Mateusz Stawecki

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When watching the WWDC2015 Keynote, I’ve noticed that the Newsstand icon wasn’t on any of the screenshots. Hmm… interesting. Shortly after that Apple announced “News”, it was pretty clear Newsstand was getting a “replacement”. iOS9 is still in beta, so I guess anything can happen, but I think it’s time to declare the new world order…

#1 Newsstand is still a Category on the AppStore

Not much changed here, even the covers are still around.

Newsstand - AppStore

#2 Newsstand “shelves UI” and the icon are gone – replaced with a generic app group

Just like any other group, it contains apps and icons. Covers are gone. I guess magazine covers still make sense on the AppStore, if the app uses them internally.

Newsstand - app group

#3 Newsstand apps are finally free to leave the group and exist anywhere on your home screen

Newsstand - freedom

What’s up with News?

News is interesting, because it promotes a completely new format for displaying news content. Interestingly, by taking away the focus from apps, which is a quite unusual move. I’ve got used to Apple being all about Apps. The introduction of “seamless linking” might help our case – following article links inside news would allow you to navigate straight to your app.

So far, it seams that News is much closer to what Flipboard is rather than what Newsstand used to be. I don’t see how News would be a better choice for “magazines” (just to clarify – I mean the “magazine” format – regular bundle of content behind a cover), but maybe the “magazine” format is not right for mobile? Do we all have ADHD and can only handle flicking through streams nowadays?

Personally, I still believe in “magazines”, I still think people should try to run magazines on the AppStore. News might turn out to be a great solution for news portals, but I find it very hard to call “News” a replacement for “Newsstand”, because it’s such a huge shift – maybe an “alternate approach”? Apple hasn’t killed magazines just yet.

I’m eager to see how this plays out.

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During the 2013 WWDC alongside iOS7 Apple announced an exciting addition to its CoreLocation framework – a technology that could finally solve the problem of indoor location detection – iBeacons, by leveraging the under-utilised (at the time) Bluetooth Low Energy. The framework was hard to test at first due to lack of hardware providers for the actual beacons, but several startups and companies soon jumped at the opportunity and we could finally give it a proper shot. However, particularly in early releases of iOS7 the iBeacon tech seemed to disappoint with its poor accuracy and reliability. While the concept got a lot of developers excited, the amazement quickly turned into frustration. So, how well do iBeacons actually work nowadays?

Previous Experiments

Less than a year after release, I took part in making some experimental apps.
One which was a guided tour of an office building – related information was displayed when a new room was entered. The beacon accuracy wasn’t particularly important since the space was large. The demo worked fine, especially when the application was running in foreground.
The other one was done at Úll Conf 2014 and relied on the conference app waking up in background. For the first time we could test the setup across >100 devices. We’ve announced a scavenger hunt: once a device came in range with a beacon installed at one of our secret locations, an achievement badge was unlocked in the app. The experiment results were mixed, some things worked, some didn’t (I’ve summarised them last year). iBeacons seemed a little too young to be more than a curiosity. When iOS7 was updated with further fixes and later iOS8, we finally saw improvement. Apple was clearly updating iBeacons and other features which suffered from similar issues (e.g. multi-peer connectivity which was practically a dummy API in the initial release of iOS7). It’s understandable that these things take time to perfect and need to be tested in live conditions, which for a secretive company like Apple was impossible to do before the announcement. So, how far have we come?

“Well, this is going to be a problem.”

Fast forward to April 2015, I’ve attended Úll Conf again and this time we decided to try out a more ambitious setup. We’ve had a perfect opportunity to put together an audio tour to the Museum feature, which was a small exhibition of Apple devices and memorabilias. We had 12 kontakt.io beacons which we installed on some exhibition items.
In the end it worked out quite well:
 
 —
However, things didn’t start off very well at all. After we’ve setup the beacons, I’ve quickly realised that the app, which was tested against a much simpler setup didn’t behave the way we wanted. This was due to a several problems I’ve observed:

Ranging is far from perfect

On iOS8 I’ve noticed a lot of improvement in the ranging results, but occasional issues still arise:
  • beacons may randomly drop off: don’t be surprised when a ranged beacon disappears only to re-appear on next range
  • When looking at RSSI, be aware that it is equal to 0 when the beacon is in unknown proximity:
    CLBeacon (uuid:…, major:0, minor:1, proximity:0 +/- -1.00m, rssi:0)
  • approximate distances are inaccurate and signal strength reading may fluctuate
When using multiple beacons in a dense setup these inaccuracies will prove particularly difficult.
Solutions:
  • make sure your ranging code compensates for some of these issues: if you’re displaying content for the nearest beacons, don’t trust the result immediately, put a threshold on when a beacon is considered as “the nearest beacon”.

Screenshot 2015-06-11 01.52.13

  • compensate with the user flow. We’ve been very ambitious: the app would display content as soon as a new beacon was considered the closest. On top of that we’ve set the audio to play automatically. This meant that when things went wrong, the current audio track for the item was interrupted with the false-positive result. Why not advertise that a location is available, but allow the user to confirm interaction in a non-intrusive way.
  • compensate with how you structure your information. E.g. you could cluster several  items around a single beacon, instead of having a really dense setup.
The way you compensate will have its trade offs, so you want to pick the right trade off for your use case.

Different devices will give different results

Besides issues with ranging itself, remember that different iPhone/iPad models will have different chipsets and construction. That will lead to inconsistent results.
Here’s a sample i recorded at the Museum, when standing ~50cm from beacon no 1. (iBeacon was behind glass). Each device was in exactly the same spot.
museum

Spot the iBeacons! ;)

iBeacon Ranging Comparison
As you can see, even the loose definition of the three proximity states …Isn’t loose enough!
  • Immediate: Within a few centimeters
  • Near: Within a couple of meters
  • Far: Greater than 10 meters away

Yeah, right!

To avoid fluctuations between beacons, one of the things I’ve tried was to accept only beacons ranged as “immediate” but it was surprisingly rare to observe that state on the old iPad Retina.

Background location monitoring doesn’t work immediately after boot

This is a really important thing to remember when testing background ranging capabilities. Give it at least 10mins for iOS to start looking for your location in background. If you expect for your app to wake up soon after a restart, it won’t work. iOS is taking its time to wake up all of its background services. This is a rare case when the common “have you tried turning it on and off?” approach, actually makes things worse.
Testing iBeacons will require a bit of patience and may require some ingenuity, just ask Ben Dodson and his — clever way to “simulate” entering and leaving regions:

iBeacon testing means lots of tin foil to check what happens when entering and leaving the region!

A photo posted by Ben Dodson (@bendodson) on

Conclusion

iBeacons aren’t perfect, but they’ve certainly improved. Simple use cases will work pretty well. More complex use cases just require a bit of extra care. The technology enables a lot of new possibilities, from simple ideas like reminding your conference attendees what the WiFi password is when they arrive at your venue, to an immersive shopping or museum experience.
What worries me a little is that we haven’t seen a lot of real case studies in the wild. Imagination’s the limit, but clearly iBeacons haven’t been fully embraced yet. It certainly may be due to their rough start, but as with any technology, if it’s used for its own sake and doesn’t provide actual value to end users, it’s usage is doomed to fail. Can iBeacons actually add real value to the mobile experience? Are they reliable enough to do so? I think so, but during development, make sure you understand their quirks and limitations.

If you want to play with iBeacons, you can do it easily by building something with Glide – our app creation platform. Check it out here.
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I’ve recently wrote a piece for The Loop Magazine about a subject close to my heart that is kind of a taboo at conferences – anxiety, clash of egos, impostor syndrome. The piece is in form of a collective interview with some interesting individuals: Amy Worrall, Barry (Baz) Scott, Carola Nitz, Casey Liss, Stuff MC and Mark Reynolds.

Check it out here: Behind the Mask – The Loop Magazine

Ull Conf 2015

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Úll Conf iOS app

Úll Conf iOS app

This year at Úll Conf I had the pleasure of working with the organisers on creating the Úll iOS app. In order to build and publish the application we used Glide – an app creation platform, which I’m working on with Chris Harris. While the key feature of Glide is easy content collation via Dropbox – which allowed us to easily publish the schedule, photographs and speaker information – we’ve been recently experimenting with Apple’s iBeacons.

The conference took place at the Lyrath hotel, in charming Kilkenny, Ireland. The venue was quite large and had several interesting facilities, that we wanted to expose to the participants of the conference.

On Tuesday morning we’ve sent out a notification and published several clues linked to each place. In each room we’ve setup a kontakt.io beacon. We configured our content to post a notification when the beacon was ranged and unlock content related to the room, which included beautiful illustrations done by Carolina Buzio.

2014-05-04 21.45.36

Overall, everything went well. A few takeaways from the experiment:

  • detecting another beacon in the same region doesn’t usually wake up the app again. One of the workarounds I’m using is continuing to range beacons in background, by requesting a background task. That obviously only works for a finite amount of time.
    Another solution is to use multiple beacons regions, but rememeber that you can track up to 20. You’ll also need re-programmable beacons! As Apple points out, you could reconfigure which regions you’re tracking based on where you are.
  • make sure people have Bluetooth turned on. Biggest “oops!” of the experiment. The app didn’t inform the users to switch on bluetooth.
  • Beacons.

    We used kontakt.io beacons supplied by @dermdaly

    dissapearing beacon bug: one of the bugs that I noticed was that often ranged beacons dissapeared several scans after they were initially ranged. In our case this wasn’t a huge problem, we just needed to range it once, but if you’re depending on the beacon to stick around on that list (while you’re actually in range), it’s a problem.

  • beacons not working until device reboot: it’s 2014 and some people still had to restart their phones in order for beacons to work. No comments here.

 


All iBeacons aside, I highly recommend both Úll Conf and Lyrath :)

 

Lyrath

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Especially with the recent budget cuts, welfare has been a hot topic in the media. However, it’s pretty clear that there is a bit of confusion around what “welfare” really is.

If you’ve studied in the UK as a UK or EU resident just like me, you’ve received between £10,500 – £30,000 of government welfare in form of subsidised tuition. This is something many students don’t even realise and certainly don’t question their entitlement to.

When thinking about welfare and poverty, let’s be clear – we’re all on the same boat. Some of us are just less lucky and more stigmatised for receiving very basic help. Moreover, the money distribution points at a serious inequality issue.

The following video was created by The #GlobalPOV Project in the context of US welfare, but the concepts apply globally. If you feel like you’re the sort of a person who cares about inequality at least a little, I highly recommend you watch it. With economic inequality getting worse every year, this is not an issue which will just go away on its own.

Spread the word:

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If you feel disappointed due to the lack of a new iPhone or a TV – don’t be. WWDC – Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference was always software centric and while there are hardware announcements included, the Keynote was packed with fantastic software updates. After enjoying the whole conference, I’m pleased to report that Apple has “brought it”. What I’m seeing is a consistently strong rate of innovation in both iOS, OS X and even the Web services. Focusing not only on new features, but refining the current set and improving reliability. Even Apple won’t get everything right the first time, but they’ve shown that they can improve instead of abandoning, which can’t be said for a lot of other products and tech companies.

iOS7

The most noticeable change in iOS7 to most people is obviously the user interface overhaul. While the new look is a bit shocking for some and many people are still making up their mind, it’s nice to see that Apple is taking risks and coming up with things the tech community is not comfortable with. The real question is how will the consumers respond, but the most basic interface patterns persist, so I believe that it shouldn’t be a big issue.

Some of the new looks in iOS7 might even seem similar to other existing platforms, but this is not about being unique – it’s about providing users with the best possible experience. To make that happen Apple has introduced many changes to the platform which are unique, hard to execute ideas: a physics-based dynamic and motion aware graphic user interface (which was hinted many times before), and the replacement of old metaphors with more visual depth and simplified controls. Many of these changes are truly stunning, yet the iOS team is not just showing off, the designs feel very purpose-driven and focused on the principal that content comes before the UI. This design direction doesn’t just apply to Apple’s work, it should guide app developers when thinking about their own app designs. It’s a direction we at OTHER media strongly believe in.

Chris Harris and Craig Federighi. Wonders App.

While the details are restricted until Fall (as usual), my feeling is that changes to iOS7 will also have a strong impact on what the app developers can achieve with the platform. That means a new range of apps, which can be implemented on the platform and of course new kinds of solutions to support new and existing businesses. The icing on the cake to these new goodies is as Tim Cook highlighted during the keynote: iOS has an extremely high adoption rate with over 90% of users running the latest version, which means these future features can be used in production very soon after the official release of iOS7.
As a developer, I’m particularly pleased by Apple’s commitment to delivering further improvements to the tools we use. Many are based on feedback left by the developers themselves, which makes the latest releases really great and more efficient to use.

If you round up all these changes, think about the timeframe and last year’s political shifts at Apple, it’s staggering how much this company managed achieve and deliver. All of that makes iOS and OS X still the two strongest platforms out there. The community is excited as always. Apple engineers were very helpful in the labs as always. Overall, WWDC2013 was again a highlight of my year.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 21.46.11

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Those who know me closely will know that besides my passion towards digital technology and app development, I’m particularly interested in: music, entrepreneurship and approach to life. These three put together, make up the “lens” through which I see the world and something that really caught my eye is the amazing story of a band called Genesis and their two former members. Unless you’ve been living on a different planet, you’ve definitely heard hits like Land of Confusion, Invisible Touch, Sledgehammer, In the Air Tonight, I Can’t Dance, Follow You Follow Me, Mama.
The reason I’m writing this is because life is hard. Really hard. For you and me, and for these guys too. You’ve probably never heard about what they went through. It’s easy to look at success and not notice the hardship behind it. Personally, I find this story and their approach very inspiring, so I’d like to share it with you.

Before we had “an Invisible Touch” there was “Genesnooze”

Genesis, circa 1971

Genesis, circa 1971(source)

Genesis formed in 1967 in Surrey, England. Primary members Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford were 17 year old students at the time. You can imagine that the early stages of Genesis were much like any teenage garage band you can find – poor song writing and musicianship, no performance skills.
Yet in 1968, Jonathan King – a songwriter, record producer, novelist – gave Genesis a chance to record an album. The result was From Genesis to Revelation with the single Silent Sun. Its initial sales: 650 copies. The band later admitted that Silent Sun was a “Bee Gees pastiche” written to please Jonathan King. Overall, it was a failure, but as Mike Rutherford recalls:

Jonathan King […] did give us a fantastic opportunity. Because in those days, in England, you couldn’t get in the studio […] to get any sort of record contract, was really magical.

The album doesn’t sound like anything else they later recorded. The band parted ways with King, went its own musical direction and continued playing live. Their music was hypnotic, dark and haunting. Finally they signed with Charisma Records and recorded Trespass. In 1970 Phil Collins joined the band to play on drums.

Peter Gabriel as "Britannia", or "The Moonlit Knight" 1974 (source)

Peter Gabriel as “Britannia”, or “The Moonlit Knight” 1974 (source)

Genesis was becoming popular, but amongst the critics the opinions were mixed. Q Magazine has a description of a 1977 cartoon which shows asleep or comatose fans watching a live performance and a banner on stage reading “GENESNOOZE“. You have to note that at the time – the punk movement was on the rise.

The band later released albums: Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot and Selling England by the Pound, which contained I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) and became their first charting single, reaching #17 on the UK singles charts. The album achieved a “Gold” sales certification in USA, France and “Silver” in the UK.
In 1974, they recorded a double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and embarked on a world tour playing 102 shows!

I Know What I Like from the album Selling England by the Pound

Things got big for Genesis, but then life hit Peter Gabriel… hard.

Peter Gabriel

Tensions were high during The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The band was frustrated with Gabriel’s focus on theatrical performances rather than the music. He also did most of the lyrics on the latest album, which seemed unfair, since the band always shared that responsibility equally. Gabriel’s personal life also got complicated after his wife’s difficult pregnancy and birth of first child Anna-Marie. He opted to stay with his sick daughter and wife, instead of recording and touring, which didn’t help the resentment of the band. Peter Gabriel had to leave Genesis in 1975.

After difficulties and abandonment, Peter carried on and in 1977 he recorded his first solo album, including the song Solsbury Hill, which was inspired by his departure.

I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
[…]
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
[…]
I was feeling part of the scenery

The single was a Top 20 hit in the UK. The first 4 albums were untitled, but due to the artwork – are codenamed: Car, Scratch, Melt and Security. His solo career was evolving, but times were still tough. Low on funds, he asked Phil Collins to play drums for free. In 1982 he reunited with Genesis for a one-off concert in order to recoup debts after the first WOMAD concert – an arts festival founded by Gabriel.

Almost 10 years after Car, Peter Gabriel released So, which achieved #1 album and triple platinum in the UK, five times platinum in the US. The album contained songs like Sledgehammer, Don’t Give Up — a duet with Kate Bush, In Your Eyes (featured in the John Cusack film Say Anything).
The famous video for “Sledgehammer” won nine MTV Video Music Awards in 1987, a record which still stands and is the most played music video in the history of MTV.

So think about this: after 8 years of creative work and friendship, everything you’ve been doing since you were only seventeen – your career and friends suddenly disappear. You’re in a poor financial situation and have a sick family. How much grit do you have to have to continue?

All failures aside, Peter Gabriel has won six Grammy Awards and in 2008 TIME magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Last verse of Solsbury Hill (1976):

Today I don’t need a replacement
I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” I said “You can keep my things,
They’ve come to take me home.”

Phil Collins

After Peter’s departure, Genesis decided to keep going, but needed a lead vocalist. Even though Phil used to sing back-up vocals, he was still primarily a drummer. The band auditioned over 400 candidates, but after a fruitless search they gave up and Collins became the group’s new frontman and lead singer.
A Trick of the Tail (1976) was the first album to feature Collins as the lead and it was a hit. It also helped the band to pay off the $400,000 debt! The album remains one of my personal favourites, due to it’s focus on the intrumental pieces (check it out, it’s so good). After Wind & Wuthering album, Steve Hackett left Genesis, but the band continued and recorded …And Then There Were Three….

Before recording Duke, Collins took an extended leave of absence to save his first marrige. Ultimately he divorced Andrea Bertorelli in 1980, after she started an affair with their painter and decorator. Collins later appeared on the BBC’s Top of the Pops singing “If Leaving Me Is Easy” with a pot of paint and brush positioned on his piano.

His first solo album Face Value opens with the dark and mysterious song In the Air Tonight, inspired by the unfortunate first divorce.

I was there and I saw what you did
Saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin
I know where you’ve been
It’s all been a pack of lies

If you hear someone say “Turn your misfortune into an asset!” – you probably won’t appreciate it, especially when feeling down, but yet again with grit, passion and persistance – good things happen.
Face Value album was a success. In the Air Tonight became the anthem of the iconic 80s TV series Miami Vice:

Genesis moved to Phil’s apartment and composed Duke. The next 4 albums after that were even more successful.

Collins was married and divorced three times. He was married to Jill Tavelman from 1984 to 1996, paid £17M as final settlement. Third wife Orianne Cevey 1999 to 2008, received £25M in settlement.

In 2009 it was reported that Phil cannot play drums after an operation to repair dislocated vertebrae in his neck.

There isn’t any drama regarding my ‘disability’ and playing drums. Somehow during the last Genesis tour I dislocated some vertebrae in my upper neck and that affected my hands. After a successful operation on my neck, my hands still can’t function normally. Maybe in a year or so it will change, but for now it is impossible for me to play drums or piano. I am not in any ‘distressed’ state; stuff happens in life.

After three expensive divorces and health problems, Collins is surprisingly optimistic. In interviews he always states that he’s moved on from Genesis and rock-star life. While some people may see his situation as tragic, this is actually an opportunity to stay near his children and start a second life.

Collins’ total worldwide sales as a solo artist, as of 2000, were 150 million (he’s one of only three recording artists along with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson who have sold over 100 million albums worldwide both as solo artists and as principal band members). He won seven Grammy Awards.
During the 2007 tour, Genesis performed in Rome’s Circo Massimo in front of 500,000 fans. The setlist included several songs from Duke.

Los Endos*

You could take each of these horrible events and narrate them as a nightmare coming true, and it would feel very right to do that. However, even though that’s our usual reaction, what is the point of it? When life hits you, lose the pessimistic narration and focus on what you love, and your passion. You can’t see what really lies ahead – try to imagine how Gabriel’s life must’ve felt right after leaving Genesis or how Phil must’ve felt when his first marrige was falling apart. Listening to their songs there is no doubt that the emotional impact of these events was powerful, but can you think of what would happen, if they didn’t keep their grit?

It really is your choice. You can keep focusing on the disappointment and pain or you could try dealing with failure just like Collins, Gabriel, Banks, Rutherford and Hackett – just keep playing… whatever your song is.

Credits: many facts quoted from Wikipedia, links included in context.
* – “Los Endos” is the closing instrumental piece on “A Trick of the Tail”.

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