"This is Blink"

A voice has been rattling around inside my skull over and over for the last few weeks. It keeps saying "This is Blink." It's not my voice though, it's Myke Hurley's because, you see, he did the voiceover for the Blink preview video and I listened to him repeat those words over and over as I edited the video. His words stuck and got me thinking as launch day approached, "What is Blink?"

For most people, Blink will be a productivity tool. An iOS app that reduces the friction of creating iTunes affiliate links. You can search for apps, movies, tv shows, music or books, create affiliate links and share them on your blog, twitter or wherever else you share links. You can also convert various types of existing links into affiliate links that include your own affiliate credentials. Blink's extension and URL scheme make this especially easy and quick.

I'm really proud with how Blink turned out and I think the people who need and want such a tool will like it. But as I sit here just before releasing Blink to the world, I have to admit that I'm spent. I poured everything I had into making this app a reality; nearly every spare moment of many, many weeks was dedicated to it. That is not a complaint, it's just what it took. I relished every moment of the journey and am pleased with where I have ended up, but now that I can take a deep breath, the fatigue has finally begun to seep in.

I have no idea how many or how few potential customers Blink has or how many of those will buy it. I hope a lot do. For me though, Blink is more than a tool. It's a promise that I made to myself and kept. It was an opportunity to collaborate with Myke, who not only lent his voice to the preview video, but was a constant source of advice and enouragement along the way, and Frank Towers, whose iconography and design touches made the difference between an app I might have hidden away in a folder and one that really shines on my homescreen.

As I sit here, about to release Blink to the world, I have started to ask myself "what's next?" I have some ideas, but no firm answers. The path forward is not clear, but I do know that Blink is most certainly a beginning, not the end, and by that measure, it is already resounding success.

Opportunity Knocks

Near the beginning of episode two of Behind the App (Inquisitive 28), David Smith comments that the App Store lowered the barrier to entry allowing him — one guy in his basement — to make apps that compete on a level playing field with apps from big companies like Amazon. That, in a nutshell, is much of what captures the imagination of many independent developers and drives their creativity. It's the spark that ignites "what if."

A lot has changed since the early days of the App Store, and there is no doubt that it is very hard to get noticed today. Some people conclude that this is a sign that the App Store's barriers are too low and should be raised to keep the "junk" out, but limiting access to Apple's developer programs is the wrong tool to address that problem.

Raising the price of the developer programs or taking other steps to limit membership would certainly weed out a lot of apps you might not care about, but it would do far more harm that good. For example, what about the kid learning to code who builds a rudimentary app and wants to share it with his or her friends and family? That sort of app would likely pass App Review, but might never appear on the store if the barriers to entry were too high, which would be a shame. As a parent with three boys, one of whom started selling iOS apps at the age of eleven, I have first-hand experience with the excitement, positive feedback and encouragement that being on the App Store creates. I for one do not want to discourage that.

To my mind, the right direction is to double down on app discovery. Granted, this is no small problem to solve. The sheer number of apps makes it exceedingly difficult to surface the gems, especially on the mobile store. But I would rather that Apple focus on tools for navigating a vast and diverse App Store than have it erect barriers to newcomers.

The playing field that David Smith described is not what it once was. Success is not guaranteed and requires hard work and perseverance, especially for indie developers, but the opportunity that David describes still exists thanks to the low barriers to entry. Closing that door would not fix the shortcomings of the App Store, it would only stifle creativity and innovation.

Which brings me back to Behind the App. If you have not listened yet, you should, it is truly remarkable. I have been thinking about this show a lot since it's launch a few weeks ago. It's special, but not just because the format is different than many other tech podcasts.

Even a few years ago, a podcast with this sort of polished production — produced largely by just one person — would not have been possible. Over time though, the cost of the tools to create a podcast have made the medium accessible to anyone with a desire to give it a go. That is not to say that making podcasts is easy, but as with apps, the barriers to entry are low and the distribution mechanism is relatively inexpensive. And as with apps, finding the best podcasts is is a hard and largely unsolved problem.

It's Myke Hurley's years of experience, hard work and countless interviews with developers that make Behind the App great, but it's the low barrier to entry that made it possible. App development, podcast production and really any creative pursuit share this common ground, the focus should be on creating and maintaining opportunity, not exclusion.

Apple's "Copy Link" Extension is Broken

UPDATE: As of January 21, 2015 or so, the bug described below was fixed by Apple everywhere except in the Update tab of the App Store as noted by @drdrang.

Sometime around January 15th, I noticed that the "Copy Link" action extension that is built into the iOS App Store and the iOS iTunes Store were broken. "Copy Link" is an action extension that is built into the share sheet for each of Apple's iOS storefronts. Beginning with iOS 8, the "Copy Link" copied the title of the item selected in the store and a custom short URL. The trouble is, "Copy Link" no longer copies the short URL to the selected store item in most instances, it only copies the title of the item.

Since writing and tweeting about the problem, I have have discovered a few more details and heard from a number of people about the problem. Here's an update on what we know now:

  • The bug is global. I have heard from people all over North America, the United Kingdom and Europe who all report the same problem.
  • The bug appears to be a server-side Apple issue, not a bug in the apps themselves. This is, of course, conjecture, but seems logical given that there have been no recent updates to the iOS store apps.
  • The bug seems to be persistent. Except for one person who reports that the links work intermittently, "Copy Link" appears to have been broken continuously since around January 15th.
  • The bug affects more than just the App Store and iTunes Store. The iBooks store is also affected. The Podcast and iTunes U storefronts are not affected however, which is strange because both share the itun.es short URL used by the iTunes Store. Go figure.
  • The bug may manifest itself differently on different versions of iOS. I have not tested it myself, but I heard from one person that on iOS 7, "Copy Link" copies the link, but not the title of an item -- the exact opposite of iOS 8.
  • Short links still work. Although there is no way to generate a short appsto.re or itun.es URL in the affected apps currently, if you have a previously generated link, it works.

I have submitted a bug report to Apple, which you can find here and duplicate if you wish.


About the Author: John Voorhees is the creator of Blink: Better Affiliate Links, an upcoming iOS app, which explains his unnatural obsession with Apple store links. Find out more at getblinkapp.co

The Halting Progress of App and iTunes Store Linking

Sometime around January 15, 2015, the iOS App Store and iTunes Store stopped providing links to apps and other media. Hopefully this is just a temporary bug, but it seemed like as good a time as any to consider Apple's uneven history with linking from its stores.

In the beginning iTunes links reflected the WebObjects underpinnings of the store itself and looked like this:

http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?i=315611467&id=315611219&s=143441

That's a Green Day album by the way. Can't tell? Nor could anyone else.

The next iteration of App Store and iTunes links cleaned things up. That Green Day link became: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/21st-century-breakdown/id315607458. Without too much trouble, you can tell it is an album called 21st Century Breakdown. Look a little closer and you can see that the link points to the US store. These links are still with us today and are the foundation on which the affiliate linking program is based.

The trouble is, in an era of Twitter an itunes.apple.com link is too long -- that Green Day link has 68 characters. Sure, it's better than the old WebObjects links and there are plenty of URL shorteners out there, but third party URL shorteners mask the source of the URL.

One way Apple has dealt with this for a while is with what I call "short search URLs." These are not short URLs in the traditional sense. Instead of sending you to a specific item, a short search URL kicks of an iTunes Store search. If the search returns just one result, you are taken to that result. For instance, appstore.com/logmyrun, takes you straight to the iTunes page for Squibner's run tracking app. But a link like appstore.com/amazon takes you to a search results page with dozens of results.

With iOS 8, Apple quietly added custom short URLs to its iOS App Store and iTunes Store with the formats appsto.re and itun.es, but the implementation undermines the brevity of the links. Instead of just copying a short link, the "Copy Link" action extension copies the title of the item and a short link, which largely defeats the purpose of a short URL, especially with apps where titles are often crammed with SEO keywords. Even an app with a short, non-spammy name like Overcast results in 76 character copied to the clipboard:

Overcast: Podcast Player by Overcast Radio, LLC https://appsto.re/us/jhe90.i

Another issue is that few app extensions handle a mix of text and a URL well, which severely limits the utility of third party extensions within the Apple stores. Most share and action extensions just grab the title of an app, which is the part I am most likely to edit down to something shorter, and miss the URL altogether.

Short URLs are equally frustrating for anyone who uses iTunes affiliate links from an iOS device. The affiliate linking program has come a long way since the days when there were multiple providers covering different regions of the world, but the program works with itunes.apple.com URLs only. That's something we solve natively with our upcoming app Blink, but right now the best solution involves multiple extra steps that can only be mitigated somewhat by a combination of apps like Workflow or Pythonista with an app like Clean Link that can resolve the short URL to something usable as an affiliate link.

Which all brings me back to last night as I was working on Blink and thought I was passing it App Store links. At first I assumed it was me, but I soon discovered that the problem was that the short links had disappeared entirely from the the App and iTunes Stores. As of the writing of this, all that "Copy Link" copies is the title of the item. I'd like to think this portends something exciting like the imminent release of the developer analytics promised at WWDC last June, but more likely it's just a temporary glitch.

Current glitches aside, linking to iTunes media and the affiliate linking program are far better than just a few years ago. That said, there are a few things I would like to see Apple implement in the near term, including:

  • consistent use of short URLs across iOS and Mac;
  • giving users the option to exclude the title of an item from a copied URL; and
  • integration of short URLs with the affiliate linking program.

Those three items alone would vastly improve the linking experience across each of Apple's platforms.


Note: If you are interested in Squibner's upcoming app Blink, you can see some advance screen shots and sign up for updates as we approach the release day at getblinkapp.co.

Setting Up LogMyRun Actions In Launch Center Pro

Setting up LogMyRun actions in Launch Center Pro is easy. After you install Launch Center Pro on your iPhone or iPod Touch, tap the pencil icon in the upper right-hand corner of the app. 
Next, pick a spot for your shortcut to a LogMyRun action by tapping "+" and choosing "Action" from the popup.
The Action Composer will appear, with links to all of the apps on your device that support Launch Center Pro. Scroll down to the LogMyRun icon and choose the action you want to add from the list.
That's it. You're finished. The next time you tap the LogMyRun icon in Launch Center Pro, it will take you right to the action you set up.
Creating frequently-used LogMyRun actions in Launch Center Pro is a great way to make tracking your runs on the go even easier. Launch Center Pro is available from AppCubby on the iTunes store for $2.99 and supports hundreds of apps. Try it and check out appcubby.com if you are curious which of your other apps support Launch Center Pro. LogMyRun is available on the iTunes Store for $1.99.

LogMyRun Released

Squibner Mobile is pleased to announce the release of LogMyRun 1.1 which adds the following features:

  • Run Data Export. Export your running log to a CSV fle via email, which can then be opened in any spreadsheet application like Numbers or Excel.
  • Facebook Support. in addition to email and Twitter support, you can now share your runs with your friends on Facebook.
  • URL Scheme Support. Add a run, view your log or a graph of your run data via the following LogMyRun-specific URLs:
    • logmyrun://add
    • logmyrun://log
    • logmyrun://graph
 The URL scheme for LogMyRun works great for quickly launching each of these actions via an app like Launch Center Pro.

Coming Soon....LogMyRun 1.1

We've gotten some great user feedback and have some great new features coming soon to LogMyRun, including:

 

  • Exporting - export your data via email in CSV format, which is compatible with spreadsheet apps;
  • Facebook sharing - in addition to Twitter, email and SMS, LogMyRun 1.1 will support sharing your runs on Facebook;
  • Launch Center Pro Support - quickly add a run, view your log or graph your runs via Launch Center Pro.
  • Interface Enhancements;
  • And More.

 

Stats at a Glance

LogMyRun is an easy way to enter data about your runs and track your progress; just like you would in a traditional paper-based running log. But with LogMyRun, you can take it a step further. LogMyRun keeps tabs on your runs automatically calculating all sorts of stats: weekly, monthly and annual mileage, fastest and slowest pace, and longest, shortest and average run distance. Each of these stats is available at the bottom of the main screen and can be accessed by swiping left and right to switch between stats views. 

LogMyRun is available worldwide on the iTunes Store.

Pacer Featured on Traxee.com

The good folks over at Traxee.com, an online community of women runners, has a feature on its blog about LogMyRunPacer that you can check out here.  Beth Moore, a blogger at Traxee says:

I'm a lunatic for cool iPhone apps, so I really wanted to share this with you guys. . . . Just visit http://iTunes.com/apps/LogMyRunPacer to download this app free and try it out! If you like it or hate it, go ahead and rate John's app on iTunes and help him out! I'm sure he'd love the feedback.

LogMyRun Pacer 1.0 is Now Available

Squibner Software is proud to announce that LogMyRun Pacer is now available in the App Store.

LogMyRun Pacer is a free pace calculator for runners. With Pacer you can calculate the pace of your last run, figure out how far you could run the next time you head out the door or determine your next race time at a particular pace. LogMyRun Pacer is easy to use and a great complement to a runner's daily running log. Try it out today for free!

Coming Soon... LogMyRun Pacer

The Squibner team expanded into a family endeavor in 2010.  Owen, Squibner's lead developer, and Finn, whose focus is design, were joined by me, John, as part time developer and head of business and marketing.  LogMyRun Pacer is my first iOS application, which I designed and developed with some key assistance from Owen.
 
LogMyRun Pacer, was submitted to Apple for review on December 4, 2010 and we hope to have it in the App Store by Christmas.  What is Pacer?  It is a FREE ad-supported calculator for runners.  With Pacer you can calculate the pace of your last run, figure out how far you could run the next time you head out the door or determine your next race time at a particular pace. RunLog Pacer is easy to use and a great complement to a runner's daily running log. Try it out today for free!

LogMyRun Pacer is a FREE ad-supported calculator for runners.  With Pacer you can calculate the pace of your last run, figure out how far you could run the next time you head out the door or determine your next race time at a particular pace. RunLog Pacer is easy to use and a great complement to a runner's daily running log. Try it out today for free!

Schools To Use MathTime to Teach Kids

Squibner Software is proud to announce that Elementary School District 181, which serves Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills and parts of Burr Ridge, Oak Brook and Willowbrook, Illinois has chosen MathTime to be included on about 150 school district iPod Touches that will be distributed to local elementary schools to help kids learn their math facts.  It's an honor to have MathTime chosen by District 181 and gratifying to see that the district understands the power of the iPhone OS as a tool to help kids learn.  

MathTime is a math flash card app for the iPhone and iPod Touch that has helped over 1500 kids learn basic math facts

Coming Soon... MathTime v1.1

UPDATE: MathTime 1.1 is now available on the iTunes Store.  Check out the video below and if you like what you see, head on over to the iTunes App Store via the link below to buy for just $0.99.

Coming soon to the iTunes App Store: MathTime v1.1.  Here's a look of what you can expect from MathTime v1.1, an easy-to-use math flash card application from Squibner Software:

iTunes App Store Link