Archive for February, 2014

Orchid Album Preview

Track your orchid collection on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch – Coming Soon!

Development on Orchid Album is coming along well, so today I’m posting a few early screenshots, along with the just-completed app icon.

Orchid Album is my forthcoming iOS app for orchid enthusiasts. It’s a great tool for keeping track of all the details and milestones in the lives of your orchids, and everything is stored on your iOS device for quick reference and easy record updates.

If Orchid Album sounds interesting and you’d like to either participate in the Beta test or be notified when the app launches, head on over to the email sign-up page. There’s also an Orchid Album Facebook page. If you’ve got any questions, suggestions, or other comments, I’d love to hear them either here or via email: OrchidAlbum AT andrewnicolle DOT com.

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Introducing Cactus Album

Cactus Album is now available on the App Store for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

“Cactus Album

Today I present my fourth iOS app, Cactus Album. Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch with iOS 5.0 or higher, Cactus Album is an indispensable tool for keeping track of your cacti and succulent collection, watering schedules, and notes.

Cactus Album features the ability to store multiple full-screen captioned photos for each cacti or log entry. The photos are captured either via the device camera, or from the photo library. They are stored internally in high resolution, scaled up or down when displayed depending upon the capabilities of your device. Cactus Album takes full advantage of Retina and iPad displays, but also works great on previous generations of hardware.

The Cactus Album database itself is portable between your various devices, so you can back it up to your computer over a local WiFi network from either an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, and restore it onto another Apple device. You can also import or export data without modifying the existing data on your device, or transfer the database directly between devices.

The first and third tabs of the app display thumbnail images in table form for each cacti or log entry. In addition, the cacti thumbnail images can be viewed in a scrollable grid. This makes it easier to locate an item in your collection visually, or based on the title or species. As with my other apps, the Cactus Album user interface has been designed to make it as quick and easy to enter and view details about your collection as possible.

You can find more details on my website or on the Cactus Album Facebook page. If you’re not entirely convinced Cactus Album will work for you, there’s even a free Lite version you can try out. This version is limited to 3 cacti, 3 watering schedules, and 3 log entries with 3 photos each, and only supports backup and export over WiFi. Otherwise it’s identical to the full version.

In case you’re curious what prompted me to create such an app, you can read all about it in my earlier blog post.

If you enjoy cacti and succulents, I hope you find Cactus Album useful, and I welcome any feature suggestions and comments you may have. Enjoy!

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Announcing Orchid Album for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch


With my forthcoming app, Cactus Album, still pending approval by Apple, I’ve been thinking about my next iOS project. Around the same time I commenced development on Cactus Album, I’d been considering another insistent idea. For years now I’ve received emails from people wishing I’d make apps covering some interest or other. Most of these ideas are well-served by existing apps in the App Store, and don’t typically sound like the sorts of things I’d care to invest months of effort into and years of support. However, some email last year piqued my interest, but I had to mull it over for awhile before deciding to proceed.

Since today is still Valentine’s Day in this part of the world, I figured it was the perfect time to announce my next iOS app, Orchid Album, coming to the App Store in Spring 2014.

For those who know me either personally or via Twitter, you’d be aware I have a bunch of interests in addition to app development. My interests lean heavily toward gardening-related hobbies, with bonsai, cacti and veggie gardening being chief among them. I’ve created a well-received bonsai app, and the aforementioned app for cacti and succulent collectors.

I was first introduced to the world of orchids during my childhood in Australia whilst enjoying the garden of some elderly neighbours. They had quite a collection in a shaded enclosure in their huge backyard, and it was always fun to see how their plants were progressing. Since then I’ve admired the collection in the greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Garden, but hadn’t considered owning any until recently.

What changed was the announcement a few months back by the Chicago Botanic Garden of their forthcoming orchid show. I’ve been following their updates with keen interest as organization of the show progressed, and I’ve done some of my own research into these fascinating plants. I’ve since learned that northern Illinois is home to some great orchid nurseries within driving distance, as well as an upcoming show this weekend. With this nightmarishly cold winter we’ve been having, a taste of the tropics certainly sounds appealing! As of today, we have some nice Phalaenopsis orchids under lights in our basement, and have plans to attend the orchid show at the DuPage County Fairground this weekend.

During my research over the past few months, I’ve discovered that mobile options for tracking orchid blooms and other milestones are rather thin on the ground in the App Store. People seem to be getting by with spreadsheets and databases on their PCs, or they’re using specialist orchid applications for tracking their collections. These are often pricey, and quite possibly more than most people need. Since there seems to be demand for such an app, I’ve decided to make Orchid Album my next project.

I’m still considering the feature list, but you can get some idea of my plans for the general look and feel from my other gardening apps. Orchid Album will be a universal app, meaning it’ll work on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. If you’re interested in learning more about Orchid Album, visit the Orchid Album Facebook page or sign up at my website to be notified via email when the app launches (and also when the Beta test begins).

I can’t wait to get started on Orchid Album, and I look forward to providing more information closer to launch!

P.S. If you’re in the Chicagoland area, pay a visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden over the next few weeks. Their orchid show is in full swing, and it sounds absolutely fantastic.

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Cactus Album – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

“Cactus Album

The following will hopefully address any questions or concerns you may have about Cactus Album. I’ll be updating this post as new questions arise. Let me know if I’ve missed anything!

1. Is Cactus Album available for my Mac, PC, Android phone, or other platform of choice? If not, when?

Cactus Album is currently available on the Apple iTunes App Store for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

If there’s sufficient interest, I may develop a Mac version. I currently have no plans for any other platforms.

2. I have an iPad and an iPhone. Do I have to buy the app twice?

No, Cactus Album is a universal app, so provided you use the same iTunes account on all your devices, you only have to buy the app once, and it can be installed on all your iOS devices.

3. I’m not sure if Cactus Album will suit my needs. Is there a free trial version available?

Yes, Cactus Album Lite is available on the App Store, for free. This contains all the features of the full version, other than the database import and restore. It’s also limited to 3 cacti, 3 watering schedules, and 3 log entries with 3 photos each. That should be enough to give you some idea of whether the app will work for you.

4. Will Cactus Album be localized into my language soon?

Possibly. I’ll be analyzing download and sales numbers to determine whether localization is worthwhile for various languages.

5. Can I export photos from the database?

Yes – see question 21. Also note that the originals are left undisturbed in the photo library on your device. Photos taken within the app are saved to the camera roll on your device.

6. Is it possible to sort the cacti by species, rather than name?

Tap the Settings button on the Tools screen and select the “Sort cacti by species” button under Sort Options. Tap Done, and you’ll find all cacti are now sorted by species. Repeat these steps to sort by name again.

7. What is the purpose of the button next to the plus button on the cacti screen?

This button is used to toggle between the table view and the photo grid view. The photo grid displays larger versions of the thumbnail photos seen in the table view, with empty cells for those cacti without a stored photo. With a large collection, the photo grid view is scrollable, and it should be easier to locate a particular cactus than with the table view. Tapping a photo in the grid will display the information associated with that photo.

8. What is the purpose of the Type field on the Log Info screen?

The type field is used by the app to determine what should be displayed in the Logs list for that log entry. For instance, selecting Cactus will show the cactus name selected in the Cactus field, and Note will show a brief summary taken from the Notes field. Select either Cactus or Note in the Type field depending on what information that particular log entry is recording.

9. How do I re-order the photos on the Cacti Info or Log Info screens?

After the entry has been saved, tap on it and then tap the Photos button in the upper-right part of the screen. This will show all the photos associated with the Cactus or Log. Tap and hold on the photo you’d like to move on the Info screen, then drag it to its new position. When you return to the Info screen the photo slots will reflect the new order.

10. How do I add text captions to my photos? How can I hide them to take a closer look at the photo?

Tap on the photo you’d like to add a caption to. Tap the word balloon icon at the bottom of the screen (the one in the middle), then type in the text caption you’d like to associate with that photo. Tap Done. The new or modified text caption will now be displayed. Note that only the first few lines of the caption will be superimposed over the photo. To hide the captions along with the icons and navigation bar, tap once on the photo. You can scroll between the photos by swiping left and right, and zoom-in by making a pinching gesture, or double-tapping.

11. How do I capture sold, stolen or dead plants, or other events?

The place for capturing these events is on the Log Entry screen. Create a new Log entry, tap the Event field followed by the Add New Event button. Type in the new Event (Sold, for instance) and tap Done or outside the field (on iPad). The new Event will now be available for use with this and other log entries. Select the Event, then on the Cactus field, select the corresponding plant. Set the Type field to Cactus. Set the date the Event occurred, and add any relevant photos or notes. Tap Done, and the new dated Log entry will appear in the list. Now when you tap the Log History button on the Cactus Info screen, you’ll see the complete history of the plant.

12. How do I backup the Cactus Album database to my computer?

To transfer the data to your computer, you’ll need all devices on the same local WiFi network as your computer (Mac, PC, or other). Note that all the data is still saved on your device and backed-up whenever you do an iTunes or iCloud backup.

To transfer to your computer and also to a spreadsheet, follow these steps:

(1) Tap the Backup Database button on the Tools screen within the app. If you only want to backup cacti and watering schedule data, tap Export Data instead. The app will display a message with the IP address (some numbers) of your device on your network. It might look something like this:
(2) Enter the address displayed by the app into the web browser on your computer. You should see a Cactus Album page appear. This is actually from the app on your device.
(3) Download the Cactus Album CDBI file to your computer. You might also want to download the CSV file. This CSV file can be imported into a spreadsheet program on your computer, while the CDBI file is only readable via the app. Note that only the CDBI file contains the cacti and log photos.

Cactus Album also supports iTunes File Sharing. Open iTunes, navigate to the Apps section on your device, and click on the Cactus Album icon in the File Sharing section. The database filename will appear in the table on the right.

13. I have a Cactus Album database on my computer. How do I transfer it back to my device?

As with database backup, you’ll need all devices on the same local WiFi network as your computer (Mac, PC, or other).

(1) Tap the Restore Database button on the Tools screen within the app. If you don’t want to completely overwrite the database on your device, you might want to select Import Database instead. Note that if you’re importing, you may see duplicate entries on your device after the import is complete. The app will display a message with the IP address (some numbers) of your device on your network.
(2) Enter the address displayed by the app into the web browser on your computer. You should see a Cactus Album page appear.
(3) Within the web browser, select the Cactus Album CDBI file on your computer. Click the Restore (or Import) button in your browser to send the database to your device.
(4) Your device will receive the database and will ask for confirmation, displaying some info about the database.
(5) Tap the Restore button on your device and the database will be processed. If you’re importing instead, you’ll see another screen where you can select what you want to import (All, only Cacti, only Watering Schedules, or Cacti and Watering Schedules).
(6) Once complete, the app will display a popup letting you know the transfer is complete. The data from your computer will now be on your device.

14. I have an iPad and an iPhone. How do I keep the databases in sync between them? Does the app have iCloud support?

Cactus Album currently doesn’t have a simple means of keeping databases synchronized on separate devices. However, it is still possible to transfer the database between devices manually:

1. Select Backup Database on the first device.
2. Enter the address into the web browser on the second device.
3. Tap the “cactusalbum.cdbi” link and wait for the file to download.
4. Tap the Open in “CactusAlbum” button.
5. Cactus Album will load. Tap Restore to transfer the complete database.

Cactus Album does not support syncing via iCloud.

15. I have Cactus Album Lite and just bought the full version. How do I transfer my data from the Lite version?

After you’ve purchased the full version and run it at least once, load the Lite version and tap on the tools icon on the bottom-right of the screen. Tap the “Export to Full App” button, then “Open in Cactus Album.” When the full version appears, tap the Restore button to transfer the database.

16. I have a whole spreadsheet of data I’d like to import into the app. How can I do that?

Provided your spreadsheet program can export to CSV format and allows you to specify comma separators and dates in a particular format, you should be able to import it into the app. Cactus Album expects to receive CSV data according to the CSV template file, available in the Downloads section of the site. This template file can also be downloaded when connecting to the app via your web browser.

17. Can you incorporate some new fields into the app? Can I change the names of any of the data fields?

Incorporating new fields is possible, but keep in mind that screen real estate is very limited on the iPhone and iPod touch. I’ve tried to select fields that would be useful for most cacti and succulent enthusiasts, and have tried to minimize clutter as much as possible. The notes fields may be used to store additional data for each cactus, watering schedule, or log. Sorry, the names of the data fields cannot be changed.

18. How do I use the reminder feature?

First, pick a log entry or create a new one. Select Yes next to the Reminder field, and a popup will appear asking if you want to add a reminder to the calendar. Tap Add and another screen will appear where you can create a calendar entry. If there’s already an entry, it’ll allow you to edit it (or delete it). If Reminder is set to Yes, changing the date will also show a popup asking if you want to add/edit on the calendar. If you leave the app and check your device calendar, the entry should be recorded against the date/time you set.

The idea is you set a future date, set Reminder to Yes, and the log entry will be highlighted on and after that date. The number badge at the bottom of the screen and on the app icon will be updated to reflect the number of Reminders Due (ie highlighted on or after the stored dates). The Reminders Due statistic is also updated. Once you’ve taken care of the task (fertilizing, repotting, etc), set Reminder back to No.

19. How do watering schedules work?

Watering schedules are a convenient way to remind you when certain plants in your collection need watering. You can configure how frequently they need watering (Water Every field), how much (Quantity field), when they were last watered, and when they shouldn’t be watered (No Water Between fields).

The app automatically calculates the next watering date based on the information you’ve entered. If there’s a conflict or insufficient information, you’ll see None Scheduled beside the Next Watering field. A local notification is automatically scheduled on your device once there’s a valid Next Watering date.

Tap the Watering field for individual plants to associate them with a certain watering schedule. If you have a lot of plants, a quicker way is to tap the Watering schedule, tap the Notes button at the bottom of the screen, then tap the Cacti To Water button. This will bring up the Cacti To Water screen. To add or remove plants from a certain Watering schedule, tap the + button in the top right-hand corner. You can then select which plants to add to the schedule by tapping on them in the list. A blue watering-can icon will appear next to the plants you’ve selected. To remove a plant from the schedule, return to this screen, tap the plant and the watering-can icon will disappear.

By associating a plant with a watering schedule, the Last Watered and Next Watering fields for each associated plant will be updated automatically whenever the Watering schedule is updated. While it is possible to change the Last Watered field directly for individual plants, it is not recommended since the watering of this plant will become out of sync with the associated watering schedule.

20. How do watering schedule local notifications work?

Watering schedule notifications are created whenever you modify the relevant fields on the Watering Schedule screen, with a date / time appearing in the Next Watering field. This field is updated and the local notification changed automatically whenever you update any of the following fields: Water Every, Last Watered, or No Water Between.

The local notification will trigger on your device at the scheduled Next Watering time, whether the app is running or not. The notification will only trigger once. If you’re using the app when the notification triggers, a watering alert will appear on the screen and number badges above Cacti and Watering will appear. If you’re outside the app, the notification will appear at the top of your screen, and the app icon’s badge number will change. Tap on the notification to enter the app.

To disable (or enable) local notifications for Cactus Album, visit the Notification Center in the Settings on your device. Scroll through the list of apps, select Cactus Album, and modify the notification settings to your preference.

21. How do I use the cacti report feature? How do I view the cacti report?

The cacti report feature is enabled by default. To change the report options, tap the Settings button on the Tools screen. From there you can scroll down to the Database Export settings and configure the following options:

(1) Generate cacti report – tap this to turn cacti report generation On or Off.
(2) Small photos / Medium photos / Large photos – tap this to select the size of the photos that will appear in the cacti report. Small photos will display thumbnail versions of each photo, while Large photos will display full-size photos, as they would appear on an iPad. Medium photos are half the size of the large photos.
(3) Clear cache – tap this to clear the photo cache. This setting is usually not needed.

Once set, the options above will apply whenever the cacti report is generated. There is no need to change them every time.

To generate the cacti report, tap the Backup Database or Export Data button on the Tools screen. The database may take several seconds or minutes to be prepared, depending on the speed of your device and how large your collection is. Once the database has been prepared, a popup with an address (numbers) will appear. Enter this address into your web browser exactly as it appears. Click on the Cacti Report link at the bottom of the web page that appears in your browser. The cacti report shows a summary of your collection, followed by the data and photos for every cactus, watering schedule, and log entry in your collection. This report can be useful for inventory or insurance purposes, and may be saved or printed from within your web browser.

22. How do I save or print the cacti report?

To print the cacti report, use your web browser’s print feature. To save the cacti report, you can use the web page archiving feature of your web browser. Most web browsers allow you to create an archive of web pages, including all images, for saving to your computer.

In Safari, select the Save As option in the File menu. Ensure the Format or Save as type field is set to Web Archive. Enter the filename and click Save.

In Internet Explorer, select the Save As option in the File menu. Ensure the Save as type field is set to Webpage, complete or Web Archive, single file. Enter the filename and click Save.

In Mozilla Firefox, select the Save As Page option in the File menu. Ensure the Save as type field is set to Web Page, complete. Enter the filename and click Save.

In Google Chrome, select the Save Page As option in the File menu. Ensure the Format field is set to Webpage, Complete. Enter the filename and click Save.

23. When I view the cacti report in my web browser, why are some of the photos different to those shown in the app?

The cacti report feature uses a cache, which is another way of saying it stores the photos for fast access later. Sometimes the cache may be out of date, causing the app to become confused and start displaying old photos in the cacti report. While this is unlikely to occur, you can fix the problem by tapping the Settings button on the Tools screen. Scroll to the bottom of the list to the Database Export settings. Tap Clear cache, and the photo cache will be cleared. Regenerate the cacti report to confirm the photos are correct.

24. I just bought the full version of Cactus Album, but the app only allows me to store 2 photos per plant (iPhone / iPod), or 5 photos on the iPad. Why don’t you increase this limit? How can I show the complete life of my plant with such a limitation?

While it is true that you only see this limited number of photos on the main Info screen for each Cactus (or Log), there is actually no hard limit on the number of photos you can store, other than the space available on your device. There is limited screen real-estate available, and the small number of photo slots are designed to both fit in the available space and allow you to quickly add a few photos for the plant.

To add more photos, tap the Photos button in the top-right corner on the Info screen for the Cactus (or Log). This will present you with a scrollable photo grid displaying all of the photos for that particular Cactus. To add more, tap the + button in the top-right corner of the Photos screen.

You may also decide which of your photos best showcases your plant for display on the main Info screen. To choose these photos, rearrange them on the Photos screen for that plant. Place the desired photos in the first through fifth positions. See question 9 for details on re-ordering photos.

25. I have questions, feature requests, or concerns that aren’t listed above. How can I contact you?

You can reach me via email (, on the Cactus Album Facebook page, or on Twitter (I’m @andrewnicolle). I can usually respond to queries within 24 hours. If you like Cactus Album, please spread the word! Share your thoughts with other cacti and succulent enthusiasts by rating or reviewing the app on the App Store. I use this feedback to gauge continued interest in the app and to plan future updates.

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