Dec 18, 2008

Macworld without Steve

The tech news sites have been in an uproar the last few days about why Apple is dropping out of Macworld 2010 and more so why Jobs isn't giving this years keynote. Just a hint - Jobs not presenting has NOTHING to do with his health.

There are a lot of posts about why Apple isn't continuing at Macworld. This isn't one of those.

I'd like to talk about what will be discussed at Macworld this year.

First, I'm excited for Things 1.0. Things is a to-do list manager for the Mac and iPhone. Simply brilliant. Things will be released on Tuesday at Macworld.

Apple will have some announcements too. We know that Phil Schiller will be presenting so I'm expecting a technical keynote about Snow Leopard. We may also have some small product announcements including iMacs, Mac Minis, and Mac Pros. Based on rumors and intel's roadmap, I'd expect the Macs to be released the same day or shortly after Macworld. Snow Leopard will be later in the quarter with some sources pointing towards the end of the first quarter.

What I'd hoped to see at Macworld was an updated AppleTV but now that Schiller is presenting I think Apple is going to stick to their post Macworld game plan and have various mini announcements rather than two or three big shows each year. So I expect to see an updated AppleTV in the first half of 2009. I've got some pretty basic projections for 2009 but that is another post.

Dec 2, 2008

The App Store and CrapApps: A Proposal (pt. 2)

Yesterday I wrote about how the current incentives of the Apple iPhone App store are leading developers to price their apps at $.99 to maintain popularity. Yesterday afternoon I read a post on Mobile Orchard called Price and Popularity - they statistically estimate who is making the most money in the app store. In a opposition to John's argument that only low priced apps have the popularity to make money - almost all of the top ten games making money cost at least $2.99 and the average is about $5.99. However, there are more than just numbers behind why these apps are making the top $. Eight of the top ten are big brands or games from large developers. Branding (advertising) seems to be working effectively in the current system.

So what needs to change? Do we need change? I'd say yes. Mobile Orchard's evidence shows that you don't have to have a $.99 app to be popular if you have the marketing or the brand to back you up. However, I think there are a lot of really great applications out there that aren't getting their time in the spotlight or Apple isn't providing the correct incentives for them to succeed.

I've come up with a couple of steps to transition the app store (and music, movie, etc.) into a place where the playing field is a bit more fair and creativity and quality are rewarded. I don't believe in a single easy fix for complex business problems, especially when dealing with human behavior.

Step 1
Make more lists. Staff favorites, popularity, free, best selling, random 25, New in the last week, Quality, revenue, etc.

Apple can just keep coming up with different ways to show us new apps. The problem with this is revenue seems to be tied to just 1 of those lists - so the other lists don't really matter much.

Step 2
Change the algorithm of the Top Paid Apps list. This is a pretty generic list right now and it seems (as John pointed out) that it is tied to volume. Changing the algorithm to be based on revenue would change the landscape a lot but that isn't the best solution. The solution would be to make this list algorithm more complicated and less biased. This would be done by weighting the various aspects of each application (volume, revenue, customer satisfaction, etc.) and generating a score based on a mix of these criteria. This algorithm changes the store and makes it more difficult for a large company to dominate the store with advertising or branding alone. It still helps but it isn't the only criteria. The same goes for customer satisfaction, price, and volume. None of these measures should be the only criteria the Top Paid Apps list should use. Of course these aren't the only criteria that can be used and I doubt that Apple would get it right the first time (probably very close though). Ideally the algorithm would be transparent to developers but this is Apple we are talking about.

No matter what it would change the underlying incentives to produce more quality software, allow developers to benefit from higher pricing and popularity, and ultimately help me find higher quality apps in the top 50.

Step 3
Redesign the store. I've seen this comment a lot. This should of course help customers discover new apps, music, movies, etc. I think Apple can be creative and use Genius somehow but this is a long term project. This is step 3 because no matter how good the re-design is the underlying incentives need to be fair and geared toward quality and creative apps or we just go back to where we started. It's all about the incentives.

The App Store and CrapApps: A Proposal (pt. 1)

I just finished a lengthy post by John Casasanta & Phill Ryu at TapTapTap. For those not in the know, TapTapTap is an iPhone application development team.

The basic gist of the article is that the iPhone app store is becoming a "crapstore" and a few suggestions on how to fix it. John suggests changing the Top Paid Apps list from a ranking of apps sold to a ranking based on total revenue. He argues this would improve the quality the software for users and increase application prices for developers. I partially agree. I think this would change the app store in a number of ways. It would change incentives for developers in price setting. The overall price of applications would go up because the balance between volume AND price would need to be maximized whereas the current incentives encourage a maximization of only volume (the resulting price is minimized at $.99). John argues that developers will produce better apps and shovelware apps will disappear. I think that shovelware apps will still sell just in higher pricing. Their rule of the top spots will be negated somewhat by higher pricing and competing with supposedly higher quality applications but it is really difficult to see how the cards would fall at this point. My guess would be that the store would still be full of crapapps except they'd all cost $4.99 instead of $.99. Not really an improvement.

I've read in other posts and a few comments that the market has decided and to let it be. Apple said they were going to do just this when they announced the app store back in March. However, the market makes its decisions based on the environment around it. So to just say that the market decides isn't really useful. It is actually ignorant since the marketplace isn't completely free and has artificial guidelines and rules set by Apple (not the market). As mentioned above the incentives produced by the organization of the app store are driving the prices for paid apps to $.99. In the long run (John is right) the top apps in the two major categories will be priced at $.99 and Free. If this is the expected behavior for Apple's store then nothing needs to be changed. However I wouldn't be writing this post if I thought everything was going as expected. The incentives need to change.

What can we use to change the incentives? What should the goals be?

Post your ideas in the comments.

My suggestions will come tomorrow.

Nov 25, 2008

Handbrake 0.9.3

Handbrake is a utility for converting video formats (ie. DVD => iPod, AppleTV, Xbox 360, etc.). New in this version is the ability to convert files from basically any format to any other format. Old .avi files to AppleTV for instance. I was testing out some conversions of some Pixar Shorts I have in High Definition in a .mkv format and transcoding them to for use in iTunes for AppleTV and my iPhone. Long story short… the new encoding engine is amazing. Check out this comparison of Jack-Jack-Attack in DVD format and HD format. 

The quality of the new transcoded file is good but what really blows my mind is the HD version is the same size (100MB) as the old DVD rip I did a year or so ago. So I get higher quality video at a fraction of the size. Way to go Handbrake team. My 4GB iPhone and 2 year old love you.

Nov 24, 2008

I have been using this financial management site for almost a year and a half now. This is a great site for basic financial tracking. It now manages investments, checking, savings, credit cards and about any loan type. I especially enjoy the simple budgeting tools and expense graphs. The site is FREE and they monetize it by saving you money.

In case you still need a link:

Nov 20, 2008


Seth Godin on how it is necessary in today's market to be remarkable.

I like how he defines remarkable - worth making a remark about something.


Nov 12, 2008

Gas Cubby

Another auto/gas management app. Strictly iPhone this time…

Nov 6, 2008


My life involves work (mainly on a computer), home (honey-do list), church, school, and whatever else comes up. I don't manage a to do list very well. Thinking back I've tried tons and tons of solutions. My mom had charts, I had a small planner at age twelve, and I was an early adopter of the Palm Pilot. The main reason for all of these things? To manage a to do list. None of them worked.

My wife creates amazing lists. She loves them. She goes through lists faster than I change my underwear (just kidding… about the underwear). At one point I had her making lists for me but I just couldn't get the paper to integrate into the digital world I work in. It was a frustrating and seemingly repetitive experience. I needed something that would always be available, easily updated and organized, and super simple. I tried some paper options. Those didn't last long - maybe a week. I gave up until July of this year. Since then I've had a pretty sweet setup syncing my to do lists with my computers and my phone so I always my list with me whether at the office or in the grocery store. It doesn't do everything or claim to but it does enough which is why I use it.

Things is a desktop (Mac only) and iPhone application which has simplified my life. Check it out (free until January) if you have a Mac and buy it ($10) if you have an iPhone.

Fantastic web application for tracking MPG in my cars. Bonus points for iPhone mobile version.

Mar 27, 2008

Ways to improve the iPhone

I've had an iPhone since the beginning of July of last year and it has changed the way I use my mobile device. The phone before my iPhone was a Nokia 3120 - which is just a basic phone with pretty decent reception and dang good battery life. The iPhone is an amazing piece of technology. I have Google Maps, my contacts, calendars, email, and the entire internet at my fingertips anytime I want them. Oh, it is also a fantastic iPod with large screen and I've been very satisfied with the product and although I didn't purchase mine out of my own pocket (Canister paid for it) I still think it is worth $400 - $500 for anyone looking for a good smart phone.

#1  iChat Mobile Video - I told my brother last August about this idea. A two sided camera on the phone so you can take pictures or record video from either side. The cool thing about this is this makes it possible to have video chat on your phone over a wifi or 3G network. I would like this so I can show my parents live video of their grand daughter playing with her toys rather than just sitting in front of the computer.

#2  To dos - Where are they on the iPhone and why haven't they been implemented already? I just need basic to do lists that can sync from my Mac.

#3  Notes sync - I use the notes on my iPhone all the time for jotting stuff down or even taking notes during some meetings. I'm getting pretty good at typing. :-) However the notes on my Mac and the notes on my Phone are separate and can't talk or be grouped together. Why is that?

#4  Other syncing options - I would pay for .Mac if it included wireless syncing of my contacts, calendar, to dos, notes, etc. All of these things can be easily synced with little data needing transferred. Battery may drain a bit more but I think that can be negated pretty easily with settings. 
I would also like to see some sort of 802.11n implementation in the next version of the iPhone - then I won't need to keep a 802.11g wireless router around just for my phone. Using the N standard would also allow you to quickly sync without having to connect to the computer. I usually charge my phone overnight next to my bed so the less syncing of minor things like contacts, calendars, etc. with a cable the better. We have wireless, lets use it.

#6  RSS Reader - I use NewsGator but a native app would be fantastic. Hopefully NewsGator will have an almost free version when the software is updated in June.

#5  Apple TV remote - Ability to use my iPhone/iPod Touch as an AppleTV remote. Choose movies, control volume

#6  iCal mobile - I like using the Calendar application on the iPhone. It works great but it could use a little bit of polish. For instance, when entering a Location for an event it would be great to query the addresses in the contact list such as "My House", "Dave's work", "Canister Office", etc. Then you can get directions later if you don't remember how to get there. The integration saves typing and allows you to easily get a map to your event if you need one. Also as stated above calendars should sync in realtime with .Mac or some other service (Exchange users will have this functionality in June with the 2.0 software release)

#7  Photos - Send photos to services other than .Mac such as Flickr, PicasaWeb, etc.

#8  Weather - I like the simple weather application most of the time. I would like to be able to see more details however. Perhaps allowing to scroll down or open up details for today with radar, severe weather warnings, and hour-by-hour forecasts would be very nice. Weather Underground has a web app for the iPhone that has the data but not as slick an interface. A combination of the two would be great. Also in a future version of the iPhone with GPS, realtime weather from the nearest weather station would be awesome. There are a couple of PWS (personal weather stations) by my house but I don't know which is the closest. If it could choose the closest based on my GPS location that would be ideal.

#9 GPS - Google maps is there. It does step by step directions already. I hope that version 2.0 of Google Maps (on the iPhone) will be able to be a real GPS navigator complete with voice directions (OS X has quite a few nice voices already) and some sort of 3D view for real-time tracking.

Leave a comment if you have any other suggestions. I've left out most of the 3rd party applications such as games and specific apps that 95% of the people won't use. Leave your suggestions anyway.