feature of the week

10.2: Time

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If you’re reading this, chances are that time represented numerically (like “10:00”) looks normal to you. It’s easy to think that this is a global standard, but in fact many countries represent time differently. Some use a period instead of a colon, others use leading zeroes (“9:41” is correct in many places but “09:41” is right in others), and there are 12-hour and 24-hour styles.

In forScore 10.2, we changed how time and duration are represented in most cases. Now, instead of writing it out ourselves like we had previously, we let iOS turn these numbers into locale-friendly representations that are best suited to you based on your iPad’s language and location settings.

Many people won’t even notice this change, but we like to sweat the details and we think this is an easy way to make forScore feel more refined and thoughtful to those affected by it.

10.2: Dropbox

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Applications like forScore communicate with services like Dropbox through an API (which defines how to talk to their servers and understand its responses), and a framework (prepackaged code that can be reused by developers so they don’t all have to write their own, very similar code).

Dropbox provides several frameworks for different types of services that they provide, and over the years these services have changed and evolved. In order to provide new functionality, Dropbox has since created a new API, version 2, and later this year they’ll be turning off the original version. In other words, their servers will no longer respond to the kinds of messages that they used to.

Since we introduced Dropbox support in forScore 3, we’ve been using their framework based on this older API. Last year they told developers about these upcoming changes, so we sat down to upgrade from that older framework to the newer version. As we did, it became increasingly clear that the tradeoffs were too high. We were including code in our app that could support every conceivable aspect of Dropbox’s service, even though we were only using a portion of it.

Just because a company provides a framework, however, doesn’t mean that you have to use it. The API itself is public, so if you choose to you can write your own version that does just what you need and nothing more. That’s exactly what we did in forScore 10.2, and the results are striking. With code that’s orders of magnitude simpler, we can provide the same functionality as before, based on the new API, that protects your security and privacy.

But this isn’t Under The Hood Improvements of the Week, it’s Feature of the Week, and we’re not going to disappoint. New in forScore 10.2, you can monitor your Dropbox account’s available storage without leaving the app. Tap Edit, then tap “My Account” in the top left-hand corner of the Services panel to see this information.

Better, newer, simpler, and all without losing anything (except the baggage).

10.2: Downloads

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So much of our digital lives revolves around shared storage and documents, so it’s no wonder that forScore’s Services panel plays a big role in helping users work effectively. With forScore 7.1 we replaced the Dropbox panel with a much more powerful alternative that introduced support for additional services like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, and more. We got a lot of things right with that significant rewrite, and most of the Services panel is the same today as it was back then, but we’re always looking for ways to improve and the biggest one is the ability to download items and add them to a setlist in one step.

We added this ability in forScore 9.4, allowing users to tap “Edit” and select one or more compatible files, then tap and hold the download button to choose to download them, download them to the current setlist (if applicable), or download them to a specific setlist. This worked well, but wasn’t very discoverable, so in forScore 10.2 we’ve removed the long press altogether and now show these options any time the download button is tapped. Downloading a single file is as simple as it has ever been, since you don’t need to use Edit mode at all: just tap an item and it downloads. Downloading several items at once takes an extra step, but on the whole we think this change strikes a better balance between efficiency and functionality.

Another thing people often do in the Services panel is download everything in a folder at once. You can go through the list tapping every item individually, but the easier method is to enter Edit mode, use the circled check mark to select everything, then tap the Download button. The second step isn’t always obvious to everyone, however, so in forScore 10.2 we removed that requirement. If you’re in edit mode and tap the Download button with nothing selected, forScore selects everything for you automatically and then asks you what you’d like to do with those files. It’s a little thing, but it can be a big help for new users.

10.2: Setlist Creator Sorting

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When we design a panel or a menu, we spend a lot of time thinking about the way it’s organized. We want to put the most important information and functions in the most visible or easily accessible places, and work our way out from there. This can be a difficult balance to strike, but it becomes even more troublesome when adding features to an existing interface. Maintaining familiar positioning of all existing elements while adding new elements that don’t feel out of place can be tricky, and the Setlist Editor is a good example of this.

For the Setlist Editor, we created two columns: your setlist on the left, and a score browser on the right. That score browser was essentially a duplicate of forScore’s main menu, showing all of your categories like specific composers and genres, and allowing you to select one to see its scores.

Consistent feedback from customers told us that this didn’t go far enough, however, and that more people expected to see the complete list of scores from the start. The ability to browse by category was still essential, so we blended these ideas together to try and get the best of both worlds. The main menu shows all of your scores by default, and it can show a list of your composers, genres, tags, or labels—just like you’d expect.

Things got a little more complicated because, unlike most score lists which use the sort bar at the top to let you change how the list is ordered, the sort bar in this case was already used to switch between the “All Scores” list and the different types of categories. So in forScore 10.2 we worked around this awkward limitation by adding sort options as a button in the top left-hand corner of the menu instead. When the “All Scores” list is visible in this root menu, tap this button to change the list’s sort order. It looks a little different, but it works the same way.

10.2: Dual Page Mode

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One of our absolute favorite new features in forScore 10.2 and forScore mini 3.2 is Dual Page Mode. This new mode works exclusively with our Cue app (version 1.4 or newer required), allowing you to see two pages side-by-side on two separate devices.

Using forScore on your primary device, tap the Cue icon and select “Dual Page Mode” and launch the standalone Cue app on your secondary device. Choose “Connect” once the prompt appears, and after a few moments you’ll see the next page appear, complete with any annotations you’ve added. Pages turn two at a time while using Dual Page mode, so you’ll go from pages 1-2 to 3-4, then 5-6, etc. If you start on page 2, you’d see 2-3, then 4-5, etc.

Centuries of precedent mean that you’ll instinctively want to turn the page by reaching for the right side of the secondary device, so we extended page turning gestures to both screens. That way, no matter which side you reach for, things will work just like you’d expect. No re-training necessary.

Since forScore is so much more than a PDF reader, there are interactive elements that we just couldn’t live without. With Dual Page mode, Links and Buttons work across devices, so you can tap a link on page 1 to see it flash on page 2, or tap a link or button on the secondary device to use it just like you would on your primary device. It’s very cool to use, and we think it’s one of those incredibly important details that really transform this nifty proof of concept into a real tool that musicians with an extra device can leverage to full effect.

10.2: Cue Panel

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Cue is one of the best examples of the kinds of things you can do with a digital sheet music reader that are simply not possible with paper. Our remote control system lets one forScore act as a leader, navigating to scores and turning pages as needed, and other users follow along automatically.

Setting up a Cue session has always been very straightforward: tap the Cue icon, choose your role, and then wait. Apple’s frameworks begin searching for nearby devices, connecting to other available forScore users as soon as possible. From there, we use these connections to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Unfortunately, wireless networking is never foolproof and sometimes connections simply fail. Even when things work perfectly, it can be helpful to see which devices are connected and perhaps even disconnect a specific one. In forScore 10.2, we added a new Cue panel that helps in these situations. It shows your device’s current status, any—if you’re leading—lists nearby devices and their current status (you can manually connect to any available device or disconnect from a connected device).

Best of all, it’s still just as easy to set up a new Cue session: tap the Cue icon once to choose your role and the system will begin browsing. Tap the icon a second time and you’ll see the new Cue panel, allowing you to change roles, manage connections, or disconnect entirely. Power when you need it, simplicity when you don’t.

10.2: Apple Pencil

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Last week we discussed the variable width effect when drawing with forScore’s annotation tools. As we mentioned, drawings become slightly bolder as you draw faster with your finger, or when you press harder with Apple Pencil.

With forScore 10.2, there’s actually a little more to the story for Apple Pencil users. Now, not only does pressure matter, but so does tilt. The closer the back end of your pencil is to the iPad’s screen, the more emphatic your drawings will be (like shading with the side of a pencil’s tip). Pressure and tilt are balanced to produce a natural effect at all times, so a hard press while holding the Pencil upright produces a similar amount of boldness as a soft press with the Pencil held almost flat against the screen.

Apple Pencil is an incredible tool and we continue to recommend it very highly—if you annotate regularly it’s the absolute best option by far. Now that forScore is using all of its sensors, it’s a perfect companion for the ultimate drawing experience.

10.2: Variable Width

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Our Annotation engine is the product of seven years of unrelenting work. It may seem simple to create a drawing feature, and on a basic level it can be, but there’s a huge difference between something that works and something that works efficiently, faithfully capturing all of the nuance of handwritten marks.

In forScore, drawing faster with your finger or pressing harder with Apple Pencil creates marks that become slightly larger or bolder. This effect has always been subtle, unlike with many art-focused apps (since big dramatic strokes aren’t typically useful in an annotation context), and its intensity is diminished for larger presets. Of course, there’s no perfect amount for everyone, so with forScore 10.2 we made added a “Variable Width” option to the Annotation section of the Settings panel.

The default setting, “Normal,” works just like forScore always has. If you prefer to maintain a consistent marking size no matter how you draw, choose “Off” instead. For iOS 10 users, a third option called “High” produces a more exaggerated effect—still practical and restrained, but definitely more noticeable.

In the end, all that matters is that annotation feels natural and that it effectively captures and conveys your intentions. Inflection is an important part of that, and now you can choose for yourself what that looks like.

10.2: Documents

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Back when the iPad first launched, it attempted to blend the large screen and usability of a computer with greater approachability and simplicity of what was then called iPhone OS. Apple resisted the idea that a user should care or even know that the device had a file system at all, but in practice this leap was impractical for an iPad to live up to its full potential. Sometimes users want to work with the same data on their computer and their iPad, so Apple created the File Sharing panel.

Every app has its own “Documents” directory, and this File Sharing panel—buried in iTunes—gives you a way to add files to it, delete them, or copy them back to your computer. It’s a messy concession, so be sure, but its usefulness is undeniable even in the world of iCloud. Since there can be a difference between the way forScore presents your files and the way they’re actually stored on the device, sometimes it’s useful to be able to view this folder directly. Instead of managing your audio files through the music picker, your images through the stamp creator, and your CSV files through the Indexes panel, the Documents directory lists everything at once.

It can be helpful to see this information even when you’re away from your computer, so in forScore 10.2 we added a new Documents browser in the Support section of the Tools menu. It gives you the same power of iTunes’ File Sharing panel within the app itself. You can preview, delete, and share files (some actions are unavailable depending on the type of file). It’s a great way to manage your storage if your device is starting to get full, or to find and share something specific without worrying about which panel to use.

10.2: Indexes

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The easiest way to work with scores in forScore is by using a single PDF file for each piece of music in your collection. You can add metadata to it, use it in setlists, and share it quickly and easily.

Things get a little more complicated when you’re working with music that features several distinct parts, and even more so when using much larger compilations such as real books. In these cases, Bookmarks give you the best of both worlds: they let you turn a set of pages within one long PDF into a virtual item, so you can work with it just like you’d work with any other score in your library.

Setting up bookmarks for a long file can be a daunting task, and while we make things easier by letting you import a PDF’s embedded table of contents, not every PDF file has one. Fortunately, if your compilation is fairly standard and popular, chances are high that someone has already done the hard work for you. A quick web search can save you lots of time here. If not, creating an index on your computer can be much easier and faster than using the iPad’s virtual keyboard.

Indexes are similar to spreadsheets, most commonly in the CSV (comma-separated values) format, and in forScore 10.2 you can use these files to create bookmarks in seconds. Add a CSV file to your forScore library using any of the same methods you use to add scores, then open the bookmarks menu while viewing your PDF file. Tap “Indexes” in the top left-hand corner, then choose the CSV file you just added.

In this new panel, you’ll see a list of the values contained in each row of your index. Tap on one to map it to a standard forScore metadata field. Pick a title and starting page number (both are required) and any other metadata you want to use, skipping a certain number of header or footer rows if necessary. The arrow buttons along the bottom let you step through each record so you can make sure things look right.

When you’re done, tap “Save” and see all of your new bookmarks appear in the list. Now go use all of the energy you saved having to type in that information manually and put it where it really counts: playing your music!

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