This has been a very unusual year for so many reasons that we all know. Frustration, sadness, but also change and hope.
About our developments, the team had to adapt and has been mostly working remotely. We tried to keep our focus as much as possible on bringing substantial improvements to our apps, implementing both user requests, adapting to new paradigms from Apple, as well as innovating on our main strengths & preparing the future.
Here's a quick recap of our recent releases in 2020.
Inko 2.0 & 2.1 (Collaborative Drawing)
In 2020, we brought Inko 2 out in May with the support of remote drawing (server backend) as well as a new macOS app through our first try at Mac Catalyst apps. Inko has been a pioneering app for us: our first app on Apple TV, our first app to make use of permanent cloud-based network connection for real-time collaboration, our first Mac Catalyst app. About Mac Catalyst, it was certainly not a simple move as we wanted to have a great experience on the Mac, not just a quick port, but at the same time Mac Catalyst (the first release) was so young & required a substantial number of hacks to make an acceptable app, which was both frustrating and exciting. Also, Inko (as well as Carbo) had a OpenGL rendering backend that we had to port to Metal, because Mac Catalyst wouldn't enable OpenGL rendering. We did our homework, and finally shipped it in May 2020. At the end of 2020, we shipped an important update as well to support iOS 14 (new widgets) and to cope with what we call Mac Catalyst v2 (Big Sur), and that was a relief as it now provides a much improved user experience from the previous one. Not yet a totally native Mac UI, but we now got speed (especially in Metal), and a much improved appearance with native controls (Optimized for Mac, as they say).
Emulsio 3.5 (Video Stabilization, Timeline Editing, Transcoding)
With Emulsio, we have a growing number of more advanced users for 4K and drone videos, among other things. Their number one request was to be able to control output quality. We were previously using the standard video export session of AVFoundation, which was easy to use, but was limited to just a few quality presets. So we implemented a fully featured video encoder relying on lower level AVFoundation (in turn accessing specific/optimized video encoding hardware of iPhone / iPad) and plugged it to our GPU frame rendering workflow. We can now provide output video at very high bitrate (>200 Mbps) for the most demanding use cases, including processing video obtained by higher-end cameras with larger sensors. This video encoding of Emulsio thus makes use of the native hardware encoder of iOS devices, which is both extremely fast and power efficient. We're not finished though, next steps are Metal & HDR stabilization and it's on our TODO list. Oh, and we also used this update to experiment with SwiftUI (the encoder settings are implemented that way) to get a first step into this new tech, and we also exposed the transcoding capability (no stabilization, just changing video format) as an iOS extension in this version. Combined with a gimbal, software stabilization gives exceptional quality & control, and we are thrilled to continue pushing things forward on that front.
Prizmo 5.3 (Pro Document Scanner)
Our pro scanning app Prizmo for iOS just got an important update to improve the iPad user experience, with keyboard and pointer (trackpad or mouse). OK that’s 2021, but development efforts mostly took place in 2020. We continue to further expose the new OCR capabilities of iOS 14, a.k.a. Apple OCR, now available in these languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Simplified Chinese (was English only in iOS 13, other languages are still supported through our usual alternate OCR engine). Combined with advanced PDF caching, image cleanup options, and auto upload, custom compression (JBIG2) & small file size exports, Prizmo continues to offer advanced capabilities in the scanning field. Prizmo 5 was a multi-year project for us where we brought entirely new foundations, and we'll continue to build on that and bring support for latest OS features & new capabilities. So, scanning enthusiasts, stay tuned!
Carbo 2 (Digital Notebook for Handwriting Enthusiasts)
Carbo is a digital notebook app that was designed to bring handwriting into the digital realm. Both real handwriting (on paper) through a specific photo capture process that keeps all the finest details, as well as, more recently, using the Apple Pencil to draw directly on the tablet. Before 2020, we synced these notes on iPhone and iPad. Now, Carbo 2 brings note access and editing to the Mac, being our second Mac Catalyst app (the new one from Big Sur), fulfilling the vision of bridging handwriting & the digital ecosystem. You can now access your notes through the entire Apple ecosystem.
Carbo shares some technology foundation with Inko (the pixel-free rendering), and as such it had the same constraint of requiring Metal on the Mac (Catalyst does not allow OpenGL). Whereas Inko was released on Catalyst v1 (macOS 10.15 Catalina), Carbo skipped that release to focus directly on Catalyst v2 (macOS 11 Big Sur), which is a much richer environment. Carbo 2 thus features the Optimized for Mac technology, and feels snappier and better integrated for macOS users than it would have been otherwise.
Mac Apps on Apple Silicon
Finally, we were all very excited here about the WWDC 2020 with the announcement of Apple Silicon. Apple nails it here, because they know what really makes a difference in the final products, which CPU or GPU features make sense in the software and that should be optimized. Our company immediately took part in the transitioning program, and we have now released all of our Mac apps optimized for the new Apple M series of processors. And they scream!
To talk about the work that was involved here: it's not that much about the apps themselves, as this is mostly higher level code that ports easily to different CPU architectures, the hard work has been mostly to have our dependencies compile with the new tools (Xcode betas, with late changes up to November GM release), as this can be really involved with different build environments (Autotool, Makefile, CMake, third-party crash-reporting frameworks). It was also a great occasion to revisit our building tools and to automate many things along the way, and we're glad to be able to offer our apps to this amazing new platform. Another difficulty was Metal code, which had a number of different behaviors on Apple Silicon versus Intel/AMD GPU, and required stepping through code on both platforms to determine & hopefully fix any issue there.
There's also what's not visible as of now, the submarine stuff, as we are preparing for the future both technology-wise and platform-wise. This took important efforts in 2020 and we really can't wait to bring these things to the public. Also, we are very thankful to Apple about the Small Business Program, as this brings some fresh air and puts us in better shape to continue innovating.
In 2021, we’ve already been exploring new business models (subscription as a choice - more on that later), and we’ll try to revive some of our older heroes with phenomenal new powers, and who knows, maybe try new stuff.
So, stay tuned for more! And have a great new 2021 year everyone!