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The Zenbu iPhone app 2.0

October 9, 2008

Over 1600 people downloaded the Zenbu application in September and I’m sure every single one of them will be stoked to get the updated version. It’s under review by Apple right now so should be out soon, I’ll let you know when if iTunes doesn’t do it for me. (iTunes will tell you when updates are available for any applications you have and prompt you to download them, nifty).

Exactly one week after the app went live, Apple released their 2.1 firmware. But the firmware is available to users before the SDK is available to developers so there was nothing to do but groan when this firmware introduced a very nasty bug to the Zenbu app. The startup screens from 2.0 and 2.1 below, can you spot the difference?



Nasty. Only one line of code to fix but it was definitely a hack of Windows programming proportions, oh Apple, you were supposed to be better. I forgive you, but only because the Find Nearest functionality with the Zenbu database in my (admittedly sexy) 3G iPhone is so damn cool it makes everybody go – wow.

Here are some sneak preview screenshots from version 2.0

Your phone knows where you are so you don’t need to tell it, just ask it for what you want and there it is. Rad. The app still requires no network connection – unless you elect to load the preview map in the detail view; which loads directly inside the Zenbu app and comes with a location marker (thanks to the user feedback for this idea).

One thing I’m particularly happy with is the engineering behind the Nearest colouring. (See how the font colour of the Nearest button in the above screenshot is orange).
The problem is that the phone identifies its location using a variety of methods (cell tower triangulation, GPS) which have varying accuracy and will obviously affect the relevance of your distance sorted results.

I battled with a number of ideas before settling on a choice that hopefully is so intuitive that people will think it was the obvious, only choice.

The Nearest button uses a font colour which represents the accuracy of your location.

Red = Location unknown, Nearest search unusable
Dark Orange = Location accuracy > 500m
Light Orange = Location accurate to 100~500m
Green = Location accurate to <100m

The Green Nearest will probably only happen with a GPS fix, so you would need to be outside or have a clear view of a reasonable amount of the sky. The cell tower fix happens almost instantaneously so you can get a usable result very quickly. Cell tower accuracy will vary with the number of cell towers around but that should directly correlate to how many people and ‘things’ are around so should be perfect for most usage cases.

All a bit of a tease as the app isn’t out yet, coming soon, coming soon!

(If I’ve lost anyone with the geek speak, lemme know and I’ll try to explain it in language that doesn’t require 12hrs a day of starting at a screen on the internet…)


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