February 5, 2013

Update May 2014: We’ve ceased our development efforts of integrating Seagate’s line of wireless portable hard drives natively with Photosmith. Despite many attempts, we have been unable to interface with the drives in a way that we can guarantee reliability. We have talked to Seagate about these issues, and they assure us the drives work as designed, as a media consumption device. However, the use of the Wireless Plus and GoFlex devices as a backup device through its wireless interface has sadly not proven to be dependable enough for us to support it natively within Photosmith.

It’s always difficult to write progress update blog posts – Just like a “simple” change to some code, it always eats up more time than we anticipate.  Time which otherwise would be spent working to streamline photo workflow, eek out a little bit more sync performance, cleaning up bugs.  Diverting any attention away from the big Photosmith v2.3 app and Lightroom plugin updates feels like a disservice to our loyal customers. But then we remember that transparency through the process is something else we take much pride in – so that tradition continues.
In this update, we’re going to get into a little more detail about the specific changes we’re making in the v2.3 update, and a little “Inside Baseball” – the stories behind each feature, why things are taking so long, and what it will all mean for the future of the Photosmith workflow ecosystem.

Update on “Sandboxing” 

We’ve talked about this extensively in the past so if this is the first you’ve heard of it you may want to peruse those old posts.  This time around I’m going to talk about what the changes actually are and what some of the benefits and drawbacks of them are.

In a nutshell: all previous versions of Photosmith accessed your photos directly via the Photos app (via the ALAssets API) each and every time you looked at one. Starting in this version we’re making a local copy of the photo and accessing it directly off of disk without all the extra layers in between.  The benefits are we can do most things faster, use less memory, and some things are now possible that weren’t before. The drawback is we now have to do for ourselves some things that Apple gave us for free; imports take a little more time, and it uses more disk space –which is already a precious resource on an iPad.

First order of business, Import.  If we’re going to change the model from automatically importing everything to giving you control over what gets imported then we have to give you a way to do that. So we need to add a whole new import process. That means changing our database to support it, making a great UI to help you select images (Hello Smart Groups!), and least fun but most import, write our own image processing and metadata extraction code. Previously we got that from Apple but that goes away now so add it to the todo list. Heh, deciphering a dozen different RAW file formats and the umpteen different ways manufacturers interpret the same EXIF spec should be no sweat, right? Right?! Luckily, we’ve got Oliver, a new developer on our team. That man is amazing, he took over our existing processing code and polished it into pure gold over the last few months so hopefully we’ve got this one about licked.  Next month, we might even let him email his family, once.


(Above is a peek into the developer’s studio, this is a work-in-progress mockup, and may  look a bit differently in the final version we ship to the App Store.)

Notice the “link” and “copy” buttons?  How your photos are imported into Photosmith is up to you: Copy the full photo from the Camera Roll into Photosmith’s and have peace of mind that it’s safe, and you have full control over deletion of the image, right from within Photosmith.  Otherwise, if you’re a little tight on storage space on your iPad, you may leave the original photos in the Camera Roll and we’ll only render some small previews for quick display purposes only.  However,  you run the risk of Bad Times if you accidentally purge the Camera Roll and don’t sync to Lightroom first.  For this reason, Copy is the default, and is highly suggested.

Our Sandbox, Our Rules – Let There Be Delete!

Now that the photos are completely within our control (only if you imported as Copy) you can actually delete photos from within the Photosmith app.  We have to absolutely nail this functionality.  There’s an axiom in the app development community: The more simple the user interface, the more difficult it is to design.
It turns out that delete is even more difficult than import to get right.  Finding the right balance between making it easy but safe, fast but not flippant, and cautious but not pestering has taken over 20 iterations and an epic “discussion” thread spanning three months.  We’ve made tremendous progress but we are navigating these waters *very* carefully.

So, what will all this effort buy us?

  • Stability - Mike said the first Alpha release of v2.3 was the most stable version he’s ever used (keep in mind, Mike is the keeper of all the “crasher” images that customers send us) and it’s been getting better from there.  It’s been a long road and we’re very excited about where we’re at now.
  • Speed – you won’t believe how fast and responsive the app is getting in the latest builds – most notably, the loupe / full screens can take advantage of those local previews and load so much faster.
  • Efficiency – it’s too early to say for certain, but we think we’re going to be able to do 100% zoom with images sizes that will shock you, even on iPad 1 devices…
  • Future Flexibility – With all the changes in v2.3, we changed a lot of how we store data in our internal database.  While making these necessary changes, we planned for the future as much as possible.  Photosmith is now flexible enough to handle many different sources and destinations.  Read into this what you want – this next update is just the beginning.  :)
  • Additional Integration - Now that we’ve freed ourselves from the bonds of the Camera Roll, we’ve been able to add FTP server support (upload/download directly to/from the app) and iTunes support (download your pictures or xmp files directly through iTunes)

Recent Feedback

Our Alpha 3 release (development hasn’t quite finished, but we release alphas internally so we can get a feel for the app) has been called more far more stable and faster than the current 2.2.2 version, so we’re definitely on the right track. Some initial results: We sent 20Gb from a Canon WiFi grip via FTP without issue. We can load a 144 megapixel (12000×12000 pixels) image on an iPad 1 at full resolution without crashing (very slow, but doesn’t crash). Over 500 images sent via EyeFi, all streaming in in real time.
Still, there are some lingering bugs: someone reported that their Lightroom sync failed after 3700 images, and we’re having some issues with some more arcane image formats. Rotation data is inconsistent and sending “remove photo from collection” data back to Lightroom is still in progress. And that’s why it’s still in alpha.
We’re committed to getting this one right, and we appreciate that our users are hanging in there. We’re long overdue for a rock solid app, and we’re determined to make this one right.

And on the other hand…

While all of the above was going on, we were also juggling other associated necessities involved with running a business.  We’re a super small shop – everyone on Team Photosmith is part-time.  Our time is split between family, day job, friends – the only way we can accomplish anything is to just keep pushing each specific part of the project along a little bit at a time.
Here’s what else we’ve been working on, outside of pure coding, support and documentation:
  • Website – We started with the website redesign almost immediately after 2.0 launched, but it took this long to catch up.  We love the new look Nico created and Shawn implemented.  Once the app update is live, our plan is to backfill the website with more demo videos and example workflows.
  • Seagate – We started working on the Wireless Plus drives back in August. By staying involved with Seagate over the months we got the opportunity to give them suggestions of the things that we think are necessary to interoperate with Photosmith. It looks like most of them made it into the final build.  Note: we haven’t run our own final certification tests yet so it’s too soon to promise, but we think their new drive will deliver the external storage we’ve all been waiting for.
  • RAW Image Formats – As mentioned above, we’ve been adding our own RAW image handling. For now, we’re focusing exclusively on metadata and embedded jpg extraction. When time allows, our plan is to expand our own image rendering capabilities beyond what’s otherwise available via Apple’s code in iOS.
  • Wifi grips & FTP – A nice side effect of adding the FTP server is that we now can support many WiFi grips and import directly from the camera into Photosmith.   This will open up Photosmith to popular Wi-Fi-enabled dSLR grips! (Sadly, Canon’s new 6D does not appear to support FTP but instead uses a different protocol. No idea yet if we’ll be able to add that or not).
  • Integration with other photo apps – Good things in good time – Let’s just say that iOS developers are some of the coolest folks out there, and we’re very proud to have a very productive working relationships with other Photography app developers.  We all see the greater good, and the users will benefit to “collaborative competition.”
  • Standard Boring Business Stuff - Taxes, payroll, server maintenance, it’s all comes with the territory.
Stay tuned, we’re getting ever closer to this update. At this point we’re closing off the last dozen or so features and bugs and then we’ll be starting the beta testing cycle. Once we hit beta we will start talking about actual dates.  As of now, we’re hoping it’s just weeks left.

Posted in: Current Progress | 18 Comments

18 Responses to “February Progress Report”

  1. Mark says:

    This is great news all around and particularly exciting regarding Eye-Fi, FTP, and RAW handling. “Round tripping” individual jpegs to Tai Shimizu’s Filterstorm Pro (or individual raw files to something like PhotoRaw) would be super useful. Could this be a part of “collaborative competition”?

    Thanks for the update!

  2. Brian says:

    “it uses more disk space –which is already a precious resource on an iPad.”

    For what it’s worth (I may be in the minority here) I specifically bought a 64GB iPad (it was the largest available at the time) to use with PhotoSmith. Yeah, it’s not a 4 TB hard drive, but I’m not worried so much about space. 64GB is more than enough for me to have all the photos I could want on my iPad at any one time.

    I don’t know if you’re collecting data on your user base, but it might be useful to you to know the average size iPad your users are using, especially if you find a huge influx of new 128 GB iPad users.

  3. Brian says:

    BTW, with the huge number of features you’re releasing in 2.3 is it going to be a free upgrade to your existing users, or will we have to buy a new version?

    • Chris Morse says:

      It’ll be a free upgrade. The App Store doesn’t do paid upgrades and even if they did, this version would still be free. We see it as delivering on the promises we made back at v1.0.

  4. THG_BO says:

    Sounds very good. But please don’t try be a raw development tool! Be an workflow supporting engine for lightroom. Let me do all the annoying things needed to have a great catalog on the road. In the ‘free’ time. Here are some ideas in arbitary order.
    - non destructive cropping the image
    - non destructive horizontal alignment (eg. Button shows fixed grid and the finger moves the image on the background)
    - brightness and contrast ajustments just do decide to keep the image – non destructive
    - geotaggig with import of tracks
    - focus maps
    - over / under exposure indicator

    So, that’s my short wish list :-)
    - compare mode with pick / flag and delete function
    - compare mode for two images to decide which one is sharper

  5. Mark says:

    Agreed with THG_BO. Please don’t become a developing/pixel editing tool. But there is a need in my work for nuanced corrections while on the road and I look forward to seeing where your collaboration with other app developers leads.

    • Mike Wren says:

      Don’t worry Mark, we have our blinders on… we hear you loud and clear. There’s plenty of photo develop apps out there, and we’re not really interested in being one more.

      We’re a catalog organization and workflow tool first-and-foremost.

      • Chris says:

        Haven’t purchased yet, but it sounds as if you are tackling most of my reservations with the next release.

        I’m happy for it it not to have full editing functionality, but as others have said, some non-destructive basics such as cropping would help to know for sure which pics are the keepers.

  6. Mark says:

    ps – I just bought Photosmith a second time (on another account) as a show of support. It’s heartening to see you’re still committed to your users.

  7. Chad says:

    I’m trying to understand the way photos will be imported in v2.3. Can you export photos straight from Lightroom to Photosmith (bypassing the Camera Roll altogether)? Thanks!

    • Mike Wren says:

      Hey Chad – yes, this is how it will work, but without needing to go through our new import dialog in Photosmith. Lightroom sync will work as it does now, but photos will instead go to our own storage space.

      Starting with v2.3, Camera Roll will only be used for photos that are imported via Apple’s Camera Connection Kit (CCK), because Apple requires this. Third-party apps don’t have the ability to talk directly to the dock port. So if you need to use the CCK, it would be CF/SD/camera > Camera Roll > Import into Photosmith. Photos synced from Lightroom, imported via Eye-Fi / FTP will go right into Photosmith’s storage space.

      • Chad says:

        Perfect! Thank you! I’m looking forward to using this app. I installed it a couple months ago on a new ipad… but decided to wait on this update since I wasn’t crazy about it using the Camera Roll. My workflow would only be from Lightroom to Photosmith and back. So, that’s exactly what I was hoping. :)

  8. Doug says:

    I’m not a paid user yet, but this sounds like exactly what I’m looking for. I recently converted from Aperture to Lightroom and am wondering how anything I’d setup now may change with this new update. Would I have to republish collections? Will there be a new version of the Mac/Lightroom plugin to support the improved functionality?

    Definitely planning to purchase… just trying to determine if now is the right time, or just wait till 2.3 is available? Thanks.

    • Chris Morse says:

      The plugin version will change but it’s not anticipated that you would need to rebuild anything (but no promises just yet). So you could buy now if you want or wait, whatever seems best to you. About 95-98% of folks seem to be working just fine with the current version but if fall in that 2% that has trouble it’s pretty painful.

  9. Ryck says:

    Great news, hopefully you will be able to work those newvfeatures and bugs soon! Just don’t rush out and take your right time, of course…
    Definitely need a way to select and save images TO the camera roll, after they have been imported into the new proprietary storage.
    For example after importing and cataloguing a hundred new pictures in Photosmith I may decide to use a 10 of them having 5 stars to be imported in Foliobook for portfolio show to clients…

    • Chris Morse says:

      No worries, the ability to export the Camera Roll exists in the current version and we are keeping it around for exactly the reasons you describe here.