Road Tip 1.3 Coming… Eventually

Not that I think very many people were wondering, but I do have an update to Road Tip nearly ready to go. It’s just going to take a while to get it finished and out the door.

The reason, frankly, is that it is literally not worth my time to work on it. Once I’ve paid my quarterly bills to MapQuest for their data service (without which, I wouldn’t have an app at all), my cumulative return on Road Tip is less than I make in four hours of contract programming. I can only justify time on it based on its intellectual interest, because as a professional endeavor, Road Tip has been a five-figure loss for my family’s finances once I account for expenses and the time I took to develop it.

I’m tempted to say you’ve seen the last of me as an indie iPhone developer, but you never know… I vowed not to write another computer book after the wobbling grind that was Swing Hacks, and yet I’m still at it. Best to say that indie development is now much more of a hobby in my mind, completely subordinate to contract programming and writing.

Still, I can’t help myself: I use Road Tip, and want to make it better, if only for myself. So here’s what I’ve gotten done.

  • iOS 4 foregrounding/backgrounding support – This is the big one, of course, and it’s been interesting. I handle backgrounding by opting out of location updates while backgrounded, to save the battery. This causes a number of problems at wake-up time, mostly related to the fact that any data in memory is almost certainly out of date and useless. I handle foregrounding by forcing the user back to the front screen (clearing out the presumably old data on any result page they might be on), and asking Core Location for new location data. Core Location provides timestamps in CLLocation objects, so it’s easy enough to determine if your data is old. Thing is, while I can get an updated coordinate quickly, the reported course will often be wrong (for reasons described in my earlier post on Road Tip), so I have to hold off on enabling the GUI until I have a higher level of confidence that the data supplied by Core Location is accurate.

  • HUD improvements – The “spinner” while you’re waiting for data is interminable on Edge when there’s a lot of data coming back, so I’ve added some status text to give you a better idea of what progress is actually being made. Here’s what that looks like:

  • Freestyle Favorites – The last of the features that I “always meant” to add, this feature lets you add any brand as a favorite, directly from the map screen. What this means is that you’re no longer limited to just the best-known brands from the Settings UI. You can add whatever business names you find along your way. For example, in this screenshot (taken on a family vacation last week), I could use the “make favorite” button to add the “Kahunaville” restaurant inside the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells.

    Freestyle favorites also work in tandem with the main list of favorites. If you tap “make favorite” on a brand from the canned list (like “Burger King” or “Shell”), it will just set the favorite in the main list, and you’ll see that the next time you go to the Settings app.

    BTW, the one decent critical review I got on Road Tip (as opposed to the usual anonymous 1-star haters) complained about my use of the Settings app. That was a consequence of one of my top design goals: nothing finicky in the main app. Meaning that I wanted the main app to be very “glanceable” and work with coarse gestures, not the kind of UI that requires your full attention. This is, after all, meant for use in a moving vehicle: anything distracting is bad. Heck, if iOS had a speech API, the app would be better off being completely hands-free. Anyways, scrolling through a list of brands to pick favorites is something you can do at home, and therefore can be done the Settings app (per Apple’s guidance to developers, I might add). But looking at it, I thought that putting a big “make favorite” button (which can also be un-set with a second tap) was a sufficiently coarse, non-distracting action, and potentially very handy.

  • Retina-friendly display – Despite the fact that you should be looking at Road Tip’s screen as little as possible, I did join Glyphish’s Kickstarter project so I could get Retina-display-friendly @2x icons. Kimberly Daniel of Vantage Point Creations also reworked the app icon to have a nice bezel and pre-rendered gloss

  • Purchase UI improvements – During an in-app purchase talk at CocoaHeads Ann Arbor, our group leader got confused by the long latency in pressing the “buy” button and getting the system-provided confirmation dialog. A new “purchasing…” HUD fills that gap.

All that work is done. So what’s the delay? Bugs, mostly. The backgrounding/foregrounding support has turned up some issues that either are new in iOS 4 or were always there, but never exposed because the app used to get re-launched when it was needed, rather than running indefinitely. The biggest problem at the moment is a bug where the “view all upcoming services” mode continues to get old results from whatever the first location was you searched from. Actually, it gets the freeway name right (even if you’ve since turned onto another freeway), but provides exits from the previous search results.

I’m also getting some “junk” characters in some freeway names that aren’t getting stripped out, as seen at the top of this screen.

I think it might take one full day to work through these bugs, and maybe another day to get everything set for an update submission (I have to re-write some of the help text and re-shoot some of the screenshots). So I’ll get to it at some point. I just don’t know when. Probably in the next few weeks… no promises, though.

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