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Location Sychronization

Today, we’re announcing a public beta of location synchronization for the TPE web app.

Location sync is something you’ve been asking about for a while, and so we’re pleased to have a solution that you can start testing today.

What it does

Location Synchronization allows you to push your locations to a central database and to pull them down on demand to a new machine. It works for the desktop web app today.

You can synchronize up to 1000 locations free of charge. You’ll need to create a free account to get started.

Any locations you synchronize are not shared publicly or with other users: they remain available only to your account.

The technology

We’ve spent quite a while pondering how to do location synchronization. Many of you asked if we could not just use iCloud. Apart from the various issues that iCloud sync suffered in its early days, the main barrier to using it is lack of cross-platform support: we need to be able to support desktop, iOS and Android.

We looked at other solutions that might support cross-platform sync, such as Wasabi Sync and Parse. However, it did not feel right to be dependent on a 3rd party service for something that would be so critical once users started putting data into it. (That decision seems to have been borne out: it looks like Wasabi Sync has shut its doors to new accounts.)

The other barrier to rolling out synchronization was our own Desktop app: the desktop app was always likely to the centre of the synchronization solar system. Planning at the desktop and synching locations out to laptops, tablets and mobiles is probably the key use case.

However, the old Adobe AIR desktop app was not a great place to be adding new capabilities: it was a technological dead-end.

With the arrival of the replacement web app, we were finally in a position to start tackling Location Synchronization properly in our own code.

What’s next?

It’s taken just over 2 months to get to public beta. I suspect we’ll be in beta for another 4-8 weeks to prove out the platform and build confidence that everything is going well.

Once beta is complete, we’ll promote the beta site to production, and any locations and accounts you create in the beta site will live on back in the main web app. We’ll then add location sync to the mobile apps. (As there’s a material cost to providing the service, so we expect to charge a small fee for this option on mobile platforms.)

Start syncing today!

Version 1.1 Beta of the web app is available at beta.photoephemeris.com today. But before you head over there, read more about how to get started:

Please let us know what you think!

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At the time of writing, nothing. But less than 48 hours from now, TPE for Desktop (the original Adobe AIR version) will stop working.

I imagine that’s why you’re now reading this page. Here’s the short version of the story and what to do next.

TPE for Desktop was built using Adobe AIR which is a variant of Flash. The maps functionality was provided by Google Maps for Flash API. Back in 2011, Google announced that it was deprecating the Flash API and that it would be turned off altogether after 3 years. That time has now come (2 Sep 2014).

The consequence of this is that the maps in TPE for Desktop will no longer work after 2 Sep 2014. Furthermore, for versions 1.1.1 and below, the user interface will be ‘frozen’ as the app waits for Google Maps to initialize (and, of course, it no longer will.)

Back in July, we announced that TPE would be changing, and made a brand new web app version available. We published two posts on prominent photography web-sites (on Digital Photography School and Light Stalking) announcing the change, and posted updates on our various social media page.

We also released an update for TPE for Desktop to v1.1.2 that included prominent announcements of the deprecation date and details on what to use instead.

That aside, there are still going to be quite a few users taken by surprise by the change. We’re sorry if you didn’t see any of the advance notices, but we hope that you’ll find moving to the new web a straightforward change.

What to do

Here’s what you need to do:

  • If you don’t care about your saved locations in the old TPE for Desktop, you can move straightaway to the web web app. Read about the pre-requisites here (basically, just a modern web browser), and jump right in: TPE for Desktop (Web App)
  • If you’ve already updated to v1.1.2 of the old TPE for Desktop, and you have saved locations you’d like to move to the new web app, you will need to export them first, then import into web app. Full instructions are here: Part 6: Moving from legacy TPE for Desktop to the Web App
  • If you’re still running 1.1.1 or earlier, and have saved locations you’d like to retain, then life is little more complicated after 2 Sep 2014. You will need to uninstall the old version, download and install 1.1.2, export locations, then import to the web app. Again, full details are here: Part 6: Moving from legacy TPE for Desktop to the Web App

Getting started with the new web app

The best way to get up to speed quickly with the new web app is to download the Quick Start Guide – a free, 2-page PDF that gives a concise overview of all the key functionality. You can download it here:


A 2-page PDF quick start guide to using the TPE for Desktop web app.
File size 277.78kB | Last modified Mon Sep 1, 2014 at 22:36 | Download count 18842

If you’d like to understand the application in more depth, we have a series of five step-by-step tutorials that will guide you through it available here:

photoephemeris.com/tutorials

Getting help

Everything you’ve learned about how to use TPE from the old desktop app is still relevant: the same principles apply, and you’ll see much that is familiar with the new web app user interface.

However, if you have any questions, or run into any problems with the new version, drop us a line by email: Support

New Features

Once you get started with the new web app, we hope you’ll enjoy exploring some of its new features. These include:

  • Google Street View available from within the app
  • 45° map imagery available at higher zoom levels in satellite map mode
  • 6° shadow circle and ‘golden hour’ indication: hold down the shift key and try dragging the time slider back and forth around sunrise or sunset times
  • ShotHotspot.com: a direct link from within the app to ShotHotspot.com, to allow you easily to explore locations in more depth
  • Share/save links to your favourite shots: just copy the URL from your browser’s address bar. For example, here’s a sunrise shot plan from Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming: http://ephemer.is/1wU2G58

We hope you enjoy the new web app: do let us know your feedback.

Why did you…?

Finally, here are answers to a few of the questions that have come up over the past couple of months:

  • …not just find a different mapping provider and keep the Adobe AIR app going? A: Adobe AIR is no longer a good choice for a modern desktop application. Most of the efforts in recent years have gone towards trying to support mobile app development rather than desktop applications; furthermore, Adobe stopped development of Flex (aka Flash Builder) that was the toolkit used to build TPE
  • …write a web app instead of a new desktop app? A: a browser-based web app is the best way to provide cross-platform support today. A new desktop app would likely have required development of separate versions for Windows and Mac, which we simply didn’t have the time or resources to do
  • …require a modern browser? Why is my older browser not supported? A: we have built the application using modern web development technologies which do not support older browsers. These provide significant productivity enhancements for developers which result in more features being delivered to end users. There are few barriers nowadays to running a current version of a web browser (most will auto-update themselves if permitted), and so we feel this is the right trade-off
  • …change the user interface? A: the old user interface had some distinct limitations which we have tried to overcome with the new version. For example, the multi-day view was not well-equipped to show additional information such as for celestial bodies other than the sun and moon (something we’d like to add in the future). Additionally, we are looking to adopt a similar UI style across both the web app and mobile apps over time. The “right-hand sidebar” style does not work at all in portrait mode on phones and tablets.

Kiribati 2 September 2014

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One month from today, if you boot up the TPE for Desktop Adobe AIR, this is likely what you will see:

Initialization failed

As previously announced, On 2 September 2014, Google will permanently turn off the Google Maps for Flash API, and TPE for Desktop will be no more – at least the Adobe AIR app will be no more.

Its replacement is already available and waiting in the wings: our new Desktop web app. You can find it at:

app.photoephemeris.com

Kiribati 2 September 2014

We’d encourage you to head over there today and get started. You can export your saved locations from the Adobe AIR app and import them straight into the web app and carry on planning your shots without interruption.

You’ll need an up-to-date web browser that doesn’t block cookies or use of local storage. We’ve tested with:

  • Firefox 30, 31
  • Chrome 36.0.1985.125
  • Internet Explorer 11
  • Safari 7.0.5
  • Opera 23.0

So, don’t wait until the last minute: start using the new web app today and let us know what you think via the Support tab on the right hand side of the page.

Please help spread the word by sharing this post with your photography colleagues!

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Full screen mode in TPE Web 0.9.4

Full screen mode in TPE Web 0.9.4

Many thanks to those of you who have provided feedback over the past few days on the desktop web app. It’s always invaluable to get input from our enthusiastic early adopters.

I know many of you are long-time TPE users, so I’m particularly keen to hear your experiences.

We’ve pushed out an update this evening (version 0.9.4 for those of you who track such things). It has a few important updates:

Download speed and page size

We’ve tweaked our server settings to decrease the total page download size by around 40%. Which should help :)

Full screen mode

We changed the way full screen mode operates. Given that many of you like to have the map as large as possible, full screen mode now hides the event timeline and chart, but keeps the time of day slider visible. You can use this, together with the shift key, to see how the sun and moon move through the day.

The critical azimuth/altitude information is visible in the time slider legend. That together with the “magic hour” circle (press Shift), let’s you explore the light through the day with the minimum of screen real estate lost to other numeric or chart information.

New settings

To provide some choices for users with different display sizes and preferences, we’ve added two new settings:

  • Widescreen: this will toggle the display consume the majority of the width of the display at all times (rather than just in full screen mode)
  • Show civil twilight only: you can check this option to dispense with the nautical and astronomical twilight events in the timeline (which are only relevant to certain types of photography), thus conserving width on smaller displays and avoiding the need for horizontal scrolling so often

Moon Phase Events

Two new date selection controls at the top of the screen: you can now jump between moon phase events at the click of a button. In addition to the date, the exact time of day is set from the time of the moon phase event.

This is a great way to skip forward and back by a week or so at a time, so if you’re looking to see the sun rise/set direction move noticeably, these controls have that task covered too.

UI improvements

We’re continuing to refine the UI, and you’ll probably notice several small changes. For example, we flipped the colours on the time of day slider to make it stand out more.

Bugs?

Er, yes. One or two. We’ve fixed a few. There’ll surely be more. Just as no battle plan survives contact with the enemy… ;)

Updated Quick Start Guide

There’s now a Help section on the right hand side, with a link to an updated Quick Start Guide with full details on how to use the web app.

Please keep the feedback coming, and we’ll keep polishing!

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Some significant news for users of TPE for Desktop: two months from now, on 2 September 2014, TPE for Desktop will be no more.

On that date Google will turn off the Google Maps for Flash API, upon which TPE for Desktop depends. Once that happens, the app will no longer function.

Of course, we’ve known about this for a while, and have been working on a new version so that TPE will live on uninterrupted!

It seemed the perfect opportunity to give the old app an overhaul and to add a couple of nice features.

The new TPE web app

The new TPE web app

The Photographer's Ephemeris: new web app for desktop users

The new version is a web app and you’ll need a modern web browser to run it. We’ve tested it in the current versions of Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, and in Internet Explorer 11. As with the old version, it is designed to be used on desktop computers equipped with a mouse.

We’re releasing the new app as a public beta as of today, and you can access it here:

app.photoephemeris.com

One great advantage of the web app is that there is no need to install additional software, such as Adobe AIR. This means you will not have to install updates any more. When we release updates to the web app you will get them automatically the next time you visit the site.

Take a deep breath. Let’s jump in…

The new web app includes the same functionality as the old desktop version and has a number of enhancements we hope you’ll like.

The first thing you will notice is that it looks a little different. The celestial events for the day are displayed in the Events Timeline below the map. A chart of the sun and moon’s journey throughout the day is displayed at the bottom of the screen (it can be toggled on and off to increase map “real estate”).

New features include the ability to share links. You can look up a location, set the date and time, and then share the URL of the web page with a friend.

Saved locations can now be used to set the grey pin position as well as the red pin – great for planning both camera and subject placement.

And a new twist: the “+6° shadow circle”. Holding down the shift key (or pressing caps lock) displays sun and moon shadow lines. If the shadow extends outside the circle, then the sun or moon lies below +6° above the horizon: this is the best time for good light (golden hour) or for positioning the moon against the landscape (e.g. the moon illusion).

As an added benefit there is now a support tab built into the app, should you need to contact us.

We will be working on updating the tutorials on the website and other information over the coming weeks. 


The very best news of all is that the new TPE for desktop web app will remain free.

Look after your locations!

Well before 2 September 2014, we strongly recommend that you export your saved locations from the old desktop program and import them into the new web app.

Once imported, the web app saves your locations in your browser’s local storage. In order to ensure you don’t inadvertently lose your locations, we advise exporting them regularly and saving the KML files as backups.

We’d like to hear your feedback

We’d like you to try it out and let us know what you think via the Support link on the right hand side of the page.

There are a few changes to the user interface, but you should find the majority of what you see familiar to operate. Most of the keyboard shortcuts from the old app have been carried over unchanged, plus there are some new ones added (e.g. ‘B’ to bookmark a location, ‘G’ to toggle geodetics on/off).

So, jump in, try it out and let us know how you go. We hope you like it!

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