Tag Archives: iPad

Apple takes the lofty route for iPad « Observatory

Apple takes the lofty route for iPad « Observatory: “But — while this spot can be seen as uplifting and inspirational, it can also be seen as incredibly pretentious. One must admit, it’s a bit of intellectual overkill for those who just want to do their email, surf and shop — which probably covers most of the tablet-buying public.”

(Via Ken Segall.)

That, in a nutshell, is exactly Apple’s problem with the iPad. People think it’s an email, surf, and shop machine. If it continues to be just that, the iPad is never going to meet Apple’s expectations. Thus, the “loftier” ad approach of the Verses series.

People raved about the Misunderstood iPhone commercial over Christmas, but I actually think these spots are much more important to Apple’s long-term future. Thanks to Apple’s misguided driving of the App Store into Crazy Eddie’s Discount Bonanza, people are losing sight of just how powerful a tablet can be. They clamor for a “bigger” iPhone, because they figure that would do just about everything they do on their iPads well enough to no longer need an iPad. And that’s certainly not good for Apple.

Sure, the message is lofty, and maybe it only appeals to Apple’s current customers. But those customers aren’t getting as much out of their iPads as they deserve. Sometimes you need to start with a lofty message to reaffirm your core values. Sometimes you have to remind people that you’re trying to improve people’s lives.

If Apple wants to continue selling iPads, it needs to carve out a space where the iPad is seen as essential to the things we want to create, not just a luxury toy for watching movies on a plane.

A Counter-Counterpoint

Marco.org: “But searching for ‘teleprompter’ in the App Store today brings up about 40 other iPad teleprompter apps. About a third of them are free, and almost none are anywhere near Teleprompt+’s $14.99 price, with most paid alternatives around $3–5. And that’s just for iPad — the iPhone app market is much larger and even more competitive in most app categories.”

(via. marco.org)

Marco had some interesting comments regarding my post from earlier today. I think this quote above is where we’re not seeing eye to eye. He’s assuming that I’m competing with $3-$5 Teleprompter apps. I’m not. The people who want a low-priced, casual teleprompter app for iPad are far fewer than the professionals who need them as part of their studio setup. We’re not only outselling all of those competitors every day in revenue, but also in number of downloads, by a pretty wide margin. What most of those low-cost competitors have learned is that they can’t keep up with us on so little money per sale. We can barely do it at $15, trying to feed three people. 

If you look at our page on iTunes, and check out the “Customers Also Bought” section, you’ll see that there are few other teleprompters listed. Most people aren’t even bothering to check out the cheap alternatives before buying our app.

If you look closely at the bulk of those 40ish other competitors, you’ll note that the majority of them haven’t been updated in several months or years. Trying to compete on low price, in this one niche market, is proving to be a poor strategy.  

Yes, I understand we’re in a niche. But it’s a profitable niche. And it’s a niche where free with IAP makes little sense at the moment. And there are dozens of other niches just like it.

None of the $3-$5 apps offer the features our users need, because those features take serious time and investment to create. You can’t create that functionality when you’re making $3 per sale. 

Of course, there’s no reason someone couldn’t come along and create a free-to-download, $15 IAP teleprompter. But my point is that as long as that app is listed as “free” the pros who tend to buy our app will likely ignore it, or at least be severely turned off by it. And any casual users it does attract will immediately balk at the high $15 IAP, and write us a one-star review while they’re at it. So in our case, I don’t see free with IAP working out, at least not until the stigma of IAP being a scam is eradicated in the minds of small business owners.

Now, at the end of his post, where he says this: 

“There are a lot of developers making a lot of iOS apps, and competition is fierce. It’s unwise to assume that any profitable niche is safe from being undercut by free alternatives.”

I completely agree. I certainly don’t expect this one app to continue to grow indefinitely forever. We’re looking into many different strategies for future products. All I’m suggesting is that there are still a lot of ways to make money on the Store. Offering one of them as the “only” way, or saying one pricing strategy is completely “dead” is overstating it a bit. 

OmniPresence

I didn’t appreciate this when I was beta testing OmniPresence (because the beta was Mac-only and didn’t involve the iPad) but The Omni Group has really done something amazing with this new synching software. In essence, they’ve married the best of Dropbox and iCloud, and they’ve given it away for any developer to use.

The Problem with Dropbox

Dropbox is no question a rock-solid solution for synching files. And it’s about as simple as a synching solution can get on the Mac. Create a folder. Put anything you want in that folder. Everything in that folder is available everywhere. Perfect, right?

Well, it’s perfect on the Mac, but when you then move over to accessing your files with your iPad, things get a little clunky. And not just because of Apple’s restrictions about sharing data between apps. I actually believe in what Apple is trying to do with removing the file system on the iPad. No matter how much we nerds scream about it, the file system is probably the biggest barrier average users have to learning to use a Mac. There is an elegant simplicity to opening an app on an iPad and seeing only the files that app understands and nothing else. Using a solution like Dropbox on the iPad always feels like a step backwards, no matter how you slice it. Navigating folder structures just feels wrong. It’s simply not native to the platform.

The Problem with iCloud

iCloud, at the same time, is much better on the iPad than it is on OS X. It was created with the removal of the Finder in mind. That’s fine on the iPad, but we expect and want to use the Finder on our Macs. We get frustrated when we can’t simply see a folder with all our files in it on the Mac. Where did my shared files go? How to I share them with anyone else? iCloud is downright confusing and extremely limiting on the Mac.

The Solution

What OmniPresence manages to do is behave like Dropbox on the Mac and iCloud on the iPad. And that’s just brilliant. On your Mac, set up a folder, just like you would for Dropbox, drop anything you want in there, and it syncs. Move it around, make subfolders, whatever. But then open any OmniPresence-enabled app on your iPad, and you see just the files pertaining to that app in your document list. Make changes on either device, and the file gets auto-updated, just like with iCloud, even while open. Even if you create subfolders on the Mac, the documents all show up in your list natively on the iPad without having to drill down anywhere. And you’re not copying the file from your Dropbox app into the iPad app, making changes, and then manually syncing back; all changes are synched back in seconds automatically.

As if this weren’t cool enough, Omni then takes it another two steps by 1) allowing you to sync to your own server instead of Omni’s and 2) releasing the synch software as open source, so anyone can do whatever they want with it. This removes any ambiguity about security or monetization motivations. Don’t trust Dropbox or Omni with your files? Fine, just set it up and run it on your own server.

This may all sound like a commercial for The Omni Group, but I’m just stunned they’ve managed to pull this off so cleanly. I hope a lot of other app developers realize what an opportunity this is and start embedding this functionality into their apps.

Hey Apple, Where’s the Fire?

I know the trend lately is to suggest that Apple is not moving fast enough. That it should be releasing brand-new groundbreaking products every year or two. That iOS needs a complete design overhaul so it won’t be so “boring.” Where’s the Apple TV? Where’s the iWatch? And so on.

Down with Skeuomorphism! Flat Design FTW!

Forget all that. What Apple really needs to do is slow the hell down.

The Mac was released in 1984. The iPod in 2001. The iPhone in 2007. The iPad in 2010. Sure, the revolutionary new products are coming faster now than they used to, but is that a good thing?[1]

Apple has introduced some incredibly cool technology over the past several years that hasn’t come close to reaching its potential. FaceTime, Passbook, iBooks Author, iCloud—just to name a few—were all so promising when they were introduced. But most of them have failed to be completely successful, not because they aren’t great ideas, but because Apple isn’t doing a whole lot to either improve or evangelize them.

If the pattern used to be “release, then iterate, iterate, iterate,” it seems like Apple is not giving itself enough time for the “iterate” part of that process. It’s being pressured to move on to the next thing. And that leaves us with a lot of half-baked products and a ton of unrealized potential.

Let’s take a look at some of these in more detail.

FaceTime

The first time you use FaceTime to talk to your family members from across the globe is a pretty magical experience. We’ve all seen the commercials and gotten teary-eyed. Anyone who has used FaceTime can see the value in making free long-distance video calls, right? But what’s holding FaceTime back from wider adoption?

When Jobs introduced FaceTime, he said that it would eventually be an open standard, that anyone could use the same technology and thus it wouldn’t matter if your kids or wife or whoever also had an iPhone or iPad. You could call people on Android, Windows, etc. What happened to that? Did the standard get rejected? Did Apple ever bother submitting it?

And why is FaceTime still a one-on-one conversation? I can do a video iChat with three people over AIM, for crying out loud. And I can’t share my screen during a FaceTime call, either. The Mac app hasn’t been updated since it was in beta, really. And the carriers are only now opening up and letting us use it over our cellular data plans. Considering how long FaceTime has been around, it’s stunningly similar to what it was at launch.

Update: Rene Ritchie from iMore has informed me that Apple is in the midst of a lawsuit involving FaceTime, and that may have had a strong effect on Apple’s ability to improve the technology, and to open source it. That certainly would explain the lack of progress there. Thanks for the tip!

Passbook

The four times I’ve used Passbook were some of the most delightful retail experiences I’ve had. Who wouldn’t love the idea of never having to worry about losing paper tickets or waiting in line at Will Call again? Every time I buy tickets to a movie, concert, or comedy show, I scan the confirmation email, hoping to see a Passbook link. And more often than not, I’m left disappointed.

I’d be using Passbook a lot more, except few companies seem to be adopting it. This one is a real head scratcher, as from what I can tell the technology isn’t difficult to implement. It appears as if Apple actually got the hard part right, but no one at Apple is selling it enough. I know that Passbook is relatively new, but is anyone out there pushing companies to try it? Does Apple even have Evangelists anymore?

It would help if Apple Retail at least adopted Passbook for Apple Gift Cards and in-store pickups. Talk about eating your own dogfood.

Update 2: @hmk on App.net pointed out that last November, Apple did start allowing online Apple Gift Cards to be transferred into Passbook. The physical cards you buy in Apple Stores and other retail locations are still not transferrable, however. 

iBooks Author

Phil Schiller said Apple wanted to reinvent the textbook with iBooks Author. And what have we gotten since? Is Apple taking this book revolution seriously anymore? Maybe it is, but it’s hard to tell when Apple has been basically silent about it ever since, minus one update that didn’t address most authors’ needs.

Maybe footnotes would be a good start.

iCloud

Lots of stories lately about how Apple is blowing it with iCloud, so I don’t need to belabor the point here. Everyone seems to agree that contact, calendar, and preference syncing is mostly okay, though not perfect. But the real issue is more complex data sync, which is both broken and next to impossible to implement.

iCloud needs developer adoption, and right now the top developers are telling everyone to stay away from it. This is a huge problem for Apple. I know the tendency for Apple is to think of users first, then Apple, then the devs, but this is one case where putting the dev first is actually going to help Apple and the users more. If Core Data sync is truly unfixable, replace it with something better under the hood. Keep calling it iCloud, because no one outside the developer community will know you changed anything. They’ll just be happy it started working.

Conclusion

Behind every one of these products is a brilliant idea. This is not a Ping situation, where Apple saw it had made a mistake and quickly cut it loose. Every one of these and many more could easily become world-changing, competition-killing features with the right amount of polish and some proselytizing. But Apple can’t do that if it starts to adopt a more Google-like “throw it all up against the wall and see what sticks” attitude. This would be harmful not only to the users who get burnt as their favorite new technologies die on the vine, but also to Apple itself as people start to lose their faith that everything new Apple does is golden. It’s also destructive to the talent within Apple who come up with these things. You can’t retain talented people if you abandon the projects they work so hard to deliver.

When the iPhone was first released, and it didn’t have cut, copy, and paste, I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t worried there were no third-party apps. I knew that would all happen eventually. I want to be just as sure about Apple’s newer products.

Even on the hardware side, we’re just scratching the surface of iPad adoption. There are far more people who don’t own a tablet than who do. It’s clear that tablets are destined to become the primary computing device for most people; but not if Apple is already putting all its attention on wrist computers and not addressing the shortcomings that make the iPad impractical for average users’ needs. The current iPads are awesome, but they’re not done. There’s plenty more to improve.

If Apple took the year and worked on half of its existing prodcuts rather than trying to introduce new ones, they’d be doing themselves and us a much bigger favor. If they spent the year fixing the unbelievably sloppy bugs that still exist in iOS and Mountain Lion (I’m talking boneheadedly simple things like drag and drop on the Mac), rather than bringing five new half-baked apps like Podcasts to the platform, our phones and our laptops would be better at surprising and delighting us.[2]

I’ve loved jabbing Adobe for its many flaws over the years, but when they took a step back with Photoshop CS6 and spent the majority of the release fixing all the teeny little annoyances we were complaining about for decades rather than peppering it with a thousand useless new features, you could feel the collective joy from the user base. We were thrilled that Adobe was finally fixing most of the broken stuff. Apple would be wise to take some time to do something similar with iOS and OS X. All those little irritations add up, and every new product you introduce that doesn’t get more love later is yet another breeding ground for discontent.

Maybe that’s not sexy enough to gather all the right headlines. Maybe new features in iWork for the first time in seveal years won’t keep Wall Street or the idiot analysts happy. Maybe the competition is too fierce to afford the time to slow down and get some perspective rather than plowing forward at breakneck speed. (I seriously doubt it.) But all this rushing, all this spreading of resources too thin is starting to show. Allowing pressure from others to set the pace of innovation at Apple would be a very costly mistake.


  1. Personally, I think the iPad was released a few years earlier than it should have been. Jobs wasn’t going to be around much longer, so it made sense that he wanted to see it out in the real world before he passed, but the more I use my iPad mini, the more convinced I am that the mini would have been what Apple released as the first iPad if it had waited a few more years to refine the product to its usual standards.  ↩

  2. The release of the new and improved Podcasts app actually gave me hope. Most of the press only cared about the killing of skeuomorphism, but the more significant UI changes and new features in Podcasts demonstrated that Apple knew exactly what was wrong with the app and how best to fix it. If Podcasts is an indication of where iOS is going in general, then I’m not worried. Let’s hope we’ll see more of this sort of methodical polish in the near future.  ↩

Another Kid Spends $1000 on an iPad Game

In-app purchase in spotlight again as boy racks up £1,000 iPad bill: “Eight-year-old Theo Rowland-Fry’s parents thought nothing of letting him play a ‘Simpsons’ game on the family iPad — until a recent bank statement showed charges of almost £1,000, that is.”

(Via Apple Insider.)

Here’s my question: Why do kids games with in-app-purchase even exist? Why are parents downloading these games at all? “Freemium” games for kids should have zero downloads. As should kids games with ads.

Blame Apple if you want, but personally I think parents should reconsider how they fund their kids’ entertainment. $5 up front for a game sure seems like a bargain next to $1,000 in-app-purchase bill. It never pays to be cheap. 

Oh, and learn to use Parental Controls, for crying out loud.

And, yes, shame on these big corporate jerks trying to take advantage of the young. You’re not innocent in this, either.

You’re not Michael Simmons, Either

In September 2011, I attended 360iDev for the first time. At the time, Fantastical for Mac was a very new app, and I was happy to see that one of its creators, Michael Simmons, would be giving a talk. After his talk, I told him how much I liked Fantastical and that I was hoping he’d make an iPhone version. He gave me a coy “We’re looking into it” response, and I went home thinking it was likely coming in the next six months or so.

Fast forward to September 2012, and I’m giving a talk at 360iDev. This time, Michael Simmons would be watching me speak, and Fantastical for iPhone was still a few months from release. The day before my talk, I bumped into Michael at the elevator, re-introduced myself, and told him again how much I liked Fantastical. He immediately invited me to hang out with him and his friends for dinner and introduced me to many of the other speakers.

My point here is that Michael is an extremely approachable guy. We had a great conversation over dinner about App Store pricing, and he gave me some valuable advice. He also attended my talk the next day and gave me lots of encouraging feedback.

Fast forward to yesterday, and Fantastical is finally released for iPhone. Somewhere in the middle of the day, I see this tweet from Michael:

For at least a few hours on launch day, Fantastical for iPhone was the number 1 iPhone app. It was beating out Angry Birds Star Wars, a game that combines two amazingly powerful brands held by two multi-million (billion in the case of Star Wars) dollar companies. Flexibits is a small, independent operation. This shouldn’t be possible.

But the image he attached actually tells an even more important story. Angry Birds Star Wars sells for $0.99. Fantastical was selling at an “introductory rate” of $1.99. So that means Fantastical, for at least a few hours yesterday, was making more than double the amount of money that Angry Birds Star Wars was. With a non-game app made by an indie shop that was more than $0.99.

That’s mind-numbing.

Imagine my shock when exactly no one in the tech press wrote that story yesterday.

(Correction: Matthew Panzarino did in fact write this exact story for thenextweb.com. I apologize for the error. And kudos to him for bringing this story some bona fide media attention.)

What’s my point in all this? Well, on Wednesday, I said that you should forget the top charts on the App Store, that you’re never going to get on them. And I still stand by that advice. Because you’re not Loren Brichter, and you’re not Michael Simmons, either. But seeing Loren and Michael break that barrier, get themselves up on these lists as small independent shops, should be encouraging to you, as long as you don’t take away the wrong lessons from their successes.

You see, neither Michael Simmons nor Loren Brichter were trying to get on the top charts. The goal was to create a great app first and then get it into as many hands as possible. The fact that they reached the top of the chart is evidence that they succeeded in their goal, not the goal itself.

Loren made it to the top of the chart with a freemium game. Michael made it there with a $2 productivity app. The price had less to do with either success than most people think.

Another thing I said two days ago was that most iOS developers are great at code, terrible at business. Guess what Michael Simmons is amazingly good at?

You need both a great app and a good head for business to succeed at this thing. If you’re confident that you’re making the best apps you can possibly make, and you’re still not really breaking through in the App Store, it’s probably time to start studying sales and marketing.

Time will tell how long Fantastical will stay high up on the charts. I suspect that it will fade slowly down to a comfortable spot in the top fifty or so, like most popular apps do. But that amazing launch day alone netted Flexibits more money than most apps make in a lifetime. And the giant user base of mostly happy customers who bought Fantastical yesterday is going to evangelize the crap out of Fantastical, bringing a nice steady stream of sales for years.

In short, Fantastical is a role model for how to succeed on the App Store as an independent developer.

So if you want a tip from your old pal, Joe, here it is: Keep an eye on Flexibits. When you come across interviews with Michael Simmons, particularly ones where he reveals some secrets about how to have a successful launch, read or listen to them. When you see he’s speaking at some event somewhere, go watch him talk. And introduce yourself afterwards.

And as you begin to succeed on the App Store yourself, and you bump into someone you don’t know who tells you he or she likes your work, take a few moments to be gracious and encouraging, and share some of your wisdom. Having a reputation for being a genuinely nice, generous person never seems to hurt.

You’re Not Loren Brichter

Realmac Blog – App Pricing and the Freemium Trend: “So what does this mean for us and the future of apps? Given the right product, a freemium model is something that we may have to consider. To throw in some business speak, the right product matched to the right target market is critically important here, and when done properly going freemium could be a massively successful strategy. That said, how it affects the perceived value of our craft remains to be seen.”

(Via. Realmac Blog)

While I agree with Rob that there’s a place for freemium, this disturbing trend of assuming that price is the major factor in a particular app’s success always gives me pause.

I think Letterpress would have done fine if it weren’t freemium. Why? Because it was made by Loren Brichter, and it’s an awesome game. You can’t just look at the pricing model and assume that’s the reason why something hit or didn’t. We have no way of knowing for sure how well Letterpress would have done at $2 or $5, but we can’t assume that it would have done worse. It could have made more money.

A couple of things to keep in mind if you’re getting into the App Store software business, especially if you want to make a productivity, or some other sort of “non-game” app:

  • The vast majority of iPhone and iPad owners only buy games. Actually, to be more accurate, most of them don’t buy games; they download free games. And then a very small percentage of those folks actually pay the $1 or whatever for the “advanced” features. Those hundreds of millions of devices that Apple talks about at every keynote? Most of them are never going to run your app at any price. Not because these users are cheap. They paid for an iPhone or iPad. They have a few bucks to spare. Not because they hate you. They don’t know you. It’s just that paying for apps is not on the radar. They just like playing casual games once in a while, and that’s all they need from their phone. So forget them. They’re not your customers. There are hundreds of thousands of other iOS users who are interested in your product and do pay for software regularly. Don’t confuse those users with everyone else. They are two very different groups of people. You don’t need to get them all.
  • The Top Grossing Apps list is a complete waste of your time. Repeat after me: You will never be on this list. Furthermore, the apps on this list have almost nothing to do with your success or failure. Everyone there has all sorts of advantages (connections, press, luck, VC backing, etc.) that you don’t have. Trying to emulate anything about any of these apps is an exercise in futility. You can make money just fine without ever paying attention to this list at all. In fact, you’re more likely to make money if you forget the list exists.
  • You’re not Loren Brichter. You’re just not. Maybe you’re a genius, and you’ve made an app that’s even better than anything Loren has ever done. That’s nice, but you’re still not Loren Brichter. You didn’t work at Apple on the original iPhone. You didn’t have one of the early App Store successes with Tweetie. You haven’t guest lectured at Stanford. You didn’t earn the reputation he has for building the highest quality stuff, and you aren’t universally adored in the Apple community as an all-around nice guy. You may be all those things some day if you keep working at it like he did, but you’re not there yet, and you’re not getting there this week. If you want to emulate anything about Loren, emulate his commitment to quality, his ability to take advantage of the luck that comes his way, and his focus on the product rather than the profit motive. Don’t emulate his freemium game pricing model. That’s like donning a white suit and thinking you can dance like Travolta. Not going to happen.
  • There are ten times more failed freemium apps than successful ones. The bottom grossing apps are mostly free or freemium, too. You know why? Because far too many devs embrace freemium as the “only way to make money.” Most devs are smart engineers but terrible business people. Don’t be that.
  • The goal isn’t to get rich quick and retire young. That could happen on the App Store, but there are much easier ways to reach that goal. You haven’t heard many stories about the dev who makes an app in his spare time and hits it big a la Steve Detemer lately because we’re past that stage. Far richer and more connected people have descended on the App Store with well-known brands and armies of resources, and they get the bulk of the attention and the money. But that’s fine. There’s still plenty of room for you. Find a measure of success that’s both realistic and noble, and work towards it. Make something you’re proud of and figure out a way to make a living with it so you can make it better. Be ready for that to take years.
  • Buy apps. And start encouraging everyone you know to pay for quality. If you balk at paying $1.99 for any app that genuinely interests you, get out of the business immediately. You’re part of the problem.
  • If you’re in the apps business to get rich quick or to get into the Top Grossing list, you have to be prepared to play an entirely different game, with venture capital, millions in investment, teams of engineers, and an exit strategy. Just making your app free to play isn’t going to do you any good. That’s one piece of a much larger and very different business strategy.

Designing x2y for iPad

The first big challenge in designing the iPad version of x2y was the placement of the controls. Looking at all that screen real estate, you are tempted to concentrate only on the visual aesthetic and forget that you want the design of the app to conform to the users’ hands as well his or her eyes.

This is why it’s essential when designing an app to mock it up and get it onto the device as early in the process as possible. Tap around and see how comfortable (or uncomfortable) all the controls are. (I use Bjango’s excellent Skala for this purpose.)

People hold the iPad very differently than the iPhone. It’s a two-handed device, for the most part. (Even the new iPad mini, while comfortable to hold in one hand while reading or viewing a video, is not very easy to operate with one hand. You tend to go two-handed when you need to start tapping things.) Placing the controls where they are easiest to get to, then, is essential.

I started with the number pad. The common solution to the number pad on the iPad is to place it at the center bottom, so that it’s equally reachable by either hand. Makes sense, after all, as this works perfectly for the keyboard. But since the number pad, unlike the keyboard, only takes up part of the width of the screen, I thought this placement would waste space and ultimately make it slightly uncomfortable for both hands, rather than perfectly comfortable for either one, as you have to reach out to get to the center of the screen. Considering that the main thing you need to do with x2y is change the values with this number pad, I wanted it to be as effortless as possible. This wasn’t working for me.

Bento iPad numberpad

What if I place the number pad directly under the thumb? That way, you can type on the number pad without lifting your hands from the device at all. I mocked up the pad on the far bottom right, and immediately it felt perfect to use with the right hand. I knew this was a far better choice.

X2y iPad right handed

But what about those who prefer using their left thumbs? Being a southpaw myself, I’ve always been hyper sensitive to designs that don’t conform well to my preferences.

So I decided to add an orientation toggle. A simple button tap, and the entire layout of the app switches to an alternate, left-handed layout. The number pad moves to the left bottom corner, and the settings sidebar moves over to the right.

X2y iPad left handed

On first launch, the app assumes you favor your right thumb (a sensible default, as 90% of the world is right-handed), but once you set the orientation to your preferred side, the app will remember your preferred layout on future launches.

And this orientation preference works in landscape as well as portrait mode, of course.

This simple little change added more complexity for me on the backend. I ended up rewriting a lot of code to get two alternate views working properly. (Lots of AutoLayout debugging, too.) All for a switch that most users will press once and then forget. But every time I tap out a new value with my thumb, I’m reminded that it was totally worth it.

Meanwhile, adding the infrastructure to save that orientation preference made it trivial to save current field values between launches as well. So now, even if you haven’t launched the app in weeks, it’ll open up exactly where you left off, on both the iPad and the iPhone. A nice added benefit.

x2y is now a universal app for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch. You can get it here on the App Store. Or visit the web site for more details.

Transition

I think John Siracusa is exactly right: just about all of Apple’s products are in transition right now, and thus none of them feels spot on.

We can look at a product like the iPad mini and immediately fall in love with its smaller form factor and easier-to-hold light weight. But then we wince at the non-Retina display. We can easily picture a future where this awesome new iPad has that perfect screen, but we know we have to wait another year or more for that to happen.

All great design is compromise. What to put in, what to take out. But in this age of Retina screens vs. battery life, Apple is being forced to leave out a little more than we’d like. Or, in the case with the iPads 3 and 4, they leave in something we don’t want: bulk and weight, in order to get that crisper display.

We can see the trade offs far more clearly this time.

This didn’t seem to be an issue when Apple released its first Retina display on the iPhone 4. That device felt like most Apple devices; a nice improvement over the previous generation in all respects. Because Retina was new, we never expected it on previous devices. Apple had the luxury of releasing it when battery and weight specs were ready.

But Retina is a technology that doesn’t scale so easily.

Take a look at the laptop line. The laptop everyone wants is the MacBook Air with Retina display. Instead, we get the 15-inch and 13-inch MacBook Pros, much heavier machines that cost more and can barely handle the extra graphics overload from that quadruple dose of pixels. A laptop line that a year ago was dominated by the super-thin, wedge-shaped Air has now taken a step backwards, in terms of size and weight, in order to move forward with the screen.

Owning a Mac with a Retina screen at this point is definitely a mixed bag. Between the graphics card struggling to keep up with simple tasks like scrolling, and web pages and apps that are not yet fully optimized for Retina, having either the 15-inch or 13-inch Retina laptops at this point feels like you’ve arrived 15-minutes early for a party. You know it’s going to be great eventually, but at the moment you just feel alone.

This leaves die-hard Apple lovers like myself in the strange position of not necessarily wanting the latest and greatest Apple products right now. I’m willing to wait for a Retina MacBook Air; I didn’t even consider the current Retina Macs. At the same time, I’m about to sell my 3rd Generation Retina iPad and get a non-Retina iPad mini with 4G, rather than getting a 4th Generation Retina iPad. And I’ll very likely replace my aging iMac with a new non-Retina model in another month. I’m not rejecting Retina as a technology. Far from it. I just think the trade offs are too great at the moment.

Apple is clearly aware of the current pubescent state of its lineup. That’s why products such as the non-Retina MacBook Pro and the iPad 2 are still around. They know that for some, the cost of Retina is still a little too high.

The need for this transition is obvious. Retina displays are simply better, and it’s only natural that all of Apple’s devices (save the iPod shuffle) go Retina eventually. Those of us with rational minds and a bit of knowledge about the current limitations of technology don’t fault Apple for putting these compromised products into the world. After all, they are the best machines that can currently be produced, and in most respects they do their jobs just fine. But in our hearts, we’re longing for the devices we can’t yet have. We’ve seen a brighter future, so the present no longer satisfies. That’s a serious challenge for Apple moving forward. The sooner Apple can get its products out of this weird adolescent stage, the better.

It’s an iPad mini, Not an iPad Shuffle

Reading the Twitter and App.net reactions to the mostly positive reviews of the iPad mini today, I’m left with the impression that many people wanted

  • $199 price point
  • Retina display
  • 10-hours of battery
  • aluminum case, and all the fit and finish you expect from Apple

And anyone who doesn’t criticize Apple for not having all of these is a shill.

But design is about compromise, remember?

There’s no physical way Apple could have kept its “legendary” battery life (Tim Cook’s word, not mine) with the mini without sacrificing the Retina screen. And there’s no way it would have that beautiful aluminum fit and finish for $200. So choices were made. And if you follow Apple at all, you know why they made the choices they did.

Now, you can say that you would have preferred the Retina display in a cheap plastic case, or that you could live with five hours of battery instead of ten. But you have to make choices yourself in your imaginary preferred device. No one can currently make a device with all four of those things.

That’s not to say that Apple doesn’t deserve to get dinged in a review a little for having a screen that’s sub par compared to its competition. But from what I’ve read, the mini has been getting that ding. Most reviewers, even those who tend to be Apple positive, are wishing the mini had Retina.

(I’ll agree that rationalizing, i.e. “most people don’t care about Retina” is silly. Of course they care. And they will notice. But I’m betting the mini will still win most of them over.)

Apple operates on the “all or nothing” principle when it comes to resolution. It’s quadruple the pixels, or it’s not. There’s no in-between resolutions, where none of your apps work right or everything is fuzzy. Obviously I’d rather have a Retina screen on my mini, as I think that would be my ideal iPad. And by next year, when that’s physically possible, thanks to more advancements in battery technology and power management in iOS, I’ll have that. But in the meantime, I absolutely think Apple made the right choice to go with non-Retina before sacrificing battery life or making it even more expensive. And I certainly wouldn’t want a screen with 1200 x 900, or some other in-between resolution that made my apps look like crap.

As far as price goes, I’m also hearing a lot of talk about how Apple could “crush” its competition if it just made the mini $200. Sure. It could crush it even faster if it made the mini $100. Or heck, why not give it away?

Take a look at Amazon’s latest earnings report if you want to know how the cheap tablet market is doing. I don’t think Apple needs to crush anything. Those cheap tablets are money pits. Wall Street may give Amazon a pass for losing money on everything they sell, but when Apple warns profit margins will be lower than their usual 35%, the stock takes a nose dive. I think Apple is right to wait it out until it can make a profitable tablet at that price.

Are people still seriously thinking Apple needs to get into the razor-thin margins game? Because that’s how Apple got to be the world’s largest company, right, by competing on price?

Didn’t we learn anything from Netbooks?

I was as surprised as everyone else when I saw that $329 starting price. But mostly because it’s such a goofy, Marketing un-friendly number. Once I thought about it for a minute, I figured, “Well, that must be the compromise that went along with the manufacturing process.” This is what Apple does. Rounded corners, when squared corners are cheaper. Aluminum, when plastic is cheaper. Glass, when a plastic screen is cheaper. They build a great product, then price it as cheap as they can, not the other way around.

Anyone who takes a look at an iPad mini and a Kindle Fire will immediately know why the mini is more expensive. And they’ll choose according to what suits them best. Apple is happy to let them make that choice. They don’t cater to cheapskates.

But what about the iPod? I can hear some arguing. What about it? It was several years before Apple made an iPod that was cheap enough to not leave the “price umbrella” under it, and that iPod didn’t have a screen.

I have no doubt the umbrella will be gone in a few years. But that will take time, technological advancement, and a lot more creative thinking. Remember, this is the iPad mini, not the iPad shuffle. That’ll come later. In the meantime, let the competitors lose money for a while. Market share is not remotely important compared to making profits and keeping your reputation for best-in-class products.

You can’t beat Amazon in a pricing war. Why would you pick that fight, knowing you’re going to lose?