Tag Archives: apple

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.


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?

The Collection that Needs no Name

One thing that sounded odd at the unveiling of Apple Watch last September was the way they introduced the three different collections. If you watch the video with the Jony Ive voiceover, you’ll see what I mean. First, Apple Watch. Then Apple Watch Sport. Then Apple Watch Edition.

Notice they didn’t present them in the order of price, as we all know by now that Apple Watch Sport will be the “cheap” option, and the Edition, being made of gold, will be the priciest. But rather, they introduced Apple Watch first, and then the other two, as if the latter two were both variations of the canonical Apple Watch collection.

I didn’t get why Apple Watch collection didn’t get its own separate name and why it was presented first until I thought about it in terms of brand identity. Clearly, Apple Watch is the one Apple wants most people to buy.

Sport is obviously for the athletic-minded (and those unwilling to spend $1k+ on a watch, of course.) They will sell tons of these, I’m sure, and the low entry price will help grab lots of customers who otherwise wouldn’t indulge in such a device. In two or three years, perhaps, they will upgrade to the better versions. But if most people buy this collection, I think Apple will actually be in trouble. The margins on Sport have to be pretty thin.

Edition is meant as a super-high, almost unattainable fashion statement. I completely believe the estimates of several watch journalists and John Gruber when they guess the price of Edition at $10k-$20k. Almost none of us “regular” people will make the leap to that high a price, but this is the watch that George Clooney will be wearing. It’s the status symbol. Apple will sell plenty of them, don’t get me wrong. But not nearly as many as the other two collections.

And that leaves the stainless steel collection. The one with the most options. The one they show off most in pictures and videos. The one that doesn’t need a name. It’s simply Apple Watch. This is the one that will make or break the device’s success.

And it’s subsequently the one that’s hardest to guess at, in terms of price.

On the one hand, as Allen Pike pointed out on Twitter, the stainless steel version could technically be as cheap if not cheaper to produce than the aluminum Sport collection.

But we all know that Apple’s middle-tier products are never priced according to the cost of materials. (And neither are watches, coincidentally.) We also know that Apple loves its high margins. Get them into the store with the “good” product, show them the “best” product to let them know how much they could be spending, then let them settle on the “better” model.

So how do you price an item somewhere between $350 and $10k? Do you slide up towards the high end and make a bet that more people will be fashion-conscious enough to want the higher status? Or do you price it a bit closer to the low end, hoping to grab more of the people who otherwise would be grabbing Sport models?

I don’t know. A range of $800-$1,500 (roughly what John Gruber most recently predicted) makes a lot of sense to me. It’s pricier enough than the Sport to make it a status symbol, yet not so crazy as to be out of the realm of what people tend to pay for nicer watches. I certainly don’t see it being any lower than that.

Would they go up to 5k? Somewhere closer to the middle of the two pricing tiers? If they wanted to predominantly sell Sport models, then yes. But as I said in my talk at CocoaLove last October, Apple’s gift is making you feel like you bought a Mercedes when you actually paid the price of a nice Toyota. They want people to give in to that desire to get the better, classier item. And they do that by being just a little more expensive, not a lot more expensive.

But this is a watch, not a computer or a phone. Perhaps all bets are off once we move into the world of fashion?

How much higher Apple drives that stainless steel collection price will be a good indication of how confident Apple is that they can get beyond functionality and appeal to people’s sense of prestige. I believe the plan is to drive as many people up past Sport to Apple Watch as possible, in order to have a much higher ASP. And that means keeping Apple Watch collection closer to 1k than 3 or 4k in my mind. But Apple may know better.

Sure, a price of 1k–1.5k leaves a massive price gap between Apple Watch and Edition. But the more massive that gap, the better for those who would buy a gold watch, anyway.

Some Thoughts on Dark Sky and Studio Neat

Two interesting articles published today. The first is an announcement from Dark Sky that they have sold a piece of their company to Applied Invention. The second is a status update from Studio Neat on a recent change they made to their business model for Slow Fast Slow.

From the Dark Sky piece:

We’ve never done anything like this before, and any time you introduce new partners you’re taking a significant risk. In fact, I’d put the odds of Dark Sky crashing and burning in the next couple years (or worse: turning into something we no longer love) as high as 50%. But really, that’s a big improvement. If it were just Jay and myself, the odds of utter destruction would be much higher; closer to 100%. The two of us were trying to do the job of a much larger team (i.e. design and development of a sizable app and website and data service, keeping a hundred Linode servers up and running, customer service, corporate development, and all the nitty-gritty work involved in running a business), and that just isn’t sustainable. Continuing down that road would lead to unimaginable stress, burn-out, probable heart disease, and a slow and steady descent into functional alcoholism.

And from Studio Neat:

We stated in the aforementioned post that “if we can generate only one sale of a Glif (or any of our products, really) per day as a result of this ad, it will be worth it.” It is too early to know if the app will continue to drive traffic to studioneat.com once it is no longer featured in the App Store. But, as you can see from the graph below, revenue clearly saw an uptick when we switched to the free model and started directing traffic to studioneat.com.

Now, perhaps some will see both of these developments as bad news for indie developers. You can’t succeed without selling out. You have to pivot to hardware because of the dismal state of App Store pricing. You can’t make a living just selling apps anymore. And so on. The doom and gloom practically writes itself. But what I take away from both of these posts is actually much more favorable.

Companies have to grow to survive, and there’s nothing wrong with bringing on extra talent to do a better job accomplishing your goals. If you have shortcomings as a business person, or you’re just at the end of your rope as far as how many hours you can put into a product on your own, there’s no shame in seeking some outside expertise. It sounds like Dark Sky had gone about as far as it could under the leadership of its founders. If it were being sold outright to some giant company like Google, I’d say good for Adam and Jay, and then I’d start searching for a replacement app immediately. In this case, however, I’m much more cautiously optimistic. It sounds like Applied Invention might actually have some real talent that can bring improvements to Dark Sky. And the founders are still very much involved. I’ll be watching with interest, at the very least.[1]

In the case of Slow Fast Slow, I see some creative business thinking that seems to be bearing fruit. While theirs is not a model I can readily apply to my own products, it does give me inspiration to think outside the App Store for where I might get some money from customers. Remember, Studio Neat is a hardware company first and a software company second. It only makes sense for them to take an app which was not making much money on its own and try to use it to boost sales of their primary hardware product, the Glif. While the “App as Ad” approach is normally only utilized by larger companies, here we get to see it in action from a much smaller indie outfit.[2]

So congratulations to Adam and Jay on their new partnership, and thanks to Dan Provost for sharing some numbers from Studio Neat’s latest experiment. I’m fond of saying there’s no one right way of going about the indie software business, and these guys are living proof.

  1. The absense of the usual corporate mumbo jumbo in the announcement helps. A lot.  ↩

  2. Too early to tell if it will be successful long-term, but I applaud the experimentation and the willingness to share the results.  ↩