All posts by ConfusedVorlon

Go Away!

I just released Go Away!

It is not a subtle or complex application, but I hope it will be fun and useful for some folks.

If you’re trying to work and you wish people would leave you alone – just fire up ‘Go Away!’

go away screenshot

When people pester you, tap on the screen and it will tell them to go away!

For added utility, you can record your own message and display your own image.

It’s free at the Apple Store:


Buy Now

[now fixed] I broke the timed commands…

Update: This is fixed in the 4.01 release.

I let a bug get through in the 4.0 update of Off Remote. The timed commands don’t work (nothing happens when you click on the button to send the command).

I submitted a fix to Apple on Monday (17th Aug), but they generally take about a week to approve updates.

sorry.

Rob.

Windows 10 updates…

We have a handful of updates to address some minor problems with Windows 10.

VLC Streamer is now updated to 5.07, and Watchover is now at 1.20.

Windows 10 is now available for public beta – so if you’re using it, do let us know of any other issues or problems you come across. We’d love to have the kinks worked out before the official Windows 10 release.

VLC 2.2 crash when browsing drives (fixed in VLC 2.2.1)

Update – the VLC team have fixed this bug in VLC 2.2.1.

You can get the latest VLC from http://videolan.org

There is a bug in VLC 2.2 which causes a crash in some circumstances when you try to browse the drives list on a Windows machine. This causes vlc itself to crash.

The vlc team have identified a fix, but I don’t know when they will release it.

In the meantime the easiest workaround is to download the previous version of VLC from the videolan.org website.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling brave, you could try one of their nightly builds which should have the fix – but which may have other bugs!

 

VLC Streamer has been removed from the Google Play store. Hopefully this is temporary…

Last night (19th March) I got two emails from the Google Play store informing me that VLC Streamer had been removed from the store for breaching store rules.

No warning was given before removing VLC Streamer.

The email didn’t give much detail as to what exactly the concern was – and my hope is that it was a mistake which will be sorted through the appeal process.

I have submitted an appeal to the Google Play store, and received an automatic response which tells me that I should hear back within 72hours.

I will update this post when I get a response.

Update

Google have responded to explain that the issue is the screenshots

After re-reviewing your application we have found that your promotional screenshots uses one or more protected images that belongs to a third party (stills from copyrighted material).

I will resubmit with different screenshots. Hopefully that will provide a quick fix.

Right Click Booster – The hardest App Store approval I ever had!

My new app ‘Right Click Booster‘ is now available on the Mac App Store.

Like many of my favourite apps – this one springs out of an annoyance that I wanted to fix.

If you have used windows, then you may well have used one of the many right click commands in the finder. Some of these are built in, and some are added by third party apps.

Two that I particularly miss are

  • ‘Make untitled.txt here’
  • and ‘Open this directory in the terminal’

Mac OS has had the ability to use custom scripts as services – but they’re too far from the right click to be useful (right click, scroll down hover over services, skip right, find the command you need).

Finally – with the advent of Yosemite and finder extensions, Mac OS has an approved way for me to fix this.Right Click Booster actions.

Enter the Sandbox…

The app sandbox is designed to make sure that apps you download from the App Store can only interact with a limited selection of files (mostly within your own app sandbox).

The app I wanted to build lets you add, open or update files anywhere in the system.

If you want your app to be in the App Store – then it has to use the sandbox!

There is a (clunky) solution

Right click booster is a developer tool, and I wanted developers to be able to integrate their own scripts.

There is actually a way that Apple lets you do this.

Scripts can be run from the User Script Directory (every app has it’s own user script directory).

This seems like a great solution, but the app isn’t allowed to put scripts in that directory.

In my first submission, the app asks the user to open the directory – thus giving permission to the app to read and write files there. Apple didn’t like that.

In my next submission, I included the scripts in a .dmg file. My app can include the .dmg, open it and let the user drag scripts to the symbolic link to the user scripts file. Apple didn’t like that either.

In my final submission – the app takes you to my website where you can download the default scripts (as a dmg). Open that dmg, and install the scripts yourself.

There were many other issues along the way – but finally, Apple have allowed this solution.

Now you can run scripts with a right click

I use my app all the time!

The ones I use the most are Pod Update, and Update version (this runs ‘avgtool next-version -all’ which bumps the version number for all my targets in an xcode project)

My other favourites are the two I built the app for. ‘Open this directory in the terminal’ and ‘Create untitled.txt’ here.

Of course, other users will have other scripts and other ideas.

If they’re generally applicable, then I’ll add them to the default script list – so please do share them at the forum!

You can get Right Click Booster (currently free!) at the Appstore.

 

 

Figure out rubbish Windows phone store to win rubbish Windows phone.

VLC Remote has been available in the Windows Phone store since 2012. The last update was in August 2014. It has 36 reviews with an average 5 star rating.

Microsoft have unpublished it from the store because

…it does not accurately reflect the source, functionality, capabilities or features of the app

They haven’t given me much more information than this. In fact, they seem to have made it impossible for me to even change things if I can figure out what the problem actually is.

So I’m launching a competition. If you can figure out what I did, and how to get VLC Remote published again, then you win a rubbish windows phone. (Full competition rules at the bottom!)

I’m not really expecting much – so this is probably a farewell  rant as Hobbyist Software exits the windows store, with only a little regret.

ScreenPlay

The background

When Microsoft launched windows phone, I assumed they had enough money and commitment to make the ecosystem work, so I had VLC Remote ported to run on windows phone.

The OS has some great design features, and we tried to make use of them to build a great remote.

Sadly, the store has not delivered in terms of revenue. VLC Remote has earned slightly less than £2000 over it’s lifetime, which makes it a pretty rubbish investment for me.

Nonetheless, I like the app, and while it is live, then I want it to be good. A month or so ago, we kicked off a smallish project to support windows 8.1 and the new larger screen sizes. This was triggered by an invitation by myappfree.it to be their free app for a day.

Updating was unexpectedly painful, and came with minor annoyances and ‘windows-isms’ such as some disappearing core http support which only shows on the device (fortunately, I had bought a new windows 8 device to test on), and requirements like the app tile called SquareTile71x71 which of course has to be 170px by 170px.

Adding the new version to the store seems to delete all saved app information and screenshots requiring an annoying re-uploading of images and text – but all that can be overcome, and I finally pressed submit.

Importantly – when I submitted the new version, I set things so that the new version would not be automatically published. I wanted to wait until myappfree were ready before releasing the new version.

Within 24 hours, the new version was approved.

Congratulations! VLC Remote app has successfully passed certification to be included in the Windows Phone Store.

I wrote to myappfree to tell them I was ready.

Note that at this stage, the new version is still waiting in the wings ready for me to click ‘make it so’. The version in the store is the one that has been there since August 2014.

Unfortunately the day after VLC Remote was approved, I got an email to say that the existing app had been unpublished.

Microsoft has unpublished one or more of the apps registered to your account as they do not comply with Windows Phone and Windows Store Policy Requirement 10.1. The app metadata does not accurately represent the features, functionality, and capabilities of the app.

Section 10.1 in full:

Your app and its associated metadata must accurately and clearly reflect the source, functionality, and features of your app.

  • The screenshots, app name, developer name, tile, category and app description, and any other related metadata you provide with your app, should make it easy for a user to understand the functions, features, and any important limitations of your app.
  • Your app may not use a name or icon similar to that of other apps.
  • You should not represent your app to be from a company, government body, or other entity if you do not have permission to make that representation.
  • If your app contains content or features restricted to certain languages, markets or geographies or has other important limitations, they should be clearly described.
  • Your app must be fully functional and offer customers unique, creative value or utility.
  • If your app declares an association with a given file type or extensibility point, it must provide the functionality that a customer would expect, given that association. For example, if your app declares an association with the .jpg file type, the app should be able to open the image for viewing or editing.

I’m not sure which of these I have broken.

My first version of VLC Remote was released on iOS in 2008.

It is a remote control for VLC, and the description in the store is more or less exactly the same as the description I use on iOS and Android.

The 5 star reviews seem to support the notion that it works.

My first assumption was that this was a stupid error, so I wrote back in perhaps not the most conciliatory of tone.

I am extremely unimpressed.

Why has my app been unpublished?

You say that the metadata is inaccurate, but I can’t see any inaccuracy – and you have given no specific details.
This app has been active and in good standing in the windows phone store for years without issue. The last update was in August last year (although I have a new update which I have not yet chosen to publish).
I lose money on the Windows store – I keep my app here because I have already invested the time to build it, and hope that some day Microsoft will make a go of Windows Phone. This kind of treatment doesn’t encourage me to continue investing.
You can call me on [xxx] to put things right and apologise.
Rob Jonson
Needless to say, I didn’t receive the hoped-for apology.

 

Hello Rob,

Thank you for your reply.

The app was unpublished from the Store because it does not accurately reflect the source, functionality, capabilities or features of the app. Please refer to the related guidelines in this blog.

Best Regards,

Windows Phone and Windows Store Team

I challenge you to figure out from the blog post where my mistake lies.

A final insult

When I log in to the store, I now see the two versions (the current, and pending release), with all key functions hyperlinked to this generic contact page.

 

2015-01-31 06.23.22 pm

As far as I can tell: Even if I can figure out why Microsoft have unpublished my app – there is no way for me to edit it and resubmit!

The competition

So – here is the challenge:

  1. If you can figure out what I need to do to get VLC Remote published again, then email me and let me know.
  2. The winner will win a somewhat rubbish second hand windows phone.
  3. In the spirit of windows rubbish-ness, I will pay for postage only if you are in the UK.
  4. If multiple people figure it out, then I shall capriciously pick a winner based on criteria which I shall not disclose.

Until then, this is Hobbyist Software signing off from Windows Phone.

 

PS – No Microsoft rant would be complete without referencing the importance of developers to their flagging platform

 


 

Update 1 – Sunday 1 Feb 2015

Most of the emails I have had from users suggest that the issue is probably with the name VLC Remote or the icon.

That certainly seems like the best guess.

Of course, if Microsoft were to tell me what the problem is and how to fix it, then that would be best. Moreover:

  1. The app has been live in the Windows Phone store since 2012 – they could have emailed me to request a change rather than simply ‘unpublishing’ the app without warning.
  2. They have not told me what is wrong, or what I would need to change.
  3. There is no way for me to make any changes. The app is locked, and the links where you would normally edit things simply link to the generic contact page.

If Microsoft were to contact me with details, I could let them know my thoughts.

I have been using the name VLC Remote since 2008 across various mobile platforms. It has generated millions of downloads (mostly for the free versions sadly!).

I have been using the name VLC Remote on the Windows Phone platform since 2012 without issue.

The logo incorporates the VLC cone which is itself released under GPL. There is no formal approval process from Videolan, but I did ask some key people before I started using it in 2008. As far as I am aware, there has been no complaint from Videolan (and I’m a moderately active member of the Videolan community)

Hobbyist Software owns the UK trademark for VLC Remote.

The succession of 5* reviews don’t indicate a set of users who feel misled about the apps functionality.

No word from Microsoft, but it is a weekend.

Update 2, Monday 2 Feb, 5pm 2015

One of my emails generated a response:

Thank you for your email. I see that you are inquiring why your app VLC Remote was removed from the Windows Phone Store without being given a clear description of why it has been removed. I understand your concerns and I wanted to inform you that I have proactively began the process to investigate this issue with our policy team. You will receive direct communication from the policy team in regards to the status of your app and what steps you may need to take to get your app back in to the Windows Phone store. Once you have communicated with the policy team you should be able to make changes to your app based on their instructions. I ensure you I will continue to monitor your app and will let you know of any new information until your app is placed back in the Windows Phone Store.

In the meantime, please let me know if you have any additional questions.

The app is still unpublished, and un-editable in my developer account.

 Update 3, Tuesday 3 Feb 2015

This morning, I got a very polite email from a program manager at Windows.

VLC Remote is back on the store.

I am a program manager on the Windows Developer Platform team and came across your blog on Reddit.

I had the store team look into what happened and they confirmed that your app has been restored.

I do not have the details of what led to this but will share once I have them. Please let me know if you are still running into issues.

We do care about our developers! Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any question or concerns!

This gentleman is of course the competition winner, and is now entitled to a second hand blue Nokia 800! I don’t know if he’ll chose to pay the shipping…

The 8.1 update is now ready to go and will go live on the 18th February.

 Update 4, Tuesday 24 Feb 2015

I submitted an update on Monday to remove a single line from the app description

VLC Remote is App of The Day on myAppFree, don't miss your daily deals http://get.myappfree.it

This seems to have triggered the same problem again.

App Policies: 10.1 Metadata

Your app and its associated metadata must accurately and clearly reflect the source, functionality, and features of your app.

<snip – list of policies>

Notification/Action Requested:

The app and its associated metadata do not accurately represent its source, functionality, or features. Please refer to the blog post for additional policy guidance: http://blogs.windows.com/windows/b/buildingapps/archive/2014/05/13/enhanced-windows-store-app-discoverability-refreshed-user-experience-and-policy-updates.aspx.

I’ll email back and copy in the chap who helped out last time.

This will be my last update to VLC Remote on Windows Phone, it simply isn’t worth it for me to carry on.

 Update 5, Wed 25th Feb 2015

Things are moving much more quickly this time. The chap who helped me last time bounced my email onto somebody else who first offered to try to create an exception, then wrote again instructing me:

I got some help from one of our certification experts. Please prepare your re-submission and include the text below in your ‘Tester Notes’.

“Do not fail for 10.1 – please escalate to <named person>”

(<named person> is going help us get your app approved. )

Unfortunately, unless I’m missing something – there isn’t a tester notes field available when I submit an update.

I have submitted anyway and am crossing my fingers.

Update 6, June 2016

 

The same nonsense is happening again

 

Translations please…

VLC Remote and VLC Streamer rely on you to translate them into your native language.

If you’d like to help – please click through to http://translate.hobbyistsoftware.com and translate some strings.

The site isn’t really mobile-friendly, so you probably want to do this on your laptop.

I’m always happy to provide free copies if you help with translations – email me at rob @ hobbyistsoftware.com if that would help.

Thank you!

Dolby codecs, software patents, legal threats

Short version:

If you copy movies to VLC Streamer using iTunes, then as from version 4.12, you’ll get a warning message and no sound for movies using these Dolby codecs.

  • Dolby Digital (AC3)
  • Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC3)
  • Dolby TrueHD (MLP)

The reason for this is that Dolby claim that playing sound encoded in those codecs would breach their patents. Although this is arguable – it isn’t in practice something I can fight.

The workaround is fairly simple; Instead of copying your movies via iTunes, you should stream them from the helper app (the helper app uses the desktop version of VLC to do the conversion).

In the paid version, you can also copy movies using the helper app so that you can watch them when you are away from home.

Long version:

Before I get into the details, I want to be very clear that Dolby’s representative was a pleasure to work with. He was perfectly reasonable and courteous. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer legal shakedown. I don’t believe that Dolby’s demands were valid – but he was doing his job in a perfectly professional manner.

On the 22nd November, I got a notice from Apple via the AppStore.

On 10/14/2014, we received a notice from Dolby Laboratories that Dolby Laboratories believes your apps listed below infringe their intellectual property rights. In particular, Dolby Laboratories believes you are infringing their copyright. Please see their comments below.

You can reach Dolby Laboratories through [redacted], copied on this email.

We look forward to receiving written assurance that your applications do not infringe Dolby Laboratories’s rights, or that the parties are taking steps to promptly resolve the matter.  Please keep us apprised of your progress.

[snip]

Comments from Complainant: The App(s) indicated contain and/or practice Dolby’s intellectual property, including patents and copyrighted source code and/or pseudocode, namely Dolby Digital (AC3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC3), and/or Dolby TrueHD (MLP) without authorization.

The ability to play this kind of movie was a fairly recent addition. In version 4.0 (released at the start of October), I added MobileVLCKit to VLC Streamer to handle movies copied through iTunes that don’t play in the system player.

MobileVLCKit is the engine that powers the VLC app on iOS, so it is capable and powerful. You can tell that VLC Streamer is playing something with MobileVLCKit if you see an orange screen at the start of playback. It is MobileVLCKit which plays these movies, and MobileVLCKit which I eventually had to hobble to stop VLC Streamer from being removed from the AppStore.

I asked how much it would cost to licence the patents. Playing these movies was a new and smallish feature – but clearly valuable to some people, so I’d have been willing to pay something.

…I’m glad you’re interested in becoming properly licensed.  We have a standard process for that which begins by filling out this online form (it just captures generic info like contact data, etc):

http://www.dolby.com/us/en/professional/licensing/apply-license-consumer.aspx

You should also know that there are fees associated with becoming licensed.  Specifically, there is a $25,000 one-time initial fee and a recurring $5,000 annual maintenance fee.  There is also a per-unit royalty that has a tiered structure, due quarterly, based on annual total usage, as follows:

0-100,000 downloads at $0.99 per download

100,001-1,000,000 downloads at $0.67 per download

1,000,001+ downloads at $0.45 per download

Remember that this would apply to the free version of VLC Streamer as well as the paid version. Clearly this is not an option.

I contacted a senior Developer involved with VLC and asked for an opinion. His opinion was that the patent claims were bogus.

I didn’t write the code for VLC, and I’m not an expert on patent law, but I know that software patents are at the very least controversial in Europe.

The VLC legal page shows their interpretation.

‘Neither French law nor European conventions recognize software as patentable […]. Therefore, software patents licenses do not apply on VideoLAN software.’

Incidentally, this is presumably why Dolby haven’t stopped VLC from distributing the desktop player which plays the exact same codecs. The VLC desktop version is what does the conversion of your videos in the helper so that they can be streamer to VLC Streamer.

The full list of Dolby’s patent claims is given at the bottom of the list.

Nonetheless, it is clear that unless I was willing to spend ridiculous sums on lawyers, Dolby’s claims to Apple would be sufficient to get VLC Streamer closed down.

Personally, I believe software patents are a terrible idea. I’m not alone in that. Other than donating to the Pirate Party and organisations like the EFF and the Open Rights Group, there isn’t much I can do.

To round up, here is the list of patents which Dolby claims I was infringing. I did ask for a list split by patent – but my contact at Dolby was unable to provide that.

  • ARGENTINA AR 023444 B1
  • ARGENTINA 023424
  • AUSTRALIA 2002307533
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  • GERMANY 0 520 068
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  • GERMANY 692 14 523.0
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  • INDIA 235401
  • INDONESIA ID0022057
  • INDONESIA ID0022159
  • INDONESIA ID0024386
  • INDONESIA ID0025693
  • IRELAND 0 940 015
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  • ISRAEL 169442
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  • ITALY 0 664 943
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  • ITALY 0 940 015
  • ITALY 1 175 670
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  • ITALY 1 723 638
  • ITALY 0 826 274
  • ITALY 1 173 925
  • JAPAN 2766466
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  • MALAYSIA MY-122486-A
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Note for media – I haven’t published the details of the Dolby representative as I don’t want him being spammed. If you need to contact him to confirm details, or seek comment, then contact me via rob at hobbyistsoftware.com

Dropbox Support (plus opening videos from other apps)

VLC Streamer 4.10 adds full Dropbox support.

Dropbox is awesome – it creates a magical folder on your computer which is backed up to the internet, and available on all your devices.

If you don’t have Dropbox, then click on http://HobbyistSoftware.com/GetDropbox to get Dropbox. It is Awesome!

VLC Streamer lets you download movies from Dropbox, or if you have already downloaded them in the Dropbox app – you can open them in VLC Streamer instantly.

Click here to read all about it (and how to open files from your email, safari, and other apps).