Apple

Transparency and Due Process

Let their be no mistake.  Apple single handedly built a multi-billion dollar business.  They did it with blood, they did it with sweat, and I'm sure they did it with tears.  It is theirs and they own it.  They should and do guard it jealously, as any company would be wise to do.  Right now, the existence of Apple is tied up in iOS.  Without iOS, Apple is not what it is today. It's not just iOS itself, though.  Look at the halo of companies and people that have grown up to play in the ecosystem that Apple has created.

There are the tools vendors, companies and individuals that build tools to support iOS.  Analytics, crash reporting, build distribution, remote debugging and many, many more tools.

Then there are the ad networks.  Multi-million dollar companies, on average, that level resources into making devs money and boosting app exposure.  The list of these is long.  It's estimated that this industry, already a multi-billion dollar industry now, will grow to be many multiple billions as time spent on devices catches an appropriate amount of advertiser spend.

There are peripheral manufacturers, the folks that make cases, pedometers, headphones and a million other doo-dads that you only know you need when you see them.  I'm not sure how big this industry is, but it cannot be insignificant or else it would not be so crowded.

But, first and foremost, there are the app developers.  Ranging from single individuals in basements all the way to other multi-billion dollar conglomerates, app development on iOS is in itself a multi-billion dollar business.  What's more, it can be argued that this is where the real allure of iOS comes from.  It's not the fact that my phone can surf the web that made iOS so attractive to so many millions of people, though that was of course revolutionary.

No, it's the fact that I can get a tide and surf report for the exact spot I'm standing on when I'm on vacation, or that I can follow along with my fantasy team while I'm at the park with my kids, getting instant updates as all the games progress, or that pregnant moms can wake up every morning to a new look at just what the child growing in them is like right now.  And so many other uses.

The people that make these delightfully useful apps are the real treasure of iOS (or any modern mobile platform).  And with that treasure comes a responsibility.

I have written about Greg's story, how an indie dev made it but had it snatched from him by unspoken rules.  I've witnessed it many times:  soulless, non-obvious rules in a document coming to life in new interpretations that strike fear into the hearts of people and industries.

This is serious business.  People make their livings on this.  Many, many people.  You want to strike fear in the heart of a man or woman?  Tell them that their way of life is being compromised.

Now, let's not forget that Apple is the sole arbiter here.  They can most certainly do whatever they would like.  It can also be argued that they're generally alright in how they govern this ecosystem.  After all, there is at least some modicum of stability that has allowed this industry to bloom.

But, they could do it better.

I believe that by adding two things they could infuse a greater level of stability into the iOS ecosystem:  transparency and due process.

First off, transparency.  Apple is a notorious black box.  Often, no one outside of Apple knows how or why a decision is made.  This leads to fear and uncertainty and, in extreme cases, panic.  Rumors of app rejections pervade these industries.  One app gets rejected for something unusual and the entire industry stands up to see if this is some new, unspoken policy that Apple is pushing.

If Apple were to publish new policies, either in conjunction with the new rounds of rejections or in advance, it would help alleviate some of the risk and uncertainty in the industry.  Others could change course and not lose valuable time and sleep guessing what things mean.

Secondly, Apple could institute some kind of due process when an app is rejected or taken down.  I'm not sure what this looks like in practice, but with stories like Greg's he was just left in the cold, with little to no recourse, staring at dreams washing away.

Setting up a process wherein Greg could at the least gain understanding of what he violated (remember, in Greg's case, the rules were unspoken until his app launched) would go a long way.  Allowing him to challenge that decision would be even better.  This doesn't guarantee his app stays in the store, but it gives him a chance to defend and speak to why it should stay in the store.  It allows him the opportunity to defend his way of life.

In the end, Apple is a dictator.  And, truthfully, they should remain so.  But becoming a bit more benevolent would do them well.  Instituting new policies and procedures of transparency and due process would reassure the industry as a whole.  It would also go a long way to protecting Apple's most valuable treasure:  the people that build the apps.

The King Makers: Apple Takes Down an Indie Dev

UPDATE:  There is a follow up post here titled Transparency and Due Process UPDATE:  If you would like to help Greg, sign his petition.

Greg Gardner is a good engineer.  In fact, he's a damn good one.  He's the kind of engineer that startup CEOs take comfort in, saying things like, "Oh, Greg has it, good."  He's the kind of engineer that you go to in the middle of the night when everything has hit the fan and you need someone that understands exactly how everything works.

I don't know this by reputation, I know this because I worked with him.  I can recall several times when he spotted issues with code that I had written, things that most people would have missed but that would have resulted in problems.  Code reviews with Greg were often not easy, but I always came away a better engineer.

But, Greg is not just a "good engineer", he's also a guy that gets it.  He has the ability to look into mobile and see gaps, then address them with some solution that is often unique and well-placed.

For instance, it has oft been lamented that app discovery is the achilles heel of both iOS and Android.  I have heard many, many times that the App Store/Play Store model is just broken and that it feeds those that pay to play but not those with the best apps.

Greg's first foray into the world of apps was an app that allowed users to more easily discover good apps.  It ultimately earned him a job at the company that I would come to work for a month later.  Greg would continue to innovate within that company for nearly three years.  He would add value and become a crucial engineer within the organization, one that would be sorely missed when he left.

So it was with some sadness, but more hope and admiration, that I heard that Greg was going to strike out on his own.  His stated goal: to make it on the App Store.  I wondered what new wrinkle Greg would add this time that would see him to another success.  And I had no doubt it would be success.

I can't say I was shocked at all when, just months after Greg being completely independent and only a couple days after iOS 8 was released, one of my friends texted me with this "killer new app" he'd discovered.  It was called Launcher - Favorites at your Fingertips from Cromulent Labs.  I laughed to myself as I realized Greg had done it again.

Just like I figured, Greg had seen his way to using widgets and app URLs to create a new type of app.  The basic premise is this:  Create custom launching icons for actions that you conduct on your device on a regular basis, then put them in the Notification Center so that they are always quickly available.  So, as you pull down the Notification Center, you can choose to call your mom, or text your wife, or launch Twitter, which is an app you're always in.  With the added emphasis on the Notification Center and widgets in iOS 8 it was a simple, yet brilliant, idea.

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And, boy, had he done it again.  According to Greg, he had several hundred thousand downloads in the 9 days it was on the App Store.  Several hundred thousand.

Folks, that's not a small launch.  That's a launch that most apps would kill for.  That's big, especially for a small indie dev.  Greg, through ingenuity and understanding how people use their devices, had hit it big.

Launcher vaulted straight into the top grossing productivity apps.  By September 24th, it was ranked as the 32nd top grossing app in the productivity category in the US.  The next day it was 28th, up by 4.  In South Korea, the story was even better.  On the 22nd, Launcher had achieved the top ranking in top grossing productivity apps and would stay in the top 10.

According to Greg, this translated into the dream that all indie devs have:  Supporting your family independently off of the trade you love.  "It would have supported me even if it had dropped off.  iOS 8 penetration is still under 50%, so it could have continued to rise as well.  Who knows."

Sadly, it was not meant to be.

On September 23, Apple contacted Greg and informed him that they would disallow any Notification Center widget that launched other apps.  Their only reasoning?  That it was a "misuse" of widgets.  Apple issued an ultimatum:  Release a version without app launching from the widget or else Launcher would be entirely taken down.

On September 26, Greg submitted what he believed was a valid compromise:  The click would take the user to the main Launcher app, and from there the app would call the appropriate action.

Apple rejected the update and within an hour Launcher was no longer on the App Store.

With the interest that has recently been going around about Jared Sinclair's Unread, and indie devs in general, the pervading question has been, "Can indie devs really, truly support themselves on the App Store?"  It's rather sad that, at a time when Apple really needs to reassure devs that this is the case, they have chosen to remove an ingenious app from the App Store that was obviously well received and well liked.  Apple could have held Launcher up as an example of just what needs to be done to really make it on the App Store.

Instead, Apple is being Apple and aggressively protecting things that do not need to be protected.  They do so with inscrutable and nebulous reasons that leave all involved feeling dismayed.

In the end, though, it's worth noting that this is Apple's platform and that Apple is the King Maker.  They have put into place the machinery and the tools which will allow an entire industry to thrive.  It is theirs and they guard it jealously.

Indie devs, and iOS indie devs especially, are taking a very large risk by living at the whims of Apple.  Apple can and does change its collective mind on a whim.  I've seen them pull the rug out from under entire industries without a bit of warning.  One day, the rejections just start rolling in.  The industry is left with cryptic messages and quoted clauses as they try to decipher just what caused the offense this time.  It is a volatile world in which many of the actions make sense only from within the confines of Apple.  And Apple isn't sharing those reasons.

Sadly, this can leave indie devs, and Greg specifically, in a bad place.  When asked what he will do next, Greg responded, "Not sure at this point. [I'm] not likely to develop iOS apps."

iPhone 6+ from my Perspective

There have been many, many reviews written about the iPhone 6+.  It is, perhaps, one of the most intriguing and possibly controversial devices that will be released this year.  In a world where Android manufacturers have been pushing the screen size bigger and bigger (so much so that the average size of an Android phone is creeping beyond 4.7" upwards to 5"), there was always the hold-out Apple.  Steve Jobs thought a phone that big was ridiculous. There are many reasons that Apple was slow to this game.  Not the least of which is that Apple's developers must now deal full-force with display fragmentation.  At this very moment, a universal iOS app must handle five distinct "phone" resolutions and two tablet resolutions, bringing the grand total up to seven different resolutions.  This, my friends, is a big deal.

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But here we are.  And one of the real reasons everyone is so intrigued by the 6+ is the grand question of, "How will Apple redefine the 'phablet'?"  After all, Apple has a knack for entering spaces and redefining them, pushing the envelope and reshaping how everyone thinks about a space.  Will they do that with the 6+?

I endeavored to find an answer to that question.  In pursuit of that, I acquired a 128 GB Space Grey iPhone 6+ on launch day and have been using it for over a week now.  Let me tell you what my base criteria are for a good phone.  If one of these is not checked, I likely will not use the phone for long.

Criteria

  • Awesome camera:  I take pictures, lots of them.  I document my children, I document events, I document places.  Recently, I have begun getting "serious" about it, in the sense that I will now spend quite a bit of time after a day of snapping pictures to process those pictures and publish them.
  • All-day battery life:  By "all-day", I mean that I must be able to take the device, use it moderately to heavily, and have enough battery at the end of the day to scroll through Twitter before plugging it back in and going to bed.
  • Fast network speeds:  Basically, LTE or fast HSPA+.
  • Juggle-ability:  I have three kids between the ages of 5 and 9.  I will have a kid on my shoulders and one on my arm while at the same time sending a text to my wife about where we're going to meet next.  On occasion, I will need to break into a jog while in this configuration.  A phone must get in and out of my pocket easily.  Here is where I expected the 6+ to fail spectacularly, I must be able to use it one-handed.
  • Durable:  I don't use cases.  They are abominations.
  • Beautiful Screen:  It must, must have a beautiful, pixel dense screen.

The Camera

This one is pretty easy.  This camera is awesome.  It is the best on the market.  Between the solid hardware and the amazing, ground breaking things that Apple has done with the camera, there is nothing that even comes close.  Add to that the apps that are available for post-processing and you simply have something that is amazing.  VSCOCam, Tadaa, PhotoToaster, just to name a few, allow you to take the raw footage you shoot with the 6+ and turn images into otherworldly things.

Case in point.

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Finally, with iOS 8, Apple has opened up the raw camera controls.  Now, you're going to be able to adjust the settings of the camera like you would a more high-end camera.  The point-and-shoot is dead, long live the iPhone!

One thing it's worth noting here is that, on paper, the 6+ camera is better than the 6.  The 6+ has OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) whereas the 6 does not.  All reports are that this is truly not a game-changer unless you shoot stills in near dark while mounting your phone on a tripod.

Battery

Here again, the 6+ does well.  In the first two days I had it, I made it bed to bed without needing to charge the phone.  This is a monumental feat.  Both of these days, in an effort to get the 6+ to divulge all of its secrets to me, I was picking up the phone and tinkering with it every few minutes.  No phone that I've used to date has performed this well.

On a day of typical use, it has done quite well.  This past Thursday, I traveled to Washington DC in order to see the Redskins get destroyed by the Giants at my first NFL game.  The day started at 6 AM, entailed pretty heavy use, including GPS usage, quite a bit of tweeting, picture taking and instagramming, then ended at 4 AM of the next day.  When I arrived back at home, I still had 20% battery left.  I went with 3 other guys and all of them were forced to charge at least twice.

At the time of writing, which is 11:12 PM, the battery is at 47%.  I came off the charger at 7 AM, spent several hours out and about in various network environments from a fishing pier to a mall.  I took quite a few pictures with the kids and did a bit of editing.  This battery is legit.

Network

It has LTE and 802.11 AC.  The network performance is fast, and the radios seem to do better in low signal than the iPhone 5 I have on hand.  Not much to be said here but "pass".

Juggle-ability

This now, this is where I expected to have problems.  This phone is big.  It is extremely large, both in width and height.  I am not a small guy and I have average sized hands, but I find myself holding the phone in precarious ways on occasion.

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But the real question is, "Is it hard enough to hold?"  And beyond that, how does it do coming in and out of my pocket?  Can I get it out in a hurry?  Does it's massive size prevent me from smoothly evacuating it from my jeans?

Let me level with you:  If you wear skinny jeans or if you're small and dislike using two hands to handle a device, then get the 6.  The 6+ is very, very large.  But it is not too large...  Assuming you're willing to make some concessions.

Here are the things I noticed.

In one-handed use, in order to get to the far left side of the screen, you need to lay the phone flat on your fingers so that your hand wraps around the phone.  This allows your thumb to get to the far left side.  The problem here is two-fold:  The phone is not held firmly and the phone itself is slippery.  You're not going to be running when you do this.  You may not even be walking, depending on what your gait is.

Also, you righties, forget hitting the upper left hand side of the screen.  You're not going to do it...  But, wait!  It turns out you can.  Reachability is a thing, and it is real.  It's also very, very useful, to a point.

Reachability works like this:  You double tap the home button (in a capacitive sense, not a full on press) and the upper half of whatever screen you're on slides into the bottom half of the screen.  iOS has a penchant for putting back navigation into the upper left, and this allows that navigation to get to a position that a one-handed user can hit on this very large phone.

When I first heard about it, I thought it was a complete hack.  Turns out, it is not.  It works very well.

Except when you're five screens deep and you need to get back to the main screen.  Then it's 12 taps to get back to the original screen:  two taps for reachability and one tap for back, four times.  Then, reachability feels like an annoying hack.

Here's a quick video of the Twitter client.  Pardon the portrait nature of the video, but there is no easy way to film this in landscape.  Remember kids, portrait videos are typically the work of the devil.

[wpvideo 1YxJVhog]

As to pocketability, this is a slim, small device in every other dimension.  It slides in and out of your pockets with ease.  There are absolutely no right angles on this device, everything is rounded.  It is really, truly a joy to hold, even with it being as large as it is.  On my shorts it has no issues.  On my jeans, the bottom (I put my phones in upside-down) sticks out the top ever so slightly.

So, all in all, on one-handedness and pocketability, I'm willing to make a concession.  I'm not going to be moving fast when I use this device one handed, but I can use it one handed.  That's enough.  If you have small hands or you are tied to your skinny jeans, then look to the 6, or at least get your hands on one first to give it a test drive.

Durability

I've dropped the phone in very small drops a few times.  No damage, but this is hardly a real test.  Probably the one thing I can point to with regards to durability, and just how durable I believe this phone will show itself to be, is the "Bendgate" video.

Wait, what?!?!

Yes, in case you've been hiding under a rock, some poor unfortunate souls have managed to bend their iPhone 6+'s in their pockets.  When word of that hit the interwebs, our friends at Unbox Therapy had to jump into the fray and demonstrate that this phone can, in fact, be bent with the hands.

But there are a few things to note:  First and foremost, he's working really hard to bend this phone.  I haven't seen force requirements yet, but it sure does seem like you're going to have to fight to do this.

Apple has reported that they have seen 9 bent iPhone 6+'s so far.  Please recall that they sold 10 million phones in the pre-orders and the day of launch.  This does not seem like a very wide-spread problem.

But, secondly, and of way more importance, HE BENDS THE FREAKING PHONE AND THE SCREEN DOESN'T SHATTER!  Yes, he bends the phone and the screen deforms along with the device!  This is wild, and I doubt there are many other devices on the market that can make that claim.  This gives me hope that, in fact, the glass of the device is super durable.  This could be a very big selling point in the year to come.

In the end, don't tuck this device into the back pocket of your skinny jeans and then jump up and down on your butt.  It's a $750 aluminum phone.  Don't be stupid.

Also, don't wear skinny jeans.

The Screen

Oh, God, the screen!

This, this is why you're going to buy this device.  This screen is amazing!  It is huge, it is vibrant, it is so, so close to the glass.  It is the first screen I've seen that looks like print on paper, or like print on the glass itself.  I cannot tell you in words how gorgeous this screen is.  You just need to go see for yourselves.

Simply put, after a day, I could not bring myself to part with this screen.  Yes, it is a bit of a challenge to hold one-handed when moving fast.  But how often do you really do that?  Even me, who is known to cart kids around amusement parks, tends to put my phone away when I'm walking quickly.  I don't want to walk into people.

But this screen, so big, so vibrant, is a game-changer.  You're not going to reach for you iPad Mini, you'll just pull your phone out of your pocket.  For those that rely on screens on a day-to-day basis, this screen is a God-send.

It is very visible out doors and it is easy to type on.  Since this phone is huge, there's more space for each key.  This makes typing easier and typically translates into faster typing speeds.  Add to that the fact that there is just more screen real estate and that the keyboard doesn't take up half the screen, and you have a compelling reason for this size.

But wait, there is one wrinkle here:  app scaling.

Do you recall when the 5 was launched and developers had to rush to get their apps ready for the new screens?  In the meantime, Apple letterboxed the apps.  It was a bit of a pain, but in a few months, you didn't see letterboxed apps anymore.

Similarly here, if an app has not been prepared for the 6+, it will get scaled to fit the size.  The scaler doesn't do a bad job, but you end up with outsized apps, including an outsized keyboard.  It's not a terrible experience, but it's uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable in the sense that you know you could be getting more.

In the end, I expect this is a problem with a timespan measured in months.  Devs are already rushing to update and it's only a matter of time before they all do.

Conclusion

This phone is awesome.  The screen is a game-changer, the camera is best-in-class.  It is a bed-to-bed phone, even with heavy use.  Yes, it is large, and yes, you should consider that before you make a purchase.

However, back to the original question:  Has Apple redefined the phablet space?

I think only time will tell here, but that's not the most interesting result.  Instead of redefining the phablet, I believe that Apple has redefined iOS.  This is a new experience, one that is pleasant and fun to use.  By adding this incredible amount of real estate, iOS has become a different beast entirely.

The possibilities for user interaction are only increased with this device and that is a very good thing.

Apple and Wearables

Apple had WWDC this week, and while WWDC is normally pretty eventful, this one was incredibly action packed.  From a redesign of OS X to a new programming language called Swift, there was something to delight everyone.  But if you want to read about that, you can find articles to your heart's content all over the web. What I'm more interested in is HealthKit (Apple's HealthKit, not these poor unfortunate soul's HealthKit), and with it a new push in advertising from Apple.

HealthKit is aiming to be a one-stop shop for a holistic look at your well-being

To summarize what HealthKit is, it allows you to collect in one place various pieces of information about your health.  From body stats, calories burned or eaten, blood sugar levels and blood pressure, to a place to store your medical records, HealthKit is aiming to be a one-stop shop for a holistic look at your well-being.

Along with the announcement of HealthKit, Apple put out a new marketing push which focuses on a healthy you, and how an iOS device can help you get there.  It urges folks to "shed the chicken fat" and get out and get active.  The whole ad is people doing stuff that looks healthy, even going so far as to show someone on a scale checking their weight on their iPhone and making a frowny face as they note that there weight is up.

Apple will aim to collect all of your health data into one place

Now, in the ad, Apple shows a bunch of apps that help track your health, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist or a @pmarca vision of the future to realize that with iOS 8, Apple will aim to collect all of your health data into one place:  HealthKit.  They even rolled out the features that will make it super easy to do, which are the new extensions and services.

Which leads to the question of when, not if, Apple will roll out their wearable, and what it will be?  You can certainly bank on it being a health device.  Apple wouldn't lay this much ground-work to not leverage it in some serious way.  You can also look at the tighter partnership with Nike, progenitor of the wildly successful and now defunct Fuel Band, to point to how they're going to enter that field.

But, I have to wonder at the timing.  Especially in light of Vlad Savov's recent post on wearables and calorie counting on The Verge, wherein he details that the field of health tracking devices are notoriously unreliable.  To summarize, none of these devices are terribly accurate, and when combined with the human proclivity to poorly estimate when it comes to counting calories, there's not a lot of reliability here.

If there's one thing Apple is well-known for, it's waiting to get it right

If there's one thing Apple is well-known for, it's waiting to get it right, and while my expectation is that Apple will release something this year, I wouldn't be surprised if they had a multi-staged rollout plan over a couple of years as they work to get it all exactly right.

So, when the iWatch, or whatever they'll call it, comes out this year, don't expect full functionality from the get-go.  It will do everything it needs to do now, but there will be a whole lot of unlocked potential in it that Apple will likely roll out in the coming year(s).