Amazing. By Mat Honan.
(Via John Moltz.)
Amazing. By Mat Honan.
(Via John Moltz.)
Sponsored by An Event Apart and CocoaConf.
By Mark Wunsch, the web developer:
There is no unified Google that is “good” or “evil”. There is just an organizational clusterfuck that is unable to decide what it thinks is truly the best way to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Is that by forcing web authors into a social network in order to improve directory results? Is that by dipping a toe into the music business? Is that by abandoning standards like RSS and XMPP/Jabber? I don’t think so.
Google has a problem. The problem is that nobody says no. Google effectively owns the Web, and they’re lousy managers.
A great take on the increasing, sprawling power that Google has over such a huge portion of the web.
For Google, Android was a detour from their focus on owning and dominating web services; it ensured that those services would be freely accessible in this new world of computing, including on the iPhones and iPads that were used liberally in nearly every keynote demo. And, now that Android is successful, Google is back to focusing on “the best of Google”.
Speaking of John Gruber being smart, are you reading everything by Ben Thompson yet?
Excellent, succinct post by John Gruber about Larry Page’s attempt to change the conversation whenever Google rips something off or crushes a market.
Politicians and executives do this all the time. “Arguing about [controversial thing we did], focusing too much on [our weakness], or implementing [regulation that benefits the public but makes us less profitable] isn’t constructive and/or is holding back progress/jobs/children/America.”
Among its many other similarities to ’90s-era Microsoft, Google seems desperate to prove that it’s a major innovator of original product ideas, despite most of its strengths lying in improving, extending, devaluing, and better executing everyone else’s.
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Thanks to Squarespace for sponsoring Marco.org this week.
Design is about identifying, understanding, and ultimately feeling your end users’ needs, and then meeting those needs. Facebook Home, like countless SV startups, looked beautiful, worked elegantly, and didn’t meet any needs.
I’d go a bit further and say it’s actually designed badly. Facebook Home rested on two major assumptions:
OK, show of hands:
Facebook Home was flat-out badly designed: it’s designed for optimal input and failed to consider real-world usage.
And it looks like demand for Home was from the same imaginary world as their perfect input.
Matt Gemmell on skeuomorphism and intuitive design:
Our industry isn’t young anymore, but it’s still full of fear about whether so-called non-technical people will be able to use its products. I think we’ve been trying to get to less adorned, more information-centric interfaces for quite some time, but we’re still making the same tired old arguments from the golden age of human-computer interaction, about how humans need faux three-dimensional cues about the affordances of on-screen objects. Buttons apparently have to look “pushable”, or no-one will push them.
The reality is more nuanced. Our tastes, and capabilities, have moved a bit beyond screamingly-obvious knobs and dials. We don’t need drop-shadows to encourage us to poke at something. All we need is an invitation, in the form of icons or labels or animations which imply functionality, and a consistency of presentation which allows us to make a good guess about what we can interact with.
Matt, a programmer by trade, addresses the skeuomorphism debate more effectively than most designers I’ve heard arguing about it.
This is a very serious problem — not only does this cross major ethical lines, but it reveals a severe lack of security at Bloomberg.
Why did Bloomberg News reporters — rank-and-file employees of an entirely different division — have so much access to customer data from the financial-terminal division? Why should reporters have any access to customer information? Who else in the company needlessly has access to it?
Since JPMorgan Chase reportedly had a similar issue last summer, this had to be happening for quite a while. Does a company as big as Bloomberg, dealing with such sensitive data with such huge possible financial risks, not log and audit employee queries of customer data?
This isn’t the result of a fluke hack or a couple of bad employees — this is serious security negligence.
I applied for a job at Bloomberg in 2006.1 I wonder how many reporters there have access to all of my personal information.
I ended up joining Davidville instead, for less money, because David would let me work on a brand new Mac with any keyboard I wanted and more than three feet of desk space. A few months later, we started Tumblr. Turned out to be the right move. ↩
Time-limited trial or “demo” versions of apps have always been prohibited in the iOS App Store. Recently, discussions about trials have reignited in the circles I follow.
Rene Ritchie, partially in response to my paid-app market post, wrote The market for paid apps, and the sum of all compromises a few weeks ago:
Buyers want to avoid risk and expensing any more money than they have to, so they compromise on buying apps they might otherwise enjoy. Since there are no trials, absent urgent and immediate need or factors like addiction or ego-gratification, most people won’t spend any significant amount of money on apps.
This week, Dave Addey touched on a similar point in Apps Are Too Cheap:
If I purchase one app, and it doesn’t solve my problem, then I have no way to get the cost of that app back. If I try another, and the result is the same, then that’s two apps I’ve paid for that don’t do what I need. In fact, the price of the app that eventually does solve my problem is the cost of all of the apps I have to buy to find it. The result is that I’m willing to pay less for each individual app.
This is certainly a common occurrence. And the root of most of this discussion — that apps are too cheap, and everyone would be better off if they weren’t — is a real problem for a lot of developers. But Apple permitting (and technically supporting) free trials may not be the panacea to fix low app prices for everyone.
It’s not hard to imagine a world where we have free trials, because we already have such worlds: the Mac and Windows. What most mobile-app developers want is the ability to charge PC-class pricing — $30, $50, $100 instead of 99 cents, $2.99, $4.99.
But PC-class pricing would fundamentally change iOS buying habits, and we may not like the results.
Browsing the App Store and getting new apps, often spending a few bucks along the way, is a form of casual entertainment for a lot of people. This role used to be filled by movies and music. Today, it’s filled by browsing the internet and playing with mobile apps. Usually, they’re games, but not always — modern mainstream culture, especially among younger people, seems to be more interested in media and social apps than games.
This apps-as-entertainment market falls apart if app pricing rises above casual-disposable levels for most people. Few people balk at spending $1-3 for something that doesn’t end up being that great, but when someone’s $30 app is disappointing, that’s going to stick with them and inhibit future purchases.
There’s also the market of geeks, power users, and productivity users, including me and probably you. We want good apps to do the things we care about, so we’re likely to try multiple options before settling on the one we end up using (…for a while).
We’re often tire kickers:
Someone who is indecisive about purchasing a product or service, and never feels satisfied with what they are offered.
We’ll buy a new to-do app every three months because we’re never more than 80% satisfied with the one we’re using. We’ve bought seventeen weather apps, and next time Ben Brooks finds a new one, we’ll buy it, too. When we need to solve a new problem and three $1–3 apps all purport to solve it, we’ll probably end up buying all three of them to find the one that works best for us.
We’re not the mainstream, certainly, but we’re not a small market. Depending on what your app does, we might even be the majority of your market.
If you sell a low-priced app in the App Store with no free version, you make money from every tire kicker.
Even if we end up using a different app instead of yours, we still bought yours to try it out. We had to, because we couldn’t get a free trial — we paid to satisfy our curiosity of why Viticci raved about your app so much, or how a Twitter friend used your app to post that cool link, or how well you’re going to solve our most important problem right now. If the app is only a dollar or two, enough of us are OK with paying just to try it,1 even if we’re not going to end up using it every day for the next five years.
If the App Store mostly moved to higher purchase prices with trials, rather than today’s low purchase prices and no trials, this pattern would almost completely disappear. Instead, we’d get the free trials for almost everything, and then we’d only end up paying for the one that we liked best, or the cheapest one that solved the need, or maybe none of them if we didn’t need them for very long or decided that none were worth their prices.
In this type of market, the winners can make a lot more, because you can indeed charge more money.2 But the “middle class” — all of those apps that get tried but not bought — all make much less.
That’s exactly how the Mac and Windows markets, with free trials and higher prices, have always been. A few people make a lot, a few people make a living, but most people make very little.
Far more developers3 can make a living on iOS — partly because of the payment integration, partly because of the market size, and maybe also because the low prices and lack of trials boost the middle-class income from apps-as-entertainment buyers and tire kickers.
If we get trials, even if implemented very nicely, we may ruin that. Is that really what we want, as developers or customers?
I believe the “paying just to try it” effect is why Instapaper’s sales saw a slight increase, rather than any decrease, after I discontinued the free edition. The only remaining option if you wanted to see what Instapaper was like was to buy the paid app. ↩
Although how much more you can charge is debatable. Look at the Mac App Store: people can get free trials from many developers’ websites, yet we’ve still seen Mac software pricing drop dramatically since the introduction of the App Store.
Maybe the real cause of lower Mac pricing since the App Store is that if you drop your price, you have a better chance of climbing the charts, which drives more sales and you end up grossing more overall — the main reason why iOS apps are so cheap.
Abolishing the “top” lists from all App Store interfaces and exclusively showing editorially selected apps in browsing screens would do a hell of a lot more than trials to promote healthy app economics and the creation of high-quality software. ↩
Not every iOS developer succeeds at making a living from it, but I’m still convinced that’s usually a matter of oversupply, not pricing or trials.
I bet that far more developers make their living developing iOS apps than Mac apps, even if you do a per-capita-like adjustment to normalize their installed bases. ↩
In this week’s podcast: Tick-tock in iOS, PHP framework theory, passwordless logins, the Mac Mini’s accidental success, the word “podcast”, and Apple providing a sync platform for developers.
Sponsored by Mac Mini Vault and Hover.
This is how Business Insider re-titled my kit-lens post. This is why people who write opinions online get so much unnecessary shit from people: they read these inflammatory headlines that other people write, then they get unfairly angry at the original posts’ authors.
I didn’t say don’t put a “cheap lens” on your SLR. I said don’t use the kit lens — specifically, the 18–55mm lens that comes with most Canon SLRs for about a $150 premium over getting the body alone. Instead, I recommended getting the EF 40mm f/2.8 prime, which retails for… $150.
Their headline turned my argument about quality and value into elitist-sounding flamebait.
But I shouldn’t be surprised, because Business Insider knows nothing about quality and value.
But I can see three significant contextual differences between 2013 and 2007, and I think it’s those differences that likely provide the best hint as to what to expect in upcoming versions of iOS.
So what has changed since 2007?
I’d also add that the hardware is significantly different — in particular, we now have a (comparatively) huge amount of RAM on these devices, a major difference from the original iPhone’s hardware that influenced a lot about iOS’ design and architecture.
In this packed issue: mountain life, mountain rescues, red-light cameras, dynamic parking meters, improv fundamentals as life lessons, and Phish’s economics.
Glenn Fleishman urges freelance writers to take accompanying photos with better cameras than their iPhones:
The iPhone and similar smartphones with decent built-in cameras aren’t as good as a real camera when you’re taking photos to accompany reporting.
We’ve seen this a few times with The Magazine: writers take their own photos of places or events that are otherwise hard to find photos of — great! — but the image quality is so poor that we can’t use them.
It’s not just iPhones that are the problem: too many people are shooting with SLRs, but only using the kit lens.
I’d go further and suggest that you shouldn’t buy an SLR if you only ever plan to use its kit lens or an inexpensive zoom lens. Kit lenses and low-end zooms produce blurry, distorted, drab images — they can look decent on blogs or phones, but the flaws become apparent when you see them on big Retina screens or printed at larger sizes.
A decent consumer SLR body, usually $600–900, is a big investment for most people. But if you can’t also afford to buy at least one good lens with it, you’ll get better photos by going with a less expensive kit, such as a high-end point-and-shoot or an entry-level mirrorless setup.
Fortunately, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a great lens if you’re willing to make one tradeoff.
Good lenses have three competing factors: price, versatility, and quality. You can optimize two of them, but usually at the expense of the third.
My best suggestion for Canon SLRs is the 40mm “pancake”, which is currently just $149 — the same price as most kit lenses. It’s a prime lens, meaning it does not zoom: it’s fixed to one medium-distance focal length, and you can zoom with your feet. By using simpler optical designs that don’t need to zoom, primes sacrifice versatility but bring very good quality at very low prices.
My wife and I have a lot of fantastic (and expensive) Canon lenses, but we use the 40mm pancake most because it delivers great quality in very little size and weight.
Photo by Tiffany Arment, taken with the Canon EF 40mm “pancake” lens.
If you absolutely must have a zoom range — and please, really reconsider if you must — you’ll generally need to spend about $700 to get noticeably better optical quality than the kit lens, and it still won’t be as good as most primes.
To approach or surpass a $150–300 prime’s quality in a zoom, you generally need to go well above $1000 — pro photographers needing a general-range zoom usually use this $2100 model, or for longer range, you’ve probably seen photographers using this $2200 beast.
Starting to see why I recommend primes if you want quality?
Understandably, these requirements may drive you out of the SLR market, but that’s OK: the smaller, cheaper mirrorless market is hot right now. There are some great midrange camera bodies around $500, such as the Olympus E-PM2 or E-PL5 (don’t miss their pancake prime).
Oh, and please don’t use your camera’s built-in flash. Ever.
When asked about “Windows Blue”, emphasis mine:
Windows Blue is a codename for an update that will be available later this year, building on the bold vision set forward with Windows 8 to deliver the next generation of tablets and PCs. It will deliver the latest new innovations across an increasingly broad array of form factors of all sizes, display, battery life and performance, while creating new opportunities for our ecosystem. It will provide more options for businesses, and give consumers more options for work and play. The Windows Blue update is also an opportunity for us to respond to the customer feedback that we’ve been closely listening to since the launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT. From a company-wide perspective, Windows Blue is part of a broader effort to advance our devices and services for Microsoft.
This has to be some sort of record. How much more valueless, corporate-speak nonsense can be crammed into that response? Even from someone whose title is Chief Marketing Officer, this is an impressive work of obfuscated art in response to a simple question.
The implication (with those few scraps of meaning in the middle) is clear, though: there’s likely to be some backtracking and hedging on Windows 8’s “bold vision”, which a lot of customers really don’t like. Microsoft has always been the kind of company to give customers everything they ask for (even when it’s not “good”), and its customers are accustomed to that treatment. I wrote back in 2011:
One of the reasons Metro is interesting to people like me who usually ignore Microsoft is that it’s full of very un-Microsoft-like decisions, generally for the better.
The question isn’t whether Metro will be good: it probably will be. And that’s a huge accomplishment for Microsoft that they should be commended for.
But how will their customers react?
Will Metro be meaningfully adopted by PC users? Or will it be a layer that most users disable immediately or use briefly and then forget about, like Mac OS X’s Dashboard, in which case they’ll deride the Metro-only tablets as “useless” and keep using Windows like they always have?
I think we’ll have our answer “later this year”.
Chris Higgins, three-time contributor:
Regardless, this is a fascinating time for The Magazine: it is still young enough that new contributors can enter the field and quickly become part of the repeat contributors’ list. But it’s mature enough that we know what it is, and we can observe some encouraging trends.
Thanks, Chris. We should have you pitch more.
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Thanks to Developer Garden for sponsoring Marco.org this week.
Harrison Weber at TNW:
Adobe has shared with us that Creative Suite 6 will still be available for purchase, but it will not be updated beyond addressing bugs and OS compatibility. There will be no Creative Suite 7.
Instead, Adobe is pointing all of its energy towards Creative Cloud, eliminating the familiar retail box in the process. …
According to our sources, the company had long searched for ways to stabilize its revenue. Previously, it would receive bursts of income every two years with the latest Creative Suite release. Convincing users to upgrade was a daunting task that left an impact on product decisions.
At first, I thought this was a blatant price increase. But as I run the numbers in different common scenarios (owning just Photoshop, owning Creative Suite, upgrading every version, upgrading every few versions, etc.), it actually looks like most people will end up paying less this way — and without the huge initial expenditure of buying your first copy.
What concerns me most is innovation: without that “daunting” task of convincing everyone to give them more money every two years, there may be strong temptation for Adobe to rest on its laurels.
On why coffee is so central to our culture
“I think the answer is we all need a little help, and the coffee’s a little help with everything — social, energy, don’t know what to do next, don’t know how to start my day, don’t know how to get through this afternoon, don’t know how to stay alert. We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup.”
I don’t agree with most of the article, but I do agree with this.