Emerald Blog

Notes from the developers at Emerald Sequoia LLC

Shutdown update


We’ve settled on November 1, 2023 as the date our apps will be removed from the stores (see our post about it). We will continue to respond to support requests through December 31 but will be unable to help you if an app has been removed from your device.

Emerald Sequoia’s future


The tl;dr

After 14 years, Emerald Sequoia LLC will be shutting down at the end of 2023 and our apps will no longer be available.

The details

On November 1, 2023 all of our apps (iOS and WearOS) will be removed from their respective stores. Until then, it will be business as usual: The apps will remain in the stores, we will continue to respond promptly to support emails, and we will make critical bug fixes as required. When the apps are pulled from the store, if they are still on your devices they will most likely stay there (no guarantees; this is up to Apple and Google) but they will be unable to be re-downloaded if you change your device or if it needs to be reset. We’ll continue to respond to support requests through Dec 31, but we won’t be able to assist you if an app has been removed from your device. We’ll post again late in 2023 to remind and update you.

The background

As some of you know, we were in Apple’s iPhone App Store on the day the store opened in July 2008 with the first version of Emerald Chronometer, and Emerald Observatory was in the iPad App Store in April 2010, the first week iPad apps were available. The company has always just been the two of us, with no other employees or contractors. We’ve written all of the code, documentation, and web sites, responded personally to all customer support email, and dealt with all of the finances, taxes, and government forms, all on our own. It’s been immensely satisfying to both of us and the best “work” experience we’ve had in the over 80 years of our combined careers.

The situation now is considerably different from when we first started. The App Store has grown from the 500 apps released on opening day to millions now. There are now millions of app developers competing for customer eyes on their products. Niche products like ours, all over a decade old, don’t show up in reviewers’ lists any more. And most importantly, the two of us have found it increasingly difficult to find the time to support these apps.

Nearly all of the work we’ve done in the past 10 years falls into two categories:

1. We’ve done our best to keep up with OS releases and update our apps with versions using the latest development kits. This is nontrivial work: Companies like Apple and Google are constantly improving and enhancing their development kits, and don’t want to continue supporting their older versions. So developers like us, even with apps that don’t change functionally, must periodically update our apps to stay in the store. Looking forward, both Apple and Google have announced that OpenGL, the foundation for our app displays, is deprecated on mobile — that change, when it is required, will be even more ambitious.

This is a problem for a lot of companies, most of which need to show a profit even when their markets are saturated. Many have chosen to move their customers to a subscription model, where customers pay a relatively small amount each year to pay for the updates the apps require to stay current. But we don’t want to force our existing customers, who have already bought our apps, to buy subscriptions, and the stream from new customer subscriptions wouldn’t be significant enough to matter.

2. In 2018 we released a version of Chronometer that runs on actual watch devices running Google’s WearOS. This was a very fun project for us because it meant we could finally wear these faces on our actual wrists as we originally conceived. But here the market has been very disappointing, most probably because Google hides watch-only apps from people searching for them on their phones. Also, perhaps because it is a new platform, the developer churn responding to WearOS updates has been much more than that required by Apple in recent years.

Emerald Sequoia has always been a labor of love, paying back more in fun and in satisfaction than in dollars. But it has reached the point where app revenue no longer covers our overhead, even ignoring the time we spend supporting the apps. And it must be said that the kind of work required to support new hardware and OS releases has little of the fun and satisfaction we started with.

Thank you

Finally, a heartfelt thank you to all of our customers, without whom we would not have had the wonderful experience we’ve had with this company.


  Steve & Bill

For those of you who have always wanted to wear Emerald Chronometer on your wrist (and really, who of us hasn’t 😉), now you can!

We’ve just completed a long effort to port Emerald Chronometer to Wear OS by Google (this is Google’s watch OS, which used to be called Android Wear). It’s available as a package of 21 watch faces (a subset of those available in our iOS products, plus a couple of new ones special to Wear OS).

To use it, you’ll need a watch running Android Wear 2.0 or greater (or, as it’s now called, Wear OS 1.0 or greater). This doesn’t include the Apple Watch, unfortunately, but there are a number of watches available. See our mini-FAQ below.

You can read all about the new app here.

Thanks again for all of your support and kind words over the years!


1. Why not the Apple Watch?
Apple does not allow developers to create custom watch faces.

2. Which faces from iOS are missing on Wear OS?
The three timing faces (Istanbul, Olympia, and Thebes) are currently not implemented for Wear OS. Also, Atlantis has changed considerably (we think for the better). Note also that the faces that appear on the “back” in iOS are separate faces in Wear OS; for example, the iOS “watch” called Geneva is two faces in Wear OS, Emerald Geneva (the front) and Emerald Basel (the back).

3. Which watch do you recommend?
We can’t really recommend a specific watch, since we haven’t personally tested most of them. That said, we recommend seeking out a model, running Wear OS 1.0 or greater, with a long battery life (not because of our app, which is very efficient with energy, but to make sure you have a good experience overall). Our best personal experience has been with the Fossil Q Gen 3 Explorist, but as we say, we haven’t tested very many of them ourselves.

4. I’ve bought a watch and have more questions!
As always, please see our full FAQ (the one for Wear OS is at http://emeraldsequoia.com/aw/ecsupport.html) and then email us if you have trouble.

Leap Seconds

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The latest versions in the store of our digital timekeeping apps, Emerald Time and Emerald Timestamp, support leap seconds. We had a chance to test them during the leap second at the end of last month. You can see a movie we took of the apps running here

Supporting the Retina iPad

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Version 3.8 of Emerald Chronometer HD has just been approved for the App Store, and fully supports the new iPad’s Retina display.

Just as with support for the iPhone 4’s Retina display, adding this support required new artwork at double the resolution in each dimension, for a total of 4 times the pixels of the prior ECHD version.

And just as before, that means that the app download got a lot bigger; it’s now 164 MB to hold all of the new artwork. For comparison, here’s the artwork for the three kinds of display devices we support:

First the non-Retina iPhone and iPod touch:
Old display 'parts list' or texture atlas

Next the Retina iPhone and iPod touch in Chronometer, and the iPad in Chronometer HD:

Finally, the Retina iPad in Chronometer HD:

We hope you enjoy it! As before, we sympathize with those of you on slow connections, but we used the same logic as before and decided we wanted this to be a free upgrade for ECHD users, which meant all ECHD users needed to upgrade.

Thanks for your support.

We’ve just added our 16th watch to Emerald Chronometer and Emerald Chronometer HD: “Babylon” is a full-month calendar watch, with an unusual mechanism.

The mechanism (which is one of our most complicated “mechanically”) consists of three stacked wheels and a series of covers that slide in and out. You can read more about it here.

We hope you enjoy it!

Just a quick note that there is a total lunar eclipse today: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEdecade/LEdecade2011.html

It’s the longest and deepest lunar eclipse of the decade, but unfortunately most of our customers will miss it because the moon will be below the horizon. You’ll be able to see a bit of the ends in Europe and Australia, but only India and eastern Africa (and a bit of central Asia) will get the whole show.

You can still see the effects in Emerald Observatory and Emerald Chronometer/Emerald Geneva (the back of the Geneva watch has an eclipse indicator dial), even if the eclipse isn’t visible at your location.

We’ve gotten a lot of requests for this, and we’ve finally put it in the can: We’ve just hit the App Store with an iPad version of Emerald Chronometer, called “Emerald Chronometer HD”. You can see the press release here, some images here, and the App Store page here.

Once again this was more work than you might think, because of the way the app works with its OpenGL implementation. Something as simple as rotation, which is trivial on a simple app with standard UIKit views, becomes a lot more complicated when you have an OpenGL view and UIKit views and you want to animate it all smoothly during an orientation change. Watch carefully what happens when you rotate the device while grid mode is up; that represents a week of development effort. 🙂 We did get to make use of the higher-resolution images we developed for the Retina display, however.

Anyway, we’re pretty happy with the way it looks, in both portrait and landscape modes. And in grid mode with 2-4 watches, all of the watches are the same size as they are in Emerald Chronometer on the iPhone (or larger), so it’s a nice way to see more than one watch at once and still be able to read each one.

The new app is priced at USD $5, the same price as Emerald Chronometer has been since it entered the store. At the same time, we are reducing the price of Emerald Chronometer to USD $2; this reflects both an overall downward trend in app pricing in the past three years and also the additional value (and development effort) associated with the iPad app.

We hope you like the new app!


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There will be a lunar eclipse later this month, visible in the Americas (a total eclipse, around midnight on the night of Dec 20-21, weather willing) and parts of Australia (partial eclipse just after sunset on the 21st) and Great Britain (partial eclipse just before sunrise on the 21st).

Emerald Chronometer (and Emerald Geneva) have had the capability to model eclipses for some time now, and there’s a web page about it in the Help and online. But we thought Emerald Observatory should have some of the fun, too. So we took that display from Geneva, simplified it a bit and shrunk it into the spot in Emerald Observatory previously occupied by the leap-year indicator:

Eclipse simulator in Emerald Observatory

Eclipse Simulator in Emerald Observatory

The outer ring shows things that are apparently rotating around the Earth, namely the Sun, the Moon, the shadow of the Earth, and the nodal points of the lunar orbit, which are the points where it intersects the apparent orbit of the Sun. When the Moon and the Sun are at the same point on the display’s ring, there is a new moon. A new moon does not always result in an eclipse, but if the new moon happens near a “nodal point” (red line on the ring), it means the orbital paths of the Sun and Moon are close to intersecting and a solar eclipse is possible. Similarly, when the Moon is opposite the Sun on the ring, it will be at the same point as the Earth shadow (black-filled circle) on the ring display, and there is a full moon. Again, a lunar eclipse does not always occur when there is a full moon, but again if the full moon happens near a nodal point (red line), then a lunar eclipse is possible.

When an eclipse of some sort happens, or even almost happens, the dial inside the ring shows a simulation of what will appear in the sky (with better graphics than on Geneva, since we aren’t constrained here by the mechanical model). For example, if we tap the Set button and then the phase button to advance to December (20th or) 21st, we see

Lunar eclipse simulation

The moon is shown eclipsed, and the Earth shadow is very faintly shown as a gray outline. If we move forward or backward in time, we can see the eclipse progress. Here we’ve moved backward an hour, to show the partial eclipse at that time:

As I said earlier, we removed the leap-year indicator. We moved the year itself next to the date (as shown in the top picture), and have a simple “Leap” indicator that turns on when there is a leap year, but the complex 1/2/3/4/100/400 display is gone. We were somewhat ambivalent about it from the start anyway, and at least one observer agreed.

Anyway, here’s wishing for clear skies for everyone. But if you can’t see the eclipse outdoors, you’ll be able to see it inside on Emerald Observatory. 🙂

You’ll need version 1.3 of Emerald Observatory to see it. It was approved for the store last night and should show up in the next 24 hours.

Retina support and app size

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The new iPhone 4 support that Bill just posted about required a whole new set of artwork, which is why it took so long for us to get this support out. Most simple apps simply use built-in widgets and graphic routines to render their displays, and those apps got Retina support simply by recompiling. (Our own apps Emerald Time and Emerald Timestamp fall into that category, and we supported the Retina display in those apps when the iPhone 4 came out). But the displays you see in Emerald Chronometer are rendered using a “parts list” of display objects that is generated with a custom external tool.

For example, here’s a parts list (this is really an OpenGL texture atlas, for the technically inclined) from Geneva’s front side, at the old resolution:
Old display 'parts list' or texture atlas

That image, and many more like it, are included with every copy of the app we ship.

The only way to get higher resolution imagery with this scheme is to provide a higher resolution image of parts; because the Retina display has 4x the pixels of the older displays, that means these artwork images need to be about 4 times the size of the old ones, which turns out to be a pretty large number (40 MB of images). Here’s just a portion of the same artwork image at the higher resolution for comparison:

We sympathize with those of you with older phones and slower connections who have to download all of the bytes of the new app with no appreciable benefit. For what it’s worth, we considered a couple of different options before settling on this one:

1) Creating a separate app with the high-resolution artwork in it, and leaving the existing app as is. This would have removed any impact on owners of 3GS and earlier devices. But we didn’t think this was fair to our existing iPhone 4 customers, since they would have to pay full price for the new app for a relatively minor feature upgrade, and we didn’t see any other app developers do this.

2) Making an in-app purchase option for $1 to get the higher resolution artwork. At first this seemed like a good idea (especially since it would bring in a small amount of revenue for our not inconsiderable effort generating the new artwork), and we spent a little time developing some store infrastructure to support it. But this would mean that users would have to download the additional 35 megabytes or so of Retina-specific imagery while running the app. This maybe wouldn’t be so bad, but the artwork typically changes in minor ways every time we release a new version, so it would mean that going forward as more and more people had iPhone4-class devices, we’d all be forced to do this extra step every time a new version was released.

We finally decided that the right long-term architecture was to just support the Retina display as part of the normal app. Anyway we hope those of you with Retina displays like it.