iKanji touch 1.6

The iPhone 5 is now upon us and it brings with it a new taller 4 inch screen with 16:9 aspect ratio. As you may expect I’ve been hard at work updating iKanji touch and iKana touch to make use of this new screen real estate. iKanji touch 1.6 with support for the new iPhone and iPod touches was submitted to the App Store today and will hopefully be approved in a few days time. This is what that extra screen height gets you:

iKanji 1.6 on a 4 inch and 3.5 inch display

New JLPT kanji sets

iKanji touch 1.6 also includes new JLPT kanji sets based on those by Jonathan Waller. As there are no official JLPT kanji lists anymore this seems like a fair selection of kanji. No doubt some people will quibble as to why some kanji are in one level or another or why such and such is missing, but its impossible to please everyone. Unless you’re specifically studying for the JLPT the school grade kanji offer more manageable groupings anyway.

Getting more accessible

Up until now iKanji touch hasn’t had very good VoiceOver support – it’s still not great admittedly, but its something I’m working on. Navigating the kanji sets and flash cards should be a lot easier now at least. iKanji will even read example words and kanji readings to you using a Japanese voice – although it’s not up to the standards of the English text-to-speech ones sadly. I’m not sure how useful a kanji study tool is to a partially sighted person but I do hope this is helpful for someone. I aim to get as many of the tests and Teach Me mode working with VoiceOver in future versions. As iKanji uses extensive custom controls this takes a bit more work than usual.

Hello! Ohisashiburi desu ne!

It’s been so long since I last posted anything on here I do wonder if I have any readers left at all! Sorry about that – it’s been a hectic year for me which culminated in moving from Wales, where I’ve lived for much of the last decade, to West Yorkshire in northern England. I can now sit at my desk and enjoy wonderful views of the Pennines, which is a little more inspiring than the wall I previously had for company behind my monitor. Still enough about me, lets talk products!

Gate Keeper

Mountain Lion is now upon us, and with it Apple is ushering in a new technology called Gate Keeper that is intended to help keep your Mac safe by not letting you run software from untrusted sources. By default Apple gives the green light to anything downloaded from the Mac App Store, as you would expect, and to applications that are signed with a developer ID that has been registered with them.

As of posting this, both iKanji and iKana are signed and will work as normal when downloaded on Mountain Lion. NewsLife is still pending an update with signing, but given it sells pretty much exclusively through the Mac App Store at the moment it’s not the highest priority. InstantGallery is more problematic. The code base of 1.8 has grown very crufty over the years and I’ve spent quite a few hours going over it trying to modernise it only to find more and more bits of it unravelling. At this point I’m about ready to say InstantGallery 1.8 is end of life and won’t be officially supported under Mountain Lion. This doesn’t mean InstantGallery as a product is dead however. The near mythical 2.0 version which much surely even beat TextMate 2 in it’s appearance of abandonment, is still getting worked on when I have time and I really, honest to gods, will try and get it released this year. Especially now IG 1.8 is EOL, I want to get it replaced and consigned to the history books now.

Happily Gate Keeper won’t stop you using unsigned apps that were already on your Mac before you upgraded to Mountain Lion so there’s no immediate concern of it breaking any ThinkMac apps you’ve already downloaded. There are also a couple of workarounds should the need arise – you can either turn off Gate Keeper, which I don’t recommend, or control/right click on an app and choose Open from the contextual menu to bypass Gate Keeper on a per-use basis.

More app news

iKanji 2 is progressing nicely now, it introduces spaced repetition to the Mac version at last and includes a new vocabulary training module because I think it really helps to learn kanji in the context or words rather than just in isolation. I hope to have it released by the autumn.

In iOS land I have an update to iKanji touch brewing and even a new product that’s been in development since last year. The focus at the moment is on the Mac side of things however so please hang on for these a bit longer.

Goodbye Steve Jobs

I’m sure you’ve all seen the sad news that Steve Jobs died yesterday at 56. I’ve always admired Steve and his work at Apple, NeXT and Pixar. I remember being really affected by the original Think Different ad back in the 90s. It helped get me interested in the Mac and that was a snowball that grew and grew until I quit my day job to found ThinkMac Software back in 2005. I wouldn’t have this job, or be sitting here with my lovely Mac, iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, if it wasn’t for that man. He made computers, music, phones and tablets and everything he devoted his energies to easier, more enjoyable and more rewarding. I’m deeply grateful for his contributions to the technology industry and the world as a whole. I think he taught us all that we should strive for perfection in everything we do and that we don’t have to accept compromise.

iKana Nōto is here!

It’s my great pleasure to announce that you can now buy iKana Nōto on the App Store! iKana Nōto is a new take on the iKana series and rather than being a flash card based, reference type application, it instead focuses on helping you practice writing Japanese.

One of the things studying Japanese using mobile devices and computers lacks is the sort of hands on approach and muscle memory training you get from actually writing out hiragana, katakana and kanji. I’ve sort to address that with iKana Nōto and it’s really only possible thanks to the iPad’s large multi-touch screen. You certainly can’t write seriously using a mouse or trackpad and the iPhone screen is really too small for writing more than single characters, and even then complex kanji can be a challenge. I wanted to make it easier to practice writing both vertically and horizontally and so iKana Nōto has a selection of templates that allow for both styles.

iKana Nōto screenshot
Writing a postcard in iKana Nōto

The large writing area makes it easy to draw kana and kanji alike and you can pick the writing tool and stroke width that suit your style. Setting the cursor position is easy and the previous and next buttons on either side the writing area adjust depending on whether you are writing vertically or horizontally.

The rethink

One of the reasons iKana Nōto took a little longer to release than originally planned was because the direction of the app changed midway. Originally I was planning a more direct port of iKana touch, scaled up the iPad’s big screen. But it rapidly became apparent just upsizing things wasn’t really adding any value or making good use of iPad’s potential. Instead the reference side of the app has been reduced to a small part of the overall functionality.

iKana Nōto preliminary design
The original iKana Nōto design

The future

I’m planning to add more templates and add a kanji reference and dictionary to the app over time. I also have plans for a Mac companion app that will allow printing and creation of nice high-resolution versions of your nōtos. Stay tuned for more details.

Coming soon…

iKana Nōto icon

The iPad screen is pretty big and scaling flash cards up isn’t that exciting. Let’s try something different…

iKana Nōto – coming soon to iPad