Tag Archives: apple

True cost of the Apple Watch

Kirk McElhearn writes (via Thomas Brand) that when you include the cost of buying an iPhone, the actual cost of the Apple Watch is $900 or more:

“That’s $349 for the cheapest Apple Watch – the Sport model – and $549 for the cheapest iPhone (the 5s; I don’t count the 5c, because it’s too limited). This is the unlocked price for the iPhone, of course; you can get one cheaper if you commit to a contract.”

While I generally agree with the sentiment, I have to take issue with his dismissal of the 5C, which I’ve been using as my primary phone for over a year now. I’m an iPhone developer, so if it’s good enough for me it seems adequate for regular users who just want to use the Apple Watch. In fact, the opposite of Kirk’s argument is actually true: pairing an Apple Watch with the 5C makes the phone less limited than before by adding Apple Pay to it.

The 5C unlocked is $450, which drops the total price with watch to $800. And really, it’s a non-issue, since nearly everyone excited about the watch already has an iPhone.

When Apple shipped the first iPod, it required a Mac. Later they supported Windows, and today the iPod Touch is completely untethered and requires no computer. I expect we’ll see a similar transition with the watch becoming increasingly more useful as a standalone device, but there’s no rush to get there.

Jordan Breeding

Last week at NSDrinking we had one of our biggest turnouts yet. At one point, we’re talking about programming jobs, meetups, and Apple, and Jordan Breeding was mentioned. Not in the context of having passed away, but just in remembering something he had said or done. A stranger listening to the conversation would have no idea that Jordan wasn’t still a member of the community.

This struck me as exactly right. I think anyone would would want to be remembered as who they were, not how they left us.

Like many in our developer community, I’ve thought about Jordan Breeding at certain moments over the last couple months. Patrick Burleson shared a story about his close friend:

“For those that knew Jordan, they know that he was a incredibly generous and caring person. He did so many things for so many people, it’s a wonder he ever got anything else done.”

Episode 135 of the iDeveloper podcast opened with a segment remembering Jordan. Scotty and John did a great job of capturing what he meant to the community. Scotty says:

“Everybody has said really the same things about him. Firstly, how clever he was. He was an incredibly intelligent person. But secondly, how generous and humble he was with that intelligence, and how he shared with people. He always made you feel like you could be better, and do better, and was always having a laugh about things.”

Guy English also dedicated episode 60 of the Debug podcast to Jordan. On his blog he writes:

“Good guy. I didn’t know him well but he always struck me as someone I’d like to get to know better. I lost out on that and too many others did too. Those who knew him universally loved him.”

Kyle Richter worked with Jordan and had this to say, echoing Patrick’s quote above about how Jordan went out of his way for other people:

“We were having dinner with some friends in California and my iPhone was acting up. Jordan volunteered to break away from the pack and come to the Apple Store with me. You rarely get to pick your last time with a friend, my last time with Jordan was him fighting with the Apple Store staff on my behalf. That was Jordan, even with everything he was going through he never thought of himself first.”

And finally, a collection of tweets via John Gruber. You know when reading any of these that Jordan will be remembered for a long time. He accomplished a great deal and went far, quickly, and that progress is a personal inspiration whenever I consider accelerating the change in my own career. Carpe diem.

Criticizing Apple

Marco Arment reacts to the idea that he’s withholding criticism:

“As anyone who’s read my site and listened to our podcast for a while would know, I criticize Apple all the time. A developer’s view of their computing platform and software distribution partner is like any developer’s view of their programming language of choice: if you don’t think there are any major shortcomings, you just don’t know it well enough yet.”

This is all true, but I also think there’s something unique about Apple: we expect greatness in everything they do. It wouldn’t be the same Apple we love if we brushed complaints aside when the company falls short. And as Marco points out, Apple employees aren’t scared of negative feedback, because they want to build great products too.

A number of years ago I was sick of programming and went back to school to study art and life drawing. Maybe more than anything else, I came away with a new appreciation for self-criticism, and accepting the critiques of others. Because that’s how you get better. Until you can see what’s wrong — your drawing sucks and your iOS app is slow and buggy — you have no hope to improve.

The key in both art and technology is to understand the difference between constructive criticism and just complaining. Marco’s original post was about calling out Apple on lower quality standards in the hope that they could focus and get better. Many of the “me too” posts that followed were from Apple haters who were looking for page views and couldn’t care less if Apple quality improved.

Daniel Jalkut writes that it’s about how we react to criticism that matters:

“This is what happens when well-formed criticism meets the ears of a confident, competent individual: the facts are taken to heart and studied, perhaps grudgingly. But upon reflection and determination that there was merit in the complaint, respect for the source of the provocation goes through the roof.”

I’ve been working on an essay about the Apple Watch Edition and why I think it’s wrong for Apple. I do worry a little about putting out a controversial, half-baked opinion. And yet, I’ve seen no one else make my argument against the Edition in the meantime. If I want Apple to live up to the very high standard I hold them to, I can’t withhold my opinion on the direction of the company, regardless of whether that opinion will be warmly received.

Very busy (and the watch)

Yesterday this weblog turned 13 years old. I don’t usually miss the anniversary; it’s a nice time to reflect on what I’m writing about here. But I’ve been incredibly busy this year, working on a range of things from real work to side projects to family stuff.

Over the weekend I also helped out at the annual STAPLE! comics show in Austin. This is always a great time to check out what independent artists are up to, and as usual I came away inspired to get back into drawing.

I’ll have a longer write-up about yesterday’s Apple event soon. I have a very negative opinion about the $10k Apple Watch Edition — not because it’s expensive, but because of what focusing on the super rich says about Apple’s priorities. Daniel and I talked about this at length on Core Intuition episode 174 a couple weeks ago.

Overall the event was great, though. I’m looking forward to pre-ordering a watch and getting into development. Leaning toward the 42mm Sport, with blue band and an extra classic buckle.

iPhone 6 Plus is still huge

Seth Clifford goes back to the iPhone 6 after a long time with the Plus:

“I was convinced that the unique size and abilities of the Plus would change the way I use my phone. In my mind, it was large enough to be a small tablet, and I would do so many more things on it, potentially obviating the need for an iPad. That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons.”

As for me, I’m still using the iPhone 5C and think the design is nearly perfect. I wish I had the iPhone 6’s camera, but I’m not upgrading phones until Apple ships a “6C” next year with a 4-inch screen.

Swift or Android

I was nodding my head while listening to the latest Developing Perspective yesterday. David Smith talked about all the work to update his apps for iOS 8, starting on Apple Watch apps, and so taking the pragmatic approach to keep using Objective-C rather than dive into Swift.

Then I read this by Russell Ivanovic on getting started with Android development:

“It’s really not that hard to get started, but you have to be realistic. If you want to get somewhere, you’re going to have to invest some time. If you want to build a viable business on Android like we have, that might end up being a lot of time. I really feel like 2015 might be the only window you’re going to get though, before Google Play becomes as hard to succeed in as the iOS App Store.”

And I thought, getting up to speed with Swift is probably not that different than learning Android. I’ve programmed Java before, but don’t know the UI frameworks; I know the Cocoa frameworks, but have never programmed anything significant in Swift. Both would require setting aside current priorities and investing some time in a new language or new tools.

If I had to build an app in either as quickly as possible, choosing Swift would certainly be faster. I’m just not sure it would actually be a better use of my time than poking around in Android.

Tweet Library 2.6

Tweet Library 2.6 shipped today after 13 days waiting for review from Apple. This release adds support for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus screen sizes, as well as improvements to sharing so that iOS 8 extensions can be used, and a fix for an annoying random crashing bug.

I also finally dropped iOS 5 and 6 support for this release. I wanted to support the iPad 1 as long as possible because those were my very first customers when I launched Tweet Library 1.0 almost exactly 4 years ago. I hope they got an incredible value out of the app in that time (all upgrades have been free). It feels good to turn a corner and require iOS 7.

Apple needs Beats Music

John Gruber asks, on the rumor that Apple will acquire Beats:

“The Beats streaming service is interesting, but can’t Apple do that on its own, as an expansion of the iTunes Music Store and iTunes Radio?”

Unfortunately I think the answer is no, Apple can’t easily do anything like what Beats Music has done. Not because they lack the skill, but because they lack the desire to actually do the work and hire the staff to make it happen. Compare iTunes Radio side by side with Beats Music. Beats Music isn’t just a streaming service; it’s more like a platform for curating playlists and discovering music.

I like Beats Music so much that I wrote two posts recently about it. Here’s a snippet from each, first on building something you love:

“iTunes Radio looks like something they felt they had to build, not something they wanted to build. Beats Music is in a completely different league, with a deep set of features and content. It looks like an app that’s had years to mature, not a 1.0.”

And then on ending the top 200 by doubling down on featured apps, just as Beats Music has done for music curation:

“How would this fix the junk problem in the App Store? Simple. No one in their right mind would ever feature one of these ad-filled, ‘re-skinned’ cheap apps. Great recommendations mean less reliance on search, making scam apps more difficult to find by accident.”

However, I agree with Gruber that on the surface this potential acquisition doesn’t really seem Apple-like. It would be unusual for them to acquire a high-profile brand. As much as I’d love to see the Beats Music team join Apple to improve iTunes and the App Store, I’ll be a little surprised if it actually happens. Maybe they have something else in mind that we can’t see yet.

Higher standard for Apple

Guy English writes about why Apple was questioned on the fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5S but Samsung wasn’t for their new phone. I like this part about holding Apple to a higher standard:

“Apple is held to a higher standard of conduct. They’ve spent years, countless hours of hard work, and untold advertising dollars, to earn that expectation. They have it.”

Expecting the best from a company isn’t unfair; it’s a form of respect. We want Apple to be amazing, and when they fall a little short, we’re disappointed. If they disappoint too many times in a row, we’ll no longer expect greatness. That that hasn’t happened yet says everything about quality at Apple.

We love music

In my short post about why we chose Mapbox for Sunlit, I said I wanted to use it because the folks working at Mapbox clearly love maps. We are so used to mega-companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft trying to provide every possible service, it’s nice sometimes to just buy directly from a specialist.

I think that’s why Beats Music is going to be successful. Music is all they’re doing, they’ve hired a staff of specialists — curators who are passionate about not just music but specific genres — and even their sister company makes music products: headphones and speakers. For more background on Beats Music, I recommend this write-up from MacStories and this (http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/21/5325766/interview-with-beats-music-ceo-ian-rogers-video).

Remember when Steve Jobs introduced the iPod? He said: “We love music. And it’s always good to do something you love.” As he continued to play some of his favorite songs, we believed him. The driving force behind the iPod and iTunes was to make it significantly easier to listen to music. They hit it out of the park and changed the music industry.

Today, Apple is either spread too thin or content to do the bare minimum only. iTunes Radio looks like something they felt they had to build, not something they wanted to build. Beats Music is in a completely different league, with a deep set of features and content. It looks like an app that’s had years to mature, not a 1.0.

I’d like to see Apple get back to doing fewer things and doing them well. That means no TV or smartwatch. They need more product categories like photography, which they excel at. The iPhone camera is the best, the built-in Photos and Camera apps are great, and there’s a rich layer of third-party apps to fill in additional features. Apple’s photos ad perfectly captures this.

Apple, fall in love with the next product category and lead us there. We’re ready for the next thing you love, not the next thing that Wall Street assumes everyone wants.

Apple’s misunderstood ad

Apple has produced some amazing ads over the years. 1984, introducing the original Mac; the Think Different campaign; and one of my favorite this year, about photos.

Their new ad “Misunderstood” is also great. Federico Viticci has a rundown of the details and how brilliantly it unfolds. I first noticed the video via Neven Mrgan, who had this to say on App.net:

“Apple’s new ad (‘Misunderstood’) is technically perfect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImlmVqH_5HM …but I have to say it doesn’t quite ring true to me. Kids use iPhones to shut out the family and hang out within their own social circle (and that’s ok).”

He’s right. My daughters will likely escape to Instagram and various chat apps to connect with their friends through the holidays. But also I think ads like this work so well not because they represent reality, not because they’re true, but because we want them to be.

Multiplane

“We spend a lot of time on a few great things.” — Designed by Apple in California

In 1940, Ub Iwerks, the animator behind Walt Disney’s first Mickey Mouse shorts, came back to the Disney studios after a 10-year absence. Ub had famously produced hundreds of drawings alone each day for one of those first Mickey Mouse shorts, but Ub’s return to Disney would also be remembered for his contribution to the technical side of film production, with advances in cameras and special effects. In an industry with extreme specialization — you either did backgrounds, or animation, or ink-and-paint — Ub’s talents bridged both the artistic and technical.

One of Ub’s inventions while away from Disney was called the multiplane camera. Perfected by others leading up to Snow White, in a massive camera stand over 10 feet tall, the multiplane’s innovation was to allow a background to be split into levels. Foreground trees might be painted on the glass of the first level, then the characters sat underneath that, and then farther back layers for a building, with others behind that for hills and sky.

To provide a sense of depth, camera operators could vary the distance between each plane. And movement for each level could be synchronized at different speeds, giving it a beautiful parallax effect. Distant background levels moved more slowly and were naturally blurred and out of focus.

80 years after Ub’s invention, the multiplane is alive in iOS 7. Previous versions of iOS were built on a single plane with raised and textured areas on that surface, like a topographical map except with buttons instead of mountains. iOS 7 is instead designed with multiple flat layers. Each level is strikingly flat, but by layering two or three, spaced apart, Apple has achieved an overall sense of depth.

It’s a return to basics. Simple things can remain simple, readable. When clarity is needed, everything goes flat. But it’s a framework that allows for subtle motion and depth without changing what works about the new, content-first flat design. iOS 7’s control center blurs the layer below. The home screen background sits deeper too, as if only the app icons are touching the screen. Photos scroll under the navigation bar.

Each plane is painted flat as if on glass. There can be no text drop shadows, no textures, without ruining the effect. And the result of this strict metaphor is equally valuable: there are no drop shadows to distract or obscure an app’s real content.

Disney’s multiplane camera, first in a dedicated rig and then recreated in software, lasted for decades, until the era of 3D computer animation. iOS 7’s new look won’t last that long, but the core concepts should carry Apple for years. I really like where they’re headed.

The $229, camera-less iPod Touch

Ahead of WWDC, Apple dropped the 4th-generation iPod Touch from their lineup and replaced it with a slimmed down $229 iPod Touch. To achieve this lower price, they made a big sacrifice: no rear-facing camera.

Most surprising to me is that this change comes just weeks after the iPhone’s Photos Every Day commercial, one of the most beautiful ad campaigns Apple has ever run. Removing the camera from the iPod Touch transforms it from a peer of the iPhone, capable of the same kind of photos and videos, to nothing more than a game and internet device. It is the only shipping iOS device that can’t be used as a traditional camera.

As we know, people frequently use even the iPad as a camera, holding it up to take pictures at concerts, their kid’s basketball game, and at any family gathering. When all you have is a cheap phone, you absolutely want to use the iPad as a camera, because it means you can sync and share the photos.

My daughters have the older, smaller-screen iPod Touch and frequently use the camera with friends. Instagram, in fact, has become very popular with teens and pre-teens. Can you imagine how great it would be to have grown up in the 1980s, for example, with the ability to take essentially unlimited photos? Angry Birds may have taken the mobile spotlight when iOS went mainstream, but in a dozen years when these games are just a fun memory, we’ll still have some of the JPEGs, first-hand accounts of life in middle school.

I’m sure dropping the rear camera was a very tough decision for Apple, especially thinking about wanting more memory and speed to run iOS 7. But I’d rather have no FaceTime, slower CPU, less memory, and only 8 GB of storage any day of the week if it meant I could take photos. The rear camera is priceless.

Macworld guest essays

There were a couple special essays on Macworld recently — guest posts from the developer community. First Brent Simmons, who argues that Microsoft isn’t the enemy anymore:

“The threat to Macintosh was not that Windows machines were cheaper, or that people had bad taste—the biggest reason was that they worked with everything. That was why Apple asked Microsoft in 1997 to continue developing Office for Macs, so we could at least say you could run Word and Excel on Macs. […] But, these days, everything works with everything.”

And followed by Cabel Sasser, with a similar theme:

“I sometimes very awkwardly find myself rooting for Microsoft, Nokia—anybody—to put up a good fight and keep that fire burning under Apple’s collective behind. The smartest, most incredible people work in Cupertino, and their capabilities are boundless and their drive is endless, but sometimes—especially as a developer—you get the feeling that Apple doesn’t really need you, and will do just fine without you, thank you very much. I want Apple to need us.”

Both great essays.

Apple and the impression of being small

Jonathan “Wolf” Rentzsch at the C4 conference in 2007 defined indie as simply “non-large”. This covers not just the small, one- and two-person companies, but also the bigger software development shops like Realmac, Smile, Panic, and Omni that have 10-40 employees but still feel independent. They’re all part of the community. Panic may have a bunch of employees now but it appears from the outside like it’s not that much more complex of a company than if Cabel Sasser, Steven Frank, and their friends were building great apps out of someone’s apartment.

Small is personable, nimble, and bright. Small makes customers feel like a company is not that different than the rest of us.

One of the magic tricks that Apple has pulled off is somehow maintaining a similar feel even as they have grown to be the world’s largest tech company. They’re bigger in revenue than Microsoft, Google, Oracle, and a dozen other software companies that have a much more obvious over-sized, bureaucratic feel. But you walk into an Apple Store to chat with an employee at the Genius Bar, or browse apple.com looking for a product, and it’s almost as if nothing has changed in the last decade. The complexity of the supply chain, of too many products, of layers of management — it’s all hidden.

Why aren’t Apple employees allowed to blog? Part of it is secrecy, sure. But too many voices also creates noise, and noise makes simple things messy, confusing. Apple still gives the impression of being smaller than they really are because our view of them is heavily filtered. What we see is the beautiful tip of a massive iceberg.

And maybe that’s why pundits keep waiting for Apple to fail. Because the company doesn’t look that different, the doubters just can’t comprehend how big and unstoppable Apple has become under the surface.

No new Apple products yet

Don McAllister is worried that Apple hasn’t announced anything new this year:

“I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get a bit twitchy about the lack of product announcements from Apple. […] It’s usually quiet after Christmas, but by this time last year we’d already had the iPad 3 launch and the announcement of Mountain Lion.”

A few replies on App.net to Don’s post also caught my eye. Simon Wolf said:

“As a developer, a bit of breathing space between iOS and OS X versions is actually rather nice.”

Like many folks, I have a mountain of work to do and I always seem perpetually behind schedule. Apple’s aggressive releases add even more anxiety about updating apps to keep up with the latest APIs and hardware. I would be perfectly happy with Mac OS X and iOS releases on alternating years, and new hardware either when it’s ready or at predictable event dates like WWDC.

Smartphone religion

Stephen Hackett of 512 Pixels, commenting on a Wired essay by Mat Honan:

“Maybe it’s just the headache I’ve had since the Samsung Galaxy 4 event or the fact that Apple’s turning up the heat, but I find the increasingly defensive views held in the technology community increasingly offensive.”

I got into the Mac in the 1990s during the lead-up to Apple’s certain doom, so I spent quite a lot of time arguing with Windows users. The problem with the new version of that debate, Apple vs. Samsung and the smartphone wars, is that I’m not sure it’s ever going to end. There are good phones on either side, the pundits can’t wait for Apple to fail but Apple is strong, and there’s no hope to escape the noise for those of us who just want to build some apps.

Kevin Lynch at Apple

John Gruber has a series of posts questioning Apple’s judgement in hiring Kevin Lynch. This one best sums it up:

“I get that the guy worked for Adobe and had to play for the home team, but as CTO he backed a dying technology for years too long. In 2007 when the iPhone shipped Flash-free, that was one thing. But for Adobe to still be backing the Flash horse in 2010 when the iPad came out — they just looked silly.”

All of that is true. But instead of reflecting poor judgement, I think Kevin Lynch joining Apple could be good news in what it says about Apple. They didn’t hire him blindly. Apple knows what Kevin has been working on, knows what he’s said in public, and at this moment probably knows much better than we do what it was like to be at Adobe those last few years. For all we know Apple cares more about his work on Creative Cloud than Flash.

Kevin also has a rich history that is closely tied with the Mac. He worked as a developer on FrameMaker. He worked at General Magic alongside old-school Apple engineers. He worked at Macromedia when they started building web tools.

I heard him speak much later at SXSW in 2002, for a joint presentation he gave with Jeffrey Veen. At the time I disagreed with Kevin’s vision for Flash and the web, but the SXSW talk was interesting enough that I referenced it afterwards and again later. Kevin was so good that he somehow demonstrated he got the web even as he pitched a product that was increasingly at odds with it.

Was he wrong about Flash? Yes. But I choose to view his move to Apple as an indication that he was at the wrong company more than that he was completely wrong-headed. Maybe it was time for something new, a course correction back to the earlier part of his career. Skepticism about this hire is fine, but to treat him as an outsider is to forget the other great things he’s worked on. Once you’ve built Mac software, no matter how long ago, you’ll always be one of us.

I hope Apple sees it that way too. Because if Apple is confident of anything, it’s that they can’t get stuck in one old way of thinking, can’t discount good people because of one unforgivable bad idea. That Apple is able to brush aside the Flash debate as yesterday’s news — even accept as a VP someone who was at the heart of that debate, and on the wrong side — shows to me that they’re only looking forward.

Podcasts app

Podcasts are more popular than ever. We’re lucky right now to have a bunch of podcast networks and great iOS clients, including the newly-released official Podcasts app from Apple. My favorite remains Instacast on iPhone, but there are other good choices like Downcast.

It’s never easy for developers when Apple arrives into your market with free competition, especially if it might one day be bundled on the OS alongside the Music and Videos apps. I wish the third-party guys the best of luck.

But for podcast creators, the extra exposure can only be a good thing. I hope we can welcome even more listeners to our Core Intuition podcast. We just opened a new way to send in feedback and questions, too: Glassboard. Use invite code COREINT on the web or iPhone app to join the board and get a little behind-the-scenes look into the podcast.