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aY Introducing Graphr for iPhone A Say it with a smile(y)

Note: This article was originally published at Planet PHP on 21 July 2010.
Planet PHP

It is with a certain amount of pride that I announce the release of Graphr, my new iPhone app that allows you to copy and paste special characters like a, aO and ao directly into any iOS app that supports text, including Mail, Twitter and Safari (or even the OS itself, if you want to create fancypants folders). Simply launch it, choose one of the eighty symbols it supports and then paste it directly into your favourite app using iOS's copy-and-paste feature. Because it's an iOS 4 app with minimal memory footprint, you can switch in and out of it in a heartbeat, making it the perfect companion for your day-to-day device usage.

Graphr also learns which symbols you use most often and moves them to a location that is more readily accessible so that they become easier to find. As you use the app, you will notice that your favourite characters will slowly move towards the top-left corner of the screen (note that it takes a while for the algorithm to kick in). Plus, it's iPhone 4-compatible, taking advantage of that device's Retina Screen with high-resolution graphics for its button frames and text.

Why Graphr?

Graphr is an app that I have wanted for a long time. Unicode characters are handy for a number of reasons; first, they are there: most OSs support them, so I don't see why we shouldn't be able to use them on iOS the way we do on other platforms. Plus, they are succinct: writing aoYYZaoMCOa is just as clear as aoI'm flying from Toronto to Orlandoa in Twitter parlance, but only requires seven characters. And those aoI aY Youa e-mails, while corny, always impress!

Graphr is inspired by GlyphBoard, a web-based Unicode symbol picker that features a great concept but that is ultimately impractical for everyday use, mostly because switching back and forth between Safari and any other app (including other Safari windows) takes too much time. By writing a native iOS 4 app and supporting fast switching, however, I can keep Graphr loaded and switch back-and-forth between it and other apps very quickly, thus making it almost an extension of the built-in keyboard. The app doesn't support anything before iOS 4, because, frankly, the usage experience would be abysmal-can you imagine quitting your apps, launching Graphr, copying a character and then relaunching your other app on older iOS versions? Besides, GlyphBoard already does as good a job of that as possible under the circumstances.

Why not more features?

Graphr is the app I wanted to build-in fact, it didn't even occur to me to release it to the public until after it was pretty much finished. Even though it doesn't necessarily look like one, it's pretty much built like a keyboard and, therefore, must be as simple and intuitive to use as one. And so it is: launch it, click on a button, and you're done. There are no secret handshakes, no settings, no geeky character tables or codes. The app tries to learn how you use it and adapt to your specific needs rather than asking you to aotell ita something you may not even be aware of.

This is not to say that there are no features to add. For example, the app is built for right-handed users, a aoleftie modea that pushes popular symbols to the top-right corner instead of the top-left corner would be useful. Likewise, the symbols that the app supports are based on a thoroughly unscientific survey of web pages and tweets with some biases thrown in for good measure, which may or may reflect reality for everyone else.

Also, unlike Glyphboard, Graphr doesn't allow you to copy more than one symbol into the pasteboard at a time. I considered this feature (obviously-it was staring right at me), but ultimately decided that having more characters and a simpler look was more important.

Why free?

Graphr is completely free, although it features iAd ads. This is not because I think the app is cheap or useless-quite the contrary. First, it's an app that provides value over time; therefore, asking people to pay upfront doesn't reflect the return that they will get out of it. With iAd, if you load the app and only use it once or twice, I will maybe make a few cents from showing you a couple of ads. If, on the other hand, you become a regular user, I'll make more revenue over time. Of course, people are also going to be more likely to try out a free app, which doesn't hurt, either.

Incidentally, I could have made the same decision for some of my other apps, but, well, iAd simply wasn't available when I developed them, and I'm not about to show Google ads-the fast food of online advertising-alongside my work. Apple's ad platform appeals to me because it has a high bar of entry, making it more likely that high-quality, brand names will appear next to my name. It's not so much that iAd generates more revenue-it's that using iAd is a bit like having lunch at the French Laundry while your favourite actor strikes up a conversation with you. As far as ads go, I want to be a foodie.