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Release Notes Joins Forces with AltConf

As some of you may know, last year Charles and I rented a conference room at the Parc 55 hotel during WWDC and invited some of our close friends to come watch the sessions as they were being released. As with most things we do together, the idea was entirely Charles’, and it was brilliant. Everyone pitched in, from chipping in for the cost of the room, to lending us some equipment (including a portable projector, speakers, and some Karma hotspots). We had a great time, and we learned a ton. I don’t recall ever watching so many WWDC session videos so early after their release before.

Almost immediately after we got started on the first day (and had a standing-room only audience for the Keynote and State of the Union talks) it became apparent that this should be something bigger. The folks at AltConf agreed, and we decided that we should talk about joining forces the following year.

AltConf has become an institution during WWDC week. I was there for the first year at Stack Mob’s headquarters, when Alt was just getting started. And I’ve been to every rendition since. This year’s event is going to top all the previous years and then some.

Were there benefits to a small group of nerds watching these videos on our own over the course of a few days? No doubt. The discussions we had that week were invaluable, and there was a magical, small, intimacy to our little renegade project.

But there are far more benefits to us doing our “viewing room” at AltConf this year. First, it’ll be free for everyone. We don’t need to pool our pocket change together to get a space. Second, it’ll be accessible to everyone who attends AltConf. You don’t need to be in the “in” crowd or know one of us to benefit. Many more people will happen upon our room and enjoy the event, thanks to AltConf’s never-ending commitment to providing a safe and inclusive environment for all. Third, the theater rooms at the Metreon are several times larger than our little conference room at the Parc 55, so many more people can see the videos at once. We’ll be watching the sessions in a movie theater. The screen is gigantic, and the sound system isn’t two little laptop speakers. Finally, the location is far more convenient. We’re right across the street from Moscone West, and the AltConf talks will be happening in the same building. You can bounce back and forth between watching video sessions and watching the great talks going on in one of the other rooms. (Did I mention, I’m also giving a talk at AltConf?) I missed so many great talks at Alt last year because I had to walk twenty minutes between our little room at the Parc and the AltConf location. This year, that won’t be a problem.

I say to my friends every year, “Just be in San Francisco that week. It’s always worth the trip.” And I believe that. WWDC may not ever be able to expand beyond the few lucky people who get tickets, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a non-stop, week-long celebration of our love of Apple in the same city. I’m proud that Release Notes can play a small role in making that celebration even better this year.

UPDATE: There is one sponsorship slot available for our viewing room. We’re looking for a good company to help us make this viewing room a great event for everyone. Get in touch with AltConf if you are interested.

 

Good Old-Fashioned Marketing

You can’t swing a dead cat today without hitting any number of (at least a dozen so far) reviews of Flexibits new version of their popular calendaring app…

That’s what the Loop’s Shawn King had to say about the release of Fantastical 2 from Flexibits today. He’s not wrong. My Twitter stream is also full of Flexibits today.

And that’s exactly why I always watch Michael Simmons very closely when he’s launching a new product. The guy never fails to get great press coverage. And it’s not by chance.

Having spent some time chatting with Michael on different occasions over the years, one thing is clear: He knows how to make you feel like he values your opinion. Even if he were faking that (and I don’t suspect he is), it’s a remarkable skill. Most of us suck at even pretending to care what other people think. But Michael has a natural enthusiasm for his work, and he wants you to feel it, too. And he really does want to know what you think.

Now, multiply his chats with me by the dozens of other people he must have similar chats with, and you start to see that he’s investing an incredible amount of time—pre-launch—to getting other people invested in his products. To gather feedback, listen to suggestions, and, of course, fix bugs. By the time the launch happens, you can’t help but be rooting for him. And, as a result, you end up tweeting, blogging, pitching in with the promotion yourself.

It’s brilliant. And it obviously works. But only because it’s genuine. And only because he’s willing to put in that time. That incredible amount of time. Not coding. Not designing. (That’s all getting done, too.) But good old-fashioned marketing.

Notice I haven’t even mentioned anything about the quality of Fantastical 2? It’s, of course, an amazingly good app. Took away my final few reasons to ever want to launch the built-in Calendar app. But you know that already, if you’ve read any one of those dozens of reviews out there.

But at the same time, I could easily see an app this great sitting on the store shelves, getting ignored, if it weren’t being marketed properly by an experienced expert. As Shawn King might say, You can’t swing a dead cat on any day without hitting an app that is incredibly well crafted, yet a complete financial failure.

If you’re out there building great products, don’t short-change their chances of success. Start caring about promotion. The best products deserve it.

The Eleven

Today’s Release Notes 2015 Speaker announcement is the culmination of several months of hard work and cooperation from many people. It’s only March, and already this show is well on its way to being a tremendous success. I can’t thank my co-organizer Charles Perry enough for spearheading this entire show from day one. He’s the man with the plan, if you will. And he’s had a clear vision that has driven every decision we’ve made thus far.

When you want to put on a conference like this, the easiest thing in the world is to come up with a list of potential speaker names. The indie development community is full of great people. Heck, we had forty or fifty names just off the tops of our heads in our initial brainstorming session. And any combination of them would have made for a great show.

But that’s when the hard part kicks in. You have a handful of slots (in our case, eleven). And you need to populate those slots not with the first eleven people who pop into your head, or the eleven most popular people. You need the right combination of people. People who complement each other in the correct way. A balance of people who have experience from various places in business, who can talk about different topics and offer the maximum value to our guests.

In other words, you stop looking at individuals, and you start looking at the whole group. What are the right ingredients? What will adding this person do to the mix? What effect will removing this person have on the group? Are we covering enough of the landscape? And so on.

And once you’ve whittled that initial list down to a very balanced group of eleven, you have to go out and ask them and hope they all say yes.[1]

The fact that we managed to publish a list with these eleven names on it our first time out is, I think, a proud accomplishment. The reaction thus far from our audience has been so enthusiastic that I can’t help but think we chose wisely, and that we’re extremely lucky that all eleven of these folks have agreed to put in the hard work to participate.

I want to thank our speakers, Myke Hurley, Rachel Andrew, David Smith, Rob Rhyne, Georgia Dow, John Saddington, Chris Liscio, Pieter Omvlee, Daniel Pasco, Jean MacDonald, and Jim Dalrymple. You are all taking a chance on a new conference led by two first-time organizers, and we aren’t going to forget it.

We’ve promised our audience we’re going to spend some time helping each other build businesses this October. Our speakers are going to be the driving force behind that. You should have no problem gleaning practical, actionable advice from this group, and our discussions throughout the week will further amplify the benefits of being there.

I’m sure Charles and I will hear a bit of “Why not this person?” or “Why not that person?” over the course of the next several months, and that’s okay. I’d probably do the same thing myself to some other organizer, at least in my head. If only we had forty speaker slots, right? Believe me, there’s an excellent chance whoever you’re thinking of is someone we had on our initial brainstorm list.

And there’s always next year.

Release Notes 2015 will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana on October 21–23. Tickets will be on sale to the general public on April 27th, with early access granted to those on our mailing list. For more info, visit our web site.


  1. Or wait. Before you can ask anyone, you need to know what the dates of your conference are. And in order to have dates, you need a venue. And to get a venue, you need to scout out several venues, have meetings, figure out their availability, hope it coincides with the dates you want, negotiate deals, and sign on the dotted line. It’s a lot of work, in other words. And that’s before you start cold emailing some people you’ve never met in person to ask them to speak at an event of which they’ve never heard.  ↩

On Waiting Until Next Year

The new debate I keep having with friends is whether we should buy the first gen Apple Watch next month or not, because generation two is going to be so much thinner and lighter, and you should never buy first generation Apple products, anyway.

Okay, for starters, let’s talk about the old “never buy a first gen anything” adage. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told by certain people that first generation products from Apple are always problematic and therefore should be avoided like the plague.

I’ve been buying first generation Apple products since the late 80s, and I have yet to get burnt by one. Even if my first gen watch turned out to be a total dud, my average on first gen products from Apple has been so good that it would hardly make this old proverb seem like wisdom. Apple’s manufacturing processes have gotten so good recently that this is only going to be even less of a problem as the years go by.

I know a lot of people are risk-averse, or they had a bad experience once, or they just don’t want to shell out new money every year for the shiny objects. I have no problem with that; we all have a right to spend our money any way we want to. But this notion that first generation products are always riddled with issues is over-exaggerated, at best.

Next, on the notion that by next year, Apple Watch will somehow be significantly lighter and thinner: This is simply not likely.

“But look at the iPad, Joe” my friends say. “Look at the MacBooks and iPhones. They keep getting thinner every year.”

Yes and no. Most years they get thinner and lighter by a pretty small margin. Or, in the case of the iPhone, they only get thinner and lighter every two years. Once in a while there will be a major breakthrough, but more often than not it’s the accumulation of trimming that adds up to the PowerBooks of old becoming that new ultra-thin MacBook.

And the biggest reductions happen with the big products, like laptops that already get great battery life. Consider the size difference between a laptop and a watch, and the fact that the watch is barely getting enough battery life to be considered acceptable right now. With a product like a laptop, there’s a lot more physical space to utilize and save. Shrinking the logic board by two-thirds in that new MacBook meant a lot more space for batteries to make up for the cut in overall thickness. If you shrink that tiny little S1 chip in half (forgetting the fact that it’s unlikely Apple will be able to do that in a year) how much space did you gain? Probably not enough to make both the battery larger and the overall watch smaller. I suspect Apple is not happy with 18 hours for the first generation watch, so they won’t want to make it even shorter for the sake of thinness.[1]

Even tricks like software optimization and other reductions in power consumption only get you so far.[2] Without a major change in battery chemistry (which isn’t in the pipeline for next year, as far as anyone can tell) Apple is going to run out of ways to seriously reduce consumption eventually.

My point is, it’s harder to find places to trim when you’re dealing with such a small device that has so little to trim in the first place, and when your years of accumulated knowledge have already gone into the current design.

Will next year’s watch be thinner? Maybe. But by how much? Let’s be extremely aggressive and throw out an unrealistic number like 15%. What’s 15% of 10.5mm? 1.6mm. That would be noticeable, but not exactly earth shattering. And it’s unlikely they can do that much.

I suspect we’ll see small changes every year to Apple watch. And I do eventually expect all those changes to add up to something significant. But it’s going to take longer than people think for this device’s dimensions to change drastically.

But let’s grant that next year’s watch will be so much better that I’ll be dying to upgrade. Maybe I’m wrong about all of the above, and the watch next year will be 50% thinner, through some miracle breakthrough. Or maybe they’ll add some new sensor that brings features I won’t want to live without. (Isn’t that always the danger with any computer?) How much will an upgrade cost me?

If you think about it, you only really need to upgrade the body of the watch. If you get an Apple Watch with the link bracelet this year ($999) and want to upgrade next year, all you need to do is buy an Apple Watch with the rubber band ($599) and attach your link bracelet to it. Sell the old body with the rubber band for $300, and the upgrade ends up costing $300 or so[3]. It’s a cost, to be sure, but it’s cheaper than what I’m used to paying to upgrade laptops regularly. Certainly, $300 is cheap enough that it makes sense to enjoy wearing a watch for an entire year rather than waiting? Is is for me, anyway.

So I say go ahead and get that first gen watch this year if you want it. As with anything, buy the best device you can afford that makes you happy now, and worry about the upgrade options when they happen. Or wait, if you want to wait. But don’t tell other people they’re crazy for simply making different decisions than you. And don’t set yourself up for disappointment when Apple fails to defy the laws of physics by next April.


  1. Remember the third-generation iPad? There’s only one thing that trumps thinness for Apple, and that’s a minimum acceptable battery life.  ↩

  2. Software changes will benefit the first generation watch as well as the second.  ↩

  3. I probably won’t end up selling my first generation Apple Watch, as I’ve regretted selling my first generation iPod and iPhone. But that, again, is my choice. The fact remains, not buying the watch because you’ll just want to get the better one next year isn’t a very strong argument.  ↩

Leather vs. Leather

A number of my friends have told me that I’m out of my mind thinking Apple Watch straps could be significantly more expensive than $100 or so. After all, a leather iPhone 6 case is only $49, right?

Here’s how Apple describes the leather iPhone case they are currently selling:

These Apple-designed cases are made from premium leather for a luxurious feel.

And here’s how Apple describes the leather loop strap on the Apple Watch collection:

The Venezia leather for this band is handcrafted in Arzignano, Italy. With an artisan heritage spanning five generations, the tannery has a history of partnership with some of the most prestigious names in fashion. A delicate milling and tumbling process enhances the beautiful pebbled texture.

Which one do you think will be more expensive?