Accessibility Matters

At the Iconfactory, we look at accessibility as a way to give back to a community that’s given us so much. We were thrilled to be inducted into the AppleVis Hall of Fame.

Adding VoiceOver and other accessibility features to your own app is extra work. But as soon as you realize that you’re making someone else’s life better, it’s all worth it.

This is also a good time to remind you that we have an accessibilty project of our own: xScope’s vision defect simulation is open source.

Adulterated Swift

There has been some discussion lately about Swift not having the dynamic features of the Objective-C runtime. Brent Simmons has been doing a great job of pointing out why this is a problem.

It’s very easy to overlook the importance of the dynamic runtime environment. Many of the things it enables happen behind the scenes. There’s no better example of this misunderstanding than a developer who says their app is “Pure Swift”.

That’s because you can’t currently write an app that only uses Swift. The purity of your code is lost as soon as you #import UIKit.

A picture’s worth a thousand words, so here’s a project that demonstrates why it’s impossible. The app itself is ridiculously simple: there’s a button, a few labels, and a single action method. It’s as “Pure Swift” as you can get.

Download Pure.zip

This project also contains an Objective-C category named NSObject+Adulterated. This category overrides two methods that lie at the heart of the dynamic runtime: -respondsToSelector: and -methodForSelector:. The normal operation of these methods is not affected; the only additional functionality is some logging to the console when they’re used. Other than being in the bridging header, the code is not used directly by the app.

When you run the app, you’ll immediately see all the places where Swift is not being used. Pretty much everything you take for granted in your app is using the dynamic runtime. Layout, drawing, animation, and event handling are all dependent on something that Swift doesn’t have yet.

Of course, you’ll immediately say, “This isn’t Swift’s problem! Just rewrite the frameworks!”

And that is exactly the point I’m trying to make.

The community around Swift’s evolution is amazing. The language is improving quickly and dramatically thanks to talented developers inside and outside of Apple. It’s a remarkable open source project.

My concern is that there isn’t a corresponding discussion about the things we’re going to build with this new language. As you’ve just seen, frameworks are important, yet there is no uikit-evolution mailing list. There is an imbalance between the tool and the craft.

I’m guessing that part of this problem lies within Apple itself. There are plenty of developers in Cupertino who have built large applications and the frameworks that they use. I’m absolutely certain that this subject has been discussed in detail by some very smart folks. And they, of course, can’t talk about internal projects.

My suggestion for the folks on the Swift project is to be a little more forthcoming about future plans with frameworks and other infrastructure besides the language itself. It’s a big piece of a puzzle that long-time app developers want and need.

A lot of hand-wringing could be ameliorated with a simple “Yep, we’re working on it.”

Pretending You’re Not Busy As Hell

You know those last few weeks of a project where it seems like every ball you own is up in the air? Your desktop looks like bomb went off: stuff like “website comp (with hero)-20160414-final-2.1 copy.psd” and “DO NOT DELETE YET” scattered all over the place. You’re busy as hell.

And then you realize that you need to take product screenshots. Or do a screencast.

While doing screenshots for my upcoming book, I solved this problem by writing a simple shell script. It updates an undocumented Finder preference that controls whether the desktop is created or not. Without the desktop, all of your icons disappear (don’t worry, the files are still there!)

Simply typing finder_icons off in your Terminal lets you pretend that you’re working in complete zen and take the shots you need. Doing finder_icons on quickly brings you back to reality and lets you create an even bigger mess.

Enjoy!

Updated April 29th, 2016: Dr. Drang points out that this technique also works well for screen sharing. I try to avoid the use of killall when dealing with the Finder because you never know when it’s in the middle of a file operation (such as copying a file or deleting a folder.) Using the AppleScript quit command lets the Finder determine when it’s safe to shut down.

Going Deep

If you haven’t already, check out my in-depth analysis of the new iPad Pro display. I think it tells us a lot about the future of what we’ll all see on Apple’s devices.

This is clearly a time where our tools and APIs need to evolve. Here are some things that you’ll need to watch out for as you start using color management on iOS:

  • rdar://25836820 – Color management support is not consistent across devices
  • rdar://25836842 – Color profile conversion by Xcode is not documented
  • rdar://25836912 – Current color profile for display is not available
  • rdar://25836961 – Quartz 2D Documentation about iOS color spaces is incorrect
  • rdar://25837000 – Color Management Best Practices for iOS is incorrect
  • rdar://25837030 – There is no way to turn off True Tone
  • rdar://25837065 – The CGColorSpace documentation needs to be more explicit about new color spaces
  • rdar://25837117 – PNG assets can’t have an embedded color profile

Of course, I’ll be covering these issues and a lot more in my new book. Sign up for the A Book Apart newsletter (at the bottom of the page) and you’ll be notified when it’s ready.

A Responsive Factory

Back in May 2014, we introduced a new Iconfactory home page. One of the main design goals for that site was to make the layout a responsive web design: the same site looked great whether you were looking at it on a desktop PC or an iPhone. Reading Ethan Marcotte’s book was a revelation.

Of course, that site was just a beginning. We run a lot of web sites (including some you’ve probably never heard of before). Clearly we had to pick our responsive battles.

We started with an update to our blog in January 2015. In October, we updated our iOS and OS X app catalog. And yesterday we launched a responsive design portfolio.

A year and a half after our first responsive design, we’ve hit a milestone. All of the sites listed in the Iconfactory’s red navigation bar are responsive designs and will display correctly on any device. Woo hoo!

Along the way, we cleaned up some of our branding elements and worked toward a more consistent experience across all the sites. Check out the post at the Iconfactory about the new SVG icons in Safari to see what that’s all about.

It’s clear we’re at a point in time where the vast assortment of screens is daunting. If you haven’t thought about how your site works on this wide variety of devices, now is a great time to start.