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80 years after Ub’s invention, the multiplane is alive in iOS 7. Previous versions of iOS were built on a single plane with raised and textured areas on that surface, like a topographical map except with buttons instead of mountains. iOS 7 is instead designed with multiple flat layers. Each level is strikingly flat, but by layering two or three, spaced apart, Apple has achieved an overall sense of depth.
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.
It was really a mental note to expand on that in a full article sometime, which I promptly forgot about. Fortunately, John August didn’t:
The App Store’s best-sellers lists hurt shoppers, developers and Apple. The charts create a vicious circle that encourages shitty business models and system-gaming. They’re a relic of a time when data was scarce. They should go away.
The “top” list is a cop-out by Apple: it’s easy to implement and cheap to operate, and its results appear impartial and incontestible. I’m sure Apple thought this was a sweet solution.
But it has three major problems:
The rich get richer: everyone who downloads an app by browsing the “top” list reinforces or increases the rank of the apps already on it, entrenching their positions and reducing the visibility of anything below the first few pages.2
It’s easy and relatively inexpensive to game, especially for free apps, as proven by an entire industry of pay-for-rank mass-installation scams.
It encourages shallow, least-common-denominator apps with rock-bottom prices.
Since the “top” lists are featured so heavily in the App Store interfaces, many buyers appear to be buying from them as their primary store-browsing channel.3 These lists, and their mechanics, therefore deeply affect the entire app market in unsurprising ways.
The race to the bottom. Deceptive low-now, high-later pricing. Scam and clone apps. Shallow apps with little craftsmanship that succeed, but many high-quality apps unable to command a sustainable price. The “top” list encourages all of these — we’d still have them without the list, but to a substantially lesser degree.
Developers will optimize for whatever factor is being rewarded. The “top” list simply rewards developers for getting as many people as possible to buy or download the app once. There’s no reason to optimize for longer-term satisfaction or higher engagement after purchase.
It’s a lot like the Android market. Nobody — not Google, not the manufacturers, and certainly not the carriers — gives a shit if you hate your Android phone or put that cheap tablet in a drawer after a month. They’re optimizing for “top” lists, so they compete on price, flashiness, and huge retail incentives, usually at the expense of quality and long-term satisfaction.
Apple refuses to play that game in hardware. Why are they content to let it dominate their software ecosystem?
You can do better than “top” lists, Apple. Get rid of them and start rewarding great software.
Apple’s sub-par App Store iOS apps exacerbate this by often making it clunky or buggy to browse very deeply into the ranks. ↩
This is all just speculation based on fuzzy data, since developers still don’t have another important metric: where buyers came from. It would be extremely helpful to even have a simple breakdown between three huge channels: browsing the App Store, searching the App Store, or following a direct link. (Of course, more specific data from each of those would be even better. But I’d happily take this elementary breakdown in the meantime.)
Without this information, we have very little insight into why people buy our apps, which makes it harder to know where to invest our marketing efforts, how to price our app, or how to improve it. ↩
On this criteria, it’s clear that Cook is the right man for the job. I would contend that anyone that says otherwise doesn’t understand revolutions, doesn’t understand culture, and doesn’t understand Apple.
One of my favorite patterns in our industry is when the old and established are wiped out by disruption, irrelevance, or changing fashions. Like a forest fire, clearing out the old is very destructive and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But what’s left behind is a clean slate and immense opportunity.
I don’t think we’ve ever had such an opportunity en masse on iOS. After what we saw of iOS 7 yesterday, I believe this fall, we’ll get our chance.
The App Store is crowded: almost every common app type is well-served by at least one or two dominant players. They’ve been able to keep their leads by evolving alongside iOS: when the OS would add a new API or icon size, developers could just add them incrementally and be done with it. Established players only became more established.
iOS 7 is different. It isn’t just a new skin: it introduces entirely new navigational and structural standards far beyond the extent of any previous UI changes. Existing apps can support iOS 7 fairly easily without looking broken, but they’ll look and feel ancient. Their developers are in a tough position:
Most can’t afford to drop support for iOS 6 yet. (Many apps still need to support iOS 5. Some unlucky souls even need to support 4.3.) So they need to design for backwards compatibility, which will be extremely limiting in iOS 7.
Most can’t afford to write two separate interfaces. (It’s a terrible idea anyway.)
Most have established features or designs that won’t fit well into a good iOS 7 design and will need to be redesigned or removed, which many existing customers (or the developers themselves) will resist.
I don’t think most developers of mature, non-trivial apps are going to have an easy time migrating them well to iOS 7. Even if they overcome the technical barriers, the resulting apps just won’t look and feel right. They won’t fool anyone.
This is great news.
Apple has set fire to iOS. Everything’s in flux. Those with the least to lose have the most to gain, because this fall, hundreds of millions of people will start demanding apps for a platform with thousands of old, stale players and not many new, nimble alternatives. If you want to enter a category that’s crowded on iOS 6, and you’re one of the few that exclusively targets iOS 7, your app can look better, work better, and be faster and cheaper to develop than most competing apps.
This big of an opportunity doesn’t come often — we’re lucky to see one every 3–5 years. Anyone can march right into an established category with a huge advantage if they have the audacity to be exclusively modern.
I’ll be invading one as soon as I can. Here’s hoping I’m right.
The Guardian reveals their source, at his request:
In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”
Edward Snowden is a true American hero and patriot. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
New black-and-white photo app from my favorite iOS design firm, Pacific Helm.
I don’t have a lot to say about the app itself. Like Vesper, it’s nicely made and will please many buyers with its craftsmanship and design. But also like Vesper, it’s not the only app of its kind, it doesn’t have the most features, and it’s not the cheapest, so it’s probably not going to set the world on fire.
It does one thing well, and if you like that one thing and how they do it, it’ll be worth it to you. I like the photo effect, but I’m not really a photo-filters person, so I’ll neither use it much nor be qualified to speak much about how it compares to other filter apps.
But check out the website they made for it. Holy shit. (Watch the top for a bit.)
This week’s extra-long episode, in case you’re traveling for WWDC: Modernizing AppKit, wrapping old C APIs, type inference, Haswell and 15” Retina GPUs, Mac Pro speculation, WWDC predictions, and iOS 7 wishes.
Appalling, yet not surprising (which, itself, is appalling).
Spokespeople from some of the tech companies are denying involvement, but I don’t trust those denials at all: not only have they left a lot of potential loopholes in the wording, but the post-9/11 U.S. federal government, especially via the executive branch under Presidents Bush and Obama, has instituted conditions under which they can order online businesses to disclose user information and prevent them from ever disclosing the order’s existence or the actions taken.
PRISM claims to only be intended for monitoring “foreign” communications, but that’s just lip service: they have access to everything, they try to establish that a target may be foreign, and then they collect two degrees of Kevin Bacon out from them even if it includes Americans.
Let’s see if Obama has anything to say about this. And, more importantly, let’s see if he takes any action to restore reasonable rights to our citizens and businesses. My guess: he might say something promising, but probably not; either way, he won’t actually do anything about it. (Not that any other viable candidates would have.)
Times like this show the great value, to society as a whole, of widely available cryptography and open-source software. Even people with nothing to hide shouldn’t tolerate or permit overreaching government spying.
Three friends of mine — John Gruber, Dave Wiskus, and Brent Simmons — secretly got together to build an app, and today they released the first version to the public.
You’ve probably heard about Vesper by now. I’ve been testing it for a while, and I think of it as a note shoebox with optional tagging. Many other apps, most of them for less money, allow you to write and store notes and photos, so it’s perfectly reasonable to ask why you should use Vesper over your existing text-notes app of choice.
Even for a 1.0, it’s pretty light on marketable features by 2013’s standards. It’ll lose a feature checklist comparison to almost every other popular text-notes app. Notably, Vesper can attach a photo to each note, or have photos that are notes without additional effort, which most Dropbox-syncing text-note apps can’t do. But Vesper can’t even sync to Dropbox.
From the outside, then, it’s easy to be dismissive or even resentful: How can these guys launch a relatively expensive text-note app that’s missing so many features of competing text-note apps?
It takes balls to release an iOS app in 2013 for $4.99.
It takes balls to enter this extremely crowded category.
It takes balls to release a note-shoebox app in 2013 that has no sync, import, or export.
It takes balls to name your note-shoebox app after a cocktail nobody has heard of, then to age-rate the app “12+ for mild alcohol references” just so the cocktail’s recipe can be included in the Credits screen.
It takes balls to give your note-shoebox app a nondescript, abstract icon to match its cocktail name so nobody who sees just the name and icon will have any idea what it does or likely be enticed to find out.
And it takes balls for these three high-profile people, whose collaboration naturally earns extremely high expectations and polarizing reactions, to build and release anything together.
The best thing I can tell you about Vesper is that the app reflects its creators. I imagine they’ll add sync in time because it’s critical and very useful — otherwise, I don’t expect Vesper to get many more features.
But every feature in the app is extremely deliberate and thought-out: every mechanic, every restriction, every interaction, every animation. Every detail.
It’s a nuanced, polished app that’s pleasant to use and exudes craftsmanship. Simple flavors, executed extremely well. A vesper.
For what it’s worth - a couple of months ago I received a call from Douglas Brooks, Apples project manager for the new Mac Pro to address my concerns about the new machine. Obviously he didn’t tell me anything about the new MP, but asked me what I wanted to see. I told him expandability for extra graphics cards support, and memory expansion were at the top of my list amongst other things. His reply was simple:
“You are going to be really glad that you waited [to buy a new tower]. We are doing something really different here and I think you’re going to be very excited when you see what we’ve been up to. I can’t wait to show this off”.
First, some reasonable doubt here is warranted: it’s somebody on a forum recalling a phone conversation, months after it happened, in which an Apple employee allegedly gave vague hints about a future product. Even if Baird is credible, it’s probably safe to say that we can’t rely on these specific words. But the gist matches a common rumor that whatever replaces the current Mac Pro will be significantly different.
Lots of rumors have suggested significantly reduced internal storage and slots, relying on Thunderbolt for expansion, but the message from Apple has also been pretty clear that current Mac Pro fans won’t be disappointed by the update. I believe these are mutually exclusive.
Scaling down the Mac Pro without ruining the biggest reasons to buy it is no easy feat, and people who buy it aren’t really asking for it to be scaled down. We already have two Mac desktops that rely heavily on Thunderbolt for expansion, and most Mac Pro buyers don’t want them. Even Thunderbolt 2.0 still won’t be fast enough for extra RAM or high-performance GPUs, and the mass availability of Thunderbolt media peripherals still hasn’t happened — partly because Mac Pro owners still can’t use them. And while we can lose the optical bays without angering many people, it’s going to be tough convincing Mac Pro fans to give up internal hard-drive bays.
If the Mac Pro’s replacement doesn’t have at least 4 internal RAM slots, 2 PCI-Express slots, and 2–4 drive bays, Apple’s going to get a lot of angry professionals, and a lot of them are going to rush to buy refurbished 2010 Mac Pros.
One big question is whether they’ll still offer dual-socket configurations — their omission would anger many buyers, but not as many as those other changes, and the benefits could be substantial: they could stop relying on Intel’s less-frequently-updated 2P Xeons and make a much smaller, cheaper, cooler, more frequently updated lineup using the Xeon E3 series. But the E3, being only slightly different from Intel’s desktop chips, is limited to 32 GB of RAM, which wouldn’t be well-received in a system that has supported 128 GB since 2009.
Then there’s the Retina question. It feels like desktop Retina displays are still very far off, but by my calculations, Asus just announced a 31.5” one, as long as you usually sit at least 25 inches from it. (I sit almost exactly 25 inches from my 30” monitor, so this works.) The big limitation is GPU power, but…
Intel’s new Haswell processors promise to rectify this ailment, having made 4K support a headline feature of their integrated GPU…
Fortunately, Apple’s probably about to update their laptops to Haswell.
The other limiting factor for an external monitor is transmitting all of that video data over a cable: it would require Thunderbolt 2.0, which is coming this fall, at about the same time as the rumored Mac Pro replacement. Retina/4K-display capability in the Mac Pro’s GPU and interconnect, and a new display released with it, is a feature that many pros will pay quite a bit for.
The Mac Pro is usually only updated about every 18 months (cough), so if it can’t go Retina this fall, it might be a while. The technical needs and timing are tight for desktop Retina displays to make it in time for the Mac Pro replacement, but it does look possible, and that would indeed impress people and make us happy to have waited.
It would be unfortunate if the Haswell-generation laptops lack Thunderbolt 2.0 and can’t support an external Retina display, but the monitor is likely to cost over $2,000 at first, limiting its market to mostly Mac Pro buyers anyway. By the time the monitor is more affordable to the mass market, the laptops will be able to drive it.
Of course, it’s also possible, and probably more likely, that Apple will simply wait until the entire lineup has fast enough interconnects and GPUs to drive external $999 Retina displays before releasing them at all, but that’s probably at least 2 years away.
If Retina displays aren’t a feature of this year’s Mac Pro replacement, what will we get so excited about? What was worth skipping a major CPU generation and going 3 years without an update? And if we’re actually going to have less expansion than before in a system bought primarily for its expansion, what’s worth that?
The BBC Trust today responded to a complaint the broadcaster favored iOS devices when it comes to adding features to its catch-up on demand iPlayer service for Android phones. This complaint was rejected because the Trust found “no evidence” to suggest iOS had been “unfairly favored.”
Instead of pro-Apple favouritism, the Trust found a series of quite logical reasons why Android lagged iOS when new features were added to iPlayer, mostly surrounding the “complexity and expense” of developing for Android.
Most Android users chose the platform for reasons other than a large selection of great apps, so they behave as you’d expect: they neither demand nor respect app quality, and that’s generally reflected in the apps. Everyone gets what they want… mostly.
An extremely vocal minority of Android users think they represent the whole, and they express intense, childish entitlement and resentment against developers who choose either not to develop an Android app or to give advantages to their iOS app. This minority demands equality for their platform with the intensity, victimhood, and entitlement you’d expect as if it was a civil rights issue.
Fortunately, it’s not.
I’m building a new app this summer, and no matter how much people badger me, I won’t go near Android this time. Their promised support and demand never panned out. I’ve learned my lesson: no matter what the vocal minority says, the rest of the market won’t back them up. It’s simply not worth it for this iOS developer to waste any time on an Android port. Your mileage may vary.
Alex Payne addresses many of the problems and myths of “startups” and their culture.
Added next to this in my mental file of favorite things written about startups. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of great startups so far, but I’ve seen friends go through a lot of bullshit at not-so-great ones.
Just found this while organizing old files: the resume/CV from early 2006 that got me the job at Davidville (which became Tumblr).
I’m amused by how much it foreshadowed the next parts of my career. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know to use en dashes for the year ranges. And I’m a bit scared how little I’ve actually diverged since then.