Author Archives: admin

Airplane Mode: Episode 1

I’ve been a musician since before I owned my first computer. Music will always be my first love. To feed my creativity in this way is beyond exciting. I hope you enjoy:

Airplane Mode Episode 1: Let’s Start a Band

There is much, much more to come. We’ve got the songs written and are in the process of recording all of them to the best of our abilities. Along the way, we’ll be documenting our process, our thinking, and everything in between. We’re just getting started.

A very special thanks to Hover for being our first patron in this adventure. They have always been a great supporter of the tech community; to see them supporting independent music makes me respect them that much more. Don’t forget to use “tidalwave” when you sign up to save 10% on your purchase.

And you too can join Hover in patronizing the arts. Sign up for our Patreon here.

Read more from Dave on why we’re doing the podcast here.

More on McDonald’s Promo Shots

As a follow up to my post yesterday, check out this video from McDonald’s Canada on the actual process they use for taking product shots.

(Thanks to @greghao on Twitter for the link.)

A couple of things I want to point out from this video:

  • Part of the reason for manipulating the burger is to be sure that all ingredients are visible in the shot. This is actually critical. If they just shot the burger as-is, and I didn’t see that it contained onions, for instance, I’d be pretty pissed when it arrived with onions. So the ingredients all need to be arranged to be hanging out of the bun. Something that would be of no concern for a production burger.
  • They spend a ton of time getting the photo correct, so that they need to do little in post-processing after the fact. This is good advice for us on our screenshots as well. If you have a content-rich app, especially, take the time to craft really good stand-in content, so you don’t have to massage it in Photoshop after the fact.
  • They spend several hours crafting this burger and setting it up to be shot. If you wanted your burger to look like the photos, in other words, you’d have to wait quite a while in that drive-thru line.
  • Note, the marketing director doesn’t seem at all concerned that making these changes, even the ones that are purely cosmetic, such as “repairing” dimples on the bun and moving the cheese around, is in any way unethical. She simply believes in showing the product in the best light possible. Her goal is to make the shot “appetizing.” (How eating the burger will make you feel.)
  • While Charles had quipped that the Special Sauce is applied with tweezers in our podcast discussion, they actually use a syringe.

Meanwhile, what, exactly, is the right side of a burger? The photographer mentions showing the right side of both burgers. Do round objects have sides?

Maybe McDonald’s Isn’t Lying

Last week I was making screenshots[1] for the next version of Setlists. This is a necessary ritual for any major new app update, as any developer could tell you.

At Bombing Brain, we spend a lot of effort to present our apps in the best light possible. We add some copy to the pictures to give direction about what is going on in the shot. We show the app running on the device, rather than just showing what is on the screen alone. And, of course, we doctor up the status bar a bit so that it’s nice and distraction-free. (Apple even goes as far as recommending this last step.)

These are mini ads for the app, after all. For many customers, this is the only deciding factor for whether or not the app gets downloaded. We’d better make it count, in other words.

While I was working on one particular shot this time around, I ran into a dilemma. Setlists is a lyric prompter, and I wanted to show what the live view looked like while prompting a song. (Since lyrics are the property of the songwriter, we always use lyrics by a close personal friend, Rik Avalos, who has kindly granted us permission to do whatever we like with his words while promoting our app.) Looking at the words on screen for this particular verse, the second line was wrapping. It was too long to fit.

It looked okay; the app was doing what it was supposed to do. Any singer looking at this screen would be more grateful the words were there than critical of the less than ideal typography.

Setlists screenshot

The original screenshot I took.

But this wasn’t a live session. This was a promotional picture. I wanted the app to look gorgeous. So I went back to my iPad, put the song into edit mode, and shortened the line of lyrics so that it would fit on a single line. “But don’t you worry I’m here to stay” became “But don’t worry I’m here to stay”.

Setlists screenshot

The final promo picture.

Is this a lie? Obviously, I owe an apology to Rik for slicing out a word in the name of marketing.[2] But is this a problem ethically between me and my potential customers?

This got me thinking, of course, about McDonald’s.

Lots of folks have made the joke over the years that the promo pictures of McDonald’s hamburgers look nothing like the actual Big Macs and Quarter Pounders you get when you order them. These glory shots of the idealized burger are even considered “false advertising” by some of my friends. But as I sat there doctoring my screenshots, I thought, maybe not. Maybe what McDonald’s is doing with their promo shots is no different from what I’m doing here for my apps.

Two big macs, side by side

Guess which one is the promo shot

The problem with a picture of a hamburger is that people don’t generally look at hamburgers. We eat them. The translation from taste to vision is a translation. A picture alone cannot convey the experience, the feeling of enjoying the taste of a good burger.[3] A Big Mac, a real Big Mac, tastes way better than it looks, in other words. It makes you feel like you had a great dining experience. So the picture, rather than showing what the burger actually looks like, needs instead to convey what eating that burger feels like.

If people were somehow disappointed that McDonald’s burgers don’t live up to the pictures, that would be reflected in their sales. If anything, the continued success of the franchise demonstrates that this isn’t an issue.[4]

And at this point, I’ve lost the purists, who think I’m spewing marketing nonsense to justify my Photoshop tinkering. But you have to admit, a screenshot of an app can’t really convey what it’s like to use an app. And if a picture is all we have to show you—if it’s the one thing we have (besides the icon) to keep the attention of customers long enough to become interested in hitting that GET button, you had better believe I’m going to do what it takes to convey how much they’re going to like using my app, not just looking at it.

Obviously, we can take this too far. McDonald’s can’t add bacon to the Big Mac in its promo shots if the Big Mac doesn’t actually come with bacon. In the same way, I can’t show things in my screenshots that the app simply can’t do.

But you’d better believe that if I can massage my content to look a little prettier, I’m going to spend the effort doing it. And I’m going to feel just fine when I wake up in the morning.

Note: Charles and I talk about this topic in more detail on this week’s Release Notes podcast, episode 115.


  1. Actually, they shouldn’t even be called screenshots. Screenshots are a snapshot of your device’s screen, as-is. App Store screenshots are a lot more like promotional images, much like you see in retail stores, web sites, magazine ads, etc. We’re a long way from the days when Apple enforced the rules on what you can and can’t include in a screenshot. Take a look around the App Store, and you’ll see plenty of people have gotten very creative with how these are used.  ↩
  2. He’s fine with it, by the way.  ↩
  3. Whether or not what McDonald’s makes can be considered a good burger is of course, debatable. That’s beside the point. I haven’t eaten a Big Mac since I was a kid. But billions and billions of burgers later, you have to admit, they’re doing something right. Clearly, a large segment of the population considers this good food.  ↩
  4. I’m using McDonald’s here, by the way, as a representative of just about any food chain that does this sort of idealized promotional photography. This is a practice that is by no means limited to this one company. It’s ubiquitous in the industry.  ↩

Chasing Accolades

As I listened to 14 different people tell me about their Apple Watch, I observed a pattern. Those whose job it was to think about the Apple Watch or who were early adopters who thought deeply about tech and the tech products they buy, were all much more critical of the watch. You could tell they evaluated it and thought about it deeply from every angle by their responses. Then I talked with teachers, firefighters, insurance agents, and those not in the tech industry and not hard-core techies. These groups of people couldn’t stop raving about the Apple Watch and how much they loved the product. It was almost as if the farther away people were from tech or the tech industry, the more they liked the Apple Watch.
(via Ben Bajarin for Techpinions)

This is a great lesson for people who make products of any kind. Stop trying to impress the pundits and the overly critical, and focus on the majority of people who actually use your product.

I’m not saying that pundits are always wrong or that getting rave reviews isn’t a good thing. But when that becomes the goal—to build something that will impress the tech elite, rather than everyday people—you can very easily end up with a product that goes nowhere. Because regular humans and people who spend all day thinking about technology often have different priorities.

The “best” product almost never wins.

As I said in my recent AltConference talk: Word of Mouth is still the ultimate form of marketing. Happy customers tell their friends and family, and pretty soon you have lots more happy customers.

Those happy customers are going to sell a lot of products for you. They are the people you want to impress. Figure out what they need and give it to them. Listen to them when they give you feedback.

Chasing all the awards and accolades is a potential distraction.

Throw the Southpaws a Bone

Apple has done such a remarkable job with accessibility in all of its software on iOS. It’s way past time that they addressed another group of individuals who have a hard time navigating their iPhones: the left-handed.

I’m picturing a simple switch, in the Settings app, where I can let my iPhone know that I’m a lefty. That one switch would automatically shift stock UI elements, such as table views, to have a left-handed bias.

Many apps feature a lefty table view navigation, where you can slide along the left side, instead of the right side, of the list to navigate quickly. But this is a custom control created by thoughtful individuals. It should be baked into UITableView.

It’s bad enough Apple won’t make me a phone that actually fits in my hand anymore. Making me reach across the oversized screen just to get to the bottom of a list quickly is just pouring salt in the wound.

I’m not suggesting that the whole interface get flipped horizontally. After all, speakers of Western languages still read left to right, regardless of handedness. I’m just thinking of the little things, the small UI details that are easier to reach on the right side that could easily be moved to the left. It seems Apple could make that happen quite easily, and millions of people would benefit.