Getting ready for another busy month here at 9magnets, so took some time today to take a look at various download and usage statistics we keep for our various projects in order to gain some more insight into what we’re doing and if it’s working or not.
After looking through our data, I found something specific that I wanted to share with other iOS developers: app usage by device type for the past six months of our most popular app. The data set consists of 1.4 million uses of Battery Go! Plus, and should be interesting data for developers looking to make platform decisions for the next 3-6 months.
For those of you who don’t know, Battery Go! Plus is the sequel to the first app we ever developed, and by far the most popular app we’ve ever built. Since launching on August 26th, 2011, the app has been downloaded by 663,062 people in 203 different countries/territories. We never imagined that we’d ever see an application that would be so popular when we began development a few years back, and it’s been a great learning tool for us as we’ve continued to work full time here at 9magnets.
As a note before I start showing charts, it is important to mention that we don’t have detailed enough data to share with regards to which iOS version our users are running (something we’re looking to add do here in the future). It also could be helpful to check out posts from other developers before making any decisions on target platform. Some developers, like Instapaper founder Marco Arment, have found their app usage to be significantly different that what we have.
With regards to why our data is different than Marco’s, specifically with respect to iPod touch usage, I feel as if a simple answer may lie in the fact that Instapaper is a service that is likely to be used most often by more advanced users who want to read during a commute or when on the go using the iPhone’s constant 3G connectivity. Battery Go! Plus is a battery management tool that is most useful to the novice user who may have picked up an iPod touch as a way to take a tiny step toward iOS before committing to a 2-year contract iPhone leap. I’m not sure either app gives a true look at the entire platform, and each is likely on an opposite end of the usage spectrum with the true device breakdown falling somewhere in-between.
The first chart I wanted to show off is our usage by device type. This data is from 9/1/11 to 3/1/12 and represents 1.4 million uses of Battery Go! Plus. While this number is rather small in comparison to the top apps in the store, it’s large enough that we think it gives a good look at the entire iOS ecosystem. As I mentioned above, our iPod touch usage data seems rather high compared to other data I have seen across the web. I think the fact that our app is used more by novice users contributes to this anomaly, but I can’t be certain. Regardless of the exact split, it’s clear that while the iPad is selling in vast quantities, the iPhone and iPod touch remain far and away more successful for the time being. It’ll be interesting to see how the iPad 3 helps bump it’s figure here, as the iPad’s overall adoption slope is steeper through it’s first 2 years than the iPhone’s was, and we could easily see a future in the next 2-3 years where iPad sales are equal to or greater than iPhone and iPod touch sales.
The second (and perhaps more interesting) chart that I wanted to show off was with regards to what countries are using the application most. I’ve separated the top 5 countries here from the rest of the world, to give perspective as to how powerful the top handful of territories are when it comes to overall sales/downloads. As you can see, the USA, UK, China, South Korea, and Germany account for 60% of our overall downloads over the past six months.
It’s important to note that the UK being #1 on our usage by country list is a bit atypical. In early January, we were featured as a “top free app” by a popular UK based publication, which slingshotted us into the #9 spot on the top free apps list in the country for a few days. This definitely skews the data significantly and while the UK has always done well for us, it typically would fall at spot number 7 or 8 on a list like this, and not number 1.
The most interesting data in this set is the rise of China in App Store downloads over the past year or so. While both the USA and China come in at 12% on this graph, China actually edged out the USA by a few thousand uses over the past 6 months. It’s data like this, along with Apple’s direct emphasis of Chinese-focused features in OS X Mountain Lion that make us increasingly confident that China could be Apple’s leading market in the next 2-3 years. That’s a pretty bold statement, and we’d be extremely interested to see how other developer’s usage data compares to ours when it comes to China. But no matter how you slice it, it doesn’t look as if China’s hand in App Store economics will be diminishing any time soon. While we see the UK’s success here as an exception because we’ve seen prominent promotion in the country, China’s download figures have seen long-term usage patterns consistent with what we typically see in other countries.
Hopefully you found this post to be of interest. If you have any questions or your own thoughts/data that you’d like to share, feel free to send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The kind folks over at Manning Publications were nice enough to send over a pre-release copy of their upcoming book, Windows Phone 7 in Action the other day. We do a lot of iPhone and iPad development, but obviously we’re always looking to learn more and expand into different markets or platforms if it makes sense. As such, I was really interesting in receiving a review copy of the book, as I wanted to know if it would be a good resource for teams like ours, who specialize in iOS or Android and want to pick up a potential Windows Phone project or two.
The book does not disappoint in being an outstanding resource for mobile developers looking to take the leap to Windows Phone 7. While not completely finalized, the review copy I received contained over 500 pages covering a wide variety of Windows Phone functionality and features. The book starts with a short history of the young platform, and then follows into well-structured sections on core functionalities of the operating system, Silverlight, and XNA.
Each chapter is broken into short, concise chunks on a specific topic. For example, a section on photo manipulation begins with viewing device photos, then follows with further information on saving photos to library or editing photos in the library, with additional text on sharing photos to wrap everything up. Sequence and structure in the book makes a lot of sense, and will be easily understandable to anyone familiar with mobile development.
One neat feature about the book is that there is a fair amount of code to lend a hand, along with a great deal of insight on interface design as well. For individuals or teams of 2-3 guys looking to create a Windows Phone app, this helps make the book even more valuable as it really is a one-stop source for pretty much everything you need to know to get started on the platform.
Overall, I would definitely recommend the book. As a bonus, Manning has also provided an exclusive excerpt in PDF format, in case you’re interested in reading a bit before making the purchase. The book is available through their early access program today, and will be available in print and eBook here in a few months.
If you run a small independent iOS/Mac development studio and do a lot of contract work like we do, you understand how difficult it is to keep projects flowing. It’s a difficult dance that we’re just now getting decent at. Too few projects and we don’t know if we’re going to be able to eat next week. Too many projects, and we have to turn away great work because we can’t get around to it in a timeframe acceptable to the client.
As we get better at iOS development, we’re going to do a bit more advertising for our client development services over the next few months. But before we make any investment in advertising, we wanted to know which days of the week our potential clients were most likely to contact us. If we’re going to run something like a Google AdWords campaign, we should probably only run such an ad on the days that people are most likely to get in touch.
Luckily for us, I’ve been tracking internally every lead of note that we’ve received for the past 18 months. That’s 192 project leads to use as data in order to determine which day of the week we’re most likely to receive an email from a potential client.
We assumed that Friday was a bad day to advertise, as many potential clients probably didn’t want to get started on something right before the weekend. But what day would be best? We didn’t want to make any assumptions, and instead wanted the data to speak for itself. After a few Excel functions, this is what we came up with:
As you can see, Tuesday is apparently the day that we are most likely to be contacted by a potential client. We didn’t do any regression analysis or anything to determine if there was statistical significance here, but we’re happy enough with this simple return. It makes sense that people would be busy catching up on Monday, and then become less motivated to start something new as the week progressed from Tuesday. Interesting enough, we do still see a good deal of activity on weekends as people are away from work and maybe looking to kickoff a personal app project in their free time.
We hope that this data is useful for you as you look to build your app development business. We’ve never seen anyone blog on the topic before, and we were interested in the data, so we wanted to share. If you have any questions or comments from your own experiences (or if you’d love for 9magnets to help you out with a future project), feel free to email me at email@example.com.
We’ve been working on a new app over at 9magnets, which I’m real excited about and should be released here in the next week or two. Every new app is exciting as you get to witness the birth of an idea, it’s growth into maturity, and its final release out to the world.
A big part for any designer in that process is the app icon, serving as a first impression for potential users in the App Store or on a device home screen. If extra time or money goes into any part of app’s design, it should probably be spent on the icon.
But it doesn’t take a whole lot of money or an experienced Photoshop graphic artist to create an attractive icon, just stay simple and stick to some easy tricks. Here’s a look at the icon for our upcoming app Shove, along with some instruction on how to re-create the look. I’ve also attached the PSD file at the end for download in hopes that it helps as well.
For Shove, I wanted to build a colorful, yet simple icon that would stand out on an iPhone or iPad home screen. While basic, I think I achieved that and hope you can learn a bit from my work.
- First, and maybe most important, is the selection of a primary color. For this app, color was dictated heavily by a service that we’re building the app upon. I liked this shade of purple because it’s distinct and not a common iOS icon color that’s over used like blue, steel silver, or a leather/wood pattern.
- I’ve used #c40a68 as solid background color, then added pattern and gradient overlay blending options to add texture and depth. I’ve used the overlay blend mode for each blend, about 80% on a sandstone pattern and 20% on a black-to-white gradient. The texture breaks up the simplicity of a solid color and the gradient overlay is an easy way to simulate the effect of a light source on the icon.
- Next, I’ve added an angled crop of pure white, to which I’ve also applied an overlay layer style tuned down to 15%. This gives a gloss or reflection effect to the icon.
- Now I need to create the box and arrow shape that will be the center of attention for the icon. I’ve used a regular rectangle and a rounded rectangle to make the box shape, as you can see in the screenshots below. The application involves pushing out short messages, much like an email, and I’ve often seen an icon similar to this shape used as a universal symbol for outgoing email.
Commonly accepted symbols are important when designing interfaces, as they are quickly familiar to the user. Much like a traffic yield sign would look out of place if drawn on a sign of any shape other than a rounded triangle, so I don’t want to diverge too far from generally accepted practices.
- I’m going to begin the design of this shape by merging the rounded rectangle and squared off rectangle into a solid shape. Then, I’m going to crop a box and circle out of the center of the shape in order to re-create the common “inbox” shape.
- It’s time now to include the arrow into the icon shape, but I just can’t merge the arrow because it will blend in color with the background box and make an incoherent mess. So I’m going to select the shape of the arrow, then remove 15 pixels to the left of the arrow’s center point as well as 15 pixels to the right of the center point.
- I finally have the shape of our icon’s focus point perfected at this point, so it’s time to give it some depth and texture. I’ve used a melting pot of blending options here, and you should feel free to try your hand at what feels best for your icon.
There’s an extremely subtle outer glow in my final version, with a strong inner glow to give the impression of a shadow so that the icon looks as if it is cut into the background. An inner bevel expounds upon this illusion, giving volume to the inside edges. I’ve also used the bevel’s texture property to give a bit of a rugged look. Finally, I’ve used the stroke style to emphasize and harden the lines of the box and arrow shape a bit further as well.
Once I’ve thrown everything together, I’m left with a pretty good looking icon that has a nice pop when sitting on an iPhone. I hope you’ve found this tutorial to be of use in the creation of your own icon. If you need a bit more help, here’s the Photoshop file so that you can poke around a bit.
John Gruber over at Daring Fireball wrote an great piece last Friday about Apple’s recent advantages in the market with regards to being able to build a first-class device at a price competitors are unable to compete with. He followed it up today with a post on keeping score in the mobile phone market, and how Apple is wiping the floor with their competitors.
I couldn’t agree more with John on these topics, and I think that Apple’s advantages currently with the iPhone and iPad are blatantly obvious to the mainstream market and average user. They’re the best devices in their respective classes and Apple’s reaping a huge percentage of the profits as a result.
But there are two areas in which I feel Apple can still grow immensely and reach potential beyond anyone’s current expectations; the television and the Macintosh. While it’s always difficult to predict how Apple will move, I believe that there’s a good deal of evidence that the company is going to make major shifts in the way in which we view each product in the next 18 months or so. These will be paradigm-shifting changes, much in line with how the iPhone and iPad revolutionized the mobile phone and tablet markets. And its in these potential changes that Apple’s next big advantage lies, but it appears as if no one (and especially Apple’s competitors) haven’t even began to recognize the ace that the company is currently holding.
The need for a better television solution has been quite apparent for a while now. I think that it’s obvious that conquering the TV has been on Steve Jobs’ mind for at least the last five years. The company insists that the product has and will continue to be a hobby, but I don’t see this as the full truth. Apple’s recent (probably considered internally as the post-PC) product history has given us the death of small-market products such as the XServe or even Final Cut Pro (as most geeks imagine it), so it doesn’t make sense for Apple to keep themselves in the television market unless they plan on establishing a serious presence. Under the philosophy of Apple, if you’re going to do something, you do it to be the best in the world. And you’re not the best in the world if you’re just a “hobby.”
I’m not sure it’s this year still, probably more likely to be mid-2012, but I think we’ll see a major revision to Apple’s TV platform. This will come as either a full-fledged television itself (if the company can produce a high enough quality set at a comparable price), a revision to the current set-top box, or some sort of combination of both devices. The device will probably have it’s own native app system, as the device currently runs iOS, as well as a way to connect to iPhone, iPad, or Macintosh products over AirPlay and wireless screen mirroring. Television is really the final frontier for Apple with regards to creating a successful product for every typical product in the home-computing spectrum. While I have difficulty imagining a world in which Apple produces their own television set (I feel as if the current set-top experience is fine enough), I think Apple has to make an advance here and they recognize this.
The second monumental shift that I see Apple making in the next 18 months or so is with the Macintosh. Call it a gut feeling, but I believe serious winds are blowing inside the Cupertino offices with regards to everyone’s favorite product.
We’ve seen a few rumors about this change already, when leaks of an A5 powered Macbook Air surfaced back in May. The rumors didn’t carry much weight however, with many questioning as to if it would be possible to run OS X on an A5, or others suggesting that the prototype was more of a bargaining chip against Intel than anything else.
But I think the truth is, Apple’s still very much at work at an A5 Macbook Air. And there will be no need to worry about the OS X to ARM conversion much either, as it will be running iOS. That’s right, I’d venture a wager (or worse yet, dare to be bookmarked as claim chowder by Gruber) that we’ll see Macbook Air revisions released by mid-2013 that will be running a new iOS operating system.
The reasoning behind all of this is the ace Apple currently holds that I had mentioned earlier; convergence. When Apple finally follows through with this revision schedule, they’ll have what none of their competitors are capable of producing. A unified operating system that works flawlessly on a phone, tablet, desktop computer, and the television.
I don’t think I need to go into much detail on why this would be beyond ideal (and this post is already getting long enough), but the opportunities are endless. Buy an app once and it could be universal amongst all of your devices in a single binary package. Use your television as a second monitor to preview work instantaneously on a big 50” display when working in Final Cut Pro. While it’s not extremely difficult for Mac developers to pick up iOS now, imagine just how much lower the barrier for entry would be if there were only one operating system. Desktop applications could easily and nearly effortlessly develop cross-devise companions, where the iPhone or iPad is used as an interface aid and the complete experience would be flawless.
The use of iOS across all major platforms would be magnum opus of Steve Jobs’ final years at Apple. In 1984, he set out to create the computer for everyone. By 2013, he will have driven the creation of a computing ecosystem for everyone, where without hassle or need for configuration, all of our devices will “just work” in harmony. This convergence will create an even better app ecosystem for all devices, as programmers will be able to build better applications with much less work and users will be able to pick up a new device and immediately understand and interlink the new product with their existing catalog of applications, music, documents, videos, and digital life.
None of Apple’s rivals in could compete with such a universal line of digital products. Microsoft currently depends upon Windows Phone 7 for the phone, Windows 8 is anticipated to be the future for tablets and the desktop, and the XBox 360 looks to remain the center of the television experience for the next few years. There’s absolutely no simple way for a Windows user to tie together their experiences as elegantly as this potential Apple solution.
The closest competitor with a chance to accomplish this is Google, and even their current strategies have significant roadblocks. Android is wildly successful on the phone, but it can’t gain traction in either the tablet or television markets. On the desktop, Chrome OS and the web apps in the browser remain supreme in the eyes of Googlers.
This becomes problematic as the company has truly backed a “build once, run everywhere” mentality with regards to solving the problem of software and as such, most developers of the platform refuse to upgrade their application to better support tablets or instead stick with developing web-based applications that can’t compete with the slickness or responsiveness of a native app.
It’s when looking at Android that Apple’s strategy comes full circle, in that by using the same core operating system and working extensively to perfect for each platform, users are given an exceptional app ecosystem full of amazing applications that are tailored for each specific device while allowing developers to produce in one common native language. It’s absolutely brilliant.
But of course, my ideal strategy relies upon the successful development and release of an iOS Macbook Air. The hardware in it’s current state seems ideal for the platform, so I’d imagine that it’s primarily a software problem at this point. iOS on the desktop is going to be a drastically different experience than anything that geeks are familiar with, and will likely bear little resemblance to it’s predecessor in OS X. I’d imagine full-screen applications, no desktop or dock and instead a Launchpad-esque default experience, complete file-system sandboxing, all applications will require review approval, and we’ll probably lose the USB ports in favor of only a single Thunderbolt port. To say that this computer will be a drastic change for most users will probably be an understatement.
It’s also obvious that Apple has to move beyond OS X here soon, and I don’t think it’s far fetched to believe that Lion is the final major release platform. Apple’s a company that’s always placed a fair amount of symbolism in their marketing and design, and I don’t feel as if you call your operating system revision Lion or have the default wallpaper for beta developer builds be the peak of a mountain unless you plan on the release on being the end of the road. So what better time than Apple’s next major operating system release, and what better platform than iOS?
And of course there will be critics, foaming from the mouth with future shock mere minutes after Tim Cook and company reveal such a devise on stage. They’ll say that it’s too simple, too locked down, lacking in hardware ports required by power users, or that it’s just an iPad with a keyboard. A product so simple compared to the diverse features and openness of competitors surely can’t win out.
But much like the iPad was just a big iPod touch, this new computer will revolutionize the computing industry. It’ll be the only product that could disrupt the decades old, entrenched market that is the PC market. And if profit share of iOS devices compared to competitors in the phone and tablet industries are any indicator, Apple stands to make a good deal of money on this new product as well.
Powered by the convergence of iOS on the four major platforms in personal computing, there will not be a more complete and satisfactory experience than planning a short vacation with friends using the iPad while on the train, recording a few photos and video in HD during the trip using the high-resolution video camera of an iPhone, editing the video on a desktop computer, and then showing it off to family on a television in the living room. All without ever thinking about final management, transferring video over a wire, burning the final movie to a disk, or connecting an old DVD player to a TV.
Nope, it’ll just work instead. Just like Steve Jobs has always told us it should.
The simple summer project that started it all now has a user base worldwide of 500,000 users. Half a million people have used Battery Go! or Battery Go! Plus and while we can’t even begin to comprehend that number, we do want to thank each and every one of you that helped us reach such a milestone.
To our friends, families, girlfriends (one of which has now become wife during Battery Go’s life), the tech reviewers, journalists, the tweeters, those of you who left great reviews in the App Store (heck, even those who left negative reviews), and anyone else who contributed to our success, we thank you. We’re humbled and honored at reaching this amazing number, and we couldn’t have done it without you.
Here are a few stats about the history of Battery Go!
- Originally released on July 5th, 2009.
- Used by people in 181 countries worldwide.
- The most popular country for the app is South Korea, followed by the USA, then China.
- At it’s peak, Battery Go! climbed to the #72 paid app spot in the US. For a nearly a week, it was the #1 paid application overall in the Netherlands.
- Our first day of work as app developers was May 13th, 2009. Battery Go! was first submitted to Apple on June 13th, exactly one month after we started.
- It wasn’t all fun and games at first, as the app was rejected twice before finally making it into the App Store.
- The app was originally going to be called Battery Life, but that name wasn’t available. After about 10 minutes of attaching random words to the end of Battery, we came up with Go!, liked the sound, and it stuck.
- Here’s the first review (that we’re aware of) for Battery Go! by PC Magazine. Since then, the app has been featured in Macworld, the New York Times, TUAW, App Advice, The Chicago Sun-Times, and many other publications.
- Battery Go! has gone through a good deal of design, artistic, and conceptual changes since that initial 1.0 release. Here’s a screenshot comparing the first release to today’s current version.
We wouldn’t be here today without Battery Go, as it provided inspiration for us to become full-time indie developers. We’re going on just over a year now here at 9magnets, and we’re really excited with what the future holds for us in the months ahead.
Working on iOS application design, I spend a good deal of time in Finder. Whether I’m searching for a specific file, copying files from one folder or another, or organizing the mess that is my Documents folder, it can be quite a mess.
So when I found TotalFinder, I was a bit excited to try it out and see if the application could live up to its promise and make Finder more manageable. I’ve been using it for about two weeks now, and without a doubt, the app has definitely helped make me more efficient.
TotalFinder is a Finder plug-in, and can be found at BinaryAge for an affordable $15. After a quick installation and reboot of the Finder applictaion, TotalFinder is ready to go and will become a permanent (at least until we uninstall the app) piece of Finder.
The most simple (and maybe most accurate) way to describe the app is “Finder on steroids.” For my work, it has two features that are extremely useful; tabbed browsing and a split pane view.
Tabbed Finder works much like you would expect a modern web browser to work. We can create tabs, then cycle through multiple Finder windows with a quick click. If you work as a designer and have piles of folders containing different art elements like I do, this is a killer feature. Often I find myself drowning in Finder, with 5 or 6 different windows floating around on my desktop. With TotalFinder, this is no problem and I can have as many tabs as I’d like open on the same window. Can’t explain enough how great this feature is.
Split pane view is also another great feature, allowing for two windows to sit side by side. We do a bit of work with clients who want updates to a previous application we’ve built, or who want to build a new app using an existing code base we had build previously. This will often leave me dragging and dropping or comparing files between two different folders quite often.
Having two windows side by side like this makes the comparison much, much easier. If you have any experience doing the sort of work where you compare files often, the above screenshot should be enough to make you drop $15 on the app right now alone.
Overall, TotalFinder has been a great experience over two weeks and I can’t see not installing it on any computer I buy here in the future. It’s extremely affordable and once you’ve used it for a couple days, you can’t believe that Finder doesn’t have some of these features built it out of the box.
For any designer or developer that relies upon Finder frequently, can’t suggest TotalFinder enough. Check it out, download the demo, then see how it helps you out.
QUICK UPDATE: Wanted to make a big clarification that I missed out on last night. Spoke with Tom Merritt of Tech News Today on the TWiT network, who noticed that Instagram does mention that they’re taking location here. In the “Where” cell, there is now a field that declares that we’ve been located and had I missed this.
UPDATE 2: Received some clarification from Instagram. Tapping the green location circle will not share location for a particular photo. Seems wonky that the service would be opt-out, not opt-in, but glad they responded with clarification. For more info, feel free to read their support page here.
Anyone have any insight as to when this started happening? Has it always been this way? Could have sworn that this setting was not the default on past Instagram builds, but I’m not sure as to when exactly it was implemented.
While this does change the context of the post a bit, I must say I am still disappointed that there is no way to clear the located value. Tapping the “Where?” field gives us no option to not the share location for a phone. If we don’t want people to know where we’re at, we’re going to have the revoke Location Services from the app for good.
So while I do feel as if this is still in contradiction to how location should be properly handled on iOS, Instagram does at least mention that we have been located before we submit our photo. It’s just not entirely clear still that the location will be sent and we have no way to not include our location unless we want to revoke Location Services permission and never include our location with a photo.
I’m assuming that you’ve heard by now, but Apple’s had a bit of an embarrassing situation this last week with regards to location services.
Learning that the device keeps track of our movement shouldn’t be an absolute surprise, it is a GPS. When we sit and think about it, it makes sense for Apple to keep a history of location, as the information is useful in making future data more accurate and building a better service.
So this is my hunch, and I may be wrong about this, but it isn’t that Apple keeps the database of our location that has everyone up in arms. It’s the fact that we didn’t know just what sort of data was being kept on the phone that caused panic. Had Apple said upfront that they’re holding such data secure on our phone, this never would have been an issue.
While the lawyer types are sitting back and drafting up potential legal action against Apple, maybe it is best for us developers and Apple diehards to begin a bit of public discourse on what we believe is acceptable, in hopes that Cupertino will be reading and possibly taking our concerns into consideration. I know that Apple has never been a company to give user opinion much credence in the past, but I do believe that the people who work at One Infinite Loop are as a whole, great people who truly care about their user base.
So with that aside, let me bring up an issue that I became aware of tonight which I deem to be unacceptable as a user. It also just so happens to be something that I think is a great example of just why location disclosure needs to be more transparent on iOS.
I’m a huge fan of Instagram. It’s a great service where you take a quick picture, add a fun artistic filter, and then the photo is posted for the world to see. In all honesty, it’s probably one of the best applications I’ve used, and I’ve taken over 100 photos using the service. So where’s my beef and how could I find fault in something I enjoy so much?
When I first installed Instagram a few months back, I mindlessly tapped “Yes” the first time I saw the standard “This application wants to use location services, is this OK?” prompt. I’m typically fairly conservative with regards to what apps I give location privileges to, because while I’m not a very private person and love Foursquare as much as anyone else, I feel as if my current location is something sacred and I should explicitly be giving an app permission to use. When I use Foursquare or Facebook Places, I know very well that my location will be shared, which is why I’m using the application in the first place.
After poking around Instagram a bit, I noticed that the app voluntarily allows you to tag a location for a photo and share the photo with it’s location on Foursquare. Great, if I want to share my location with a photo, the ability is there. If I don’t want to share for a specific photo, no worries, my location is private and the world will only see my horrible attempt at art.
Or so I thought until tonight, when I learned that the application behaves in a way entirely different than I had imagined for months, and I’m assuming differently than most of you expect as well.
Silliness aside, I had taken a picture of a rather large spider I found and posted the photo to Twitter in hopes that someone would know what type of spider it was. I tapped on the link to show a family member the photo when I saw this…
Huh. That’s weird, there’s a fairly accurate map of my general location (at least within a 5-10 mile radius from the center of the map) posted next to my photo. I was pretty certain that I didn’t share my location with Foursquare when I posted the photo, so how did Instagram get this location data? I posted another photo as a test, being sure to not share my location this time in case I had made a mistake.
As you can tell, my girlfriend wasn’t so pleased that I was investigating iPhone location disclosure while on a FaceTime chat, but these are the things a developer does regardless of the circumstance. And again, there is that map, that I explicitly didn’t tell Instagram to include with my photo. Weird.
My next thought was that I was maybe overreacting? Maybe it knew my general location from some period of time and posted my home as the default location for all photos I don’t share with Foursquare? That still wouldn’t be ideal, but maybe it would be less bad? I decided to check out a photo that I had taken a few weeks back while attending a soccer game in Chicago.
Nope, there is that damn map again. It’s accurate within about 5 miles again too. And like the last two, I didn’t share my location with the app using it’s Foursquare tie in and the “Location?” field was left blank.
When I saw this map, I was a bit let down by Instagram. Here’s a great service, one of my favorites even, that I felt was kinda stealing my location data from me without my permission. I went back to the app one more time to see if that little location arrow had been sitting in the status bar the entire time, because then it would be my fault, right? Then they had been telling me straight up that they’re taking my location and I was just too dumb to see the tell-tale sign right in front of my face?
EDIT: Turns out, Instagram does tell us that we’re being located, I was just apparently blind and missed it. The “Where?” cell mentions that the app knows where we are, although it doesn’t give you an option to not share your location. For more info, see the “Update” text at the top of the article.
Nope, that wasn’t it. The arrow didn’t even show up on the status bar for a brief moment during the entire photo submission process. I double checked Foursquare to guarantee I wasn’t wrong and that it showed the location arrow at all times…
Hell, I didn’t even tell Foursquare that I wanted to share my location for sure yet, and they’re already showing me that little arrow.
I decided to give Instagram one more test. Maybe they were taking the EXIF data from the photo and not the GPS data from my iPhone? This would still be a somewhat shady move, but possibly a bit more forgivable? So I turned off location services for Instagram, took a photo, and this is what I found when I visited the sharing link.
Nope, no location data given in the shared link when I don’t give the app permission to use location services. At this point, total disappointment with Instagram set it. So what have I learned?
- Instagram does ask you if it’s OK to use your location, like a good percentage of apps in the store.
- However, when you share a photo, Instagram asks you for your location and if you’d like to share that location with Foursquare. If you’re a dumbass like me, you assume that they’re not going to share the location for the photo you took unless you explicityly enter something into the location field.
- Turns out that I was wrong (and I’m guessing that a lot of people made the same assumptions I did) and that even if you don’t assign your photo a location, Instagram is still going to broadcast your location to the world.
- That’s right. They’re broadcasting the location in which you took the photo to the entire world, since each posted photo is given a public link and user libraries are public by default, requiring explicit user action in the options menu in order to make libraries private.
- I’m not sure I trust Instagram anymore. Even worse, it really makes me question what other apps are tracking my location for reasons other than they make apparent on first glance.
I’m sure some of you may think I’m overreacting, but I’m typically fairly liberal with giving out my personal information on the internet and even this kinda creeped me out a bit. I figure that a lot of people may have similar opinions, so I wanted to share at least this example with people so that they’re a bit more aware.
Think of it this way. If you’re on vacation and you take a cute photo of a family member, you may think that this is a great photo that you have to share and given the backdrop of a plain wall and the fact that your kid is just eating pancakes, there is no way anyone could ever know that you’re hundreds of miles away from all of your possessions and this photo is safe to share. You post the photo on Twitter or Facebook, and instantaneously everyone in your social graph knows that you are out of town, even if you never told Instagram that you wanted to publish a map with this photo. If I was even a minor Twitter personality with as few as 2,000 followers, this would scare the hell out of me. One small slip up and my house is instantly a target for anyone who wants a new TV.
This is just Instagram, which is an application I know that I trust quite well. What will happen when applications with less genuine intentions spring up? Recently Color took some heat when it was found out that the app recorded ambient audio levels from the phone’s microphone without letting the user know. With Instagram, our entire location is being given away and published to the world.
Being a developer, I understand as well as anyone else that this information is valuable and creates the opportunity for cool new apps. But I also feel as if we should work together as peers and hopefully with Apple to show some restraint, in order to take a step back and do what is ultimately best for the user. Maybe each app should have some sort of settings page that discloses exactly what our app uses location for? Maybe applications should be tested in the review process in the same way, with this information disclosed on iTunes?
I don’t know what the answer is, but the idea that I had been unknowingly tweeting maps of my location publicly for the past couple months scared the hell out of me today and I hope it scares you too. I’m a heavy iOS user who develops for the platform, if anyone should understand the dangers of location disclosure, it should be me. Just imagine how dangerous this could be for the technophobe user picking up an iPhone as their first smartphone.
There has been a good deal of publicity today with regards to an open letter published by Verifone with regards to credit card security and the Square reader. John Gruber has written about the topic extensively over at Daring Fireball, and you can check out his site for links and more information about the piece.
Credit card theft is a serious problem, and a topic that all card owners should be knowledgable of. Your financial livelihood is very much dependent on keeping your credit card number away from those who may steal such information and use it to make fraudulent purchases. In some respects, Verifone did a service in publishing their post, in the sense that you should never hand over your credit card to a person or business you don’t trust, as people could steal your card number and use it. However, Verifone falls a bit off base when they accuse the Square reader as being insecure.
While working on the Crusader Advantage app that we built for Valparaiso University, we researched and looked at a variety of magnetic strip readers. We needed to extract student ID numbers stored on the magnetic strip of their student ID, in exactly the same way that your credit card number is stored on your credit card.
We learned a lot while working on the app, and hopefully I can share a bit about how these devices work and how criminals could use such tools to exploit you.
In the most basic sense, credit cards contain information in two different formats. The first is literal text and numbers, which are printed on the front of each card. The second format is the magnetic strip that runs across the back of each card.
This strip is probably the most common way that you use your credit card, as businesses can buy terminals that read this strip, which in turn can then be given to a payment processor who confirms that you have the $5 you need for your lunch and then pays the business. It’s a great system, transactions occur almost instantly, and our economy thrives because we can buy things without needing to carry around a briefcase of cash.
Verifone accuses Square of negligence, in a sense because they hand out free strip readers that plug into the audio jack of a headphone. According to Verifone, an application could be written in less than an hour that would steal swiped credit card information. That part of their argument is pretty true, and it is reasonable to think that a programmer could work up something to steal your information pretty quick. That being said, it’s a relatively weak argument and cries of hypocracy more than anything else.
The Square reader and program work well because the process is simple and painless. The reader is the most ingenious part, translating the magnetic strip data into a sound, which is picked up by the iPhone’s audio jack, which is then reengineered into a credit card number inside of the application. It’s simple, well designed, and allows for such card readers to be produced at an extremely affordable price. This allows Square to commit their unfathomable crime; the ability to hand out readers like free candy in order to encourage users to try out the service.
The problem with Verifone’s argument against Square falls apart when you understand that their are a variety of hardware swipes available on the market that do the same thing, including some sold by Verifone themselves. That’s right, Verifone sells a device that does the exact same thing as the Square reader. Hypocritical, I know.
Verifone’s reader works a bit differently, attaching to the bottom of the iPhone or iPod through the 30 pin connection port that you use to charge your device. It sends the credit card’s information to any application much like a keyboard, passing on the card number as a simple string of data. Because the device needs a bit more hardware and Apple’s approval to use the 30 pin port, which includes a licensing fee, these readers are a bit more expensive to produce. They’re not unaffordable though, just search Google for “iPhone credit card swipe” and you’ll find hundreds of different models, many even under $100.
In many respects, the Verifone reader is actually much more dangerous and more likely to be used as a tool for stealing data then the Square reader. With the Square reader, the programmer needs to design a way to reverse engineer the sound data into a credit card number (takes more than an hour, trust us, we tried). You need to account for variability in speed of the swipe, differences in sound between new and old cards, and a good deal of other errors.
If we decide to use Verifone’s reader instead, we only need to make our app ask the reader for the card number when a swipe occurs, and we’re given everything we need just like we typed in the number ourself on a keyboard. You tell me what you think is easier, reverse engineering a sound into a number or asking a piece of hardware for a number it’s designed to give you, which probably also has a documented API to help you get the credit card number after a card swipe. You don’t even have to be a reasonably good programmer to get card data using a hardware reader like Verifone’s.
So why would Verifone decide to write a letter on the issue and publicly request that Square recall the readers, when they sell a device that does the same thing in a way that makes it much easier for criminals to exploit? I’d assume that fear over Square’s new lower prices is probably the culprit, especially when Square’s service is much easier to set up and use for the average person.
Truth of the matter is, no one is safe from credit card fraud. You should never hand over your credit card to a person or business you don’t trust, and new technology does make it considerably easier for your personal data to be stolen. But the Square reader isn’t any less secure than any other mobile swipe unit available. In fact, it’s probably more secure because it requires a more talented engineer in order to write a program to steal the data.
So long as you keep up on the financial transactions occurring on your account and refrain from giving your card off to people you don’t trust, you’ll be just fine. It’s a hundred times more likely that you’re card data will get stolen by a server taking a quick photo of your card with their cell phone when you’re paying for the bill at the local Chili’s, and you don’t run for the hills in fear every time you eat out. If someone wants to steal your data, they won’t be stopped by a recall of the Square reader, they’ll just go on eBay and buy Verifone’s reader for $30 instead. And they’ll have a much easier time programming the app to steal your data, trust us.
Now, if we could just recall all of Verifone’s readers, and every other piece of equipment used to process credit card information at millions of businesses worldwide, we’d all be much more secure.
We’re big on investing in ourselves here at 9magnets, spending a good deal of money each month on new equipment or education resources to help improve our applications. A good portion of our education expense is spent on books, with a nice shelf stacked full of iOS development guides here in the office.
So I was pretty excited when Manning Publications sent over a review copy of their upcoming title, iOS 4 in Action. The book is an extensive overview of the development on the iPhone and iPad platforms, totaling about 700 pages and covering just about any topic you can imagine. If you’re new to iOS development, this is the sort of book you’re going to want in your library.
Chapters touch upon a variety of great topics, and I was able to pick up some great tips, even though I’ve been working on iOS full time here for quite a while. Here’s an example of just some of the great topics covered in the book.
- Learning XCode and Interface Builder
- Tips on how to learn Objective-C
- Integrating the camera and on device images into an app
- Peer-to-peer connections so that you can implement Bluetooth into an app
- Local and push notifications
- In-app purchasing
- Much, much more
Another great feature about Manning is their Manning Early Access Program (MEAP), where you can read the book before it releases in PDF format, and you’ll be sent an ebook or physical copy of the book once it’s available for purchase. iOS 4 in Action is set to release in May, but you can get early access today if you’d like with the program, so you can get ahead of the curve.
Manning has given us a preview chapter, so that we could make it available for you to download and read. It’s a detailed look at Push Notifications, which is a technical topic that the book covers quite well. You can download the preview excerpt by clicking here.
Manning also is offering a deal for readers of our blog, which we’re excited to be able to pass on to you. If you enter the promotional code “magnets40” at checkout when you buy iOS In Action at Manning.com, you’ll receive 40% off the MEAP/ebook and pbook.
The is an excerpt from iOS 4 in Action to release May 2011. It is being reproduced here with the permission of Manning Publications. Visit the book’s page for more information. http://www.manning.com/jharrington/.