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One More Thing on App Store Sustainability

I had another thought about App Store sustainability this morning that I banged out as a pair of tweets, but that I wanted to post a little more prominently:

A thought: what good would upgrade pricing do on the iOS App Store, where the de facto maximum full price is $4.99?

Is anyone really going to be able to build a sustainable business off 99c annual upgrades?

My Unsustainable Productivity post despaired pretty badly for the future of one-time purchases in the iOS App Store, and I’ve only gotten more pessimistic in light of the evidence that Apple may release iWork for iOS for free with iOS 7. The polish and functionality of the iWork apps means they likely cost Apple several million dollars to develop… if they’re to be given away free, what does that do to user expectations? Basically it tells users they should expect to pay nothing for best-of-breed productivity apps.

I thought $10 each was too low for the iLife apps when they debuted, that it set a price ceiling that would make life difficult for other app makers. If Apple actually makes them free then — mark my words — it will mean the end of third-party productivity apps of any significance on iOS.

Set against this, what do we make of Apple’s release of Logic Pro X for the Mac, at $199? For starters, there’s the much-made point that they clearly don’t intend to offer an upgrade pricing system, when they’re demanding full price for the app on Mac, from new and current users alike.

But look at the contrast with the above, where iLife goes from cheap to (possibly) free on iOS, while Apple still thinks Mac software can demand a price in the hundreds of dollars. They’ve egged on and contributed to the Race To The Bottom on iOS, but not on the Mac. And that just means we’ll all need our “trucks” longer than we would otherwise, because the productivity apps we’d need to go iPad-only will never be written for iOS (or even ported), because it’s not viable for any third-party developer to do so, whereas Mac development remains as viable as it ever was.

Unsustainable productivity

Ben Thompson’s Stratechery blog had a recent series of posts on sustainability in App Store development, and the third part of the series focused particularly on productivity apps and how the nature of the App Store ecosystem has caused that category to implode.

I wrote a really long reply to him with some of my thoughts on the matter, something I’ve tweeted and blogged about before — and about part-way through the e-mail I realized it would be a pretty good blog on its own.

So I’m pasting it below in its e-mail form, with a few links and formatting added here and there.


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Can’t Buy a Thrill

MacWorld ran a story last week to remind readers that A $5 App Isn’t Expensive, and imploring readers to stop being such cheapskates for the sake of the App Store economy.

Earth to MacWorld: It’s already too late. The market has spoken, and it refuses to pay for apps, even when the toxic side-effects of that are manifest.

MacWorld’s piece comes in part as a response to Michael Jurewitz’s five-part series on app pricing, posted on the eve of his return to Apple (and, presumably, a lot more circumspection about his future blogging). Jury sees the app pricing race to the bottom as a self-inflicted wound and urges developers to charge what their apps are worth.

Great advice… for anyone still around to take it.

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Correcting Core Audio

A client unexpectedly hitting pause on a major project has me less employed than I’d like right now — yes, I’m available, ping me — so I’ve spent some time in the past few weeks cleaning up some corrections on Core Audio stuff here and there.

I went through the e-mailed errata I’ve received for Learning Core Audio and sent off an update to Pearson, although it’s not yet up on the book’s home page. The biggest fix here is a typo in the chapter 8 audio pass-through for Mac, which sometimes causes bad distortion depending on your selected input device. The bug was caused by mis-counted timestamps and apparently a race condition of which audio unit (input or output) got called first… all owing to the fact that I had set -1 as a flag value, and then did a comparison against 0 instead of -1. Anyways, if this is something that bit you, watch the book’s home page for an update, or just grab the updated code from my Dropbox. The zip has a CHANGES.txt with the other code fixes in this update.

The other thing I had to correct was my ambitious pitch-shifting web radio demo that I developed for my CocoaConf Portland talk. The effect stopped working in iOS 6.1, and fixing it led to a long engagement with the coreaudio-api mailing list and the use of an ADC support incident on my part.

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About that 128 GB iPad

I never wanted this to be a product blog, but I do have a few thoughts about the just-announced 128 GB iPad:

  1. I totally want one.
  2. Apple isn’t stupid. They wouldn’t bring this out — mid-product cycle — unless they thought there was a specific demand for the product.
  3. A lot of the initial reaction goes along the lines of “Why would you spend this much, when you could just get a MacBook Air (i.e., a ‘real computer’) for that price?” Well, for starters:
    • The Ars article is a false comparison: the $1,000 iPad is the model with LTE. There is no MacBook Air with a cellular modem. The apples-to-apples (groan) comparison is the $799 iPad against the $999 MBA.
    • I have an iPad 2 and a 2012 MacBook Air. I like the iPad much more than the Air, and at conferences, you’ll usually see me with the iPad, not the MBA. The iPad has more and better apps, it’s more comfortable to use for read-only tasks like Twitter and web browsing, and I can easily tote along a Bluetooth keyboard if I plan on writing more than a few paragraphs.
    • Another comparison: $800 for a lightweight device with a battery that lasts 8-10 hours of typical use, or $1,000 for a slightly heavier device that’ll keep a charge for 2 1/2 – 3 hours?
    • For what it’s worth, I’m writing this post on my iPad.
  4. Apple’s news release cites use cases that include managing lots of audio files, and it seems like a number of mobile audio professionals (including DJs and journalists) are adopting iOS apps, well-served by its combination of small size, touch interface, immense battery life, and deep support for audio capture/mixing/export/playback. There’s a quiet revolution underway thanks to Michael Tyson’s Audiobus, which allows multiple iOS audio apps to collaborate in real-time, thanks to the ability of Core MIDI to ferry audio data between apps (the rare example of a back door Apple failed to close, and an argument that they shouldn’t be so eager to do so).

So, yeah, totally want one. Of course, I’d be happier if Apple would offer up a modern Mac Pro, but that’s a product blog for another time.

UPDATE: You know, I hadn’t even thought to plug this when originally writing this entry, but it’s worth mentioning that I’m doing all-day tutorials about writing iPad productivity apps (focusing on APIs like copy/paste, undo/redo, UIDocument for local files and iCloud, etc.) in March at CocoaConf Chicago and CocoaConf DC and it’s probably the productivity apps — where the user’s data is more important than the app’s — that’s driving interest in the high-capacity iPad.

Gaming, January 2013

Just a quick couple of notes about the gaming I’ve been doing on the iPad for the last couple months, given that it’s become my main game console.

Pinball Arcade

First, there’s Pinball Arcade, which some of you might remember I spent three hours live-streaming back in August. They’ve kept up with the new tables, most notably launching two tables based on expensive licenses, Twilight Zone and Star Trek: The Next Generation

20130120-192746.jpg

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2012: Three Things

I usually don’t have much use for year-ender type pieces — not sure if I’ve ever done one on this blog — but I’ve got an accumulated bunch of thoughts that I might as well just work out in one big brain-dump. With luck, some of it will actually tie together.

Gonna talk about three things:

  1. No politics
  2. iOS Development
  3. Anime

It’s about 4,000 words. Grab a pop/coffee/beer if you need to.

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The Sound of Plaid Friday

CocoaConf Plaid logoOh, this is nice. In the spirit of all these aggressive Black Friday offers, CocoaConf has announced a substantial deal for what they’re calling Plaid Friday. On November 23 only, you can score a registration to next week’s CocoaConf Raleigh for $50 off and get free admission to my Thursday All-Day Core Audio Tutorial (or the introductory iOS Tutorial taught by Walter Tyree).

In another fit of geeky Black Friday goodness, Telestream is offering 30% off all their products, including the screencast recorder ScreenFlow (which I use), and the livestream production suite Wirecast, which I’ll be getting for $!50 off, thankyouverymuch.

And that takes us back to CocoaConf, actually, because I’m going to be livestreaming my two Saturday morning talks from there on UStream. The events are now scheduled on the invalidstream: Core Audio in iOS 6 at 9:00AM EST (14:00 UTC), and Mobile Movies with HTTP Live Streaming at 10:45 (15:45 UTC). Apparently, I can’t deep link into the scheduled events on Ustream, so please visit the invalidstream channel and sign up for a reminder if you like. And yes, the live streaming talk will itself be streamed, and that stream will discuss how the stream is created and played (on OS X and iOS devices). So that’s ridiculously meta, at a minimum. Also, I’m bringing a camcorder, tripod, and 15′ FireWire cable, so I should be able to get a halfway decent longshot for the talks that can capture both me and the screen (and the audio we’ll create in the Core Audio talk).

Thing Is, APIs *Should* Be Copyrightable

A bunch of my friends, particularly on the F/OSS and Android side, are issuing a new call to the barricades to make the case that APIs should not be copyrightable. In particular, the EFF wants developers to send in stories of how they’ve reimplemented APIs for reasons of competition, interoperability, innovation, etc. The issue is heating up again because a three-judge Federal Circuit panel is going to revisit Judge Aslip’s ruling in Oracle v. Google, where the jury found that Google willfully infringed Oracle’s copyright on the Java APIs, but the Judge found that APIs aren’t copyrightable in the first place, rendering the jury decision moot.

This isn’t the slam dunk some people think it is. During the trial, Florian Mueller pulled up relevant case law to show that copyright has traditionally considered the design of computer code (and, implicitly, its public interfaces) to be protected.

Furthermore, the case against copyrightability of APIs strikes me as quite weak. If software deserves copyright at all — and there are good arguments against it, but that’s not what we’re talking about here — then drawing the line at published interfaces doesn’t hold up.

There are basically two arguments I’ve heard against API copyrightability. Here’s why I think they’re bunk:

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Apple TV prediction party

WWDC is just two weeks away, and this is my last iDevBlogADay spot before then (actually, yesterday was my slot, but I got thrown off by the holiday). Everyone else is going to be chiming in with predictions until then — put me down for something specific, like “Core Audio changes the canonical data types to floating-point, since ARM7 is perfectly capable of doing float” — and I don’t have much to say that I haven’t said before.

A lot of the talk is about the possibility of an Apple TV set, or an Apple TV SDK. I talked a bunch about this in my Anime Central-inspired Mac/iOS media post, but to summarize…

AirPlay is Apple’s secret weapon, to a degree that has not fully been appreciated by many. I mean that literally; Time Warner Cable’s CEO admitted to Engadget that he doesn’t know what it is. But by turning every iPhone/iPad/iPod-touch into a de facto cable box, powered by hundreds of video apps, there’s a huge potential for distrupting the existing industry. At this point, Crunchyroll is surely my favorite iOS app of all, given that it has effectively become my very own personal anime TV channel (four words, folks: Puella Magi Madoka Magica). Multiply this by a hundred niches and content providers (including 3 of the 4 big team sports in the US) and you’ve got a tsunami.

The trick is that Apple didn’t scare the incumbents with a frontal attack — they’ve let content providers slowly build up the streaming content collection. All that’s needed now is to remove the AirPlay link and run directly on the box via a Apple TV SDK. And if you’ve ever plugged an Apple TV into Xcode via the micro-USB (to test betas, as I did last year while working on AirPlay support for a client’s app), you know that Xcode recognizes the Apple TV as an iOS device and even offers a (non-functional) “enable for development” button. This is something that they could enable at a time and place of their choosing, and maybe that’ll be in two weeks.

That said, developers might not have an accurate view of what Apple TV development would be. Someone at A2-CocoaHeads said he wanted an Apple TV SDK so that he could write a game where an iPhone or iPod touch served as the game control for a TV-based game. Of course, this is possible now: the Apple TV shows up in [UIScreen screens], so you run the game logic on the handheld device and just draw graphics to the second screen.

And who knows what kinds of apps will be welcome or permitted? It would be uncharacteristic of Apple to require or even tolerate substantial keyboard-based entry on Apple TV apps — Google TV shipped a keyboard-based remote control, and how did that work out? Someone’s going to say we need streaming video apps with integrated chat, but if you really have to do that, again, you could do that today by running the app and hosting the chat interface on the iPad and streaming the video to the Apple TV.

If there is an Apple TV SDK, it should neither surprise nor disappoint anyone if the only apps that Apple accepts for it are streaming media. It’s called focus, people, something that distinguishes Apple.