The App Store Economy Ain’t Broken (So Don’t Fix It)

I came across this article via Daring Fireball, and figured I’d post my two cents about it.  I disagree with the both the premise of the article and some of the specifics.

To the question of “why are so many of us so surprisingly cheap when browsing the virtual shelves of the App Store?” I’d say because quite a few vendors have conditioned us to expect high-quality apps for a fairly low price. It’s the same reason that the vast majority of people expect news to be free on the Internet.  Those news sources that went online with paywalls at the beginning (The Wall Street Journal and The Economist are two publications I read for example) are still doing just fine financially.  Those that didn’t are struggling financially (or going out of business altogether).

The idea that “we as cheap customers are having a negative impact on a lot of both real and potential businesses” is one I disagree with.  One, because the author doesn’t quantify the negative impact.  Two, because a potential business is a valueless unknown (and as such, can’t have any real weight in a discussion of what to pay for products from real companies).  I’ll certainly buy an app if I use it a lot (and/or get tired of seeing ads in the case of most games).  The benefit of the low pricing both to us as consumers and to app developers is that we can buy multiple apps that do similar things without having to think much about the cost (it’s why I own more than one photography app, for example).

I’m not a big fan of in-app purchases (especially after finding out how much my wife spent on a single game), but I don’t see much of a difference between that model and the licensing/subscription model that more and more software companies (Adobe, Microsoft) and others (Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora) are moving (or have already moved) to.  The author’s focus on social media apps and games leaves out more serious “service-backed” apps like Evernote, GitHub, Flickr, DropBox, Box, LinkedIn and Google Drive that let you use a limited set of functionality for free and pay more for additional features or storage space.

Companies who sell apps aren’t doing it for charity.  So if they’re any good at business at all, they’ll sell their products at a price that will keep them in business–or they’ll go out of business.  It isn’t our job as consumers to keep poorly run companies in business by buying their software.  And despite the author’s suggestion, paying for great apps now certainly doesn’t mean great apps later.

Tim Cook Should Ignore Ars Technica (Almost) Completely

I came across this article by Jacqui Cheng and thought I’d add my two cents on each of the suggestions.

10. License OS X.  Despite the article’s protestations that licensing doesn’t have to be the disaster it was for them in the 90s, this suggestion misses the mark because it misunderstands what kind of company Apple–a hardware company.  Licensing OS X would only send hardware revenue to a company (or companies) other than Apple.  There’s no compelling reason for them to give away that money.  Licensing the OS won’t get them additional users, or revenue, or get them into some new market they might want to enter.  This is by far the worst idea on the list.

9. Bring some manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.  It’s a nice idea in theory, but in reality, there’s no compelling reason for them to do this.  Why  should they voluntarily raise their costs and reduce their profit margins?  Apple is hardly the only company doing business with Foxconn.  Dell, H-P, Cisco, Intel and Cisco are also major customers.

8. Invest in an independent research lab.  This has been said better by others, but Apple’s success is due in large part to its narrow focus.  People and capital used for such a lab wouldn’t be available to help with the things that Apple is great at.  There are other ways that Apple can contribute to the public good without directing a ton of money toward basic research.  In my view, the federal government is the right entity to be doing that (but that’s a whole other discussion).

7. More transparency on OS X and Mac plans.  Like suggestion 10, the primary focus of this suggestion seems to be on Mac Pro users.  It’s true that the Mac Pro hasn’t gotten much attention from Apple over the past couple of years.  Perhaps the biggest reason is that it doesn’t account for much of their revenue anymore.  The one point I would extrapolate from their suggestion that I would agree with is that Apple can definitely improve in how they treat developers for their platforms.  I’ve spent my career writing desktop and web applications on and for various versions of Windows, and Microsoft seems much more “pro-developer” (more information about development tools, free copies of software, training events, etc).  I wouldn’t expect Apple to try and become just like Microsoft in this regard (nor should they), but there are definitely some lessons Apple could learn.

6. Make the Apple TV more than a hobby.  This is the first suggestion in the list that I like.  I like the Apple TV enough that I own one for each TV in my house and have started buying them as gifts for family.

5. Offer streaming, subscription music.  I’m not sure what I think of this suggestion.  I avoided subscription music services in favor of buying music for years because I preferred the idea of owning it and being able to listen to it on whatever device I wanted.  I like the experience I’ve had with Spotify so far, but I don’t know if I listen to enough music to justify the monthly cost.  I’m not sure what Apple could bring to the space that would be better.  Whether they do anything with streaming or not, what Apple really needs to do is re-think iTunes.  As Apple has offered more and more content, iTunes has become more of a sprawling mess.

4. Inject some steroids into the Mac line.  I disagree with this suggestion completely.  Apple got it right with their focus on battery life and enough speed.  In mobile phones and tablets, seemingly every manufacturer using Android as the OS focused on metrics like processor speed, camera megapixels, and features like full multi-tasking.  The result: devices that had to be recharged multiple times over the course of a day.  By contrast, the iPhone is plenty fast, but I can go a full day without having to recharge it.  Multiple days can go by before I need to recharge the iPad.  Apple has correctly avoided competing on specific measures like processor speed and how many megapixels their cameras have.  They’re competing (and winning) on the experience of using their products.

3. Diversify the iOS product line.  If the rumors are correct, Apple will be offering a smaller version of the iPad soon.  The next iPhone will probably have a larger screen as well.  But beyond those changes, I don’t think Apple should be in any hurry to diversify in the way Ars Technica suggests.  By limiting the differentiation of their iOS-based products to storage size (and cost), Apple has chosen a metric that is both meaningful and easy for the typical consumer to understand.  This makes Apple products easier to buy than the alternatives.

2. Make a larger commitment to OS security.  I agree with this suggestion as well.  Apple’s success in the market has made them big enough for virus/malware makers to spend time targeting.

1. Cater to power users again.  I see this suggestion as a variation on the them of suggestion 7.  I’m sure Apple could do something like this in a way that wouldn’t disrupt their current approach.  Whether or not it would net them enough additional customers and revenue to be worthwhile is another discussion.


Just came across this story relating to my January 25th blog post on Mike Daisey’s story of his visits to factories in Shenzhen. As it turns out they were indeed stories–large portions of his monologue have been revealed as complete fabrications.

This American Life has fully retracted the story, so I thought I would do the same since I linked to it when it first aired.

In non-iPhone 4 news

Apple stealthily revised the Mac mini.  Get the full story here, but the part I think is the most interesting is that they designed in a removable panel on the bottom to make it easy to replace the RAM yourself.  It shows a rare bit of flexibility from Apple when it comes to their hardware.

As for the rest of the device:

  • No more power brick?  Nice!
  • Tons of ports (including HDMI).
  • SD card slot
  • No Blu-Ray?  Rats.  “Bag of hurt” or no, that would have been nice.
  • The price bump from the previous version of the Mac mini seems a bit steep.

The original Mac mini was the first computer I ever bought from Apple.

From enthusiast to user

My friend Sandro read this Slate piece yesterday and wrote this blog entry in part about enthusiasts and users.  I think his concern that today’s computer science students seem to be more users than enthusiasts is very legitimate, since they’re some of the people we’re counting on for the next advances in the field of computing and innovative new products.  The similarity he sees between advances in automobiles and computing is an interesting one.  I agree with him up to a point about commoditization, but I see real benefits to certain things becoming commodities.  He touches only briefly on case mods in the PC space, but commodity hardware (RAM, hard drives, video cards, etc) has made it a lot easier for the technically-inclined to build entire PCs themselves, instead of buying whatever Dell or HP is selling this week.  Commodity hardware and operating systems are what enable a product like TiVo to exist (along with less-capable imitators).  We have commodity hardware to thank for the XBox 360, and commodity operating systems to thank for XBMC.  This doesn’t mean that a ton of people will avail themselves of the option to build their own PC, or their own home theater PC, just that the option is definitely out there for those who want to.

I suspect it has always been the case that the vast majority of people would rather use something cool than build it.  As much as those of us in the U.S. love cars, very few of us will be building our own Rally Fighter anytime soon.  I enjoy photography as a hobby, but I haven’t been in a darkroom to develop my own film in years (nor did I ever spend enough time in one to get really good at the process).  At least with computers, there came a point for me where fiddling around inside the guts of a computer to get something working again got to be too much of a hassle.  This could mean I’m gotten lazy, but I really like it when things just work.  There’s definitely something to be said for having the ability to fix something or hack it to do something beyond its original purpose.  I’ve always admired people like that, and I think they’re responsible for a lot of the great advances we benefit from today.

I think human nature is such that we won’t run out of enthusiasts anytime soon.  As long as there are magazines like MAKE and sites like iFixit, enthusiasts will continue to do things that make users jealous.

Snow Leopard: Days 1-2

Thanks to a pre-order from Amazon on August 3, a copy of Snow Leopard arrived on my doorstep August 28. The install was uneventful–typical of Mac OS X installs. I put in the DVD, clicked through a few dialog boxes, went to run a couple of errands. When I got back, I logged in as usual.

So far, I haven’t noticed many differences between Leopard and Snow Leopard.  The few of note:

  • Hard drive space.  Before installing Snow Leopard, I had around 14GB of free space.  After installing Snow Leopard (and the latest version of XCode) I have 27GB of free space.  It’s quite a bit more freed space than the 7GB Apple advertised
  • Printing.  I have a HP LaserJet 1022.  I had to re-install it after upgrading to Snow Leopard and use an Apple driver.  It still works just fine.
  • Battery Status.  Apple added information on battery health.  Since my MacBook Pro is closing in on 3 years old, the “Service Battery” message is most likely correct.  Apple Support already has a thread about it.  Another thing I’ve noticed which may also be new to Snow Leopard is that I’m getting battery life percentages for my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse as well.
  • Character/Keyboard Viewer.  A new widget in the upper-right of the screen.  I haven’t found any particular use for it yet.
  • Mail.  When I first started it, the app prompted me for some sort of upgrade.  Once it was done, the notes from my iPhone showed up under a Reminders item.
  • Quicken.  I’m still using Quicken 2007 for Mac, so I saw a little prompt about Rosetta when I first launched it.  What I really need to do is get out of Quicken 2007 into something else, but that’s a subject for another post.

I can’t say I’ve noticed any speed differences one way or the other so far–but it’s only been a couple of days.

Universal vs. Apple on DRM-free Music

A very interesting take on Universal offering DRM-free music directly instead of through iTunes. I think the writer is on target in describing the motives of Universal in cutting Apple out as a distribution channel.

If memory serves, the big record companies tried to push Apple into variable pricing not long ago. That move didn’t seem to work, as the 99-cent single is alive and well on iTunes.

The idea of Apple signing artists directly is an interesting one, but I don’t see Apple signing artists anytime soon.  Artist management is quite far afield from what they do best. It might violate their recent deal with Apple Corps too. That said, if Apple could make it easier and cheaper for indie bands to put their music out without violating that deal, they’d probably make some money they aren’t currently getting.  It might even help them sell more iPods (which is really the whole point of iTunes anyway).

A use for XCode that has nothing to do with writing software

I came across an old MacWorld tip while searching for a quick way to compare an iTunes folder on a backup drive with one on my new laptop.  FileMerge turns out to be quite a capable tool for comparing folders as well as files.  It made it a lot easier to figure out what was missing from the laptop and sync it to the backup drive.  It took awhile, since we’re talking about gigabytes of music files, but it worked.

iPodding my car (part 3)

According to Antwerpen VW, Volkswagen says that the way the iPod adapter hooks into the stereo disables the channels that display additional information during satellite radio broadcasts 🙁
I wonder if any of the after-market solutions have the same issue.

The mini has landed

The Mac mini I ordered online back in February finally arrived tonight. The only real problem I’ve encountered so far is that it had trouble detecting my Linksys router from upstairs. What I’m not certain of is whether this was because I had MAC address filtering enabled initially. Once I disabled that and set everything up closer to the wireless router, Internet access worked fine.

Software installs were very simple. For the most part, I’d just download a file and drag it to the applications folder. Very easy, very clean.

I still have plenty of configuration work left to do though. If the mini can’t access the Internet wirelessly from a distance, I may spring for an Airport Express to see if that will boost the signal enough. If I can get a DVI cable, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for less than the Airport Express, it may be worth it to hook it up to my HDTV & stereo instead.

Networking it with my Win2K server will be another challenge.

Update: I moved the mini upstairs and turned everything on again. Now it’s connecting wirelessly with no trouble at all.