Retrospective Timelines 1.0.1

The first app update for Retrospective Timelines is hitting the App Store today.

Features

New color options when sharing an Event as an image.

  • Select from 10 colors
  • Colorful background with white
  • Light background with colorful text
  • Dark background with colorful text

Small changes

  • Added a “dismiss keyboard” button that show up when a text field is active. You can also dismiss the keyboard with the “Return” on the iOS keyboard.
  • Added links to the website “How To” and “Contact” pages
  • Minor bug fixes

Without a splash

Just over a week ago I launched Retrospective Timelines in the App Store. In fact, “launched” may be too strong of a word. I released the app on Sunday Dec 1, 2019 with little fanfare and even less of an idea of what I was doing. Over the months leading up to version 1.0 I had a lot of ideas about how the launch could go. I thought about trying to build up some excitement for the app and I considered reaching out to press in advance.

Every time I thought I was close to shipping the app something would change that would cause a delay. Sometimes a SwiftUI update would break something I had previously finished. Other times I would start to think about solving a problem in a new way. Knowing myself pretty well, I began to recognize that I could keep working on version 1.0 indefinitely without ever shipping a thing. I needed get something out and I needed to do it soon.

In early November I decided that I had to ship something by Dec 1 and I began to work backwards from that. I did everything I could to finish the features I was building, although I had to pull a few things at the last minute. By the time had the app in a suitable state for shipping I was running out of time on my deadline. I knew that I had no chance of getting attention on such short notice so I decided not to even try.

Retrospective Timelines hit the App Store and I mentioned it on Twitter. Aside from that, there was no launch.

Over the next few months I hope to get some attention on the app. I’m convinced that a lot of people could benefit from thinking accomplishments and I hope to get the app in their hands. As I add new features I’ll continue to talk about the app on Twitter and on my podcast Project Update.

In the future maybe I’ll be able to learn how to launch the “right way” but for now this will have to do. At least it’s out there and in some weird way that’s the most important thing right now.

SwiftUI Modal Badness

I’ve had a longstanding issue in Retrospective Timelines. I have a simple EditButton on the list of timelines in my app. This button toggles the list into edit mode where the user can perform several actions.

  1. Reorder timelines
  2. Delete a timeline
  3. Tap a button to open the timeline in a modal view so they can edit it.

Timeline List Edit Mode

The issue was that when I closed the modal view with a button, sometimes the EditButton on the list view would stop working. Looking at the view hierarchy in debug mode I could see that a containing object for the button was way out of position, and thus the button would stop working. I could sometimes get it snap back into position by swiping up and down on the list, but that is not really a viable solution. I needed a way to solve this.

This is a video I send to Apple as part of the feedback report (FB7265174). You can see the out-of-place container object.

I was once again banging my head on this issue today, trying to see if I could come up with a solution. While working through some options, I noticed that this only happed to SwiftUI Buttons, not to other types of objects in the navigation bar. I made a simple Text view and gave it an onTagGuesture modifier with a call to toggle the edit mode.

Text(self.listEditMode.isEditing ? "Done" : "Edit")
    .onTapGesture {
        self.listEditMode.isEditing ? .inactive : .active
    }

This worked, but I lost the nice animations that SwiftUI was taking care of for me. I came across this post on StackOverflow and modified my view to use this bool version of Edit Mode instead of the the default one that SwiftUI provides. Here is a rough approximation

struct ContentView: View {

    @State var isEditing = false

    var names = ["Item 1", "Item 2", "Item 3"]

    var body: some View {
        NavigationView {
            VStack {
                List(names, id: \.self) { name in
                    Text(name)
                }
                .environment(\.editMode, .constant(self.isEditing ? EditMode.active : EditMode.inactive)).animation(Animation.spring())
                
            }
            .navigationBarItems(trailing: trailingButton)
        }
    }
    
    private var trailingButton: some View {
        
        Text(self.isEditing == true ? "Done" : "Edit")
            .contentShape(Rectangle())
            .frame(height: 44, alignment: .trailing)
            .onTapGesture {
                self.$isEditing.wrappedValue.toggle()
        }

    }
}

This sample code strips away all of the additional logic from my Timeline List view, but it shows how to implement the alternative version of the edit button as a Text view. Finally I have a reliable way to toggle edit mode in SwiftUI.

User Interface Update

I’m making progress on the user interface for the app. Most of my time has been spent on making the Event List views look the way I want. I’ve also updated the Event Edit view with a new timeline picker and a long form text view for editing notes.

Timeline and Event List views side by side. I Added a new top level report called Ongoing that will show all ongoing records from active timelines.


Report list views. These contain an extra timeline element. These list views show data from all active timelines, active meaning “not archived”.


Timeline to Event List to Event Edit.


Event Edit View now contains a long form text view. This uses a UITextView wrapped in SwiftUI. It’s far from perfect but it’s good enough, at least until Apple ships a SwiftUI multi-line text field.


Event Edit View now contains a custom timeline picker.

SwiftUI – A note about onAppear()

This morning I made a custom version of a picker for the events form. I needed a way for events to select a different timeline. The default picker in SwiftUI had some limitations so I set out to make my own. The only main difference is that it uses a sectioned list with timelines sorted into non-archived and archived sections. I made a binding variable to pass in the selected timeline. This allowed me to update the selected timeline from the picker view, then just close it when done.

struct TimelinePicker: View {

    @Binding var selectedTimeline: Timeline?
    @ObservedObject var dataSource = RADDataSource<Timeline>()
    @Environment(\.presentationMode) var presentationMode: Binding<PresentationMode>

    var body : some View {
        List {

            ForEach(dataSource.loadSectionedDataSource(sort: self.getSort(), predicate: nil, sectionKeyPathName: "isArchived"), id: \.name) { listSection in

                Section(header:

                    HStack {
                        Text(listSection.name == "1" ? "Archived Timelines" : "Timelines")
                    }
                    .font(.system(.headline, design: .rounded))

                ) {
                     ForEach(self.dataSource.objects(inSection: listSection)) { timeline in
                        
                        Button(action: ({
                            self.selectedTimeline = timeline
                            self.presentationMode.wrappedValue.dismiss()
                        })) {
                            
                            HStack {
                                TimelineListRowView(timeline: timeline)
                                .foregroundColor(.primary)
                                Spacer()
                                if(self.selectedTimeline == timeline) {
                                    Image(systemName: "checkmark")
                                }
                            }
                            
                        }
                    }
                }
            }
        }
    }

    public func getSort() -> [NSSortDescriptor] {
        ...
    }
}

It just would not work though. I tried several ways of passing in the timeline, binding, observed object, environment object, etc. Nothing would work. Every time I closed the picker the initial value remained set on the events form.

Turns out that’s because I’m an idiot. I was using a call to onAppear to load data from the event record into a View Model class. This was running every time I closed the timeline picker. I would set the initial value, go to the picker, select a new value, and then close the picker which would call onAppear to set the initial value again.

The fix for this was super simple. I just added a new state variable called onAppearCalled and initialized it to false. Then I could check this condition in the function that populates my form when onAppear is called, setting it to true when it is called.

func populateOnAppear() {
    if(self.onAppearCalled == false) {
        ...
        self.onAppearCalled = true
    }
}

My Timeline Picker

Event Date List Row

I’ve been spending a lot of time today thinking about the row for the list of event dates. This has been something I’ve been sort of stuck on for the last couple of weeks. This list is a bit tricky because the data on it is not strictly events. The rows represent date records related to events. All events have at least one date (the single date or start date field) but they can optionals have an end date to form a date range. The ending date can be set to a specific date or set to an “ongoing” status where the event will show up as something that hasn’t ended yet.

For a couple of weeks I was including the ongoing date rows in this list, sorted by the current date. I decided to omit them for now. They always looked a bit out of place to me.

Here are several versions of a new design for these rows. I think I’m going to use the 6th and last option. I removed the circle indicators from the row entirely. The capsule around one of the dates indicates that the date is the one for the row. For example: You can see two rows for the event called “A date range”. It shows up in the list of sorted dates for both its start and end dates. I also decided to make everything in the list content region use the selected color for the timeline, in this case red.

App Icon Drafts

I spent a little time this evening playing with app icon ideas. This is the one I like the most so far.

Update: 2019.10.30 I made my first round of revisions of these. I added some gradients and I replaced the white color with a light grey and I think looks pretty nice.

iPad Width issues

There are some issues with the NavigationView in SwiftUI that prevent the Master Detail version from showing the back button in portrait mode. To get around this I’m using StackNavigationViewStyle. This is OK on most iPads, but on the larger iPad Pro models in landscape it looks ridiculous.

This is my attempt to get around this issue. I added a frame to the list/form object on each of these layouts.

.frame(minWidth: nil, idealWidth: 600, maxWidth: 700, minHeight: nil, idealHeight: nil, maxHeight: nil, alignment: .leading)

This caps the maxWidth at 700pt. While this works as intended it does’t look great. On the layouts using GroupedListStyle I was able to match the background, but it would look much better if I could round the section corners. iOS 13 has a new grouped style for that but it has not made it to SwiftUI yet.

On the layout using DefaultListStyle this looks a little better. The only thing I don’t care for the section header. If I could remove the background color it would look much better.

If you know of a workaround for rounding the List Sections please let me know.

Event Detail and Edit combined

Up until now I’ve been using separate views for Event Detail (view only) and Event Edit. I decided to try to combine these into one view and work them into the main navigation stack. This way event data entry can be done without opening a modal. Adding a new event will still be done in a modal though.

I have two versions of this.

Option 1 is pretty much the old event edit view with some “time passed” calculations in the section footers below the dates.

Option 1

Option 2 is a version where I renamed the segmented control for End Date and changed the labels. Instead of asking the user to select what type of end date they want (none, closed, ongoing) I ask them what type of event they want (single date, date range, ongoing event). I think this helps clear up some confusion as it’s much easier to explain what an event type is then it was trying to explain the nuances of end dates.

Update: 10/22/2019

Dave and I discussed these options on Project Update episode 17 yesterday and he gave me some ideas. We both agreed that option two was the better choice out of the options above. Dave had a couple of suggestions.

  1. Change the Ongoing icon back to the empty circle to differentiate them from end dates.
  2. Change the Event Type control to omit the Ongoing option. Users can select either Single Date or Date Range
  3. If the user selects Date Range as the Event Type then show an additional control in the End Date section where they can mark an end date as Ongoing.

This is my first pass at implementing these suggestions. I added a toggle to the End Date section. If this is false (default) then the date picker will show. Otherwise the date picker will hide and the Ongoing symbol is shown with the label.

Event Detail modified Ongoing controls

Side note: the End Date section footer in this image has not been updated to omit the time passed string when an end date is set to Ongoing.

I’m not sure if I like this change or not. It might be a little easier to understand, which is the most important factor for this screen.

Dynamic Sort Descriptors and Predicates

I based most of my core data code for Retrospective Timelines on an example project that you can check out here. The developer sent me the link to this in a comment on stack overflow a couple of months ago. Throughout the project I’ve made small changes to this to better suite my needs.

Today I made a huge set of changes. I wanted a way to build UI controls that can modify the sort descriptors and predicates that the fetch requests used to drive the FRC. In the sample project this is done by passing in some optional strings, then parsing them into the objects they need to be in the a function that prepares the fetch request. This approach did not scale for what I need, as some of the layouts need complex sorting and/or predicates. I made a new version of this that replaces the optional string properties with some alternatives.

First the sort descriptors. Core Data has a way to apply multiple sort descriptors by passing them as an array. Even if I only have one sort order (rare for this project) I can just pass a single descriptor in the array

private var sortDescriptors: [NSSortDescriptor]?

The predicates were a bit different. Core data accepts one predicate for a fetch request, not multiple… kinda. Predicates can be combined using compounds. I can make compound predicates on each layout as needed.

private var predicate: NSPredicate?

Then I needed a way to add these to the fetched request.

private func configureFetchRequest() -> NSFetchRequest<T> {
        let fetchRequest: NSFetchRequest<T> = T.fetchRequest() as! NSFetchRequest<T>
        fetchRequest.fetchBatchSize = 0
        
        if let sortDescriptors = self.sortDescriptors {
            fetchRequest.sortDescriptors = sortDescriptors
        }
        
        if let predicate = self.predicate {
            fetchRequest.predicate = predicate
        }
        
        return fetchRequest
    }

I need a way to call this publicly as well. This calls the private method after checking the optionals. If I no longer have a descriptor or predicate, I set the property back to nil so it’s no longer used in configureFetchRequest

public func loadDataSource(sort: [NSSortDescriptor]?, predicate: NSPredicate?) -> [T] {
        
        if let sort = sort {
            self.sortDescriptors = sort
        } else {
            self.sortDescriptors = nil
        }
        
        if let predicate = predicate {
            self.predicate = predicate
        } else {
            self.predicate = nil
        }
        
        self.fetchRequest = configureFetchRequest()
        self.frc = configureFetchedResultsController()
        
        return self.allInOrder
    }

Now for the cool part. I can make a View Model for each layout where I can place some properties to drive controls in the user interface. This View Model will also handle building the sort descriptors and predicates for the layout. They can then be used as a parameter when I call loadDataSource.

Here is a basic example of the View Model that drives the list of event dates. The sortToggle variable is bound to a UI toggle so when the user taps it the sort order changes. I’ll replace this with a better sort button, but the underlying concept will remain the same.

class EventListVM: ObservableObject {
    
    @Published var sortToggle = false

    public func getSort() -> [NSSortDescriptor] {
        return [NSSortDescriptor(key: "isOngoing", ascending: sortToggle), NSSortDescriptor(key: "date", ascending: sortToggle)]
    }
    
    public func getPredicate(timeline: Timeline?) -> NSPredicate? {
        if let timeline = timeline {
            
            let startString = String(format: "%@%@", "dateStartEvent.eventTimeline", " == %@")
            let startPredicate = NSPredicate(format: startString, timeline)
            
            let endString = String(format: "%@%@", "dateEndEvent.eventTimeline", " == %@")
            let endPredicate = NSPredicate(format: endString, timeline)
            
            let compoundPredicate = NSCompoundPredicate(orPredicateWithSubpredicates: [startPredicate, endPredicate])
            return compoundPredicate
        }
        return nil
    }
    
}

The only thing that is a little nuts is the way I get the records to use in the ForEach view. This calls a method on one ObservedObject while using return values from two functions on another ObservedObject. I feel like I’m getting away with something here.

@ObservedObject var dataSource = RADDataSource<RTDate>()
@ObservedObject var eventListVM = EventListVM()

...

ForEach(dataSource.loadDataSource(sort: self.eventListVM.getSort(), predicate: self.eventListVM.getPredicate(timeline: self.timeline))) { rtDate in
...
}

Togging the sort order.

This is just a simple example, but now that I have the foundation in place I can extend this to work on much more complex user interfaces.

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