Negativity as a Default

Apple Malaise | Becky Hansmeyer

Maybe it’s just me, but the Apple news/developer community seems to have settled into its own particular, cozy brand of misery as of late. And sure, 2020 is off to a bit of a slow, dismal start––it appears the world is going up in flames, both literally and figuratively, and the Apple rumor mill, which once brought us a bit of cheer throughout the winter doldrums, is now greeted with a general sense of weariness and indifference.

And here’s Joe Cieplinski’s response:

We reward people for complaining, and we shame anyone who says anything positive.

Things sway back and forth over time, and I actually don’t think we’re in the worst place the community has been in recent history. Looking back a couple years, there was doom and gloom about Apple being so far behind in software quality, innovative features, in Siri in general, and that Google was blowing them away with new and exciting features. Seriously, listen to some tech podcasts from 3-4 years ago (ideally before that year’s WWDC) and you’ll get some of the most dire Apple talk you’ve ever heard.

But Becky is definitely right that there is a culture of cynicism in the Apple world that I think is largely driven by social media, where snark is rewarded more than insight. The default position I think most people feel like they need to have is to be negative about everything. Nevermind the fact Apple has a long track record of making things you like and you would rather die than use a competitor’s products, you gotta be negative to look “unbiased.”

Being 100% on board with everything Apple does is swinging too far the other direction, and those people exist with takes like “X is a dumb feature, now Apple has done it the same way as everyone else and I love it!” 🙄. Striking a balance can be tough, and I think there are certainly people out there (including me) who balance enthusiasm with criticism, but you never have to go too far to find voices that feel like they’re just complaining and that makes them the smartest guys in the room.

When Anti-Virus Software is the Virus Itself

When Anti-Virus Software is the Virus Itself

Leaked Documents Expose the Secretive Market for Your Web Browsing Data - VICE

The documents, from a subsidiary of the antivirus giant Avast called Jumpshot, shine new light on the secretive sale and supply chain of peoples' internet browsing histories. They show that the Avast antivirus program installed on a person's computer collects data, and that Jumpshot repackages it into various different products that are then sold to many of the largest companies in the world. Some past, present, and potential clients include Google, Yelp, Microsoft, McKinsey, Pepsi, Home Depot, Condé Nast, Intuit, and many others. Some clients paid millions of dollars for products that include a so-called "All Clicks Feed," which can track user behavior, clicks, and movement across websites in highly precise detail.

This is a remarkable report, and basically say that if you opted in (which I’m sure was not effectively communicated to the end user), then Avast’s “Jumpshot” software would track your every click, search, and effective full browsing history. This is the sort of thing that any reasonable person would say “no thanks, I don’t want you to have that” but they bragged about their 100 million “willing” participants.

Avast has apparently shut this down due to pressure from Vice’s article, but come on…

This is why I prefer top buy products from companies who care at least two shits about user privacy.

---

Image in the header belongs to Vice.

Is Subscription Pricing Sustainable?

Subscription apps – are they a sustainable business model? - 9to5Mac

What’s your view? Do you share my feeling that subscription apps aren’t sustainable, or are you happy with that approach, even when you have dozens of them?

I took and look at the subscriptions page in the App Store and I pay for 8 subscriptions for third party apps:

  • Letterboxd: $12/year
  • Twitterrific: $10/year
  • Ulysses: $30/year
  • Overcast: $10/year
  • Carrot Weather: $3/year
  • Castro: $9/year
  • Drafts: $20/year
  • Fantastical: $40/year

This works out to $132 per year, or $11 of my monthly budget going towards these apps. Looking at them now, obviously I could start paying for just one podcast app and Fantastical just shot the overall cost up 43% since a couple days ago, but overall I’m happy to pay for these apps.

I have about 150 apps on my phone though, so these subscription apps account for a vast minority of what I use my phone to do, but they’re definitely the most essential ones, so I’m happy to pay for them.

I understand the concern with subscriptions and the “subscription fatigue” that I see whenever a new app adopts the subscription model, but I also understand the reality of the app marketplace in 2020. Customers get so much for “free” that asking customers to pay as little as 99¢ is often met with an, “I’ll see what free options are out there” response.

You’ll see people suggest that if only we had paid upgrades, that would solve basically all the problems with business models on the App Store, but I’m not convinced. People look at that with rose-tinted glasses because it’s not a thing today. Based on the lower number of desktops apps using this model than even before, I don’t see this as a silver bullet for devs. If even the ones can can use it are moving to different models, why would bring it to iOS suddenly make it more sustainable.

For the time being, I think this is how most apps will work:

  1. Free apps will continue to dominate, because the appeal of free is huge to most people. These apps will either rely on a media subscription (Netflix), will use ads to make a little money, or will exist as parts of bigger companies’ strategies. In app purchases will help some of these do well, especially games.
  2. Paid apps will remain a niche category, with most people buying only a few of these. These will be mostly apps that can exist entirely on your phone/tablet/computer with no servers or maintenance required from the developer. They’ll put out updates for a while, and then abandon the app or put out a paid upgrade every few years that upsets everyone.
  3. Subscription apps will continue to grow, and annual fees will go down, and they want to be able to pitch “yes, it’s another subscription, but it works out to 25¢ per month!” so that it’s a no-brainer for many people. Meanwhile, productivity apps and things that can be essential to people’s work will maybe even go up, such as Fantastical’s $40/year subscription. I’ve already noticed subscription-supported apps seem to get more updates than before they adopted that model, so this should lead to better versions of these apps.

Affordances are Not Clutter

Daring Fireball: It’s Not About Intuitiveness

Far more of iPadOS should be exposed by visual buttons and on-screen elements that you can look at and simply tap or drag with a single finger.

Gruber and I agree on most things when it comes to tech, and I think we honestly aren’t that far apart on iPadOS multitasking either. I think our differences in tone are due to our different feelings on (a) how hard it is to understand iPad multitasking and (b) how much better or worse it is than macOS.

He clears up his feelings about being more about discoverability than intuitiveness, and that helped clarify his feelings for me. He ends with this great line, and one that I think every interface designer should consider:

Affordances are not clutter.

Boom, yes! For me, moving around iPads and Macs is pretty darn quick, and I’d argue the ways I do that are more intuitive on the iPad; dragging apps around on screen where I want them to go is exactly how I’d expect it to be. The points John and Dieter Bohn brought up are valid, too.

  1. The iPad’s multitasking interface requires too much fine grain motor movements, and it’s too likely you’ll make a mistake.
  2. The iPad’s multitasking is hard to learn inside iPadOS, you really need to watch/read a tutorial to see how it works.

My feelings are this is an opportunity for refinement, not a “throw it in a fire and start over” situation. The fact that Gruber didn’t know how to get an app into multitasking that wasn’t in his dock isn’t his fault, it’s an issue with discoverability. Touch-based UIs have a fundamental challenge here, and it’s a strong argument for most apps using standard control schemes. Put elements where they are in most apps so that your users don’t need to learn a new way to work.

But there are always going to be differences between apps, and there are going to be system-level things that simply need to be communicated so people know they actually exist in the first place. For example, the complex app Affinity Designer for the iPad has a question mark you can tap at any time and get this view that shows you all the things you can do from this page.

This is about as close to the “mouse around the UI until you find the thing you’re looking for” that Gruber mentions is great about mouse-based UIs. You can also hold down the Command key anywhere in iPadOS and see what keyboard shortcuts are available in your current state.

I think these affordances are there, and you can use them to become incredibly productive on an iPad, but the fact that people are still having indicates that these need to improve. Let’s just not tear down a great thing to do it.

3 out of 4 Apple Watch Buyers are Getting Their First Apple Watch

75% of Apple Watch customers are first time buyers, likely driven by Series 3 promos - 9to5Mac

According to Apple, 75% of Apple Watch buyers during the holiday quarter were brand new to the Apple Watch platform. This is slightly higher than the last time Apple cited this statistic in September, when it reported that 70% of Apple Watch customers were buying their first model.

That’s a fantastic number for a product that’s turning 5 in a couple months. I’ve heard a few people talk about Apple’s wearables revenue as if it’s 90% AirPods and then a couple HomePods and Apple Watches, but I think Apple Watches make up a bigger part of that pie than many give it credit for.

Who is Building Billion Dollar Companies These Days?

Gruber, commenting on Ben Thompson:

There are developers making good money with professional caliber iPad apps. But nothing like the companies that were built around the Mac.

Gruber and Thompson use Adobe as an example of a company who built Mac software and turned into a billion dollar company. They contend no one has done this on the iPad.

My counter would be: since 2010, what billion dollar companies have been built on Mac-specific software? If there is one, I can’t think of it.

I know that web apps and anything built on Electron go against everything people like Gruber believe in when it comes to software, but the massively successful companies today are built on web technologies, and they certainly don’t build native Mac software as their main business.

I look at Notion, which has a $800 million valuation, Atlasian’s $36 billion market cap, Slack’s $500 million-ish valuation, and the many other apps I use on my Mac to get work done and none of them were built on selling local software for the Mac. The closest I can think of is someone like Pixelmator, but even they must be way smaller than $1 billion, and then that’s not perfect because they sell iPad apps as part of whatever their revenue is.

Please let me know if there are companies out there building billion dollar businesses on native Mac software over the past decade, but I can’t for the life of me think of someone. I think this is an example of setting up metrics that the iPad could never live up to, and using that as a way to call it a failure.

Back on Apple’s Incentives (and on blogging as conversation)

Apple’s Incentives - Initial Charge

It’s hard to quantify the value of influencers within families and groups of friends. And the type of people who use RSS are also likely to be the type of people that friends and family members turn to for tech-related advice and recommendations.

Michael responds to my post about Apple’s incentives for only including App Store editorials in the App Store app. I think the argument that people like me, Michael, and let’s be honest, giant Apple bloggers like John Gruber, would be doing more word of mouth marketing for Apple’s editorials if we could consume them in a way that’s convenient for us. We’re absolutely a niche, but our influence (whether it be over 10 or 100,000 people) extends beyond ourselves.

I never link to to App Store articles, but just browsing it now, I see things like this that look pretty cool and I might try and share here.

---

On another note, this interaction is exactly what I love in the blogging world, and it doesn’t happen that often anymore.

  1. Thomas Brand writes about something
  2. Michael links to, and adds onto Thomas’s point
  3. I link to, and add onto/counter Michael’s point
  4. Michael links to and adds/counters
  5. I link (in this very post) to Michael, and add on

Personal blogging is fun on its own, but it’s even better when it turns into a conversation.

The Galaxy Fold Not a Viable Product

Samsung Galaxy Fold review: The future is an ugly disappointment | Ars Technica

Should you buy a Galaxy Fold? NO! God no. Are you crazy? The sky-high price, durability issues, nascent form factor, and new screen technology should rule the phone out for just about everyone. (Save your bendy tech dreams for Westworld season three.) Rather than a viable product, right now the Fold feels more like a publicly available prototype device that demonstrates an experimental new form factor.

I know some tech reviewers will disagree, but I really think the Galaxy Fold was always a prototype that Samsung let you buy. It’s clearly not ready for prime time and people got a thrill from using something early. It was like a concept car: it looks cool, it shows you some features that are coming down the road, but it doesn’t have air conditioning, handles poorly, and gets 9 miles to the gallon. It has cool elements, but giving it a “car of the year” award or suggesting anyone actually buy it would be stupid.

"33 Million" Apple TV+ Subscribers

"33 Million" Apple TV+ Subscribers

The Wall Street Journal reports (via 9to5Mac, if you don't subscribe to WSJ) that there are about 33 million acitve Apple TV+ subscribers. That makes is half as big as Netflix, and about 9 million smaller than Amazon Prime, but larger than Hulu and Disney+ (all in the US only, not counting international at all).

These are estimates, so they're up for debate, and Benjamin Mayo suggests the number is likely closer to 10-15 million users.

As 9to5Mac points out, rivals will point out that everyone who bought an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, or Mac got one year for free, so while most of those Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ users are actively paying for the service, the number of Apple TV+ subscribers who have spent a cent on it is likely much, much lower.

But this all gets to the point that comparing these things is really difficult because it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. Apple TV+ and Amazing Prime Video customers may not be spending a cent on the services, but they use them because they get them "for free" for buying something else. There are also deals and packages that get you other services like Disney+ for free as well.

These are analysts' predictions, not hard numbers, nor are they neccessarily indicators of how much people enjoy these services. They're interesting, and can give you a ballpark idea of how things are going, but don't get too married to any of these numbers.