benefits.

In some respects the current incarnation of Testflight is far superior to its predecessor. For instance, adding new testers to a project can now be done with just an email address, a god send for anyone familiar with the painful process of obtaining a device’s UDID. Unfortunately Apple did what only Apple would do; require all beta builds go through App Store review prior to distribution to external testers. Try as I might I fail to see the logic in this. External testers are limited to 1,000, so any possible fears of dodgy software being distributed en masse surely aren’t founded. And beyond that the whole point of beta testing is to be able to quickly get the latest versions of something into people’s hands so they can provide feedback and assist you as you continue to iterate on it. Waiting five to goodness knows how many business days for a build to be approved makes the whole thing a non-starter! 

I hope Apple rethinks this nonsensical setup as I’d love to see the back of UDIDs and just to be able to do everything in one place. For the time being though I’m still using and am very happy with HockeyApp, which incidentally was just bought by Microsoft. Let’s hope Redmond’s influence isn’t quite so disruptive. 

Apple Watch Musings

It would seem the reaction to Apple’s recent announcement concerning their entry into the wearables market has be mostly positive, which I did not predict while following the event. 

We’ve already seen many wrist-worn devices come out from a multitude of manufactures over the last couple of years but with the possible exception of the recent Android Wear devices from Samsung, LG and most notably Motorola, these gadgets have fallen seriously short in so many areas that they have been the envy of only the most die-hard tech enthusiasts. The Moto 360 deserves special mention for being a rather sharp looking little device with a round LCD, quite novel even in 2014, but the question still remains: What value does strapping something to my arm, which I’ll have to remember to charge every day or two, provide over the phone I already have in my pocket? 

So far I’m yet to be convinced, I never really had that I have to have that moment while watching the Apple’s keynote apart from maybe when they were pitching the fitness angle, but even then aside from recording my heart rate my phone can do all that. Jonny Ive has again done great work but for me the value proposition remains allusive. Perhaps once battery technology advances to the point where I can have a watch that lasts weeks not days and the price comes way down it’ll become a no-brainer, but I wonder how far away that day may be. 

So I won’t be getting one right? Well no, I almost certainly will be, just like millions of others and that’s the point. Regardless of the current limitations this is a new platform, certainly something to get excited about and with the weight of Apple behind it there will be users and the chance for developers to carve out a new place for themselves. Looking at our current portfolio at Armchair Engineering it may be difficult to see what if any of our apps makes sense on a small screen but there are opportunities there. Of course this sort of hardware also opens up an abundance of new possibilities making it a compelling device to any developer looking to sink their teeth into watch kit and create something for this new wave of computing. 

I’d still suggest most should hold off initially as the second generation will undoubtedly be a significant jump over what Apple previewed last week, but hey maybe you’ve just been dying to send your heartbeat to that certain someone.