Friday, 25 February 2022

Omber in Other Languages

I think it's important to translate programs into many different languages. That makes it easier for people in different countries to learn and use these programs. Unfortunately, it hasn't been practical to translate Omber to other languages. 

The first problem is cost. Translating programs cost money. When I've translated websites to other languages in the past, it hasn't really increased the number of users much, so translating Omber wouldn't really be able to recoup the cost of the translations. 

The next problem is time. It takes a huge programming effort to prepare an app for translation. Translating Omber is particularly hard. Other apps just use a bunch of abstract icons for their user interface. I can never understand what the icons in other apps mean, so I designed Omber to have text for all of its icons. It also has many help screens and a tutorial system. These help screens make use of many diagrams and animations, which would also need to have different versions made for different languages. Preparing all the text in all of these different places to be translated would be a huge effort.

Then, there is the issue of software evolution. When I have the time, I go in and tinker on Omber and try to add new features. Every time a new button or screen is added to the program, these new elements have to be translated. Hiring out a bunch of translators to translate a few words of text is a real hassle. On job contracting websites, translators would end up spending more time bidding for the translation work than on actually doing the translation. All this hassle would make me less able to add new features to Omber, and many of these new features would not end up being properly translated to other languages.

Finally, there are compliance issues. When an app is translated into other languages, you are considered as trying to sell to countries where those languages are spoken. With European countries in particular, you are expected to comply with the laws of those countries when you try to sell things to those countries. Omber is just a small app, and I don't have the time to study the law regarding apps in all those countries to ensure that the app is legal with regards to privacy and other restrictions, so it's easier to just keep the app in English and say that I'm not trying to sell my app to those countries.

These are the main reasons that have prevented me from translating Omber to other languages. I have always wanted to translate Omber to other languages, but it just hasn't been practical. 

I started rethinking my stand last year. Omber started getting a lot of users from Saudi Arabia for some reason. It looked like it was just a temporary spike. It seemed like it might just be some schools using the app temporarily for remote learning when students can't get to computer labs (since Omber is available for free on so many platforms, it's great for this purpose) and that usage would die down later. Still, I felt guilty because the app didn't even support Arabic text. What's the point of learning a drawing app if you can't use it for making posters and other art in your own language? It's possible that Omber was only being used in English schools, but it still made me feel bad. Fortunately, I had been studying how to add support for complex scripts like Arabic to Omber for many years, so I was able to add that feature in quickly (though it has taken an additional year to fully flesh out and stabilize support for it).

The number of users from Saudi Arabia eventually went down, as expected, and I didn't think about it much again. But at the start of this year, the number of users from Saudi Arabia went up again. This caused me to think about how all those users were making an effort to use an app despite the fact that it was in English while I wasn't making even a little effort to make the app more suitable for them. So I decided to investigate if I could meet the app's non-English users halfway somehow. This is what I'm doing:

  1. Translating the app won't recoup the cost of the translations, but I'll still try translating to a couple of languages where there are a significant number of Omber users. Setting up the tools for the translation will take a significant effort, but I'll hopefully be able to reuse those tools for other projects
  2. The app will continue to be an English app with an English app listing. Some of the buttons for basic functionality will be translated though. Help screens, diagrams, dialog boxes, etc. will remain in English. So the final app will be a mix of English and some other languages.
  3. Google has made a translation service available through its Play Console where app developers can submit small translation jobs of even only a few words. I'm not sure about the quality of the translations. The translation service notably doesn't even have a way to submit translation notes to help guide translators on how certain words should be translated. But this translation service seems like it will work well with how Omber is developed even if the translation quality isn't great
  4. Omber has so few users that I doubt anyone cares if I'm not entirely compliant with European regulations, but just to be safe, I will only target languages used in non-European regions like Quebec and Saudi Arabia.
So over the next few days or weeks, Omber will hopefully be available with some partial translations on several platforms. It will likely take a while to stabilize and tweak all the layouts for the different languages, particularly regarding RTL issues, but I'm hoping these initial steps will make Omber easier to use even if they're imperfect.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Some Omber Editions Discontinued

Omber has a lot of different editions available for many different platforms. These editions accumulated over time for various reasons. Unfortunately, some of these editions are being discontinued.

Omber Pro for Windows is being discontinued. The regular Omber for Windows is free, but you can unlock certain premium features for a modest subscription fee. I know some people don't like subscription software, so I also offered Omber Pro, a paid edition with all features permanently unlocked. Unfortunately, Microsoft is no longer allowing me to sell Omber Pro. Omber Pro only ever sold a couple of copies, so Microsoft is removing it from the Windows Store. I want to be able to continue updating it so that those who purchased the software in the past can still get any new features that I add to the regular edition of Omber, but Microsoft is blocking me from updating it as well. 

Omber Express for MacOS is also being discontinued. I originally had two apps: a free Omber for the Mac and a freemium Omber for iOS. Then Apple merged their Mac Store and iOS App Store, and they allowed in-app purchases across iOS and Mac as long as apps had a single entry in the app store. So the free Omber for the Mac became Omber Express, and I made a new freemium regular Omber with editions for iOS and Mac. That way, users who paid to unlock premium features on iOS could also use those premium features on the Mac version as well. I wanted to discontinue Omber Express for the Mac, but it had one feature--customizable keyboard shortcuts--that were a paid feature in the regular version of Omber, so I kept Omber Express in the store for those people who had already started using the earlier edition of Omber and liked having keyboard shortcuts for free. Unfortunately, new users keep downloading Omber Express even though it's no longer updated. All new features are only added to the regular version of Omber. Since Omber doesn't actually make money anyway, I'm simply going to make customizable keyboard shortcuts free in the next release of Omber, and I will then discontinue Omber Express for Mac.

The mess of editions available for Android will stay the same. Originally, I just had a paid edition called Omber. Since the web edition was free, I decided I should also make a free version of Omber for Android called Omber Lite. I eventually enabled enough functionality in the free version, that I decided that most people really should simply use the free version. As such, I renamed the paid version of Omber to Omber Pro. The freemium version of Omber was renamed from Omber Lite to regular Omber. Omber Express for Android is a free version of Omber that doesn't have access to any premium features that's intended for people with Android devices that can't access Google's Play store.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Dashed Lines

Omber now has support for dashed lines. I've included a few basic types of dashes that can be chosen from, but it's fairly easy to add more types if you need more. Just let me know.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Cloud Saves in Omber

Now that Omber works on iPads and Android phones and computers, I've had a few situations where I've wanted to work on a drawing from different places. I've wanted to work on it from my desktop computer at home, review it on my cellphone while on the subway, and play with it on a tablet while at the library. Transferring files between all these devices is a bit of a pain, so I've been looking into better support for saving documents in the cloud for Omber.

Other apps support cloud saves by making their own cloud services that users can subscribe to. That approach does provide a really good and consistent experience, but it locks users into a service, and it's expensive for users. Instead, I've tried to better integrate Omber with the native cloud saving services available on different devices.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Shape Previews

It's always hard to choose which new features should be added to Omber next. Obviously, I want as many people to use Omber as possible, but different features will appeal to different users. Should I improve the quality of the rendering for those who need the highest quality output? Should I add features that are unique to Omber to differentiate Omber from other tools? Should I improve the workflow for traditional vector graphics to make Omber more competitive for traditional vector graphics tasks? Should I add more premium features to give more incentives for people to purchase a subscription to Omber?

One type of user that I worry about is the beginner user. Many users who download Omber uninstall it soon afterwards. I suspect that some of those downloads are fake downloads or users who downloaded the wrong app. Still, I think many beginner users might simply be confused with how to use Omber. Most people aren't familiar with vector drawing apps. I've seen some beginner users try to rub their finger on the screen, trying to "paint" a scene, even though that's not how most vector drawing apps work. These beginner users will obviously become frustrated when nothing works like they expect, and they will uninstall Omber quickly.

To help these new users, I've been thinking about different ways that Omber could introduce them to vector graphics. I already include a basic introduction to vector graphics when Omber is first started, but it's a bit long to read and follow, so I suspect that most people skip it. I considered building an extensive tutorial system that would guide users step by step in how to draw different things in Omber, but those are actually difficult to make. After playing around with some other vector drawing apps, I noticed that some have a slightly different workflow where they constantly show a preview of the shape that you are drawing as you draw it.

This additional feedback seems like it might help show beginner users that vector drawing tools work differently from bitmap painting programs. If users try to rub their fingers on the screen, they will immediately see that they are specifying the outline for a shape instead of painting on a canvas because the shape preview will immediately show the shape being drawn. Users will get an intuitive feel for how vector drawing apps work instead of needing a tutorial explaining the difference.

I was hesitant about implementing it because I was afraid that Omber's rendering engine would be too slow and not robust enough to handle it. But I've done a lot of work on the rendering system, and it seems like it might handle it. It also required a revamp of the undo system, and lots of tweaks to the workflow. I myself am still getting used to the new new workflow with previews, and it's a tad less responsive than the old version without previews, but hopefully it will provide a gentler introduction to beginner users about the world of vector graphics.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Research Paper at Graphics Interface 2019

During the last few months, I haven't been releasing any features for Omber, and I apologize. I've been busy preparing a research paper describing some of the underlying technology behind Omber's advanced gradient system. This paper will be published at the Graphics Interface 2019 conference. I've named the technology DiffusionMesh for the research, but it's the same technology that you get to use in Omber. You might even recognize some of Omber's clipart in the example images. If you're interested, check out the paper and supplementary video. I've also made a video of the presentation I will be giving at the conference, and I will post it here once I've finished editing it together.

Update: The presentation video is now available.