Shipped: StoryBots Learning Videos for iPhone and iPad


I'm really excited to have been product owner on my fourth StoryBots app Learning Videos. The previous apps I worked on include Tap & Sing, ABC Videos and Share Timer.

Learning Videos is an universal app (iPhone and iPad) that will be the central hub for a our video library. It's the place where StoryBots customers will be able to watch our videos on iOS for years to come.

Building this app was a lot of fun and something I'm really proud of for a version 1.0. First and foremost, we implemented our newest design/UX changes. We've been hard at work in building a brand style guide to ensure design and UX is consistent across all apps (and soon to be website). As we move fast building out a library of apps to support the subscription business model we needed to ensure we invested the time in building brand consistency. This app is a great first step in that direction.

As far as challenges, the biggest was the integration with our content template server. Since we're releasing videos every couple of weeks we wanted to make sure we could deliver new content independent of app updates. While we had the architecture for content delivery established with our Starring You® Books iPad app we wanted to take the learnings from that two year old system and build something new. The result was something pretty cool. Content (and how it's organized) can be delivered into the app in real time as it's made available from our server. We can also update existing content within the app so if an update to a thumbnail is made the app will update itself on next connected session.

If you have children ages 2-7 download the app and let me know what you think. If you don't have kids there are some pretty funny dancing animals, which everyone loves :).

Here are some screenshots of the main screens in the app: 

Home Screen

Content Viewing

Backpack Feature (Favorite Videos) 

Clean Up Your Mac's Menu Bar with Bartender

I've been a loyal Bartender user for a while. It's a great way to hide Mac Menu Bar items for things you might not use on a regular basis.

Bartender gives you a single item in the Menu Bar that provides access to the Menu Bar items you place in it. In addition, it allows you to dynamically create rules so items placed in Bartender are temporarily displayed in your Menu Bar when there is activity related to them. For example, if you have Dropbox in your Bartender you can choose to display the Dropbox Menu Bar item in your Menu Bar when there is activity (such as the upload or download of a file). After the activity is complete, the item goes back into Bartender.

It's a $15 app and totally worth it.

Before Using Bartender

After Using Bartender

Bartender menu collapsed.

Bartender menu open.

Bartender Settings

Jerry Colonna on This Week in Startups

I've watched This Week in Startups hosted by Jason Calacanis since episode one. It's an invaluable resource about startups and entrepreneurship. It's also great as Jason is always able to get great anecdotes out of his guests. This episode was no different.

Guest Jerry Colonna was truly amazing and probably the most inspirational episode I've watched. It tops my list of other great guests including David Heinemeier Hansson (which I read the news on), Chris Sacca and Gary Vaynerchuk.


The Podcasts I Listen To

I'm a avid podcast listener. Whether in my car, walking to work or in the shower (bluetooth shower radio ftw) I've got a podcast playing in Instacast

My podcasting habit started in 2005. That was the year that two of my favorite podcasts debut: This Week in Tech and Diggnation. Although Diggnation has since been retired I still enjoy TWiT to this day.

Below are the current podcasts that are in my core rotation (that's an official podcast listener term :). There are many others that I sporadically listen to based on the guest or topic of the episode.  There are also others that I loved but didn't include as they have been retired (such as Diggnation, Hypercritical and Build and Analyze to name a few).

Joshua Foer Quote on Monotony

An awesome quote by Joshua Foer...

“Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next - and disappear. That's why it's so important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.”

Apple's Product Philosophy

I just had a chance to watch Tim Cook's D11 interview which took place the other day. In it Cook had a wonderful quote which truly captures Apple's product philosophy:

We think the customer pays us to make certain choices on their behalf. (1:01:56)

I thought it was a great way to succinctly describe Apple's approach to building products.

Tim Cook, D11 Interview on May 29, 2013

Tim Cook, D11 Interview on May 29, 2013

One of the most useful features in iOS is also the most frustrating

I'm a big fan of TextExpander on the Mac. It's always one of the first apps I install on a new Mac. It provides a simple way to set keyboard shortcuts to expand into other text text strings. I use it for a variety of things including email signatures, short link creation and Lorem Ipsum among many others.

Unfortunately on iOS TextExpander's app isn't able to integrate as deeply and provide system wide keyboard shortcuts. However, Apple does provide a often unused feature to set keyboard shortcuts. If you visit Settings > General > Keyboard then see the shortcuts section.

Naturally, my first shortcut was my email address. Being a product person I download and signup for every app that's released. However, I was quick to learn that shortcuts automatically adds a space to the shortcut when it's expanded. This is probably great for the normal use case but extremely frustrating for email - especially when a blank space is seen as a character in signup or login forms.

Hopefully Apple addresses this issue in iOS 7 or better yet allows apps like TextExpander to deeply integrate with the iOS.

iOS Shortcut Feature

iOS Shortcut Feature

Shipped: StoryBots Share Timer for iPhone


Today I shipped my third StoryBots iOS app app (see first two). Share Timer for iPhone is a very simple app that helps parents facilitate sharing between their kids.

For those unaware, StoryBots is a monthly subscription for parents who have kids ages 2-6. One monthly fee unlocks all the premium content in all of our apps. Our app offering is split into education/entertainment apps for kids and utilities for parents. Share Timer falls into the parent utility category.

The goal of this app was simplicity and speed. After signing into the app selecting which StoryBots characters (i.e. kids) you'd like to use, the only action a parent has to take is adjusting the time (defaults to previous used) and selecting GO.

Once the timer is running a full screen visual countdown displays so that the parent can see how much time is left even if the phone is at a distance. Fun robots and sound effects then chime in during each turn and when the time is up to provide auditory feedback and also engage the child in the app.

As simple as the app may seem there was a lot of unexpected complication involved in building this app. The biggest centered around the apps need to run in the background.