In Depth

iPad Pro Updates

| In Depth, News

It’s been about a month now since Apple unveiled their latest generation of iPad Pros, so today we wanted to detail some of the impact that these devices’ unique characteristics has had on forScore and what effect it will have as we look to the future.

Aspect Ratio

The most important change Apple made to this round of iPads is that they changed the aspect ratio of their screens. The 11″ iPad Pro is taller and skinnier in portrait orientation, or squatter and wider in landscape. The 12.9″ iPad Pro’s screen has the same dimensions as previous generations, but the addition of the home indicator area along the bottom of the screen has its own implications: apps can display roughly the same amount of information on screen, but a strip along the bottom of the screen is non-interactive—touches that you make in this zone are reserved for system gestures like returning to the home screen.

These changes are important because, until now, forScore has always run on devices with roughly the same proportional screen size. Unless you’re using Split View, the app’s usable screen area is usually equivalent to an 8.5×11″ piece of paper. PDF pages are rendered within that area, with gaps added to the left and right if needed (for skinnier pages like A4) or below the bottom of the page (as with landscape-oriented pages). Regardless of how much visible area your page occupies on screen, forScore has always allowed you to annotate anywhere on the screen so your markings don’t suddenly stop working when you move past invisible page boundaries.

Now, forScore runs on two unique devices: one that has more space at the bottom and another that has the same amount of visible space but less interactive space.

Challenges

When your device is held in portrait orientation, forScore displays full pages and allows you to flip through them with a single tap or swipe. In landscape orientation, forScore increases the size of the page to fit the longer edge of your screen and navigation adapts to allow for scrolling up and down as needed before turning pages. iOS 9’s multitasking modes make things a little more complicated, so forScore considers “portrait” to be any app size that allows it to display a full page without cutting off the bottom, while “landscape” is the opposite.

The first problem we encountered in updating forScore for these new devices was that the screen size of the 12.9″ iPad Pro, minus the area required for the new home indicator, meant that forScore assumed traits normally intended for landscape orientation even when the device was held in portrait orientation. Tapping to turn the page scrolled up or down by a tiny amount, and two-up mode inappropriately replaced half-page turns. On this device forScore can display a full page but the app’s interactive space is slightly smaller than what’s expected. So we added an exemption in forScore 10.5, and another in 10.5.2 for users with iOS’ Display Zoom feature enabled.

On the 11″ iPad Pro, a side effect of the screen’s aspect ratio change is that, when in landscape orientation, scrolling from the top of the page to the bottom leaves very little overlap and may not display each system of music fully. In forScore 10.5.2, we added a setting that’s specific to this device so you can choose whether forScore scrolls by half or by a third of a page.

Another change new iPad Pro owners quickly noticed was that iOS displays its home indicator at all times, potentially obscuring a very small portion of the bottom of your page if you’re using a 12.9″ iPad Pro. While iOS doesn’t allow developers to access or modify this indicator in any way, it does allow apps to declare that they prefer the indicator bar be hidden if possible. As of version 10.5.2, forScore does exactly that. When the home indicator appears or disappears is entirely up to iOS, but generally if you’re not touching the screen the home indicator will now get out of your way so you get an unobstructed view of your music.

The Future

Soon after these new devices were released, we started getting questions from purchasers of the 11″ model who were confused by the fact that, in portrait orientation, forScore doesn’t use the full height of the screen to display pages. This has to do with aspect ratio: making a page taller stretches it and makes the music look wrong, and zooming in on a page cuts off the left and right sides of your music. Even if you’re using pages with skinnier aspect ratios (like A4 pages), the fact that forScore has always allowed you to annotate within a canvas equal to the original iPad screen’s dimensions means that zooming in could still obscure your notes, links, text annotations, and more.

A few customers who asked about this have followed up by asking if cropping could be handled differently: that forScore display pages just as it does on older devices, but that cropping be adapted to allow pages to get bigger on the screen. This presents its own challenges, however, such as when sharing these files with colleagues who might be using older devices, or when using iOS’ Split View. It gets incredibly complicated and tough to do in a thoughtful, natural, and reliable way.

As we look to the future, however, we absolutely understand that this is a downside for people hoping to get the most out of their new device’s large screens. All we can say now is that we’re exploring a variety of possible ways we can better work to the strengths of each new device. Just like we did with the Apple Pencil, we move from getting the basics working right before we press onward to determining how best to take full advantage of major shifts in Apple’s hardware. It takes a little bit of time to get right, and we appreciate your patience.

Introducing Voluntary Upgrades

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Last year Apple announced that they were making subscription pricing available to all apps, not just those that provide access to content like magazines or streaming media. It was a big policy shift that provided a new potential path to sustainability for more complex “pro” apps: those that require intensive, long-term development that one-time purchases can’t fund forever (especially in niche markets). forScore is perhaps one of the best examples of an app that could stand to benefit from a business model like this, but for us it’s seven years too late.

Since its introduction, forScore’s price has been fairly consistent, increasing only a handful of times as forScore’s feature set has grown. We don’t do sales, and we’ve found success by balancing a fair price with an evolving product. We said “free updates for life” and that’s no empty promise. With version 10.3 having just arrived, it’s clear we’ve delivered and we’re not changing course now.

But there’s a more troubling problem with the shift to subscription pricing than our own sense of integrity—especially when it comes to creative tools: the kinds of people who use these tools often make their money through gigs, contracts, or other sorts of limited employment. If someone can’t find work for a few months, they shouldn’t have to give up the tools they rely on just to make ends meet, especially if those tools are necessary to finding new work. Subscriptions can help companies become and remain sustainable, but it’s often at a cost that customers shouldn’t have to bear.

With that said, we do occasionally have customers ask us how they can contribute to the ongoing development of forScore. They may have bought the app when it was $2.99, $4.99, $6.99, or today’s $9.99, but they feel like whatever they paid wasn’t enough now that they’ve discovered just how indispensable forScore really is to them. We sincerely appreciate their passion, and we want to find a way to honor their enthusiasm.

So with forScore 10.3 we introduced voluntary upgrades (found in the Support section of the tools menu). These in-app purchases allow customers to support forScore beyond their original purchase price, no matter how long ago they bought it. Voluntary upgrades aren’t necessary for continued, full use of forScore, but they do help ensure that forScore continues to get regular and meaningful updates. As a thank you for those who choose to support us in this manner, these purchases unlock the ability to change forScore’s app icon.

forScore is doing great. We love what we do, and our customers love the results. We’re not asking for help, but we also want to make sure that people who want to contribute more can do so, and we think this is a great way to achieve that.

Groups Discontinued

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In 2015 we introduced Groups, a subscription-based service that allowed forScore users to automatically share their scores, bookmarks, and setlists with other forScore users. It was new territory for us, and although we are very proud of the hard work we did to make it a reality, today we’re announcing that it is being discontinued. Functionality remains for anyone who has already signed up, and will remain until their subscription expires, but new subscriptions and extensions can no longer be purchased.

Groups was built using Apple’s CloudKit (despite the fact that it was very new at the time) because it was Apple’s first cloud service that allowed users to share information with each other. Until that point, Apple’s services were limited to backups and private synchronization between a single user’s devices. With CloudKit, we could allow users to share their information with anyone who had an iCloud account—there was no need for us to manage accounts or maintain our own servers.

Unfortunately, the ability to share information this way came at a cost: just like each user has a limited amount of iCloud storage space, apps that take advantage of this public space face usage restrictions and complicated quotas. These quotas dictate how much storage space an app has to work with, but also how much data they can move to and from CloudKit. These limits aren’t fixed, either, and they grow based on the number of active users an app has. For almost a year after Apple introduced CloudKit, even they didn’t seem to know how much they would charge for apps that exceeded these limits. We found ourselves in a frustrating limbo, but we believed enough in the end result to keep pushing forward.

In the end, the potential risks and constant maintenance of such a complex system couldn’t be reconciled with the costs and limits our users could accept. We’re tremendously proud of the concept and the implementation, but it wasn’t enough and we’re ready to move forward with the new features and enhancements that will have a big impact on all of our customers. We strive always to make forScore the best it can be, and sometimes that means closing the door on something that never quite clicked. For all of our users who tried the Groups service, we sincerely appreciate it. Thank you for giving it a shot, we learned a lot and will carry that experience forward into the hard work we continue to do every day.

iOS 9 App Design

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The first iPhone apps were wonderfully simple from a design standpoint. Developers could create one, perhaps two (if they supported landscape orientation) pixel-perfect layouts and know that their interface would always look exactly the same. Unlike PCs with windowed software that’s almost infinitely resizable, mobile software on the iPhone began with a single screen size: 320 pixels wide, 480 pixels tall, with a 20 pixel high status bar along the top.

Later, the iPhone 5 ushered in Apple’s first mobile screen size change and the iPhone 6 and 6 plus pushed those limits even further. Meanwhile, iOS 7 blurred the lines between the status bar and an app’s interface canvas. For the most part, however these shifts were subtle. An app designed for an iPhone 4 can usually scale up to the iPhone 6 plus by simply displaying more content or by adding space between sets of controls. In fact, much of this happens automatically.

With iOS 9, however, things are shifting more dramatically. Apple’s new multitasking modes for iPad can contort apps into some very unique shapes. The wildest example, perhaps, is the 320 pixel wide but 1024 pixel tall column that apps can be put into when used in Slide Over or as a secondary app with Split Screen. Some interface elements like long scrolling table views, for instance, can handle this shape just fine. Other specialty panels have a harder time.

The best example of this is forScore’s Stamp creator/editor. It allows users to draw their own stamps onto a square canvas, so everything has to be designed around that. That leaves varying amounts of space either on the bottom or the right of the canvas, depending on the situation. Combine two possible interface orientations with five screen sizes and add four additional app window sizes for the new iPad multitasking modes and you come up with over a dozen different possible layouts. Adding more space just doesn’t cut it here.

So we had to take a different approach. The panel’s major collections of interface elements (the canvas, the tool picker, the drawing style sliders, and the stamp previews) all had to be isolated and presented with a hierarchy of importance. Some things move around as needed, others collapse into hidden areas, and still others disappear entirely if there’s just no room for them. It’s a far cry from simply designing one, two, or three different layouts for different screen sizes.

Another example is the metadata panel. On an iPad, when using most of the new split-screen modes, the menus are presented full-screen instead of within popovers. Unlike an iPhone, however, the iPad layouts are much taller and leave a bunch of empty space at the bottom. So now, if you’re using one of these modes, you’ll see additional statistics from forScore 9’s new Dashboard feature. It’s helpful, but not essential, so it can appear when practical and disappear otherwise.

Like many of Apple’s biggest paradigm shifts, there isn’t a single point at which every developer switches from one approach to the next. The tools and technologies are usually optional, and some of them never end up making sense for a particular app. At some point, though, one more change can be enough of a push. For us, now, this is the pivot point. No longer can we design around devices, we must consider how we use space—any amount of space—even on devices that haven’t been released yet. It’s a big challenge, and one we won’t get right every time, but it’s exciting and we can’t wait to show you what we’ve done when iOS 9 is released later this year.

iPad Prose

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There has been a common notion in the media for the past year or so that the iPad just isn’t doing very well. If you look at Apple’s quarterly earnings reports and iPad sales, it’s obvious: people are buying less of them than they once did. That’s a hard fact, but it shouldn’t be sensationalized as the premature death of the post-PC era—especially just as things are really starting to heat up.

Long upgrade cycles, the introduction of the iPhone 6 and 6 plus, and a resurgence in PC sales after a long period of processor stagnation have all played their part in slowing the iPad down. But arguably the biggest problem with the iPad today is that every major exclusive software innovation it features was introduced way back in 2010. Every iOS update since then has made the iPad more like the iPhone, and it’s a tough sell when almost everything that makes iOS on the iPad unique is five years old. Fortunately that’s about to change in a big way.

This year’s WWDC, Apple’s annual developer conference, just wrapped up last week. Apple unveiled iOS 9 and, although it’s lighter on big features than previous releases, a lot of the new stuff seems to be focused squarely—if not exclusively—on the iPad. New trackpad-like features don’t appear to be iPad specific, but Apple clearly had bigger screens in mind when designing them. The headlining features, though, are all iPad-specific: picture-in-picture, slide over, and split screen multitasking. In fact, that last one is exclusive not just to the iPad, but to the newest iPad Air 2.

Last year’s introduction of the iPad Air 2 should have been a bigger deal. With an incredibly powerful 3-core CPU, 2GB of RAM, and touch ID, it was even thinner and lighter than the previous year’s model. Yet it ended up being little more than a footnote in the media. After all, what good was all that power without some new software features to help users take advantage of it? Developers soon discovered that some of the changes made in iOS 8 seemed to indicate that a split screen mode was in the works, but that it simply wasn’t ready for prime time. This year it is.

Just as long as there have been rumors of a split-screen mode for the iPad, there have also been rumors of a larger iPad, generally dubbed the ‘iPad Pro.’ Of course, there’s no reason to believe that just because one of these rumors panned out, the other will as well. We’ve been working hard to get ready for iOS 9’s release this fall and although the beta is not stable enough for everyday use, the Split Screen and Slide Over features make a lot of sense on the existing iPads that support it. That could be the end of it, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Many people seem to immediately dismiss the idea of a larger iPad because it doesn’t make sense for them, but the whole reason product lines exist is to satisfy the needs of unique groups within the larger market. The iPod Classic could never have suited the needs of everyone who bought an iPod mini, nano, or shuffle, and the iPad isn’t perfect for a lot of people. Which people? Yes, you already know where this is going: musicians. Many forScore customers want a device with a bigger screen, and although it has seemed like the rumor that would never come true, the pieces all seem to be falling into place. We won’t know for sure until this fall, but iOS 9 seems like a big part of this puzzle and we can’t wait to see what comes next.

Five Years

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Five years ago this month we released forScore 1.0, and with a hundred updates since then it’s easy to forget where it all started. That’s why we’ve put together a special retrospective to celebrate our journey so far and to look back at those incremental changes as part of a larger story. Whether you’ve been a loyal forScore user from the start or you just recently discovered it, you’ll be surprised to see how much things have changed.

We say it often, but it’s always true: we couldn’t do it without you. The support and feedback of our customers has always been our greatest asset, and we can’t thank you enough. Here’s to five years so far, and to the next five!

Stylus Adventures

| In Depth

The iPad was designed for fingertips, plain and simple, but that hasn’t stopped countless companies from creating input devices of all shapes and sizes. Over time, they’ve gotten bigger and smaller, smarter and simpler, and this summer we sat down to see if we could take advantage of some of them to improve forScore’s annotation experience with version 8.0.

Of course, the majority of these products work right out of the box. They’re basically capacitive sponges on sticks, and that’s that. To really make a meaningful impact, though, they also need to communicate with the iPad to offer additional features like palm rejection, and the best way to do that is with Bluetooth Smart (aka Bluetooth LE, Bluetooth 4.0). That narrowed things down for us, and we identified three companies that offered something we thought could help our users: Adonit, FiftyThree, and Ten One Design. (more…)

The Other Half

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In the summer of 2012, over two years ago now, forScore 4 had just hit the App Store and we were beginning to transition forScore over to Core Data. iOS 6 had just been announced, and Apple Maps was gearing up to make waves that still haven’t completely settled down. Since then, we’ve released forScore 5, 6, 7, and now 8, but that’s only half of the story.

This is the story of forScore mini: how we created it, why, and how it reflects the shifts in Apple’s strategy and its priorities. (more…)