Tag Archives: Mac

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.

Release Notes

A little while back my friend Charles Perry and I decided to try our hand at putting together a podcast. While we’re fully aware there are lots of great tech podcasts out there vying for your precious listening time, we thought together we could offer our own spin on things and add a bit more to the conversations going on in the independent iOS and Mac development communities.

I’m a big believer in giving back to the community in any way I can. While my occasional rants on this blog are one of my favorite ways to do that, I also thought maybe it was time to start using my physical voice as well as my internal one. Plus, having a discussion with another developer who might actually disagree with me on occasion could certainly be interesting and beneficial to shaping my views. Charles is a really smart, opinionated guy, so hashing out these topics with him made perfect sense to me.

Release Notes, then, will be a weekly half-hour-ish show geared towards fellow independent developers. Those who are new to the game looking for tips and tricks, and those who are just curious to hear from two other people in the same boat. It’s not a technical show at all; our tagline is “everything but the code.” Rather, it’s about the business of app development.

Episode one covers tech conferences. Why one should or shouldn’t attend them. How to get the most out of them. Even some specific conferences we recommend.

Next week, episode 2 will cover the scary prospect of quitting the day job and going full-time independent.

After that, given the timing, we’re going to talk WWDC. (And I’ll give away some of my secret tips on where to find the best coffee, bourbon, and Scotch whiskey in San Francisco.)

Hope you enjoy. We’d love to have your feedback. We’re just getting started with this thing, and already I can feel the conversations are just going to get better and better over time.

Find out more about Release Notes at releasenotes.tv.

Subscribe via iTunes, or search for us in your favorite podcatcher software. Our feed is http://releasenotes.tv/feed/podcast/.

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.  ↩

Taking a Look at Context for Apple Announcements

At WWDC, context matters for hardware announcements | Macworld:

If Apple has a similar kind of update in the works for one its Mac products, then, it seems unlikely that such an announcement would get any stage time at WWDC—not when there’s Mountain Lion and a likely update to iOS to discuss. Besides, Apple could hold off on announcing a modest-but-welcome update to one of its Mac products for a week or two after WWDC and be guaranteed coverage from an Apple-hungry press corps. Tacking on a laptop with a processor bump to whatever else Apple has planned for WWDC doesn’t really fit with the company’s way of doing things.

Which is not to say Apple won’t have any hardware to unveil at WWDC. It’s just that if the company does, you can bet it’s going to feature something that appeals to the multitude of developers on hand.

(Via www.macworld.com)

Phillip Michaels for Macworld, outlining a very similar argument to mine from the other day. I’m not sure I agree that Retina Macs would warrant any special attention for developers, though. I mean, what’s there to talk about, beyond making @2x versions of everything? Can’t see Retina requiring a lot of developer talks to train developers to implement. But who knows?

To me, Retina Macs are an inevitability, and maybe even press worthy, but not a big deal to developers. If you are a designer of Mac apps, you should already be working on your Retina graphics. Maybe there’s more to it than I think, though. 

The chart at the end of the above linked article is telling. Notice every single Mac in the current lineup was announced via Press Release. 

I Still Have my Doubts About New Hardware Next Week From Apple

Now that these iOS 6 banners are making their way around the Internet, I’m reminded of why I’ve been skeptical that Apple would release new Macs during the WWDC keynote next week. I’m particularly skeptical that they’d release updates to almost the entire lineup, as many have predicted. 

Apple only does about 4 of these live press keynotes a year. They like to make them count. And by that, I don’t mean that they like to jam pack them with 50 different announcements that generate tons of stories about various topics. Quite the opposite. In recent years especially, Apple has focused these events on just a handful of new products, so that there’s only one or two clear stories for the press to write about. Tons of stories either way, but since no one but a nerd like me is going to read them all, it’s best to have 10 stories about iOS 6, say, than one story about the Mac Pro, one about the iMac, one about the MacBook Air, etc. 

Releasing new Macs, unless there’s some really important new hardware feature that they all have in common, doesn’t make for a good press day, in other words. It mucks up the focus and squanders the opportunity to control what the press writes. If you’ve got one shot at making the local evening news, you don’t give the editors ten different options. You want to make sure they’re all talking about the same thing all over the world.

I’m not saying there definitely won’t be any new hardware; I’m just saying that if you listen to all the hoopla surrounding the Keynote this year, you’d be expecting new Mac Pros, new iMacs, new MacBook Pros, new MacBook Airs (with retina screens), a new MacBook line that’s neither a Pro nor an Air, a new Apple Television set, and the announcement of the next iPhone that won’t ship until later this year. And that’s before you start talking about Mountain Lion and iOS. 

Does anyone think it would be a good idea to announce all that at once? How long is this keynote going to be? Six hours? And what’s Apple going to do for the rest of the year, go to Maui? 

And if you’re David Pogue, which one of those things makes your column next week? 

If I had to bet, I’d say that 90% of the Keynote on Monday (after the customary update on market share, the Retail stores, etc.) will be devoted to Mountain Lion and iOS 6, and particularly how both of those relate to iCloud. And maybe, since it’s WWDC, and there are an awful lot of TBA sessions, some new area where developers can start writing apps, such as the AppleTV. 

The demo of the new Maps feature in iOS 6 alone is going to take at least 20 minutes. 

(I can totally see the live blogs and my Twitter stream, after we’re 40 minutes in, and Craig Federighi is still demoing Notification Center. “WE’VE SEEN ALL THIS BEFORE!!!!” “WHERE’S THE GOOD STUFF??!!” etc.) 

Hardware just seems like a distraction. Even to spend two minutes putting up a slide saying, “hey, we’re updating all these Macs today” detracts from the more important story of where Apple is taking its two OS platforms this year. Save that for a press release.

I had guessed that Apple would have updated the Mac line THIS week, ahead of WWDC, as they have in the past, just to get that out of the way. Perhaps they’ll do it the week after this time around. I don’t know. Maybe all those Mac updates will be trickled down over the coming months.

Unless there really is a common link between all those updated Macs and whatever Apple really wants the story to be. I never put it past Cupertino to surprise me. But to me, if there isn’t that common thread, it would be a mistake to announce so much at once.

Coda 2 and Diet Coda

→ Coda 2 released, half-price today:

I’ve previously done all of my web development in TextMate, but I bought both Codas today and I’m going to give them a shot. Panic’s other apps are so great that I trust them enough to take the chance.

(Via Marco.org)

I agree with Marco on this point completely. Panic has such a good track record that I was willing to pick up both of these apps just to give them a shot. I don’t expect to be dropping BBEdit and Textastic any time soon, but I’m open to the possibility. It’s fun to see how different companies, especially really great ones, handle the same problems in design. The approach in Coda is foreign to me at the moment, but I can totally see the elegance and beauty in its approach. And I’m forced to question whether I prefer other apps out of habit, or because they are truly better.

I have to disagree, however, with Marco’s (and Gruber’s, and Shawn Blanc’s) assertion that Diet Coda is a great iOS app name. “Diet” suggests lite to me, as in Coda on the iPad is watered down, stripped down, not as powerful as the real thing. That happens to be true at the moment, but three or four years from now, when tablets are the main computers most web designers are using full-time, Diet Coda is going to have to be as fully featured and rich as its Mac counterpart. And then the Diet name will seem silly and derogatory.

And I’m just not in the camp of people who believe that the iPad is somehow a “lesser” computing device. Given time, the iPad will do the same thing the original Mac did for computing; it will become the de facto standard way of getting things done, and make the mouse-driven desktop look like the command line.

I Wish More Developers Were This Frank and Responsive

Red Sweater Blog – MarsEdit 3.5.3: Mea Culpa:

“So the focus on MarsEdit 3.6 was instantly sidelined, and MarsEdit 3.5.3 was brought to existence in the space of about an hour today, taking this critical bug fix and a couple other less urgent fixes that didn’t make it in time for 3.5.2.”

(Via The Red Sweater Blog.)

I love when developers are this communicative and up-front about their mistakes. Amazing how the little one-person shops tend to do this way better than the big corporate powerhouses.

I didn’t run into this bug, but if I had, I would still feel good about the way it was handled. Everyone makes mistakes; it’s all about what you do to fix them.

Leaving the legacy code behind

Yes, it means acquiring a copy of Windows and yet another copy of Quicken, but it does provide you with a version of Quicken that’s more feature-packed than the one Intuit’s shipping for the Mac, you’re likely to get new features sooner with a Windows version, and, unlike with your current situation, your copy of the application won’t go the way of the dodo because of an operating system upgrade.

I find it odd that of the many solutions offered here in Breen’s piece, none of them is “dump Quicken.” He spells out the options of sticking with Snow Leopard rather than upgrading, dual booting from two OS X versions, complaining about Apple dumping Rosetta in vain, and installing Windows via Boot Camp or virtualization software and then running Quicken through Windows. But nowhere does he mention what is to me the best alternative. Keep moving forward, and dump any software that doesn’t keep up with the times.

If Intuit is too stupid, too arrogant, too in control of this market to see an obvious trend towards Apple’s products, then they deserve to go the way of the dodo. Instead we’re rewarding them for their lack of vision.

Now, I understand Breen’s position, because a lot of his readers no doubt really do feel with products like Quicken that there aren’t any viable alternatives. It’s fair to explore a Windows partition as one alternative to this situation.

But before screwing up every other aspect of my computer workflow, installing alternate operating systems, sacrificing file space, peace of mind, the latest and greatest features etc.—before embarking on anything that inconvenient, I’d make DAMN sure there truly weren’t any viable alternatives.

Heck, I’ll do my finances with an abacus and pencil before I let Quicken take my iMac hostage in this way. Maybe I’m in the minority of Macworld readers who would agree, but why not at least mention the possibility?

Intuit clearly doesn’t care about Mac users. That message is clear. So how many years does this inconvenient kludge of a solution buy you? How long do you put up with Quicken through VMWare and Windows before finally realizing that you have to move on? If Quicken isn’t bothering to keep its Mac version up to date in the face of the Mac’s consistent outpacing the industry in growth, what are the chances Quicken will ever make it to the iPad, which will likely be our main computers a few years from now? Are we going to keep an old PC in the garage running just to keep Quicken alive?

My point is, sooner or later you’ll give up Quicken. Why not do it now?

Extinction is part of the natural evolution of the software industry. Don’t help products marked for extinction limp along; kill them faster, and better alternatives will appear sooner.

Me, I’m already looking for replacements for Photoshop and Illustrator, two programs that I rely on every day, which aren’t nearly as behind the Mac curve as Quicken, but that I’d love to see dead sooner rather than later. Why? Not because I hate Adobe, but because these products have thrived too long because they are a necessity, rather than a benefit to the ecosystem. They are holding back innovation, plain and simple. And the more we finance them, the longer they live to abuse us. Who knows how many years it will take before Photoshop takes advantage of any of these cool new Lion technologies: Versions, Auto-Save, iCloud, etc.?

I don’t plan on sitting around to find out. I may not have found my “Photoshop killer” yet, but I’m investing in all the alternatives, encouraging them to keep working on it.

The Mac App Store: Impending DOOM!

Given that, why the concern over how Apple handles the Mac App Store? Can’t developers just choose whether or not to go through the store? Of course. But the risk here—and make no mistake, it’s a risk for both developers and users because of the impact it will have on software diversity—is that if the Mac App Store becomes popular enough, users may eventually expect, mistakenly or not, that it’s the only place they can get (or at least want to get) Mac software. If the App Store becomes the de facto method for getting new programs, we could end up in a situation where developers feel forced to write software that meets Mac App Store guidelines. And if that happens, and if those guidelines don’t change dramatically, we’ll all lose.

IF the app store becomes popular enough. That’s the key point. If developers can’t get their software into the store because Apple is so restrictive, then the store will essentially be empty, and no one will shop there.

The issue here is that everyone ASSUMES that the Mac App Store will become a hit, no matter what Apple does with it. They also assume that the Mac App Store will absolutely become the ONLY way to get software on a Mac eventually. I disagree. I think Apple will have to approach this store a bit differently than the iOS store if it wants to get enough developers in to make the store worthwhile. And while I think Apple would love for the Mac App Store to be the only game in town, that’s by no means going to happen if Apple blocks some of the most useful software available on the Mac today.

At the same time, many developers are going to be forced to move towards Cocoa, forced to stop using crappy installers that put files all over the place, forced to adhere to interface guidelines, forced to stop using copy protection that hurts innocent buyers—this is all a good thing. They will also be getting a huge influx of competition from iOS developers who turn their sights towards the Mac. Evolve or die. And that’s great for the users.

Ultimately, I think there’s a very decent chance that there will be movement on both sides, with Apple loosening up the guidelines over time, and developers tightening up their bad coding habits and being forced to find more innovative ways to accomplish what they want to accomplish.

And Apple will get what it really wants, which is to kill Java, Flash, Carbon—all the old legacy dead weight holding it back from moving OS X forward even faster. Jobs wants control, like he always does. You can disagree with whether or not that’s a good thing, but time will tell if it leads to better things.

The App Store for Macs

Along with having the same look, feel, and features as its mobile counterpart, the Mac App Store will also have the same revenue-sharing model; 70% of revenue will go to developers, 30% of revenue will go to Apple. This got us thinking: will developers pay?

Boy Genius Report asks a legitimate question about whether or not the Mac App Store will appeal to developers. The big factor they mention is exposure: Apple is basically giving you free advertising by listing you on the App Store. But as any iOS developer knows, that exposure is actually pretty limited, once there are hundreds of thousands of apps in the store. Apple features some apps, but they are few and far between. So if you want to succeed as a developer, you won’t be able to just list it on the Mac App Store and do nothing for marketing. You still need to hustle to get noticed.

There are many important factors left out of BGR’s story that I believe make the Mac App Store very appealing, though.

1. Piracy controls – it won’t be impossible to pirate Mac Store apps. But piracy in general will be greatly reduced compared to the current state of Mac Software. And you get it for free. You won’t need to build in authorization/serial numbers/locks of any kind. That saves tons of coding time. What you lose in paying Apple 30% you’ll more than make up for in people actually paying for your app.

2. No credit card fees/merchant accounts. Apple pays these for you.

3. Support. While you will be responsible for supporting the features of the app, you won’t need to support customers who have lost serial codes, had broken downloads, don’t know how to install, etc.

4. Bandwidth. You don’t pay to store your app somewhere, or for users to download it. Apple does.

5. Convenience for your customers, which leads to increased sales for you. Impulse buys are much more likely to happen when a user doesn’t need to enter a card number or shipping information. One-click purchasing is popular for a reason.

And the downside? Well, Apple will have to approve of your app. Which is not ideal for a lot of people, I understand. But that’s the price you pay for all of the above.

Will this appeal to all developers? Of course not. But it’s going to appeal to tons of iOS developers, so get ready for the competition. And it will appeal to most users, as well.

The bottom line is that the more successful this Mac App Store gets, the harder it’s going to be for small shareware developers to resist being placed in the store. Because users are going to end up doing ALL of their shopping there.