The iPad whats it good for?

Recently I had to ask the question, what is an iPad good for? Can I get serious work done on it? While it’s easy to use can it do all the things I need to do as a designer, developer and blogger?

I’ve found the iPad good for watching Netflix or reading comics. To me it is a consumption device. It’s slightly easier banging out an email or blog post than on a phone. But not better than a MacBook.

For my line of work the iPad just doesn’t cut it. OSX is far superior for development and design than iOS and its current apps. I can’t imagine how convoluted it would be to run a web dev environment locally let alone possible.

My own iPad sits now on our coffee table wiped of my personal stuff ready for one of my kids to paw over.

The iPad as it currently is, just isn’t for me. Let’s see what Apple can do to sway me that the iPad is worth my attention.

Update 22/Mar/2016: After watching the event Apple had nothing new that would bring me back to the iPad. Software more like OSX or and approach like Windows 10 that doubles as a desktop and tablet OS would be the only thing that I believe could sway me.

Letterboxd app for iOS

If you love movies, then do yourself a favour and sign up for Letterboxd. They just released their iOS app. A great addition to the service.

letterboxd 3 wide
Screenshots of Letterboxd app

There are two things that stood out to me in the app as different choices on iOS. Firstly the Letterbox app doesn’t have labels on the tab bar at the bottom.

Letterbox tab bar - sans labels
Letterbox tab bar – sans labels

Unlike the iTunes app, which clearly shows labels and is translucent.

iTunes tab bar - with labels
iTunes tab bar – with labels

On some apps I believe this is fine. Say like Twitterrific, but only because the icons are recognisable. I don’t think that’s the case with Letterboxd. There is a small but annoying learning curve just figuring out what each button does. In the case of Letterboxd I think it would have been better to have labels.

Twitterrific tab bar
Twitterrific tab bar – sans labels

Purely by coincidence Letterboxd was released the same week Google updated the “Material Design” guidelines adding a bottom navigation bar similar to the iOS tab bar in Safari on iOS. On Letterboxd as the content is scrolled the tab bar (and navigation bar) is hidden therefore removing a distraction to reading/viewing.

 
The wait has been long but has been worthwhile for Letterboxd to provide a great version 1.0 iOS app. I look forward to what they add next to the service.

You can follow me on Letterboxd as FilmIndy.

React.js Conf 2016 Highlights – Day 1

While I may not have attended day 1 of React.js Conf today, I did get to listen to the conference live streamed from San Francisco. Here are my short cherry picked highlights of things that I thought were cool.

Draft.js

Draft.js was announced from Facebook. It’s a rich text editor framework for React that uses Immutable.js. It’s fully customisable and should scale from a simple multiline input to a full text editor.

React Native Tools for VS Code

React Native Tools for my favourite text editor VS Code was announced today. It’s available as a preview. It supports Intellisense for React Native and debugging code.

Continuous Integration and Code Push for React Native

Microsoft have added continuous integration for React Native to Visual Studio Team Services, combined with Code Push. Now just like in web development, updates can simply be pushed live avoiding the app store/play store update process.

Oy – email template tools for React

A collection of utilities for email templates was demoed.

Nuclide React Native Tools demoed

Nuclide a package for Atom editor was “demoed” showing the packager, debugger and inspector.

Realm for React-Native

Realm the mobile database is now available for React-Native.

See my second day highlights.

Setting up a NAS

For a long time I’ve wanted a NAS (Networked Attached Storage) but put off buying one due to the cost. For those that don’t know what a NAS is it is a small box that either plugs into your network/router via cable or wifi. It’s a hard drive that you can access on your network to copy or read files to, very much like a shared folder in your office. Some can even download torrents or act as a email server.

Network Attached Server (NAS) is a file-level computer data storage server connected to a computer network providing data access to a heterogeneous group of clients.

With the move to only laptops and mobile devices in our house, more storage is always in high demand. But I don’t want to manage another computer just to serve files.

So after being fed up with my Plex server needing a restart again as the old laptop it lived on is getting pretty creaky, I thought there must be a better way to manage media on our home network. Then it clicked, the router we’ve had for quite some time has the abilty to act as a basic NAS.

Plex organizes video, music and photos from personal media libraries and streams them to smart TVs, streaming boxes and mobile devices. It is a media player system and software suite consisting of many player applications for 10-foot user interfaces and an associated media server that organizes personal media stored on local devices.

Setup

When we switched to Vodafone they supplied a smart looking router in white with a LCD screen called a Vodafone Station. It has two USB ports and supports up to a 2 TB hard drive (which luckily I had previously attached to the old Plex server PC). I simply plugged it in to the router and fired up the settings page.

sharing-disk

Go to the Sharing tab and make sure the Share All switch is green. If you click the downward facing arrow with the name of the Hard Drive it will show you the SMB share path. Now if you jump on your Mac from the Finder menu > Go > Connect to Server option you can type in the address shown. On a Windows machine open an explorer window and simply type address in.

sharing-connect

So now you can connect to the drive and see it’s existing media and should be able to view, copy, delete and upload files to the NAS disk. To further make your NAS available by other servers I recommend you enable FTP as well.

sharing-advanced

FTP settings are located in the Advanced > Advanced Sharing tab. The FTP swith is hidden. To find it click on the downward arrow by the disk name and then click on the disk location path e.g. \vodafone.station\a This will show the User priveliges pane where you can enable the FTP setting. So how do we access our media?

sharing-advanced-ftp

Playing Video

Infuse is the player to use if you have iOS devices. Its a great standalone video player that can access shared folders (SMB) on a NAS, grab the metadata and play on device or via Airplay/Chromecast (if you upgrade to the pro version) on your TV. Version 4 has just be released for the new Apple TV app store and can access the shared files directly on your NAS, no need to Airplay. If you don’t have a new Apple TV you can still Airplay to older versions (or to a Google Chromecast).

Backing up Photos

I quickly took up Google Photos when it was released and haven’t looked back for my online photo storage (previously I’d used Flickr. Having access to your entire collection of photos for free with great search is pretty amazing. But there is one downside on the free tier, your photos are compressed (not that you can tell) but none the less you can’t download the proper originals.

So they say you should always have at least two backups, but how without having to sync your phone? Simple use CameraSync on iOS. It doesn’t support SMB shares but it does support FTP which is pretty easy to setup. I have mine set to backup when on wifi when I’m at home (thanks to the background location sync).

Conclusion

So for a pretty minimal outlay in cost for an external hard drive and if your lucky enough to have a router that supports it you too can have a home NAS. For further functionality of the Vodafone Station grab the manual.

Update iOS Sketch 3 Templates

I’ve been using Sketch 3 recently (after a long hiatus) and a great productivity tip for iOS 9 design is to take advantage of a GUI template. A GUI template has all the UI elements painstakingly recreated in Sketch, to help you supplement your own designs.

We have two great choices thanks to Meng To (of Design + Code) and a large group at Facebook. Both provide extensive GUI templates of all the most common UI elements for free.

Meng has create both an iPhone and iPad (including iPad Pro) GUI template in @1x resolution.

Facebook provide an installer for Sketch (DMG) to install the templates with a few clicks. The template comes in @2x resolution.

If you’d like to add these files or any other to the template option it’s as simple as heading to File > New From Template > Reveal in Finder.

Sketch Templates

 

This will show you the folder in Finder, simply drag your fresh templates into here. Once added you can quickly create a new Sketch file with all these elements available for you to use in your next iOS design.

Sketch Templates in Finder

 

 

Prepare for iOS 9

With the coming of iOS 9 tomorrow it will pay for you to get your iOS devices in a ready state for update day.

Here are my top tips to help get you prepared:

  • Make sure you have enough data on your internet account. Expect to go through gigs of data with iOS and app updates.
  • Update all your apps first on your devices and backup the apps.
  • Backup locally via iTunes (make sure “Encrypt iPhone Backup” is checked) and also with iCloud. Can’t stress this enough, having multiple backups is essential if something goes wrong.
  • Backup all your photos and videos off your phone.
  • Wait a day or two after release, just in case there are bugs in the OS or apps you depend on. If you must update for FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), update your least used iOS device (in my case my iPad) first.

Getting experience with Swift

The best way I’ve found to learn new programming languages is simply to start using them. So when I had an app idea I wanted to itch I decided to use Swift 2 and jump straight in.

Using the new Xcode 7 you don’t even need a developers license to install your own apps on your phone. Which is great for when you want to make a hobby app or are learning as the near $150 NZ fee was an expensive barrier to iOS development previously.

As a primer to get started I quickly skimmed over the iBooks swift programming guide and Meng To’s great book Design + Code which has great targeted videos and a guide to complete walkthrough of making an app (in Swift).

While I’ve only been using Swift a very short time I’m already loving these things about Swift:

  • Constants are first class citizens – I’m using “let” all the time rarely using “var”.
  • The emphasis on immutable data – not changing values can make some great simple code.
  • Syntax is more like C# and JavaScript – I’m not going to sugar coat it, but Objective C’s syntax is horrible and it never stuck with me. To use a syntax similar to C# and JavaScript is helping me be more productive with Swift sooner.
  • Not having to have header files is a great change, compared to Objective C.

All in all I’m really enjoying the language and finding it easy enough to get started and already feel proficient enough to build something bigger.