We’ve had many reminders this year of how difficult it is to stay private and secure online. Whether it’s a government agency getting so-called metadata from your ISP, or an amateur snooper listening in on an open Wi-Fi network, everyone wants to see what sites you’re visiting. The sites themselves aren’t much better: always trying to track you and find out what you do on other sites, so they have more information to sell to their advertisers. This new version of bURLy is the latest tool to help you “reclaim the web”, and there’s a lot of other new features.
In the previous post, we talked about the three features of great error messages, and how it’s helpful to think of your program like a doctor or other specialist professional, called in by your client (the user) to solve a problem or perform a task they can’t do themselves.
There’s one more lesson we can take from the professional world. It’s commonplace in customer service to re-frame errors as prompts. For example, you might go to a bank to perform a financial transaction, and the cashier might say, “You can’t do that, because we only offer that facility to account holders.” Nowadays, they’re more likely to say, “I can do that for you. Let’s get started by opening an account.” What was an error message is instead a prompt for action. Testing on customers, in many different conditions, has shown that users are much more likely to make it through a complex process if you present obstacles this way: not “you can’t, because you haven’t yet,” but “here’s what you need to do first.”
A few years ago, some colleagues and I were shown a prototype GUI for a movie downloads service. If you tried to download a movie, and you didn’t have enough money in your account, the prototype would show a dialog, “Insufficient balance: movie costs 300 credits, and you only have 200,” with a single OK button. They’d forgotten the third feature every error message should have: how to recover from the error. A colleague pointed out that the error message treats the user like a twit, with a preachy and unhelpful message: it would be much better to assume the user knows the movie costs too much, and wants to add more credits to their account. The error message might offer to send the user to the add-credits screen, with the right number of credits filled in already.
If you’re careful to always consider how the user can recover from an error, you’ll be much more likely to spot those occasions where you can reframe it as the first step in a process like this. Now that so much software is driven by in-app transactions, whether it’s free-to-play games like Candy Crush Saga, or content services like Google Play, marketers are having more influence on UX and app workflows, so it’s getting a lot easier to find software that reframes “you need more credits” errors as a way to get the user into the purchase flow.
Account registrations are another obvious example where error-to-process can be applied, for example by replacing “You can’t see this content because you’re not a registered user,” with “Log in or register an account to see this content.” All the same, it’s rude to only do this when you want something from the user. When it’s possible, error-to-process re-framing gives your software a more professional and helpful image by focusing on the user’s goal. It’s the software equivalent of a “can-do attitude”, so use it whenever you can find a way.
We all love Android’s approach to when you have multiple apps to do the same job: it gives you a chooser to select which one you want. But Android’s chooser can be a bit annoying sometimes, especially with web links (URLs).
Sometimes you click a link that goes to bit.ly, and you choose to open a web browser, but the browser finds that the link really goes to YouTube, and you have to choose again. By the time it’s loaded a browser and shown you some options twice, it’s 10 or 15 seconds before you’re watching that cat video, when the phone could have worked that out for itself in half a second.
Sometimes you want to open a link with one app “Always”… but is it really always? Maybe it’s just “almost always”, and you want to change your mind later, but it takes ages to go through the settings and click “Reset defaults”, just for this one occasion.
Have you ever tried opening a YouTube video when you need to sign into the Wi-Fi? The app goes crazy, because it tries to access the video and gets a sign-in page it can’t deal with, and worse yet, it doesn’t tell you that’s what’s wrong.
And worse yet if you have two browsers installed! I have Firefox and Chrome. I almost always use Firefox, but some sites don’t work in Firefox, so there are some sites I always open in Chrome. But Android’s chooser can’t understand that, so it makes me pick by hand every time.
Let’s not forget the biggest annoyance of all: whenever you install or remove an app, Android forgets the defaults you set up. To Android, “Always” means “well, for now, but ask me again after I change apps”.
Well, we think it’s time for something better. Here’s a manifesto for a better chooser:-
- It should unshorten short-URLs (such as bit.ly, goo.gl, t.co, fb.me) so they automatically open in the right app. But this might take extra battery and data use, so it should be optional.
- It should let you “Open with…“, and make it easy to change your mind after you click “Always”.
- It should detect when there’s a problem (such as a captive Wi-Fi network or a broken link), so you can decide what to do about it.
- It should understand the rules you use to choose a browser, so it can make the same choice without bothering you.
- When you’ve told it what you want, it should keep doing that until you tell it not to, instead of second-guessing you.
At Shadowburst, we believe in converting thought to action, so we took this manifesto and did something about it. We created bURLy, a chooser that’s strong enough to deal with those unruly links:-
- It investigates link that apps open, to find out where they really go, and it’ll do this automatically or on-demand.
- It has a unique manual override button. You can use this to override rules with more specific ones, or just to do something special with a particular link.
- It can show you the rules you’ve created, so it’s easy to rearrange them, temporarily disable them, or delete them completely.
- It detects network errors, link problems (such as 404 errors), and captive Wi-Fi networks, and warns you in terms you can understand.
- It gives you a simple way to create rules to help choose what app to open each time. Rules can be based on specific web pages, domains, or MIME types, and there are more rules to come in future releases.
- And it remembers those rules for as long as you want. Once you’ve made a rule, it won’t ask you again about that case until you decide.
More than that, it also gives you new ways to use web links. It can open URLs from the clipboard or NFC tags, even in apps that don’t support NFC. It can block sites completely. It can download files directly into the Downloads app, without opening a browser (and of course you can do that with a rule too). And best of all, it can let apps that don’t normally show up for links handle file types they support. For example, you can open links to image files directly in the Gallery app.
Oh, and there’s one more thing: it’s a free download from Google Play.
Showr can work with lots of other pieces of software. When you create a widget, you can use other apps on your device to get the image to show. Since Showr 2.3, you can also get images from Tumblr, using the Jumblr client library supplied by Tumblr. Unfortunately, working together with other apps can sometimes cause problems, which Showr 2.4 resolves.
Showr 2.4 also adds a new click action that several users have asked for, and support for non-touchscreen devices.
The update to Showr 2.3 will be coming to your device in the next few days. This update adds support for Tumblr, as well as some improvements to reliability and visual improvements to the Stack Exchange wizard.
Owner Photo Widget 1.2 is now going out on Google Play. This update adds support for devices running the new 4.3 Jelly Bean version of Android. It also adds higher-resolution images, to keep things looking sharp and smooth on high-resolution screens such as the Nexus 10. There are no functionality changes: Owner Photo Widget continues to be the one-click solution it has always been.
Owner Photo Widget is the first Shadowburst app to be updated because it’s the simplest. You can expect Android 4.3 compatibility updates to follow soon for our other apps.
Showr 2.0 gives you more control than ever of when Smart Updating checks for updates to your images. Pro users get access to a new “custom” update interval, featuring Shadowburst’s new dial control. Dial the updates up to every minute to make sure your images never go stale, or dial down to save battery and data use. Update intervals as long as 30 days are at your fingertips.
Of course, checking for updates every minute could be an unnecessary drain while you’re not using your phone or tablet. A new option lets you save those updates for when you really need them, by stopping updates when the screen is turned off. Regardless of what you choose, Showr won’t wake your device from sleep mode: to save power, it only updates images when the device has to wake to let another app run.
Showr 2.0 also fixes a problem seen by two users with widgets that had never been updated, because of a typo in the URL. Depending on which Showr screens had already been shown, clicking on such a widget could have caused a “Showr has stopped working” message or force close. This didn’t have any other effect on Showr’s functionality: other widgets would continue to update as normal. In Showr 2.0, clicking on a widget that has never been updated will show its Source settings page, so that you can see what’s wrong.
Showr 2.0 is already on Google Play, and existing users will get the update within the next day or two.
Showr 1.4 introduced behind-the-scenes improvements, to make the Pro settings work more efficiently and look “buttery smooth”. Unfortunately, these improvements also resulted in a compatibility problem for devices running versions of Android earlier than 4.1. This would result in Showr exiting unexpectedly from the widget settings screen , for Pro users who had cleared the cache of Google Play Services or changed to a different Android version. An error in our internal validation tools meant that this problem wasn’t detected before the update was released.
In addition, users on phones (but not tablets) may have seen similar unreliability when trying to set up the new “Launch an app” click action. This problem had the same underlying cause, so was also not detected, but could appear regardless of the Android version in use. In both cases, the problem only showed up while changing settings: widgets would continue to update in the usual way, and no data was lost.
Thanks to one user who reported the errors, we were able to fix them all, and improve our internal validation to avoid such problems in future. It really does help if you click Report on an error dialog. Doing so doesn’t share any of your personal data, nor the images or feeds you’re using. We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused by our mistake, and we resolve to do better in future. It’s important to us that you can depend on Showr no matter what.
This month’s update is a small one after all the big features of March and April, but it’s still packed with improvements to help you get the most out of your Android phone.
Create a Showr from the web browser
Showr 1.4 adds intent filters for links to RSS and Atom feeds and image files. When you click such a link in your web browser, the “Complete action using” dialog will show, with “Add image to Showr” or “Add feed to Showr” as an option. This will take you straight to the “Get image from Internet” wizard, with the address filled in.
Unfortunately, Android doesn’t allow an app to create a home screen widget this way, so the wizard saves an inactive Showr configuration. After finishing the wizard, drop a Showr widget on to your home screen or lock screen in the usual way, and choose “Activate inactive widget”. That activates the widget using the saved settings, so you don’t have to enter the address yourself.
Not all web browsers on Android can launch an app from a web link. For example, Chrome works perfectly, but Firefox doesn’t currently support this: it displays the raw code of the RSS file instead of letting you open Showr. The Firefox guys are working on this, so be patient with them.
Launch an app from a Showr
The When you click the widget setting gets a new option, to launch an app. A new setting on the same page lets you choose which app to launch. You can pick any app that shows up in the main list of apps.
For example, if you use a Showr to show the latest photos from a Flickr photostream, you might want a click on the photo to open a Flickr app you have installed, instead of browsing to the Flickr website. If you show a stock price chart, you might want to click on it to open a stock market app.
This new functionality also lets you use Showr as a way to create custom shortcuts for any app. Maybe the default icon for Chrome clashes with your wallpaper. No problem! Just draw or download a new icon, create a Showr of that icon, and set it to launch Chrome when clicked.
If you want to see other kinds of click action (such as opening a particular contact, or triggering a sync), email support at this domain to suggest it. We already have plans for more click actions to add, but your feedback sets our priorities.
Captive Wi-Fi detection
A captive Wi-Fi network (also called a captive portal or walled garden) is the kind you often find in hotels or pubs. When you visit any website, it redirects you to a page where you have to enter a code, accept some terms and conditions, or log in, before you can get real Internet access.
If this happens while Showr is trying to update images or feeds, the update will fail. There’s not a lot Showr can do to help, but it can give a useful error message. Showr 1.4 will detect when an update fails owing to a captive Wi-Fi, and report that as the update status when you look at the widget settings. This also allows the Smart Update system to better choose when to retry the download, reducing power consumption.
Of course, the same mechanism also detects other networks with no Internet access, such as a locked-down corporate Wi-Fi.
Helps you out more
It’s not always easy to get started with a new app. Much as we’d like to be there to help in person, there’s no way we can get to every user. So we did the next best thing, and made Showr offer to help. When you’ve been using Showr a little while, it’ll check with you to see how you’re getting along. If there’s anything wrong, it can put you in touch with Shadowburst support. And if everything’s going smoothly, don’t forget to give Showr a pat on the back by rating it on Google Play. Your review helps other Android users to find Showr, which helps us to develop the app further.
If you haven’t tried Showr yet, download it now, free from Google Play.
It seems like no time at all since the last update, but once again a new version of Showr brings the features that users have asked for, as well as being more sensitive to your phone’s needs and more responsive to you, the user. If you don’t already have Showr, download it now from Google Play.
RSS and Atom feeds
The biggest addition really expands what you can do with Showr. You can now use Showr to stay up to date with a webcomic, a Tumblelog on Tumblr, any photostream on Flickr, or a photo blog. Best of all, because Showr runs on your phone, not someone else’s “cloud”, nobody’s going to go all “Google Reader” and turn it off.
Now, when you create a Showr widget with a Get image from Internet source, instead of entering the address of an image, enter the address of an RSS or Atom feed. Showr will download the feed and display the first image it can find from the feed. This is the point where I’d normally put a screenshot of the new user interface, but there’s no new screen to shoot! Just enter the address the same way you do in previous versions, and how often you want to update, and Showr does the rest.
If you’re moving away from Google Reader but your new feed reader isn’t very good with images, Showr can complement it by putting your favourite webcomic right on your home screen where you can see it. Showr’s smart updating works with RSS and Atom feeds too. Even if you set it to update more often than the feed is updated, Showr will only download the feed if it has changed, and will only download an image if it has changed.
In more detail: if any item from the feed has an image enclosure, or an HTML summary or description that uses an
<img> tag, Showr will download and display the most recent item’s linked image.
Showr will also set the widget’s “website” to the item’s link from the feed, so the Visit website option on the widget popup menu takes you straight to that photo or blog post. Don’t forget you can use the Widget settings page to tell Showr what to do When you click the widget, so you can set your comic to go full-screen with one click, or share an interesting image.
Kinder to your battery
Showr 1.3 is more sensitive to your phone’s needs. When your phone’s battery is running on fumes, the last thing you need is home screen widgets burning those last electrons, so Showr 1.3 stops updating when your battery is low. At other times, Showr 1.3 is more aware of your phone’s Internet connection, and can use this to schedule updates better to use less energy.
Meeting your expectations
We know that exciting features aren’t all there is to a product, so Showr 1.3 incorporates some of the latest User Experience research, so even in unusual situations it fulfils your expectations of how it should behave.
When you update a Showr manually (using the action mode in the widget list, or the Update Now item in a widget’s Source settings), Showr will update the widget right away, even if you’re connected to a network you don’t usually want Showr to use. If the update fails, Showr will try again at the next opportunity (e.g. when you next connect to Internet). Previously, Showr would not let you override the network settings in this way, and if a manual update failed, it would only retry at the next scheduled update time. This change makes it possible to use the manual update feature for control over when widgets update.
Showr 1.2 made it easier to enter image addresses using an NFC tag or QR code. Unfortunately, this change introduced a problem that could cause Showr to close unexpectedly after scanning a QR code. This problem was found with improved internal testing and is fixed in Showr 1.3.
Showr 1.3 declares itself in a User-Agent header when talking to web servers. This probably makes no difference to most users, and is provided for users who are using Showr with their own web or intranet site.
Paying the bills
The new RSS and Atom support in Showr 1.3 means you’ll all be filling your home screens with widgets. Showr 1.3 helps the users who get the most value of Showr to contribute to its development. When you try to create your fourth widget, Showr will first remind you about the benefits of upgrading to Showr Pro. Income from Showr Pro sales pays for the development of Showr, and if you already have three widgets, you’re using it enough that you should contribute.
If you already have four or more widgets from Showr 1.2 or earlier, they will keep working after the update. If you have inactive widgets restored from a backup, Showr gives you an extra two slots so that you can activate them. And if you’re already supporting Shadowburst as a Showr Pro user, you won’t see any difference from this change (unless you notice that the Image source menu is a little smoother than before).