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.

From the beginning, the iOS version of Omber has integrated with Apple's cloud documents system. Apple's system worsens the Omber experience somewhat. When you first start Omber, it confusingly just shows a blank screen with a plus sign to create a new document since Apple's document system does not provide a way to show any help text or include sample files or make other customizations on this startup screen. But it does mean that it's relatively easy to work with drawings in iCloud once you get used to the system. Working with drawings saved in other cloud services is a bit of a mess and sort of unreliable though.

Notably, it's not possible to create or open documents on Google Drive when using Apple's document system. To work around this limitation, I've added a special menu option on the main documents screen. If you press the "..." button in the upper-right, and then choose "Open any file" from the menu, you will then be presented with a documents screen that lets you open drawings from Google Drive. To create a new document, you may have to create the document on your iPad or iCloud first, and then copy it to Google Drive.

The Android version of Omber is older than the iOS version, so it's based on an older approach to storing documents where all drawings are stored in the app itself. In the past, you could also go into the file system and copy those files around easily, but Android is moving away from that model and towards the Apple model where files inside the app have to stay inside the app and can't be copied around like on a regular computer.

I've now added the ability to open drawings stored in the cloud by pressing the icons of three bars (i.e. the hamburger icon) in the upper-right, and then choosing "Open outside file" from the menu. You can then choose an Omber drawing that you have stored on Google Drive or elsewhere. You currently can't directly create a new Omber drawing in the cloud. Android currently doesn't offer a nice mechanism to let users both create and open files in the cloud from a single screen. Instead, you must first create a new drawing in Omber by pressing the "New Drawing" button. This will create a drawing inside Omber. Then, go back to the main screen with all your drawings. Find your drawing and press the "⋮" button for the drawing. Choose "Copy out" from the menu to copy your drawing to cloud storage. You can then delete the original drawing and use "Open outside file" to open the version stored in the cloud.

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