IOS Tip: Maximizing your screen space with Minimal-UI

In the olden iOS 6 days, on an iPhone you could trigger the Safari browser to hide the URL bar by telling the your website to scroll one pixel when it loads. This would kickstart the Safari browser’s built-in behavior to minimize the URL bar once you started interacting with the page.

A bit hacky? For sure, but it worked, and had become the de facto standard for web developers targeting iOS. Unfortunately the iOS 7 update broke all this. Thanks a lot, Apple! Thankfully enough people must’ve complained because along with the latest 7.1 update, Apple also introduced yet another viewport meta tag.


<meta name="viewport" content="minimal-ui">

“minimal-ui” will hide the top URL bar and footer navigation bar on site load. Fantastic for web apps, potentially good /bad for every day sites, since the back / next page buttons are hidden by default. Since most sites I build at work are usually one pagers, this probably would work fine.

I first stumbled across it in the wild here: http://git.io/2048

IOS tip: Add a Smart App Banner To Your Website

So you tried to get by with just a mobile-optimized version of your site, but it wasn’t cutting it and you built an app. How do you let iPhone users know you even have an app? Companies have tried pretty much everything under the sun and 99% of them are annoying as hell. Thankfully with IOS 6, Apple has provided a super simple standard to incoporate this.
Start by adding the snippet below into your site:


<meta name="apple-itunes-app" content="app-id=myAppStoreID, affiliate-data=myAffiliateData, app-argument=myURL">

There are three parameters you can play with, but really you only need the first one to get it up and running. The parameters are: app-id, affiliate-data and app-argument. The app-id is your app’s unique 9-digit identifier code which you can easily find at the Apple Link Maker site. Affiliate-data is only needed if you are an itunes affiliate. Now the app-argument parameter, which is also optional, is what makes this snippet so useful. Here you can pass in a deep-link that that will help the user return to the same spot in the app where they were in the site.

This is so easy. Hopefully with this smart app banner code, people will stop resorting to full page takeover pop-ups that force people to decide if they want the app before even getting to your site. Make sure to read over the full documentation here.

Diving back into iPhone app development

Man. It’s been 2 years since Felix and I build the Alphie app for Hasbro. At the time, our boss came to us and said “Which one of you knows how to make iPhone apps?” We looked at each other and said, “…Uh, neither of us?” To which our boss replied, “Well, you’d both better start learning. We already told the client we could.” What followed was a few months of a torturous crash course of trying to build an app that was a cross between a childrens learning game and a provide a backstory for the companion toy they were selling. After that, Felix went on to develop apps full-time, while I returned to my comfort zone of building Adobe Flash websites. Two years later, Flash is all but dead, I’m developing HTML / Javascript websites for a living and I’m wishing I had kept learning IOS.

Well, I finally got back into the iPhone app saddle and I’m spending all my free time learning Objective C. I’m taking a class a Santa Monica college, devouring a steady stream of tutorials and building a few different apps simultaneously. It won’t be quick but my goal is to be a bona-fide IOS dev in about 6 months. My goal is to post some tips and tricks here that I learn along the way, and also take note of any growing pains I come across that might help any other developers out there.

Every bank should be Simple

I hate banks; the times I’ve been screwed by a bank is easily in the double digits. So I remember the first time I was excited for a new bank, when Washington Mutual came around. They were the closest thing to what could be called an un-bank (a bank without all the B.S.). I guess that plan didn’t really work out so well for them since they went bankrupt and became a part of Chase. And just like that, all the cool factors (no-fee atm charges, individual teller kiosks, actual customer service) went out the window with the rest of their liquid assets. Enter Simple.

The premise of Simple is naturally not that complicated: Take everything that sucks about a bank, throw it out, and add in features that are actually useful. There are only 2 ways I use my normal bank: depositing checks and getting out cash. With Simple you deposit checks with a mobile photo or direct deposit, and use the app to find one of thousands of ATMs in their “network” where you can withdraw money for free. Done and done, all with zero fees of any kind. they also have pretty decent stats and graphs on their website that tracks your spending habits and lets you set spending goals. It’s like if Washington Mutual and Mint had a lovechild startup bank.

Other cool features: the ability to differentiate between amount spent at a restaurant vs. amount left for tip, attaching notes and pictures to each purchase to help remember what it actually was (thanks to Simple I now know Js & Jc on my statement is Yogurtland), the ability to cancel a lost card from the app and an easy way to make payments to individuals. Also comes as a cool white card which I think helps to deter people reading your card number.

I applied for an invite to Simple about 6 months ago, and just recently got the card in the mail. It comes attached to a little cardboard card with a big rubberband which detaches to make an uber-minimal wallet. Love it so far. I haven’t completely abandoned Chase but if Simple keeps innovating at the same rapid pace, they’ll have my business for sure.

From Tokyo With Love

It’s been a dream of mine for a while now to go to Japan, although to be honest I’m not 100% sure why. I guess it’s some combination of what I imagined to be the urban insanity of Tokyo plus the hi-tech gadgets they’ve had for years before we did. William Gibson novels like Neuromancer didn’t help either. In fact, I think the most accurate information I had about the country came from the Simpson’s episode where Homer loses all their money in Japan and have to compete on a wacky game show to get back home. Maybe that’s it; the unknown factor. Still so much of Japan is foreign and unknown to Americans, and that was really what sold me. So when my wife and I compared wish lists of places to travel and Japan was at the top of both of our lists, I knew we were in for a crazy trip.
On a twelve hour flight, you’ve got a lot of time to kill. Luckily Singapore Air kept me pacified. Dark Knight Rises, Amazing SpiderMan, Bourne Legacy and a few episodes of Newsroom and we were there. We were determined to beat jet lag by staying awake until we got to our hotel; too bad that was 8am LA time. We got about 4 hours of sleep then got to work on Tokyo. Not sure if you know this, but Tokyo is huge. Godzilla huge. I guess I didn’t realize just quite how big a city of 13 million could be. It’s massive, and almost as futuristic as I imagined, but cleaner. We jumped around a lot thanks to our JR Rail passes, but I’ll try and consolidate some of the highlights per city.

Asakusa

Kaminarimon a.k.a. The Thunder Gate
Kaminarimon a.k.a. The Thunder Gate
This is the first place we hit and it was an eye opener. Home to the Senso-ji Temple, which is only about 1300 years old. To get to the temple steps you first enter through the imposing Thunder Gate, then walk down a long, crowded, narrow street flanked with shops on either side, selling everything from traditional costumes and snacks to Godzilla toys and solar-powered waving cats. At the steps of the temple you can bathe yourself in incense smoke to help cure whatever ails you, or at least smell like smoke all day. At the temple itself you toss in a coin, clap, say a prayer and pull a random fortune from a little drawer. Kat got the one bad luck paper, while I got the best luck paper so we figured they cancelled each other out. One train stop away from the temple was the Tokyo Sky Tree, the newest, tallest space needle-like building in Japan, which is the second largest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa. Thanks to the cost and 2+ hour wait, we didn’t actually go up to the top of the tower; but from the looks of the 4 story shopping mall underneath it where we spent several hours, most of the locals didn’t either.

Akihabara

The place to get your gadgets
The place to get your gadgets
By far, my favorite part of Tokyo. Akihabara, Akiba, Electric town, whatever you call it, this is where you go to get your gadgets. And by gadgets I mean anything from obscenely big screen TVs and crazy iphone accessories to the smallest replacement part for your vintage toaster. Akiba is a famous district of Tokyo where bootleg transistor radios could be found just after WW2. Now it’s a thriving main street lined with arcades, electronics and toy stores, but true to it’s roots the back alleys are where the deals are. The line between the grey market and bootleg market is pretty much invisible there. This is where we ate ramen at a shop where you placed your order outside from a vending machine. Inside you hand the chef your ticket and in 2 minutes you are slurping down some spicy udon. It’s also where I discovered vending machines in Japan sold both cold and hot beverages.

Shibuya

The famous Shibuya Scramble
The famous Shibuya Scramble
Imagine Times Square but bigger, even more crowded, more neon lights and minus all the freaks. They love shopping, but Shibuya is like the shopping capital. If you arent careful you can drop all your money here. Naturally my favorite part was the Shibuya Scramble, that crazy intersection where about a thousand people cross every two minutes. If you’ve seen Lost In Translation, you’ll know what I’m talking about because they show it like 10 times.

Seriously though, the Shibuya Scramble is no joke. If you go to Japan it’s one of those things that you have got to experience. Hopefully I’ll have my video of it up soon.

Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Arch - Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Arch – Kyoto
We hopped on the Shinkansen, the JR bullet train, and stopped in Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. I’m not sure why, but I was imagining it to be more rural. And I guess in a way it was, but our first impression was it was just as busy as Tokyo. Kyoto is famous for a lot of reasons, but most notably the crazy amount of temples and shrines dotted through out the city. They’re everywhere, and a modern city just grew up around them so you can be walking down the street and pass some high end stores and suddenly there would be a shrine in the middle of them.

It seems like any image I’ve ever seen trying to embody the idea of ‘Classic Japan’ was taken here. The giant Fushimi Inari archway, the Golden Palace, the Thousand Arches, The Bamboo Forest, the Geisha District in Gion, all in Kyoto. We were a little too ambitious with our schedule and only got to see half the sites we planned to, but even that made for an beautiful experience.

Hiroshima

Hiroshima A-Bomb Dome
Hiroshima A-Bomb Dome
Man, what to say about this. If you could find one word to describe the our visit, it would be heartbreaking. The city itself looked pretty similar to any other in Japan, meaning a it’s a sprawling metropolis like many, many others. What sets it apart is the Peace Park at the center of town, dedicated to remembering the atomic bomb detonation in World War 2.

Most visually striking is the Genbaku Dome, now renamed the A-Bomb Dome. It was pretty much the only structure left somewhat standing after the bomb, since it exploded about 600 meters directly over it. Everything else in the city was decimated. They’ve preserved the skeleton of the building as a standing memorial and a reminder of how tragic an effect nuclear weapons have. They also have an entire museum dedicated to the events before, during and after the bomb. It doesn’t pull any punches either; the exhibits are pretty gruesome and shocking at times, but also very thorough. It doesn’t try to paint any country in too specific a light, it’s goal really is to just capture the details, and the individuals effected by that bomb. It’s another must-see in Japan to really put into perspective how many countries can easily end the world as we know it through nuclear weapons.

Amazing trip. It really opened my eyes to what was almost an alternate universe to me, where public transportation actually works, massive metropolises are spotlessly clean, watermelons can cost over 200 bucks, toilets play music for you and grown business men love to read comics and play claw prize games till the wee hours in the morning.
God bless Japan.

Happy Beard Day

Yesterday my wife successfully pulled of a legitimate surprise party for my birthday, which until now I honestly didn’t think was possible. We had already planned for my parents to come down for the weekend and stay at our apartment, which for me was a big step on its own. Even though I’ve lived on my own for the past 16 years, this was the first time my parents actually came and stayed with me. Kind of a big deal in the feeling-grown-up sense. Previously I either had roommates, lived in too small of a place or lived a couple thousand miles away. Not quite that convenient.

Just after finishing dinner my phone rang. It was the apartment main entrance downstairs; someone wanting to get buzzed in. All they said was “Delivery” so I buzzed them in, highly dubious. It turns out it was my sister and four of her kids! I was really surprised! Not that I didn’t think they would come down, really, but I know it can be a big deal to get that many kids all moving in the same direction and out the door in any orderly manner. Then, to make everyone feel less intimidated by my new found beard powers, my wife also made everyone beard masks. So crafty. she really has skills. She also made an awesome cake with a dinosaur on top. How many people’s wives would make a dinosaur cake for them? Not many, I’ll tell you what.

The only way to finish off an awesome party with family was a few rounds of Kinect Fruit Ninja on the xbox 360. It was a lot of fun, especially for the kids who were jumping around and getting really into it. Not so much for my downstairs neighbors who I’m sure now hate me and are planning malicious ways to take me out. But then again, you can’t please everyone.

M83 crams in every telekinesis movie reference ever in 4 minutes

What happens when you make a music video that is an homage to Scanners, X-Men, X-files, Fringe, Push with a little Children of the Corn mixed in? You get this video. I will admit that the visual FX are rendered fairly well; I’d say on par with Fringe and better than any other sci-fi on network tv these days. This video probably cost more than the last 5 SyFy originals combined.

Audi eBike: awesome prototype, probably decent bike

Audi makes awesome cars. Lets just get that out of the way. I love ’em. I would never buy one but I can really respect them. So much that some jerkface used to park his 2010 R8 in the handicapped parking spot at my gym and I kept catching myself trying to justify that kind of behavior, because… it’s a freaking R8!┬áNeedless to say they know how to design automobiles that not only look killer but are monsters on the road. But how much of that knowledge really can carry over into the world of bikes? Enter their offering, the Audi eBike.

At first glance, this electric bicycle certainly continues the Audi tradition. The laundry list of tech in this carbon fiber beast is ridiculous. Built-in head and tail lights, electric motor, touchscreen display and wifi? Even a wheelie mode where it balances on the back wheel like Segway? All crazy awesome features. But my question is this: who is this (I can only assume) insanely-priced machine aimed at? Commuters? People doing freestyle tricks? Trail riders? With practically no rear travel and those puny front shocks it can’t be trail riders. And it looks like the frame’s rear suspension is a unified rear triangle, aka the worst kind of rear suspension ever. All modern bikes have some sort of variant on the 4-bar linkage suspension so that as the shock compresses your bike doesn’t shrink in size or get chain slack. And lets be honest, commuters aren’t riding any real distances on that seat. Oh yeah, that seat! Ridiculous. Looks like a one way ticket to the proctologist. No, but for real. Nobody’s sitting on that seat.