Give Me Some Truth (and Hire Tech Writers)


At a time when many writers, and especially technical writers, are suffering from unemployment, the industry is being led by the nose into faux controversies driven by business-oriented editors and bloggers seeking more traffic and offering less accuracy. They could use a few technical writers to set them straight – or Steve Jobs, the best tech writer in the industry.

First there was the Adobe Flash controversy. Then, antenna-gate.

Now we have location-gate. In all these cases, the headline writers got it wrong, and it took a response from Steve Jobs himself to set it right. Maybe they didn’t read the technical reports closely enough. But in their haste to bash Apple and garner traffic with bogus headlines, business editors aren’t paying enough attention to the technical writers who can not only test these theories but report on them far more accurately.

With location-gate, Jobs pointed out in an email to a customer that the info circulating around is false, and that not only does Apple not track its users, but Google Android in fact does track users. (Steve Jobs to customer via email: “We don’t track anyone.”) Indeed, Android has been shown to gather location information and report it back to Google on a daily basis.

Google points out that the location data is anonymous when Google receives it. However, the company is still tracking and then using the data.

Meanwhile, The Boston Herald, who at least read a technical report, points out that researchers emphasize that there’s no evidence that Apple itself has access to this data. The data apparently stays on the device itself, and computers the data is backed up to.

Tracking is a normal part of owning a cell phone. All the big high-tech companies, including Google, Twitter, Facebook, AT&T, and Verizon, as well as Apple, have recently added (or are on the verge of adding) location-centric services. (See PC World article.)

Most of this location tracking is voluntary. And much of the data gathering, like Apple’s with the iPhone, is done anonymously. The much-maligned tracking file is just a cache for location data, and the historical data probably isn’t being cleared due to a bug or an oversight.

One typical overreaction is Henry Blodget’s demand for an apology from Apple. it’s an example of some of the worst aspects of business journalism (if you can call it that). If you read the comments to his article, you find that most readers are smarter than he is. I bet many of them are tech writers.

If the news media, and now politicians, are capitalizing off these tech issues, the least they could do is hire a few competent tech writers to get it right the first time.


Wrongheaded Opinions About Apple

Critics of Apple, and in particular of Steve Jobs, often point to his arrogance, ego, stubbornness, and proprietary nature. They also frame the success of Apple as fleeting — a case of a closed, proprietary maverick versus the the rest of the open world where companies collaborate.

Here’s what they miss. The arrogant, stubborn, and proprietary creator has a master plan: the Apple ecosystem is wildly successful as a platform. It no longer matters whether it is “open” or “closed” — the network effect of the Apple platform wins, and is now driving the industry.

The Power of the Platform at Apple” (by Steve Lohr, The New York Times) points out why this strategy is winning:

These days, Apple is a platform player, though it is taking a hybrid approach. It has courted outside partners and suppliers but has fairly strict rules for how applications look and behave in its devices… It all works better together, the company says, so a person’s second or third Apple product will make the first and second device more useful. The strategy is working so far.

It takes a platform to build an ecosystem, which in turn can build an industry. Openness by itself may lead to an ecosystem, but the ecosystem doesn’t always lead to a profitable industry.

There are many misguided opinions masquerading as facts among Apple’s critics, and most of them were laid out concisely in Netgear CEO Patrick Lo’s attack on Apple — see “Closed Apple headed for trouble as Jobs’s ego bites: Netgear CEO.” Here are some big ones:

1. Android is not an “open-source” platform — not entirely. Even though most of Android OS is open source, phones come packaged with closed-source Google applications for functionality such as the application store and GPS navigation — both of which are essential features of the Android ecosystem.

2. “Android … recently overtook iPhone in market share in the US.” This is misleading, comparing Android, an operating system for many different phones and from different carriers, to iOS running on an AT&T-only iPhone. The iPod touch and iPad were not included, and the Verizon iPhone, arriving this week, will most likely upset this balance of market share. Besides, market share is fleeting — only profit counts in the long term. And according to this report from Asymco’s Horace Dediu, the iPhone, with just 4.2 percent of the global mobile phone market, accounts for a massive 51 percent of the total profits.

3. Referring to the Android vs. Apple “open vs. closed” war, Lo said the industry had “seen this movie play several times,” pointing to the Betamax vs. VHS video format war. Huh? Neither were “open” in any sense of the word. For a concise description of this battle, see “The Betamax vs VHS Format War.” Lo may be indirectly referring to Apple’s rejecting apps from its App Store, but now Google is doing the same with Android Market (see “Has Google Begun Cleaning the Android Market? Do You Care?“).

4. Lo said Apple’s closed model only worked because, in many product categories like MP3 players, “they own the market.” Actually, this is paraphrasing the idea that Apple’s ecosystem approach is successful. But Lo implies that Apple somehow cheated. Apple won the MP3 market, it did not own it at first. There were many MP3 players and music services for at least a year after the iPod and iTunes were introduced. Zune and others didn’t survive, but that doesn’t mean Apple cheated.

5. Lo said “content providers such as the movie studios were very ‘wary’ of Jobs as the closed model of iTunes meant they were forced to pay a ‘ransom’ to Jobs for selling their content on the service.” Maybe they are wary, but music labels get a significant portion of their revenues from iTunes. Music labels seem to prefer iTunes to services like Spotify — see “Spotify Blames Apple For Difficulties Launching In The US” and “Spotify: iTunes, Labels Fear Us in the U.S.“.

6. “What’s the reason for him [Jobs] to trash Flash? There’s no reason other than ego.” Actually, Jobs listed quite a number of coherent reasons why Flash performs poorly on mobile devices. See “Thoughts on Flash” by Steve Jobs.

7. Lo said, “Steve Jobs doesn’t give me a minute!” Now that’s the truth!

Buried in Lo’s attack is his acknowledgement of the success of Apple’s approach: “Consumers have also benefited [from Apple’s approach] because they get a consistent experience and products that are easier to use.”

So who is hurt by Apple’s stance? Competitors, mostly — and perhaps Netgear in particular. As consumers, do we really care? A plethora of choices may not further innovation at all. In a walk down any supermarket aisle you can see lots of branded choices that are essentially the same. I think most consumers could care less about “open” or “proprietary” — they care about innovation. And that’s why they choose Apple — the company has clearly led the industry by innovating the customer’s experience. This is what counts for consumers, and this is why Apple continues to dominate.


Beatles Come Together Over iTunes

When the “Beatles for Sale” rumors reported by The Financial Times and The Wall St. Journal hit, there was “No Reply” from Apple (though Steve Jobs was overheard humming “Don’t Bother Me” and Microsoft Zune employees could be heard singing “I’m a Loser”). Asked why it took so long, the label’s spokesperson merely referred to the song “You Never Give Me Your Money”. “Her Majesty” had no comment. Fans everywhere could be heard singing “Don’t Let Me Down!”

This morning, Apple and Apple Corps (label for the Beatles, distributed by EMI) finally made a deal and put The Beatles on iTunes, with great fanfare, streaming video, and an online Beatles Box Set for $149 (a sort of super-iTunes LP).

I have always thought the two should be paired. The Beatles were cool and relevant; Apple is cool and relevant. The Beatles changed everything; Apple changed everything. The Beatles put out a white album with an Apple on the label; Apple uses white and the Apple logo. The Beatles started Apple Electronics to drive forward electronic music (and even experimented with music “stored” in a box that you could play); Apple invented the iPod.

So finally, the Beatles and Apple sing “We Can Work it Out”. iTunes is “Getting Better” all the time. It should have happened sooner. Note that in 2012 the rights for the earliest songs, such as “Love Me Do” will be “Free as a Bird”; i.e., in the public domain.

I wrote back in 2007 (Splendid Time is Guaranteed For All) about how all 13 core albums — the ones originally released on CD in 1987 — were remastered for CD and presumably for online distribution, though it didn’t happen. I speculated that since Beatles music was a turning point in the history of pop music, and its CDs were a turning point in the history of CD sales, the Beatles catalog would once again prove to be a turning point in the history of online music. Besides, baby boomers would be excited, and that would stimulate downloads for record labels.

Well of course the latter happened without the Beatles. In fact, The Beatles: Rock Band game, which did come out, did not light any fires under the game industry, which has already soared without them.

It simply took too long to get all the rights lined up. That is has taken so long means its impact is reduced from what it would have been in 2007. The Beatles may command the power to legitimize a medium, but the iTunes Store is way ahead of the game. What the Beatles remastered catalog has the power to do is to forge a new format for historic albums on iTunes.

I expected far more of an immersive experience with everything the Beatles ever released, including all movies, trailers, Christmas specials, the entire Anthology documentary, and even new surprises such as Carnival of Light and more about the magical mystery chord. Alas, these items will probably be sold separately over time; right now, all you get are the 13 albums plus the 2 compilations. Soon, I hope, you will be able to get the Anthology.

I care most about the iTunes album goodies, which will indeed cause me to open my wallet for music I already own. I care about the remastered music, which will be available quickly for downloading. And I mostly care about the influence the Beatles may yet have on the next generation with these new products — including the message that the love you make must equal the love you take. May we all someday live in a Yellow Submarine.

“I am the Walrus” covered by other bands:


Did Apple Get it Wrong with Ping and Apple TV?

Apple TV and televisionWith regard to the new Apple TV, and the Ping social network built into iTunes 10, many bloggers and journalists seem to think Apple got it wrong. I’m not one of them, except that I’ve adopted their tactics and shamelessly put “wrong” in the title to get your attention.

Steve Jobs complained a while back that technology existed to disrupt the current cable TV industry but lacked a “go-to-market” strategy. Apple always has a go-to-market strategy. In the case of Apple TV, the strategy is to proceed cautiously with a neat, tidy package of technology for $99 as a first step to get the content pricing right for TV shows.

Steve is right when he says that owners of the previous Apple TV were mostly happy with the device. Now they’ll be even happier, and new customers will be found more easily at the $99 price point.

Alas, there is criticism — as there should be, to move the discussions forward. According to Don MacAskill, in “What the AppleTV should have been” (SmugMug): “Customers are dying for some disruption to the cable business, and instead we get a tiny fraction of cable’s content.” He goes on to write about the need for apps on Apple TV. “Just require the use of an iPod, iPhone, or iPad to control it. Put the whole UI on the iOS device in your hand, with full multi-touch.”

Not a bad idea, really, except that Steve Jobs was quite clear about the notion that people “don’t want a computer on their TV.” Steve: “They go to their wide-screen TVs for entertainment. Not to have another computer. This is a hard one for people in the computer industry to understand, but it’s really easy for consumers to understand.” According to Dan Frommer in “Here’s The Difference Between Apple TV And Google TV” (Business Insider), the strategy is to “ease people into the idea of using an Internet device in their living room.”

A tipping point will occur in 2011 when enough iPad users are streaming live TV to the Apple TV device that the device evolves as a viewer for iPad apps on the widescreen TV — apps you control on your iPad with your fingers. In this scenario, there is no need for a UI or apps on the Apple TV itself; it simply receives streaming audio and video. You could launch any network TV app on your iPad to watch it on the screen. Not a bad idea, and far less complex than creating an entirely new type of “TV-app” and adding an Apple TV section to the App Store.

But I do think both are coming, after the tipping point: TV-like apps (especially multiplayer games and the Game Center), and an Apple TV section in the App Store. Apple TV will most likely run iOS at some point; at which time it will evolve as a living room entertainment center with apps. Not a computer in the living room, but an app machine that interacts with your iPad.

Second, Ping. (That sigh you hear is my frustration at having to go through the process of adding my profile and following others in yet another social network.) Overall, I agree with Richard MacManus in “Ping: First Look at the iTunes Social Network” (ReadWriteWeb): “Overall, I can see Ping being useful for following friends who have similar tastes in music to me…. However, Ping is probably not going to be very useful for following friends who don’t share my music tastes.”

Indeed. With Facebook already taking care of the Big Picture of my social life, I don’t need another social network to link me to all my friends, yet again. What I would rather have is a place to go to mix with some friends and some strangers (maybe a bar, with music). Ping doesn’t come close to that, but maybe we are all looking for something Apple isn’t in business to provide. Apple is not a social networking company; it is a consumer electronics company and media retailer.

Look again at iTunes 10, in which Ping is just a feature, like Genius. As Om Malik points out in “Why Ping Is the Future of Social Commerce” (GigaOM), “With 12 million songs and 250,000 apps, the best way for Apple to enhance the iTunes store — aka its shopping experience — is through the use of social.” Apple is embedding social features into iTunes, that’s all. Ping drives people toward paid music downloads; it’s meant as a complement to the usual discovery and search methods in the iTunes Store. With so many titles to browse, the traditional search methods are simply not enough.

I predict that Ping will survive the slings and arrows of criticism (which, by the way, also plagued Twitter at its inception, and more to the point, also haunted the Genius feature of iTunes) and become useful as a way to navigate the iTunes Store. I have, of course, misgivings about this disruption, since my Rockument site survives on clicks and purchases on Amazon and iTunes. But you can’t stop the network effect from disrupting businesses. Affiliate sites like mine will eventually have to change business models, and I might as well give myself the same advice I’d give others: good luck with that.


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Not Bashing Apple Costs Analysts and Bloggers $18M Per Day

Flamer imageAnalysts not reporting the iPhone 4 antenna as a “problem for Apple” or “crisis” stand to lose fees, report purchases, stock opportunities, and ads linked to Web traffic — to the tune of at least $18M per day. Hoodwinking the public about Apple has turned into a lucrative business for analysts, bloggers, and now Consumer Reports.

For the record: I just made up the $18M amount. But I don’t see how my fantasy is any less real than these rantings, which seem designed to attract attention rather than report facts:

CNET: “Analyst: iPhone 4 recall would cost $1.5 billion“. This is a report that was practically written by the quoted analyst — Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi.

The key sentence in that report: “Perhaps the bigger, longer-term concern for Apple investors is the emerging pattern of hubris…” and then the analyst lists five reasons in his own pattern of hubris. Steve Jobs’ health, Apple’s cash balance, it’s “attack” on Flash, the investigation into the lost prototype, its restrictions on app development, and its dismissive characterizations of the iPhone’s antenna issues.

The problem with this analysis is (1) the health scare was Steve Jobs’ mistake, not the company’s; (2) the cash balance has been explained, and as a stockholder (though puny, with a few shares), I’m all for having it on hand; (3) the “attack” (on Flash) was actually Apple’s defense against a gang-attack by Adobe and the press; (4) the lost prototype investigation was by the police; and (5) Apple has responded to the antenna issue with facts.

Let’s examine another, this one from AppleInsider: “Every week Apple doesn’t act on iPhone 4 antenna could cost $200M“.

Another story written by the quoted analyst. Most of it is a rehash of all the potential fixes that others have suggested: providing free bumpers (or cases), repairing the units, or recalling them. But the key sentence in that report leaves no doubt where this analyst stands: “Despite the issues, [Mike Abramsky with RBC Capital Markets] said he views the situation as a potential buying opportunity for investors.” So, go out there and buy Apple, he seems to day, because we just took advantage of that huge dip in stock price and want the stock to climb again, and quickly.

Let’s go to the source, the Consumer Reports Electronics Blog: “Why Apple–and not its customers–should fix the iPhone 4“.

Consumer Reports is getting feisty to draw attention. The stunt with duct tape did the trick. Here’s a telling comment from a reader of that report: “Invariably the product models you report on are no longer available in stores, because of your delays in testing and reporting… Yet you had to rush to insult Apple (in real time this time) with that duct-tape-on-the-iPhone-4 deal, even after first lauding the phone for the tour-de-force it is. This was not objective reporting… You rate them tops on quality and service, yet immediately demean them with duct tape before there is time for any resolution. Makes me question how objective CU now is?”

But here’s the key sentence in the report demonstrating real hubris on the part of Consumer Reports: “We’ve called on Apple to do something about it.” I can just imagine that phone call. Was it from the publisher to Steve Jobs? Did they shoot from the hip?

Did they make a similar call to Toyota when its cars were putting people’s lives at risk? When Consumer Reports labelled Toyota’s Lexus GX sport-utility vehicle a “safety risk” due to its rear end sliding out, potentially causing a “rollover accident, which could cause serious injury or death,” nowhere did it say that Consumer Reports called on Toyota to recall them — it was only reported that Consumer Reports urged people not to buy them. The Consumer Reports blog about the Lexus maintained a quieter tone throughout its report and buried its response at toward the end of the report: “We urge the company to develop a remedy as quickly as possible and implement it in new vehicles produced at the assembly plant and those already purchased.”

That’s more in keeping with the style of Consumer Reports — not the grandstanding of its duct-tape solution and “call on Apple” rhetoric. Meanwhile, the testers at Consumer Reports gave the iPhone 4 the highest rating as the best mobile device, even though they can’t recommend the device.

Fortunately there are bloggers and journalists responding to this issue honestly (such as MG Siegler in “Total Recall Or Total Bull? Some Perspective On The iPhone 4 Antenna Frenzy” in Techcrunch). I urge you to read that, and my previous post, and give your support to those who tell the facts.


Flamers Attack Apple for Fun and Profit

Flamer imageFirst, my own flame: Silicon Alley Insider (SAI), you ought to be ashamed, running the headline “Steve Jobs Is In Serious Denial Over iPhone 4 Antenna Issue” over yet another hit piece. Why not link to a serious analysis of the issue?

Same with Boy Genius, though at least your headline was moderate. But a reader has to go all the way to the comment section to find the above link to some real in-depth analysis. That link should have been in your report.

Should we trust these bloggers? No way. The headlines and even the stories are misleading and sometimes outright bullshit. Having read through the reports of the conversation with Steve Jobs, I’m more impressed with Steve’s answers. He never goes ballistic, even though the emails to him are full of vitriol and one even refers to Jobs as a “jackass” — is that any way to ask a question or make a request to a CEO?

Meanwhile, Steve is the voice of reason. “Calm down” etc. He even turns the other cheek — “You may be working from bad data. Not your fault. Stay tuned. We are working on it.”

What’s wrong with these flamers? What more do they want? They want blood, because it’s fun, and because it’s profitable. They have ulterior motives.

First the so-called attenna issue, a tempest in a teapot: Read this analysis. The bottom line is this: The iPhone 4 attenna is better because it’s on the outside of the unit, but it’s also a problem depending on how you hold the unit. Nevertheless, overall reception is still better than with an iPhone 3GS. Most cell phones have this problem with their antennas, but their antennas are not on the outside of the unit, so it is not as noticeable. A software update might reduce the signal-to-noise ratio, but otherwise don’t expect Apple to be able to fix this without a design tweak. In the meantime, people in very low reception areas can use a bumper, or hold it differently. Sounds okay to me, and I’m one of those people.

Besides, the most important part of the iPhone experience is iOS. If you don’t like this year’s phone, wait until next year. I’ve used my 3GS everywhere, and yes I’ve had problems in low-reception areas, but so what? It’s still a fantastic device to browse the Internet, run apps, and use as a phone. And it offers better reception than any previous phone I’ve ever used.

This is new technology, folks. You take it or leave it, depending on what you want. Lots of us want these new gadgets, and we’re willing to help these companies make them better, so that our lives will be enriched by them. It’s that simple, for consumers.

It’s not that simple for stock manipulators. They need to shoot down Apple’s stock price in order to profit from its eventual resurrection. There have been accusations and rumors (see here and here), but no proof; nevertheless, where there’s smoke there’s probably fire.

It’s also not that simple for journalist/bloggers, who need to use sensational headlines to draw in readers. Many of them jump on bandwagons without checking the facts, passing along the phrase “a faulty antenna design” because it appears in other reports. Some resort to fear-mongering, as in SAI’s “this is really spiraling out of control for Apple.” Is it really? Why do so many of them have to join the Rush Limbaugh Institute of Factual Irrelevancy, or the Sarah Palin School of Sarcastic Innuendo? Do they really think readers are that stupid?

I saw Microsoft hounded in the 1990s for being a monopolist (and I was among the hounders), and that company grew more entrenched as time went on, until now it seems incapable of real innovation. Will this happen to Apple as the jackals begin to circle around it? I hope not. Apple is truly doing something innovative, despite its mistakes.

As consumers, we should fight back against the fearmongers. For my part, I will no longer click on sensational headlines, and I’ll continue to avoid reading bloggers and journalists who tarnish their reps with this crap.

As for fighting (or anticipating) the stock manipulators while still winning big in the stock market… well, good luck with that.


Apple and Adobe: What Would Mr. Natural Say?

I have read that Steve Jobs’ explanation for not supporting Flash was a “scathing attack on Adobe.” No, it wasn’t. Go back and read it. Jobs was polite, informative, and substantive. He explains Apple’s motivations, specifies where he feels that Flash falls short, and suggests an alternative for Adobe.

They write that Jobs “slammed Flash as unsuitable” and called it “closed and proprietary” and so forth. Well, many quieter, less obtrusive spokespeople — mostly developers and some ex-Adobe employees that were quoted at the very bottom of these stories — agree with Jobs about Flash.

I have also read that “Apple may change iPhone SDK to avoid antitrust case” — portrayed as a rumor circulated by “insiders.” Wishful thinking, perhaps, for Adobe and other vendors, but there is really is no antitrust case, is there?

The press consider this to be a fight between Apple and Adobe, and that Apple “abused its position” — as if Apple held a monopoly on smartphone technologies. Apple doesn’t have a monopoly, it simply has the lion’s share of attention for what is undoubtedly the most innovative set of mobile devices ever produced.

It is all merely a war of words, most of which are coming from the press and bloggers who are not just vying for readers but are inventing these wars and blowing them out of proportion to get mass numbers of eyeballs — at least for a few seconds.

As R. Crumb‘s Mr. Natural would say, “Don’t mean shee-it.”

I read that a basic iPhone app might cost $75,000 to build on Flash, and only a few thousand dollars more to convert it to work on Android or other mobile platforms — but with the new restrictions, a developer must spend another $75,000 to build the basic iPhone app from the ground up for a non-Apple platform.

Excuse me? Is this a requirement of Apple’s business plan — that the company must make it easier for developers to port native iPhone apps to other platforms? Who writes these reports?

Besides, do developers have to reinvent the app’s concept, its logic, and all of its data and content? No, they have to convert (or rewrite) its source code to Objective C, but its concept, logic, data, and content could be the same. What’s truly different is the user interface and OS. The problem is that Apple’s OS provides so much of the “flash” (forgive the pun) of the iPhone’s and iPad’s user interfaces that these developers either have to reinvent what Apple provides, or find substitutes in the APIs for Android and other platforms, to do the same things on another platform. And that’s not Apple’s problem to solve — it is Google’s, Adobe’s, and other vendors’ problem, or lack of innovation on their part.

Adobe recognizes this — the company is helping Wired rebuild its iPad app to be Flash-free (see Hard Labor: Adobe Rebuilds Its Wired Magazine App to Fit Apple’s Flash-Free Agenda).

Someone who can afford to shell out $75K to develop an iPhone app can probably raise half as much (or more) to develop an Android or other version, if the iPhone app is successful. The rest of us who measure our development efforts with iPhone apps in terms of months of personal work are not even going to consider other versions unless we strike it rich with our iPhone apps. And corporations that want to utilize the iPhone or iPad should consider HTML5 for Web services, rather than native apps.

As for the FTC investigating Apple, take into consideration the following critique (Ignorance and Hubris at the FTC) by an Android developer who was contacted by the FTC for information in relation to blocking Google’s acquisition of AdMob:
There is no way the FTC knows enough to support a decision to block the deal. The staff members we spoke to were not particularly knowledgeable about the mobile ad space they are considering interfering in, or about the technology sector more generally, or about mobile app development and monetization, or about the changes in the mobile advertising sector in the past year, or about the level of competition and pace of change and innovation in the market, however broadly or narrowly you define it.

In short, the FTC could be simply responding to the vicious attacks on Apple. It seems that Apple-bashing has become a fad. Perhaps some see Jobs as the rugged individualist with an attitude, who now deserves comeuppance. They forget how they once cheered him on as he fought against the goliath of Redmond. Many of us who used computers in the 1980s and 1990s greet the rise of Apple’s technology as a welcome alternative to the crusty and unreliable Microsoft-dominated technologies of the past. With an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, you hold in your hand an Internet device that is reliable, easier to use, safer, and sexier than any of the devices of the past. Lots of people will buy them in droves (Apple just sold over a million iPads in two months). If Flash won’t work on them, so be it. Technology marches on.

Somewhere buried in all these discussions is the fact that developers can write for the Apple platform and other platforms easily using the WebKit open source browser standard. But if you rely on Flash for some parts of the Web experience you provide your customers — as I do on my site, with some of Amazon’s Flash-based widgets — you have to hope that Flash will be replaced as it loses its dominance by something better (as I hope Amazon will update its widgets).

But I agree with Steve Jobs about Flash. In its SDK, Apple provides much of the actual code for third-party apps to perform magic in the touch environment of the iPhone OS. Why give up control of that layer? Apple would risk having companies like Adobe drag their feet and hijack its plans for systematically updating the iPhone OS development benchmark. Developers would have to wait for the appropriate version of Flash to keep up with new iPhone OS features, and that would slow down the platform’s acceptance — as Microsoft did with its Office suite on the Mac. (For my opinion about cross-platform development, see my previous entry, Apple, Adobe, Twitter: Are We Slapped Yet?).

Anacharsis, one of Greek mythology’s Seven Wise Men, warned people that the market is “the place set apart where men may deceive each other.” I would add the hyperbole, as in the statements of the press and bloggers, is a chief weapon for deception.

Apple rejects apps that call external frameworks or libraries that contain non-Apple code. In addition, you can’t download interpreted code to use in an app except for code that is interpreted and run by Apple’s published APIs and built-in interpreters. Private frameworks and interpreted code may hide functions that Apple would want to know about. Some private frameworks have been found to mine personal information from iPhone users without their knowledge.

And now, another blog asks the question, “Would you sign Apple’s iPhone Developer agreement?” My question to the writer is, do you think developers are idiots?

Note: I decided not to link to the examples of hyperbole in the press and blogs — you can easily find them yourself (you may even have trouble avoiding them), and I don’t want to continue to support this type of journalism by sending them more eyeballs.


Apple, Adobe, Twitter: Are We Slapped Yet?

You’ve probably read how Apple slaps developers in the face, Twitter slaps developers in the face, and Adobe slaps intelligent humans in the face. These are all tempests in teapots, promoted by headline writers exaggerating to win more readers (and with my headline, I’m guilty as charged).

Developers of Twitter clients on mobile platforms are upset that Twitter bought Tweetie, a leading iPhone Twitter client, and intends to re-brand it and put it out for free. Dozens of Twitter clients have already appeared on the iPhone and competed in a features war, to the benefit of everyone involved. So Twitter is apparently “destroying” another market segment (as it says on the hastily distributed T-shirt). But really, is it so surprising that Twitter would do this? Accessing Twitter directly is of strategic importance to Twitter — it’s the natural, evolutionary path for the company to take. Developers who stake a claim on that path will most likely be run over. I wouldn’t be surprised if most Twitter client developers had already considered a Twitter acquisition as the best possible exit strategy. Besides, until Twitter comes up with a revenue model that ordinary humans can understand, developers should expect sudden shifts in offerings, new acquisitions, and new services that tread on existing ones.

According to the Apple-Adobe Flash controversy, there are iPhone and iPad developers (or wannabe developers) who feel entitled to use a non-Apple layer of software on top of Apple’s Cocoa Touch APIs to make their iPhone and iPad apps. There are complex arguments pro and con, but keep in mind that Apple never intended in the first place for the iPhone ecosystem to be open to all types of development.

From Apple’s perspective, prohibiting the use of Flash CS5 and MonoTouch to create iPhone apps makes complete sense.  As John Gruber points out (in “Why Apple Changed Section 3.3.1“), “So what Apple does not want is for some other company to establish a de facto standard software platform on top of Cocoa Touch. Not Adobe’s Flash. Not .NET (through MonoTouch). If that were to happen, there’s no lock-in advantage.” Actually, if that were to happen, control over development could shift to companies like Adobe, as Gruber points out: “Consider a world where some other company’s cross-platform toolkit proved wildly popular. Then Apple releases major new features to iPhone OS, and that other company’s toolkit is slow to adopt them. At that point, it’s the other company that controls when third-party apps can make use of these features.” Apple wouldn’t want that, and frankly, as an iPhone or iPad user and developer, I wouldn’t want that.

I know the argument that lock-ins and closed systems stifle innovation, and in particular hurt small, innovative companies. And while that notion is somewhat true in some cases, it’s not true in all cases. I wrote a book about how Microsoft nearly monopolized the desktop and laptop computer industry with lock-ins that stifled innovation.  However, as I pointed out then, its much smaller rival Apple found a way to not only survive but lead the industry forward and away from Microsoft. Cynics could liken Apple to a Napoleon stepping into the leadership vacuum left by the French Revolution (considering the Open Source movement as the Revolution). Even so, Apple’s dictatorship over its own ecosystem has produced a remarkably safe and easy computing and Web experience, and a vigorous challenge to computing-as-usual.

In any case, Apple really doesn’t have a monopoly (yet) on mobile computing. And Adobe is being far from altruistic — while its Flash layer enables Flash developers to port their apps to the iPhone, Adobe’s goal is to promote Flash development, not iPhone development. Adobe makes some of the best creative tools ever invented for managing media, and has enjoyed dominating the Web with Flash for a decade. Apple doesn’t want to lose any control over its platform, and it’s in Apple’s best interest to keep me-too Flash apps, which can run on other smart phones, from devaluing the the uniqueness of the native-iPhone-app experience.

While Apple’s rejection of Flash may be bad news to Flash developers, native iPhone developers who play by Apple’s rules are not affected. Web developers already enjoy a multiplicity of options and devices to develop for (whether that’s a blessing or a curse is anyone’s guess).

iPhone users actually benefit by Apple’s restrictive policies. Rejecting Flash means that Apple can offer a more battery-efficient multitasking model and keep its secure, sandbox approach for running apps. Developers relying on cross-platform tools to bring their designs to the iPhone-iPad world could end up with apps that are sluggish or don’t adhere strictly to Apple’s user interface guidelines. Users are spared having to navigate a plethora of inappropriately-designed apps to get to the good ones.

This last point is best expressed by Gruber: “Cross-platform software toolkits have never — ever — produced top-notch native apps for Apple platforms.” My experience with cross-platform development in the late 1990s, and with Mac versions of applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and open-source software such as OpenOffice (vs. NeoOffice), confirm Gruber’s point. You won’t believe how happy I felt when I was finally able to move my work away from Word (and NeoOffice) to Apple’s native Pages application, now that the elegantly-designed Pages has all the features I need. I even like slideshows, now that I can use Keynote over PowerPoint.

And my point is this: developers are not really entitled to anything. The risk is great, but the payoff can also be great. Twitter developers need to steer clear of strategic paths that Twitter might take. Adobe Flash developers need to rethink their designs for the iPhone and iPad, and forget about using cross-platform tools. And all iPhone and iPad developers have to take Apple’s rules and guidelines seriously if they want to take advantage of its totally innovative approach to apps and computing. To ride that train, you have to jump on board. Watch out for the bulls, and don’t put your face up to be slapped — you gotta roll with the punches.


What Makes a Killer iPad App

Has anyone noticed that with the iPad, Douglas Adams’ fantasy has come true?

The late Douglas Adams, in his bestseller The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (conceived in 1971 and published in 1979), introduced the idea of a handy travel guide that looked “rather like a largish electronic calculator,” with a hundred tiny flat press buttons and a screen “on which any one of a million ‘pages’ could be summoned at a moment’s notice. It looked insanely complicated, and this is one of the reasons why the snug plastic cover it fitted into had the words DON’T PANIC printed on it in large friendly letters.” According to Adams, this guide was published in this form because “if it were printed in normal book form, an interstellar hitchhiker would require several inconveniently large buildings to carry it around in.”

The iPad fits the description, except that it doesn’t look insanely complicated. Its sexiness and sleek design is a triumph of style over function. It’s a powerful experience to hold full Web or e-book pages in your hands in a device that weighs little more than a thick magazine. But the iPad experience also includes knowing where you are, changing the display depending on how you hold or rotate it, and responding to multiple-finger touches and gestures.

The only insanely complicated part of the iPad is trying to develop a killer app that best exemplifies the iPad experience.

Rethink Your App Design

If you’ve developed applications for a desktop or laptop, or even for an iPhone or iPod touch, you have to rethink your design for the iPad. For many iPhone app developers, the iPad’s larger display alone changes everything. Apple demonstrated exactly how far things have changed when the company demonstrated the iWork suite of productivity tools (Keynote for presentations, Numbers for spreadsheets, and Pages for word processing and page formatting) on the iPad, which would be unthinkable for the iPhone simply because there isn’t enough display space to perform functions such as slide or page layout. The iPad allows both immediacy and intimacy as it blends mobility and the power of the desktop to create a new kind of freedom. It lets you develop a totally new kind of application — one that integrates seamlessly with what the user is doing when he or she is living in the real world.

Douglas Adams, in his own inimitable style, wrote about sexiness and how it can make a product more popular. According to Adams, The Encyclopedia Galactica describes alcohol as “a colorless volatile liquid formed by the fermentation of sugars” and also notes “its intoxicating effect on certain carbon-based life forms.” On the other hand, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy not only tells you what alcohol is, it also tells you that “the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster,” describes its effect as “like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick,” tells you which planets have bars that offer it and at what prices, and then shows you how to mix one yourself. As Adams points out, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sells rather better than The Encyclopedia Galactica.”

Simply converting an iPhone app (or even worse, an app for a Windows netbook or other smartphone) may result in something like The Encyclopedia Galactica —nowhere near as sexy as it should be. You can create iPad apps that are not just a little bit better than their iPhone counterparts, but a lot better (and an order of magnitude more powerful), with an interface that’s simpler to use than a Mac.

Provide an Immersive Experience

An iPad app can offer a more immersive experience compared with an iPhone app by adding more content — full pages from the Internet or in memory, maps you can zoom into, full-screen videos and slideshows with music, and so on. Whenever possible, add a realistic, physical dimension. Electronic Arts created a version of its popular car-racing game Need for Speed for the iPad that almost feels like you’re driving with your hands as you use the iPad like a steering wheel. The high-definition screen is just inches from your face — the field of view and the sensation of speed you get is incredible. The full-screen display is also fully touch sensitive — you can tap on a car and see inside it, flick a lifelike gear shifter to shift gears, and tap the rear-view mirror to look behind you.

The more true to life your app looks and behaves, the easier it is for people to understand how it works and the more they enjoy using it. E-books look like real books, and you can even turn a page with a flick of the finger. The New York Times app for the iPad app offers an immersive experience with what looks like a newspaper, with embedded, fully functional videos (not just videos that appear in a separate window). You can tap the page to change the layout of columns, resize the text with a pinch, or show pop-up menus for more stories. These are very basic features, and if you’re designing an e-newspaper for the iPad, you will have to think beyond them — to advertisements that pop up and engage the reader in novel ways, and social connections for sharing stories, photos, and videos with others.

Make Content Relevant

An iPad app can present information relevant to where you are, what time it is, what your next activity might be, and how you’re holding the device (in portrait or landscape view, tilting and shaking it, and so on), just like an iPhone or iPod touch app. For example, the version of Maps for the iPad displays a full-screen map that can show your location and immediately find commercial establishments nearby (you can search for “sushi” to find sushi restaurants). As people move, it may make sense for your app to tailor itself to where the user is, moment by moment.

The iPad platform also offers a strong foundation for controlling views, managing data, playing multimedia content, switching display orientations, and processing gestures. Because the iPad can do all that, an app can know your current location, the hotels or campgrounds you’re going to stay at, and the planets you’re planning to visit. It can even show videos and play the music of the stars all at the same time. Rather than orbiting some moon while searching maps and brochures, you can know at a glance where you are, how to get to your destination, and what the weather’s like so that you know what to wear.

As a developer, you need to consider the context of what the user is doing and the user’s location, and provide as much content as possible that is relevant for that user in that location. For example, your app can show a special keyboard unique to the task, such as the numbers-and-formulas keyboard that appears in the Numbers app for the iPad. Your app could help the user grab and use personal content from Apple’s supplied apps (such as Contacts and Photos). And with the Internet always available (within reach of Wi-Fi or 3G), your app can provide real-time information. This kind of access also allows you, as the developer, to go beyond the limited memory and processing power of the device and access large amounts of data stored on servers, or even offload the processing. You don’t need all the information for every city in the world stored on your iPad for your travel app — you can send the request to a server for all that information, especially information that changes often.

Design for Touch

The important design decision to make, whether you’re starting from scratch with a new iPad app or evolving one from an iPhone app, is to use the iPad display and user interface elements to give people access to more information in one place. Although you don’t want to pack too much information into one view, you also want to prevent people from feeling that they must visit many different views to find what they want. An iPad app can offer the primary content on the main view and provide additional information or tools in an auxiliary view (such as a popover that appears semi-transparently above the main view) to give users access to functions without requiring them to leave the context of the main view.

The iPad display also gives you a lot more room for multifinger gestures, including gestures made by more than one person. An iPad app can react to gestures and offer touch controls and pop-up settings that are relevant to what you’re actually doing in the app and where you place your fingers. With a display the size of a netbook, you have a lot more screen real estate to allow dragging and two-finger gestures with graphics and images, and depending on what you’re doing, a tap or gesture on a particular part of the screen can have a particular function. For example, in the Gameloft version of the first-person shooter called Nova (as adapted to the iPad), the display size gives you more flexibility than the iPhone version, with more controls and objects such as mini-maps, and you can slide two fingers across the screen to throw grenades. If you design an app that simply uses a single finger tap as if it were a mouse click, you may be missing an opportunity to design a better user experience.

Keep Apple’s Expectations in Mind

Just as the iPad can extend the reach of the user, the device possibilities and the development environment can extend your reach as a developer. It helps to understand Apple’s perspective on what iPad apps should be — the company clearly has done some serious thinking about it.

So what does Apple think? Spokespeople often talk about three different application styles:

  • Productivity applications use and manipulate information. Bento (FileMaker) is an example, as are Apple’s iWorks apps — Keynote, Pages, and Numbers. Common to all these apps is the use and manipulation of multiple types of information. (I’m not talking about the Productivity category in the App Store — that’s a marketing designation.)
  • Utility applications perform simple, highly defined tasks. The preinstalled Weather app is an example — it deals only with the weather data. The Brushes app for painting (Steve Sprang) is considered a utility, as it performs a simple, highly defined task. (Again, I’m not talking about the Utilities category in the App Store, although many of those apps are considered utility apps because they perform simple, highly defined tasks.)
  • Immersive applications are focused on delivering — and having the user interact with — content in a visually rich environment. A game is a typical example of an immersive application.

These categories help you understand how Apple thinks about iPad apps (at least publicly). Pay attention to what Apple thinks. To make you development effort pay off, you need to spend time upfront understanding the iPad user experience, how applications work in the iPad environment, and the guidelines that Apple enforces for apps to be approved for the App Store. You also need some marketing advice to keep your app from being insignificant in the vast galaxy of apps. For the App Store is like space itself, and as Douglas Adams notes, space is “big, really big . . . you just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is,” and suggests that you bring a towel.

The next installment gets into a bit more detail about exploiting the iPad platform features and embracing its limitations, and the third provides tips on avoiding the Apple rejection slip.