Not Everyone Is a Plumber, Tim

My thoughts on Apple's WWDC 2016 conference

For Apple enthusiasts last week was a big week – the week of the annual Apple Developers conference known as WWDC. As always, this year’s opening keynote was chocked full of news on all of Apple’s major software platforms. Below I give you just the takeaways I found most interesting from that two hour session1. After that I’ll take to my soap box and explain the title of this post.

Sweating Pipes

  1. Which wasn’t everything, believe it or not.

State of the Hosting Industry – 2014

Earlier this week, the hosting industry gathered in Miami for what is probably its most significant annual meeting of the minds. HostingCon is not an event that the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google attend, but it is the place where the rest of the industry meets to freely discuss the state of market opportunities and exchange ideas on strategies to address them.

This year there were three major takeaways that you can use in your calculus as either a consumer or provider of hosting services.


Release Notes #53

#53 No Major Hiccups

Joe and Charles share some excellent advice and tips on putting up a new release in the App Store without jeopardizing your customer base.  Recommended listen for all serious indies.

Of note:

  • Using email to advise customers of a new release
  • New app vs. yet another update of the existing version
  • Charging customers a “second” time
  • How to notify users in-app that you have a new release available without annoying them.


Time to Change Your Passwords!

It’s probably fair to say that most New Year’s resolutions are not tech-related, but the incidents of hacker activity that seem to be hitting closer to home every day probably warrant a few, especially when it comes to passwords and PIN codes.

While you’re clearing the decks and getting reorganized for a new year, consider whether any of the following are true for you:

iPad Air Quick Thoughts

I’ve been asked several times today what I think of the new iPad Air.  Here’s my quick take:

The Good

  • Same screen size, less weight, and thinner. All good there.
  • Same battery life, which is amazing given it has less space for battery cells.
  • A7/M7 processors. Nearly twice as fast as before and with twice the graphics power, the latter of which is definitely needed to drive all those Retina pixels when rendering images.
  • Better Wi-Fi. Twice the speed (up to 300 Mbps) and better range.
  • No price change.  (I debated putting this in the next list)

The Bad

  • Since the dimensions have changed, existing accessories won’t fit, so new cases, sleeves, etc. will be needed unless run your iPads commando.
  • No Touch ID for fingerprint reading. This is deal breaker #1 for me.

The Ugly

  • No increase in memory for the base model. The smallest iPad Air is still 16GB as with previous models, and it costs $100 to get to 32GB. Obviously this is where that Apple cash horde comes from, because we know the actual cost is an order of magnitude less. Deal breaker #2.

Am I Buying?


App Design Lessons From an Old Car Maker

Over the years when my father-in-law and I would talk about cars, he would invariably remind me that between Chevy, Ford, and Dodge, in his experience, Chevy had always had the most advanced electronics in their vehicles.True, false, or otherwise, I find myself today driving mostly Chevy products, and having a terminal fondness for gadgetry, I suspect these conversations about electronics had more influence on my truck selection process than I realize. I never thought it would end up in a nice little app on my phone.

57 chevy

My most recent Chevy, a 2011 Silverado (not the 1957 “Jeff Gordon edition” shown above), came with a complimentary 1-year subscription to OnStar, and while sitting through the mind-numbing review at the dealership  of how the service works, I noticed on the Onstar web site that they had an app. Great, I thought, now I can track when my ridiculously expensive Onstar calling minutes are going to expire. I should have been more optimistic.

The App

OnStar RemoteLink is a free app that sports 4 basic features (screen shots below):

  1. Current stats on your vehicle, including fuel level, gas mileage, range, oil life, and odometer reading.
  2. Remote control, including starting/stopping the engine, locking/unlocking the doors and activating the lights & horn.
  3. Assistance, which essentially provides speed dial buttons to an Onstar advisor, RoadSide Assistance, and your dealership.
  4. Navigation, which taps into the Onstar Directions and Connections service.

It’s a very easy app to quickly learn and use, and here’s why:

  • The tab bar icons concisely and successfully identify what you’ll find when you press them. This is the first key to the app’s intuitive design.
  • The controls are few and sized for both large and small fingers.
  • The controls are logically arranged.  The words and icons chosen for each button are clear and the buttons are visually paired in the interface by function:  Lock/Unlock;   Remote Start/Cancel Start; Horn & Lights/Stop Horn & Lights.  Whether you prefer text or pictures, the controls are easily and quickly understood.
  • The interface is clean and uncluttered.  You get just the key information you need without visual overload.  I’ll let the screenshots speak for themselves.  Make sure to check out the captions.

Take-aways for Designers

RemoteLink is a good app to model for the following reasons:

  • It sets out to do just a few things, but does them really well.
  • The interface is very thoughtfully laid out with just the controls necessary for ease, and speed of use in mind.  It is not festooned with gratuitous graphics (OK…maybe the Chevy bow tie is a bit gratuitous) or unnecessary controls or worse: advertisements.
  • The error messages are clear and understandable to the non-geek mind.
  • And most importantly, after extensive use I can tell you it has obviously been well-tested and is very stable.

Whether or not you’re a app developer, if you own a 2010-2012 Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, or GMC vehicle, you will want to head to the App Store and pick up this App.  As a developer, you can learn a lot from it’s design, and as a car owner, you’ll just plain love what it does for you.

Basic vehicle stats

Pertinent info concisely displayed

Tire pressure

Graphics bring instant clarity to the pressure data

Clean and simpl

Clean and simple remote control

Sadly, OnStar minutes do expire.

Sadly, the minutes do expire

Full really means FULL

Umm…why not tell me how many gallons are in my full tank?

iOS 6: Staying Focused on the Problem

On Monday at it’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference, Apple announced iOS 6, bristling with new features and updates. After a quick look through the release notes and API differences it’s clear, at least to this point in the post-Steve era, that Apple is staying focused. Everything in iOS 6 is about bringing users an even more delightful experience, and it will only get better when we have a new iPhone to run it on.

My apprentice staying highly focused.

But it’s the iOS apps, not iOS itself, that make the magic happen, and yet of the 650,000 apps in the App Store, Apple itself has written relatively few of them. It has been others recognizing the possibilities of how iPhone/iPad apps can solve problems or help people in meaningful ways that has made the platform a success.

While all of the cool new things in iOS6 that Apple is showing this week are exciting, it’s not the best part of the story. The real benefit will not come from the 200 new features we’ll get our hands on this fall – it will come from the thoughtful, practical application of those features in new apps that help people in new and interesting ways not previously possible. We need to stay focused on what iOS can do for others, not just what it can do for us.  Helping others is always a more worthwhile “problem” to solve.

Below are a few links to the highlights of iOS 6. Because of NDA restrictions, we can’t dig into the details here just yet, but as you look at the new features, realize that most of the new functionality you see will be available to developers. What new possibilities come to mind as you read about the new Maps app, social network integration, new Siri functionality, and all the rest? What problems could you solve? How could you make someone’s life better?

If you get an idea you’re excited about, let’s see if we can refine it, make it real, and make a positive impact on others. You can find me here, or on Twitter


Why Your App Shouldn’t Be Free

We live in a world where the cost of technology is dropping faster every day. If you’re reading this blog, you already know this. You’ve been around technology long enough to have experienced it first hand many times over, LCD televisions being the über-classic example. Ordinarily, a drop in prices is a Very Good Thing, but a drop all the way to free? Not so much.

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Apple turned the music world upside-down when they established $0.99 as the new price for a song. They did they same thing with software when they brought us iPhones and iPods capable of running apps. Why did they drive these prices down? Because unlike the legendary Gillette story of old, they’re in the business of selling the razors, not the the blades. They have deliberately commoditized their complements (i.e. music and software) to drive sales of what matters most to them – hardware. And, if you’ve purchased any Apple products, you know they don’t compromise on those prices.

At almost the same time, Chris Anderson came along with the concept of “Free” and it wasn’t long before we saw the price of iPhone apps drop to zero, as in $0.00. (I’m not saying Chris was the cause, just that that timing was similar, and the notion of “free” seemed to go into our drinking water right about then.) Now it does makes sense for certain kinds of apps to be free, such as those that allow a customer to interact with your business in ways that eventually result in a sale. But for stand-alone non-game apps without a store or back-end business attached, totally free makes no sense at all either from a business standpoint or for customers.

Proponents of free usually make one of the following appeals:

  1. A free or “lite” version of an app lets people get a taste that will convince them to buy the “full” or “premium” version. This is quite often wishful thinking. People either discover that the app doesn’t really fit them, they’re irritated because so much of the functionality is disabled in the lite version, or they just simply don’t like it. In all of these cases, they don’t make a purchase.
  2. A free app can make money with in-app advertising. More wishful thinking, unless you can get your app in the hands of several million people. When I talk with developers both large and small about in-app advertising, they are universally disappointed.
  3. We will make money with in-app purchases. e.g. buying new content, in-game currency, power-ups, new levels, special weapons or ammo, etc. For games this is definitely true, and the stats bear it out.  A company like Zynga gets great valuations because of their in-app revenue streams.  So for games, free definitely works, but it doesn’t extend to other categories.

But here’s the real problem with free, or even $0.99 software (and I am paraphrasing the sentiments of John Acuff here, with some added emphasis):

If you teach people not to value something from the beginning they never will. If you start with a price tag of $0.00, it’s difficult to eventually charge money because when you tell someone your thing costs zero, they interpret it as worth zero. It becomes difficult, even for a fan, to suddenly see monetary value in something initially valued at nothing.

So with that in mind, here are 5 reasons you should charge for your app, particularly if it isn’t a game:

  1. It cost you something to produce it. You either paid a designer and developer, or you did it all yourself, but either way, you have an investment to recoup.
  2. It cost you something to market it. If your app is going to be successful, you must get the word out. Again, you will either pay others to do this, do it yourself, or do it with help. Either way your cost is non-zero.
  3. It costs you something to support it. No software is free of defects. If you want to avoid the dreaded one-star ratings and scathing App Store reviews, you will need to provide excellent customer support and fix the bugs over the life of the app. This is not free either.
  4. It delivers value. If your app helps people solve a problem or do something better, it has value, and you should be paid for that value. You should be paid for doing all of the hard development and marketing work it took to get the app into their hands, and the value you brought them.
  5. “Free” or even “near-free” sends the wrong message. If we train people to value software like a throwaway paper cup, in time we are not going to have good software to choose from. High schoolers and 20-somethings who make free apps while living at home with momma are generally not the ones writing the software that you use and value. The people writing the apps that you rely on and truly enjoy are supporting themselves and their families. They are pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into making great products that help others, and if they can’t make a living doing it, they are going to move on to something else.

Good software delivers real value, and real value is worth more than zero. Would you agree?