Category Archives: Xcode

iOS – A simple introduction to Swift

I don’t know who once said these words, but they apply without question to this blog post.

Make everything as simple as possible – but not simpler.

Anyways, if you have nothing better to do with your day, you might as well learn how to program using Apple’s shiny new language called Swift. Granted it is not so shiny because it has been a while since it was born. But it is still somewhat of a toddler and lots of fun to play with – although this toddler is a lot smarter than what you might think.

Ok – so this post is not about to teach you how to program – or about how to write apps for iOS. It is more of a visual inspiration to start coding in Swift for those still reluctant to make the leap from good old Objective-C. Yes, I am one of those who fell in love with and still love Objective-C. I was particularly shocked when I just found out what Swift is going to do to the increment operator ( i ++ ). But you can read about that elsewhere if you don’t already know.

Enough chit chat – let’s get to the point. Here we go:

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 11.00.58 PM

The project here has a single button and a label. The label begins life with the number 1. Pressing the button doubles the value of the label and this keeps happening forever. I have not checked what happens if you keep doing this for a long time. Your finger may not like it much.

1…2…4…8…16…32…you get the idea.

Granted, this is a really simple app – but hey, we got to start somewhere and this is as good a place as any.

Happy Coding!

iOS – Unit Testing


This post will talk briefly about setting up a bare-bones iOS app to illustrate what unit testing is all about and how to utilize the XCTest Framework for writing your own tests.

Imagine that you are writing a method to validate US and Canadian ZIP codes (or postal codes, as they’re called in Canada). In the US, ZIP codes are 5-digits long. Things like 77335, 06226, 29631 and so on.

In Canada, postal codes are typically written using 6 characters, with a space after the first three characters, like so:


In the above code, L is a letter from the alphabet and N is a number or digit from 0-9. So Canadian postal codes can look like A2K 4L8, K7G 5T9, M2N 6P8 and so on. To make things more interesting, there are some additional rules about what letters are allowed (or rather not allowed) at various positions:

  • The first letter cannot be W or Z.
  • The letters D F I O Q U are not allowed at any location.

There might be more rules, but we’ll stop here. You get the idea where this is going. We’ll need to write a method that receives a user input string and then parses the string to make sure all these rules are met (for both US and Canada). Let’s assume you cook up the following class method somewhere in your model:

If the user enters the correct ZIP code, this method should return YES, otherwise it should return NO.

Once you finish developing this method, you simply go to the test section of your project and start adding in various test cases to check your method. There are some who maintain that these test cases should be written even before you create the above method – we will not argue about what approach is best – do whatever works for you.

For simplicity, this post only talks about the following testing methods, which suffice for our purpose here:

  • XCTAssertTrue( something_that_should_be_true, @”optional message displayed when that something is false” )
  • XCTAssertFalse (something_that_should_be_false, @”optional message displayed when that something is true” )

This is how you use them in the code (all you need is to include the header file of your model class in the test case file):

You can add as many tests you like in this file. To run these tests, use

Product —> Test (or the keyboard shortcut  Command + U)

Xcode will run all your tests and place cute little check signs next to each test to let you know which tests pass and which tests fail.

That’s it! Isn’t unit testing cool? Now that I’ve wrapped my head around the basics, I will start adding unit tests to several of my iOS projects.

iOS – Mandelbrot


Is it possible to fall in love with a mathematical object? If the object in question is the Mandelbrot set, then the answer is a definite yes. This post talks about an iPad app that helps us explore the strange, hypnotic and never-ending beauty of this well-known fractal.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 12.30.42 AM

The image above shows a zoomed-in view of a certain part of the Mandelbrot set. The points in black are inside the set and those in blue are outside the set. Much of the artistic appeal of the set depends on the color scheme you design to mark the points at the borderline. I used the exact same color scheme from my C++/OpenGL tutorial and a lot of code (in the Model) was directly ported from C++ to Objective-C.

The displayed image is divided into 4 quadrants by the white lines. You select where you want to zoom in by tapping the appropriate block with your finger. For example, here is a sequence of touch events from the very beginning of the set:

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 10.28.47 PM

Naming the blocks using 1 (top-left), 2 (top-right), 3 (bottom-left) and 4 (bottom-right), the journey above may be abbreviated thus: 1-4-3-1. The large image at the beginning of this article was obtained using the following sequence: 1-4-4-1-3-3. The possible journeys are infinite and one can probably spend several lifetimes exploring every nook and cranny.


The overall design of this app follows the usual Model-View-Controller strategy. The model consists of the minimum and maximum (x, y) coordinates of the window in the complex plane, the number of divisions along x and y (resolution), a 2D array that holds the parameter value used to color the set and a method to determine whether a point belongs in the set or not. Here is the implementation of the Model class:

There are two views, both subclasses of UIView: one displays the set itself and the other draws the horizontal and vertical centerlines. The implementation of the Class that draws the set is provided below for reference:

Note that we are using the Core Graphics API to render the 2D color data. This is not necessarily the best approach, but I believe it is the simplest to understand and implement. In the future, I plan to use OpenGL-ES and accelerate the calculation and graphics using GPU computing (CUDA/OpenCL).

Finally, the controller interprets the model for the views and updates the model data based on user touch-events. Essentially, we figure out which quadrant the user touched and update the minimum and maximum x and y coordinates appropriately, ask the Model to re-calculate the 2D array in the new window and send the updated data to the View for rendering. Here is the Controller implementation:

Notice we have a RESET button to go back to the original window. This merely resets the minimum and maximum x and y limits to their original values.

The entire source code can be cloned from

Happy Xcoding!

iOS – Maze

My latest app for the iPhone is about creating a maze pattern using the touchscreen and then guiding a ball through the maze by tilting the phone in the appropriate direction. You create the maze in a block-by-block fashion by tapping the screen with your finger. One tap puts a solid block. Another tap at the same location removes the solid block. You can create any maze pattern, for example the one shown below.

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 11.28.46 PM

Hitting the CLEAR button removes all solid blocks. The ball bounces off the edges of the domain and also bounces off solid blocks. Implementing the model logic where the ball bounces off the domain edges is quite straightforward. Extending the model to include the solid blocks required some additional thought and this was perhaps the main take away from this project for me.

The entire source code can be downloaded from:

The Model class contains all the necessary properties and methods to specify the structure of the maze and to specify the ball location and update the ball location with time. The maze is simply a 2D integer array (LGEO), where the array element is 1 if the location is a solid block and 0 otherwise. Here is the Model class interface:

The name “LGEO” stands for “Logical GEOmetry array” and is a terminology rollover from some of my old CFD research codes, where a similar 3D array is used to describe a porous material. The number of array elements along X and Y is nx and ny respectively and the size of the LGEO array is thus nx*ny. The width and height are obtained based on the size of the UIView and used to calculate the grid size along X and Y. The remaining parameters specify the ball size, location, velocity and acceleration. The implementation file shows the details about how the model handles collisions:

The basic idea of the ball-maze collision logic is this: At each time instant, we find out the location of the ball within the 2D (LGEO) array and find out the status (1 or 0) of all 8 neighboring cells. If the ball hits a neighboring solid block, we reverse the appropriate velocity component depending upon the location of the impact. The picture below shows a schematic of the idea, where I show balls impacting a solid square block from various directions.

Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 5.46.30 AM

For the balls on the left and right of the block, the x-component of the ball center (relative to the square center) is more than the y-component. In such a case, we reverse the x-component of the velocity. For the balls to the top and bottom, we reverse the y-component of the velocity.

The values in the LGEO array can be changed in real-time by the user. These touch-based events are handled within the Controller. The method used to implement this logic is copied below for reference.

Notice that we have a bounds check to make sure we don’t specify memory locations outside the specified array limits. Each touch in the UIView window toggles the LGEO array value at that location.

A side note: For those of us coming from C/C++, it may seem a little strange to not have to constantly clean up after our array declarations on the heap. Objective-C implements this clean up automagically via automatic reference counting.

Now that you understand the basic idea of how to specify a maze and implement collision detection, it is just a matter of detail to extend this project to create a game with various difficulty levels and keep track of the score and things of that sort. Perhaps I will return some day to make a game of this sort.

Bis dahin, Happy Xcoding!

iOS – Embedding Web Pages

This short post is a tutorial on how to embed a specified webpage on the screen using the UIWebView class. This class includes several methods to load web content and several properties to control how the web page is displayed inside the window.

The screenshot shows a simple example where I embed the exact same web page ( in two different UIWebView objects:

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 11.43.17 AM

STEP 1: Set up the storyboard

Drag two UIWebView objects to the storyboard and size both views to be 280 by 250.

STEP 2: Make connections

Make IBOutlet connections by ctrl-clicking from the UIWebViews on the storyboard to the ViewController interface.

STEP 3: Specify the URL and display it inside the window

The ViewController implementation is copied below.

As usual, we synthesize the two UIWebView properties and then use the NSURL class to specify the URL we wish to load. In this case, we load the same URL in both the windows. But in the top window, we load the page “as is”, that is using the width specified in the HTML/CSS on the remote server. In this case, the width of the page is set to 970px, while the width of the iPhone screen is 320px. So when we display the page “as is”, only a fraction of the content is seen inside the window.

In the second view, we use the “scalesPageToFit” property of the UIWebView object and set it to YES. This forces the view to display the entire width of the web page.

You can learn more about the UIWebView class on the Apple Developer website.

iOS – Paintbrush App for the iPhone

How do I draw free-form shapes on the iPhone screen with my finger? This post is an introduction to a simple paintbrush style app that does exactly that. Actually, this type of app is much more suitable for an iPad, but we’ll stick to the iPhone for now.

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 5.04.44 PM

In the above app, you simply place your finger inside the black UIView window and start drawing whatever you want. The default drawing color is white. To change to a different color, just click on the appropriate color buttons. To keep things simple, there are only 5 color options.

How it works under the hood

The heart of this app is a set of pre-built methods that can sense touch events and return the coordinates (relative to the view) where your finger touches and interacts with the screen. There are three primary touch events:

  • Your finger touches the screen for the first time (touch begins)
  • Your finger moves from point A to point B on the screen
  • Your finger leaves the screen (touch ends)

This is how these methods appear in actual code:

The methods are inserted in the View Controller implementation, and the usual practice is to override the default implementations (which do nothing) with our own custom implementation.

Like the other apps we developed so far, the ViewController interface contains IBOutlets, IBAction items from the storyboard and other properties used in the implementation. Here is the ViewController interface for this app:

The implementation file contains the meat of the app and I encourage you to uncomment some of the NSLog calls to get a feel of the numbers (x and y coordinates) returned by the three touch methods.

Once the finger coordinates (x, y) are obtained using these methods, we allocate a Circle object (subclass of UIView) that draws a filled circle of a certain size at that (x, y) location. As your finger moves, the coordinates keep changing and we scramble more and more Circle objects to draw additional circles along the path. If you move your finger too quickly, you will actually see the individual circles. Go slow if you want to create the illusion of drawing a continuous thick line.

Notice that we use a NSMutableArray to keep track of all the Circle objects because later on, we want to clear the entire screen by removing all those views from the superview. The NSMutableArray is initialized with a maximum capacity to hold 1000 objects. Obviously, as we draw more and more circles, the size of the NSMutableArray and the memory needed by the app increases. Because of this reason, you will notice some sluggishness in the drawing when you draw far too many shapes in the view. All this memory is released when we hit the CLEAR button (triggering the clearScreen method above).

Finally, here is the interface and implementation file for the Circle class:

Clicking the color buttons in the UI triggers methods that change the circleColor property. Background images of the appropriate color were used for all the color buttons.

If you wish to reduce the thickness of the lines in your drawing, simply reduce the frame size when you draw the Circle object. The size I am presently using is 20 points (circle radius = 10).

In summary, this post was a quick introduction to the world of sensing touch events in iOS and using this information to create a simple paintbrush-style app. Want some suggestions for using this app? How about teaching toddlers how to draw numbers and letters in English or in your native alphabet?

As always, you can download the entire source code for this project from my GitHub link:

Happy Xcoding!

iOS – Return to HOLES

In a previous post, I talked about my first iOS game using PhoneGap, which I called HOLES. At that time, I did not know as much about Xcode and Objective-C as I do now. Because of this reason, I wrote that game using HTML5/JavaScript and used PhoneGap to port the game to iOS.

Now that Objective-C is becoming more and more easy to use, I decided to revisit the game and write a completely native version. Here are some screenshots from version 1.0:

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 7.24.02 AM

I admit that it took me a lot more time to write this native iOS version compared to the HTML5 version, primarily because I am relatively new to Objective-C and to object oriented programming (OOP) in general. But it was well worth the effort because I learned several new things while working on this project and I believe the end result is an app that is more polished compared to the HTML5 version.

The entire project can be downloaded from my GitHub page using the following link:

What follows is a brief summary of the design – and some nuggets from Objective-C  – that I hope will be helpful to the new game developer.

The Model

Think about what parameters we might need in the abstract model of our game. To begin with, we are using the accelerometer to control the movement of a ball on screen. So we need to know the ball radius and the location (x, y) on screen. We also need the acceleration and velocity components and need some logic to (1) update the ball position (2) check for collisions with the domain walls (3) rotate the hole pattern (4) check if the ball falls inside a hole (5) check if the ball reaches the flag and (6) update the score and number of balls remaining and (7) detect when the game ends and reinitialize all parameters when the user presses the RESTART button.

All this and more is done using the GameModel class and the interface for this class is copied below.

As usual, the idea is to instantiate an object of this class in ViewController and use the above properties and methods to help the controller send the appropriate data to the view for displaying the ball and hole pattern on screen and figuring out how the scene changes with time.

This app makes heavy use of an Objective-C class called NSMutableArray, which is a convenient way to deal with an array of objects. The Apple Developer website sums this up perfectly:

The NSMutableArray class declares the programmatic interface to objects that manage a modifiable array of objects. This class adds insertion and deletion operations to the basic array-handling behavior inherited from NSArray.

In the GameModel class, we use NSMutableArray to create an array of x-coordinates, y-coordinates and radii of the black holes. This is how you allocate and initialize the array:

If you wish to access the data (floating-point numbers) stored in this array, you can use the following:

In this case, we are using simple floating point numbers as the “objects” stored in this array, but the same idea works for storing an array of objects of any class. This is what makes NSMutableArray a powerful and useful tool.

Like “addObject”, another useful method in NSMutableArray is “insertObject:(object) atIndex:(integer)”. We use this to reset the hole coordinates in one of the our GameModel class methods:

We use NSMutableArray again in the Controller to manage the task of displaying all 5 holes.

The View(s)

The main items we need to display on screen are: (1) the yellow ball (2) the flag and (3) the black holes. Because all these shapes are easy to construct from geometric primitives, I decided to use custom UIView-based drawings. I called these classes Ball, Flag and Holes and they all inherit from the same UIView class.

The yellow ball:

The black hole:

The flag:

In the ViewController, we can instantiate objects of class Ball, Holes and Flag and specify where we want to display them in the superview.

The Controller

Because we need the accelerometer, we must add the CoreMotion framework to our project and include the corresponding header file in our interface. Here is the complete controller interface, with connections to the main storyboard:

controller interface

In the implementation file (ViewController.m), we talk with the model and views to get the game going. The first step is to synthesize the properties we defined in the interface so Objective-C can provide us with the corresponding setter and getter methods for using these objects.

Some things you may want to pay close attention to in the above code are:

  • Making the background transparent for UIView objects.
  • Clipping things outside the view
  • Creating an array of 5 objects of class “Holes” using NSMutableArray and displaying these objects.
  • Starting the accelerometer and the NSTimer based game animation.

The rest of the ViewController code deals with the main game loop, where we update the model and draw the ball and holes at their updated locations and keep track of the score and how many balls we have left.

I used a simple UILabel for displaying the “GAME OVER” message when we no longer have any balls left. This label is hidden from view for most of the game with

When all balls are gone, we simply un-hide this label and bring it to the “front” using

If you’ve read this far, you now have a pretty good idea of the thought process and coding decisions that went into making this game work. I think I am enjoying Objective-C more and more with each new app I write.

Happy Gaming!

iOS – Accelerometer App

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how to access the iPhone accelerometer using HTML5 and the PhoneGap API. In this post, I return to this topic and discuss a native Accelerometer app. Here is a screenshot of version 1.0:Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 4.34.39 AM

In the above picture, I’ve kept the iPhone on a table, with the x and y axes in the plane of the table. The z-axis points up towards you, normal to the iPhone screen. The acceleration due to gravity (in our non-inertial frame of reference on the earths surface) is negative one (in units of g = 9.8 [m/s2]), which means it is in the direction of the negative z-axis. The numbers show the acceleration magnitude and the {x,y,z} components, with the minimum and maximum values. Pressing the reset button erases the minimum and maximum values.

The polar grid is for displaying the instantaneous acceleration in the x-y plane. Because the acceleration is along z in this picture, the yellow ball is at the origin (zero x and y components). The circles correspond to different g values. If we place the iPhone on its edge in a vertical position on the table, we get the following result:

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 4.47.58 AM

As you expected, the x-component is now 1.0 and the y and z components are zero. You can play with this app by downloading the source code from

If you’ve been following my journey in iOS land, there were primarily two new things I learned while making this app:

  • Using the CoreMotion Framework – this is where all the “motion sensing” classes live. You need to add this framework to your project and instantiate a CMMotionManager object to talk to the accelerometer.

The implementation file shows how to initialize this new object and use it to talk to the accelerometer:

  • Using the CoreGraphics API for custom drawing inside a UI View, starting with getting the current graphics context and learning the difference between points and pixels. This stuff is found in Circles.m, the implementation file for the Circles class.


Once your device has this app, there are some interesting experiments you can do to test how many g’s your body experiences while walking, running, walking up and down the stairs and so on and so forth. Here is a quick summary of the acceleration magnitude range in some random experiments:

  • Standing still – 1g
  • Normal walking – 0.7g to 1.8g
  • Walking up the stairs – 0.4g to 2.0g
  • Going downstairs – 0.1g to 3.3g
  • Jumping up and down – 0g to 2.5g
  • Vigorously shaking the phone – 0g to 3.5g

Finally, if you throw your iPhone in the air, it will temporarily experience “weightless” conditions (just like it does when you jump up and down) and the app will record the minimum acceleration magnitude to be zero. But the impulse when you throw it and catch it again could be up to 3.5g. The above set of results come with some caveats that you should keep in mind: (1) The data is obtained at 60 Hz. Thus, impulses imparted in a time interval less than 1/60th of a second may not be recorded accurately. (2) I was not able to get a reading more than 3.5g for the maximum acceleration. This might be the maximum limit of the hardware.

In summary, we learned how to write a native iOS app that queries the built-in accelerometer and displays the values on screen in real-time. In the next version of this app, I plan to add in another screen where we can plot the different accelerations as a single graph or multiple graphs, with time on the x-axis.

iOS – SpaceBalls

In this post, I will introduce the Model-View-Controller design paradigm and use NSTimer-based animation to make the iPhone app shown in the video below.

The basic idea here is to simulate the motion of two circular balls enclosed inside a rectangular box in 2D space. The balls can collide with each other and with the walls of the rectangular box. To keep things simple, all collisions are perfectly elastic. The user can start and stop the animation using the two buttons in the UI.

Model View Controller (MVC)

MVC is an elegant way to organize the classes within your project based on their function. Here is an attempt at a quick summary using the present app as an example:

  • MODEL – this is where we store abstract information about our model, which in this case is the radius of the two balls, their position (x and y coordinates) and their velocity (x and y components). In addition, this can also contain the logic needed to detect collisions with the walls and between each other and to advance the position of the balls in time.
  • VIEW – The View class (inherits from UIView) is mainly concerned with drawing the two balls on the sub-view or drawing canvas or graphics context or whatever you may wish to call it. We provide the controller with an instance of this class by creating an IBOutlet property.
  • CONTROLLER – this class reads in information from the model, properly interprets this information and sends it to the view for drawing. It also deals with user input (button clicks in this case) from the view.

The whole MVC idea is to promote better object-oriented coding habits and help make the code easier to understand, maintain and expand in the future.

For example, this code started with just one ball. To add the second ball, I simply went into the Model class and added the necessary information about the second ball. Then I had to go to the ViewController class and add the model properties for drawing the second ball. Here is a snapshot of the Model class interface:

Coordinates and velocity components for the two balls are identified using “1” and “2” respectively. The WIDTH and HEIGHT property refers to the size of the box inside which the balls are moving around. Setting the values for WIDTH and HEIGHT is an example where the controller serves as a liaison between the view and the model. The code snippet below is from ViewController.m and illustrates how the initial condition is set up (before the animation begins).

We can see that the Controller obtains the size of the “blackView” object (of class UI View) and passes this information along to the “model” object (of class Model).

That the controller can talk with both the model and the view is immediately clear if you look at the ViewController interface, which includes the model and view header files.

For those new to object oriented programming, notice that we instantiate a Model class called model and make it a property. All of the machinery for the class we designed will be available to this instance variable.

Animation using NSTimer

This app introduces one of the commonly used way to do animations in iOS. This technique is quite similar to the setInterval-based animation technique used in HTML5/JavaScript animations, where the code calls a function or method continuously at preset time intervals. Here is a code snapshot of the startTimer method, which is triggered when the user presses the START button on the UI:

In this case, the update method is called repeatedly at a frequency of 60 frames per second. To stop the animation, simply destroy the timer as shown below.

This approach appears to work quite well for the animation needs of this app.

Future Work

Be aware that the ball-ball collision model used here is rather simplistic and based on a “momentum exchange upon impact” approach. This is applicable only for collisions where the velocities before impact are collinear. In the future, I plan to use a more sophisticated model that accounts for oblique impacts.

I hope this post clears up some of the mystery surrounding the MVC design paradigm. You can clone the entire project from my GitHub link:

Happy Xcoding!

IOS – Stick Man

Now that we have some basic knowledge about how to design simple apps, it is time to start having some fun. This post is about an app I developed mainly to play with the idea of using several UI Image View “layers” for doing graphics. We’ll also learn how to create a simple animation by using a series of image files.

The title refers to a simple cartoon-like character I ended up naming as the “Stick Man”. You’ve met him before if you’ve read my earlier post about adding images. He’s also the lead character in an earlier HTML5 adventure. Anyhow, here are some screenshots of the iPhone app in action:

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 1.12.00 AM

The user can click on any of the six buttons to control what the Stick Man can do. Here is a quick summary of the buttons:

  • READ – reads the newspaper looking for news about iPhone 6.
  • HAPPY – put a smile on his face.
  • SAD – not so happy anymore.
  • HAT – toggle the hat (wear it or remove it).
  • FLY – mimic flying with his hands.
  • PENDULUM – shows an oscillating pendulum.

As before, the images for the buttons were created in Keynote and pressing each button triggered a class method for doing that specific task. And there were the usual property declarations in the interface, with the corresponding @synthesize statements in the implementation. The source code for this app is available at

Using several layers for graphics

Like I mentioned before, my idea here was to use several UI Image View objects on top of each other for displaying different sections of the Stick Man.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 1.30.33 AM

Each layer is transparent and can load and display its own image and all layers work together to display the final image the user sees. Also note that each layer can simultaneously run its own animation using a series of images (animation frames). For example, the pendulum animation involves displaying two images of the pendulum on the “pendulum layer”, while the rest of the image (face, hands etc) remain static on other layers.

Creating animation from a series of images

If you have a series of image files that show the motion of something in time, you can create a simple animation that can display these images one after another in a specified amount of time on any given UI Image View layer. The code to animate the pendulum is copied below for reference.

Note how the static Stick Man image is assembled in several layers. Also, previously running animations in other layers (if any) are stopped before beginning this particular animation.

This app introduced the idea of using several layers and animating images within a given layer. In future posts, we will continue to explore other ways to create animations in iOS.