After testing our React Native app on the simulator for a day or two we, similar to a young Kobe Bryant, decided to forgo college and take our talents to the big leagues, by testing our native app on an actual device.

This is a good practice because from a hardware standpoint you’re phone is a very different device than your Mac. Because of the more powerful CPU in your computer there is always the chance that applications that run seamlessly on the Computer’s simulator run choppy on an actual device.

For our purposes we wanted to ensure that our react Native components looked and felt native on a device, and that the positive results produced on the simulator were not just a fluke.

The Nitty Gritty

In our experience the process of getting an App on an actual device is somewhat painful. To help you avoid the same pitfalls that caused us headaches we wanted to give you some solutions to the most common problems you will run into while trying to get your app on your device.

  1. Setting up your iOS developer account: First and foremost it is import to correctly configure your iOS developer account so that you can run your application on an iOS device. This step is easily the most painful part of the process because of how much outdated information that exists on this subject. After poking around for a bit this was the most helpful tutorial that we could find – How to Deploy your App on an iPhone
  2. Plugin your device and ensure that your Xcode and iOS versions are compatible: Right after your developer account is setup the next step is to check and make sure that you are running compatible versions of Xcode and iOS. If not then you will be given an error saying, “The Developer Disk Image could not be mounted”. The simplest fix for this issue is to always make sure that you are running the most recent versions of Xcode and iOS. However, if for some reason you do not want to update your version of Xcode another fix would be to set the deployment target of your application to a version equal to or behind the current version of iOS running on your phone.
  3. Accessing the development server from the device: Now that your app is installed on your device feel free to open it up and navigate through it’s screen. However, if the app needs to make calls to a server running locally on your computer then you are going to have to connect your app to that server. The fastest way to do this is to update the AppDelegate.m file and change the IP in the URL form localhost to your laptop’s IP address. For more information on this step checkout the react documentation at – Running On Device – React Native

Posted In: Javascript

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Here at Setfive, when not helping our clients with their technology woes, we love experimenting with fun new technology and continuously growing our professional tool kit. As of late we have been throwing around some potential ideas for a Setfive iPhone app (get Chicken Pad Thai delivered no matter where you are in the world) and have been looking at a couple of tools to turn this lofty dream into a reality.

Since no one in the office has any significant experience with Objective C or Swift we decided that, rather than bang our heads against the wall trying to learn the nuances of yet another programming language, we would look to one that we already know, and decided to dip our toes into the JavaScript driven React Native ecosystem.

In the past we have taken our chances with other cross-platform native apps (PhoneGap in particular) that allow you to wrap a web app into a web view however, these methods fall short; if the looks of your app don’t bother you then the serious performance hit that comes from interfacing directly with native objects will.

If you are unfamiliar with React Native, it’s an open source JavaScript framework, built by Facebook, that allows the production of iOS and Android applications using a syntax familiar to HTML. What separates React from other frameworks is that it runs a separate JavaScript thread to control the UI of your application so it can utilize native mobile components. The idea is that this should lead to a seamless user experience that feels both polished and native. After some hands on experience we can say that React did not disappoint.

What we built

In order to test React a little bit farther than the simple hello world example we decided to build a simple application on top of our preexisting Rotorobot API. This app allows users to see the available players for a daily fantasy sports contest on that night.

To get started, we needed an index page that would show up when the app was loaded. Just to keep things simple we incorporated a minimalist layout with a UIButton that responds when pressed.

Upon pressing the button a new scene is added to the storyboard of our application. This scene is a ListView Component that has a row for every available slate of games that will be played that night. In addition, each one of these rows is also wrapped in a TouchableHighlight Component, which allows them to respond to touches.

Any row that you touch results in an AJAX request being made to the Rotorobot API and the available players in that slate are displayed, sorted in descending order based on salary.

Our Experience

Getting something up and running with React Native was definitely a lot easier than expected. It was honestly as simple as using npm to install react-native-cli and then creating a new react native project using react-native init. The init function provides everything that you need to run a React Native application.

After your project has been setup it’s time for all of you Xcode naysayers to either bite the bullet and download Xcode or look for guidance in the form of another SaaS solution.

In order to help you out we’ve provided links to a couple:

If you’re old fashioned like us, and opted for the traditional route then you installed X-Code. The react-native init function creates an Xcode project file inside the ios folder in your new project’s directory. Simply open this up using Xcode and you are off to the races and ready to build/run your project at will.

There was only one minor gotcha that reared it ugly head while trying to get our application up and running. The React Native Packager runs underneath node and requires a port for its functionality. The default port that it runs on is 8081, and there is a chance that you could have a process already running on that port so your application will not be able to run. So before you try and run your Xcode project for the first time it is worth doing a quick check to make sure that port 8081 is free using:

sudo lsof -i :8081

Other than this minor inconvenience you should be all set for development!

After an hour or two of playing with React Native and building a pretty simple app, the power and simplicity of this framework became clear to us. First and foremost it was very refreshing to only have to run one or two npm commands and then be writing code in minutes afterwards. Setup was quick and painless which is always appreciated. During development we immediately noticed that developing our app felt just like developing for the web. Laying out the application was done using the CSS flex box, and was both quick and intuitive. Additionally, and probably more importantly, the framework just works. The UI components are native UIViews so naturally they look, feel, and behave the same as normal native components. We would definitely consider using React in the future and look forward to seeing how it improves and progresses from here.

Posted In: Javascript

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, it’s clear that smartphones are kind of a big deal. Today there are close to 2.6 billion subscriptions globally, and this number stands to grow rapidly as less developed markets turn into substantial electronic consumers.

With new applications and games hitting app stores daily, it’s no surprise that people are spending more and more time with their eyes glued to the glass screens of these compact, universal media agents. Phones have single handedly changed the way that people live, becoming pivotal for people to communicate, go online, and access and share information.

The ubiquitous nature of the smartphone has opened the floodgates of opportunity, creating new markets in the process and forcing pre-existing ones to modernize or be strangled at the hands of innovation. One market in particular that has been significantly impacted by the mobile revolution is the advertising and marketing industry.

The rise of the Internet era has led to a rapid decrease in the effectiveness of traditional forms of advertising media, and have forced the hand of the industry to take the plunge into to more digital forms. Marketing companies have to continuously find new and improved ways of reaching their targets in a world where TV and print simply will not do. One unique strategy that companies have used to connect with the masses and promote brand awareness is branded Apps. Smartphone users spend close to 90% of their time on devices using apps so they offer an incredible opportunity to connect with consumers.

Recently here at Setfive we have taken a look at building some brandable tools for mobile, and looked for the most original branded apps out there for some inspiration. Here are some of the most interesting apps that we found during our quest for inspiration.

Pop Secret Perfect Pop App

This app uses your phones speakers to listen to the pops coming from the bag of popcorn in your microwave, and tells you the precise moment when your bag of popcorn is a peak popped-ness.

Charmin SitOrSquat App

This app uses a map to display available public restrooms in your area and lets you know how clean they are (hence the name SitOrSquat). Additionally this app utilizes crowd sourcing, letting users to rate and write reviews about the public bathrooms that they use.

The Snow Report by North Face

So what has the North face been up to besides making incredibly epic TV commercials? That’s easy, they’ve been building a location based mobile app that helps users check the condition on powder before they head to the slopes. Check the status of runs around you or the 10 top slopes globally.

Tide Stain Brain

When stains happen, StainBrain gives you simple solutions on the spot. Blot or soak? Cold water or hot? Get the scoop on how to rid yourself of more than 85 different stains with on-the-go tips and easy, step-by-step washing instructions from the laundry pros at Tide.

Bosch Unit Converter: Professional converter for over 50 units

The Bosch Professional Unit Converter turns a smartphone into a universal unit converter. The ideal app for quick conversions on the building site or in the workshop. Completely free of charge and ads.

Posted In: General

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Our yearlong delve into the sea that is Angular Js has kept our engineering team busy for quite some time now. Throughout this fun time of exploration there have been ups and downs, muddled coding snares caused by niche problems that are almost impossible to conform to the constantly looming “Angular Way”, and complicated problems that could be solved so easily you wished you had a Staples button just so you could push it for the “That was easy”.

One invaluable resource that has continually helped guide us through our use of this robust MVC framework is the vast Angular Js community, that has helped answer most of our questions, from questions about basic tutorials, to more overarching questions about best practices when structuring applications.

On one of our more recent Angular projects, we ran into an issue implementing a fairly common need among web applications – generating an auto submit form. After poking around Google and StackOverflow for a bit, surprisingly, there was a lot less information on this subject than expected. So, we decided to write a blog post on the subject, giving back to the AngularJS community, which has given so much to us.

Interestingly, this problem can be solved quite easily once you have a more comprehensive understanding about the Angular directive’s Link function. Here’s a good StackOverflow answer if you’re interested in some light reading: AngularJS: What is the need of the directive’s link function when we already had directive’s controller with scope?. However, if you’re anything like us then you’re probably solely interested in learning just enough to solve the immediate problem at hand, so for you, the main “gotcha” that you need to know is that the template for any directive is wrapped as an angular element, and can be accessed inside of the Link function using the angular.element() function.

The basic idea is simple, create a custom directive for your auto submit form, make the template for this directive a form element with the information you want to send, and control its rendering using an ng-if directive. Using ng-if is important in this instance because this directive doesn’t just show/hide a portion of the DOM tree, but actually removes/recreates it, allowing you to take advantage of the directives Link function. Then, inside of the link function for the auto submit form directive, grab the form element using the angular.element() function and submit it using the javascript function submit().

If the above paragraph didn’t completely explain it to you, please don’t worry, here is a nice, concrete example to help you solve this problem quickly should you ever run into it again in the future.

Posted In: General

Enter the dragon

Interning with Setfive for the last couple of months has given me the opportunity to both work with numerous, modern-day technologies and transition into being a more confident, organized developer. One technology in particular that I’ve had the chance to learn about and use extensively during my internship here is the JavaScript programming language. Programming with an MVC framework like AngularJs has shown me the many facets of the JavaScript language and given me an interesting foray into learning JavaScript from the top down.

Coming from a mainly C++ background the first thing I noticed about JavaScript was its flexibility. The mixture of the dynamic typing, along with the support of multiple programing paradigms (Functional programming and Imperative programming) gave me a freedom to program any way that I saw fit and do things that I never even thought were possible in a language with a stricter typing system. However this freedom definitely comes with a price, sometimes making even moderately complex programs both hard to navigate, and even harder to debug.

This lack of an inherent language structure, though initially causing a few headaches and even more than a few fist shaking bugs has, over time, helped ingrain both strong development skills as well an inherent need to intuitively structure code. Both of these skills are at the forefront of programming with AngualrJs.

Leveling up

My experience with Angularjs has definitely been an incredibly positive one, although the beginning was quite rough. Actually, the beginning was fairly easy however, the step after the “hello (insert name bound from text box)” step was actually the rough one. With Angular, easy things are very easy but can become difficult very quickly as soon as you are trying to develop something that is not so rudimentary.

My first experience with Angular came in the form of writing unit tests for a project that was under development here during the Summer. I spent a couple of weeks delving through a large Angular application written by one of our head engineers. After my introduction to the framework I was given the chance to use it for some development while working on some frontend modules for the Rotorobot site. These are the main challenges that I ran into while trying to learn Angular Js.

The Tough Stuff

The first challenge that I had to overcome was understanding the structure of the Angular framework. Being very inexperienced with the design pattern of Model View Controller (MVC) made this aspect the hardest part of learning Angular. Angular implements MVC by having the developer split their application into MVC components and then acts as a pipeline connecting them together. It is a robust MVC framework that promotes complicated integration of different components into whole applications. If you don’t have a sense of how the pieces fit together then the “Set it and forget it” or 2-way data-binding nature of the framework can easily turn into one of your biggest headaches.

The second challenge with learning Angular was understanding the way that scoping works within the context of the framework. What possibly could have possessed the developers of Angular to name one of the most confusing parts of their framework the same name as one of JavaScript’s most confusing aspects –who knows. In order to use some of the most powerful features of Angular such as, custom directives, it was really important to understand how scoping works or else it’s virtually impossible to link programs together. Developers would be left with a pile of stateless, independent components responsible for various tasks of the application rather than a connected working whole.

The last major challenge with learning Angular was thinking in terms of modularity. With things like custom directives, and the various service providers being at its core, the Angular framework really helps to promote code modularity. And breaking your application into small, reusable, testable components. This concept is huge in Angular, and I felt like seeing it work within the context of the framework has made me a better JavaScript programmer overall.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Angularjs and felt like I learned a significant amount about structuring web-based applications. I am glad to have been given some experience with a modern JavaScript MVC framework and I wouldn’t hesitate to use Angular again in the future.

Posted In: AngularJS

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