Protected: The eBook Minefield

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Timesheets from Github*

*TLDR: Or at least a rough estimate of how long you’ve spent on a project.

It’s very easy, even for the most disciplined of teams, to become so involved in a project that agile stories and time trackers go out the window; the only goal is to finish. We had this happen on a project last year and it made it very hard to see where the time went during our project retrospective. We knew we’d been working constantly, but on what? Knowing that we did diligently commit our code to Git made me wonder if there was a way to approximate time spent based on commit timestamps.

Turns out, several people had already been working on this and we settled on a ruby gem from Frank Rietta. You can read more about the assumptions used in calculations over at his site and GitHub, but it couldn’t be easier to install:

Installing is easy from your computer with Ruby installed. From the command line, run:
gem install git_time_extractor
Then go one of your GIT project directories, and run:
git_time_extractor > output_time.csv

The reason I picked this tool over others is that the spreadsheet generated can be manipulated in whatever way need for records, sort by employee, what took the longest, how much time did we spend in total etc.


App Store Shenanigans

We have three published apps in each App Store, iTunes, Amazon App Store and Google Play, they’re published by our account but use licenced third-party IP.

We’ve had two apps rejected on first pass by Apple only to be accepted at review when we proved we held the necessary licence, a third because of an issue with a demo account that we fixed and they re-reviewed the same day.

On Amazon an eBook reader app for a tabletop games company was rejected with no reason other than “Amazon deemed it unsuitable for Kindle” but was allowed on other Amazon devices; we eventually made it onto Kindle too after some tweaks. Just like Amazon removing IAP in Comixology and leaving it out of the Kindle App, we had to drop IAP in our ereader on Amazon.

On Google one app was actually pulled after being live for months, this is something not many people see or hear about. Pulled, no warning, black mark against our developer process and a very closed appeals process. Again we provided details of our licence and after 10 days it was restored. We all hear about Apple’s “draconian” review/rejection process and maybe it’s just because there are so many iOS developers it feels familiar, but it is miles better than both Google and Amazon currently offer and feels like there really are humans making the decision.

What I find interesting about both Apple and Google here is that we had to prove our rights to an IP but yet the stores (especially Google Play) are full of clones and skeevy fakes, some of which have been around for years. Just type “Frozen” into Google Play and you’ll see what I mean.

Like all the best posts this blog started life as a tweet in response to @imyke and episode 30 of Inquisitive.


The problem with books

Books are so ingrained in our mental model, that’s it very hard to think outside the concept of the page. The problem with the eBook is that it itself is a legacy idea; you take the pages of a book, digitise and put it on a screen. In the past decade we’ve advanced the usability and design opportunities of the eBook, but it’s still the same legacy product at heart.

That’s fine for novels where reflowable text and indicators to showing progression through the content, but for reference books like textbooks and manuals, that’s a little trickier.

  • How do you reference a page without pages?
  • How do you keep the instructional design of the layout?
  • How do you get a “feel” for the size of the book to move freely around in the content?

All these questions go back to that artificial content component, the page. A page does not mean anything, but it contains the information that does.

Books produced for both Inkling and iBooks, although proprietary, have shown what’s possible when you go beyond the standard EPUB. By breaking those bounds and identifying the individual blocks of content (image, paragraph, questions) we can build a better eBook, with intelligently reflowable content but still have a well formatted document with a rich design.

What if users let go of their “pages” to see what they can create. Remember “legacy” eBooks aren’t just being pushed into schools, look around and you’ll see plenty of examples of “second-class” EPUBs being created to appease customers who don’t use iBooks.


Fancee Watch


Apparently 2013 is the year of the smart watch. Back in April one in particular caught my eye Pebble, by the aptly named Pebble Technologies took Kickstarter by storm raising  $10 million (!!), well over their initial goal of $100K.

The Pebble uses Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR and 4.0 to pair with your phone an receive notifications, paired with an e-ink display the drain on both watch and phone is very low, unlike last year’s Sony Xperia Smartwatch.

Out of the box (and on iOS especially) the Pebble doesn’t do much more than show the time and weather, but on Android (and  iOS 7) it can be set up to receive custom notifications, receive navigation directions from Google maps, control music and more.

Honestly, it takes more work than most people would be bothered with, but I don’t mind. I even took to creating my own watch face, combining the popular split-screen look with Calendar events. That might not be for everyone, but being able to look at my watch and see when and where my next meeting is, is a small win in my book.

For anyone else wanting to download the “Fancee Watch” face, you can grab it here and install it on Android using Canvas for Pebble.