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iCloud syncing in Account Tracker

January 11, 2015 6 comments

aticon57 A significant number of support questions I receive are to do with database syncing in Account Tracker, and almost all of these are to do with iCloud (Personal Sync) rather than Dropbox (Family Sync).

This post tries to explain some of the more common issues related to iCloud syncing in Account Tracker.

First an iCloud overview …

iCloud is basically “cloud” based storage tied to a single iTunes account. Apps can use it to share data between all devices belonging to that user. It cannot be used to share data between different users and that is why I introduced Family Sync – see the Alternatives to iCloud section below.

When an app writes a file to iCloud, the operating system (iOS) takes care of copying this to “the cloud” and from there to other devices. Apps have no control over how long this takes. Often it is seconds, but I have seen delays of many minutes, even up to an hour. On at least two occasions iCloud has been offline for days!

Basic things to check

You should check that you are running the latest versions of my app and of iOS itself. Apple have fixed MANY bugs in iCloud since the release of iOS 8.

To use iCloud, each device needs to be signed in and using the SAME iTunes account. This is done in the main Settings app, under iCloud.

And for iCloud to work, you clearly need network access, otherwise files can’t be copied between devices. This can either be WiFi, or you can control which apps can used cellular data in the main Settings app under Cellular.

Note that devices don’t have to be on the same network. They just need access to the Internet.

iCloud vs iCloud Drive?

With iOS 8 (and OS X Yosemite), Apple introduced iCloud Drive. A user can choose between iCloud and iCloud Drive, however once ANY SINGLE DEVICE moves to iCloud Drive (no matter which one, even your Mac), there is no going back. All of your files are migrated to iCloud Drive and access to iCloud will be blocked for all your other devices. This means that any device not able to run iOS 8 (e.g. the iPhone 4) will lose access to iCloud across all apps!

Basically it’s an all or nothing choice – either you stick to using iCloud everywhere or you move to iCloud Drive everywhere.

If you do want to migrate to iCloud Drive, you do this in the main Settings app, under iCloud. From there you can control which apps have access, and clearly Account Tracker needs to be selected.

Either way, both iCloud and iCloud Drive work the same as far as my app is concerned. Use of the term iCloud from now on can be assumed to mean both iCloud and iCloud Drive.

Exchanging backup files

The easiest way to test whether iCloud is working, is to exchange backup files between devices. In my app go to the Settings tab, make sure iCloud is enabled and go to the Backups screen. From there you can make a backup by selecting the Backup Now row. This will quickly create a new backup and add it to the top of the list of backups. The date and time is encoded in the file name.

Now go to your other device and run my app. Make sure iCloud is enabled in the settings and go to the Backups screen. You should see your new backup listed, if not periodically tap the refresh button at the top right. It can sometimes take a while to appear, but should do so eventually (within 30 minutes for sure).

Next try making a backup in the other direction. On your second device choose Backup Now, see the new file appear and on your first device wait for it to appear there too.

If you can exchange backup files, syncing should “just work”.

Problems enabling syncing

The main issues around enabling syncing all relate to the time it takes for iOS to inform the app about new files appearing in iCloud.

Step 1 is where you enable syncing on your PRIMARY device. This copies a new sync file to iCloud.

Step 2 is where you enable syncing on your SECONDARY device. If it doesn’t give you the option of becoming SECONDARY, this is because the file in step 1 has not appeared on that device. It will do eventually, but you need to give it time (lets say 30 minutes max).

Once enabled on your SECONDARY, step 3 is simply the SECONDARY waiting for an initial sync from your PRIMARY. Make sure my app is running on your PRIMARY device, and eventually you should see the “found a new SECONDARY device” popup. Again this can take a while (lets say 30 minutes max).

Step 4 is simply you initiating the initial sync from PRIMARY to SECONDARY.

Finally step 5 is when the SECONDARY confirms the initial sync is complete. Again this can take a while (you guessed it, 30 minutes max).

In total this setup process involves writing 3 files to iCloud, and all the delays in copying them to “the cloud” and on to all devices. As a reminder I have no control over how long this takes. Having said that, the 5 step process usually takes less than a minute in total. But I have seen big delays (11 minutes for the popup to appear in step 4 for instance).

Syncing has stopped working?

Once syncing is enabled, changes are tracked and when you close the app, that device’s sync file is updated. This eventually makes it to your other devices and you will see the Sync flag on the settings tab.

Sometimes it might appear as if syncing has stopped working. Often this is just iCloud being slow, however I am aware of one Apple issue that causes additional sync files (conflict copies) to be created. If this happens it will appear as if one device is not sending its changes to iCloud. You can see this in the sync log where it will say some number of sync files were “ignored”. The only way to recover from this is to disable syncing on all devices and set it up again, making sure you choose the device with your most up-to-date data as PRIMARY.

Alternatives to iCloud

As you can tell from the above, the main issues I see with iCloud all relate to the time it takes iOS to copy data in the background.

In August 2014 I added support for Family Sync, mainly to allow users with different iTunes accounts to exchange and share data. To do this Family Sync uses Dropbox, and because I am directly copying files to and from Dropbox myself, it is not only a lot faster but it is more reliable too.

Any user can use Family Sync if they prefer – you don’t need a family!

AppStore prices in Europe

January 10, 2015 3 comments

A few days ago, Apple adjusted all the AppStore prices throughout Europe. This is mainly due to changing VAT rules where sales tax now needs to be charged at the prevailing rate in the country of sale, rather than them using the lowest tax rate they could (15% in Luxembourg).

Apple have also made adjustments due to currency fluctuations, which they do from time to time.

In the UK, these price changes are as follows …

69p increases to 79p
£1.49 stays the same
£1.99 increases to £2.29
£2.49 increases to £2.99
£2.99 increases to £3.99
£3.99(?) increases to £4.49
£4.99 stays the same

Developers receive the sale amount minus VAT (Government’s share) minus a further 30% (Apple’s share), so a 79p sale generates 46p of revenue, a £1.49 sale generates 87p of revenue … etc.

For my own apps, Account Tracker is now £2.99, and Meter Readings and Hill Lists stay the same at £1.49. I have also reduced the price of the following in-app purchases …

Account Tracker “Personal Sync” is now £1.49 (the same as “Family Sync”)

Meter Readings “Power User” upgrade is now 79p

2014 highlights

December 31, 2014 6 comments

As 2014 comes to a close, I would like to wish everyone a happy and prosperous new year – hopefully 2015 will be a good one too!

Here are some personal highlights from the past 12 months …

  • My wife turned 50 and celebrated by completing her first marathon!
  • I climbed 47 new Munros (Scottish hills over 3000ft), finishing my 25 year round on 19th November
  • After 16 years, my ex-company decided to get rid of our entire group making 80 people redundant :-(
  • Unemployment was short lived as a competitor flew in and hired almost everyone! :-)
  • I went on 173 runs, clocking up over 1500 km with almost 31 km of ascent

Some app highlights …

  • My website had 134,030 views from 43,603 visitors. These came from 163 countries!
  • There were 1945 comments, which probably means I answered close to 1000 queries (or 3 per day!)
  • iOS 8 was released. Still lots of bugs in Apple’s code, particularly around iCloud :-(
  • I launched a backup viewer for Mac but this hasn’t been particularly successful :-(
  • I did 25 (FREE) app updates throughout the year: 9 on Account Tracker, 7 on Hill Lists, 6 on Meter Readings and 3 on my Mac app
  • I am thinking about a rewrite of Account Tracker for 2015. We’ll see …

Now, its time for a beer I think … cheers!

(Shamelessly copied and edited from last year)

Munro stats

December 30, 2014 Leave a comment

hlicon57 Now that I have finished my Munros, I thought I’d pull together some stats of my round.

In the end it took me 131 hill days, giving an average of 2.15 hills per day.

The most I climbed on a single day was 7 (the South Glen Shiel Ridge, of course). I also did one round of 6 (east of Glenshee), four rounds of 5 (Lochnagar, Ben Lawers, the western Mamores and Mullardoch/Affric), 16 rounds of 4 (too many to list!), 15 rounds of 3, 46 pairs and 48 single hills.

I don’t have EXACT dates for 4 hill days (when I climbed 9 hills), but for the rest the three most popular months were July (63 hills or 23.1%), May (61 hills or 22.3%) and September (36 hills or 13.2%). Other months were August (27 hills or 9.9%), April and June (26 hills or 9.5%), October (17 hills or 6.2%), March (10 hills or 3.7%), November (3 hills or 1.1%) and February and December (2 hills or 0.7%). I don’t appear to have climbed any in January!

I only remember having two pairs of boots: Karrimor KSBs and a sturdier 3 season boot from Berghaus (both now worn out!). A small number of hills were done in Walsh PB Ultras and/or Inov-8 Mudclaw 265s, mainly in the summer months.

It would be nice to work out how far I walked and climbed, but that would take quite some time. I would guess at around 15-25km and 800-1000m ascent (and descent!) per day. Times 131 of course!

Importing transfer transactions

December 10, 2014 Leave a comment

aticon57 atficon57 By default, transactions are imported from a CSV file using a single row per transaction. For transfers, you simply specify the “other” account in the details column in square brackets, and you control the direction with the amount (+ve or -ve). For example, to transfer 100.00 from your Current account to your Visa account, paid with cheque number 100001, use the row …

Current,10/12/2014,[Visa],Credit Card,Paid in full,100001,-100.00,Y

In version 4.5.1 onwards, I now support importing transfers from two separate rows. The above example can also be specified as

Current,10/12/2014,<Visa>,Credit Card,Paid in full,100001,-100.00,Y
Visa,10/12/2014,<Current>,Credit Card,Paid in full,100001,100.00,Y

The rules are that the rows need to be adjacent, the accounts need to be different (clearly), the dates need to be the same, the details fields need to specify the other account in angle brackets, the category needs to be the same, the notes (if specified) need to be the same and the cheque number (if specified on both rows) needs to be the same.

If the accounts are in the same currency, the amounts also need to be the same (but clearly one must be +ve and the other -ve). If they are in different currencies, you can now specific the two amounts separately.

Finally you can specific the reconcile flag separately per account.

Account Tracker 4.5.1 now available

December 9, 2014 4 comments

aticon57 atficon57 These ongoing (FREE) updates can only continue with YOUR support. Please help by leaving a review on iTunes (since previous reviews are removed with each update), and by telling others about #AccountTracker on social media (e.g. Facebook and Twitter). Alternatively you can always make a donation on my website. :-)

Added a small but powerful new feature that you might like (a lot). Please read the User Guide for details of this any many other features. Hint: advanced settings …

Added support for importing transfer transactions using two separate rows in a CSV file (one for each account). See my support pages for more details.

When stepping forward beyond 24 months, a right tap will advance to the end of current year and then forwards a year at a time.

Fixed a difficult to reproduce bug that might have caused transactions to be duplicated when using Family Sync. Apologies if you saw this issue.

If you are using iCloud for syncing, note that Apple fixed a lot of issues in iOS 8.1.1. Please update if you have yet to do so.

Other minor improvements.

The Munros, ~1987-2014

November 29, 2014 4 comments

hlicon57 Did you know that my Hill Lists app was written specifically for me to track my own Munros (the 282 Scottish hills at least 3000 feet in height)?

After ~27 years, I finally “compleated” them on 19th November, so thought I would write up my journey. In it I include some links to photos. You can either click on these separately, or feel free to browse them all on Twitter.

The Early Years (~1987-2002)

I can’t actually remember when I did my first Munro, other than knowing it was before we were married. We had a trip around the Highlands (a long way from Cambridge at the time) and I remember doing the Five Sisters of Kintail and Ruadh-stac Mor on Beinn Eighe. It might have been Beinn Alligin, or perhaps Cairn Gorm while there on a University ski trip.

We moved to Edinburgh in 1993 and it then became a lot easier. I carried my (then first) son up Ben Hope and Ben Vorlich (Loch Earn), something I’d struggle to do now! I picked off a lot of the eastern Munros on orienteering trips to Deeside, most notable was the complete plane wreck on top of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor. A good few others were climbed during family holidays (Liathach, Sgurr nan Gillean … etc). I remember spotting ring ouzels on the Aonach Eagach ridge and also on Beinn Eunaich, but haven’t seen them since.

In September 2000, my work took part in a Guinness Book of Records attempt on the most hills climbed simultaneously, where we had to be on a particular summit at midday. We did the two Munros on Buachaille Etive Mor. And yes we got the record!

Munro Bagger (2003)

I only really started counting in 2003. I did all the central Cairngorms in one trip, staying at the Falls of Avon and Corrour bothies.

The next few years saw a steady 15 per year. Loads of mountain hares on Ben Chonzie (2004). The kids made it up An Caisteal (2004) and a very boggy Ben More on Mull (2006). Spotted a male hen harrier coming off Carn Liath (2006). My worst yearly total was 6, including a wet Beinn a Chaorainn and Beinn Teallach (2008).

In 2009 things picked up again. All those beginning with F (on 21st Feb), the western Mamores and those around Bridge of Orchy. While doing the Black Mount, I almost stood on a red deer calf before it ran off to its mother. Later that day I followed a cuckoo a long way down the West Highland Way.

A family trip to Skye in 2010 to do the southern Cuillins, where I took the whole family up and over the Inaccessible Pinnacle. 2010 was the first of many trips to Cluanie, with its 20-odd Munros all in the one valley.

We had a holiday cottage in Ullapool in early 2011, and I did Beinn Dearg, the western Fannaichs and Ben More Assynt and Conival. The Etive peaks were finished after a speeding ticket going through Lochearnhead. :-(

Only 100 to Go (2012)

Going in to 2012 I had just over 100 to go. I finished the Mamores and did the remote Carn an Fhidhleir and An Sgarsoch from Linn of Dee (one of my favourite places). A few days later I finished the Fannaichs. My final trip of the year involved getting the train in to Corrour station, staying at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel and doing the 5 Munros between there and Fersit, getting the train back from Tulloch. Certainly a different and romantic way to do some hills.

2013 started with the whole family doing Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach by Loch Quoich in glorious sunshine, as well as Maol Chean-dearg in Strath Carron. A similar trip north saw us doing the 7 Munros of the South Cluanie Ridge on another very hot day. After Gairich we saw a pine martin by Loch Garry, and after Beinn Sgritheall we spotted a sea eagle by the Glenelg ferry. We did the Strathfarrar Munros on a windy day, and my last trip of the year was to Culra bothy to do the Ben Alder six. I don’t know why I finished so early (July) – I guess 28 Munros was a pretty good yearly total!

A Big Push (May-September 2014)

So this brings me to 2014. I had always wanted to finish the Munros before I was 50 (next year), but with 47 to go it was going to be a stretch. Looking back at my many trips, the year has been a blur, but with some really spectacular hills. Almost all were climbed in excellent weather too. :-)

Gulvain was the first, followed by the spectacular Sgurr na Ciche (that Loch Arkaig road is a real roller coaster). A complete Loch Mullardoch round with a very cold high camp saw me complete Glen Affric too, surely one of Scotland’s prettiest valleys? Brocken spectres on Carn Eige, a golden eagle in Knoydart, ptarmigan chicks and a merlin on Bla Bheinn, spectacular cloud inversion on a round of Corrie Laggan, the Grey Corries, the Aonachs and Ben Nevis via the Carn Mor Dearg arete, Lurg Mhor to Maoile Lunndaidh with a high overnight camp, Slioch with its goats, and finally Fisherfield with an overnight camp on the summit of A’Mhaighdean and the best sunrise ever!

“Compleation” (18-19th November 2014)

And then it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. My last 3 were all near Ullapool, a long way to go if the weather wasn’t settled. I was beginning to think there was no chance before the end of the year. But then the weather gods smiled on me, with three days of sunshine forecast for the west coast. We drove north and did Seana Bhraigh from Oykel Bridge (by bike) on Tuesday 18th November. It had to be an early start as we only had 8 hours of daylight, but the weather was good, and we saw more Brocken spectres on the summit.

Finally on Wednesday 19th November, we drove to Dundonnell in the dark, and started walking at 8:30am. Apart from a tiny bit of cloud sitting on the tops (that cleared), it was a beautiful sunny day. An Teallach, with its 2 Munros, is a mountain I have read about for years. I have looked at it from all the surrounding hills, studied the pictures and I knew exactly what to expect. After an enjoyable walk up, it didn’t disappoint at all. :-)

It would have been nice to have arranged more of a summit party, but due to my incredibly bad planning, the dubious weather and leaving such a remote hill until last, it just turned out to be too difficult. But I did get to share my moment of glory with my wife (of course). Plus the “entire” British Army on training!!

So What Next?

It will be nice to do hills and routes that I fancy doing, rather than being driven by a list. So I am really thankful there aren’t any other lists of hills to be done!

Oh, hang on …