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Hi all! It's been some time since I wrote. Hope you are OK and surviving Lockdown Three. I'm sure we're all hoping it's the last in the series.


First off, I should explain the reasons for my extended silence. As I mentioned in the last blog, I put Number Ten on hold for a bit, having established that delivering the app in the timescales planned (i.e. before the money ran out!) was not realistic. In its place I've been working on my intervals app, the admittedly dubiously-named Fartlek Interval Trainer.


I'm delighted to be able to announce that the full first release of the app is now live on the App Store and you can download it here.

FiT is on the App Store! Fame at last (well, along with 2 million other app publishers)

I initially submitted the app to the App Store in November last year. I'd been warned that the whole submission process was a tortuous affair, that Apple's gatekeepers were so strict and stringent that it was best to get the process underway as soon as possible, in order to avoid a long wait for approval. With that in mind, I made my first submission before the full "Version 1.0" functionality was complete. As this was my first attempt, I fully expected Apple to come back with a long list of fixes and changes. Instead, to my complete surprise, I woke on a Sunday morning to find an email waiting for me telling me my app had been approved first time and was ready for sale. "Bloody hell", I thought, with senses of both "wow, I've done it!" and "shoot, better finish the thing now!" racing through my mind. Being slightly embarrassed at the simplicity of the first release, I've waited until the full app was built before publicising it too much, but I'm now ready to spread the word.


So although this is a Number Ten blog, I hope you don't mind me saying a few words about my new creation (interspersed with some clips from the iPhone and Watch versions below).


First of all, it's completely free to use. I have added some small and not-too-intrusive advertising which you can pay a small retainer to remove, but for now I'm just keen to see how popular it will be as a free download.


Secondly, it's available for iPhone and Apple Watch only. I've already had a few requests for an Android version, but while I'd love to be able to offer it for all platforms, for now I'm afraid you'll have to have a fruit-based logo on the device to use it. If you do have an Apple Watch, you can use it without needing the iPhone app, but if you do have both, they will stay in sync.


Thirdly, all data recorded by the app syncs automatically with Apple Health. Any workouts you do using FiT (as it's called for short - see what I did there...) are instantly available in Health including active calories, heart rate, segments and the workout route. So you can use the app when you want to do some interval training and still have all the calories and workout minutes included in your daily totals.


Where to now? Well, I have a few more app ideas which I'd love to bring to market - some of these are also fitness-related, and I'll be using my new-found knowledge of the whole Apple Watch and HealthKit eco-systems (and my growing code base) to take them forward. Number Ten isn't dead by any means, but I'm afraid it is going to be in cold storage for some time. So for those of you waiting keenly for its release, I can only apologise for breaking the cardinal rule "never over-promise and under-deliver"... although some might suggest that puts me in good company with our own PM, that wasn't my intention when I started this blog. I'm sure by 2035 we will have managed between us to have given this virus a bloody nose and got Number Ten on the App Store.


Thanks again for your interest and continued support. Stay safe and hopefully speak soon,


Richard





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Hi all, hope you are well! It's been three weeks since my last blog and you may have been wondering what I've been up to. As I mentioned last time out, I decided to pause work on Number Ten for a few days to focus on another idea I've had, namely a fitness app for interval training. In this week's blog I'll give an update on how that's gone and talk about the future roadmap for my app projects.

Celebrating my still-fastest 10k back in 2009 with my daughter Felicity. We've both changed quite a bit since then...

As 2020 has unfolded, my plans for working full time on app development have taken a few hits. Like many of you, Covid-19 has brought us home schooling commitments since March. I was fortunate that Mrs E was able to pick up the majority of this, so initially this just meant shifting my working day around to get the hours in, but since my better half went full time in June I've had to reduce my apping hours. I always knew building even a reduced version of a politics simulation app was a tall order for one person in a few months, but in the last few weeks it's clear that it's become an almost impossible one. With that in mind, I've started to look at options for building an app on a much smaller scale, to enable me to get something published on the App Store. The obvious next question was, what?


The answer has come partly from lockdown itself. With the closure of swimming pools and restrictions on all sports not deemed free from risk of spreading infection (basically, all sports...), like many people I've turned to running to keep fit. I'm not a novice by any means but I'm certainly not what you'd call a serious runner. My 10k PB is a shade under 48 minutes and my half marathon best of just under 2 hours won't be beaten by these near-50-year old legs again. I do, though, have friends who are, and I turned to them for advice on how I might improve my speed (if you can use a word with such pacy connotations about my plodding gait).


"Are you doing any fartleks?" enquired one.

"Er, yes that might be me," I replied sheepishly, "but it was a particularly tasty lamb bhuna we had last night, and besides, how does that help my running?"

"Fartleks, you berk," came the reply. "Interval training. From the Swedish. It means 'speed play'. It can help you increase your pace."

"Ah, I see. Er, no. Tell me more."


And so I learned about how running short distances of high speeds can help train the body to become accustomed to the faster pace, which will enable you to maintain that speed over the longer distances. One recommended pattern is to run a medium distance, say 400m, at the fastest pace you can, then walk for a period of say 30 to 60 seconds, then follow that with another run/walk pattern but over shorter distances and times, say 200m with a 15-30 seconds rest. The session then "peaks" with a 100m sprint, followed by another rest, then another 200m, rest, and finish with another 400m - I think you get the idea.


"I could use my Apple Watch for this" I thought. A quick search on the App Store found a host of interval running apps, all with their own individual settings and recommended patterns.

"Running gurus, which interval pattern do you recommend?" I asked.

"Pattern? PATTERN?! Who needs patterns!" scoffed one. "Free your mind! Free your body! Take it out there and do what feels natural! Don't be constrained by such rigid thinking! You will never reach running nirvana that way!"


OK, I paraphrase, but as Simon had successfully completed the Marathons de Sables race in the Sahara, he was obviously a man to be listened to. What we need then, I thought, is an app that just detects when you're running, walking and at rest, and does the tracking for you. But searching through the twenty-odd running apps I'd downloaded, I could find none that offered such auto-detection - at least not for free. I felt an app idea coming on...


"Well Michael Johnson has a unique running style, and it works for him!!" My patented "plodging through a pool of glue" running gait. The chap to my left shows how it's done. The big question is, how on earth am I ahead of him with that stride??

And with that in mind, three weeks ago I started working on "FiT", to use its working title (an acronym of Fartlek Interval Tracker, can you see what I did there?). My first task was to confirm that auto-detection of activity types is possible - after all, why has no-one done this before? I spent the first couple of days familiarising myself with Apple's world of motion tracking objects (Core Motion, they call it), poring through documentation and then downloading and understanding sample code.


By the end of the first week I managed to get this working on the iPhone, and my first pieces of real-world testing confirmed that the device could indeed detect different motion types. The next step was to capture the intervals themselves. For folks of a technical disposition, this meant combining data from two Core Motion objects - the Activity Manager, which tracked the type of activity being performed (walking, running, stationary) and the Pedometer, which tracked the actual movement data and translated it into distance, duration, pace, cadence and other metrics. This is where the complexities emerged... nothing is ever completely straightforward! You might reasonably expect the two objects to be aligned - in simple terms, if the Activity Manager says the phone is stationary, there should be no distance, duration or pace recorded by the Pedometer. But no - although there is a good deal of alignment, as you'd expect, the Pedometer was still recording motion even when the Activity Manager was insisting I was stationary.


What to do? Had I reached the end of the metaphorical road? Well, I thought, let's get it working on the Apple Watch now, and see if the watch's more advanced tracking features manage to resolve the issue. That's where I'm at currently, having managed to build my first Apple Watch app, and get it talking to the iPhone. Currently that conversation is no more detailed than "I'm here! Please display a label in this random colour I've just created", but it proves the connectivity is there (readers of my previous blogs will recognise that as one of the "YESS! IT F***ING WORKS!!" moments that make development so much fun). Next task is to get the interval tracking logic ported to the watch, and see the results. If I'm lucky, the watch will do a better job of detecting motion, and I won't have to make any refinements to my interval detection logic, but we'll just have to see.


So, assuming all goes well, what are the next steps, and what does this mean for my beloved politics app?


I'm already getting close to the point where I can start to think about creating an App Store submission for "FiT". I've heard horror stories about how convoluted a process that can be, with tales of how Apple's rigorous code-checking and quality procedures requiring countless rewrites and updates, but the only way to really find out is go through it myself. At this point I'm not planning any marketing or PR campaign for the app, it's as much about getting an app out there as it is about making any money - I'll be pricing it for free with the only income stream possibly being through embedded ads on the iPhone version.


I'm still weighing up if I want to make app development a full time job after this. I'm thoroughly enjoying it, and there are vacancies out there... whether it's the right role for someone about to hit their half-century is another matter. But if I do want to go down that route, having a published app is a common "must have" on job specs, so at the very least this would be a tick in that box.


As for Number Ten, I honestly can't say for certain at this point whether delivery is possible in 2020 or not. Covid and now schooling commitments have definitely hit my schedule, and with Mrs E's new role, I'll be only able to grab a few hours over the summer holidays. Like many of you, I'm really waiting to see what September brings. If schools return full time, I'll be able to return to full-time work, and if that happens, there's a fighting chance for the game. Time will tell.


One last thing. I hope this blog is useful and entertaining - I am enjoying writing it, and I have had some positive feedback! If you do have any comments, feel free to drop me a line at richard@numbertengame.co.uk. I send them out into the websphere in the hope they provide some value and entertainment, and to borrow a quote from a favourite film of mine, if it brings a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes me feel as if my hard work ain't been in vain for nothing.


And on that note, I'll crack on. My son is in school for his one day of the summer term, so I intend to use the time wisely! Take care, and speak soon,


Richard





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Hello again! As ever hope you're all well.


So the news we've all been waiting for was finally announced this week! And it feels like we've been waiting forever. But yes, it's definitely happening - the next version of iOS will have widgets on the home screen! Sorry, what was that? You meant the news about pubs opening again? ohhhh... well yes, that too...

Cheers all! Next Saturday is going to be carnage, is it not...

Since my last blog life at Number Ten HQ has become busier than ever, as Mrs E's working hours recently shifted from part- to near full-time. Like many other lockdown couples, we've been balancing work and home schooling, and the balance has just shifted slightly further in my direction. For the next couple of months, progress on the app is likely to slow down a bit as my hours reduce to part-time. However, along with my Year 5 home schooling commitments (mixed fractions, The Railway Children and Anglo-Saxon Britain this week!) I have still managed to build a few new features in N10.


The big deliverable this week has been the Policy Questionnaire. One of the big design challenges in the election scenario is making the creation of a full manifesto as painless for the player as possible. While I'm sure there will be some people who will love the ability to set every minute policy detail to their own preference (I'm one), having to individually configure 150 or so policies is a pretty sure-fire way of putting off most people from playing the game.


Now, thanks to my automatic "Policy Creation Questionnaire", that's no longer necessary. By simply answering a small set of multiple-choice-answer questions covering your concerns and values, Number Ten is able to generate a full policy manifesto for you. To give an example, if you answer "Strongly Agree" for the statement "I believe we should put jobs above the environment", your manifesto will contain policies more suited to economic growth than green affairs. Somewhat unglamorous maybe, but I can imagine our famously detail-averse Prime Minister falling over himself to get hold of such a tool. Maybe I can offer it as a cheap replacement for Cummings if the app stiffs?

The N10 Policy Questionnaire! Some early feedback : "23 questions, who's going to have the patience to wade through all those?" I may yet have to reduce the number further for the attention-span deficient generation...

I've also started looking into another app idea (a side hustle on my side hustle, if you will?). Mrs E has long suggested I focus on a smaller, simpler app as a first project, in order to be able to get something on the App Store more quickly. With that in mind, I'm pausing work on N10 for a few days to investigate building a fitness app. The idea is that the app will track spontaneous running intervals - fartleks, to use the technical term (stop sniggering at the back), and provide the user with analysis on the intervals run. All of the interval timing apps I've found so far require the user to enter the intervals before starting the run. My idea is to allow the runner to stop and start their intervals as they choose, with the app doing the hard yards of calculating distance and pace afterwards. I'll need to learn a few extra skills in order to build this, so I'll be familiarising myself with Apple's CoreMotion and HealthKit technologies. If it's a goer I'll know soon enough.


As it's 33 degrees outside, I'm off for a bit of a Vitamin D top-up. Enjoy the sunshine, stay safe, and speak soon...


Richard










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