App prices updated

I've just done a review of all iOS app prices since Apple has recently raised prices quite significantly in the wake of the Brexit vote and the subsequent drop in value of the Pound.

As a UK-based company selling primarily to UK customers, I don't feel this price rise is appropriate, so I have reviewed all prices and lowered them to better reflect how they were before Apple interfered. Some apps are even a little cheaper now than the were before.

Apple's price changes happened suddenly and I only found out about them when a customer emailed to ask why the prices on my website did not match those on the App Store. I have now updated all prices on the website as well, so the prices stated on this site should tally with what is payable on the App Store. However, as changes can take a while to filter through Apple's system, there may remain some discrepancies during the next day or two.

The prices shown on the website are what you should be asked for on the App Store. If the App Store is asking for more, please try again after 24 hours or so, and you should then see the correct price.

Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Progress update

Slow progress

It’s been a period of slow progress here at Robosoul. When I first started producing apps, I was able to release a new one roughly every 3 or 4 months. I was also regularly adding new features with updates to existing apps.

Very little has been released lately, so what’s happened?

Partly this is a sign that things are going well. I’ve already released pretty much all the apps that I wanted to make for myself as a driving instructor. These apps are reasonably stable: they work well and bugs are few and far between. There are a few enhancements I would like to make to some of the apps, but in general I’m pleased with what I’ve made available so far. A major focus now is to maintain these apps in good working order for those who have bought them.

Having said that, there is still much to do, and progress will continue at a very slow rate. I now have 17 iPad apps and 7 iPhone apps to maintain. This is a lot of maintenance for one person, especially when Apple has a habit of releasing major software updates once a year which can have a serious impact on an apps’s ability to work properly.

Some apps need more maintenance than others. A couple are in the process of being completely rewritten as the original code has become outdated and unmanageable, even though only 2 or 3 years old! That’s how quickly things are advancing in the world of mobile software.

With so many apps available and a growing customer base, I also have a fair amount of customer service and technical support to take care of. I recently changed the text on my contact form to suggest that people think carefully before getting in touch. This is not because I don’t want to hear from my customers, but simply because I don’t have time to respond to a lot of emails, not if I’m going to have time to work on the apps as well. Not only does writing emails take up valuable time, it’s very effective at breaking the intense concentration that’s required to work on software programming.

Bugs, bugs, bugs

Prior to the release of iOS 7, I thought bug fixing was a nuisance. I hadn’t seen nothing yet!

iOS 7 brought such major changes that I had to spend the best part of a year tracking down bugs and adjusting the code in my apps so they would continue to work seamlessly.

iOS 8 brought further changes to how things work “under the hood”. More debugging was required, but fortunately not as much as was required for iOS 7. We’ll have to wait and see what iOS 9 is going to bring.

The learning curve

Another thing I’ve been spending a lot of time doing is learning more about programming for iOS. Apple recently introduced a whole new programming language, Swift, which appears to represent the future of iOS programming. This comes alongside a range of other new technologies which affect the way apps are built, and are going to be built in the future.

I feel it’s important for me to stay up with these new developments, even though it is difficult and time-consuming to learn about the changes and how to work with them.

I’m constantly aware of the importance of improving my knowledge of the fundamentals of app design. Most of my early apps were not terribly well designed in terms of how the code was structured. Even though the apps worked well, the process of enhancing these apps and adding new features was hampered by the fact that my original designs - the “foundations” of those apps - were not laid down with future development in mind. This was the result of my inexperience as a programmer, and also the need to just get on and solve an immediate problem without having time to think about what further problems might arise in the future.

This is a major reason why progress in so slow on certain updates to existing apps. I’m held back by design elements which were baked into the original app structure, but which are not well suited to the changes I want to make going forward. It takes time to completely re-write these apps from the ground up, while also maintaining compatibility with the current version so that when the app is updated it does not cause problems for existing users.

This is a common problem in the world of programming, and it is a very difficult thing to get right. I’m taking my time and trying to learn as much as possible before proceeding with major changes to important apps, apps which have become essential teaching tools for many ADIs all over Britain.

Growing pains

I’m also trying to allow time for technology to mature. Apple has introduced a lot of new ideas into iOS recently. While it’s tempting to rush to incorporate some of these new features into my apps as soon as possible, the sensible thing to do is wait until the kinks have been ironed out (and we know there can be a lot of kinks when Apple brings out something new!)

iCloud is a good example. While it’s tempting to start integrating iCloud syncing into some of my apps, the truth is that iCloud is just not good enough at the moment. First and foremost, I am conscious that my apps are used by professional driving instructors who expect to be in control of their saved data. You did not take the plunge and make the move from paper records to digital ones, only to see your valuable data evaporate in an (i)cloud of smoke. When iCloud is good enough, and when I feel I have learned enough about how it works to be able to make it work well for driving instructors, I hope to start integrating it into some apps, where appropriate. Until that time, the waiting and learning goes on.

What’s next?

As usual, I’m afraid I can’t say. I’m working on various things at the moment, none of which are definitely going to see the light of day. I’m exploring some ideas which I think are interesting and which I believe can help drive forward the use of cutting edge technology to improve the way people learn to drive, and to make safer roads for all.

As usual, as soon as I have something concrete to share, you’ll know about it. In the meantime, I will continue to update my existing apps as and when I can to fix bugs, add new functionality, and generally enhance the user experience.

How to report a bug

In the world of software, bugs are a fact of life. Software developers rely on their customers to report bugs when they find them, and how a bug is described can make all the difference in terms of how quickly it can be fixed.

Generally speaking, a software developer needs to be able to reproduce a bug before it can be fixed. This means a list of specific steps is required, and following those steps should reliably cause the bug to appear. The developer can then iterate through those steps while testing possible solutions, and can check whether the fix is successful.

Even if the developer cannot reproduce the bug, perhaps because it is the result of a different hardware and/or software configuration on the part of the customer, having a list of specific steps that will reproduce the bug is essential because it can guide the developer towards identifying the cause.

This is what a useless bug report looks like:

Hi. I have bought your app it doesn't work. The car doesn't move. Please fix asap.


It's pretty much impossible to fix anything based on this bug report.

First, which app? If I don't know which app we are talking about, how can I fix it?

Second, which car? My apps tend to feature more than one car, so I need to know which one we are looking at. Is it blue? Red? Yellow? Help me out here!

Third, what do we mean by "it doesn't work"? This needs to be fleshed out into a description of what you are expecting to happen, what is actually happening, and what you have tried before getting in touch.

This is what a helpful bug report looks like:

Hi. I've installed your Road Board app, but it doesn't seem to be working. After launching the app, I tapped where it says "Car" and selected the Blue Car. It appeared on the screen but I can't get it to move independently. I can drag it around with my finger but that's it. A colleague showed me the app with the blue car driving around and demonstrating how to do junctions. I've tried adding other cars as well but the result is the same. I can't find a way to make them drive around. I'm using iOS 7.1.1 on a WiFi-only iPad Air.


This description only takes a minute or so to write, but it is infinitely more helpful and in this case leads to an instant diagnosis of the problem. Rather than a bug in the app, the user is confused about what the app actually does. He has seen a demonstration of a different app, and has installed this one expecting it to behave the same as the one that was demonstrated.

Because the bug report mentions that the app in question is Road Board, and because the user has described what he was expecting to see, what he actually saw, and how he got to that point, it very easy to establish that the problem is a simple misunderstanding. The problem can then be addressed quickly and easily with a simple explanation of the differences between the animated "Learn To Drive" apps, which is what the user had seen in his colleague's demonstration, and the Road Board app, which is what he has ended up installing on his iPad.

The information about the iOS and iPad version were not needed in this case, but it's good that the user provided the information because it is often relevant when troubleshooting bugs.

Here is another helpful bug report, this time describing an actual fault within the app:

Hi, I've been using your Manoeuvres app for some time with my learners. It was working fine until I installed the latest update around a week ago. Since then, I've found that the blue car sometimes flips upside down when about to do the parallel park. I've attached a screenshot so you can see what I mean. I can reproduce this issue by following these steps:
• Launch app
• Select Parallel Park section
• Tap "Advance" to show the POM routine
• Tap "Advance" again to get the blue car into position to start the manoeuvre
• Tap the "ORU" button to bring the purple car onto the screen
• When the switches appear for the controls, turn on the brake lights or the reverse lights
• The blue car suddenly flips, so it is facing the wrong way for the manoeuvre

I'm using iOS 7.1.1 on a WiFi-only iPad Air.


This report gives plenty of detail, including an exact description of how to trigger the bug and a screenshot so there is no misunderstanding about what is visible on the screen. Using this bug report, the developer should be able to troubleshoot the issue without having to request any further information.

The information about the iOS and iPad version helps the developer to pin down whether or not this is an issue that only affects certain users. It can also help the developer to reproduce the bug and test the effectiveness of the solution.

The current iOS version information can be found on your device by going to:
Settings > General > About > Version

You can submit bugs by filling out my online Bug Reporter form.

Golden L Fresh Awards

I have been nominated in the category of Most Useful Driving Instructor Resource in the first ever Golden L Fresh Awards. You can cast your votes here, and of course I would encourage you to vote for me if you've been making good use of my apps!

Fresh Start 2014

There are only a handful of tickets remaining for the 2014 Fresh Start Conference for Driving Instructors. The conference takes place on Monday 24th February at Worcester Sixways Stadium.

I'll be there running a workshop on how to get the best out of my apps (breakout session 3), and the whole day is packed with essential talks and workshops for any Driving Instructor looking to improve their skills and get ahead.

If you want to attend this event and haven't got your ticket yet, you'd better be quick!

New app coming soon

iOS 7 update fever has passed, and I've had time to get back to work on my latest project. The majority of users have now upgraded to iOS 7 and, after a handful of minors bug fixes, everything is working smoothly again.

I'm very excited about my next app, and I think you will be too. Happily, it looks as though I'm going to be able to release it in the next couple of weeks. More details to follow...

Contact form broken

I just found out the contact form on this website has not been working recently. I'm sorry if you've been trying to get in touch with me and haven't received a reply. I'm not sure how long it has been, but the messages have not been getting forwarded to me for at least a couple of weeks. I'm working on getting it fixed.

In the meantime, you can get in touch by clicking on the "Contact Me" link at the bottom of any page on this site.

UPDATE 22/9/13: The contact form is working again.

40% off Road Board during August

Spiral200
Road Board has 40% off for the rest of August 2013. That's only £3.99 instead of £6.99.

Road Board is probably the most essential app there is for Driving Instructors in the UK. It features 45 different road situations, plus an endless array of items, road markings, signs and road users to add to the view and build up your own scenes. You can recreate practically anything that would happen in a driving lesson, and save your own custom scenes so you can return to them again and again.

Follow Robosoul on Twitter

Follow Robosoul on Twitter for regular updates on apps for iPad, iPhone and Android users.


Hints & Tips

I've added a new "Tips" page to the website. This page highlights things you can do with my apps which you may not already know about. Have a look. You're bound to learn at least one thing you didn't already know…

TV for Driving Instructors

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On Tuesday I took part in a 'webinar' (a live educational broadcast via the internet) on Driving Instructor TV. I discuss and demonstrate my iPad apps for Driving Instructors and answer some questions from the instructors who tuned in to watch. The recording of the webinar is available to watch (along with various other webinars for ADIs & PDIs) here. It's free to watch these recordings, but you need to register with Driving Instructor TV to gain access to some of them (including the iPad one).

Add a Robosoul shortcut to your home screen

It's simple to add a shortcut to any webpage to the home screen of your iPad or iPhone. I've added some nice little Robosoul icons to my site, so when you bookmark one of my pages it'll look good on your device. Here's how to add a shortcut to the Robosoul home page:

1. Open Safari on your iPhone or iPad and navigate to www.robosoul.co.uk

2. Tap the action button. This is at the top of the screen on an iPad and at the bottom of the screen on an iPhone. You will be presented with a menu that looks something like this:

AddIcon1

3. Select "Add to Home Screen". You will be prompted to give the shortcut a name. Type an appropriate name into the box.

AddIcon2

4. Tap "Add", then exit Safari and behold the lovely new icon on your home screen. Tapping this icon will open Safari and take you directly to the web page you have just bookmarked.

AddIcon3

Book a driving test on your mobile

The DSA have been refining the driving test online booking service lately, and now it's optimised for use on mobile devices.

Go to gov.uk/book-practical-driving-test on your smart phone or tablet to give it a try. I gave it a wee test on my iPhone and it seems fast and easy to use.

The system will now only ask for a theory test pass certificate number if it can’t automatically find one on the system.

DSABookTest

Fresh Start 2013

FreshStart
There are a few tickets still available for Fresh Start 2013, a king-size helping of CPD which should be an exciting addition to any ADI's calendar. The event is on Monday 25th February at Sixways Stadium, Worcester. Check out the website for more details.

The Rules

brokenPhone
I recently took delivery of a shiny new iPhone 5. Strangely, the iPhone 5 is the sixth iteration of this marvellous device, and it’s the sixth one I’ve had the privilege to own.

I’m pleased to say I’ve never been in the unfortunate situation of having lost or broken my iPhone, nor have I ever had one stolen. I don’t put this down to good luck, I put it down to the fact that from the very beginning, when I got my first one, I laid down a few ground rules for myself which I’ve stuck to pretty rigidly over the years. I’d like to share those rules with you, in case they may be of help.

There are also a few other rules I have which are less concerned with the risk of losing or damaging the thing and more concerned with the risk of turning into some sort of iPhone zombie: somebody who rarely looks up from that tiny screen, and comes to see the virtual world in their hands as more real than the physical one around them.

The Rules: how to avoid breaking or losing your iPhone

• Never leave your iPhone unattended in a public place. Never. If for for some reason you leave it with someone else, tell them not to let it out of their sight.

• As much as possible, keep your iPhone in your pocket when in public. Don't have it clipped onto your belt for all to see. Don't put it on the table. Don't keep it in your hand unless you're using it. It's very pretty and nice to hold, but it's a lot less likely to get dropped or covered in liquid if it's in your pocket. It's also a lot less likely to get swiped if it isn't seen in the first place.

• Never put your iPhone in your breast pocket. It will fall out as soon as you bend over. You've got plenty of other pockets - use them!

• Never place your iPhone on top of your car, not even for a second. The chances of you driving away with it still sitting on top are fairly small, but the extent to which you will feel like a complete twat if you do is extremely great.

• Avoid becoming engrossed looking at your iPhone while walking along the street. Apart from being thoroughly embarrassing when you walk into a lamppost, you need to remember that a shiny new iPhone is a fantastic prize for a mugger. Be aware of who's around you and remember that you're carrying something worth hundreds of pounds. I don't know how many hits of heroin that amounts to, but I suspect it's a lot.

• Avoid leaving your iPhone in your car. If you do, always lock the car and don't be away for more than a minute or so, or let the car out of your sight. If you're leaving the car for more than a minute, just take the phone with you.

• If you're sitting in the car playing with your iPhone, lock the doors. This may be more appropriate in some areas than others, but wherever you are you've got nothing to lose by taking the precaution.

Some suggestions for looking after your iPhone

• Don't put your iPhone in he same pocket as your keys or change if you don't want it to get scratched.

• Get a decent case.

• Get a screen protector.

Suggestions for having a happy life with your iPhone

• Keep it off the dinner table. Insist that your partner/kids do the same.

• Don't jump up and run to it every time it beeps. Learn to ignore it.

• Remember to notice other people. Smile, make eye contact, speak to them occasionally.

• When walking your dog, walk your dog. Play with your dog. Don't just play with your iPhone while holding onto one end of the dog's lead.

• Remember that having a short attention span is not cool!

Most of these rules can and should also be applied to the iPad, although I hope you wouldn’t even consider playing with your iPad while sitting at the dinner table or walking your dog!

The Bird Stories

If you have an iPad and a child under 5, you might want to have a look at this.

starlings

The Bird Stories is an interactive storybook written and illustrated by the excellent Aimee Lockwood. Aimee is responsible for creating Otis the octopus (of Textopus fame) and also for the illustrations in Learn To Drive: Controls. You can read more about The Bird Stories on Aimee's blog.

Hit the button below to get it now:

The Bird Stories - FamLoop

Staying backed up

If you use your iPhone or iPad as much as I do, it probably holds a lot of important data you don't ever want to lose. It's a good idea to ensure you are making regular backups just in case anything bad happens.

You can do this the manual way, or the automatic way. This support document from Apple does a good job of explaining how it works.

Recent updates

I've been very busy the past few weeks writing updates for several of my apps:

Traffic Lights received a much needed bug fix and the addition of a yellow box option for the crossroads.

Mock Test now has the ability to take notes, as well as some user-configurable options which can be tweaked using your iPad's Settings app.

An update to Records has gone live today. It features a number of improvements, including the addition of some new fields, better support for storing pupils details, some user interface tweaks and some user-configurable options which can be tweaked using your iPad's Settings app.

Finally, I've just submitted an update to Road Board, which will take a week or two to go through the review process before it is ready to download. The update incorporates five new backgrounds and a number of new items such as traffic lights. A full list of changes will be available when the update goes live.

I've also updated the FAQ page with more details relating to the updates.

Contact form problems

Due to a problem with my website, for the past couple of weeks I have not been able to receive messages sent via the contact form. If you have tried to get in touch and not received a response, it's because I did not receive your message. I'm sorry for the inconvenience. Please submit your message again via the contact form, which has now been fixed. When I receive your message, I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

Apple having trouble with updates

It seems some users are receiving corrupt updates from the iTunes App Store. I've just released an update to my Traffic Lights app. I don't know if this app has been affected by the problems. So far, I haven't heard of anyone having issues with it.

If you do have problems running any apps on your iPhone or iPad after updating them, you should delete the app and then reinstall it. This will fix the problem only if Apple has already put things right at their end. If it doesn't work straight away, try deleting and reinstalling again after a day or two.

I have an update to my Mock Test app currently pending for App Store approval. I might hold off on the final release for a few days while this is all sorted out.

UPDATE 06/07/12: According to Apple, this issue has now been fixed.

DSA Highway Code app

TheoryAppIcon
The DSA recently released the Highway Code in app form. At £3.99 it's more expensive than the paper version, but includes some extra learning resources such as quizzes and videos.

The main incentive for me to buy this app was the ability to search the Highway Code using keywords and quickly find the section you're looking for. This is a big improvement over both the paper and the PDF versions.

This is an essential app for any driving instructor and, along with the DSA's Theory Test Kit, ideal for learners too.

Both apps are available on the iTunes App Store:
Official Highway Code
The Official DSA Theory Test Kit for Car Drivers

FAQ page now live

A dedicated page for FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) has now been added to the site.

Check it out!

Two ways to force quit an app

In a perfect world, all software would work perfectly all the time. Unfortunately, bugs are a part of life, and every now and again you can find yourself needing to completely flush an app from memory so the next time you launch it, it starts up in its default state.

This is called "force quitting". Force quitting does not delete the app from your device, nor does it delete any saved data. It simply restarts your session with the app, which is exactly what you need if the app is in an inconsistent state.

Screenshot1
One way to force quit a running app is to push and hold the power button (on the top of your device) until you see the "slide to power off" screen. Now release the power button and instead hold down the home button (on the front of your device). Keep holding the home button until the app quits. Now you can relaunch the app and start using it as normal again.

Screenshot2
A second way to force quit an app is to use the multitasking bar. First you need to quit the app in the normal way by pressing the home button. To access the multitasking bar, press the home button twice in quick succession. The last app you were using should be at the far left of the multitasking bar. Now touch and hold on any of the icons until they start to wobble and a red circle with a minus sign appears at the top left corner of each icon. Tap the minus sign on the app you want to force quit. The icon should disappear. Now tap the home button again, and relaunch the app in the normal way.

Screenshot3
You shouldn't have to do this kind of thing very often, and I hope you never have to do it with one of my apps. But it's a handy trick to know if ever you find yourself stuck with an app that's doing something you don't want. By force quitting, you can take control of the situation and return the app back to a familiar state.



iPad prices plummeting

iPadApple
Apple currently has refurbished iPads for sale on their online store for as little as £239 for a 1st generation 16GB Wi-Fi model, or £259 for an iPad 2 with the same spec.

£259 for an iPad 2 is an absolute bargain when you consider that Apple's refurbs are more or less as-new, and come with a one-year warranty.

You can also get a refurbished 16GB iPad 2 with Wi-Fi and 3G for £359. This is a good option for a driving instructor, although you can get by easily enough without the 3G option.

Between the Wi-Fi only models, I would definitely pay the extra £20 to get the iPad 2. It's noticeably thinner, lighter and faster than the 1st generation iPad. It also has front and back cameras and is likely to support more advanced software upgrades in the future.

I've met plenty of people who would love to have an iPad but are convinced the price is out of their reach. I think many people don't realise just how affordable these things have become.

£259 for an iPad 2! Tell your friends!

Shared space

The Economist reports on Britain's latest experiment with shared space:

In some ways the British version is half-hearted. To reach the South Kensington museums, visitors must still cross a busy four-lane road using traffic lights. In places, bollards have been erected to stop vehicles straying where the pavement would be. Ranks of bicycles available for hire and parked cars clutter the street. The road surface itself is not completely flat: following a legal challenge mounted by Guide Dogs, a charity for the blind, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was obliged to install ridges where the kerbs used to be. And the kerbs themselves reappear at bus stops, to enable step-free access.

New Volvo airbag for pedestrians

Volvo has unveiled a new safety system involving an airbag which pops up from under the car's bonnet in the event of a collision with a pedestrian:

The car, unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, features sensors in the front bumper that register physical contact between the car and the pedestrian. The rear end of the bonnet is released and elevated by the airbag as it inflates to cover the entire area under the raised bonnet as well as around a third of the windscreen. The raised, cushioned bonnet and airbag should help reduce the severity of pedestrian injuries.

This story has provoked the inevitable criticisms that the additional safety feature will encourage some to drive more recklessly on the basis that the consequences of an error would be reduced. This is exactly what was said by similarly pessimistic people about seat belts when they were first invented, and it has been the same for just about every other safety technology invented since.

Driver awareness of the safety of pedestrians is improving all the time. There are still way too many fatal collisions, however. Anything that can reduce the severity of those collisions has to be a good thing.

Steve Jobs RIP

Once again, the internet is full of reports of Steve Jobs passing away. Unfortunately, this time the reports are true.

If you own an Apple iPhone, iPod, iPad or MacIntosh, Steve Jobs has changed your life. I can't think of a single company that generates so much satisfaction amongst its customers. It's a fact that once someone starts using an Apple device, they rarely ever want to switch to using something else. These products make our lives easier, and they make us smile.

It's also hard to think of a large company that so thoroughly embodies the spirit of its founder. Steve Jobs was passionate about Apple and its products. It's because of his perfectionism, his inexhaustible attention to detail, and his uncompromising pursuit of excellence that we Apple users get to enjoy such wonderful, awe-inspiring technology in our everyday lives.

Let's all keep alive the spirit of Steve Jobs by always doing our best, and striving to be different.

Robosoul update

Things must have seemed pretty quiet on the Robosoul front lately. Three months ago I posted updates for Mock Test and Road Pad, and nothing much has happened since then. Actually a lot has been happening and I've been kept busy pretty much non-stop!

First of all, after several years of working with a couple of different driving schools in Edinburgh, I've decided to become an independent instructor. In the past few years I've gained a lot of experience, learned a lot about the business, and established a solid base of satisfied customers. It's now time to go it alone.

The past week or so has been spent preparing this new website for Robosoul and transferring data from my old one. I've also been spending many long hours on a new app for the iPad which I hope to make available in the coming weeks. All I will say for now is that I'm very excited about this project and I look forward to sharing more news soon…