iBeacon and Indoor Positioning System (IPS)

I have been excited for the Indoor Positioning System (IPS) Technology for a quite while. In fact, one of the main reasons I train myself to be an iOS developer is because I want to develop some excited Location and Positioning Based Mobile apps that will change the way we do things in life.

What is Indoor Positioning System?

Indoor Positioning System is a new technology that probably only exists in less than 15 years ago. When I am trying to find more information about this IPS technology from Wikipedia, the earliest research paper on the reference was dated based in year 2009. But when I am searching through google search, I found some research papers on early 2000s.

So, this is a relatively new technology that we haven’t see much applications on the real world yet. But, this will definitely change in the next 5 years.

With the exponential growth of the smart phone users, we have seen a lot of location based (GPS) mobile applications that pop up in the last 5 years. For your information, Global Positioning System (GPS) was developed in 1940s during the World War 2. So, GPS was initially developed to pinpoint the enemy’s location so that they can launch a missile to that location. Thanks to the mobile technology, the GPS technology has been highly commercialised to the mass market in the last 5 years.

All the smart phones users know very well that the Global Positioning System (GPS) does not work well inside a building. This is where the Indoor Positioning System comes into existence.

I am actually betting that the Indoor Positioning System will become highly commercialised within the next 5 years. There will be a lot of innovative mobile apps coming out of it that will make our life easier.

What is iBeacon?

Beacon is actually a device that transmits signal to its surrounding to determine the approximate distance betweens some objects and the broadcaster. We have seen some real world applications like on a car with reverse sensor. That sensor is actually a type of beacon.

iBeacon, on the other way, is a term trademarked by Apple. It is a new iOS technology which is only available on iOS 7 and onwards. iBeacon is using Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) to determine the your location as far as 10 50 meters inside a building.

The vivid location based Mobile apps users know very well that the location based apps usually consume a lot of battery, especially on the navigation mobile apps.

One of the big advantages over the GPS technology is that the IPS technology such as Bluetooth consumes a lot less battery. Even if you turn your bluetooth on 24 hours per day, you almost never feel any battery drain at all.

Some people mentioned that iBeacon is better than the Near Field Communication (NFC) technology that is available on some Android devices. It is due to its greater distance in discovery (iBeacon: 10 50 meters vs. NFC: 20 cms) and energy efficiency.

You may learn the details on the iBeacon here: iBeacon – Wikipedia.

So, What’s Next?

Some people mentioned that after Steve jobs passed aways, there isn’t much innovations coming out from Apple. This isn’t true. We have seen the innovation from Apple from iPhone 5s which has the fingerprint recognition technology and also this iBeacon Technology.

The DNA that Steve Jobs has implemented into Apple will last for a very long time. Apple was late in the map and location technology when comparing with Google. But, it has been catching up fast.

Apple has acquired an Indoor Positioning company – WiFiSlam for $20 millions. There isn’t much news from Apple after the acquisition. I believe we will hear something within the next 1 year.

Don Dodge, who is a Developer Advocate for Google, mentioned in his blog post that there will be many potential markets that could adopt IPS technology. There will be a lot of winners in this technology. He is also an investor and also advisor for some of the IPS startups.

I am very excited to see what will be coming out from iBeacon and Indoor Positioning System within the next 5 years. I just started to learn iBeacon iOS framework and I will make a new post when I am ready to share.

My Experience in Developing WatchOverMe

In this post, I am going to share my Experience in Developing WatchOverMe (WOM). WatchOverMe is a mobile app developed and owned by Secq Me Sdn. Bhd. It is a Location based security Mobile App. You and your loved ones can use the app. You can share your location with your loved ones all the time. In case of an emergency, you can shake you phone and your loved ones will get notified by SMS/email. They will know your exact location and able to take some action in order to help you.

Watch Over Me Mobile App has many different “internal versions“. We call it “internal version” because it is different from the release version. The version for the release version is slightly messed up due to the lack of proper version control in the early stage of development (I haven’t join this company yet).

After I joined the company, I was involved in 3 different version (WOM 2.0, WOM 2.5, WOM 3.0). I involved in improving some features in WOM 2.0 by optimising it to support iOS 7 and also support a new language (Spanish).

I developed WOM 2.5 from scratch for about 2-3 weeks of time and the project has been completed about 70%. But, a decision has been made to cancel this project to push forward for WOM 3.0.

I am also the only iOS developer (Currently based in Singapore) who developed WOM 3.0. Some of the functions in WOM 3.0 are the same with Maxis Circle Watch. But, there are some new functions that are added to enhance the user experience and also user friendliness. WOM 3.0 has a total remade on the user Interface. It is so much polished compare with WOM 2.0.

Here are my experience and thoughts on each of the WOM internal versions.

Watch Over Me Version 2.0 (WOM 2.0)

WOM 2.0 has been there for about 3 years when James (my boss) developed it on his own. This project has at least 2 other programmers before I took over. I only involved in some slight improvements such as adding promotion screen during the year end and also add additional language support – Spanish.

Here are some user interfaces of WOM 2.0.

WOM2.0
WOM2.0
WOM2.0


Watch Over Me Version 2.5 (WOM 2.5)

WOM 2.5 is an improved version of WOM 2.0. There is a total User Interface remade for this app. In terms of functions wise, it shares a lot of similarities with WOM 2.0. But, the base of this app is based on Calendar framework. You can schedule an event using your local calendar on your mobile phone. If there is any event that you will do daily or weekly, you can put that on your calendar. The calendar reminder will prompt the message asking if you want to be watched over about 5 minutes before the event.

WOM2.5
WOM2.5
WOM2.5


From our internal research, we found out that the existing users (including paid users) do not use WatchOverMe as often as they should. So, the calendar reminder is actually very helpful to remind people to use WOM more often.

A decision has been made to cancel this project, so this project never goes live.

Watch Over Me Version 3.0 (WOM 3.0)

WOM is another complex project that I developed from scratch. I did utilise some existing codes from Circle Watch and Existing WOM 2.0. But, due to the the differences in navigation design and others, I still have to make some changes in order to properly place inside the app.

WOM3.0
WOM3.0
WOM3.0


Additional functions for WOM 3.0 are:-

Watch Over Me Event with Photo and Note
When you are running an WOM event, you can take photo and write note on your journey.

Share Journey
When you are running any event, you can share your journey to friends and family members.

Crime Zone (Region Monitoring)
If you have this app installed on your mobile phone and you are driving/walking past a crime zone area, the app will notify you to let you know that you are near a crime zone and ask you if you want to be monitored using the app.

Watch Over Me Event Demo
We have added a polished watch Over Me event demo that teaches the users on how to use the app more effectively.

Event history
You are able to look back all the historical events that you have launched so far.

Report Crime
You may report crime area with photo and information. The information will be kept in the server database and shared with other users of the app.

Map with Route
When you are running a Watch Over Me event, you will know your exact location on the map every minute. You see the path that you have been driving/walking.

WOM3.0
WOM3.0
WOM3.0


As of 18 March 2014, this project has been completed about 85-90%. We will deploy the app to the beta testers in a few days. The estimated date to launch this app is on late March.

WOM3.0
WOM3.0
WOM3.0


You may download Watch Over Me (iOS) From: Watch Over Me (iOS).

Here is the demonstration of the WOM 3.0 with XCode and Simulator

My Experience in Developing Maxis Circle Watch

Maxis Circle Watch is a mobile application project funded by Maxis Berhad and developed by SecqMe Sdn. Bhd. It is a location base security mobile apps. You can monitor the location of your family members on a map at any minute. If any of the family members is in trouble, he/she can trigger an emergency and you will receive the notification though the app/sms/email. I am the iOS developer for SecqMe Sdn. Bhd.

Maxis Circle Watch is the First major iOS mobile development project that I developed entirely by myself. It is a complex mobile Application. There are a lot of programming works required on both the server end and front end (mobile apps – iOS/Android).

MenuVC
Menu View Controller
MapVC
Map View controller
CircleVCCircle View controller

Maxis Circle Watch Project Complexity

– There are a lot of APIs call between the front end and the server end.
– Sometimes, we have to go through a lengthy discussion to decide whether a certain programming logic should be done on the Server end or the front end mobile application. The decision is important to make sure the consistency of the mobile application in future updates.
– Sometimes after I found a bug/crash, I could not pinpoint the exact location of the problem immediately. I have to do some steps-by-steps troubleshooting to diagnose the problem to see if it is my fault on the front end or the fault on the server end programming by my colleague.
– There are a few different types of membership with different access/function rights. (eg: Admin rights, Guardian rights, paid users (pay using mobile billing vs In App Purchase), trial users, Maxis users, non-maxis users, members using SSO, members without SSO, Android users, iOS users).
– Before calling any APIs. We have to check if the user has the rights to call.
– After an APIs is called, the information returned from the server could be currently used by a few current active view controllers. We will have to update those view controllers accordingly. (eg: When I add a new member into a circle, I call the addMember API and got the new circle list from the server. After I updated the latest circle list in a shareModel, I have to notify some active classes (Map and Circle Table) which are using those properties to reflect the latest changes.

WatchOverMeVCWatchOverMe View Controller
ShakeToTriggerVCShakeToTrigger View controller
EmergencyVC
Emergency View Controller

Project Planning and Development

The project was started about 3 months earlier before I joined SecqMe Sdn. Bhd on August 2013. So, the server end programming and also the Android project has started 3 months ahead of the iOS version.

The design for this app was done before the release of iOS 7. So, the current design for this app is really targeted only for iOS 6 and below.

My colleague and my boss have been very helpful, they have provided me a lot of resources in order to catch up with the Android development.

The iOS version has been released only about 2 weeks later than the Android version.

Circle Watch iOS Project Development and Technical Features

I have to make a few key decisions when developing Circle Watch.

Apple Map vs Google Map
One of them is choosing either the Apple Native Map or Google Map. I was new to location and map technology when I started. My colleague who was the Android developer was using Google map. After I did some research on Google Map for iOS, I learned that it had all the APIs and functions that were needed for the purpose of our project. During that time (August 2013), I believed that the Google Map technology was very stable and far more superior than Apple Map. So, I decided to use Google Map in this project.

Container View Controller
Circle Watch has been designed to have a unique navigation. There are at least 4 active view controllers at the same time. There are 5 active view controllers when “Shake to Trigger” is activated. It is not a common navigation that you see in most apps.

When I first started, I didn’t plan carefully on the navigation. I only utilised the default UINavigationController that is provided by Xcode. After about 2 weeks into developing the project, then only I realised my mistake. I quickly researched into other Xcode technology that can be used and I found Container View Controller.

I fall in love with Container View Controller every since. It is such a powerful technology that makes the complex navigations look like a child play.

Getting Location in iOS 7
Since the release of iOS 7, some well established iOS applications have problem with getting the location from the phone in the background continuously without being terminated by the OS. I have faced the same issue as well. After a few weeks of researching and trying different solutions to solve the issue, I found a solution to solve that problem. You can see the details here: Background Location Update Programming for iOS 7.

Battery Consumption
Before I found the solution stated above, one other solution that works well but it consumes more than 10% of battery per hour. The solution above only consumes about 5% of battery per hour.

I understand the solution that I applied on this project might not be the most elegant solution. I believe if I have time to learn more about multithreading and also the background services API in iOS 7, I definitely will be able to develop a better solution that consumes less battery.

CircleMembersVC
Circle Member View Controller
MemberDetailsVC
Member Details View controller
SafeZoneVC
SafeZone View Controller

Future Project Development for Circle Watch

Maxis Berhad has been going through a major company re-organization with a new CEO and a new team of management. Some employees have been laid off and some projects have been cancelled.

Circle Watch is one of the lucky few projects that is still alive and ongoing. However, they are not able to provide additional funding to develop additional features that are not planned during the initial project agreement.

Thus, the design for Circle Watch still looks like the design for iOS 6.

Maxis hasn’t start to market this app yet. So, We do not have a lot of downloads for Circle Watch yet. We were informed that it is under their marketing plan later this year (2014).

Final Thoughts

Thanks to my boss and colleague, the help that they have provided has enable me to learn and develop this complex project in a “fast tracking” way. Of course, I put a lot of effort myself as well by working voluntarily during the weekend and after office hours (without claiming any OT).

There are a lot of improvements can be done in the current project. For example: add extra animation when moving from one View Controller to another. Make the transition for different view controllers more smoothly. I didn’t have time to improve that because I have to work on another complex project (Watch Over Me 3.0) immediately when the Circle Watch was completed.

Circle Watch just had its soft launch. It is still too early to tell if this project will be successful or not. I personally think this project will see a higher chance to be successful if Maxis is willing to provide additional funding to enhance the design and also add additional social features.

With a more polished design, social features and also marketing campaigns, the chance for this app to reach users who are willing to pay to use this service will be greatly increased.

If you are from Malaysia, you should able to download the app from both the Apple Appstore and Google Playstore: Maxis Circle Watch.

Circle Watch Video Demonstration from the XCode with Simulator

Background Location Update Programming for iOS 7 and iOS 8

Before iOS 7, I used some location update solutions found from stackoverflow. After the iOS 7 is released, the location update (especially on background) is not working well in iOS 7. There are many existing location based apps had the same problem. It was due to the background services in iOS 7 which kill the app when the app is in suspended state.

After a few weeks of trial and error in experimenting many different solutions, I finally found one solution that works well for the app that I need to develop.

Note: The solution might not be elegant. It works well for what I want to create. When I am free, I am still constantly looking for more elegant solutions by exploring the background services in iOS 7.

iOS Application States and Multitasking

Before I dig deeper into the location services, I would like to share a bit on the iOS app states. It is very important for iOS 7 and above because we have multitasking background services starting from this version.

iOS App States

 

There are basically 5 states:-
1. Inactive – The app is running on foreground but there is no activity at the moment.
2. Active – The app is running on foreground and there are some activities.
3. Background – The app is on the background and still executing code. The app can move to suspended mode anytime now. But, the app can request extra time in executing code for a short period of time.
4. Suspended – The app is on the background and not executing code. Normally, the system will move app from background mode to this state automatically without any notification. But the app is still in memory.
5. Not running – The app is either not running or has been terminated by the system during low memory condition.

Most of the solutions before iOS 7 work well because during that time the system does not have multitasking and the system does not automatically move the app from background mode to suspended mode.

So, if your app needs consistent location update from the device, you will have to implement a solution that constantly refresh the app when it is in background mode so that it has a short period of time in executing the code and send the location to your server.

For more information on App States and Multitasking, you can visit: Guidelines by Apple on App States and Multitasking.

Background Location Update Programming for iOS 7

Behaviour of the location service that the app I have to develop:-
1. During the normal time, the app has to send the location to the server every 3 minutes.
2. When the user is running event, the app has to send location to the server every 1 minute.
3. The location has work both in foreground and background.

So, this app will get the location from the phone all the time. I have tested many solutions and the solution below works exactly as I needed and it consumes about 5% of battery per hour.

First of all, if you are using storyboard, you will have to make sure that “location update” under the Background Modes is enable. Screen shot as below:-
iOS 7 Location Background Mode This is very important as without that your app will not be able to get location when it is in background.

I created a class just to handle the location service. The most important function from the locationManager delegate is didUpdateLocations. You will need to know how to handle this function properly. I have programmed to make the locationManager restarts every 1 minute. When the locationManager is started, it will only last for 10 seconds to receive locations update from the device. So basically, the location Manager is only turned on for 10 seconds for 60 seconds.

I have tested on my device and it only consumes about 5-6% of battery every hour. The most important function is listed below with some explanation.

Updated on February 2014: Added the solution on Github and post to the thread in stackoverflow.

Updated on April 2014: EC has found a fix for the location update for an extended period of time.

Updated on May 2014: I received some requests by some developers (through email contact and the comment area of this post) on the sample codes for sending the locations to server on a certain time interval. I have added the sample codes and I have integrated EC’s fix on BackgroundTaskManager.m too. Full Solution: Background Location Update for iOS 7 with Location Update to Server.

Updated on September 2014: I have updated the solution to work in iOS 8. A new key NSLocationAlwaysUsageDescription has been added to the PList. It is a requirement in iOS 8 to inform the users on the reasons you need the location update from their devices. [locationManager requestAlwaysAuthorization]; has to be called in iOS 8 as well when getting the location.

Getting Location Updates for iOS 7 and 8 when the App is Killed/Terminated/Suspended

I have promised to write an article related to getting Location Updates for iOS 7 and 8 when the App is Killed/Terminated/Suspended. I have had a busy development schedule in the last few months until the New Year Holiday break. Finally, I have time to write the articles and post the solution on Github.

Please read this article for more details: Getting Location Updates for iOS 7 and 8 when the App is Suspended.

How to Use Container View Controller

Container View Controller is one of the interesting View Controllers that I used recently in XCode. Apple has provided many standard view controllers for iOS Developer in XCode such as Table View Controller, Tab Bar Controller, Navigation View Controller for most common standard projects for iOS developers. But for a certain projects with unique design, we have to use container view controller.

I have been using container view controller for a while and I love it. Here is a simple guide on how to use it. I will create a simple mobile app with 3 different view controllers:-

Simple Container View Controller Programming Example

1. MainVC
2. ProfileVC
3. Menu VC

Description
– Contain a navigation with 2 buttons.
– When the Profile button is clicked, the MainVC will slide to left and the ProfileVC will appear.
– When the Menu button is clicked, the Main VC will slide to right and the MenuVC will appear.

Profile View controller
Main View controller style=
Menu View controller


Container View Controller Project Setup

Update: I have been busy for the last few months, just updated this post on February 2014.

Step 1: Create a new project and delete the existing .h and .m file that was created by the XCode

Step 2: Create the subclasses below:-
MainVC, MenuVC, ContainerVC and ProfileVC subclass of UIViewController
ShareSetting subclass of NSObject

Step 3: Link the existing view controller objects on storyboard with ContainerVC.

Step 4: Drag and drop the Container View in storyboard into the ContainerVC View Controller object. Rename this Container View as “MenuVC”. The position and side for this container view should be X: -260 Y: 20 Width: 320 Height: 548. Attach the MenuVC subsclass to the view controller comes with the Container View.

Step 5: Drag and drop another Container View into the same view controller and name it as “ProfileVC”. X: 260 Y: 20 Width: 320 Height: 548. Remember to attach ProfileVC subclass to the created view controller.

Step 6: Drag and drop the last Container View and name it as “MainVC”. X: 0 Y: 20 Width: 320 Height: 548. Attach the subclass to the view controller.

Step 7: Change background for each view controller object (MainVC, MenuVC and ProfileVC) to different colors.

Step 8: Add a title to MenuVC and ProfileVC

Step 9: Add a simple navigation bar and 2 buttons to MainVC.

If you are doing correctly, you should see a screen shot similar to below:
Simple Container View Controller Programming Setup

Container View Controller Coding

1. ShareSetting
– This class is basically used to share actions/behavior for the same buttons across a few different view controllers. Although in this simple project, we only have 1 view controller that uses the buttons. In more complex projects, we usually need this ShareSetting. Add the following codes to the class.

In ShareSettings.h

In ShareSettings.m

2. ContainerVC
– This is the main class that control the animation behavior for 3 different view controllers (MainVC, MenuVC and ProfileVC)

In ContainerVC.m

3. MainVC
– This is the Main View Controller which contains the navigation bar, the Menu Button and Profile Button.
– The 2 buttons that were created on the storyboard should be “Control + Drag” into the subclass. So that there will be 2 functions created in the subclass and every time the button is tapped, we will receive the action in the functions.

Last Step: You are done! For your information, the MenuVC and ProfileVC subclasses are created but there is no function for this simple example. You may add tableview to MenuVC and create a real profile for ProfileVC by adding some text field, photo and etc.

For more information, you can check Out: View Controller Programming Guide for iOS

Go-Eco – Mobile Application That Rewards Anyone Who Helps the Environment

I was at the Global Startup Youth organized by Startup Malaysia. This event was attended by over 500 youth from over 60 countries who are either developers, hustlers, domains experts or youth leaders. The youth was helped by over 100 mentors to solve some of the world biggest problems using mobile applications in 2 days time. There are 4 categories: Environment, Education, Health and Women Empowerment.

I was in Team 4 under the Environment category and I am the main coder. Our team consists of mostly Malaysian with 1 person from Morocco, another from Russia and the last one from West Africa (Sierra Leone).

We came out with a mobile app idea with the following features:-
1. Educate users related to environmentally issue
2. Encourage people to take actions to help the environment
3. People will gain points from the actions they take or the education that they learn.

The points that they gain from the mobile app can be used to exchange for vouchers by our sponsors such as (Starbuck, YTL, Old Town Kopitiam, Machines and etc). Our team leader went to talk to a few reputable companies and some of them are interested to join this project as part of their corporate social responsibility. But, the deal does not materialised yet as we only have 2 days. Shall the project continues in the future, I believe we really will have the real sponsor vouchers.

Please allow me to introduce you: Go-Eco. The app is using Parse.com as the backend server. Go-Eco has the following screens:-
1. Login
2. Sign Up
3. Profile
4. Learning
5. Challenges
6. Redemption

Most of the functions of the app are already completed. We have the real login and sign up (connect to Parse). The points addition and reduction (for completing learning, challenges and redemption)

The followings are the real screen shots from the app itself.
Go-Eco Login Go-Eco Sign Up

Go-Eco ProfileGo-Eco Learning

Go-Eco LearningGo-Eco Learning

Go-Eco ChallengesGo-Eco Challenges

Go-Eco ChallengesGo-Eco Redemption

Go-Eco Redemption

It has been a nice experience working with Team 4. They are really focused and committed. We are also lucky to have a great graphic designer in our team. Unfortunately, we didn’t win under the environment category, the judges certainly have different opinions on what they think is the best app under the environment category. Winning is not the main purpose here. It is the team work and our effort to produce something that will help this world.

Lastly, I am very happy the mobile app that we produced in just 2 days time. It is functional and very polished. We shall see if we are able to bring Go-Eco forward.