Posted: December 19th, 2010 | Author: irv | Filed under: iPhone, Lifestyle, mides, Objective-C | Tags: design, future, mides, update, zigzag | 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
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:
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.
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.
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.
Posted: June 9th, 2010 | Author: irv | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides | Tags: AppStore, iPhone, mides | 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.
Posted: April 26th, 2010 | Author: irv | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: App Store, Apple, customers, freedom | 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.
Posted: April 15th, 2010 | Author: irv | Filed under: Apple, iPhone, mides | Tags: Apple, iPad | 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.
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.
Posted: April 9th, 2010 | Author: irv | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides | Tags: Apple, iPad, iPhone, mides | 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.
Posted: April 3rd, 2010 | Author: irv | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides | Tags: Apple, iPad, iPhone OS, mides | No Comments »
Today at around 9 AM my opinion of the Apple iPad changed. In one of my previous blogs, thoughts on the apple iPad, I commented that I wouldn’t buy the iPad if I weren’t a developer, and if I hadn’t I would be seriously disappointed that I hadn’t.
The first thing that I noticed was that the iPad feels really sturdy. It feels as strong as s piece of solid aluminum. The on screen keyboard is pretty good, in fact, I’m using it right now to create this post. But using the Apple Bluetooth keyboard with it makes it clear that this thing has the ability to replace my laptop for most of the reasons I carry one. My own app looks great, although not without it’s minor bugs. A friend found a way to get into an endless loop with the code completion dialog. It took me a while to figure out a work around, it turned out to be changing the orientation.
Browsing the web is just …. Natural … There is a quality to using the web on this that is difficult to describe, but it is like nothing else. I would recommend that if you can wait, the 3G version would be better if you don’t mind AT&T, and you don’t mind paying them extra. If you do not have an iPhone, it may make sense to pay the extra. If you do have an iPhone already, then it just doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. I will probably get a MiFi somewhere and just sign up for a contract.
I would recommend getting a case as well. While I am not afraid that it will break, it is bigger than it feels in your hands and as such is a pretty likely candidate for some unintended bumping. The battery life is stellar. I don’t even think about it, and at the end of the day I still have 47% power.
The app situation is pretty unclear. I added a bunch of apps to my iPad hoping that more of them would have been optimized for the iPad. But it seems that most developers opted to create completely separate applications for the iPad. I was going to do that as well, but I didn’t want the headache of having to maintain two separate applications with the same functionality. The doubled applications range in usability. I found that most of the applications were very usable in their iPhone form.
In summary, my opinion has been changed. The iPad is a game changer. Mides on it is excellent, especially with the bluetooth keyboard. The iWork suite is fantastic. I love this form factor, it feels like you are playing with the future. It is also awesome to be able to stream episodes of Top Gear on my iPad with the Netflix app. I am glad that I got the 16 GB version, I really find that I don’t need more storage since I always have my iPhone with me, I haven’t found that I run out of space, especially with the convert to 128kbps AAC option in iTunes 9.1. Since this is a first impression, I’ll check back in after my experiment to see if I can live with the iPad instead of a laptop for a couple of weeks.
Posted: March 29th, 2010 | Author: irv | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone, mides | Tags: iPad, iPhone, mides, sftp | No Comments »
On Thursday I submitted Mides 1.8 to Apple, hoping to get it in for the big launch of the iPad store. However, it got kicked back to me because the reviewers approached it in a pattern that I hadn’t tested. They exposed a bug related to some #ifdef code that had hung around after my refactoring.
While I am disappointed that I didn’t make it for the launch, I am happy that Apple found that bug before my customers did. I have since fixed that bug and fixed some other minor issues related to SFTP. So all in all, this release should be a really good one. Unfortunately I’ll have to wait a few days to resubmit until my iPad comes in the mail. It’s better to test on real hardware. I could sit here and pretend that I didn’t want to release until I had the device to make sure that I had everything just right, but I am too honest for that.
I think that this is a huge launch and would have loved to be there at day 1. Suprisingly I just missed the 2.0 launch in much the same fashion. But I was in the store about a week or two later. Fortunately we won’t have to wait that long this time.
The announcement that Apple was accepting apps before the hardware shipped caught me by suprise. I thought they would make everyone wait until the device was out. 1.8 is a very ambitious release, trying to get SFTP and the iPad refactoring into it.
I’ll probably keep plugging away on 1.9 until I can resubmit my 1.8 branch. Mides on the simulator is awesome. I can’t wait to load it up on my shiny new iPad, I can’t wait for everyone who is supporting and using mides to do the same!
Mides actually will make the launch of the iPad app store. In fact, it is in there already! I am super jazzed to have a launch title on the AppStore. The iPad version is pretty cool. Just having more screen real-estate is huge. I hope that there are no strange bugs. Once I get my iPad on Saturday, I’ll sanity check it and try to fix any bugs that I notice. Apple did pretty good due diligence on the app though, so I figure it is OK.
Posted: February 13th, 2010 | Author: irv | Filed under: Apple, Cocoa, Companies, iPhone, mides, Objective-C, Programming | Tags: Apple, Cocoa, iPhone, ipod touch, mides | No Comments »
A few days ago I completed an analysis of what my profit and loss looked like for both of my applications. What I discovered was very disturbing, or would be to any entrepreneur.
I have to date put around 200 hours of work into Mides and around 90 hours into CycleMetrics. So far I have made less than $2,000 total on either of them.
Part of this is my fault, I started out with something of a flawed concept with the design of Mides because I was in love with the idea of nested code, self closing tags, and closures. This ended up eating away almost all of the devices’ memory, and was so recursive as to be nearly unmaintainable.
So I killed my darlings, went in for a heavy refactoring of the code without nesting, and ended up with a pretty decent mobile IDE.
However, at what my hourly rate is at this point in my career, based on my salary plus benefits, I am as of now, with all of my original plus ongoing effort into the software, about $30,000 in the hole on Mides, and $10,800 in the hole on CycleMetrics.
When I launched my app, shortly after the app store launched, I thought that I would be able to make back my money in 2 years and get positive. It has been 2 years, and I’m nowhere near making my investment back.
This is mostly O.K. since I have an awesome job, and I’m not missing a house payment or anything, but I think it is unwise to basically give away software that you keep shelling out effort on. I can’t let it die either, that doesn’t make sense, I love the idea of programming on your mobile, and I love the idea of being able to code on the apple tablet even more.
I also hate ads, and don’t want to do the ad driven thing. So while I’m still subsidizing the hell out of Mides at $9.99, it isn’t the slap in the face that $4.99 was.
So as a result, I have decided on $9.99 for Mides. I am putting in a fair amount of work to get to the tablet in an intuitive and sane manner, I also have a bunch of features planned. Some of which have been suggested by the awesome community at getsatisfaction.com/mides, and others that fit in with my dream of Mides.
I am still not sure what I want to do about CycleMetrics, but I have some online features that should be able to drive more reveneue for me. I don’t want to go to ads, and I don’t want to lock users in or try to steal their personal info to try to make a buck on it. That just doesn’t jibe with my philosophy.
We’ll see if the market thinks Mides is worth $9.99. I still think it is worth way more, but that is because I see it as it will be, not as it is. If people don’t think it’s worth $9.99, then they will later, but I can’t promise to keep the price there as I struggle to make it my dream of a fully featured mobile development environment.
Another issue I wanted to address with a new feature is that I always forget the argument, or the exact PHP method call that I want to use, especially around MySQL. I already had the documentation in there, but since it is a full-text search, it tends to take a while. So I added a new feature that allows you to look up just the method signature, that is the method name and the arguments to the method. I didn’t want to put a button in there for this, it just didn’t seem right. I tried for a while to come up with something usable, and I think I have figured out something that works. You just need to twist the phone to the right ( or left ) to do the code-completion on the method. If the text before the cursor matches one or more PHP method signatures, then it will add that value in context, in line into your code with the argument types. If it matches more than one, it will display a modal dialog that will allow you to choose from the top 5 PHP methods that match what you have typed.
One fix that a customer asked for on getsatisfaction.com/mides was that I make tabs parse properly. I also added that in Mides 1.7, now your tabs will be properly displayed. To create a tab, just space 5 chars into the document.
I am adding features both at the request of customers on the burgeoning community on getsatisfaction, as well as through my own usage of the product. I probably won’t implement all of them, but please keep the suggestions coming. They help tremendously. Some of them are really tough to implement, but if they make it more usable I’m all for it.
One of the main issues around Mides is moving files onto and off of the phone, Apple hasn’t made it easy, and FTP is not the best solution, it is a nightmare to support, and difficult for users to set up. I thought about having a small application that you could install on your Mac and PC that would make it much easier to transfer files with, but this didn’t seem like the best solution either. I am actively thinking through better ways, but nothing so far has really stuck.
At any rate, I am constantly trying to make Mides more useful, I know it has been rough, but I’m glad to see that some of you are starting to get real use out of Mides. I hope to keep making it better and eventually to rival and in some ways improve upon the desktop coding experience.
Posted: July 24th, 2009 | Author: irv | Filed under: Apple, Google, iPhone, Microsoft, mides | Tags: Apple, ARM A9, Cortex, Multicore, tablet | 1 Comment »
I have been poking around with ARM chips via the beagleboard for a while now, and I have to say that at a far lower speed, they are much more energy efficient than the Intel Atom, and I have a hard time finding the difference in performance. After Intel’s tirade at that conference, I was sure that there was something to the threat from ARM, now we are seeing some rumors about the possible fruits of the Apple / PA Semi merger : AppleInsider exclusive: Apple Tablet Early Next Year.
While that is interesting in its own right, I think there is more at stake here than just what chips are powering the coolest devices. I have been waiting, as have most everyone else, for this conceptual tablet. I want to not have to carry a Kindle, an iPhone, and my laptop. It would be awesome if I had a single device that used wireless HDMI to connect to my screen and speakers, bluetooth to communicate with my keyboard and mouse, and 3G for phone calls and mobile data. This mythical tablet is the closest thing to this. If it runs full OS X, and has the ability to run iPhone apps as well as native OS X apps it will complete the hat trick. It should have a virtual keyboard for when I am not near my bluetooth keyboard, and when it is in proximity, it should use it, without dialogs or configuration. Likewise when the monitor is away, it should display on device, otherwise, it should use my monitor.
So even if this device is only partially what my dream is, it will be enough to get me to buy it and probably most of everyone else will buy it too. That makes for an interesting shift in the consumption of applications. Now people will start developing for mobile first and desktop second. This means that they are developing for ARM first and Intel second.
From the server room to our pockets, power is a concern. One of the things that I can’t wait for is the ability to have a server that runs 100 ARM Cortex A9 cores at 1 GHz instead of 8 CPUs at 3.4 GHz. The former server would consume way less power and perform far better as a web application server due to the extreme threading that would be possible. Desktop machines would follow directly behind with 50 core desktop machines with 50 PowerVR video card on a chip chips with the monitor divided up in a 25 x 25 grid ( this will take some work ). This could be a very thin box with only one very silent fan and have insane performance. Not to mention that the same machine could be a laptop that runs way cooler than my MacBook Pro, which hovers around 135 degrees(f) while just playing iTunes. It could get 16 hours of battery life using the same battery that I use today.
In this world, Apple is far better positioned than Microsoft, with their / Kronos’ OpenCL. Snow Leopard will be in a great place to benefit from this type of architecture. Not to mention the AppStore, Apple has the DRM, distribution, signing infrastructure all in place, and hundreds of thousands of developers know how to use it, don’t think they aren’t thinking about pushing this model to the macintosh for application distribution, it just makes too much sense.
The future is clearly mobile, but who is going to lead that charge is an open question. Apple has made moves to secure their superiority for the next few years, Microsoft appears to be going backwards. Intel just can’t seem to break into the ultra-low power CPU space without an acquisition. I think the Wind River purchase was to put a dent in the number of ARM customers. Clearly the future is not dominated by WinTel. I am shocked that AMD hasn’t abandoned its platform and moved to ARM computer on a die chips, I am sure you could imagine how awesome it would be to have a muti-core ARM chip with an ATI GPU on a die. Intel would say that the ARM doesn’t perform as well as their Atom CPU, but that was the mistake that let AMD back into the game before, they just kept sticking to the performance argument while the market was telling them that the current speeds were fast enough, and that they wanted better performance per watt. If Intel hadn’t had that R&D group pushing ahead with the Mobile Pentium in Israel, the computer industry would look very different today.
I think that the Apple tablet will be a game changer, and will ultimately be their most successful computer launch, even more so than the iMac which brought them back. I am afraid that if Microsoft and Intel can’t answer, the one-two-punch of Steve Jobs, and Google will finally have felled the giant duopoly.