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Get the TidBITS News App for iOS 4.2 and iOS 5 Now

The free TidBITS News app for iOS, written by our own Matt Neuburg, presents the current titles, blurbs, and stories from our Web site in a standard master-detail view, and also saves all that information on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch for convenient offline reading. It also lets you listen to any of those stories for which a podcast recording has been created, though that feature does require a live Internet connection.

The current version of TidBITS News (1.4) was created for iOS 4.2 way back in January 2011, and works fine under iOS 5 as well. However, iOS 6 radically changes the way iOS lays out text, and therefore introduces a bug in the display of titles and blurbs. To squash this bug, Matt had to rewrite the text display code in iOS 6 terms. But as long as he was doing that, he took advantage of the moment to rewrite the entire codebase from the ground up, eliminating all sorts of accumulated cruft, and taking advantage of features in iOS 5 and iOS 6 that weren’t available when he created version 1.4.

All of that is great, and we’ll say more about what’s new when the new version 1.5 becomes available. Right now, though, we wanted to give a heads-up encouragement to anyone and everyone who doesn’t have the TidBITS News app already, and who thinks they might want to run it on an older iPhone or original iPad (really, any device that’s limited to iOS 4.2 or iOS 5) to download version 1.4 from the App Store now if they haven’t done so already, because:

  • Version 1.5 will require iOS 6, and thus won’t install on a device that isn’t running iOS 6 or later.

  • Once version 1.5 is released, version 1.4 will no longer be available at the App Store.

Here’s a quick word about each of those points.

Why remove backward-compatibility with iOS 4.2 and iOS 5 in the new version of our app? Hey, don’t look at us! It’s Apple’s fault. Apple makes writing backward-compatible code just too difficult. The current version of Xcode, needed in order to link your app against iOS 6, drops support for ARMv6, meaning any device that can’t be upgraded from iOS 4.2 to iOS 5. And given the plethora of changes from iOS 5 to iOS 6, writing code that would run equally well under both systems, taking advantage of iOS 6 features where they exist, laying out the text in two completely different ways depending which on system you’re on, and so forth, is just too time-consuming and picky. It would be full of complicated conditional code (whereas the whole point of this rewrite was to simplify the code), and it would be difficult to test. Since version 1.4 runs fine under iOS 5, it makes more sense for version 1.5 to move on and require iOS 6.

Why remove version 1.4 from the App Store when version 1.5 comes out? Hey, don’t look at us! It’s Apple’s fault. (Isn’t it great, being able to say that twice in one article?) This is an App Store policy, and represents a problem faced by all iOS developers. It’s entirely common for Mac developers to drop backward compatibility with an older version of Mac OS X in a new version of an application while keeping older application versions available for download by users with older systems or hardware, but that’s not possible with the App Store (or the Mac App Store). As usual, Apple demonstrates here how it increasingly cares only about current products, regardless of how users and developers might be happy to continue using and supporting older devices.

So, users whose devices have come to the end of the line with iOS 4.2 and iOS 5, download the TidBITS News app now if you haven’t done so already, because once Apple approves the new version, you won’t be able to get the old version.


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Comments about Get the TidBITS News App for iOS 4.2 and iOS 5 Now
(Comments are closed.)

Dan O'Donnell  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2012-12-10 21:01
It would not be hard for Apple to qualify devices by iOS and app version compatibility and then not allow them to download and replace the existing and still functional older apps. Apple ignores this. Very infuriating.
Matt Neuburg  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-12-10 21:10
That's not my experience. When I stayed with iOS 5, no iOS 6-only apps were transferred to my device; when I updated it to iOS 6, they were. I have never seen an app version too new to run on my device wipe out and render inoperable an older operating version.

Nor does the article suggest that this might happen. It's not about the newer version of the app overriding the older version on your device; it's about *obtaining* the older version in the first place.
david cuddy  2012-12-11 19:21
My experience is different than yours. I have lost older versions of apps several times. iTunes will happily download a new version onto my Mac (wiping out the old one), oblivious to the fact that I still need the old version on one of my synced iDevices. That leaves the only instance of the old version resident on the iDevice. If I should ever have to delete the app on the iDevice and reinstall (to clear a bug, recover the entire device, etc), I'm screwed.

Of course, if one has a backup (and I do), one can go back in time to find the old version of the app that iTunes deleted. Except when Time Machine sparsebundle suffers a verification failure (like it does every few months), wipes out the entire backup history, and starts over from scratch.
mathom  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2012-12-11 10:30
Why not continue to offer the older version as a separate app with "classic" or some such added to the title? The developer of my favorite grocery list app (Bread and Milk) has done that when some new features upset users.
Matt Neuburg  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-12-11 11:11
Yes, good idea, and I did mention that to Adam as an option. But we decided against it. I can't even remember now what our reasoning was! But it might have to do with the fact that the new version has no new features to speak of; it's really just the same app, modernized under the hood. Also, leaving the old version available for iOS 6 users to download and install and experience the bug just makes us look bad. The truth is that Apple's App Store mechanism leaves us no great choices here; whatever we do will be bad in one way or another.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-12-11 11:30
Matt's right - we pondered it, but it seemed like more trouble than it was worth, given that most people who need the older version are probably reading TidBITS now and can just go get it now. With this warning, hopefully everyone who wants it can get it, so taking it away in a few weeks won't be a major liability.
david cuddy  2012-12-11 19:07
Adam - I agree with Matt: it's a good idea (to keep a 'Classic' version posted). I don't understand the 'more trouble than it's worth' comment. The current TidBits app has been out in wild for quite a while, is solid with (I'm sure) few bug reports coming in. So the overhead to maintain it has got to be pretty low if you kept it listed. True, there's a chance a few newcomers with iOS 6 might inadvertently download the Classic version with iTunes, and then find it doesn't install onto their iDevice. They will quickly realize they need the New&Improved version. Fortunately, Tidbit readers tend to be pretty astute, and can be counted on to read the instructions you'd include in each app's description.

Increasingly, Apple's behavior exhibits a belief (wish) that everybody upgrades their iDevices as soon as each release comes out. Apple has overlooked the fact that in some parts of the world (like mine), we are locked into THREE YEAR iPhone contracts. We can't update to a new iPhone (and iOS) every two years without paying exhorbitant fess to break the cellular contract. That means a larger proportion of users with older devices that can't (practicably) be updated when every new iOS comes out. I hope you won't similarly abandon that segment of the community the way Apple has.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-12-12 06:00
The problem is that people with iOS 6 will find the old version, and probably find it preferentially, since it has ratings and downloads, and they will be able to download and install it because it runs in iOS 6, albeit with problems caused by the text layout changes. And that then will generate either bad reviews or complaint email to us, neither of which make us happy.

The only people who will be unable to take advantage of TidBITS News on an iOS 4.2 or iOS 5 device (which are getting scarcer and scarcer) are those who have never downloaded version 1.4 before 1.5 comes out. Since 1.4 has been out for almost 2 years, and since we've alerted all current readers to download within the next few weeks, I just can't see too many people being in a situation where they suddenly want version 1.4 without having gotten it during its 2-year run.

It's not as if it's a commercial app, and Apple doesn't prevent you from downloading it even if you don't currently have the necessary device, so anyone who ever thinks they might want it should go get it now, just in case.
david cuddy  2012-12-13 12:25
Yep - you're quite right. I hadn't thought about the case of TidBITS newcomers (with iOS6) preferentially finding the 1.4 release and downloading it. That indeed would be a problem for you.

When do get around to posting 1.5, please be sure to include a HEADLINE 'above the fold' indicating that it's only compatible with iOS6. That will help keep iOS5 users from accidentally blowing away the 1.4 version they require.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-12-13 12:43
It's hard to say exactly what will happen, since Apple doesn't make this stuff obvious, but I believe that if you have only an older device, you simply won't get the update. So the only worry is if you have an older device and a newer device, since Apple doesn't make any acknowledgement of wanting two different versions in such a situation.
Susan Kayser  2012-12-11 13:17
Could you keep the 1.4 version on your own website, for download by latecomers to TidBits with older hardware? Lots of developers do that.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-12-11 13:21
Lots of Mac developers, but it's not possible to do that with iOS apps because Apple only allows general distribution via the App Store. :-(
unless you jailbreak your device, of course.