PopCharts – animating ShinobiCharts with Facebook’s Pop Library

Written by Sam Davies


One of the things in the app design toolkit which can really enhance the user experience is animation. Used carefully animations can enhance usability, convey information and delight your users. ShinobiCharts currently support entry and exit animations – that is when a chart is drawn for the first time or is redrawn, the data points will animate into position. However, it’s not currently possible to animate from one data set to another.

Facebook has recently been open-sourcing a lot of the frameworks they created to create the Paper app. There is a lot of good stuff there – I encourage you to take a look through their github profile github.com/facebook. One of the more recent additions was pop – an extensible animation engine for iOS and OSX. Unlike CoreAnimation or UIKit Dynamics, it’s possible to use pop to animate anything you like – via the use of custom animatable properties.

I decided that it would be interesting to try and use pop to animate between data values on our iOS Charts. Not only was the process pretty painless – the end result is really quite impressive. In this post I’m going to outline the technique, so you too can animate between datasets. I’ll assume that you are familiar with ShinobiCharts, including the concepts associated with the different chart types and the data source protocol. If you are unsure about this you should go and take a look at the excellent user guide – it’s full of info to take you from a novice to a ninja in no time.


The code is all available on github at github.com/ShinobiControls/PopGoesShinobi. You’ll need a copy of ShinobiCharts – a trial of which you can download from the website, and CocoaPods. Once you’ve cloned the repo, you’ll need to run pod install to pull down the pop library. For further info on using CocoaPods, check out their great user guides.

Datasource design

I want to animate some quarterly sales figures between different years:

2012 2013 2014
Q1 120 10 150
Q2 140 60 120
Q3 50 110 160
Q4 120 40 100

The important point here is that the number of data points remains constant (4) – we’re only going to consider the case when data points change value – not appear and disappear, although that is a potential extension. The data is categorical (with names Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4), and these categories remain constant as the data changes. Therefore we’ll create a data source in which you have to provide the category names up-front, and then you can provide new values to which to animate the data points to. The interface looks like this:

@interface SCAnimatingDataSource : NSObject

- (instancetype)initWithChart:(ShinobiChart *)chart categories:(NSArray *)categories;

// To make the data source more generic
@property (nonatomic, copy) SChartSeries* (^seriesCreatorBlock)(void);

- (void)animateToValues:(NSArray *)values;


In addition to the constructor and the value animation method, there is also a block property which will allow the same datasource to be used for different chart types. This block will be used to generate the correct SChartSeries object for the current chart e.g. pie or column chart.

For now, let’s ignore the animation – and ensure that the datasource will update the values on the chart when they are passed to the animateToValues: method.

Add a class extension to store some private properties:

@interface SCAnimatingDataSource () <SChartDatasource>

@property (nonatomic, strong) NSArray *categories;
@property (nonatomic, strong) NSArray *datapoints;
@property (nonatomic, weak) ShinobiChart *chart;


The constructor is pretty simple:

- (instancetype)initWithChart:(ShinobiChart *)chart categories:(NSArray *)categories
    self = [super init];
    if(self) {
        self.categories = categories;
        self.chart = chart;
        self.chart.datasource = self;

        self.seriesCreatorBlock = ^SChartSeries*() {
            return [SChartColumnSeries new];

        [self initialiseDataPoints];
    return self;

Notice here that we’re setting the chart’s datasource to ourself, saving off the arguments and setting some defaults. The initialiseDataPoints method is a utility method which creates the required data points and provides them with some initial data:

- (void)initialiseDataPoints
    NSMutableArray *newDatapoints = [NSMutableArray new];
    [self.categories enumerateObjectsUsingBlock:^(id obj, NSUInteger idx, BOOL *stop) {
        SChartDataPoint *dp = [SChartDataPoint new];
        dp.xValue = obj;
        dp.yValue = @1;
        [newDatapoints addObject:dp];
    self.datapoints = [newDatapoints copy];

Since this class is adopting the SChartDatasource protocol there are 4 required methods to implement:

#pragma mark - SChartDataSource methods
- (NSInteger)numberOfSeriesInSChart:(ShinobiChart *)chart
    return 1;

- (SChartSeries *)sChart:(ShinobiChart *)chart seriesAtIndex:(NSInteger)index
    return self.seriesCreatorBlock();

- (NSInteger)sChart:(ShinobiChart *)chart numberOfDataPointsForSeriesAtIndex:(NSInteger)seriesIndex
    return [self.datapoints count];

- (id<SChartData>)sChart:(ShinobiChart *)chart dataPointAtIndex:(NSInteger)dataIndex
    return self.datapoints[dataIndex];

This is all pretty standard for a ShinobiChart data source – notice that we’re using the seriesCreatorBlock() to create the SChartSeries object we need, and that we’re just returning the SChartDataPoint objects from the datapoints array.

The last piece of the puzzle with this data source is the animateToValues: method. When we created the data source we created the correct number of data points and implemented all the required methods, but we haven’t actually provided any plot data. Create the following method implementation:

- (void)animateToValues:(NSArray *)values
    if([values count] != [self.categories count]) {
        NSException *ex = [NSException exceptionWithName:NSInvalidArgumentException
                                                  reason:@"The values array must be of the same size as the categories"
        @throw ex;

    [self.datapoints enumerateObjectsUsingBlock:^(SChartDataPoint *dp, NSUInteger idx, BOOL *stop) {
        sp.yValue = values[idx];

    [self.chart reloadData];
    [self.chart redrawChart];

Firstly we’re checking that we have been provided the correct number of values. We expect the argument to be an NSArray containing NSNumber objects. Since we decided before that this datasource will not allow the number of data points to change then if the sizes differ we’re throwing an exception.

Then we go through the data point array and update their yValue property so that it represents the provided value.

Finally, since we’ve replaced the data, the chart reloads its data with reloadData and redraws redrawChart.

That completes the first pass at the (non-)animating data source – we should probably work out how to use it.

Using the datasource

We’re not going to go into great detail in how to set up your view controller to display a chart. If you download the PopGoesShinobi project you’ll see that there is a storyboard which contains a ShinobiChart, and a couple of segmented controls (one to select the year, the other the chart type). We’ll only take a look at the salient parts of SCViewController.m – take a look at the sample project if you wish to find out more.

- (void)viewDidLoad
    [super viewDidLoad];
    // Do any additional setup after loading the view, typically from a nib.

    self.chart.licenseKey = @"<Trial Key Here>";

    // 1.
    NSArray *categories = @[@"Q1", @"Q2", @"Q3", @"Q4"];
    self.yearlyData = @[@[@120, @140, @50,  @120],
                        @[@10,  @60,  @110, @40],
                        @[@150, @120, @160, @100]];

    // 2.
    self.datasource = [[SCAnimatingDataSource alloc] initWithChart:self.chart

    // 3.
    SChartAxis *xAxis = [SChartCategoryAxis new];
    self.chart.xAxis = xAxis;
    SChartAxis *yAxis = [[SChartNumberAxis alloc] initWithRange:[[SChartNumberRange alloc] initWithMinimum:@0
    yAxis.title = @"Sales";
    self.chart.yAxis = yAxis;

    // 4.
    // Render the first year available
    self.yearSelectorSegmented.selectedSegmentIndex = 0;
    [self handleYearSelected:self.yearSelectorSegmented];

    // 5.
    // Render the first chart
    self.chartTypeSegmented.selectedSegmentIndex = 0;
    [self handleChartTypeSelected:self.chartTypeSegmented];
  1. The data to be displayed: a list of category names and the data for each year.
  2. Create the data source object – passing in the categories and the chart.
  3. Create the axes – we need a category axis and a number axis. Assign them to the chart.
  4. Setup the year selector segment control, and call the handler method to ensure the datasource has been provided the relevant data.
  5. Setup the chart type selector, and call the handler to ensure setup is complete.

There are 2 methods here which need a little more explanation – namely the handlers for the segmented control changes. Firstly the year selector:

- (IBAction)handleYearSelected:(id)sender {
    NSArray *values = self.yearlyData[self.yearSelectorSegmented.selectedSegmentIndex];
    [self.datasource animateToValues:values];

This method is really simple – firstly it grabs the correct data from the pre-filled array store, and then asks the data source to animate to the new values.

The chart type selector is a little more complicated, but not much so:

- (IBAction)handleChartTypeSelected:(id)sender {
    if(self.chartTypeSegmented.selectedSegmentIndex == 0) {
        self.datasource.seriesCreatorBlock = ^SChartSeries*() {
            SChartPieSeries *pieSeries = [SChartPieSeries new];
            pieSeries.style.showLabels = NO;
            return pieSeries;
        self.chart.legend.hidden = NO;
    } else {
        self.datasource.seriesCreatorBlock = ^SChartSeries*() {
            return [SChartColumnSeries new];
        self.chart.legend.hidden = YES;
    [self.chart reloadData];
    [self.chart redrawChart];

Changing a chart type is as simple as updating the block which is used to create the series. A pie series requires a bit of additional setup to prevent the data labels from showing, whereas the column series is just a vanilla object. Once the datasource has been updated then we reloadData and redrawChart to see the effects in practice.

If you run the app up now, then you’ll see a pretty cool app, which allows you to jump between different years of data, and display that data on 2 differnt chart types. However, you’ll notice that when you change year, the data points just snap to their new value. This blog post was sold as being about animating this change, and we’ve not touched on that at all yet. Let’s get to it.

Creating a custom animation property with pop

One of the great things about pop (there are many) is that it is a general purpose animation engine – you can pretty much animate anything. For example, you could “animate” audio volume, or, as we’re doing here, the value of a shinobi chart data point.

There are lot of standard things which you can animate – such as the bounds of a UView or a CALayer, and these are catered for in the API. However, to animate a non-standard property, we have to create a POPAnimateableProperty, which will contain within it the knowledge of how to read the current value of the thing being animated, and how to write back to it as the animation engine runs.

Pop is easily installed as a CocoaPod – for instructions checkout the getting started section on github.com/facebook/pop. There isn’t much code required to add the animation to the datasource – we need a custom property to animate, and then to create and apply the animation itself.

Since we’re going to need to use the animation property repeatedly, create a new property in the class extension:

@property (nonatomic, strong) POPAnimatableProperty *animateableValuesProperty;

And then create it in the constructor:

self.animateableValuesProperty = [POPAnimatableProperty propertyWithName:@"com.shinobicontrols.popgoesshinobi.animatingdatasource"
                                                             initializer:^(POPMutableAnimatableProperty *prop) {
    // read value
    prop.readBlock = ^(SChartDataPoint *dp, CGFloat values[]) {
        values[0] = [dp.yValue floatValue];
    // write value
    prop.writeBlock = ^(SChartDataPoint *dp, const CGFloat values[]) {
        dp.yValue = @(MAX(values[0], 0));
        [self.chart reloadData];
        [self.chart redrawChart];
    // dynamics threshold
    prop.threshold = 0.01;

During an animation, the engine will send the current in-flight value to the POPAnimateableProperty, and this will apply this to the underlying object as appropriate. In order to do this there are 2 blocks – a readBlock, which translates from the object being animated into the animation engine, and a writeBlock which does the converse.

In our chart we are going to animate the yValue of the data points – so the read block involves extracting the yValue of the datapoint and placing it in the provided float array.

The writeBlock will do the converse – setting the yValue property on the data point to the value provided by the engine. Here we’re clipping it to be positive so as not to upset pie charts. Once we’ve set the value, the chart needs to reload its data and redraw itself.

This point highlights a limitation with this approach. Since every tick of the animation engine will result in a redraw of the chart, it’s not very efficient. It means that this approach is great for small datasets, but will struggle with large amounts of data.

The only other bit of code we need to change is the implementation of the animateToValues: method:

- (void)animateToValues:(NSArray *)values
    if([values count] != [self.categories count]) {
        NSException *ex = [NSException exceptionWithName:NSInvalidArgumentException
                                                  reason:@"The values array must be of the same size as the categories"
        @throw ex;

    [self.datapoints enumerateObjectsUsingBlock:^(SChartDataPoint *dp, NSUInteger idx, BOOL *stop) {
        POPSpringAnimation *anim = [POPSpringAnimation animation];
        anim.property = self.animateableValuesProperty;
        anim.fromValue = dp.yValue;
        anim.toValue = values[idx];
        anim.springBounciness = self.springBounciness;
        anim.springSpeed = self.springSpeed;

        [dp pop_addAnimation:anim forKey:@"ValueChangeAnimation"];

Instead of hard resetting the values as we did before, we now animate from the current value to the new value. The syntax of pop is very similar to CoreAnimation. We create an animation object – here a POPSpringAnimation, and set the property to the custom property we created. We want to animate from the current value (dp.yValue) to the value sent as an argument, and there are a couple of properties to configure the behavior of the spring animation.

Finally we use the new method added via pop category to NSObject to add the animation to the datapoint. Specifying the key like this means that if the method is called before the animation is complete then the animation will gracefully switch to the new value.

If you run the app up now and switch between years then you’ll see that the data points animate nicely between values. Pretty cool for about 20 lines of animation code!

Pop Pie

The sample project includes some UISlider controls to enable tuning of the spring bounciness and speed properties in the animation. You can play with these to see the effect on the animation.


Pop is a really quite powerful framework – a generic animator, which can be used to animate pretty much anything. In the world of iOS it provides the real-world authenticity of UIKit Dynamics, but with an API more akin to CoreAnimation. In fact if you’ve used CoreAnimation, then pop isn’t too difficult to grasp.

In order to animate the data points in a ShinobiChart, we used the ability of pop to animate arbitrary values, by creating our own animateable property. This functionality could be extended to any number of things, both on a chart (e.g. an annotation) or in an unrelated context (e.g. volume).

Don’t forget that all the code is available on github at github.com/ShinobiControls/PopGoesShinobi. Feel free to add issues and comments to the repo, or fork it and have a play with the different animation features available in pop.

Take a look at pop – see whether there are things you can animate which would have been really difficult or impossible using CoreAnimation. I don’t advocate replacing all your animation with pop, but it certainly has some advantages.