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Sync and Notifications

Suppose you’d build an app that uses a cloud-based syncing service to distribute notifications. Would you sync first, and then generate notifications?

Or would you do it the other way round, with the potential effect of generating obsolete notifications that would never show up if you synchronized first?

Yeah, me too.

But somehow I have reason to believe that this conclusion is not as obvious as it seems.

Night Shift

I’ve been a long-time fan of f.lux on the Mac. The genius of f.lux is that it shifts the spectrum of light emitted by the display of your Mac towards the red end according to your preferences.

In normal cases, this means that the shift to the red end gradually starts when the sun sets and is reversed as the sun rises. I like the warmer tint when it gets dark around me, despite the annoyed looks of some family members. You can’t please everyone.

Naturally, I’ve always wanted something similar on my iOS devices. And along came this stunt where, for a short amount of time, f.lux could be sideloaded onto your iOS device and it seemed like the perfect solution1.

However, I never tried it because I was expecting Apple to close that door as soon as they became aware of it. And that’s precisely what happened after a few days.

Too bad, really.

So it will not come as a surprise that you could (sorry) color me excited about the release of iOS 9.3 that ships with a feature that (turns out) is similar, although not quite as good, as f.lux on my Mac.

Enter Night Shift.

What can I say, I immediately turned it on after updating. Or, wait, did I turn it on only until the next morning?

There is this switch in Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift labeled “Manually Enable Until Tomorrow”.

I think I more or less understand the meaning of this switch outside the schedule. By switching, you turn on Night Shift manually, and the switch will flip back the next day.

But if it is flipped the label doesn’t change. So, imaging my confusion when I got to this place in Settings and the sun had set already. I activated Night Shift and then recognized the switch (located below the “main” control) and, guess what, the switch was activated.

What should I do now? Had I accidentally activated the manual mode in Night Shift? I didn’t want manual activation, I want the feature to run on schedule.

OK, no big deal. I figured it out after some time. And while I’m no expert in designing graphical user interfaces, I sense that those who are may want to have a word with Apple about this switch.

And sure enough, some basic research turned out that I’m not entirely alone with my thoughts about the implementation of this switch. And so I close this article with a vote to replace the currently existing switch by a more appropriate approach to manual activation in the (near) future.

  1. Although I have to say that I feel more comfortable if this functionality is integrated into the OS instead of controlled by a single app.

Sublime Text Development

Sublime Text is my favorite text editor, on both OS X and Windows. I started using it around three years ago, and haven’t looked back (much) since then.

At the time I switched to Sublime Text, the editor was out in version 2. Nearly one year later, Sublime Text 3 was officially announced. At some point, every holder of a Sublime Text 2 license was entitled to download a beta or development build of Sublime Text 3 and give it a spin.

Since early 2013, a long sequence of dev builds for Sublime Text 3 used to appear on the download page, and progress was visibly made. But then, the stream of new builds went dark around mid of July this year: no new builds for nearly half a year.

Incidentally, the last tweet from @sublimehq dates even further back. On top of that, the Sublime Text user forum is unavailable. Pages attempt to load for a long time and then finally display an error message. It is hard to believe that this issue has gone unnoticed.

As an outspoken fan of Sublime Text, I can’t help wondering what has happened. I’m assuming that the pause1 must have some cause, and I hope there’s nothing bad going on. I ran a couple of searches but couldn’t come up with further clues. Nobody seems to have any reliable information about the state of affairs.

At the same time, the user community is really going strong. Submissions to Package Control keep coming in at an incredible rate. Lots of useful extensions are available, and many of them are crucial for the overall experience, i.e. extend the core tool substantially with respect to a given feature.

Of course, even if the build from last July turns out the last one for Sublime Text the software will be fine for probably a long time coming. Even in daily usage, I very rarely run into a problem. But still, I’d like to see the product under active development and I hope that there’s some solution, one or the other way.

  1. At least, that’s what I hope is happening.

It’s the Reading Experience

I have been a big fan of Reeder on all my platforms for a long time now. The app is rock-solid and gets updated on a constant, albeit sometimes slow pace.

I use Reeder every single day, it is easily one of the most-frequently apps I have used in the last several years.

This makes it very hard for competitors to even come close to the experience I get from Reeder. And still, from time to time, I’ll try one to see how it works out.

On iOS, The most prominent candidate in this category is Unread. Unread is an app that’s highly polished with respect to the appearance and also the user interaction, which boils down to fluid sequences of swipes that seem very natural and appealing.

One aspect, however, drives me away from Unread every single time I give it a try. The app has a limited preset of font sizes between wich you can select. Personally1, I prefer the lower end of the font size but unfortunately the difference between the smallest font (“atomic”) and the second-smallest (“tiny”) is uncomfortably big.

This means that “tiny” is way to large for my preferences and “atomic” is way too small. That really kills it. Undeniably, a lot of thought went into the design of Unread but the reading experience, which is essentially the point if the app, fails to deliver the same amount of polish. It’s tragic.

Reeder, on the other hand, may overall not be as pretty as Unread with respect to the app design. But boy, does it rule when it comes to customizing the article view, which is arguably the part of the app that is used the most.

You can not only control the font size, but also the font face and the density of lines of text. There’s really not much room for improvement left.

This strange relation between Reeder and Unread is mirrored by two other apps that address a very similar prominence for my personal app portfolio: read later services.

I guess it is safe to say that the two major apps in this domain are Pocket and Instapaper.

Frankly, only one of the two mentioned apps/services, Instapaper, delivers a reading experience that is on par2 with Reeder.

Nevertheless, both Pocket and Unread have a fan base of considerable size. Even though this seems weird to me there are certainly reasons. And furthermore: a lot of products arguably fail to deliver on their supposed core competency, but are still quite successful in their respective domain.

Cars, TVs, headphones, you name it.

  1. despite the need to wear glasses

  2. if not even more advanced