It’s been really quiet on the blog and that’s for good reason, I’ve been working hard to complete the latest version of Sparks for the iPad! In fact, even the Apple review process turned around our first review so fast that we were somewhat surprised to learn we were in the store as I was about to push a minor point release to deal with some issues with the new message viewer! That is currently awaiting review and will be released soon (fingers crossed!)
I’d like a moment to take you through some of the new features, what they mean and how we decided to include them into the new version. These features are based entirely on our use, the feedback from our beta team and emails from users of Sparks who took the time to reach out and let us know what they like, hated and desperately wanted.
The User Interface
Eric, one of our beta testers, often remarked that he was frustrated with the layout of the original app and how the ‘real-estate’ provided by the iPad was being under-utilized. We agreed. In the original version, there was great care to create an experience that mirrored the “campfire” theme with a rustic look and views of loose paper. The problem was that while this design was visually pleasing, once you’re using the app, there’s more that can be taken advantage of.
Where are all the buttons, labels and standard interface elements?!?
They’re gone. We took a long hard look at what we could show or hide, what was primary focus and what you needed to do in order to be effective in the app. The new “Dashboard” is an attempt to show details at a high level about the current state of affairs in your campsites while improving on 37Signal’s concept of a lobby. For instance, the list of users shows everyone that is currently available in a room, no matter where that room happens to be. If I’m looking for a user in the web app, I have to scan all the rooms in one site, then go to another page to see if the user is in a different room that may be more appropriate for the topic I have for them. Now, I find the user, tap their name and see all the rooms they are in as well as a link to their email address to send them a note when I need to.
The “active campers” number will not equal the number of folks in the list. This is on purpose. The count is an indication of how many of those people are actual chatting, engaging with other campers and not just “signed in” or “lurking” in rooms. It’s no use to try and get someone’s attention if they’re not listening.
The charts currently contain a small bug which causes some of their numbers to conflict (Timestamps are being included in room counts…). This bug is fixed in the build that is under review.
The pie chart shows message distribution for each room that has messages loaded. Since Messages are loaded on a daily basis, this typically refers to the distribution for the day. If everyone is chatting in one room, head on in and be heard!
The bar chart, on the other hand, is to provide information about the global rate of messages hour over hour. A feature that has been requested is the ability to tap the bars and pie slices and they are under active development and will be released soon. (Pie selection is in the point release, bars will follow soon after.)
The Message (aka “In Room”) View
Another choice was to remove many of the buttons and room titles. Instead, if you’re towards the bottom of the room’s messages, simple scroll past them to reveal the room you’re in, the current topic and a few stats on the room at that moment as seen through Spark’s eyes.
Transcripts for the room are available via the calendar icon on the menu and provide a simple and easy way to load the message from any given day in the past. Do you think that Sparks missed a few messages for the current day? Load today’s transcript again and we’ll try to fill in the gaps. Need to return to streaming after viewing the transcripts? Just select today again and you’ll be back to where you left off.
A little known fact, is that if you’re chatting and want to “reply” to a user, type an @ with the keyboard and then continue typing any part of a user’s name to auto select that user and press return (enter) to complete the name. No need to move your fingers from the keyboard to reply.
Something that we started over on the iPhone version that made it into the iPad is the idea of “peeking”. Even though I hate to admit it, there are times when I’m curious about what’s going on in a room but I don’t really want to alter the other users that I’m visiting in. Say I can’t chat at the moment, or am on vacation, but I still am curious what’s happening on a project. I can double tap on any of the rooms in the lobby list and a popover will display the recent messages on disk so that I can quickly see what’s up and move on. The peek does not immediately force a reload of the messages in the room so if you’re not actually in the room, you may want to press the refresh button that is located on the right menu bar in the dashboard which will refresh all your rooms. Once the spinner is gone you’re ready to peek away.
That’s a quick overview for now, I’ll be following up with reports of the new stuff that’s in the works along the way and a few clarifications based on user questions and feedback.
As always, I want to hear from you. This app is a labor of love for us, we’re not a VC backed 100% of the time development effort on this application. We’re 2 guys trying to make the best campfire app on the iPad, something we want to use and share with the world. If we miss something or can help you use the app more effectively, don’t hesitate to ping us: email@example.com.
Thanks for your continued support and stay tuned for more Sparks announcements that are coming your way!
- nospoonsoftware posted this