A peak at the horizon

I’ve long been of the mind that AR is a far greater useful tool to humanity than VR will ever be – particularly since I had a go on the PlayStation VR equipment for just a couple of minutes and subsequently had to lie down for half an hour. That being the case, I’m trying to keep an eye out for awesome developments in AR apps, and PeakFinder is one of those.

The simple idea is that as you are walking around in the big outdoors, you point your phone in any given direction and get an overlay of what hills, peaks and mountains you are looking at. There are a few tweaks to give you greater views – raising your height above where you actually are being one of them – but generally, it’s just a great tool for placing yourself within the geography you are standing in.

You can also toggle between the arty style drawing of your view, or in true AR fashion, overlay the notes on top of the actual camera images. I think I prefer this view.

The app makers also say:

PeakFinder shows a 360° panoramic view from an arbitrary viewpoint of your choice. To render the panoramic views PeakFinder uses an elevation model that is integrated into the App. A database with a peak directory is included as well. For these reasons PeakFinder does not need an online connection for rendering the panoramic view and works completely offline from anywhere in the mountains.

So if you do head up that mountain and find yourself without signal, you’ll still be able to know where you are!

The app simply adds an extra layer of information to your trip outside, and is a lot of fun to use. Most importantly, it helps to plot which peak you’re going to tackle next (or nice flat stretch of beach, if you’re anything like me).

That little droid

In my adventures with Swift programming, I mentioned the R2-D2 toy/gadget that you can bring home and programme yourself. When I wrote about it, it was a delicious want rather than a need, but somehow over the course of a sunny few days off, I ended up with the very same Artoo bluetoothing himself to my iPad.

I’ve only been playing for a little while but first impressions are: This is the cutest thing ever! It bleeps and bloops, the tripod wheel comes in and out and it whizzes around making that scream noise that R2-D2 is so famous for. You can control it via a Sphero app, which makes it more of a remote control style toy, or you can actually sit down and programme it.

The Sphero team have created a Swift Playgrounds book to guide you through an adventure with R2, but I find it slightly more advanced from where I am, and the teaching is somewhat lacking. It’s more encouraging of a “just keep trying and see what happens, and we’ll give you hints as we go” rather than teaching you what on earth you’re supposed to be doing in the first place.

Apparently, you can also get these app-enabled droids to react when you play any of the Star Wars movies. I haven’t managed to get that functioning yet, but I’m also not sure that’s a bad thing. Apparently if you have more than one, they will actually interact with each other while the feature film plays out. That seems a sure fire way of never getting anything done again.

But no matter. R2 is cute, and I love it, and it’s a motivational tool to keep learning, because programming the little droid to spin his dome left and right and keep scanning for stormtroopers seems like the kind of business that could save the entire galaxy. Am I right?

Swift progress

So, I mentioned Swift Playgrounds recently and thought I would share more of my experience with the app. I tweeted a summary that basically covered my history with trying to learn Swift.

I have tried, several times, to engage with this app. It’s totally up my street, after all – learning new things, in a fun and engaging way that is more like a game than an education. Getting ticks after completing each chapter helps too, I do love a good checklist.

But, up until now, I have always got stuck at the same point, to do with looping, and I would give up. This year, for whatever reason, I managed to push on through past that sticky point and have not only finished the first playgrounds book but also the second.

It’s really a very fun way of learning a new language, intuitive and helpful. If you do get stuck there are videos and further reading materials to help you out. And of course the entirety of the coding world to help you, or a Mr C if you happen to have one of those to hand.

The lessons start off really simply where you’re just asking a character to move forward, turn right, pick up gems. Things progress slowly to start with, to give you confidence, and then ramp up quite quickly to the point you are routinely employing ifs, fors and arrays.

There are a few areas where it doesn’t quite explain the fundamentals behind what’s going on which have seen me come unstuck a little, but this year’s  perseverance has allowed me to push on through, rather than giving up for another twelve months.

Having completed the main two courses, I’m now exploring the “further learning” options and boy are they interesting. There’s a Learn to Code 3, many game based books (Rock Paper Scissors being just one of them), and to progress even further, the enticing world of Sphero, Lego and other physical objects. I mean, how can I not?

So, as I said in the tweet, watch this space. I have zero ideas for apps and I’m not a coder, but I’m doing it anyway and enjoying the ride.

Part of an ongoing, never-ceasing, seemingly endless switch from desktop to mobile (Chapter 36)

I’m writing this post in the Ulysses writing app which, I just learned, can connect to WordPress and publish posts directly without having to interface with the awful WordPress app.

This is potentially the final stage in the “using the iPad for pretty much everything you need to do”, for which I have written a post previously and intend to write an update on very soon.

And just to fully test, here’s a recent picture from the beach.

Rock, paper, scissors… you know the rest

I’m currently working my way through the various options for learning how to code via Swift Playgrounds, and branched out recently to the standalone session that lets you adapt a version of the well known game Rock Paper Scissors.

The demo first lets you play the game so you can see how it works, then it asks you to personalise the game with a variety of options. I think it wants you to pick the colours that each player uses and perhaps adjust the hue of the background, but I went for a slightly more ambitious personalisation scheme.

Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock. Sheldon would be proud.

Florence in the machine

I was all ready to write a glowing post about how much I love the Apple Design Awards that take place during WWDC week, but it turns out I have already done this, two years ago! Back then, I was looking for more from the Apple crew in terms of discoverability of the best apps out there and their update to the app store to include a great Today tab has done just that. Featuring stories, lists, behind the scenes videos and more, it’s a nice way to find new content, or learn more about apps you already use.

So with all that sorted, there’s only one thing left to talk about this year’s Design Awards, and that is Florence.

This is such an incredibly beautiful app, it’s hard to describe it in words. The pictures are so much better.

But to try and sum it up, the app guides you through the story of Florence, who breaks free from her mundane life when embarking on a new relationship, navigates the highs and lows of life with a partner, and eventually finds herself. As the reader/player, your job is simply to interact very briefly with each scene – piecing together jigsaw puzzles or shaking polaroid pictures – to move the narrative along.

I’m not usually too bothered about limited interactivity apps – where it’s not so much a game as a story that you occasionally get to prod at. Even the quite more exciting Back to the Future game series frustrated me by its limitations on occasion.

But this is something else. This is such a simple, lovely, relatable story, told well, with very intuitive actions that help to flow the tale rather than interrupt the story. The clean cello soundtrack adds to the ambience so that you’re invested in Florence and her story. It’s not a groundbreaking story (girl meets boy, mild relationship drama, girl finds happiness), but it’s a groundbreaking experience.

And it’s not by fluke. The behind the scenes story Apple posted told just how much work went into making this app the wonder that it is.

“The story of making Florence was one of discovery. For each moment in the relationship we wanted to portray, we often had to try many different images and interactions before we found the right combination that would evoke the right feeling in the player. These would range from art style tests to storyboards, to fully functional levels that for one reason or another, were cut from the final experience.”

It’s not a long story, really, so you can get through it in one or two sittings depending how long you stop and survey your surroundings, but it’s worth every moment. I’ve played it through once and even though I now know what happens, I can see myself playing it again.

Well, I’ve got to have something to do between now and next year’s Design Awards, haven’t I?

Bumblebee – ‘A mystical bond between man and machine’

In direct contrast to my post this week about struggling to care for the Westworldian robots, now I’m all over-excited at the thought of this Transformer’s spin-off featuring the one and only Bumblebee.

Of course, part of that is because Haiz is in it, but equally, it’s hard not to love that big yellow beast, isn’t it? I wonder why I care more about the machine with headlights for shoulders than the one that looks and feels and is acted by a human being.

I only had a vague interest in Transformers in the first place, and the previous film efforts haven’t done a huge amount to help. Will this be better? Who knows?

Still, the cassette tape bit is fabulous.