Second Life companion app: mini update, March 2020

As I’ve previously reported (see: Linden Lab confirm Second Life iOS client in the making), Linden Lab is developing a companion app for Second Life.

As the last mini-update I gave for the product was in July 2019 and there is some further news to be had, I thought it time to provide a further update on where the client stands.

First and foremost, while the client was initially defined as an iOS client, speaking during the 19th episode of Lab Gab on March 27th, 2020, Ebbe Altberg confirmed the Lab has now started on an Android version as well, which they have to have up to parity with the iOS version at some point.

In addition, he indicated that the iOS version is currently close to being at an “alpha” testing status, which may only be for internal testing.

So, lot’s of activity there. We have a person who’s worked on a mobile – what do we call it? Companion client, because I want to make it clear that people understand that the mobile client will be primarily a communication client, where you can chat with people, and stay connected, but it’s not a 3D viewer. So you will not be running around with your avatar in the mobile client for quite some time. But you can at least, when you’re on the road, stay connected with your friends and customers, etc.

The iOS client is very close to what we call an “alpha”; I don’t know exactly how the alpha will then progress to a beta to like a full release that people can try…

I’m not sure if alpha is even just for internal people; we probably want to get the whole company using it first, but we might, umm, some pre-production grid, get some external users involved in the alpha as well, I don’t know the exact details. But it’s being worked on; hopefully most of us will be able to use the iOS client to stay connected with Second Life in, I don’t know, a month or two, I’m guessing.

And we also have added more resources, so we now have people working on an Android version as well. So hopefully that will catch-up and will get neck-and-neck or almost parallel with iOS here by the time we get to full release. So, actively being worked on.

– Ebbe Altberg, Lab Gab, March 27th, 2020
(video extract)

Summary of What is Known

The following notes are an amalgam of my July 2019 mini-update, and more recent comments from Third Party Viewer Developer Meetings, Simulator User Group meetings and the aforementioned Lab Gab session.

General Capabilities

  • As noted, the app should initially be regarded as more of a communicator / companion app than a fully-rounded client. The intention is to provide users with a means of maintaining basic contact with other users whilst away from their main means of accessing SL.
  • It will support logging-in to the Second Life service and initially provide IM and group chat support.
  • Initially it will not:
    • Present you with an in-world location, nor will your avatar rez in-world.
    • Support local chat (as your avatar does not have a defined in-world location)

A mobile user won’t actually be in an area … they can use p2p or group chat, but not local, because we’re not rendering the world (yet) in the mobile app [and] we didn’t want things to be unbalanced: you can see me but I can’t see you, I can “go” somewhere but can’t see anything [etc.]. [But] direct IM is supported (that’s what I meant by p2p).

– Oz Linden, VP of Engineering, Simulator User Group Meeting,
March 17th, 2020

  • In theory, the app should work with both mobile ‘phones and tablets / iPads, although there may be some configuration differences.
  • Over time it will be enhanced – but additional capabilities and their order of development is still TBD.

Availability

  • As noted above, the iOS client will likely be available to users ahead of the Android client.
  • The time frame for the iOS client appearing is not confirmed, but might be in a next 2-3 months.
    • The Lab had started the work on getting the initial test versions through Apple’s acceptance process some time ago.
    • It had been previously stated that iOS users will need to have TestFlight installed on their iPhone (or iPad), as the app will be made available though Apple’s beta testing environment for apps. I assume this is still the case.

 

There may be further news on the mobile client in the April 3rd Lab Gab session, in which case, I will update this article.

Second Life mobile apps: a (belated) update

Logos © and ™ Linden Lab and Apple Inc

As I’ve previously noted, Linden Lab is working on an iOS client for Second Life, the first phase of which will be focused primarily on chat.

Keira Linden, who is now a Product Manager at the Lab, is heading up the project, and at a recent open-source developer meeting (held every Wednesday, but at a time I can rarely make), she offered some feedback on the upcoming app, with Oz Linden, the Technical Director for Second Life providing some additional comments on the Lab’s approach to mobile.

You can read an excerpt of the meeting’s transcript that encompasses the discussion in the forums – with thanks to Arielle Popstar for posting it – and the following is a summary of the comments made, grouped by topic.

Summary of iOS Specific Comments

  • The iOS app is to be deployed in stages, starting with – as previously noted – the chat capabilities. This will support IM and group conversations, and will likely include the capability to search for friends and non-friends alike.
  • It appears This initial release of the app will not support local chat, with Oz Linden noting:

Unlike other current apps, the plan is that your avatar will be in a separate space inaccessible to others, so it won’t just be standing somewhere not moving, so you won’t have a regular ‘location’ at all to chat in.

– Oz Linden, Open Source Dev meeting, August 14th

Presumably, this will change in later releases.

  • Further capabilities for the app are being discussed internally at the Lab, and these discussions include prioritising capabilities for release as the app is enhanced.
    • At some point in the development cycle, Keira will be reaching out to users to gain feedback on what are considered to be the important capabilities / options, in order to help the Lab prioritise future enhancement of the app.
    • Overall, the plan is to add as much functionality as possible as the app continues to be developed beyond the initial release.
  • There are no dates for when the app might be made available for testing – but the development work is considered a “high priority” by Keira and within the Product Team.
  • The precise framework for testing hasn’t been finalised, but will be announced via the forums when decided upon.
    • Side note: it had been previously indicated that when the app is made available for testing it will be through Apple’s beta testing environment for apps, and users wishing to test the app will need to have TestFlight installed on their iPhone (or iPad). It’s not clear if this is still the case – but given Apple’s requirements, I would assume so.
  • Currently, the Lab isn’t focusing on providing any graphics support (a-la the 3D world view in Lumiya), with Keira commenting:

We haven’t focused too much on the graphics side, as we’ve been working on chat and security, but I’ll be sure to include that consideration when we get there.

– Keira Linden, Open Source Dev meeting, August 14th

Summary of Overall Approach to Mobile

  • When starting the project, consideration was given to developing mobile apps in a multi-platform framework, but the decision was made to develop natively for different platforms was the better way to go.
  • The decision to go for iOS over Android for the first app was largely made on the basis that Android was better supported at the time (late 2018) by 3rd party apps (including Lumiya).
  • The Lab believe that by focusing on one platform at a time will, ultimately allow them to roll out individual apps and enhancements to those apps faster.
  • Once the Lab is happy with the status of the first app, they will consider porting it to “other platforms”.
  • Concerns have been raised over the potential of a mobile app to increase ad-hoc group chat griefing. Both Oz and Keira indicated there are various server-side means of cutting back on such griefing under consideration as a part of a broader project that’s not directly linked to mobile app development.
  • A browser-based streaming solution is currently excluded from consideration, purely on the basis of cost-effectiveness to users (e.g. considering the pricing model for Bright Canopy), with Oz Linden commenting:

We’ve done several experiments with streamed viewers, and are watching the evolution of the required server side costs and capabilities. So far, we don’t think there’s a viable business model (that is, we’d have to charge too much), but we expect competition and technology to eventually change that.

– Oz Linden, Open Source Dev meeting, August 14th

In addition to the above, and more recently – during the second segment of Lab Gab – Reed Linden indicated that the Lab has a number of initiatives related to mobile support, including optimising the SL Marketplace for use on mobile devices. Please refer to my summary (with video) of that session.

Related Links

Again, thanks to Arielle Popstar for posting the  transcript excerpt.

Second Life iOS companion app – mini update

Logos © and ™ Linden Lab and Apple Inc

As I’ve previously reported (see: Linden Lab confirm Second Life iOS client in the making), Linden Lab is developing a companion app for Second Life that will run on Apple’s iOS.

Recently, during a Meet the Lindens session held at SL16B and at a Third Party Viewer Developer meeting, Oz Linden, the Senior Director, Second Life Engineering, provided further information on the status of the app, and what the initial release of the application will include.

While there is a degree of overlaps between what was said at the two events, there were also some differences in the information provided, with the TPV Developer meeting in particular being used to give further information on the app.

This being the case, I thought I’d offer a mini-update on the status of the app’s development, combining the comments made from both meetings into a single bullet-point list, with the relevant audio extracts from both meetings also provided for reference.

Note that throughout, Oz is only talking about the initial releases of the app, and so these notes and the audio comments should not be taken to mean the app will be “feature complete” when it appears, but that it will be enhanced over time, hopefully developing features that will make it more client-like (e.g. Radegast, MetaChat, lumiya, etc.) in general capabilities.

Summary of the comments made:

  • The app should initially be regarded as more of a communicator / companion app than a fully-rounded client:
    • It will provide a log-in option, and chat options (IM, group chat). Local chat will not initially be supported.
    • It will not present you with an in-world location, nor will your avatar rez in-world.
    • Seen as being useful for merchants / business owners to maintain contact with customers when away from their viewer.
    • Over time it will be enhanced – but additional capabilities are still TBD.
  • In theory, the app should work with both iPhones and iPads, although there may be some configuration differences.
  • The Lab have started the work of getting the initial test versions through Apple’s acceptance process.
    • It is not clear how long this will take, as it is the first time the Lab have followed this route themselves. However, it is hoped the first test version should be available in the “not too terribly distant” future.
    • When the app does appear, those wishing to test it will need to have TestFlight installed on their iPhone (or iPad), as the app will be made available though Apple’s beta testing environment for apps.
  • The major reason for selecting iOS for building an app of this kind is that at the time the decision was made, Android was well represented by Lumiya.
  • Some of the back-end infrastructure the Lab is building is support of the app might be applicable for use with a web application at some point. However, doing so is not in the current plans.

Oz’s comments from Meet the Lindens, June 25th, 2019:

Comments from the TPV Developer Meeting, June 28th, 2019 (these also include a comment on the app and iPads from Vir Linden):

  Again: note there is some overlap between these two sets of comments.

Linden Lab confirm Second Life iOS client in the making

Logos © and ™ Linden Lab and Apple Inc

On January 9th, 2019, and thanks to a pointer from Whirly Fizzle, I blogged Lab working on a Second Life iOS client? noting that a Bit Bucket code repository had recently been set-up by Brad Linden for just such a purpose.

In writing the piece, which includes some of the Lab’s recent commentary of the subject of mobile / streaming solutions for Second Life, I indicated that I had contacted Linden Lab with a series of questions concerning the repository and what it might signify, and that I’d provide an update on receiving any reply.

Being so early into the work, the Lab declined to comment on all of the questions I asked, but here is what they did say via-email in responding to my enquiry:

As you point out, we discussed at our Town Hall events last year that we’re actively looking at ways to extend the reach of Second Life to new audiences including mobile platforms. For example, we’re in the early stages of work on an iOS companion app for Second Life.  

Right now we’re focused on getting a prototype out to our Residents, at which point we’ll be looking for feedback and suggestions. In the early stages, we will not be tying the app to a streaming service. However, we don’t have anything to formally announce yet about the specific features, capabilities, and availability.

– Brett Linden,  Second life Marketing Manager, via e-mail

Granted, it’s not a lot of information, but there are a couple of potentially interesting elements to the statement that might help contextualise things /  be indicative of some of the thinking still in place at the Lab. For example, the use of the term mobile platforms and noting that that the iOS work is offered as an example of this work.

This would perhaps suggests (and in answer to some of the questions asked following my original piece) that an Android client is still part of the Lab’s thinking. Certainly, it is something I’d anticipate, given both the popularity of the Android platform and the popularity of Lumiya and Mobile Grid Client*.

I also found the comment In the early stages, we will not be tying the app to a streaming service interesting, suggesting as it does that a future streaming solution is still very much part of the Lab’s broader thinking.

Again, this would make sense given the ongoing move of SL to the cloud. As well as providing the means to deliver SL as a whole to users, the cloud move further deepens the Lab’s relationship with AWS. This might in turn allow them to more positively and cost-effectively (to both the Lab and to users) supply a streaming service to mobile devices and web browsers at some point in the future. Perhaps this might even be part of a broader examination of their product offerings once Second Life is firmly established within a cloud-based infrastructure.

So, food for thought; in the meantime. I’ll continue to update on the iOS work as / if / when news emerges.

* I’m intentionally avoiding LittleSight here, as it is questionable as to whether the app is still being maintained and the repeated complaints that users have been unable to log-in since the last update (October 2016).

Lab working on a Second Life iOS client?

Logos © and ™ Linden Lab and Apple Inc

We’re in the early discussion stages, so Grumpity and I – Grumpity who heads-up Product here for Second Life – we talk quite a bit about what it would mean to invest in a mobile Second Life experience or product. So we’re trying to figure out how to validate the idea, and how much would it take to do it, and what could the value be to us and to customers to do it.

– Ebbe Altberg, April 20th, 2018 Town Hall meeting

I’m leading with the above quote because in the early hours of Wednesday, January 9th, 2019 (UK time), Whirly Fizzle directed me towards a Linden Lab code repository on Bit Bucket, which reveals that work has apparently started on an iOS client for Second Life.

The repository has been posted by Brad Linden, and shows some initial code segments Brad has been working on.

Brad Linden’s Bit Bucket repository for the iOS Client. Note I’ve redacted his given last name and some other information in respect of his privacy (although I understand it has also been posted to the forums)

That the Lab could start work on a mobile solution has in some ways been heralded over the course of the past 12 months, with Ebbe and senior SL managers openly discussing thoughts and possible options.

In his April 2018 discussion, for example, Ebbe pointed out that at that time, there were still issues the Lab wanted to address in trying to develop a mobile client, including what kind of investment it would be, both monetarily and resource-wise, and what the return on investment might be gained for the effort, as well as trying to figure out how such a client might be used.

I think the main question is if it would really primarily be a companion for existing users, so therefore increase the time spent in engagement and commerce. Or would it be an opportunity to actually reach users who don’t even have PCs and Macs, and would that be an addressable market, is something we have to wrap our heads around.

– Ebbe Altberg, April 20th, 2018 Town Hall meeting

By June, and the SL15B Meet the Lindens talks, it was clear that the Lab was thinking long and hard about the merits of both mobile and streaming solutions, with Grumpity and Oz openly discussing both.

– Grumpity and Oz Linden discussing mobile / streaming options at SL15B, June 2018

Both the question of how a mobile  / streamed solution might be developed and used was also a topic Ebbe returned to in his SL15B session in June 2018. Like Oz and Grumpity, he pointed to a previous streamed solution, SL Go (Grumpity and Oz referenced Bright Canopy, which was founded after SL Go had ceased to be available).

– Ebbe Altberg  discussing mobile / streaming options at SL15B, June 2018

Whether the repository indicates the Lab has now answered those questions and is ready to go ahead with an iOS client, or whether it is another aspect of testing the water and seeing what can be done, code-wise is unclear. I also freely admit to being insufficiently versed in code to guess whether this work is geared towards a dedicated iOS client, or part of a larger streaming option.

Turning to the man who is fronting the project, Brad Linden joined Linden Lab a the time of the Windlight integration over 11 years ago, and since that time has been focused on viewer development, specifically in the area of viewer stability.  Interestingly, the first indication that the Lab might be ready to move beyond talking about a mobile client came in December 2018, when Brad changed his Second Life Display Name from Brad Linden to Mobile Brad.

Brad Linden changed his display name to Mobile Brad in December 2018

I have contacted the Lab about the repository and what might be coming out of it placed with the Lab, and will update should a reply be received.

In the meantime, until such time as Linden Lab do clarify the work, it shouldn’t be assumed any kind of iOS client is about to be released in the immediate future. However, that the Lab is working on code would appear to be a positive sign, again given Ebbe’s words at the April Town Hall.

I hope will come to the conclusion to jump in soon; so more to come on that.

– Ebbe Altberg, April 20th, 2018 Town Hall meeting