“Apple” Category

End WWDC

Daniel Jalkut thinks WWDC has run its course:

Instead of a week each year when a developer must enter a lottery for a chance at talking directly with a knowledgable Apple engineer in the labs, beef up the existing Developer Technical Support process and workflow so that vexing issues can be driven to the point of resolution, and so that the fruits of those discoveries can be shared with others. For every “lifesaving” tip a developer has received in the WWDC labs, how many others continue to struggle in anguish because the effort was never made to codify that wisdom in the form of a developer technote or other reference material? It doesn’t make sense … it’s a bug, if you will … that so many Apple developers feel that their only opportunity to solve a problem is by meeting in person with an Apple engineer at WWDC.

I agree. Apple needs to re-think how they achieve WWDC’s goals, and Daniel has some excellent ideas for how to do it.

April 25th, 2013

Circles

Circles is a new iOS memory by Built By Snowman. Beautiful app, and beautifully simple, too. They’re donating a portion of all revenue to an Alzheimer’s charity as well, which is just terrific. Check it out.

April 24th, 2013

The Tapped Out Smartphone Market

Benedict Evans points out that the smartphone market is mostly tapped out:

Growth for any given manufacturer necessarily becomes a matter of taking sales away from other smartphone manufacturers, not featurephone manufacturers (i.e. Nokia). Moreover, Moore’s Law is at work, driving down prices; you can now get a 4.5″ dual core Android phone from Huawei for just $200, and one from a generic Chinese manufacturer for $120-$150. 

This is clearly a challenge for any handset OEM, but especially for one at the high end. There are fewer and fewer new high-end buyers coming into the market and the ones you sold to in the past may increasingly be tempted by ever improving cheaper phones. So a high-end phone maker risks losing sales if it stays at the high-end, or losing margin if it makes cheaper phones, or both. 

This transition is the biggest threat to Apple’s future because the iPhone is responsible for so much of the company’s earnings.

April 23rd, 2013

“Why Apple wants to launch iRadio”

Janko Roettgers notes that Pandora users are slightly more likely to report that owning music is important to them, and then argues:

The company didn’t make any data available about people who pay for a streaming subscription, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see significantly lower interest in music ownership amongst users who pay for unlimited access.

That’s why it’s smart for Apple to invest in iRadio. The goal is not to kill Pandora, but to actually bring that type of radio service to more users, and keep them from switching to a full-blown access model. In other words: It’s not about Pandora, and all about Spotify.

I’m skeptical that the data Roettgers is using, which comes from the NPD Group, means much of anything in this case; while streaming service users may have much lower interest in owning music, I doubt that Pandora users would report higher interest because they use Pandora. Instead, it may be self-selecting—people who care less about owning music (or care more about selection) might choose streaming services, whereas everyone else will use non-random access services like Pandora and purchase songs and albums they really like.

That said, this sort of service could help compete with Spotify, Rdio et al., but not because it will provide similar functionality to them. Rather, it could make iTunes more useful. iTunes’ Genius auto genre and playlist-making features are actually incredibly good, so using it across iTunes’ entire library of music could be terrific. Embedding that in iTunes, iPhone and iPad would be great, and would give people more reason to stay on the iTunes platform.

What it won’t do, though, is convince people who highly value unlimited access to replace Spotify or Rdio with iTunes or to stick with iTunes over those services. They’re simply not substitutes.

April 18th, 2013

Ken Segall’s Post-Mortem of Johnson’s JC Penny Plan

Ken Segall wrote an excellent analysis of Ron Johnson’s tenure at JC Penny:

In my opinion, there is one very simple reason. I don’t mean to minimize it, because it’s a horrific miscalculation, and I can understand why Ron would be dismissed because of it:

Ron failed because he changed the prices long before he could visibly change the stores.

He did a basic cleanup of the selling environment (eliminated junk and switched to whole-number pricing). Then, before he could widen the appeal of jcp, he took away the one thing traditional customers were hanging onto: sales and coupons.

Sounds right to me: when sales drop 25 percent and you put in a $552m net loss in the fourth quarter, it’s hard to recover.

In his last episode of the Talk Show with Michael Lopp at the Úll Conference, John Gruber compared Johnson’s taking over of JC Penny to Jobs’s return to Apple in 1997, saying that Jobs received a lot of time to work. He’s right, but the comparison is flawed; Apple made a profit in the first quarter of 1998 of $47 million after dramatically reducing operating expenses. That quarter certainly wasn’t a success, but they turned a small profit after losing $120 million in the year-ago quarter. JC Penny, on the other hand, has seen a scary erosion in sales and income.

Jobs wasn’t given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted without consequences; rather, he stabilized the company’s position while making serious changes. Segall is arguing that Johnson failed to do that. His plan may have been sound, but he further destabilized the company before he could make his vision a reality.

April 17th, 2013

ReadKit

I use Instapaper a lot—basically everyday—to keep track of things I need to read and things to post. On my Mac, I just use Instapaper in the browser to make posts, but I’ve hoped for a decent Instapaper client for a while.

ReadKit looks like it fits the bill. It’s simple, supports Instapaper, Pocket, Pinboard and Delicious, but it’s also relatively well-featured. Managing folders in Instapaper through the iOS versions and on the web has always been a bit of a pain, but it’s much easier to do on a Mac—and should be much more useful for me as a result.

Here’s Federico Viticci’s review from January.

If you have similar needs, I’d recommend giving it a look.

Thanks to Ben Brooks for pointing it out.

April 17th, 2013

iCloud: State of the Union

Tom Harrington:

This puts software developers in an impossible position. Users hear about how great iCloud is and how apps can use it to sync their own data. They quite reasonably wonder why your app isn’t using it. Syncing data is a great idea, Apple gives you iCloud, why aren’t you using it, dammit? But if you did use it, the app would be so unreliable that users would (again, quite reasonably) complain that it was a steaming pile of shit.

Sigh.

April 3rd, 2013

Alan Kay Speaks

There are many insightful things in this interview with Alan Kay and I suggest you read it in its entirety. Here are two:

By contrast, it is not a huge exaggeration to point out that electronic media over the last 100+ years have actually removed some of day to day needs for reading and writing, and have allowed much of the civilized world to lapse back into oral societal forms (and this is not a good thing at all for systems that require most of the citizenry to think in modern forms).

For most people, what is going on is quite harmful.

And:

One way to think of all of these organizations is to realize that if they require a charismatic leader who will shoot people in the knees when needed, then the corporate organization and process is a failure. It means no group can come up with a good decision and make it stick just because it is a good idea. All the companies I’ve worked for have this deep problem of devolving to something like the hunting and gathering cultures of 100,000 years ago. If businesses could find a way to invent “agriculture” we could put the world back together and all would prosper.

April 3rd, 2013

Design Products As a User

When Apple announced the iPhone in 2007, they presented it as a device that did three things: made calls, played music and video, and browsed the web. When I saw the announcement, I knew that day that I had to have one when it was released.

That wasn’t because I was an Apple geek (although I certainly was). It was because I immediately knew what it did and what it would do for me. It would do what I’d tried to do with a PocketPC for a couple years—put the web, my contacts and calendar in my pocket, wherever I am—and combine my phone and iPod into a single device that is superior to them at their intended function. I knew it because that’s how Apple presented it. They presented it as a device that did those three things.

They could have presented it as a technological marvel, a device that combines a high-resolution multitouch screen, fast mobile processor, cell and WiFi radios, and proximity, ambient light and accelerometer sensors into a handheld device with desktop-breed software and surprisingly-good battery life, a PC in your pocket. But they didn’t; rather, they presented it in terms of what it did for users and what they would find useful about it.

This isn’t important just for presenting the iPhone, however; of course, doing so made it immediately intelligible to me and many others, even those for whom the technology underneath it is closer to magic than science. They presented it from the user’s perspective, rather than from the creator’s, and showed what role it could play in our own lives, rather than make the viewer do that translation on their own. That’s an important lesson for how to market a product, but I think what’s even more important is that this focus on what it does for the user didn’t start at Apple when they began creating the presentation to introduce the iPhone—it began all the way at the beginning of the project itself. They envisioned and designed the product as a user, rather than as a designer or engineer.

What this means is starting with a problem or unfulfilled need that people have, something that, if it were improved, would make people’s lives better in some way. Then, you must understand precisely what that problem is, what the person really wants, and what the underlying causes of it are. Only then will you start designing a product or service. By doing so, the entire product creation process—from generating ideas (“ideation,” a word I loathe) to packaging and delivering it to customers—is within the context of solving a concrete problem. Every design and engineering decision made happens within it, and there is a built-in decision process for whether to add or remove something, and metric for how well each part succeeds: does it better solve the problem for the user?

This goes beyond “empathizing” with users.1 Instead, it means thinking as a user, from beginning to end, and using that perspective to decide what you should or shouldn’t do, and what your product or service should or shouldn’t be.

Apple does this better than any other company, and that’s the case in part because they are ruthlessly focused on it. One of Jobs’s more well-known sayings is that he is as proud of the products they didn’t ship as the ones they have shipped. This line is held up as a reminder that to do great work, companies must focus. But focus on what? This provides us with an answer: focus on what will do the most good for users. All decisions flow from that.

  1. “Empathize with your users” has always seemed rather disgusting a concept to me—it shouldn’t be some great insight to empathize with your users, and in fact, it sounds clinically calculating to me: empathize with your users and you will have more success! Empathy—understanding the feelings of others and caring for them—should be the starting point for all businesses rather than something to bolt on in order to increase sales. []
April 3rd, 2013

The Pebble as Model A

Stephen Hackett:

The Pebble is like the Model A. When people looked at the Model A, some realized it was the future, and that one day, everyone would drive one. Others thought Henry Ford was off his rocker and that his invention was a one-off that wouldn’t ever go anywhere.

Good analogy.

March 29th, 2013

2 Letters from Steve

Wow:

In March 2010, just a couple of weeks before the iPad was due to be released publicly, I had a reason to contact Steve. A friend of mine was dying of liver disease and I was going to San Francisco to hopefully see and communicate with her while it was still possible. She was a friend from my Adobe days and was very much into technology. I thought it would be a treat for her to see an iPad. And I had one. But until the product was officially released I could not show it to anyone without permission from Apple management.

This is a short little story from David Gelphman, but it’s a must-read. This is an example of how a company should be run: make exceptions when necessary, empower employees, and trust them to do the right thing with that power.

Oh, and be human.

What a beautiful story.

March 29th, 2013

Simplicity, Ingenuity and Gumption

Patrick Rhone:

I’ve started to notice a trend with the apps that garner my personal praise. Some traits that they almost always share.

Simplicity, ingenuity and gumption. I love that. Very good way to summarize what good design is.

March 29th, 2013

Why Developers Shouldn’t Use iCloud Syncing

Brent Simmons on why you shouldn’t use iCloud, even if it worked without issue:

Here’s the thing: half the mobile revolution is about designing and building apps for smartphones and tablets.

The other half is about writing the web services that power those apps.

How comfortable are you with outsourcing half your app to another company? The answer should be: not at all comfortable.

That’s right, and his other arguments (which are similar to the ones I made last year) are convincing, too.

iCloud is limiting, and building your own service allows you to provide more services. All true, but sometimes, all we want is for our data to follow us around to each device we use. With Quotebook, for example, I don’t really want unique social features that they could only build with a custom sync service—I just want all of my quotes on my iPhone and iPad, and I want to be able to add them from any of my devices.

In cases like Quotebook, it’s still possible that iCloud isn’t the right answer, because there’s no way for them to build a web application on top of iCloud. But that doesn’t mean they should have to write their own sync service. We should, ideally, be able to build on top of existing sync solutions, and write our own only if it’s truly necessary. I don’t think it’s good for the future of mobile computing if everyone is effectively required to write their own sync service. The number of devices people use is getting larger, but syncing data across them is still a difficult task. The goal should be to solve much of it for people.

March 27th, 2013

Black Pixel Talks NetNewsWire

Black Pixel said a little about what’s happening with NetNewsWire. The good news: they’re developing new Mac and iOS versions. The bad news:

As far as sync is concerned, we knew we would likely need an alternative to Google Reader as early as last year. At the time, the option that seemed to make the most sense was to embrace iCloud and Core Data as the new sync solution of choice. We spent a considerable amount of time on this effort, but iCloud and Core Data syncing had issues that we simply could not resolve.

Ugh. As Steve Streza said on Twitter, if they can’t get it to work—a team of incredibly talented people—who can?

I really hope Apple’s working to fix iCloud’s issues. It needs to work, both for developers and for Apple.

March 20th, 2013

Cameron Moll On the Apple Watch

Cameron Moll:

Apple faces the opposite problem it faced with iPhone, where every phone in the market was painful to use. Just about every analog or digital watch on the market is already extremely easy to use. The challenge facing Apple is one of introducing new complexity, rather than eliminating it.

But the real potential for Apple Watch lies in serving as a vehicle for innovation, rather than the sole provider of it.

(Via Shawn Blanc.)

March 19th, 2013