Adapting iBird to the new iPad Retina Display

We did some studies on enlarging the resolution of our app to take advantage of the new iPad retina display. What you get is increased detail when zooming in on illustrations. Below are two examples.

1. The first illustration is from our current iBird Pro app. On an iPad 3 I opened the Portrait and page and enlarged the head of the Acorn Woodpecker as it is now, so you can see how it pixilated on the iPad 3. (It would look this way on any iPad).

2. In the 2nd photo I made a new image of the Acorn Woodpecker so its height is equal to the height of the iPad (1536) (overall 1229 w x 1536 h). I then imported into the iPad 3 Photo Gallery and zoomed in to about the same size as the one in iBird. Compare the differences. Is it not amazing?

Since the iPad 3 is actually 264 dpi I could make the image even higher res and it would look even better.

3. Bytes wise the larger images takes up 230K which is pretty large. Let’s assume this was the average for all our images (which may be close to correct). So if you multiply this by the current 1300 drawings in iBird it would be about 300 MB for all illustrations. That might not be so bad an increase in app size since we are already at 600 MB for Pro with about half this being the sounds.

But if we also do this to photos then we have to add 3,000 files and that is another 900 MB or 1.2 GB. Add in our sounds you are talking about a 2.5 GB iBird app.

At first I thought this would be too big to try to sell then my marketing brain kicked in like this. We are planning to do iBird HD for the iPad completely over, starting from scratch. This app will have a new UI to replace the sucky one in HD. We use the SAVE algorithm (SAVE stands for Smart Attribute and Value Elimination and is covered by this patent: http://www.google.com/patents/US7363309). Let’s say we let this app be 2.5 to 3 GB.

We may call it iBird HD Ultimate.

We would let it replace the current iBird HD and it becomes our super-sized native iPad bird app (current iBird HD Pro owners see it as a free upgrade). Perhaps it becomes the King of birding apps in the iTunes app store and nothing will ever touch it.

How cool would that be?

Thoughts?

Mitch

Current iPad

Hi Res iPad

Review of Kindle Fire for Birders

Updated Dec 12, 2011
The Kindle Fire is for the birds.

Click to see at Amazon

I mean that in a good way. Yesterday my Kindle Fire appeared in the mailbox. I immediately unpacked and set it up to see how it compared to other tablets as a field guide for birding.  I downloaded iBird Pro from the Amazon app store and this is a review of what I found. I’m going to keep this short.

Caveat: I believe I can write intelligently about the Kindle Fire because as an app developer I’ve tested our Android product on about 20 different tablets to date. (In a future blog I’ll compare those devices.) I’ll start by giving you a quick overview of the good and the not so good about the device for the average person contemplating a purchase.

Overall Kindle Fire Pros and Cons for Anyone Buying a Tablet Today

After using the Kindle Fire for a day I am extremely impressed and 100% convinced it will turn the entire tablet market upside down.

In doing so it will grab a lot of share from Apple (and help Google in the process to dominate the mobile market). The most impressive thing about this device is its price of $200. Most tablets on the market cost around $500, so a $200 tablet is amazing. Compared to the iPad the Fire is missing a lot of features but on the other hand its incredibly low price may prove many of those features superfluous to most people.

iSuppli pegs the Fire’s build cost at $209.31 while Piper Jaffray puts it at $250.

The strategy of Jeff Bezos is brilliant: sell the hardware at a loss and make it up by sales of Amazon products though the Kindle. Using the Kindle to buy products in the Amazon store is a breeze, the browser is customized specifically for that purpose. We’ll have to wait and see if the profits can make up for the losses.

Pros for Everyone

  • $200 price is a steal – half the norm today for tablets
  • Solidly built and rubber back makes it less slippery
  • Customized home page works fairly well – a little too sensitive
  • Android interface has been super customized and simplified
  • The device was almost instantly useable because it came with a custom email address
  • Screen is gorgeous, bright, colors well saturated
  • No hardware buttons to wear out or menus other than start/sleep
  • Email was easy to set up
  • Speed is fast enough for several apps to run simultaneously
  • Nice drop down menu at screen top of important settings like WiFi, brightness, sync
  • Has a standard headphone jack

Cons for Everyone

  • No camera, microphone, GPS, Bluetooth or memory-card slot
  • No hardware buttons or menus other than start/sleep
  • Keyboard keys very small and easy to make mistakes
  • Off switch is too easy to hit by accident
  • Touch screen is hesitant and sometimes stubborn
  • Keyboard is overly sensitive – too easy to type wrong characters
  • Audio quality is good but volume is lower than other tablets
  • No cellular or whisper net (like Kindle book readers)
  • WiFi a bit wonky
  • Animation and screen swipes are a bit sluggish but not that bad (to me)
  • Screen is a finger print magnet and needs a glare reducer when used in bright light
  • Only 8 GB of memory can be used up quickly by magazines, books and apps
  • Heavy compared to the newer 7 inch tablets (e.g. Sony Tablet)
  • Unconventional and customized Android interface takes some getting used to
  • A bit sluggish and taps don’t always register but this is version 1.0
  • Registration process was not clear – came with an email address
  • No hardware volume control but slider easily accessible
  • Amazon store is lacking several important apps but there is a way around this (2)
  • Store doesn’t rank apps and is missing some really important ones (3)
  • WiFi gave inconsistent results when used with AT&T WiFi inside Barnes and Noble! This was the case in the first store I tried but the next day at a different B&N it worked fine.
  • Custom “Silk” browser is not as fast as I was led to believe, won’t resolve some pages and sometimes stalls
  • The mail program really needs to be improved, I had a hard time using it
  • No privacy – you can’t clear your browser history so anyone can see what you visited and the last app you used shows as the first icon in the home page carousel

Looking at the Pros and Cons list you might conclude that there are way  more things I don’t like than I do like. Actually I made up the list of Con’s with other tablets in my mind at the time, and it’s human nature to find things wrong easier than things right. So don’t take the imbalance as a negative. I’m convinced that most of the Con issues will be fixed in subsequent Amazon updates.

Kindle Fire Pros and Cons Specifically for Birders

These are the things people who like to bird will want to be aware of about the Kindle Fire.

Overall compared to other tablets the Kindle Fire offers the best cost and value tradeoff for birding.

The only real competitor to the Kindle Fire, in this birder’s opinion, is the new $199 iPod touch, which is not a tablet, but a smartphone minus the phone. While the iPod touch has a superior interface and can fit in your pocket its small screen means it’s not as good for reading books and surfing the web, so a personal choice has to be made carefully between these devices. The other 20 tablets I’ve used are either too heavy, too big, or too expensive. If I had to pick one “high-end” Android tablet today it would be the new Sony. It has a beautiful hardware design, and is amazingly light weight. It is great for arm-chair birders who don’t mind spending $500. The other tablet I would consider if I was not concerned about cost would be the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 running Android Honeycomb 3.2. I recently upgraded my Galaxy tab from OS 3.1 to OS 3.2 and it was a huge improvement.

Pros for Birders

  • Screen still readable in sunlight
  • Light weight – about the same as Sibley or Nat Geo printed book
  • Birding apps run well and are very easy to install
  • Cost is really low ($200) which means you get all the extra values of a tablet in a book reader
  • Will fit in a large coat pocket
  • Battery life decent, will last for at least 8 hours of continuous  use

Cons for Birders

  • No camera, microphone, GPS, Bluetooth or memory-card slot
  • Heavy and thick (1/2 inch) means won’t fit in pants pocket
  • No external storage card means limits to what can be on device
  • Changing volume is difficult in the field as there is no hardware control
  • Volume really is too low – needs an audio amp for birds to hear well
  • Entering text in a bird app is harder than it should be as keyboard is so sensitive
  • Definitely needs a case in the field, dropping it will crack the screen (1)
  • Battery life not as long as other tablets – maybe good for a day of heavy use

My Impressions of the Kindle Fire

The big surprise for me when I unpacked the Kindle Fire was it was already turned on!  Which was confusing because it was not clear what to do next. There was not one sheet of paper describing how to start the device and I could not find an on/off button. Eventually I found the tiny button next to the charger receptacle on the bottom edge and when I pressed it the title Kindle Fire on the screen started rippling and I took this as it starting up. Still this is not grandmother friendly. The packaging gives an impression of cheapness and an “I really don’t care what the user experiences when they open my product for the first time”.  I think Jeff Bezos does not have the sensitivity of Steve Jobs when it comes to presentation. Or maybe he will after he reads this review (yeah dream on).

The next surprise was the Kindle Fire opened what looked like a registration screen and already had an email address for me set (name@kindle.com). There was a link called Deregister but I was not sure what to do so I pressed it and it let me enter my normal Amazon user name (but not a password). However later I discovered the @kindle.com address was still enabled. I was able to press Deregister again and this time when I entered my normal Amazon email account it actually took. You really want to change the Kindle Fire account email address right away otherwise the apps you download will have to be re-downloaded. Apps are always associated with the email address you log into the Fire with.

Next I was presented with a WiFi setup screen that didn’t show my main WiFi account. I had to take it closer to the router to get a stronger signal. I think there is some weakness in the WiFi hardware and this is why I gave it a “wonky” note in the Cons section.

The last surprise was before I got to the home page the Kindle Fire needed to be updated with new Amazon firmware.

This update process took a half hour to download and install. When it rebooted the device there was a long period where I could not tell if it was starting up or stuck. Amazon left all the waiting indicators off the design which will have you scratching your head at times wondering what its doing.  Amazon could have included a tiny low cost LED that blinked when the device was busy, or just used the customary spinning cursor, but perhaps they have reasons for dropping activity indicators I can’t fathom.

One thing is clear about the Kindle Fire: it’s the first true competition to the iPad. Imagine you are an Android tablet manufacturer today. Lacking Amazon’s huge online infrastructure the only way you can compete is by adding new hardware features. And that means raising the price which will just push more customers into Amazon’s grip. And while Apple can counter Amazon’s store with its iTunes ecology the iTune’s store is only good for media like music and video and software like apps. Jeff Bezos says Apple’s approach is to sell hardware at high margins while Amazon’s approach is to sell everything at low margins. Both approaches have pros and cons but if you think about it Amazon’s more varied product strategy gives them insurance should people tire of the excitement around tablets and smartphones.

There are many extensive reviews on the Internet about the Kindle Fire (for example see David Pogue’s excellent and amusing Fire Aside, Other Kindles Also Shine.) These reviews are not all as positive as mine but I think that’s because there authors are trying to compare the Fire to an iPad or expensive Android tablet by features rather than ecology. In such a comparison the Fire won’t win. There are also a lot of debates about whether the Fire is an iPad killer and several other controversies. However it is my opinion that if you are a birder you will be VERY happy with the Kindle Fire.

One recent review in the New York Times (As Kindle Fire Faces Critics, Remedies Are Promised by David Streifeld, Dec 1, 2011) raises some interesting points regarding the different impressions people have. It reminds me of the story of the blind men describing an elephant by touch. In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement. One reviewer is particularly negative.

“I feel the Fire is going to be a failure,” Mr. Nielsen, of the Nielsen Norman Group, a Silicon Valley consulting firm, said in an interview. “I can’t recommend buying it.”

This particular review, in this writer’s opinion, Mr. Neilsen seems to have got stuck touching the tail of the elephant. It’s always easy to find things wrong with version 1.0 of any software product and that is why I recommend you stand back and see the product as dynamic and evolving.  Mr. Nielsen seems foolish to underestimate Amazon and discount the Kindle Fire.

The Tablet Arm’s Race

Right now there is a major fight to be king of the tablet between Amazon, Google and Apple with Samsung quickly gaining traction on everyone. This epic battle is unlike those of the past that relied on who offered the best hardware. Today all companies have access to roughly the same hardware technology and so these companies are looking for other ways to win the tablet battle. Right now Apple owns most of the market from a profitability viewpoint by choosing a strategy of the best hardware, the most fun interface and its iTunes and iCloud ecology.  iTunes offers a huge number of apps, songs and videos which are now, though iCloud, seamlessly integrated with the iPad hardware (you no longer have to sync your iPad to a computer running iTunes). While Apple has had an enormous lead in the market and its hardware has super high margins, the field is rapid shifting because of Google’s Android OS. The recent addition of iCloud is Apple’s attempt to make the use of the iPad even easier than before, and to allow all your media and apps to live in the cloud instead of taking up room on your device.

Both Amazon and Google are attempting to unseat Apple’s lead in the tablet market by jumping beyond just media. While they both provide music and video stores, Amazon beats Apple with over one million ebooks plus an online supermarket with unlimited products you can buy. Think of Amazon as the Walmart of the tablet makers. You would think that with Amazon having such a killer infrastructure that Google is handicapped in this race.

Never Underestimate Google

Right now Google is working very hard to bring Near Field Communication or NFC to the Android standard. NFC is the ability to for devices to be used as credit cards by communicating with card readers in stores. They call this an open commerce ecosystem and the official name of the feature is Google wallet. Thus Google hopes to leap over Amazon by allowing any Android tablet or phone to tap into every store in the world that takes credit cards. Thus rather than being limited to just the products that Amazon has in there warehouse you have access to every store that offers an interface to Google Wallet. That is a huge vision.

Google also has YouTube which they are attempting to turn into a television network on the internet and they are working on Google TV to bring every Google product to your living room flat panel television.

With such a competitive race it’s very difficult to choose who will be the winner but one thing is certain; consumers are going to be offered amazing products as companies fight for their allegiance.

Despite Amazon never giving out the units sold of any Kindle model (unlike Apple who loves to brag about their awesome numbers), analysts are predicting that the company will sell between three to five million Fires this quarter.

Notes
(1) I bought the Belkin Verve Tab Folio for Kindle Fire, Purple case because it had good reviews on Amazon, it’s leather and I like the color purple. However there are many choices.
(2) Search the web and you’ll find how to trick he Kindle to download apps not in the Amazon store and I am not describing jail-breaking the tablet (Nonetheless I take no responsibility for this and your on your own if you do it).
(3) The apps are on there way I am sure, just be patient.

About the New iBird Photo Center

NEW PHOTO CENTER – If you love photography this new feature is going to blow your mind. The Photo Center lets you import your own photos and then add them to a bird species. But it does more. It lets you share them on Facebook or Twitter, or email to friends. You can set up the slideshow so it shows only your photos with the species bird songs playing behind it. We spent 3 months building the Photo Center and we really think you’ll find the functionality outstanding.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIAVbBhyDvY]


Below – Photo Center Screen Shots
Click on an image to see it full size.

More about iBird Pro

What are the differences between iBird for iPhone and iBird HD?

This document explains the differences between iBird for the iPhone and iBird HD for the iPad. A table below shows the differences as well.

iBird for iPhone

iBird for iPhone is an electronic field guide for birders.  A powerful search engine allows you to identify birds by their attributes (size, color, family, song, etc.).  It contains a rich database of bird species that includes color illustrations, photographs, range maps, bird call recordings, identification information, habitat information and more.  iBird is also an Apple universal app, which means that even though it is an iPhone application it runs in full screen on the iPad.  iBird is the perfect field guide for birds for the iPhone, with the added convenience that it runs in full screen on the iPad.

iBird for the iPhone also has a cool Photo Center feature that lets you import your own photos to the species pages so you can show them off. It also lets you share them on FaceBook or Twitter with your own comments directly from the phone. There is also a spectrographic display of the audio bird calls so you can see lots more information in them.

iBird HD for iPad

iBird HD is an iPad application that contains all of the search features and information from iBird for iPhone. Unlike iBird for iPhone, iBird HD is a native iPad application, so it was designed with the larger screen of the iPad in mind. Therefore it supports multiple device orientations (landscape and portrait views), multiple pop-ups and windows for more information on a single screen and in general provides a better user experience on the iPad. The HD stands for High Definition and refers to the fact the illustrations are 720 pixels tall, which is a format used by large panel televisions.

iBird HD also allows you to compare birds side-by-side, this feature is not available in iBird for iPhone.  This feature allows you to list the attributes of up to three birds side-by-side so you can easily identify differences between the species.

Searching for Dummies

iBird HD also has a more powerful search function since it uses Mitch Waite Group’s SAVE algorithm which stands for Smart Attribute and Value Elimination. This search technology is covered by US Patent 7,363,309 (see Note 1 below) and was developed by myself and Robert Levy, a programmer who was only 17 years old at the time we filed for the patent! To fully appreciate the beauty of algorithm lets first review the search method used by the majority of birding apps including our own iBird for the iPhone.

The simple way to build a search engine is as a series of filters; you pick a characteristic, such as shape and the filter narrows the database to just those birds that match that shape.

You then pick a second characteristic, such as color, and the search engine filters the shape list to birds with just that color. Can you see a flaw in this approach? What if none of the birds in the list of matched of shapes in the first filter match the color you pick in the second filter? You get “no matched birds” as a result. Now this might not sound like a big deal since you can just try a different color until you find one that matches but if you do that you are guessing and guessing can take a long time. Its a messy and inefficient way to search. The problem is similar to the way Google and all search engines work today–you pick a keyword or phase to search and you either get a million links back or you get the message “sorry nothing matches your phase”.

The SAVE Method of Search

SAVE is a method that narrows down the search criteria as you select attributes of the bird you are trying to identify and never gives the “no matched birds” result.

The importance of the SAVE method is you are always guaranteed to find a result, meaning you can’t get a blank screen with “no birds matched.” For example, if you select the shape of the bird as “duck-like”, SAVE will eliminate blue from the list of primary colors, since there are no ducks with blue as a primary color. This is “value” elimination. In the iPad the color values that won’t yield results are grayed out so they can’t be tapped. The other thing the algorithm does is eliminate attributes that won’t contribute to the search results or will give a no matched answer. For example ducks are not backyard feeder birds, so if Duck is picked as a shape the Backyard Feeder attribute is eliminated on the iPad. So the SAVE feature lets you know which attributes will yield search results and which won’t. If an attribute of the bird has been eliminated, then you know that one of the attributes you previously selected may be wrong.

SAVE makes the iBird HD search feature great for those birders who want to focus on identification and is a fantastic teaching tool.

Which One Should I Buy?

If you only have an iPhone and never plan to buy a iPad there is no choice, the iPhone version is what you want. If you own an iPad or plan to buy one in the future you could buy the iPhone version first. Since it will run full screen on the iPad you will be able to see the full size illustrations and photos. However if you are a birder who wants to learn to identify like the experts iBird HD for the iPad would be a good app to buy. Also since it was designed from the ground up for the iPad it has a more sophisticated 3 window display and provides more information on the screen at one time than the smaller iPhone screen. This means less button pressing for you. If you don’t plan on taking lots of hikes were the portability of the iPhone is a benefit the iPad version would also be a good idea. We sometimes refer to iBird HD as perfect for “armchair” birders, as a replacement for  textbook and for those who really want help in learning to identify birds.

Comparing Features of iBird for iPhone to iBird HD for iPad

Features

iBird for iPhone

iBird HD for iPad

Covers Birds of North America

Search Feature

Runs on iPhone

Full screen on iPad

Native iPad Interface

Smart Attribute and Value Elimination Search (1)

Compare Birds Grid

Species Page Features (2)

Photo Center to Import and Share Photos

Song Spectrogram Display

Notes
(1) Smart Attribute and Value Elimination Search or SAVE is a patented parametric search algorithm developed by Mitch Waite Group and Robert Levy. This method of use is covered by one or more of the following patent(s): US patent number 7,363,309 and foreign equivalents.

(2) Includes Illustrations, Photographs, Slideshow, Range Maps, Bird Call Recordings, Identification Information, Ecology Information, Similar Birds and Interesting Facts.

The Pain of Updates: Separating Content from Application

If you ever updated a large iPhone/iPad or Android app you know how painful it can be. How many times have you cursed the publisher of your product because:

  • The connection to the internet dropped or decided to slow to a crawl
  • The App icon gave the message “Waiting” and would not continue
  • The  battery in your device died or the application crashed
  • You ran out of patience waiting for the download to finish
  • The device went to sleep in the middle of the download
  • Your wife yelled at you to change the babies diapers NOW

Customers of iBird–and most likely of other large birding apps such as Audubon, Sibley and others–all have huge apps that occasionally or frequently need to be updated. And when that happens they usually look for the Tylenol before commencing.

Lumps Are Not All the Same Size

Here at Mitch Waite Group we have had our share of suffering customers who let us know they were unhappy trying to update their app. Whether the app be on the Apple or Android platform, the complaints usually fall into one of the categories in the bullets listed above. Why are there so many problems with these mobile device updates? After all when you update a program on  your PC or Mac it’s a pretty straightforward process. In fact most of the time you can walk away and come back later to see if it’s done.

The reason that apps are harder, fall into one or more of these categories:

  • Mobile devices are not normally connected directly to the Internet over Ethernet
  • Mobile devices use WiFi which is often unreliable and slow
  • Mobile devices have slow processors and not much RAM as compared to desktop or laptop PCs so everything takes longer
  • Mobile apps are not well designed for update processes

This last point, Mobile apps are not well designed for update processes, is one that large apps are particularly plagued with. Take iBird Pro – on the iPhone iBird Pro is over 500 Megabytes. That is 1/2 a Gigabyte. Its a lot of space. For example if you have a metered cell phone plan of 200 MB a month and try to download iBird over it you will eat up your entire allotment and be charged for the overages. If you have a 10GB a month plan you will eat up 5% of it with this one download.

Who Do You Love: Apple or Google?

Apple developers with large apps will tell you that they love Apple a lot more than Google (who licenses the Android OS to the carriers) for one big reason. Apple bundles the content of an app with the program itself, puts them in one file and then hosts that file on their servers. Google on the other hand limits the size of the app they will allow to be placed on there servers to 25 Megabytes. There are statements on the web from the last Bootcamp that Google increased the maximum size of an app all the way up to 4 GB. However we have not been able to confirm that. So as a developer, up to now, if your app is larger you must find a way to get around this.

Automagic Downloads: the Bird by Bird Installer

Given iBird Pro’s database is 500 MB we had to come up with a way to handle the Android app size limit. The way we did it was to unbind the database from the application. The way it works is like this: When you download an iBird app from the Market you are basically getting the main application without the database. Once the app is installed you are taken to a screen in iBird where you can download the illustration, photo and sound files (what we call binary data). You are given the option to download all of the content or just some of the content (for example all species which start with the letter A).  We also made it so you can skip doing this download process. In which case when you actually go to a species page in iBird the very first thing that happens is the binary data for that bird is downloaded automagically.

Now if Google has actually increased their app limit to 4 GB would we want to bind the database back to the app and let them host the whole thing for us like Apple does? The simple answer is no. The reason is as follows.

The Benefit of Separating Content from Application

The advantages we get as developers and pass on to our customers when we separate the database from the content are:

  • We can update the database and the user doesn’t have to reinstall the entire app to get these changes.
  • We can modify the app and the user doesn’t have to download 500 MB of data  to get these changes.
  • We can make even tiny or minor changes in the database and the customer can download them quickly and with little effort or interruption.

The negative side of separation are:

  • We as developers have to pay to host the database
  • The place we host the database has to be a fast server so customers don’t have to wait a long time for the delivery

Now that we have discovered the Content Delivery Network MaxCDN who now host our Android database we have solved both the above negatives.

Show me an Example

Here is an example of how we present the separation when the app starts. This shows the iBird Lite app starting up and the message received that a database update is waiting. The customer can skip it for now and do it later if they wish.

But Wait — There is More

As  you can see in the message for this update we added 18 new photos. A link is provided for seeing what photos we have added. You can try it now if  you like:

http://bit.ly/iBird_Lite_db

We used Google docs, specifically a spreadsheet for this list. If we had included more features we could list them here as well.

Mitch

End of the Story?

Maybe not. Stay tuned for more as we continue to advance and improve the database update process.

iBird 2 for Android Troubleshooting FAQ

Note if you you are unable to solve your issue after reading the FAQ you can start a support ticket here: Contact iBird Support

Maintaining Zen-like Calmness
Before you dive into this FAQ I want to give you a word of caution and congratulations. As an Android owner you are a very brave soul. I say this not tongue-in-cheek but in all total seriousness.  As publishers, the Mitch Waite Group has been developing mobile software since the first Window’s platform was launched over seven years ago. We have since dealt with every major mobile platform including Apple iPhone, RIM Blackberry, and now Android for smartphones, tablets and television. It is our unanimous conclusion that there is no more complex, perplexing, hair-pulling, powerful, or obtuse operating system on today’s market then the Android OS. This is not a criticism, because along with this complexity comes incredible power. But we want to warn that as you venture into these frequently asked questions and answers keep in mind that as one of the chosen few you need to maintain a Zen-like state of calmness and patience, lest you find yourself cursing at Google and hurling your phone or tablet into the wall. In many ways Android reminds me of the early days of the personal computer, when people using them were considered pioneers and hobbyists and had to exercise great patience to keep their computers working.  We suggest you find yourself a user group or online community of people that own the same device as you and turn to them for support when the going gets tough. We will do our best to be sensitive to how difficult getting some apps to run on the Android is, but we are not psychologists or priests so please try and exercise some patience with us too.

Review Our Pre-update FAQ
There is a FAQ we developed for the first version of iBird 1 for Android which can be found here:  http://bit.ly/ibird_android_faq While this FAQ is in the process of being updated it may provide information which will help you with you new update to iBird. It contains many more questions and answer then you will find here.

This FAQ, which is being presented as blog post, is the start of a second FAQ specifically for the new iBird 2 for Android. Its purpose is to you install iBird on your tablet or smartphone as well as to help you solve problems other problems you may encounter. It starts with the most common problems people have told us they are dealing with. If you can’t find your answer here please write to us as the email form at Contact iBird Support.

PROBLEM
I get a message “iBird cannot function without an SD Card” and I can’t install the app
.
If you get this message and you know your SD Card is installed and has room on it for the iBird database or your device doesn’t use an SD Card it usually means there is a connectivity problem accessing the internet.

SOLUTION

  1. Open the browser on your device and make sure you can connect to the Internet, for example type http://www.google.com and make sure the page comes up and the links on it work.
  2. If you can’t connect to Google try turning your WIFI off and on again (Settings->Wireless and Networks->WiFi ) Uncheck and then recheck the box. Make sure it says Connected to [your wifi network name]. Then try again to connect to Google with your browser. Until you can connect to the Internet with a fast WiFi you will not be able to install iBird.
  3. Once you can connect to Google try installing iBird again.

PROBLEM
I’ve reinstalled the new iBird update but I’m still having some problems with the program and I need your help. Every time I use the sync function, even if for only 1 bird, the program begins to sync, but gets caught in a loop and tries to sync the same images over and over again, never completing the task.

SOLUTION
This is usually because there is a bad database file in the iBird database folder left over from the previous install. The best solution to fix this is to delete the iBird database folder which is found on your SD Card, or storage memory if you dont have an SD Card. To delete this folder you are going to need to use a third party file manager program. You can get many from the Google Market. My favorite is the free Astro File Manager. Once it is installed Force Close iBird from the Applications settings. Then open the File Manager and locate the database folder for your particular version of iBird. Here are the names.

App            Folder Name
iBird Pro     iBird_Pro_Android
iBird Lite    iBird_Lite_Android
iBird Yard   iBird_Yard_Android

Once you found the folder hold your finger down on it and a menu will appear. Select Edit. Then select Delete. There will be a delay as the File Manager computes the size of the folder’s contents, so be patient. Pro takes the longest. Tap Yes when you are asked if you wish to delete the folder.

Now return to your iBird app and make sure it is NOT running in memory by doing a Force Close. Then make sure you have a good internet connection by connecting to google.com. Now start iBird and it will detect that there is no database and give a message that it is downloading a new one. This is stage one of the process where iBird downloads the sqlite database called WingedExplorer.db and and sets up the folders for the image and sound files. Next you will get the Registration screen. Tap Later, Register or Never and you should finally see the full set of icons for your app and be able to scroll though them. Now you are ready to sync so go to the More page and select Synchronize so that iBird can download the image and sound files. These files are on a high speed server called a CDN so they should go very fast. If they dont it could be your Internet is slow or your device is old and has a slow radio.

If all is well you will see the progress dialog box and the two bars will show the download activity. If you are still having trouble please contact us at: Contact iBird Support

PROBLEM
Why is iBird taking FOREVER to download the database of bird images and sounds?
This is one of the biggest issues with Android devices. In working with dozens of devices over the years we have discovered that they are prone to many more connectivity issues than other mobile platforms. Loss of the WIFI connection is one of the most frequent issues as well as very slow WIFI bandwidth. While our iBird database is on a very fast server if  the WIFI radio in your smartphone is a poor one, the download will go very slow. The newer phones and tablets have much less of a problem with connectivity. So if you find that syncing is taking a long time, here are some places to look at.

SOLUTION

  1. Don’t use your cellular network for downloading iBird’s database. It’s way too big and the cellular network is slow.
  2. Check the speed of your WIFI from  your device. Download the free speedtest.net mobile app and use it to measure your WIFI bandwidth. The download speed should be above 1000 kbps (1 mbps) to get good download speed.
  3. Reboot your router. Do this when you find your can’t connect or your download speed is really slow, or the number of bars on  your WIFI icon are 1 to 2 instead of a strong 4 to 5.
  4. In your settings, under “sound and display” set your screen timeout for as long as the device will allow.
  5. Please note that android devices will often drop the WiFi signal during downloads so you need to keep an eye on that and reconnect if it is dropped.

PROBLEM
When I try to update update iBird I get a message “Sorry, there’s not enough space to install this item”. My phone says it has 228MB of App Storage, 1.38GB of Internal Storage, and 2.87GB on the SD. That should be enough so what the heck is going on here?
iBird’s requirements for memory are a bit more complicated than a typical Android app because there are TWO areas of memory that are required.

  1. The app itself, which is what you download from the Android Market, is typically–but not always–stored in what is referred to as phone memory, app memory, or other names.
  2. The database, which is very large (550 MB for Pro) is always stored in what is referred to as storage memory or SD memory.

Here is what you need to do to get iBird to fit on your phone or tablet.

SOLUTION

App or program memory is a type of fast RAM (random access memory) which is very fast and small in size. Because it is so fast it is devoted the running your programs. It can vary in capacity from as small as 64MB (in older devices) to as much as 512MB (in newer devices and tablets). Most but not all Android apps share App memory so if you have many apps it is not unusual that they won’t all fit. If this memory is full when you try to install iBird you may receive the message “Sorry, there’s not enough space to install this item” it means most likely that there was not enough room in program memory to store the iBird app. There are two solutions to this problem, explained next.

The message “Sorry, there’s not enough space to install this item” refers to the iBird app itself NOT the large database.

If you receive the message “Sorry, there’s not enough space to install this item” your first solution is to see if you can move the application from program (app) memory to storage memory or your SD Card. By default iBird always tries to install the app to SD Card or storage memory, however the final arbitrator of where iBird is installed is up to your actual device, not us as developers. Yes I know there are other apps that always install to SD Card memory but again it is not totally under our control. There are things about the way each app works that controls if it can be run from storage memory. In some cases storage memory is too slow. The point is we as developers can only suggest to the OS where to put iBird.

To see if you can override where the iBird app is stored go to the Settings->Applications->Manage Applications menu and tap the iBird application in the list of apps. You should find a button called Move to Storage Memory. If this button is enabled tap it to move the app to storage memory. If the button is disabled (grayed out) it means that iBird on your device can’t be moved to storage memory.

As developers we can only suggest to Android where to install your app, but the final decision is up to the device itself.

If the problem is that you do not have enough room in app memory for iBird and you are unable to move it to storage memory the only solution is to remove one of the your other apps to make room for it. You can go to the Settings->Applications->Manage Applications menu and sort if by Size to see which of your apps is taking the most room. Then uninstall that app and try to install iBird again.

I had this problem with my older Motorola Droid. I had to remove the Audubon app before I could get iBird to fit. In both the case of iBird and Audubon the app would not install in SD Card memory.


The Price of Success – An Android Apology & Solution

Note: The iBird Android apps are now working and in the Google Market. If you have a support issue please go to this page and fill out our support form. Contact iBird Support If for some reason you can’t use that form you can try support at ibird dot com.

You’ve heard the stories.

  • The Brittany Spears concert sells out in 10 minutes and the ticket master web site crashes.
  • President Obama implores the American people to let “your Member of Congress” know they want  a “balanced approach to the budget” and at least nine Web sites for House and Senate leaders go down.
  • Target’s web site comes crashing down as Missoni-loving fashion devotees scramble to buy the high-end Italian designer’s clothes for a song.

While this drives us crazy there is one positive side effect; someone did something right to cause all the attention.

I Want My iBird NOW!

Those of you who tried to upgrade the iBird Pro for Android in the Google Market on Wednesday felt the pain as the database took a ridiculously long time to synchronize.

I’m writing here today to apologize for this unintentional faux pas and to let you know we are doing all we can to fix the issue and explain what caused it.

The reason for this, to cut to the chase, was the was much higher demand than our server could keep up with. Why? Well this particular update to iBird made it compatible with a large number of Android tablets launched in the last year. Up till now the app only worked well on smartphones with small screens.  This version also contained brand new high res 720p illustrations and photos. These made the database about twice as large as the previous version. So unbeknownst to us the number of customers who had new tablets and wanted to update was huge so within a few hours of the apps appearing in the Google Market our web server slowed to a crawl. Updates of the database, which normally take no more than 5 minutes to an hour and a half were taking several hours.

At first we thought something was wrong with the program. Which was a shock because we’ve spent the last 8 months testing this app over and over until we were sure everything was working great.Whats that saying about an ounce of prevention?

Not.

Unpublish iBird from the Google Market

The only thing we could do at this point was to plug the dike meaning put a stop to the number of people getting caught in this mess. So we unpublished the Pro and Lite apps. We didn’t remove Yard since we had not updated it but its not designed yet for tablets.

No Excuses

Which just goes to show you why software is such a tough business and so many companies find themselves stuck in this situation. Now I know there are those of you out there that feel there is no excuse for this kind of problem and all I can say to you is the world is not perfect and neither are we. We just didn’t anticipate that so many people would want to download iBird at the same time. After all this is not an app that people can’t live without. Or maybe it is? Some of the emails we got: “When are you going to get things fixed so I can update my iBird? This is horrible–I am about to go on a birding tour and I had planned on showing everyone how good I am at identification. Now what am I gong to do? My reputation will be ruined.”

Hence the double-sided coin of pain and pleasure alluded to in the beginning of the story: people love our app more than we ever imagined. Which feels great. But at the same time people have become so dependent on iBird that there’s this huge pressure to keep it running perfectly all the time.

The Android Arms Race

While we are addressing disappointment let me get this out of the way.

iBird is not going to work perfectly on all tablets.

Yep you heard that right.

Why?

A myriad of reasons. For one with the introduction of the tablet the app has become much more complicated.  In this current 2.0 update we have made it so iBird “adapts” to different screens resolutions.  That might not sound like much much but it’s a really tough thing to get right. You see the so-called Android “standard” is actually a patchwork quilt of different versions. In fact Google has revised Android at least five times in the last three years.  And they have created 3 different Android OS’s, one for smartphones, one for tablets and one for televisions (what you have not heard of Google TV?).

Each time Google revises the OS it means that things that once worked fine may now break. As far as Google is concerned it’s the responsibility of  developers to keep up with these OS changes.

On top of these changes in the OS we have carriers trying to differentiate their devices from other companies.  They accomplish this by making changes to the hardware and the software itself. These changes make each Android device work different than others. There is literally an “arms race” among carriers as they try to make their device better than the other guys. Caught in the middle are developers, like ourselves, who have to make sure their apps can still work on all these devices. Let me tell you its a huge mess. Indeed there is a company called Device Anywhere which has a web site that emulates all the different Android devices on the market. Developers can rent time on their site to test their apps, but trust me it’s not cheap (hundreds of dollars an hour) and it’s so in demand you have to make an appointment to test your app. Nice business to be in but the point is the poor developer is caught up in this ever changing landscape of hardware alternations.

I know some iPhone developers who actually refuse to port to their apps to Android because they can’t justify the amount of work required to keep the app up to date.

With iBird we have tested it on at least 50 different devices. We know there are some Android devices which iBird will not work on. But since Google gives you 15 minutes from the time you make a purchase to the time you can get a refund we recommend you take this time to download the smaller iBird Lite and see if it will work on your device. If it wont then please cancel your order and get  refund. Otherwise you have to wait while we try to figure out why iBird won’t run on your Optimus Trend Setter Tablet.

The Solution – CDN

So we have a solution to the server overload issue and it’s called a Content Delivery System. Essentially this is a service provided by different companies such as Akamai, Edgecast, Rack Space, GoDaddy GoGrid and others that hosts media and lets it be downloaded and streamed with high bandwidth. CDNs are typically used for steaming videos and music as well as for downloading software. They do not require that you buy any hardware or even set up any software, rather then give you an account and a browser based dashboard where you upload your content for storage. You get a URL that goes into your application, or a player you can install that is able to download the data from where its stored by the CDN,

How Long will iBird Syncing take with CDN?

The time to sync iBird on the CDN network depends not only on the speed of the CDN network but also your WIFI and your ISP which your WIFI connects to. Its a chain. It starts with the CDN but then goes through these other pipes until it gets to your Android device.

Here are the results I got testing last night using the GoGrid (re-purposed EdgeCast) CDN. This is on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10 which is a very fast tablet.

Product Download Sync Time Size Birds/Min
iBird Lite 30 35 sec 5 min 30 MB 6
iBird Pro 924 5 min 90 min 550 MB 10

Now your own mileage may vary. Note that iBird Lite with only 30 birds downloaded them all in 5 minutes, meaning about 6 per minute while iBird Pro with 924 birds downloaded them all in 90 minutes meaning about 10 per minute. Why? Because with so many more birds iBird Pro has more time to take advantage of the bandwidth and therefore represents a more realistic average.

The bytes downloaded per minute is around 6 MB (550 MB / 90 min = 6.111 MB / min) or about 100K per second. This is pretty fast by most internet standards. But again it is going over WIFI and that puts a pretty good bottleneck in the speed.

Here are the results I got testing the Maxcdn CDN today. This is on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10 which is a very fast tablet. This is the CDN we finally settled on.

Product Download Sync Time Size Birds/Min
iBird Lite 30 22 sec 1-1/2 min 30 MB 20
iBird Pro 924 2-1/2 min 27 min 550 MB 34 !!

Note the time to sync Pro went from 90 minutes on GoGrid to 27 minutes on Maxcdn.  So the birds downloaded per minute went from 10 to 30. That’s 300% faster!

The bottom line here is the CDN will vastly improve the download time of iBird. We can’t promise you will get the kind of speed we did but hopefully it will be way better than the hours it was taking last week.

Thank you for your patience.

Mitch Waite

Note if you have a support issue please go to this page and fill out our support form. Contact iBird Support

Birding Apps – Part 4. iBird Pro and Whales

It’s not uncommon in the video game business for 1% of the customers spend the most amount of money and support your costs of the remaining 99%. The popular gaming company Zynga (Mafia Wars, Farmville) sells its games mostly though Facebook. People that have worked there reported the fact that a large group of their customers spend $500 a year buying food for their virtual cows, horses and bodyguard weapons. One customer spent $75,000 in a year. They call these customers the “whales”. I am not fond of that label but it does tell the story. We wondered if we had whales (or maybe large geese) that wouldn’t mind spending higher amounts on these apps provided they offered additional value.

In 2010 we had just finished adding a large number of search attributes to the iBird search engine (27). The standard at the time for iBird Plus was 15 attributes. Another argument started at MWG about putting all these features into iBird Plus or creating a new app called iBird Pro and selling it for $29.99. Again I followed my gut. Now we had 9 versions of iBird for the iPhone. Think that is enough? A few months later all hell broke out.

Burned Birders

iBird Pro became our best selling app and totally showed us that people would pay for quality and features that were useful. Unfortunately because app buyers get upgrades for free they have developed an attitude of entitlement. We heard from many Plus buyers in email and our forum who felt that the features of iBird Pro should have been offered to iBird Plus owners as a free update. Some really angry people came out of the woodwork, some even threatened to start a class action suit, claiming we were milking our loyal customers, had no scruples, yada yada.

We felt that these criticisms were unfair. But we still wanted to keep our customers happy. So we came up with a compromise; we created an in-app purchase for iBird Plus that for $10 added all the features of iBird Pro and this made our customers very happy.

No Rest for the Wicked–Then Came iPad

Just when you think you have finally got yourself a good solid product line and can take a rest, think again. You see this business is called software for a reason — soft means it can change and change is what apps are all about. In the beginning of 2010 Apple released the fabulous iPad, the first table computer to really catch the fancy of the public. We knew there was an opportunity for iBird and so we worked furiously with our developer to create a version of iBird that took advantage of all the cool features of the iPad. Its larger screen size meant we could have a much more advanced interface, and its faster processor meant we could ask more out of the program. Being optimized for the iPad meant we could have three columns in the landscape mode, which gave the search engine much more power. You can see the results of a search attribute immediately with no need to go back to another screen like you do on the iPhone. We used higher resolution illustrations and photos in the iPad apps and so we gave them the nomenclature HD for High Definition to help people tell them apart from the iPhone apps. Wanting to give more choices to our customers we created three versions: iBird Lite HD, iBird Yard Plus HD and iBird PRO HD. So now we had 12 versions of iBird, 9 for the iPhone and 3 for the iPad. Even we had trouble keeping them straight in our heads.

Tune in tomorrow to hear about iBird UK.

Birding Apps – Part 3. But You Only Sell Electrons

Birding Apps – Part 3. But You Only Sell Electrons
In our last installment about pricing an iPhone app, we had put together regional versions of iBird at $9.99, considerably less than our $19.99 app, as a way to help people with tight budgets. Apparently that was still not low enough.

I wont’ say that birders are tightwads, that would be harsh, but I will say they are very cautious about spending. Someone in our group had what seemed a brilliant idea at the time: why not create an app devoted just to birds found in the backyard at bird feeders and cut the cost in half again. This led to iBird Backyard with 80 popular backyard birds for $4.99. By now there were a lot of small birding apps in the app store priced at 99 cents. Many were free and in general they did not have all the features of iBird and were nearly devoid of depth of content (It was starting to feel like we were in the boutique coffee business; selling a mocha coconut frappuccino in a market that was use to buying a tall cup of joe.) To make the backyard bird product more attractive we added an additional number of popular birds taking it to 234 species and lowering the price to $2.99. We changed the name to iBird Backyard Plus and finally hit the sweet spot – sales picked up to the point it became one of our best selling apps.

The Real Cost of Apps – Starting with Apple
Let me toss some cold facts on you about the profit of Smartphone apps. There are lots and lots of people who have their fingers in the pie. First you have Apple taking out 30% of every sale. Now I am not complaining when you consider what Apple does for their third: they host the app on their servers and always provide a wide bandwidth on the net for you customers to download it. (For Android Google doesn’t let you have apps larger than a megabyte and iBird is almost 500 megabytes so we have to host our database on our own server). Apple also interfaces with the customer and there credit card collection, cutting down on a ton of support and collection issues. And Apple provides a great market place for your app in the App store, meaning that you don’t have to worry about people finding your app. If they know how to type “birding” into the search box your app will appear.

The Hidden Cost of Development
Most of our customers have no idea what it costs to develop an app. First you have to get the content together. That means artists to paint the illustrations, writers to create the text, editors to review the writing, testers to make sure the text is correct. Art is expensive and will be the subject of an entire other blog but for now just keep this in mind: feathers are one of the most difficult objects in the world to paint realistically. Very few people are good at it so that narrows the number of painters down to a small group.

Then there is programming of the app. You have a lot of people calling themselves iPhone developers today but let me tell you a secret. Very few of them can write good code. I lucked out and found myself a very good developer early in the game. But I also gave him a big advantage which was we had a complete working version of iBird running on Windows Mobile platform. So he could see how we did things and at least had a clear specification of how iBird should work. We also gave him another advantage; the entire content for iBird lived in a time test SQL database on the web called Whatbird.com. Therefore all he had to do was write code to take the contents of the database and display it on the screen. Not a trivial job but at least one that was manageable.

Next we have to pay the people that test the app, plus the people that manage the entire process of content creation, and then there is the need for accountants, and attorneys for the contracts. Perhaps now you get the idea; app development is very expensive. I wont give you our profit margins but I can tell you this much, its not anywhere as lucrative as I had expected.

But You Only Sell Electrons
I’ve heard this argument a lot. In fact recently an attorney told me “you are not publishing anything material like a book or a CD ROM so your cost of goods is zero, therefore your profit margins should be huge.” My answer was “in your dreams.” The truth is all the costs of development for something like a book are put into the hands of a single person; the author. Sure you have editors and production people but they are only responsible for managing words created by a single creative writer. Software on the other hand is a complex synergistic hyper managed process with all the costs I have listed and this makes the it 10 times more complex and more expensive.

Licensing and Royalty Costs
Additional costs come into play for things like bird calls which in our case we license from the Macaulay’s Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University. Other licensing costs can be in the photography, illustrations, and other areas of content. You may also have to pay royalty to programmers and artists, depending on how you negotiate your payment process.

Marketing Costs
If you want to make sure people know about your app you can’t just rely on word of mouth. You need to attend shows like MacWorld, which are very expensive. We have been to Macworld in San Francisco two times and we will be there again in 2012. Magazine ads, Internet advertising, brochures, and other materials all cost money to develop and print.

One More Critical Element
So now that you know a little about the expenses in producing an app. And for this entire formula to work you need one more major ingredient to avoid bankruptcy: success. Success in apps is getting tougher every day. When we started at the end of 2008 there were 5,000 apps. Today there are close to 450,000 apps on the iPhone and thousands of new apps everyday!

A few months after iBird Backyard was out and we understood all the costs I have described above, we realized there needed to be a way to get people to discover our apps without spending the money to buy them. Sounds like the impossible dream but there is a way. We called it iBird Lite. We gave it all the features of iBird Plus but just 30 birds, which was enough to get the idea across and help people make a buying decision. As soon as we published our Lite edition it’s downloads were huge. We saw an immediate jump in overall sales. After welcoming iBird Backyard and iBird Lite to the family we had 8 versions of iBird for the iPhone. Time to stop?

Tune in tomorrow for our next installment: iBird Pro and Whales.

Birding Apps – Part 2. How to Price an App

There were a lot of theories flying around the Mitch Waite Group about why Winged Explorer (WE) failed. Most of us thought the $99 price was too high. Others felt the Windows platform for mobile phones was at the end of its life. After seeing the iPhone it was hard to disagree that the future of Windows Mobile, with its poke with a style interface, was over. But I honestly wasn’t sure what to do about pricing. Clearly people liked the idea of a bird field guide they could carry on their phone, were sick of carrying large books around with them and loved the idea of playing bird songs in the field. Still I was exhausted from the 18 months we had spent working on WE and wanted to throw the towel in. But there were the emails. Dozens of them all saying the same thing: “Love the WE demo but do you have it for the iPhone?” Someone once said the wise businessman goes were the market leads him, and these emails seemed evidence we had the right product on the wrong platform. So I found a good iPhone app developer in September and by December of 2008 and we had the app ready to go into the iPhone app store.

But how to price it? Prevailing wisdom around the water cooler was 99 cents because that was what most apps cost on the iPhone. My thoughts were there were not enough birders with iPhones to make any profit at that sales price. And when you think about it iBird had the equivalent of 14 field guides, which if they were books would be valued around $280 ($20 per book). With birders used to spending $15 to $40 on bird guides I went with $19.99 for the price of iBird Plus. People around the office thought I was nuts.

Flying Below the Radar
For the first few months iBird sold modestly, better than Winged Explorer, but nothing to brag about. Somehow the word needed to get out that you could use your phone as a field guide or we would fly forever below the radar.

Hitting the Proverbial Bulls Eye
Around March of 2009 Apple released a series of television commercials for the iPhone that showed off the various apps. One of them was called “Itchy“. It showed 5 seconds of iBird Plus playing the song of a Red-faced Warbler and a finger taping its icon. Within a few days the sales of iBird went through the roof. The 5 star reviews people left in the store made it very clear $19.99 was a bargain. I finally had a winner. Or so I thought.

Prices are Elastic
There were some however who felt $19.99 was too expensive. They told us in emails they did not travel much and wondered if we could sell a version of iBird that just had the birds in their state at a lower the price? Managing 50 apps, one for each of the states, would have been a nightmare. The answer was five regional versions of iBird: North, South, West, Midwest and Canada for $9.99 each. Once these came out their sales was not as high as Plus but the profit totally justified the effort. So now we had 6 versions of iBird for the iPhone. Was that enough?

 Tune in tomorrow to learn when its time to stop.

Shazam for Birding – When is it coming to iBird?

We got this review for iBird North in the app store today:

Wonderful (v4.0)
5 stars on Jul 12, 2011
I have been using this app for for over two years now and couldn’t be happier! My friends are so impressed how I can ID so many birds just by their calls! My recognition ability has improved ten fold! One suggestion though that would improve this app to the point of astonishment would be audio recognition. Simply point the phone in the direction of a call and the app would ID the bird based on the call (just like “sound hound”). That would be amazing! Thanks for everything!!
Peace…

Even with all the exclamation points its an awesome review. But the part about audio recognition got me to wondering how many other birders would like such a feature? And do you think it would be hard to program into an iPhone?