Posts Tagged‘app store’

I Will Never be Rid of my iPhone (Not for lack of trying though).

The date is fast approaching April and that means the Fringe Benefits Tax year is about to roll over. For most people this is a non-event unless you’re salary sacrificing a car but for contractors like me it means I can write off another phone and laptop device on tax, effectively getting them for half the market price. Whilst it’s not as good as it used to be (you were also able to depreciate them, making said devices basically free) there hasn’t been a year yet when I haven’t taken advantage of at least getting a new phone, and last year was the first when I purchased my Macbook Pro. So of course I’ve spent the last couple weeks looking through the available selection of phones and tablets with which to gorge myself upon and the more I look the more I get the feeling I won’t be able to leave my iPhone behind like I did with my other smart phones.

The tablet choice is pretty easy since I’m not particularly fond of the iPad (I don’t need another iDevice) and getting something like the Motorola Xoom would cover off my need for an Android device to code against. To have all current platforms covered then the smart phone choice (HA! See what I did there?) would be a Windows Phone 7 handset. Taking a look around I found a few pretty good deals on various handsets with contracts comparable to what I’m on now with tons of extra value. My handset of choice is the HTC Mozart which appears to be the cream of the current crop of WP7 handsets, anything else is just too far off on the horizon to be worth considering.

Of course whenever I’m contemplating a new phone I’ll always compare it to what I currently have to see if it fixes the things that bug me and whether or not it will be worth it. Whilst my 3GS is less than a year old it’s nipping on the feet of being 2 generations behind the current trend so any recent handset should beat it hands down. A quick look at the similarly priced handsets shows this to be true all of them bristling with bigger CPUs, more RAM and better dedicated graphics. Unfortunately however there’s one thing that all the other handsets I’ve been looking at don’t cover.

That unfortunate beast is the Apple App Store.

Despite the insane growth that Android has shown over the past year Apple is still the platform of choice for many early adopters and developers. It’s extremely rare for a company to attempt to launch a mobile application on anything but Apple first, simply because the user base tends much more towards that early adopter mindset of trying things out. Sure there are many examples of popular apps that made their debut on the Android markets (although none that I’m aware of for WP7) but when you compare them to the number of success Apple can count using its platform there’s really no contest. Couple that with the fact that despite Android’s runaway popularity the App store is still by far more profitable for developers looking to sell their wares and you’d really have to be crazy not to launch on their platform.

For me this presents an interesting conundrum. Whilst I was never going to sell my 3GS since it will make a good test bed for at least another year or two I do use it quite extensively to test out potential competitor’s applications. Since most of them launch on iPhone first this hasn’t been a big deal but with me planning to move to WP7 (or possibly Android) for my main handset I can’t help but feel that I’ll probably want to keep it on hand so that I can keep a close eye on the market. Sure I could just make a note to try an application later but many up and coming products are based around using them for a particular purpose, not booting them up occasionally to see the new features. Granted this is probably limited to social applications but any new product is almost guaranteed to have some kind of social bent baked in (heaven knows I tried to avoid it for the longest time with Lobaco).

The market could change and with the growth that Android is experiencing I may be singing a completely different tune a year from now. Still until the Android store starts pumping out billions of dollars to its developers I can’t see a future where any serious developer isn’t focused primarily on Apple first with Android planned down the line. For now I think I’ll stick with my plan of a WP7 phone and an Android tablet, keeping the gaggle of devices close at my side at all times so that I can test any app regardless of its platform. It’s the same line of thinking that lead me to buy every major console, although the Wii has only ever been used a couple times.

There’s an analogy in there somewhere ;)

Apple Caves Under Developer Pressure.

Apple’s policies for the App Store have always been a bit vague and uneven, leading to quite a few good headlines over what apps got rejected and which ones got in. I put it down to the human element in the review process as one reviewer’s biases need not line up with another. Still though the developers worked out the inputs and outputs of the application review process and if your app was useful, family friendly and didn’t go rampaging through private APIs you were golden. Apple, not content with the amount of control it was already exerting over its developers, then decided to up the ante by banning all cross platform frameworks putting a big question mark over some of their most successful applications and developers.

The whole thing can be traced back to Apple’s public flamewar with Adobe. I’m not really sure what triggered this decision in the first place (although it smacks of Jobs’ idealism) but they did it with precise timing, just a few days before Adobe was to announce their Flash to iPhone app packager for CS5. Perhaps the idea of a torrent of applications hastily converted from flash onto the iPhone was a bit too much for them to bear but in casting their net so wide they caused many people to become hesitant about developing on the platform, especially those who found great success using such 3rd party frameworks.

Apple began doing some damage control in order to ensure that they wouldn’t lose some of their biggest money earners. They gave unofficial word that frameworks such as Unity3D were safe since they generated an actual iPhone application and didn’t require use of an intermediate interpreter. Still since coding in Unity3D is done in C# this ran up against yet another draconian rule that all iPhone applications must be written in one of the sanctioned C based languages. With Android starting to pick up at a phenomenal pace there’s no doubt that Apple began to rethink their stance on many of these matters with hopes of winning back the developers they had once scorned.

Last week saw Apple release what amounts to their set of principles and guidelines that are applied when reviewing apps that will make it onto their app store. You can get the full pdf of all the guidelines here and it makes for some interesting reading. Most of them are just formalisation of the rules that most developers knew about but couldn’t get solid verification from Apple that it was a hard and fast rule. Probably the biggest coup in this whole document is they abandoned their previous stance on not allowing any cross platform libraries, allowing such applications through as long as they didn’t download any code:

The black box that is the Applereview process is creaking open. In a very brief release, Apple has essentially relaxed the requirement that developers use Apple’s own development tools “as long as the resulting apps do not download any code.” They’ve also published some review guidelines, allowing programmers to understand just what will go on behind the curtains in Cupertino.What does this mean? Well, in the updated SDK license, circa April of this year, a number of paragraphs essentially bannedoutside development tools including systems that ported Flash, Silverlight, Java, and other platforms to the iPhone. Now, presumably, any app that runs on the iPhone, regardless of source, will be considered. The language is so mushy that it’s still unclear what this means.

On the surface it would appear that Apple has backpeddled on their previous stance. Indeed the news was enough for Adobe to state that they were going to restart developing their Flash to iPhone packager which had been shelved after Apple hamstrung it earlier this year. The not downloading any code exclusion is quite understandable as this could easily be exploited as an attack vector by a malicious third party. Still most attackers wouldn’t bother with an app (that leaves a paper trail) since the browser on the phone will happily download code and run it. But I’m sure Apple knows that already.

For what its worth it seems like Apple is finally caving into the developers who helped them make their products so successful and rightly so. Developing something for an Apple product has always been about the end user, much to the detriment of those creating for those users. This is in stark contrast to Google who’s always been about the developers, favouring their freedom to develop however they want with almost no thought to the user experience. Both approaches have their pluses and pitfalls but in the end if you don’t have developers you’re going to have a hard time attracting users to your platform.

Will this lead to a flood of low quality applications on the app store and the fiery death of the user experience on the iPhone? Most likely not as there’s already enough crap on the app store to make sure that any poorly ported Flash app will be lost amongst the noise. Realistically anyone looking to publish on the iOS platform knows what they’re getting into and will redesign the app as such, lest they get bad reviews that ultimately bury their app completely. In the end I think it’s just Apple realising that the road they were going down wasn’t going to do them any favours and the rising star of Android is beginning to look attractive enough for some to make the switch.

The question now is though, will they keep their hard line on Flash? Time will tell.

A National Classification System.

Media classification is one of those subjects that affects everyone but it never really gets discussed apart from when it causes a bit of stir like when a game is refused classification. Unfortunately this has meant that new forms of media have either slipped under the classification radar or have been stuck with a system that wasn’t designed for today’s world. The problem with Australia’s current approach to media classification is that it is unable to deal with new forms of media as they are created and as such either ignores them or attempts to shoe horn them into the models developed for old media. This has most publicly affected Australia’s gaming community with the lack of a R18+ rating which, admittedly is a small issue in the grand scale of things, still remains as an issue today.

However the lack of a R18+ rating for games is symptomatic of a larger problem. Whilst new forms of media aren’t exactly an everyday event the advent of new distribution channels for content have made the single source of truth style of classification almost irrelevant. Take for instance YouTube who, whilst having their own set of guidelines as to what is acceptable, don’t have any relationship with the Australian Classification Board (ACB). Considering you can see something as innocent as a double rainbowto Baraka beheading Johnny Cage in the new Mortal Kombat shortwithout even a hint of classification about it (although YouTube does allow users to flag content as adult, requiring a login) the task of classifying such vast amounts of material seems almost impossible for an organisation like the ACB.

Indeed these services rely on the fact that the material doesn’t have to go through such classification channels. Getting a classification through the ACB incurs a feefrom around $400 all the way up to $5,000 depending on the type of material and intended means of distribution. Such fees would pose a significant barrier to anyone looking to distribute content online should the classification of such media become mandatory and unfortunately it appears that the ACB intends to do just that:

At a conservative estimate, one-third of them are games, suggesting compliance costs would be in the millions.

A spokeswoman for Minister of Home Affairs Brendan O’Connor said he was “concerned about the classification of games playable on mobile telephones and had put the wheels in motion to address this with his state and territory counterparts”.

Definitions of computer games under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 do not exclude games distributable or playable on mobile phones.

This isn’t a new idea either. Back in April Minister O’Connor (the director of the ACB) expressed concerns over the mobile space that bypasses their classification process. Whilst I share some of his concerns it appears that little thought had been given to the impact that his words might have, especially when it comes to developers and content producers looking to Australia as a potential market.

Now I understand that the ACB has the best of intentions when it comes to this but the way they’re going about this only serves to create a hostile environment for those looking to distribute their product on our shores. The app store and other similar product distribution methods have been successful because they have been allowed to self regulate and imposing fees on them will more than likely see all but the biggest players pull out of the Australian market. With most paid iPhone applications selling less than 10,000 units at the average price point of $0.99 (with 30% of that going to Apple) even the cheapest classification severely cuts into any sales they make, even to the point of making it completely unprofitable.

What’s required then is a complete rethink of the current classification system and how it can be applied to the new digital world and its various distribution methods. This comes down to a fundamental shift away from the current system which is highly segmented between different media formats. Unifying all these classification bodies under a single banner with a standard framework for classifying content would eliminate the disparity in classification information and serve as a basis for new forms of media as they are created. It would also ensure that markets such as the iPhone and Android app stores don’t suffer unnecessary financial burdens by being shoe horned into a classification framework that couldn’t fathom their creation. In essence classification in Australia needs a rethink on a national scale and it needs it soon.

The good news is that such an idea is not new and I’m not the only one who supports it. The Australian Sex Party (who are readers of this blog, which I find rather cool :D) also supports a national classification scheme as part of their larger stance on making adult material available across all states and territories, as you can currently only legally buy it in the ACT and NT (but you can also import from these territories too). I support their stance on this issue as it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to put these artificial restrictions on such material but it also has the flow on effect of ensuring that new media doesn’t get killed in Australia simply because we refuse to change our ways for the better part of 2 decades.

These issues were something that we simply could not fathom when we first set about creating standards for media classification. It has come time for a fundamental change in the way we do these things in order to keep pace with our ever changing technologically driven world. To not do anything risks Australia being seen as a media blackspot, unable to cope with the world that is changing around it. However there is hope for change as the roots of movement against the status quo are already taking hold and it is only a matter of time before we will see the first steps towards a more sensible future.

Tip of the hat to my old university pal Dave Woodgate for hooking me up with the inspiration for this post.

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Apple’s iPhone: Don’t Think This Makes Up For What You Did.

There’s really no love lost between Apple and I. Whilst I’ve blasted them many times on this blog I’ve never made a sweeping statement against all their products since frankly, if they were crap Apple wouldn’t be in the position they are in today. Still I’ve got a beef with how they deal with developers and how they keep features from their users (citing that it’s not required or bloat) and then releasing that very feature to wide fanfare in another revision (MMS anyone?). Still with them pushing over 42 million handsets worldwide they’ve created a market that I can’t rightly ignore if I’m in the business of mobile applications that strive to have widespread adoption. So about three weeks ago I took the plunge and dropped a cool $1040 on an iPhone 3GS and I’ve spent every minute with it pushing the phone to its limits.

Now I’ve spent a considerable amount of coin on phones before but the iPhone still tops out as the most expensive one that I shelled out for. Usually when you part with this much dosh you’re greeted with packaging fit for a king with extras and accessories flowing from the box. Apple, true to their minimalistic design philosophies, give you little more than the phone, ear buds, usb cable and charger, with the whole thing fitting in something roughly the same size as a house brick. Sure I wasn’t expecting too much but I’ve bought phones for hundreds of dollars less that came with more, so my initial impressions, whilst impressed with the minimalistic nature, were soured by the fact that I had parted with so much for so little. The blow was softened somewhat by the fact that my company paid for 90% of the phone, one of the perks of being a contractor ;)

I then took the time to get the phone set up which (groan) had me installing iTunes. Now I’ve had an iPod shuffle for about a year so you’d think I already had the software installed but this isn’t the case. I’d managed to avoid it by using a program called Floola which allowed me to drag and drop music onto it. After getting the software installed (and making sure not install the bug ridden port of a browser Safari¹) I had my iPhone up and running and something caught my eye.

It was the screen on this phone, it’s really quite gorgeous. Even though my Xperia X1 has almost double the screen resolution it just doesn’t seem as nice as the one on the iPhone, even with Sony’s UI smothering the beast that is Windows Mobile’s default UI. For a long time geek like myself the UI was very intuitive and my better half (who I bought an iPhone for as well since she’d been pining for one for years) didn’t have any issues navigating around her new toy. After getting the basics out of the way I decided to go straight for the heart of the iPhone’s apparent success: the App Store.

Yet again I was met with extremely slick UI design that was done to facilitate the non-tech crowd through a world that was ostensibly for techies. In minutes I was downloading all manner of applications: Echofon, Facebook, Shazam, AroundMe all found their way onto my phone in a matter of minutes of getting it onto the world wide web. My initial disappointment with the lack of included extras was soon pushed aside by the overwhelming amount of functionality that could be unlocked with few clicks on the App store. My inner Apple critic was still shouting loudly in my ear that this was the devils store and any more attempts to dive deeper into this world would be met by damnation of all those who sit atop a pylon of free and open ideals. But the apps called to me because it was just so damned easy.

It took me a long time to be willing to part with extra money to buy something on the app store but it finally happened when I had 30 minutes to kill and I was stuck in a parking lot with just myself and my iPhone. Browsing through the free games section nothing really caught my fancy so I looked through the paid section. Noticing that a long time addiction of mine, Bejeweled, was available I happily signed my soul away and not less than 2 minutes later I was busting jewels like a pro. The game has since brought me a couple hours of entertainment, well worth the $4 I parted with for it.

I was quite surprised by the browsing experience on this phone. With many sites now creating mobile versions specifically for the iPhone (this site included, if you’re on a mobile device it will switch to an iPhone-esque theme for you) browsing sites is quite a lot easier than I thought it would be. With sites that don’t implement it the multi-touch interface makes zooming around the pages quite smooth and very enjoyable, a long way from my roots in Windows Mobile world. I haven’t had a chance to compare the experience to Opera Mini, but from what I’ve heard you gain page loading speed at the cost of some things not rendering quite right. Still I’ll stick with the default browser for now since most people design for that first if they’re creating a mobile site.

In the interest of doing a full review of the iPhone I decided that I’d best buy some music as well, and while I’m at it let’s see how it would perform downloading an entire album over the cell phone network. Hitting up the store I decided that I’d grab an album of a band I’d just recently come across: Miami Horror. For the princely sum of about $8 I was treated to a full album of tracks and in the space of a 15 minute walk all but 2 tracks of it had finished downloading. Colour me impressed as I’ve tried doing things like this before on other phones and been quite disappointed. The whole experience left me wanting to do it again just for the sheer novelty of being able to think of a bad, look them up on iTunes and have their album on my phone in less time than it would take for me to drive to the closest record store. Once again Apple’s philosophy of “It just works” seems to be a winner.

But of course since I am at heart a geek there are some things about my new iPocketCandy that aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. In the nation’s capital 3G coverage is somewhat spotty for my carrier (Three) and this usually incurs me roaming whenever I go indoors. That’s not too much of a problem since the iPhone has a switch to not use Internet when roaming (which is bloody awesome, I had to get an application for Windows Mobile to do that). However the process of getting it to switch back to 3G takes about 2 minutes or so to complete when the same operation on Windows Mobile took about 10 seconds. Given that the device also freezes for about 5 seconds when switching networks by itself this has become a bit of a bugbear, especially considering I’m in and out 3G reception most of the day.

I’ve made a habit of keeping a good contacts file in my Outlook ever since I moved to a Windows Mobile phone. You can then imagine my elation when I saw an option to sync directly from Outlook in iTunes. That was until I actually tried to sync them to my phone upon which I received the error that there was no default mail client installed. Funny that since I had the email client open at the time. A couple furious Google searches later proved that I wasn’t alone in this problem and it in fact lies with Apple, since they haven’t built in support for the x64 version of Outlook. For a company that likes to tout itself as an innovator it gives me the irates when they miss something as simple as this, especially when the problem has gone unresolved for months. I ended up creating a CSV file of my various contacts and uploading them into Google Contacts (I’d never seen this before) and syncing them that way. That’s 4 hours of shenanigans that I shouldn’t of had to go through.

There are also some other tasks, like importing your own ring tones, that feel like they were purposefully made difficult so that you go for Apple’s solution. When you first plugin your iPhone iTunes won’t even show the ring tones folder, which would send most people straight off to the store to buy a ring tone they want. Sure its relatively easy to work around but is it really that hard to have the option there right from the beginning? I’m sure the sales department had a say in how that whole thing went down.

The iPhone is also the reason why I believe the iPad is not a revolution of any kind. Whilst I’ve yet to get my hands on an iPad the countless videos and reviews I have read show me little more than an overgrown version of the very phone I now carry with me. Most of those 42 million people who bought the iPhone did so because they actually had a use for the damn thing. The iPad however fills a need that none of them had previously and subsequently I can’t fathom that the initial rush of purchases are anything but people who would buy whatever latest widget that Apple released. Sure it would make a great “coffee table device” but really think about how often you would actually use such a device, and then think again if you had an iPhone in your pocket. The use cases for the iPad shrink considerably the more thought you give to purchasing it, which ironically I think is the exact reason why it has so sold many (yes I just called all iPad owner’s thoughtless brand whores, what are you going to do about it?).

That all being said however I can’t detract from the fact that the iPhone is the best mobile phone I’ve ever had. Everything about it just works (eventually at worst) and the amount of functionality that can be unlocked through the App store is quite phenomenal. Apple’s commitment to making what was once geek now chic works incredibly well with the iPhone and I can see the reason why over half of my tech oriented friends choose the iPhone as their smart phone. For anyone that can afford one the iPhone is a purchase that you won’t soon regret and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how my future Android purchase (currently shaping up to be a HTC Incredible) shapes up along side it.

¹Seriously, Safari on Windows is a bloated piece of garbage with numerous security holes. From all accounts its fine on OSX but it seems the team who ported it to Windows didn’t put a heck of a lot of thought into it and as such I can’t recommend it to anyone. Chrome/Firefox are still the safest and best browsers on this platform.

The iPhone’s Curious Flash Immunity.

No matter where you go on the web you’re almost guaranteed to run into a Flash object or two. Primarily this is because Flash has the awesome ability of being delivered through a web browser but still has most of the functionality of a installed application. Such capability lead itself to become ubiquitous on the web but the real king of bringing Flash to the public was the video giant, YouTube. Right now it’s almost guaranteed that anyone surfing the net has Flash installed so the web has become increasingly Flash based with everything from advertisments to this blog using it. So it becomes a real curiosity when the world’s most popular smartphone, the iPhone, lacks the capability to use Flash.

Searching around for the answer leads to a lot of interesting articles. Many of them show that Adobe is keenly interested in getting Flash to work on the iPhone and has been in talks with Apple for quite a while. Whilst Adobe has been pretty open about the process Apple had taken their usual vow of silence on the matter for quite a long time. More recently however Steve Jobs came out and said that it was just too slow to run on the iPhone and that it would detract from the overall experience. Couple this with the fact that Flash might impact poorly on the iPhone’s battery life and you’ve got a recipe for a significant amount of damage to be done to Apple’s “it just works” reputation. I can’t fault them from wanting to protect that.

Enabling Flash would also commit one of the worst sins against Apple: taking away control of its platform. The reason why Apple tech just works the way it does is because almost all of their products would be, to draw a gaming analogy, are closer to consoles than they are PCs. The hardware in any Apple product is strictly controlled which means the software can then be coded directly against that platform. This reduces bugs, increases turn around time for new software and is the main reason that Apple has developed such a good reputation for delivering complex tech that used to be reserved to the annals of only the highest rank techies. Allowing things like Flash or Silverlight would allow anyone to run code that was not only not approved by Apple, but also not designed specifically for the iPhone platform. I can easily see people trying to use the latest Flash games on their iPhone only to be completely disappointed, tarnishing the iPhone’s shining exterior.

However there’s one thing that Apple values above its image, and that’s its bottom line. Apple has managed to almost 10% share of the PC market (and 13.7% of the smartphone market) away from the corporate giant of Microsoft. Whilst I’m sure they derive a decent profit stream from the hardware sales (the bill of materials for an iPhone tops out under US$180 and it sells outright for almost double that) the real money is in the App Store. For Apple this is an absolutely brilliant strategy: want to have something run on our hardware with an install base of over 21 million? Sure! For a yearly fee and 30% of all revenue you make through our system it can be done. This is almost pure profit for Apple since once the initial cost of setting up the store is recovered and I’d doubt that more than 10% of the revenue generated from the app is used on auditing it. While Apple is tight lipped on just how much they’re making estimates have pegged it at a whopping $2.4 BILLION a year. Even at half or a quarter of that revenue the App Store is a gravy train for Apple, since they’re doing comparatively little work for an enormous benefit.

So we should not be suprised when iPhone after iPhone is released and Flash doesn’t make an appearance with it. The potential hit to Apple’s reputation and revenue is too great for them to cave into the Internet’s most popular client side programming framework. It’s a bit of a shame but in the end when you’ve got enough market sway to make the biggest flash based site in the world convert all their videos so that they’ll work on your mobile device I don’t think anyone will argue with your decision.

They may deconstruct your decision for blog fodder however ;)