Today, with a single tweet, the note-taking app Vesper has officially been shuttered. At its release, Vesper was widely promoted by the Apple indie developer communtiy as the hot new thing to try. More than anything else, it had an excellent pedigree, with influential blogger John Gruber of Daring Fireball at the helm. Many hopeful users switched to it for their primary note-taking needs, expecting that features like Mac support would arrive in short order. If any app from this circle was destined to be a breakaway hit, it was this one. And now, with barely a mention, it’s all but swept away, years after langishing with barely an update.Continue Reading...
Composer’s Sketchpad 1.2 is out! This is a major update with several new features, including audio export (via AAC), a new tool for shifting notes along the time axis, and a one-finger drawing mode. I figured this might be a good opportunity to write about something a bit more on the creative side: icon design!Continue Reading...
Blog comments are out, blog responses are in — and so I thought I’d respond to John Gruber’s recent article titled “Headphone Jacks Are the New Floppy Drives”. Here’s why I think removing the headphone jack would be a bad idea at this moment in time:
- Poor wireless options and standards. I use Bluetooth headphones and I love them, but they’re a world of compromises. Audio quality is far from lossless, and not just because of the codecs: with the sound off, you are likely to hear noise and static from the radio right next to your ear. (This does not bother me, but would drive many people crazy.) Switching between devices is a pain. Pairing is a pain. You have to remember to charge them. There is unbearable latency for games and occasionally even movies. Few audiophile-level headphone makers bother with Bluetooth headphones, leaving us with just the consumer brands. They can only be as powerful as the battery-powered driver. Might Apple introduce a new wireless codec that tackles all of these pain points? Sure. But then we get:
- Vendor lock-in. Apple Wireless or Lighning headphones wouldn’t be compatible with much else. Not a problem for cheap earbuds, but definitely a big deal for high-quality, $400+ headphones. After years of freedom, audio would be siloed. As Gruber mentions, this is in Apple’s best interests; but among all our gadgets, headphones have always been among the most universal and independent. They are a true analog path between our disparate electronics — an intuitive and surprisingly error-free technology in a world where devices routinely refuse to talk to each other. You wouldn’t find yourself spending an hour helping your mom troubleshoot the headphone jack. This change would be a major pain point, especially when it comes to:
- Loss of plug-and-play. I constantly plug my headphones from my phone to my laptop and back. Bluetooth can sort of do this, but it always takes me about a minute with my wireless headphones. With Lightning headphones, it wouldn’t even be a possibility. (Barring Lightning-endowed Macbooks, which would be utterly bizzarre. What else would that port be used for? How would it be differentiated from USB-C?) A once-flexible workflow would be completely subverted.
- Needless complication. Headphones are a very simple thing: just a wire leading to drivers. Very few things can go wrong in this arrangement, as evidenced by the proven durability and versatility of headphones over the past few decades. Headphone makers have gotten really good at working with these few parameters to create truly world-class audio devices. Indeed, some of the most esteemed headphones in the low-end audiophile space (I’m thinking of Grados) are basically glued together by hand in a workshop. If we start shoving more electronics — Lightning circuitry or a DAC, most obviously — into headphones, we make this proven system far more brittle than it needs to be. Headphones will malfunction in frustrating ways. Noise will be introduced. Designs will become more bloated to accommodate the extra circuitry. Every headphone having its own DAC is like every monitor having its own video card: clearly putting technology on the wrong side of the divide.
What is all this for? What do we gain in return?Continue Reading...
I wanted Composer’s Sketchpad to have the ability to represent musical notes at any pitch. In order to do this, I needed to solve two problems: representing arbitrary pitches internally and making them compatible with MIDI.Continue Reading...
Before starting any work on Composer’s Sketchpad, I had to ask myself: was the app as I envisioned it even possible to make? My initial goals were as follows:
- Have an (effectively) infinite canvas with a large number of notes visible at once.
- Allow the canvas to zoom and pan with without any lag.
- Allow the canvas to zoom without the notes losing any sharpness.
- Have notes belonging to the current layer blur or fade when the layer switches.
- Allow the notes to stretch and skew when the grid scale changes without distorting their appearance. (I ended up dropping this for the release version.)
- Have the whole thing run at 60fps on my iPad 3.
I had barely done any graphics programming up to this point, so I had to feel out the limits of OpenGL as I blindly barged ahead — always a painful way to develop a project.Continue Reading...
Just last month, I released my first major project for the iPad: Composer’s Sketchpad!
Composer’s Sketchpad is an interactive, “doodle-y” take on music sequencing and notation. When you launch the app, you’re presented with a giant canvas that can be panned around with your finger. The canvas is covered with a grid, indicating time on the horizontal axis and pitch on the vertical. To draw musical notes, you hold down the canvas with one finger and draw with another. (You can also zoom using a similar gesture.) Unlike most sequencers, the app lets you start your notes at any time and bend them to any pitch, giving you the ability to sketch out twisted solos and complex rhythms with no extra effort. You can also snap to the gridlines if you wish.Continue Reading...
Loose-leaf tea is a bit of a finicky hobby. Unlike the boring old teabag, you can’t just dump a bunch of tea leaves in a cup of boiling water and expect good results. At the very least, you need a way to strain your tea leaves quickly and without burning yourself. Many tea geeks enjoy the use of gaiwans for this purpose — small, lidded cups whose shape and thermal properties make them useful as single-serving teapots.
But what do you do when you travel?Continue Reading...
Shortly after I posted my Klean Kanteen review, Stanely offered to send me one of their own bottles to play around with: the 64oz Classic Vacuum Growler. I was quite happy with the build quality of the Stanleys I saw at REI, so at risk of becoming a professional growler reviewer, I figured I’d give this bottle an equally thorough look.Continue Reading...
I noticed an interesting problem with the Apple Pencil while developing my app. It seems that if you’re using the Pencil while simultaneously using a gesture recognizer (as, for instance, in a scroll view), touch processing goes into slow motion. (Approximately half-speed, according to some quick measurements.) Seems there’s some sort of interference between Pencil and gesture event processing. Notably, the framerate remains stable while this is happening.Continue Reading...
I made a Mac app! It’s called Backgroundifier, and it turns any image into a desktop background. (But it’s better for fine art and illustration.)Continue Reading...