AngelHack Austin Fall 2013

I’m attending the AngelHack Mobile App Hackathon this weekend in Austin, TX.

It is hosted at Capital Factory – a start-up incubator with 50,000 square feet of amazing work space.

I get about 24 hours to turn an idea into an app, some of the ones I’m looking at are…

  • ghost net – an encrypted peer to peer communications layer that lets users exchange messages/pictures between smartphones without using the internet or any other means detectable by totalitarian governments (Egypt, or NSA)
  • Arduino Bridge – software to link an iPhone as a sensor platform the the DIY chips and maker projects that use the Adruino
  • iDead – live action zombie game based on location of your iPhone
  • Crowd video processing – upload pictures of an event from all participants – stitch together into single browse-able panoramic / 3d scene
  • video recognition – use open source video processing software to train your iPhone to recognize objects that walk past the camera (trigger an alert when ‘lady in red’ walks by)
  • iPhone/robotic integration -use sphero or romo to link with an iPhone and do interesting things (room mapping, object manipulation, etc) and/or games

3D engines for iOS Development

I’m evaluating several different 3d engines for our planned iOS space combat game Torchships.

I found good overviews at Never Read Passively, Open Source iPhone game engine comparison, and The Commercial iPhone Game Engine Comparison (3D and 2D).

This week I’m digging more into Unity and cocos3d to get a better understanding of the pros and cons. Unity looks very nice but I’m not sure I want to go with a non-iOS-native solution.

Here is the list of 3D engines I’ve looked at so far…


UDK – Unreal Development Kit for iOS – PC & iOS

The same toolset used to make Gears of War and Infinity Blade.

+ Beautiful graphics

+ Industry Standard, high performance

+ Completely integrated development system

– Development on PC only

– proprietary scripting

Unity 3D – web, flash, iOS, Android, PC & Mac, Wii, PS3, xBox 360

Very popular 3d engine that supports a large number of platforms.

+Large developer base and very active community

+Very nice 3d Graphics, physics, and particle effects.

+Integrated editor and asset pipeline

+Largest number of platforms available

+Javascript or C#

+Mac native development

-Not a native iOS app, all new iOS features may not be available right away


Engine to create of richer apps and games on iOS, Android and other platforms.

+based on c++

-based on c++ 🙂


3D game engine with a graphical editor to create applications and games for Windows, MacOS, Linux, iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry QNX, WebOS, Marmalade and Wii


An OpenGLES based cross-platform 2D and 3D game engine for iOS, Android, MacOS and Windows


An extension to cocos2d. A sophisticated 3D application development framework for the iOS platform.

+open source

+based on and can integrate with the very powerful and popular cocos2d library

+native iOS


iSGL3D (iOS Scene Graph Library) is a 3D framework for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch written in Objective-C, enabling the creativity of developers to flourish in a 3D world without the complexities of OpenGL.

+based on OpenGL

+iOS native

-author is not actively supporting, looking for new contributors

Using Parse to add a backend to your iOS app

We’ve had to write over a dozen server back ends for iOS applications. There is a lot of manual work involved, no matter what platform you choose (we’ve used Google App engine or custom php solutions based on Joomla). There is the code and database development on the server side, plus a lot of code on the iOS side to handle the calls to the server, error handling, etc. It’s a royal pain and something we’d like to avoid in the future if possible.

Parse is a new service that simplifies back end development for iOS immensely – it can take literally minutes to add a simple server side component to your iOS app.

Pricing is free in Beta and looks very reasonable going forward as well.

We recently used Parse to add server functionality to an iOS Math application for The app stores user preferences to a simple Parse object. Adding Parse to our project, testing, and deploying took less than an hour. Performance is good – besides being able to save and retrieve standard dictionary objects you can use Parse to store and manipulate remote files and geo location objects.

They have a very good overview of the integration process for iOS, plus the API is available as a REST service and for the Android as well.

Highly Recommended

Functional Spec for Mason News iOS App

This is the functional specification for the update to our Mason County News iOS application. The format is based on an excellent template created by Joel Spolsky.

Mason County News is an iOS universal application that runs on an iPad or iPhone.  It is designed to pull the latest Mason County news from the Mason TX County News web site at via the paper’s RSS feed.

The results of the feed will be stored in local core data, the articles and pictures from the feed will also be downloaded and stored locally, with extra html and other data removed for easier viewing when offline. All updates from the site will be running as background threads….
This spec is not, by any stretch of the imagination, complete. All of the wording will need to be revised several times before it is finalized. The graphics and layout of the screens is shown here merely to illustrate the underlying functionality. The actual look and feel will be developed over time with the input of graphics designers and iterative user feedback.

In designing products, it helps to imagine a few real life stories of how actual (stereotypical) people would use them. We’ll look at one scenario…
Scenario 1: Mike.
Mike is a busy executive who was born and grew up in Mason, TX but now lives in Paris France. He still has friends and relatives in Mason and likes to keep up to date on what is going on back in his home town. He reads news on the go on his iPhone or sometimes at home or in his private jet on his iPad. He also likes to share articles via MMM or email with his beautiful French girlfriend so she can practice her English. He likes to read articles offline as well as online.

Non Goals
This version will not support the following features:

  • different languages

Mason News Flowchart
We’ll have time later to go into mind-numbing detail, but for now, let’s look at a quick flowchart of the service so you get the big picture. This flowchart is not complete, but it does give you the right idea for the “storyboard” of using Mason News on your iOS device.


Screen by Screen Specification
Mason New consists of quite a few different screens. Most screens will follow a standard format, with a look and feel to be designed in the future by a graphic designer. This document is more concerned with the functionality and the interaction design, not the exact look and layout.
All screens are created in the XCode interface builder. (The single exception is the Splash Screen, which is created using GIMP).
Each screen in Mason News is known by a canonical name which will always appear, in this document, with an underline, so you know we’re referring to a screen by name, for example, Home Page.

Default Splash
An image of the Mason TX courthouse or other appropriate image – just is displayed during initial load of application, and when first load of rss feed on first start of app.

Home Page
Displayed when app load is complete – looks like below (shows list of all newsitems in the database, sorted by most recent on top) – some items may  not have pictures

Technical Note – 
All updates are in the background – starts empty

Read Article
Picking an article – will load it in the viewer – view will be scrollable down and will contain links as appropriate, also pictures (using  uiwebview)
While reading an article you can share it. share via twitter, facebook, mmm, email, google +, etc

Share Article

About App
Simple page with picture same as splash – then credits and info about Mason and the newspaper