Today is a good day to code

How Google Can Save Retail and Give Amazon a Black Eye in the Process

Posted: October 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Amazon, android, Apple, artificial intelligence, Companies, Google, iPhone, Lifestyle | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »
Closed down retailer

Montgomery ward closed down

Looking at Google’s new maps inside view, it brings to mind a general problem with physical shopping vs online shopping.  With online shopping, I know exactly who has the item that I wish to buy, and I know what the price of that item is.  I can instantly perform comparison shopping without leaving the comfort of my home.  This convenience has a down side as well, when I do not know exactly what I want to buy and am just shopping for entertainment the online experience lacks substance.  It is much more fun to peruse best buy than it is to scroll down a page of picture of gadgets.  This is where Google can help.

One of the things that Google has done that has no clear immediate value to the company is to map the world in extreme detail, this has come to include the inside of stores.  Amazon does not have this capability.  In addition, Google has its hangout technology which, when leveraged with this inside indexing gives Google both a search index of the real world, and the ability to have a high-fidelity experience with an actual salesperson.

Imagine, Google indexes all of the shops in the world, coffee shops, hot dog stands, I mean everything along with real-time inventory of the items in search results.  Then they index those images using OpenCV or some other image recognition technology.  Alongside that, every retailer in the world assigns one or more salespeople inside of the shop to carry a tablet capable of performing a hangout.  Again this represents a giant biz-dev nightmare, but keep bearing with me.

Now comes the beautiful part, I, at home am surfing the web on my tablet when I get the itch to go shopping.  Instead of hopping into my car, I allow Google to suggest stuff that I might be interested in ( Amazon has a huge lead here, but Google will likely catch up due to their having more signals ).  While I’m looking through the suggestions, I see a watch that I am very interested in, so I click into it and it shows me a map of all of the places around me that have that watch.  I click again and ask for a horizontally swipable, inside view of the top 5 locations that have the watch.

I can actually browse the inside of the store, see the display with the watch in high resolution.  There will be a little place that I can click inside the store if I need help as in the watch is not on display, or the shop keeper will be notified that I am browsing.  At this point, the shop keeper can signal that they want to have a hangout with me in g+, or I can swipe to the next place at any time and browse that place.  If I do want to discuss the item in a hangout, I can either initiate or respond to an invitation from the shop keeper.  While on the hangout, the salesperson can express their craft, showing me alternate items, asking me to send data over, such as measurements, we could exchange documents, etc…

This future would be tremendous, and it is something that only Google can do.  But wait, there’s more!  Imagine that at this point with my Google Glasses, now I can have a full AR view with the details of each item coming up in my heads up display along with other shops’ more aggressive deals ( read ads ).  It would be ridiculously awesome!

Ultimately this will level the playing field with online as well as brick-and-mortar retailers, with the brick-and-mortar guys having a slight advantage until the online retailers start hiring sales reps for g+ hangouts or an equivalent technology.  I believe that this will bring a pretty large increase in the number of sales people employed and reverse the current employment drain that retail is experiencing.  It makes perfect sense as to why Amazon is trying to build out its mapping technology as quickly as possible.  It will be interesting to see who wins.


The Post Tablet Era

Posted: July 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: android, Apple, Companies, Google, iPhone, Lifestyle, Media | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »
google chromebook

Chromebook

The tablet entered with a huge bang a few years ago.  It was staggering, Apple sold in an incredible number of iPads and forced all of the netbook manufacturers and Google to scramble to produce and release a tablet OS, namely Honeycomb, that was arguably not ready for release.

The result with both the iOS and Honeycomb are two excellent tablet OSs, and Ice Cream Sandwich promises to be a stellar tablet and smartphone OS.  What I have been discovering over the past year plus using both versions of the iPad and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is that I don’t really need a tablet for general computing.

This is surprising to me.  I built an IDE for the iPad and iPhone after all, and found myself using my own product more on the iPhone for quick edits than I did on the iPad.

I watch an awful lot of netflix on the iPad, and I play games most of the time that I am using it.  I have found that with the Galaxy Tab, my patterns are much the same gaming, watching videos, occasionally reading ( although I still prefer my Kindle hardware to the tablet versions ).

So I am coming to the conclusion that the pundits were right initially, tablets are clearly for content consumption, not content creation.  The reason, however that these devices are not suitable for content creation is worthy of debate, and is an issue that I’d like to take up now.

Natural User Interfaces

The user interaction that most tablets sport as the default is something that is being called a natural user interface, that is an interaction that uses some of the users other senses, such as motion, to perform an on screen action.  The current crop of tablets mainly use touch instead of a dedicated hardware component to facilitate user interaction with the interface.

This lends itself obviously to gaming, and a “kick back” experience of sorts.  The user can use touch, or the gyroscopes to control a character on the screen, this makes logical sense to just about any user.

As an example, many role playing games have a 3/4 view of the game board, that is, the camera is typically at 5 o’clock high, or somewhere thereabouts.  The control scheme for most of these types of games is to touch a place on the screen to send the character to that location.  Role playing games work particularly well on tablets for this reason, they are almost better with a touch interface than a controller.

As another example, car racing games use the accelerometer in the tablets to control an on-screen car.  This works well, unless you are in a position in which your motion is constrained, such as the bed, most of these games provide some sort of alternate touch based interaction that replaces the accelerometer based input.

The problem with using on screen touch points in auto and first person shooter games is that the controller now covers part of the screen, or your hands end up covering important parts of the game world, causing the player to miss part of what is happening.  I know that in my case, it takes away from the FPS experience and makes it so that I typically don’t buy those sorts of games on tablets, but instead prefer to play them on a console.

Natural user interfaces only work when the content is modified such that the user can interact with it sensibly using the available sensors, gyroscope, touch screen, microphone, et cetera.  In a famously bad case of using a natural user interface to interact with content from a platform that uses traditional input, Numbers presents the user with a typical spreadsheet like the one you would find in Excel for your Mac or PC.  The issue here is that Apple didn’t modify the presentation of the content such that it matches the platform.  Arguably there is no way to do this in a form that makes sense.

The interface for Numbers features beautiful graphic design elements, and is generally pleasant, but when you tap on a grid element, a virtual keyboard pops up and you are invited to type into the fields.  Apple has made a numeric keyboard interface which is pretty nice, but anytime you display the virtual keyboard, you haven’t thought hard enough about the problem.  Displaying a grid of content is not useful on this device, it is amazingly useful on the desktop, but it just doesn’t work here.  Inputting large amounts of data is frustrating, and the virtual keyboard makes mistakes all to common, either because of mistyping or the misguided autocorrect.

Modifying Content for the Natural Interface

Most of the people who are buying tablets today appear to be tolerating these issues, my belief is that they are doing this because tablet computers feel like a piece of the future they were promised when they were children, useful or not.  Eventually, they will likely stop using their tablets at all in favor of ultralight laptop computers, or they will relegate the tablet to the living room table as a movie watching and game playing platform.

It is possible to make significant user input acceptable on a tablet, perhaps even pleasurable, by using a bit of creativity.  First, they keyboard is a complete failure.  It has its place, but in most cases it can be replaced by effective gesture (non touch ) and speech recognition.  This is the only viable way for bringing large amounts of content.

On the visualization front, using our example in Numbers, perhaps a flat grid is not something that makes sense on the tablet, maybe we should send the data to a server for analysis and present it as a series of graphs that can be changed by the user, manipulating the graph directly with touch actions, or with spoken commands.  The result of the changes would flow back into the spreadsheet, updating the numbers behind the visualization.

Many would argue that this would not be a rich enough interaction for some of the complex spreadsheets, pivot tables, etc… that they work with, indeed, it likely would not.  Most of these users would not perform these actions on the tablet, instead they would use a MacBook Air, or other lightweight laptop computer.  It takes a huge amount of creativity and intelligence, as well as significant amounts of computer power to manipulate data in this way.

Imagine a speech interface for a word processor that could use the camera to track your facial expressions to augment its speech accuracy.  It could, and should, track your eyes to move the cursor and ask you to correct it when you make a bad face at a misinterpreted sentence.  An application like this could make word processing on a tablet a wonderful experience.

The technology to do most of these things is here.  It is either fragmented with each part patented by a different company, some without any sort of tablet such as the Microsoft with the Kinect.  Or the effort to produce a piece of software to utilize the features of tablet computers to best effect is too great to justify the investment.  For example, doing that sort of work for a word processor doesn’t make sense when people will just jump over to their laptop to use Word.  Would anyone pay $100 up front for an iPad word processing application?  I don’t think so.  Would anyone pay $25 per month for the same application as a service on the iPad?  Its equally doubtful.

What you come to eventually is that, for interacting with content that either naturally lends itself to, or can be easily modified for, the tablet, it is fantastic.  Currently, however it is severely overpriced for how it is being used.  After all, you can get a fairly cheap notebook that can play Netflix and casual games for $200, or 1/3 the price of most tablets.  If you have to carry your laptop anyway, why would you have a tablet at all.  Why wouldn’t you take the Air with you and leave your tablet at home.  It can do everything the tablet can do, and it also can handle any of the content creation that you care to try.

Thinking about the situation, we need to find better business models that will allow for the development of applications that can handle the modifications to content that we need for tablets to be generally useful.  This will take a while, and in the interim it is likely that some companies will produce tablet hybrids, the ASUS Eee Transformer is one tablet that comes to mind.  It is very popular, runs a mobile tablet operating system, but becomes a keyboard wielding notebook in a second.

The Google Chromebook is another example of a lightweight, even in software, laptop that can do most of what a tablet can do, as well as most of what the typical laptop does.  In my own use, excluding building applications for tablets, I always reach for my Chromebook instead of my tablets.  All of this is excluding the huge difference in the difficulty of building applications on the platforms.

Writing applications for tablets is extremely hard with a doubtful return on investment, unless you are making a media or gaming title.  While writing applications for the web is easy and potentially extremely lucrative with many variations on possible business models, and little interference from device manufacturers.

I am starting to think that Ray Ozzie was right when he said that Chrome OS was the future.  It feels more like the near future than the iPad at this point.  The tablet will always have its place, and perhaps with significant advances in natural user interface technology, with accordant price reductions it will start to take over from the laptop.  I am fairly bullish on the natural user interface over the long term, but at the same time I pragmatically understand that we aren’t there yet.  The devices, software, and consumers have a lot of work to do for us to really enter the era of the computerless computing experience.  I am committed to getting there, but I think that the current crop of tablets might be a false start.


When is Mides Going to get its Bugs Fixed

Posted: December 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: iPhone, Lifestyle, mides, Objective-C | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

A few people have been asking me when Mides is going to get its bugs fixed.  A few others are asking about Git & Subversion, yet a few others have been asking me about code completion, syntax highlighting and shortcuts.  I thought I would take a moment to post about what I have been doing, what the future of Mides looks like, and what I hope to be doing.

A few months ago, 5 to be exact, I thought I was in a stable place, where the coding challenges were hard, but not too hard, I worked with some great people, and we were having a great time.  Well, most of that was true, unfortunately the stability thing became an issue, and I started looking for a new job.  I was contacted by an awesome founder looking for a technical co-founder to help revolutionize the concept of whiteboarding with a strong focus on usability.  I accepted, and am now the CTO and Co-Founder of ZigZag.

Since we are a lean / agile outfit, we have an iteration loop that consists of building stuff and putting it in front of customers, and repeating.  I am having so much fun, and there is so much to do that there just isn’t time to do anything else.  When I was working at my old job, the breakdown looked like this:

My Brain Capacity Before ZigZag

My Brain Capacity Before ZigZag

I just had the ability to do a ton more stuff, and one of the things that I really wanted, and still want to do, is make it possible to do serious development while mobile.  The thing is that right now I just flat out don’t have time to work on it.  My available time and space for working on other projects looks more like this now:

After starting work for zigzag

Brain Capacity After ZigZag Board

So what do I see as the future of Mides.  Well, after ZigZag gets funded, which will take a ton of work, fortunately less from me since I have a non-technical co-founder who is awesome at sales, and we can hire a few quality engineers and usability people, I’d like to come back to it.  Its a tool that I currently use for working on our RoR web stuff, and since we use GitHub, pivotal, and AWS, I’d like to build in more integration with those tools.  I originally built Mides so that I could be more efficient, and I still see it as a tool for doing that.  Some things that likely will go away are plain old FTP access.  It is too complicated to support FTP, and I can’t find a library that isn’t encumbered by the GPL, so that probably will go away since I have to write it all from scratch for it to work.

What will stay, and get added?  Some other things that I would like to add include code coloring, git and subversion, more RoR support, a shell to work in AWS, a service to compile and run code in an on-demand instance, some other goodies like that.  I am currently thinking about that kind of stuff in the few seconds between when I am hacking Erlang, and Objective-C…  Granted those seconds are precious and hard to come by, so while I am not saying that I will be dropping work on Mides entirely I am not going to be doing any sort of hard core coding on it until ZigZag Board is completely off the ground and flying, which I hope is soon, I am putting everything I have into it.

Me as the CTO of ZigZag

How I Feel Every Day I Get to Work at ZigZag

The good side is that when I do start working on Mides again, the quality of the implementation will be much higher as my Obj-C skills are improving by leaps and bounds.  I am constantly amazed by the stuff that is possible on the iPad and iPhone, not that it isn’t challenging to work with, but it is an awesome platform.

Changing jobs was a great decision for me, I am challenged by something new and different every day that I log in.  I was atrophying before, and now I find myself asking myself what is important to do right now, and what can we ship right now so we can learn from our customers.  It is a much healthier place to be in, even though it is tinged by paranoia about money.  I am becoming a much more focused developer, and working with a co-founder who can clearly articulate his vision for the product, and who is also well versed in lean / agile, is hopefully going to make me an even better leader than I have been in the past.  Unfortunately my other projects will have to take a seat way, way back in the balcony.

Plans for Mides

Future Plans for Mides

I hope to get through even some of that for Mides eventually, if I can, then my vision for Mides will be complete.  It might take a couple of years, but I still want to do it.  Building tools is extremely difficult, not the least because developers are frequently not willing to pay for tools ( thanks Sun! ), they are incredibly critical of said tools, and getting the usability story right is nearly impossible.  That non-withstanding, I have learned a bunch from people using Mides, other developers are typically very clear about bugs, and the offers of support and help have been wonderful.  Well, that’s the news, I felt I should update everyone on the status of Mides.  It is definitely a side-project, and is likely to remain one, I can’t really see any reasonable business behind it, it is fun to work on, and will continue to be.


Mides SFTP / FTP Uploading Bug

Posted: June 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides | Tags: , , | 6 Comments »

A few days ago I submitted Mides 1.8.5 to the App Store with some cool features and fixes to a number of minor bugs.  I was happy when it was approved and then went live.  Unfortunately, there was a bug in the release for iPad users, a hidden dependency that was broken with the changes that I made to the file view, and as a consequence, file uploading was broken.  The workaround, to type the file name into the now blank rename / upload screen will work only if the file resides in the root path, any files in subpaths will upload a file called (null).

While there is a partial-workaround, and the fix was a two-line change to a single class, it is still what I consider to be a severe bug.  As soon as a customer let me know about it, I fixed it and submitted it to Apple, emailing wherever I could to try to get the fix deployed to the App Store quickly.  I am super grateful to my customers for letting me know right away that there was a bug in the update.

I guess what I really want to say is that as a one-man shop, especially one with a day-job, it is extremely difficult to move quickly.  The approval process makes it extremely painful to keep short release cycles and iterate as I like to, because there is a risk that you will have a severe bug.  On the web, and elsewhere, recovering from this is pretty easy, just push an update, boom everyone has it.  With the App Store I can’t, since the review process can take a while, and while you are waiting, your ratings and reviews get destroyed.  Very few people go back and update their one star reviews after you have fixed their problems, so your ratings are unrecoverable.

So I am going to slow down the cycle of releases,  and allow myself adequate time for rigorous regression testing.  My hope is that this should improve the quality of each release.  I think this is Apple’s intent and desire, and maybe they are right.  As for me, I have learned my lesson, this is shrink wrap, not web development, and I will think about it that way.  I’m sorry for anyone who is experiencing a hardship due to this bug, and I hope the fix is approved soon.


Why I Disagree With Gruber : AT&T’s Price Changes Suck

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: android, Companies, iPhone | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

First, let me get the link to Gruber out of the way : good and bad regarding at&t data plans.  I read his post, I disagreed with AT&T’s price changes, and after reading it, I still disagree with the changes.  They are all bad.  First AT&T announces that they are upping their cancellation fee to $375 from $175, which was bad, but understandable given the percentage of their customers buying the iPhone.  Then they announce this garbage.  My biggest issue with it isn’t that they are charging for it, it is the way they did it.  They took a device that we all love for its simplicity and tied it to a maze of complicated data + text + voice plans.

Remember, when the first iPhone launched, there was just the iPhone plan, and the only choices that customers had to make was how much extra to pay for SMS, which sucked but at least it was understandable.  Now, trying to explain to regular people what will happen if they buy the iPhone HD is nearly impossible.  When I told my wife about it, not technical, she said, “but wait, it was supposed to be unlimited.”  It doesn’t matter if the cap is high, as soon as people know there is a cap, they will change their behavior.  They will start to think, maybe I should wait to look up this site until I get into Wi-Fi, or maybe I shouldn’t watch this YouTube video, or how many kilobytes per second is the streaming on this h.264 video, all way too complicated.

Going from bad to worse, we were on the verge of a new age for the internet with plentiful, high speed data everywhere.  We were going to start seeing a new class of always connected applications, able to provide real-time data.  Consumers are likely to start self-restricting their mobile data use unless they are on the few and far-between Wi-Fi hot spots.

There is a class of argument along the lines that AT&T was drowning with the amount of data its consumers were using and that no carrier could keep up with providing quality service for the prices they were charging. I can buy that, but the solution is simple, instead of complicating everything, increasing ETFs, and other stuff that is hard to understand for most people, just raise the price of the iPhone plan to $99.99 and give unlimited everything.

Contrast this to T-Mobile, who recently re-iterated that their unlimited was really unlimited.  One could argue that they have fewer customers and can afford to have more aggressive pricing.  That is true, however to the end user, unlimited is unlimited.  Unlimited is better than limited.  It is simple to understand.  I am very glad that I bought a Wi-Fi only iPad, or I’d feel like a sucker who got baited and switched after Steve Jobs got on stage and announced a “breakthrough” data plan for the iPad.  A 2 GB capped plan is not breakthrough, it is hobbled.  The iPad is designed to watch video, stream audio and in general consume the hell out of bandwidth intensive content.

Basically I’m glad I terminated my AT&T contract when I did.  My iPhone 3GS makes an awesome iPod, my iPad can take its place, I will be able to use my Nexus One for tethering when Froyo comes out if T-Mobile does what I expect and make it free.  AT&T’s crap makes the next generation iPhone look less attractive, since after all, the shine wears off on any new technical gadget, no matter how wonderful, but you are stuck with the crap contract.  T-Mobile also one-ups AT&T by offering attractive no-contract rates if you want to just buy your phone outright.  When the Nexus Two, or the dual-core Snapdragon HTC Scorpion or whatever comes out, I can just save up the money, buy the phone, slap in my SIM card and away I go, I don’t have to wait for 2 years.

The cell phone industry ought to be ashamed of itself for what it is doing.  Even with crappier cell service, which is getting better, T-Mobile is a far better carrier than AT&T.  At least they don’t bait-and-switch their customers and partners with half-truths and complicated one-off deals.  If this doesn’t make people look around for an alternative carrier to AT&T I don’t know what will.  You can get overpriced, horrible service, not be able to make calls, not be able to use the data you are paying for, not be able to get out of your contract for a fortune, and still have to pay large amounts each month for garbage service.  What happened to the model where the business didn’t take their customers for granted, where they actually did things to be better than their competition?  Why are we stuck in the US with carriers who just want to squeeze their customers for every penny while providing as little service as possible.  I don’t understand what is good about AT&T’s price changes, and I hope they don’t set a precedent for other carriers.  If so we may find ourselves, in this country, at the far back of the line as far as wireless connectivity goes.


The Battle Between Geeks and Non-Geeks

Posted: May 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: android, Apple, Companies, Google, iPhone, Microsoft, Programming | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

This weekend, on a bike ride, I was thinking through the Apple vs Google situation, as well as the paid vs non-paid, and this whole concept of open systems vs closed and I came to the conclusion that it is really just about geeks vs non-geeks.

For about the past 20 years or so, computer stuff, anything digital really, has been produced primarily by the geeks at Microsoft, and later by various open source geeks around the world.  It was reflecting their world view, that everyone ought to be able to tinker, and that they might want to.  This caused the severe amounts of confusion that people have had for years.

It would appear that now that consumers have a clear and viable choice in Apple and the iPhone that they are choosing, in droves, really, the closed app store based system.  It would appear that consumers would prefer an app store to the open web, an individual coherent vision to multiple pieces of different developer’s visions of the optimal way to do x.  As Apple likes to put it, they want an appliance, in which applications are just another type of content, and all methods of doing anything are consistent.

I would say that consumers have chosen that, but not because Apple always provides a superior method, or that they like being closed an limited,  I would say that it is because Us, as geeks, have not done a good job of providing clear and usable alternatives.  For developers and geeks, configuration and making tons of choices are just table stakes for getting our devices and software working exactly the way we want them to work.  We have a difficult time creating things that violate the ability to choose a different way.  Part of that is that most of us never have the hubris to think that we can decide for others how to do a given thing, or which thing to choose.  But that is exactly what makes Apple more powerful than Google to the consumer.  Google is catching on, but in a way, at the same time they just don’t get it.

I, personally, understand and prefer many choices.  I like Mac OS X and Linux, particularly because there are so many different ways to set things up, the 3rd party developer community, around the Mac especially, have done an amazing job of filling in the usability gaps that Apple has left.  Should users choose these productivity enhancers, Apple has wisely seen fit to let the 3rd party devs keep doing their thing.  The problem with Android, and the internet in general is that most people are not like us.  They don’t want to seek out and try 5 different text editors and window managers, and text expanding solutions before finding the right one.  They want to just use it most of the time, and they would prefer if the base implementation didn’t suck.

Geeks, and Google, we would prefer to just let the base interfaces and systems suck, since our partners are either going to replace them, or augment them.  That is exactly what shouldn’t happen.  Technical solutions should be like European Socialism… The government provides a generally acceptable set of services that everyone pays for, but it is possible to get better solutions.  This provides something of a floor for service providers.  Likewise, if you are developing a music solution for example, provide a playback solution that works with it first, then give the ability to plug into other services if the user prefers.  That way, they aren’t left hanging initially.

Where I get frustrated with Apple, and where I continue to choose Google’s services, even they are less usable, are that they do not give me the latter solution.  They provide a kick-ass initial implementation, but when I want to go and replace or augment it, particularly around the iPhone ecosystem, there are no options, in fact, they go out of the way to defeat any other option.  If I wanted to use Apple’s music purchasing service, but I didn’t want to use the iTunes application, I am SOL.  Apple feels that they make the best music playback solution as well as the best service.  For some they may, but for me, I would much rather use AMAROK or something else to manage my music, inferior or no.  If I chose the other way, I might want to use Amazon’s MP3 service for buying, but iTunes for managing.  Apple should make that easy for me.

At some point, geeky companies like Google, and to their credit, they are starting to, need to create good baseline solutions that run up to, but stop short of competing with other products and services that are auxiliary to their primary product.  Apple needs to accept that people may occasionally choose to do their own thing and allow them to.

I do not buy the assertion that in order to provide a cohesive solution you have to block all others.  I feel that a system can be aesthetically pleasing and useful, as well as permissive.  Karmic Koala I think gets really close to being there, but there are still too many places that I can get into with the OS where regular users would go WTF?!!?

This is why I am continually working on a new OS that as an ambition would combine the completeness and ease of use of the Mac OS, but honor the internet, as well as user choice.  They are not mutually exclusive, and the only way to prove it is to build something that shows it.  It is a huge amount of work, which is why the only way to do it is open source, but since you have to make clear choices for the user, at least in the initial state, some stuff just couldn’t be committed.

Basically, end-users won’t realize the cost of the choices they are making until they are gone.  In a balkanized, app-store-ized internet, choices will be limited, prices will be high, and satisfaction will be generally low.  That is where we are going, that is the choice that users are making because they can’t wrap their heads around the internet.  It is our fault as geeks, and we are the only ones who can fix it.  The average user is going to pick the shiniest and easiest widget.  There is no reason we can’t make that.


Conflicted About App Store Policies

Posted: April 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

Last night I started down a train of thought that I wish I hadn’t. I started thinking about what the world would be like if Apple had been the dominant player, and Microsoft had faded away into semi-obscurity, if Linus hadn’t created Linux. What if the app store had come about years ago, and had become the primary method of reaching any significant number of users, with what other blogs are saying existing in their developer agreement.

What that future looked like was something that frightened and disgusted me in many ways. First and foremost, scripting languages, like Ruby, Python, Perl, and PHP would have been mostly prohibited on significant platforms, and thereby would have been relegated to mostly research oriented platforms. IE, no serious development of those languages would have taken place. Java would have been killed almost before it began, resulting in a much weaker web environment, as well as eliminating much of the boom that accompanied the web development land rush. Some very innovative companies would have had a much harder time achieving scale without the efforts of OSI around them, many of them would likely have never come to full bloom. Companies like Google and Amazon would have had to first develop their own operating systems free of Apple patent infringement, and free of the app store.

Much of the above is an argument for no software patents, which I generally agree with, but I think that isn’t where we should focus our attention. The main issue is that basically the fundamental structure that we all take for granted came about because there was always a viable alternative, that was open, and that the distribution of software was never limited or conflicted. Microsoft may have been many things, most of them negative, but one thing it got right was realizing that an open and free developer community is critical to the growth and improvement of the art. It will sometimes cause issues, and produce hideous products, but it is not the responsibility of platform companies to protect users from developers. Rather it is to assist in the developer-consumer conversation, especially as regards features and capabilities of the solutions being developed for them.

I actually hate Flash, I think it is outmoded and needs to go away, that being said, I can, and should be able to choose to develop solutions for my customers in whatever language or framework meets their needs. That choice needs to be made by the developer and the consumer of what that developer produces.

Apple has every right in the world to prevent developers and consumers from doing whatever Apple decides is wrong on their platform. That is their choice. Apple’s scale and access to customers, however is forcing am uncomfortable choice on their developer base. It is a choice that will itself go away if developers don’t do something about it now. It is the choice to either develop the way Apple wants, the solutions that Apple wants for it’s customers to have, or get off the platform and develop somewhere else. If developers don’t nurture alternative platforms, that ultimatum will become, either develop the apple way or don’t develop.

For those who think this is far fetched, Apple is poised to pass Microsoft in market cap, and probably has one of the strongest brands in history right now. They are almost the only game in mobile, with Android and Blackberry chasing, Palm, obliterated, and Microsoft marginalized. Mobile is every bit as important as desktop, in some ways more so.

My application, Mides, is actually being caught as collateral damage in this apparent developer agreement mess. It was my hope to create an environment in which developers could create and and test their web products using the scripting environment of their choice, be it ruby, php, or python. Apple had prohibited this sort of thing, by my interpretation, basically from jump, deciding that it was a feature that users of it’s products would never be able to have. That may have been an inadvertent choice, but it speaks to the types of use cases they have in mind for their devices, any uses that someone can come up with, even if there is a market for it, are prohibited. The end user volume that Apple has seems to say hay the end user likes this model, however I would argue that they don’t know what they are missing yet.

What does this amount to for me? Well, I am not going to make any overarching claims about developing for the Mac/iPhone platform, and I am not going to claim that I am going to stop using Apple products, they really are amazing products, but what I am going to do is vote with the only two voices I have, my money and my development efforts. I don’t like the way this app store pattern is going. I want a future where kids have access to modify and do crazy things with the devices and software that they use. I want for them, and for myself, to think differently, and try things that don’t work, or cause problems, because in the end, that is how humans learn. To have someone else decide for me what is safe, or what is cool, or how I should do what I do is the very anthesis of what I believe in. Designing amazing user experiences is one thing, dictating how I interact with the world through my computer and its peripherals, is completely different. I feel that Apple has pushed across the line of consumer advocacy, and has moved into something more sinister.

What I am going to do is to actively develop for other platforms, such as the web, Ubuntu, and Android, even though I am still angry with Google for banning me from their user group for no reason. The rationale behind my decision is that Google doesn’t control Android, anyone can fork it and do what they want. If I want to push out a beta, I can, if I find a bug I can push out a release in the morning and my users can have it in the afternoon. I am back in the loop with the conversation that my customers and I are having without having a disinterested intermediary in between. I will from now on, very carefully think about my consumption of Apple hardware, and their software and services, before buying them.

This line of thought completely knocked my Apple fanboy hat off, if Apple cares, and I hope they do, they will work to re-establish that childlike sense of wonder in me that I am developing for the best platform in the world, if not, it’s not a big deal, if I am alone in the way I feel, Apple has millions of developers and consumers, they don’t have to care about one, but I’m betting that I am not alone, and throwing all of our weight around is going to be a big deal to them. Apps make and break a platform, and by capriciously throwing away the developers of those apps, Apple is making a huge mistake.


Google Will Buy Palm

Posted: April 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: android, Apple, Companies, Google, iPhone, Palm | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

I hear a lot of prognostication about who will buy Palm now that they are officially up for grabs.  People are suggesting that HTC, Lenovo, or even Apple would be the most likely to buy them, however I don’t think any of them will get Palm.  I think that Google will get Palm for around 1 billion dollars, and here is why.

Primarily, the main reason is that Palm’s WebOS falls directly in line with Google’s philosophy of web first, native second.  That with the Google Native Client could make for a compelling addition to Android.  One could argue that Android is lacking only in UI, and WebOS has a UI second only to the iPhone.  Secondarily, buying Palm would give Google patent ammunition to use in assisting HTC in their legal battle with Apple, especially since it is Google’s Android OS that is causing the issue.

It doesn’t make sense for Apple to get Palm, even if they are in the bidding, because Google has shown in the past that it is willing to go way above a company’s valuation to snag them.  This makes just too much sense so it has to happen, that is my prediction, it is sort of hopeful because I like WebOS and Palm, and would like to see it continue, albeit in a more pure HTML 5 sense.


Hands on Review of iPad Vacation Update

Posted: April 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, iPhone, mides | Tags: , | No Comments »

For the past week and a half, I have been on vacation with my family, my iPad had come a day before we were scheduled to leave. I wanted to write an addendum to my earlier quick hands on review since I have had some time to work with it for a few days.

In many ways, the iPad is a breakthrough device, changing the game as far as usability as well as functionality. But for someone like me, a software developer, it misses the mark a bit.

The only significant bug I have encountered while on vacation is the Wi-Fi bug. It has bothered me at almost every hotel, with the device frequently failing to connect to the netwok, or to obtain an ip address. Otherwise things have pretty much worked as I had expected.

Without the ability to use Xcode, let alone GCC, and with the prohibition on downloading and executing additional binaries, however I haven’t been able to fix simple bugs with my iPad / iPhone application, Mides.

Right now, for someone like me, the MacBook Air, 13″ MacBook Pro, or my old trusty 15″ would be much better. For the weight, the MacBook Air would be a much better travel companion for an Objective-C coder.

I have been able to do a bunch of JavaScript / CSS / HTML work with Mides on the iPad, thanks to the Bluetooth keyboard, but serious software work will not really be practical on this device.

However, as a media consumption device to keep the kids happy, this thing has been awesome. The netflix, and other streaming video applications, has been fantastic, when the wi-fi worked. The 3G version should take care of the wi-fi issues, via not using it, but I am looking forward to the 3.2.1 update.

I’ll write another more comprehensive review, when I get back, as well as using my MacBook Pro to get Mides’ bugs fixed.


Mides 1.8.1 Endless Keyboard Popup Issue

Posted: April 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

The Mides 1.8.1 release should have fixed a bunch of the startup, and SFTP stability issues, but there was one lingering issue. The endless keyboard popup issue. The fix is to disable the “Twist to complete” feature in the iPad settings app.

The reason this is an issue is that the accelerometer values for the iPad are way more extreme than the iPhone due to it’s size, so the code that I had to ignore small movements of the device is not working on the iPad. I will remove twist to autocomplete for the iPad in a future release as it doesn’t make sense for this device, and since there is now a button for it.

This issue shouldn’t affect the iPhone, it is an iPad only issue. There was no way to find then issue before I had hardware since the accelerometer is not available in the way I need on the iPad simulator. But at least there is a good workaround.