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First Screenshots of Chronicle 4

Chronicle 4 is almost ready, evidenced by the fact that I am finally posting screenshots of the new version. Almost everything is functioning properly, and as you can see, the interface is quite updated. There’s a ton that can’t be seen from these screenshots, but a couple highlights: 

Bill Screen on Chronicle 4

The Bill Detail Screen

  • Coolest change is the new “Last 12 Months” view on the Payment History graph. Instead of seeing only this year or only last year, you can see a mashup of the last 12 months (this year is in blue).
  • Bill icons are now bigger, sidebar is redone, most all icons and graphics redone.

Overview ScreenThe Overview Screen

  • Most obvious change: calendar view! Bills due are highlighted on the calendar, and hovering over a date tells you which bill is due.
  • Not so obvious: you can switch the months forward and backward, and the amount due and amount you paid auto-update, so you can see overall how much you paid in any month, not just the current month.
  • Also not obvious from screenshot: you can turn the income option off if you don’t care to track your income in Chronicle.
  • Another really cool thing: tagging and filtering. At the top of the overview, you can see a little filter menu, which you can use to Show All Bills, or just show bills with a certain tag. This makes it really easy to separate your business and personal bills, for example, or divide bills up by payment type, by person, or whatever.

As I said, there’s a whole lot else new as well. Everything is refined and updated, and much of the code driving is rewritten to be a lot faster. The code is now on a better foundation for future updates.

Chronicle 4 will be going into beta testing soon—hopefully next week, or perhaps the week after at the latest. If you would like to test Chronicle 4 (current user or not), send an e-mail to beta@littlefin.com and I’ll add you to the beta testing list.

Updated: Sync Chronicle Reminders with MobileMe, Google

Update 2: New instructions for Google calendar on Lion!

One of the best things about Chronicle is that it syncs your upcoming bills with iCal, so you get timely reminders to pay your bills. If you have an iPhone, those reminders will even sync to it. 

Even more awesome: Chronicle sync its reminders to your MobileMe or Google calendar account. This is fantastic because if you have your iPhone calendar set up with your MobileMe or Google calendar account, the reminders will be pushed automatically to your phone!

By default, Chronicle creates it’s reminders on a calendar on your local Mac. However, if you want those reminders to be on a Google or MobileMe calendar instead, that’s easy to set up.

MobileMe Instructions

Assuming you already have iCal set up to sync with your MobileMe account, here’s how to get that working with Chronicle.

  1. Launch iCal
  2. If you see a calendar named “Chronicle,” rename it “ChronicleOld.”
  3. Selecting a CalendarCreate a new calendar on the appropriate account. Select File/New Calendar, and select the MobileMe account you want to sync with (see screenshot).
  4. Name the new calendar “Chronicle”.

That’s it! Chronicle will write it’s reminders to the iCal calendar named “Chronicle” no matter which account it is a part of. If you don’t have any reminders left on the ChronicleOld calendar, you can safely delete it. If you do have reminders there, don’t worry. Every time you log a payment, edit a bill, or create a new bill, Chronicle will update the reminders, and add them to your new calendar. Eventually, all the reminders on ChronicleOld will go away.

Google Calendar Instructions

Instructions for Google calendar are a bit more complicated, but still not too difficult!

If you are using Snow Leopard or Lion, first create a “Chronicle” calendar in your Google calendar account online.

Snow Leopard: If you are using Snow Leopard, follow these instructions by Jonathan Mitchell to set up the calendar in iCal without setting it up as a delegate.

Lion: If you are using Lion, follow these instructions here (thanks to Chronicle user Joan for tracking these down)!

If you have any problem getting this set up, contact support@littlefin.com for help.

Three Days Later: The Mac App Store Effect

When the Mac App Store launched, I had high hopes. But nothing could have prepared me for what happened on January 6.

Our home inventory App, Compartments, had been selling at a steady, average pace—we were selling between 6 and 10 copies a day, at $24.95 each. We decided to lower the price to $9.95, in hopes of attracting a larger audience at the start of the App Store. 

What happened next blew us away.

Apple liked Compartments. They featured it as a Staff Pick, and listed it prominently on their Great Mac Apps page. The effect: On January 6, our little home inventory app went from a few sales a day to an astounding 1,500 sales on the first day of availability in the App Store. Through Saturday, as you can see on the graph above, it has maintained sales over 1,000 per day (Sunday stats haven’t been posted yet).

Read More

Jan 9

The Mac App Store and Our Free Upgrade Policy

When I launched LittleFin in 2008, one of the things I was sure about was that I wanted LittleFin to always offer free upgrades. As a user, there were few things more exciting to me than getting free updates with new features.

So despite the fact that paid software upgrades are one of the best sources of revenue for developers, I decided to implement a firm policy that our upgrades—no matter how many or how major—would always be free of charge.

Particularly for those who supported us prior to the Mac App Store, I would like to explain how we are keeping that promise.

Enter the Mac App Store

The Mac App Store, for us, has so far been a tremendous success. We are seeing sales volumes far above our normal rates (Compartments is currently in the top 20 paid apps overall, and selling like crazy), which has allowed us to price both of our apps lower. This makes us very happy.

The Mac App Store also includes an updating process, and makes it easy for us to deliver free updates to all of those who purchased through the Mac App Store. So, for those who purchased through the Mac App Store, updates are easy and handled through the store.

Unfortunately, those who purchased prior to the App Store’s launch cannot take advantage of updates through it. This is a limitation of the App Store. Even if the app shows as installed, if you didn’t purchase it from the App Store, you will not be able to update through the App Store (read more about this at the end of this post at Panic’s blog).

Read More

Jan 6

LittleFin and the Mac App Store

We are very excited to have both of our apps in the Mac App Store at launch! After a lot of thinking, we have decided on the following policies:

  • Chronicle and Compartments will be available in the Mac App Store and on the LittleFin website.
  • Both Chronicle and Compartments will continue to feature free lifetime upgrades, as always, no matter where you purchase. 

Pricing Differences 

There will be a few differences between Chronicle available in the Mac App Store and on LittleFin’s website. At LittleFin.com, Chronicle will continue to cost $20.95. That’s because it includes the Chronicle Agent that runs in the menu bar. The Mac App Store will not include the menu bar extension, and thus cost a lower $14.95. We will be developing a separate app called Chronicle Mini to run in the menu bar as a companion to Chronicle, and it will be available in the Mac App Store for $5.95. Current Chronicle owners will not need this app, as it’s functionality is already be included in Chronicle if you purchased it at our website.

Compartments will be available for $9.95 in the Mac App Store, as it is on our website right now. We plan to keep this discount price for a while and see how it goes.

What Should Current Customers Do?

Current customers do not need to buy the Mac App Store version of Chronicle or Compartments. We will continue to provide updates and support for the version you bought from us on our website.

UPDATE: Chronicle is on sale for $9.95 in the Mac App Store, so we are selling it for $14.95 on the website.

First screenshot of Chronicle Mini: Chronicle for your menubar. Clicking on any bill takes you to the log payment screen. Hoping to launch by end of October or early November.

First screenshot of Chronicle Mini: Chronicle for your menubar. Clicking on any bill takes you to the log payment screen. Hoping to launch by end of October or early November.

Evolution of A Mac App Icon

A good icon is a challenge—it must be detailed enough to look great large, but also be simple enough to be good-locking on the dock.

One of the last things to get finished before Compartments was released was the application icon—not because we waited until the last minute to start it, but because making a good icon takes time.

The Compartments icon was designed by Kenichi Yoshida, who does design work for Panic (makers of Coda and Transmit) as his day job. With his permission, I wanted to share the evolution of the Compartments icon—and what I learned about icon design in the process. 

THE EARLY DRAFT

At the beginning, we wanted an icon that represented the ability to catalog all of the items in your home. Kenichi’s initial sketch represented his first idea—a chest of items, signifying that you could drop anything into the app, and track it.

We planned a nice, glossy wood texture, with several home-related items inside. I thought it was perfect (maybe because it brought back fond memories of my childhood toy box). But Kenichi recognized some problems before he really began: for one, sitting on the dock, the icon looked very brown—it would be difficult to see the items inside. Plus, we had just about settled on the name “Compartments” for the application, which didn’t seem to fit with a box of items randomly tossed around—it didn’t portray order.

ADDING COMPARTMENTS

Kenichi came up with a quick render of a second idea. This time, we would alter the perspective of the icon, and divide the items into little compartments—perfect. An icon must clearly represent the goals of the application, and we were on the right track with this render.

Unfortunately, I was quickly learning that something that looks great at 512x512 doesn’t always look so good small. This draft had similar problems on the dock—the items were too small to see, and the brownness still overwhelmed the icon.

So, we attempted to fix these problems by ditching the lid, and altering the perspective a little more. Kenichi tossed some initial items in this render, to get a better idea of how it would look. We were on the right track with everything looking ordered, but now we had another problem—the icon looked too similar to the Bento icon.

So it was back to the drawing board again. 

A FRESH IDEA

This is when I really appreciated Kenichi—I knew I didn’t want something too close to the Bento icon, but at the same time, I had no real alternative ideas. Kenichi came to the rescue with his next idea—a house divided into Compartments. 

A couple important things clicked into place with this revision: the icon conceptually represented the purpose of the app better than ever: cataloging and organizing items into your home into various “compartments.” Plus, by using two distinct tones of brown, and significant shadows inside the compartments, the one-tone brownness of the app seemed significantly reduced on the dock. Finally, the items were more prominent then before, and in a more natural perspective. 

Kenichi deliberately left the bottom corner empty, to increase the artistic asymmetry of the icon. 

The last few problems were small—the clock seemed to evoke the concept of “time” to me, but Compartments doesn’t deal with time, so I thought we should eliminate it. Kenichi felt like the person on top of the house might be meaningless, but I kind of liked it.

FINISHED PRODUCT AND LESSONS

I think the finished icon turned out fantastic. In the end, Kenichi conceded on the clock, and I gave up on the person on top. The final changes we made included removing the clock and person icons, little tweaks to the items, and some additional subdividing of the compartments inside the house. Simple, yet effective, and good looking. The bigger it is, the more you can see the detail, but it looks great even at tiny sizes.

I was thrilled with Kenichi’s work, and learned a lot from the process. Some lessons:

  1. A designer who both considers the feedback of the client, and has solid ideas of the direction he or she wants to go is invaluable. Kenichi often said “trust me” when he made changes. He was usually right, even when I didn’t see it his way at first. At the same time, he always considered my feedback, even if he didn’t ultimately incorporate it.
  2. Trust your designer. Don’t reject ideas you don’t like right away. Think about it, keep an open mind. Maybe get other opinions. Several times, changes Kenichi made that I didn’t like turned out to be for the best. Rather than rejecting changes I disliked, I waited and thought over it for a day first. Often, I changed my mind. A client who knows and loves his product can easily be too demanding and rigid with project specifications.
  3. An icon that looks good big won’t necessarily look good on the dock. Make sure you test the icon everywhere. Design specific, separate versions for the smaller sizes (16x16 and 32x32 in particular). Be sure to put your icon in a dock before signing off on it. Over-complexity can ruin a dock icon, but so can over-simplicity.

What do you think? Like how the icon turned out? Any other tips for working successfully with a designer or creating a successful dock icon?

Posted on May 26, 2010

Compartments: Screenshot of the new report window. Reports in Compartments are beautiful now, print much better, and a lot more fits on the page. Posted on May 18, 2010

Compartments: Screenshot of the new report window. Reports in Compartments are beautiful now, print much better, and a lot more fits on the page. Posted on May 18, 2010

What Happened to the Apple Downloads Page?

When Apple released the iPad, they made a subtle change to Apple.com: they replaced the downloads tab with a link to the iPad page. Which makes sense. But then, shortly after removing the prominent link to the downloads page, Apple also stopped updating the page entirely. Developers who have submitted updates (including LittleFin) since March 26 have not seen their product updated.

There has been a lot of discussion about why this has happened, and what it means for developers. Ars Technica wrote a detailed article about it, and Daniel Jalkut of Red Sweater software gave his take on his blog. 

I basically agree with Daniel’s point of view, so I’ll just post a couple brief observations on the impact it has had on us: 

The takedown and subsequent stoppage of updates at the Apple downloads page had a noticeable impact on us—traffic to littlefin.com dropped about 15 to 20% after the page was removed from its place of prominence. Chronicle is a Staff Pick, and consistently remained one of the top 3 or 4 most popular business and finance apps at the downloads page, so a lot of traffic came from Apple. I was certainly disappointed to see the link go away (of course the page is still accessible, just not prominent like it was).

Apple is clearly focusing more heavily on the mobile side of their business right now, as I think they should—it’s doing fantastically well. Macs are still selling well, however, and I don’t think they tend to ignore the Mac development community. I believe Daniel is right—Apple is stretched really thin right now, and they will get around to updating the page again, eventually.

But even if they don’t, I wouldn’t even be in business if it wasn’t for Apple, and the wonderful tools they provide that make development so easy, so I can’t complain. Apple shows a bold ability to make dramatic changes  (Classic Mac OS to OSX, PowerPC to Intel, etc.)—that’s part of what makes them so great. While some of those changes might have been tough on developers, in the end, they made for better products and a bigger potential market for us as well. I’m confident that in the direction Apple is going, and I think they’ll make the right decisions to grow the company.

Posted on April 21, 2010

Chronicle Loves Keyboard Shortcuts!

Keyboard Shortcuts WindowDid you know that Chronicle loves keyboard shortcuts? Just about anything you can do with the mouse in Chronicle, you can do with a keyboard shortcut as well.

You can even log payments for all your bills using the keyboard, without ever even leaving the overview screen if you so desire. 

If you want to learn all of the keyboard shortcuts in Chronicle, or have a handy reference, just select Keyboard Shortcuts from the Help menu. You’ll get the convenient screen pictured to the right.

If you are not very familiar with mac keyboard shortcuts:

• ⌘ is the Command/Apple key.
• ⌥ is the Option/Alt key.
• ⌫ is the backspace key.

Keyboard shortcuts can make you quite a bit more productive, and they are a common feature of many Mac applications. Besides the ones listed here, there are a number of keyboard shortcuts that are common to almost all Mac applications—shortcuts to close windows, quit apps, minimize windows, copy, paste and more. You can discover a lot of these shortcuts by browsing around Chronicle’s menus. The keyboard shortcut for any action is listed to the right of the menu item.

Posted on April 11, 2010