Category: Books

SmartGo One: Features and User Interface

TL;DR SmartGo One is an all-new version of SmartGo for iPhone and iPad with improved user interface, more features, better integration, and stronger computer play. It’s your one app for learning, playing, and studying the game of go.

I just released SmartGo One, the all-new version of SmartGo. It’s a free app replacing both SmartGo Kifu and SmartGo Player, with the books from Go Books fully integrated – one app for all your go needs. Currently for iPhone and iPad; a Mac version of SmartGo One is in the works.

I’ve written a separate blog post on the business aspects of replacing two apps with a new app and a different business model. In this post, I will focus on user interface and features, highlighting the changes from SmartGo Kifu. For details and a full list of features, see the user manual in the app (Books > Tutorial & Help > SmartGo One User Manual).

Overall user interface

SmartGo One features a more modern visual look (thanks to designer Scott Jensen), including dark mode (swipe two fingers down/up on the board to turn on/off). Navigation is more standard, using a tab bar on iPhone and the familiar three-pane layout on iPad.

SmartGo One on iPad in dark mode

Other improvements:

  • Ability to use whole screen on iPad
  • Multiple windows on iPad
  • Continue where you left off on another device
  • Much smoother scrolling

Strong computer play

The old SmartGo apps used my own playing algorithm based on Monte Carlo Tree Search. This was fine pre-AlphaGo, but AlphaGo raised expectations. SmartGo One integrates KataGo, a very strong go engine. However, the current implementation only uses the CPU (no GPU or neural net), so it’s not yet as strong as e.g. ‘Master of Go’.

Playing against SmartGo

The current score and winning percentage can be shown while playing against the computer. End-of-game handling has been refined significantly.

File management

SmartGo One lets you manage SGF files locally on your device as well as sync between devices using iCloud Drive. Huge improvements in this area:

  • Organize files using folders
  • Create and manage SGF collections (one file containing multiple games)
  • Work with zipped collections (one zipped file containing multiple games): e.g. if you get a zipped game collection from the Go4Go game subscription service, you can directly open that whole collection
Game imported from Go4Go zipped collection
  • Convert between folders and collections
  • Reorder games in collections
  • Drag and drop games into folders, onto collections, or onto books
  • Handle files with go problems (PRB) and go books (GOBOOK)

Cloud syncing

iCloud is used to sync your state across devices, between your iPhone and iPad (and Mac in the future). Here’s what’s synced:

  • Preferences (the ones that make sense)
  • Games stored in iCloud Drive
  • Your progress in solving problems
  • Games, problems, and books marked as favorites
  • Game annotations of pro games
  • Current reading position in your books

Gobook files

The gobook format (smartgo.com/pdf/gobookformat.pdf) is used for the books in the Go Books app. In SmartGo One, you can convert annotated games into your own book.

Pro game collection

SmartGo One offers more games than ever before (currently 114,000). The pro game collection can now be updated without updating the app, so expect more frequent game collection updates (whenever GoGoD releases a new version).

Player names

The names dictionary (by John Fairbairn) is now a separate tab with more than 4,400 entries:

  • Better presentation of player info
  • Links between different players, making it easy to explore and navigate between players
  • Search in players finds that player as well as related players such as teacher, or mentions in go style or bio
Explore links between different players

Problem solving

The go problems (from goproblems.com) are better organized, and there are more problems available.

  • Improved flow to work through problems
  • Improved display of statistics
  • Your problem stats sync between devices
  • Additional problem collections available
  • Better mechanism for updating problems, allowing issues to be fixed more quickly

Game play and recording

SmartGo has always excelled at replaying, recording, and editing game records, but SmartGo One improves on it in several ways:

  • Improved New Game screen
  • Edit game info directly inline, not in separate popups
  • Easier to go to a particular move
  • Easier to correct a particular move
  • Improved feedback while inserting a move or move pair
  • Quick access to frequently used board display settings
Easy access to board display settings
  • More discoverable and reliable board rotation, with a panel adding related functions
Rotating the board is a snap

Books

All 150 books from the Go Books app are directly integrated into SmartGo One. (If you bought books in Go Books, you can read those in SmartGo One.) Compared to Go Books, there are a number of improvements:

  • Better organization of books, including currently reading, recent additions, most popular
  • Keeps track of up to three books you’re reading right now
  • Search in book list
  • All book purchases can be shared with Family Sharing

Pattern matching

Finding games that match a given joseki or fuseki works as before, but has been improved:

  • Faster matching
  • Clearer display
  • Easier to get to and return from the list of matching games

Still missing

A few features didn’t make it into the 1.0 release of SmartGo One:

  • Guess Move: This will be added in an upcoming version.
  • File formats: Reading go game files other than SGF is not supported yet.
  • Localizations: SmartGo One is English-only right now.

SmartGo Kifu and SmartGo One can happily coexist on your device, so just keep SmartGo Kifu around for these tasks.

Future

SmartGo One builds on decades of experience with computer go, and creates a new foundation for the next decade. By bringing games, problems, and books into a single app, it opens up lots of possibilities for the future – stay tuned.

SmartGo One: Business Model

TL;DR I’ve replaced SmartGo Kifu and SmartGo Player, two paid-up-front apps, by SmartGo One, a free app with extra features available through in-app purchases and subscription.

I’ve just released SmartGo One, which completely changes the business model for my apps. This all-new iOS app replaces both SmartGo Player ($3) and SmartGo Kifu ($20) with a free app.

Some history: I released SmartGo Pro for iPhone in September 2008 (first $10, then $13), followed by SmartGo Kifu for iPad ($20) in April 2010. The two were merged into a universal app in 2012. SmartGo Kifu has always been a premium paid-up-front app – if you bought it a decade ago, you have not paid a cent for it since. This is clearly not sustainable, especially for an app that appeals to a niche audience of dedicated go players.

In December 2015, I announced that I was moving my apps to Swift – with SmartGo One, that effort is finally bearing fruit. (Did it take longer than hoped for? Yes, it most certainly did.) I’ve written a separate blog post on user interface and feature changes, and plan to write one on the technical changes under the hood; in this post, I will focus on the business model.

Old apps

This is how the old apps were positioned:

  • SmartGo Player ($3) was aimed at people who wanted to learn the game and play against the computer.
  • SmartGo Kifu ($20) was aimed at existing go players who wanted to study the game, solve problems, and record their own games.
  • Go Books (free with in-app purchases) is aimed at anybody who wants to learn more about go, from beginner to expert. The books range in price from $3 to $20.

Over the last years, as most of my time has gone into the new app, sales of Player and Kifu have been slowly declining, while sales of books have remained stable. In terms of gross revenue, the three apps have been roughly even, but Kifu and Player account for more income due to Go Books having higher upfront costs (converting books to digital) as well as higher royalty payments.

New app

The new app is free to download, and is aimed at anybody who wants to do anything with the game of go, from beginner to expert. The free features include most of the features of SmartGo Player (except that computer play is limited to the smaller 9×9 and 13×13 boards), as well as the game-recording features of SmartGo Kifu.

There are three ways to pay in SmartGo One:

  • Subscription: For $12 per year, you get access to the full GoGoD collection of 114,000+ pro games as well as advanced features like joseki matching. You can also play the computer on the full 19×19 board.
  • Problem collections: SmartGo Kifu included 2,000 problems; SmartGo One gives you 200 problems for free, and then you can buy additional problem packs ($4 each) to get more problems at your level (up to currently 4,700 problems).
  • Books: All 150 books from Go Books are integrated in SmartGo One, and can be bought using in-app purchase. (The stand-alone Go Books app is still available, and books bought there can be read in SmartGo One.)

Will it work out?

With such a radical change in business model, it’s hard to predict how it will turn out. Here’s my (possibly wishful) thinking:

  • Many of the go players who were willing to pay $20 up-front for an app they couldn’t even try should be willing to pay $12 per year (after a 14-day free trial). These are the old Kifu customers.
  • As a free app, SmartGo One should see many more downloads than SmartGo Player did. Some of these downloads will lead to people buying a book to learn more about the game, or maybe they get into solving go problems and buy a problem collection. A few might even subscribe, but I think subscriptions are going to be mostly dedicated long-term go players.
  • The free Go Books app was not getting enough downloads. Anecdotally, there are many users of Kifu and Player who still don’t know about Go Books. Having the books directly integrated into the app should help people discover them.

Also, SmartGo One is better in pretty much every way than the old apps (in my humble, unbiased opinion). That should count for something.

So maybe it will work out? Interesting times ahead as I build up a whole new user base for this app. But regardless of the finances, SmartGo One is a win for users, as I discuss in this other blog post on user interface and features, and a win for me, putting future development on a much better path.

Go Books in German

tl;dr Go Books is now offering some books in a single non-English language instead of bundling all languages for a book into a single purchase.

I just added three German-only books to gobooks.com:

  • “Elementary Techniken” by Thomas Hillebrand
  • “Strategie” by Richard Bozulich
  • “Angriff und Verteidigung” by Akira Ishida and James Davies

The first is new to Go Books, the second was already present as “The Basics of Go Strategy” (in English, Spanish, and German), and the third is “Attack and Defense”, which did not have a German translation in Go Books. German has been removed from “The Basics of Go Strategy” – if you already have that book and were reading it in German, please let me know, and I will get you a complimentary copy of “Strategie”.

Why this shift? The previous approach had advantages in producing and maintaining the book (the diagrams were shared between languages, so any fixes would apply to all languages), but it became clear that there were some significant disadvantages that limited the creation of translated versions:

  • Different language editions might be by different publishers, with different royalty requirements.
  • With no way to tell which language people were buying and reading, it was hard to decide which translations were worth it.

Most books with translations remain multi-lingual for now, as we see how this experiment works out. The “Lehrbücher des Go” series of six books will be completed as German-only books, adding German translations for “Tesuji” by James Davies, “Counting Liberties and Winning Capturing Races” by Richard Hunter, as well as “Leben und Tod” by Gunnar Dickfeld.

Learn to Play Go Series as EPUB

The five volumes of the Learn to Play Go series are now available as EPUB, which opens them up to readers on Android and Windows. Janice Kim’s award-winning series takes the complete beginner step-by-step all the way to playing real Go.

Learn to play go series covers
(Of 142 books in Go Books, all but 7 are now available as EPUB.)

EPUB App Recommendations

I’ve updated my recommendations of EPUB readers. On Android, I suggest you try Reasily and Adobe Digital Editions. On Windows, Readium Desktop seems to be working better than calibre. Each one comes with its own set of issues, no perfect choice out there. Please let me know what’s working for you, and keep providing feedback directly to the developers of these apps to help improve them.

App Store Confidential

Tom Sadowski was responsible for the App Store in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland from 2014 to 2019, and in his book “App Store Confidential” he provides a look behind the scenes. According to this Verge article, he’s had a falling-out with Apple, and Apple is trying to block publication of the book. The book is still available on Amazon, but only in German.

As the workings of the App Store are of crucial interest to developers, I read through it from a developer’s perspective and noted what I learned – interesting, but nothing that I think Apple should be blocking the book for. I grew up in the German-speaking part of Switzerland; for those who don’t know German, I’ve provided approximate Kindle locations below, so you can use e.g. Google Translate for more detail.

App Store Teams

For each country there are business managers and editors who are dealing with the customers as well as the developers in their region [loc 596]. The editors curate the App Store, and don’t just suggest apps, but also intend to shape the app culture.

The Discovery tab is refreshed at least twice weekly, presenting users with the most relevant, popular, and best monetizing apps [loc 609].

While the editors are working more in the background, the business managers talk with and advise developers in key accounts [loc 623]. The key accounts are based on top grossing (if you’re in the top 20, you can be sure you’re on Apple’s radar), strategic (accounts that have regional significance) [loc 638], and startups (where they’re looking at long-term monetizing potential) [loc 658].

Project Berghain

In 2016 he set up a program to help startups in Germany; in 2018 they launched Project Berghain [loc 941], where they evaluated over 300 apps, asked more questions of 20 apps, invited 10 apps to pitch-meetings in Berlin, and then decided on 5 apps that they were going to support [loc 954]. The apps were all based on subscriptions, had an innovative product, and a strong team.

Success Factors

Products, people, and passion: The **product** needs to be so good that it enriches the user’s life, and the user is willing to pay for it [loc 1034]. The **people** need to include a UI expert, a programmer, and a sales person [loc 1045], and need to have **passion** for their product.

Advertising comes last: the product needs to be convincing, otherwise marketing is not going to help [loc 1072].

For subscriptions to be successful, they need to enrich people’s lives, and convert users into paying customers [loc 1133].

How to Get Featured

Different factors help an app get featured [loc 1184]: quality, UI design, user experience, innovation, localization (the more languages, the better, as editors can then suggest the app worldwide), video and cool artwork.

To get in touch with App Store team, he suggests having somebody who is already in touch with the App Store team recommend you [loc 1240]. Keep emails short, add a short video that introduces the app, don’t mention money or other apps [loc 1256]. Possibly ask for a personal meeting. And if Apple contacts you, provide the asked for material quickly and without questions [loc 1261].

More

The book also includes anecdotes about Tim Cook visits, personal and app stories, and more on where he thinks the App Store is going. If you’re dealing with the App Store, you should find a way to read it, as you’ll come at it from a different perspective and notice details that were not important to me.