The app I’ve been working on

The app I’ve been working on over the last few months is called Retrospective Timelines. I’m still trying to learn how to talk (and write) about the app in a way that makes sense and appeals to customers, but for now I’ll just write a bit about what it is and what it does. This will be a rambling post…

Retrospective Timelines is an app can track lists (Timelines) of personal milestones and important events. The main purpose of the app is to put these milestones and events into context. How long has it been since X Event? How long was I working on Project Y? What was happening in my life when I worked at Company Z?

An event can be a single point in time or a date range with a start date and end date. For example:

  • Jul 27, 2019: Decided to work with SwiftUI
  • June 25, 2015 – August 29, 2019: Employed at Company Z

I’ve been tracking this data for years in various spreadsheets and apps. I’ve never found one app that can hold all of it in a way that makes sense to me. Some examples of the type of data I want to track

  • Personal milestone – big picture things in my life such as my sobriety date
  • Addresses – when did I live at each address
  • Employers – when did I work for each company
  • Devices – when did I get a computer and how long did I keep using it

I’m still working on some views that will visualize this data. I’m going to start by making a graphical view for single timelines, but down the road I want to introduce the ability to combine timelines to cross reference data.

Database stuff

I’m using Core Data and CloudKit to build the backend of the app. It’s important to me that this data syncs to all of my iOS devices. The schema is simple, at least for now.

  • Timelines are lists that can have a name, icon, color, and multiple related Events.
  • Events are child records of a timeline and contain data such as event name, start date, optional end date, notes, etc.

User interface stuff

I started this project in UIKit and got pretty far before I decided to switch to SwiftUI instead. While SwiftUI is still new and buggy, there are just some things in UIKit that drive me nuts. I hope I never have to work with auto layout again.

For now the app is mostly using stock iOS controls with some styling added. I have a lot of work to do on each of the screens below, but this should give you an idea of what the app looks like for now.

Timeline views

The top of the navigation stack starts with Timeline List View. You can add, edit, reorder, and delete timelines. The four rows in the first section don’t do anything yet.

Event list and editing

I’m not really happy with the way that Events look right now, but I have data entry screens ready and working.

Event detail view

I’d like to replace this view with something more graphic. Perhaps some sort of card generated using the Timeline icon and color. The app calculates the time since a date in a readable format. For events with a date range it also calculates the curation of the range. Below you can see that I owned a MacBook Pro with an awful keyboard for 1 year, 10 months, and 7 days.

One week with SwiftUI

I just wrapped up a week of working with SwiftUI full time. It certainly has some rough edges and each new beta version brings a lot of changes. Here is a recap of what’s working for me and what I still need to figure out.

List views are really simple in SwiftUI. The first layout that loads in my app is a List view has two main sections. The first section has a few rows for some saved queries that I’ll implement later, the second section is dynamic data from Core Data. Xcode Beta 5 introduced some new property wrappers and environment variables for working with Core Data. You can read more about these additions here.

Data entry: I made some simple forms with a few fields and a custom control for picking colors. The only problem I’m having with data entry is actually with the modal presentation implementation of SwiftUI. I call the sheet modifier and pass it a view, but this has some issues with not loading data on repeated calls. I’m calling this modal sheet from the main list view for adding new records, and from a detail view for editing existing records. I have an issue where I can’t get the list view to update when I modify a record that is a few views away (List > Detail > Edit). I think this has something do do with the way that I’m loading the list with Core Data records, as there is nothing that is triggering a refresh when I save the modified record. I need to figure out a better way to setup a publisher with Core Data. A possible workaround for this is to implement record editing on the list rows, just like when a user swipes a table row to disclose an edit button. I just can’t seem to figure out how to do that yet. I may use the new ContextMenu instead if I can’t figure it out soon.

Button("Add List") {
    self.editModal = true
}
.padding(EdgeInsets(top: 0, leading: 0, bottom: 10, trailing: 20))
.accentColor(Color(Theme.shared.appMainTint))
                          
.sheet(isPresented: $editModal,
       onDismiss: {
        self.timelineEditModal = false
},
       content: {
        ListEditView()
            .environment(\.managedObjectContext, self.managedObjectContext)
})

Color Picker: The list based item in my app is composed of of a name, color, and icon. I wanted to try to mimic the new color picker in the new version of the Reminders app. While SwiftUI doesn’t have an alternative to the Collection View yet, I was able to get my color picker working by dynamically calculating a number of columns. I used Geometry Reader to get the width of the parent view, then just divided it by the size (including padding) that I wanted each color to take up. I passed that number to a child view that parses out a list of colors into rows and columns. I got the idea for the grid here. I’m planning on implementing something similar with the icon, using a subset of SF Symbols.

Dynamically sized color picker on iPad and iPhone.

I spent a large part of today refactoring a lot of my code into smaller views that are easier to reason about. Xcode can have a hard time handling complex views with lots of embedded views, so it can be helpful to break them into small components where possible.

Some issues I haven’t figured out:

  1. Master Detail by default – On iPad I get free Master Detail by default, but I’m not certain this is right for my app. I have not found a way to just fill the screen with my list view. There is also an annoying issue that iOS loads an empty detail view when in portrait mode. I can’t believe this is still the default behavior after years of iOS but it is… 
  2. Modal views seem to break when loaded from a List item. They will work correctly the first time, but when opened two or more times they do not load the data that is being passed to them. I was able to confirm that the data is being passed, but SwiftUI is not using it to update the views.
  3. iOS 13 has a new (old) style for rounding the corners of grouped tables/lists. I can’t find a way to do this yet. .listStyle(GroupedListStyle()) does not do the trick.
  4. List Edit Mode – I can toggle edit mode on, but have yet to figure out what to do next. I want to let users reorder rows, and I want to show an info button that will open a modal sheet for modifying a record.

SwiftUI is still new and can be frustrating at times but I think I can safely say that I’m going to make the production version of my app with it. In one week of work I caught up to the UIKit version of my app, which took nearly two months. Granted, a lot of that time was focused on planning and design, which benefited both versions. I think I’ll stick with SwiftUI just so I never have to deal with Auto Layout ever again.

Thinking about SwiftUI

Last week I decided to spend the weekend learning about SwiftUI. The weekend turned into an entire week but I was eventually able to learn everything I set out to learn. This course on Udemy was particularly helpful.

I’m going to take a long weekend to give myself time to reflect on what I have learned so far. One thing I want to think about is if I should use SwiftUI for my app. The app I’m working on is simple enough and SwiftUI can do almost everything I need. There are a few areas where I may have to drop out to UIKit but for the most part I think I can make it work. Importantly, I think I may be able to make a better user experience with SwiftUI than I can with UIKit. So many things in UIKit require more code and complexity and if I stay on that route it may be several months before my app meets the expectations that I have for it.

I guess I have a lot to think about this weekend.

Questions for myself about SwiftUI

This weekend I’m going to spend some time with SwiftUI. I tried to think of the most important questions that I want to answer. I have no idea how much progress I will make but if I come up with answers to these I’ll write about them.

  1. Can I connect a SwiftUI List to a Core Data FetchedResultsController?
    1. How do I set this up?
    2. Load data
    3. Edit data
    4. Delete data
  2. Does SwiftUI support advanced table features?
    1. Readable Size for cells
    2. Reorder controls
    3. Context actions
  3. How can I pass an object from a list view to a form view?
    1. Dependency injection?
  4. Can I make form views that do not save data until the done button is tapped? Pass back to the List view to save the changes. 
  5. Can I easily segue to UIKIT View Controllers? I need access to CollectionViews and Large TextViews, neither of which exist in SwiftUI.

Symbols and icons

I’m working on an icon picker for my app. The idea is to allow users to select a color and icon as a secondary way of identifying their lists. I have 10 colors picked out and the color picker is up and running, and I just wrapped up the first pass at the icon picker. For the time being I’m using SF Symbols. I went through the list of available symbols and found 101 that I think may be useful for my app. I may switch to a third-party icon pack before launch, but once I ship version 1.0 I need to make sure that I’m providing access to a consistent set of icons.

Light Mode version

Dark Mode version

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