ipad round two, software distribution

Regarding the iPad shortly after it’s unveiling Wednesday, Holmes Wilson of the Free Software Foundation said:

This is a huge step backward in the history of computing. If the first personal computers required permission from the manufacturer for each new program or new feature, the history of computing would be as dismally totalitarian as the milieu in Apple’s famous Super Bowl ad.

Many people were crossing their fingers that the iPad would have an open environment for distributing apps. Something like Macintosh and Windows PCs have had since their inception. Aside from the obvious benefits to Apple in having an app store that supports their hardware platform with a cut of software sales, the App Store is a great benefit to both consumers and developers.


People don’t buy software. Now that’s a gross generalization. Obviously, some people buy software. But really, only under very specific circumstances. Maybe you need to buy Word so you can edit your work documents at home. Maybe you, like me, suffer from an addictive hobby like photography and need Photoshop or some reasonable facsimile. But your average Bob, Joe, and Sally… they don’t buy software. In this article (profanity, be warned), Guy English of Tapulous states:

“Software” is dead, don’t bother putting that word on a sell sheet. Have you written “a program” recently? That’s nice, find a place in line behind all the other nerds but try not to step on the Coke-bottle glasses they tend to drop. “Oh … you’ve developed an application … is it something my doctor would know about”? People, lots and lots of people, people who have no idea what software even is, will download Apps like they’re snacking on potatoe chips.

Why is this the case? Well, there are a number of reasons. I can think of a few.

  • Safety- Your Mom and Dad, your cousin who is a contractor, your friend’s son on the varsity football team, all have heard horror stories about viruses, spyware, and identity theft. In fact, they very well have experienced these horror stories, and lived to tell about them. The App Store is a very comforting environment. There is no fear. The ‘app’ you’re downloading has been well looked over. It’s not going to steal your bank information, it won’t delete all your files (it can’t), and it’s not going to flood your computer with popups and background processes that slow it down. I’ve been using computers since I was old enough to sit at a desk chair, and I know very well how to avoid these problems. But even to me, the thought of buying something from the App Store is comforting.
  • Simplicity- When the iPhone first came out, the ease of the interface surprised us all. You must admit, it was a giant leap in human-computer interaction. Pointing and touching things connects with an innate part of what it is to be a human. This has led to software that is within the grasp of anyone. No complicated commands, no keyboard shortcuts for power users. It’s a level playing field, accessible to everybody. Don’t believe me? Watch this video of a one-year-old using an iPhone:
  • Installation- Finding and installing software on PCs is a nightmare. There are so many distribution methods, like installing from a disk you bought in a store, downloading an installer file, or a .zip with an executable in it. Or even digital distribution like the Steam online game store. This is all very confusing to people. Maybe not you, you’re reading a blog. You might not be intimidated by finding and installing software, but regular people are. Let’s not even bring up open source software. I know it’s gotten better in the last few years, but it is still not for your average person to discover, acquire, and install software on a regular basis.

Average consumers do not see the App Store as limiting. It’s actually freeing! They feel free to explore, experiment, and buy things, totally uninhibited by their non-computer-savviness.


Say you have an idea for your next great Windows application. How are you going to advertise it, distribute it, charge people for it? Post it on your website, and link everyone on twitter? PayPal? Donation based? Shareware? Try to find a publisher that doesn’t think your idea is stupid, and fail to cut a good deal because you aren’t a business person?

Now let’s see how this looks on the App Store. I have a great idea. I can make this really great app. It will have a touch interface that everyone can pick up quickly. Once published it will instantly be available to millions of people. It will likely show up in the “New” apps section, on the front page of the App Store in front of a million eyes. The only publishing fee is a flat 30 percent of sales, which is very likely less than a developer is able to negotiate from a traditional publisher. As covered above, there is very little in the way of consumers buying and downloading my app. It’s a scenario they’re very used to.

How is this not a good idea? Unless, perhaps… are you one of those software pirates? Rest assured. The iPad will be hacked. It will support multi-tasking, you will be able to illegally download all the programs you want. Someone will release a browser with flash. And you can quit crying. In fact, now you won’t even need to pay for a phone tied to a long-term contract!


Everyone I hear complaining about the iPad is really just someone who is so deeply invested in their current computing platform, they can’t bear the thought of letting go of the things they hold dear. I appreciate the sentiment, but really, we need to move forward.

Now I’m not hoping that Apple becomes a monolithic company. I don’t want using my computer to feel like participating in socialism. But you know that won’t happen. Other people will step up and take a piece of the pie. There are Android based tablets that will be out even before the iPad. Maybe Google Chrome will shift focus a little to take this new kind of computing into account. Maybe the Microsoft surface technology will be worked into a new handheld device.

In any case, computing is changing. In my opinion, for the better. I’m on board.

post script

Let’s not forget that there is a free and open way to release apps on both the iPad and iPhone. They’re called web apps. Ask Google about them. They just released a Google Voice web app to circumvent their native app’s rejection from the App Store. Further, look at Chrome OS. Google is building an entire operating system around web apps. Clearly one of the most influential tech companies in the world thinks they’re going to become a big part of how we use computers.

ipad, the day after

People keep talking to me about the iPad. I suppose it’s my own fault for posting so many links and comments about it, but I wanted to write some thoughts that address many of the common issues that people have been bringing into question.

The iPad is not a big iPhone. Truth be told, the iPhone is actually a tiny iPad, with a cellular phone tacked on. That might be hard to come to terms with being that the iPhone was released first, but there have been many reports that development of a tablet computer has been going on at Apple for the better part of the last decade. So, even though it’s fun to say, stop calling it a big iPhone.

Sean Sperte recently posted a blog addressing the iPad in which he said:

What I’m getting at is that I don’t think the iPad is just another portable device that fills a gap. Even contrary to the way it was introduced, I don’t think the iPad fits the in-between-smartphone-and-PC moniker. I think it’s much more. I think it is the new PC — in its infancy.

Sean is absolutely right. The iPad is Apple’s way of telling us that the interface they brought us with the iPhone is really what they envision powering the next generation of computers. In the introduction video they posted yesterday, Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design declared:

In many ways this defines our vision, our sense, of what’s next.

In a way, they see their touch operating system being to the current generation of computers what the keyboard, mouse, and window system were to the text based systems that preceded them.

And yet outcries abound. Wired just posted an article called Ten Things Missing From the iPad. They point out all the usual suspects that tech geeks aplenty have been complaining about since the iPad was unveiled: no flash, multitasking, keyboard, etc. The issue is that everyone expects these things to be in the iPad, because they’re in the computers we have now.

Well, the iPad isn’t the computer you have now. Frankly many of us have forgotten how many issues there are with our computers. We have been so anesthetized to the problems of todays personal computers because of their ubiquity, that we haven’t cared enough to look for a successor.

Back in the day, I remember when multitasking didn’t exist yet. Your computer ran one thing at a time. We presume that because multitasking was such an innovation to computing, then unquestionably it’s better. It almost becomes an unspoken pillar of computer interface design. Well guess what. My iPhone doesn’t have multitasking. Sure, it’s not as feature rich as my computer, but using my iPhone is a hands-down better experience than using my laptop (and that’s a tall order considering I have a Mac). What my iPhone does, it does quickly, beautifully, and in an utterly uncomplicated manner.

Apple wants that same great experience for more general purpose computing. The things they left out that all us techies keep complaining about have been left out purposefully. Some have been left out for aesthetics, some for user experience, and some unquestionably to reach their ambitious price goal. In any case, the iPad aims to offer the best computing experience that you’ve ever had.

Another piece of evidence that proves this is how Apple feels about the iPad was their introduction of iWork. The simple fact that the iPad has a larger screen means that it can do real work, and Apple wanted to show that off. My incorrect prediction was that the iPad would ship with iLife: iPhoto, GarageBand, etc. And while I’m sure iLife applications are on the way, in hindsight, iWork helps Apple present their vision more clearly. They want people to rethink the way they make real applications. What would Photoshop look like on the iPad (heaven forbid). What about Pro Tools audio suite? Final Cut Pro? How about some video games? Madden? Command and Conquer?

The magic in the iPad will be the software. Apple has set a precedent. By releasing iWork they’re saying: ‘Look, you really can make seriously great software on this thing. What can you guys come up with?’ My excitement for the iPad is not because I think it’s the end all for touch computing. The reality is that it’s just the beginning. Again, as Sean so aptly stated, “the new PC – in its infancy.”

protect the gospel

Pastor Judah’s message from this week (listen or watch here) was really powerful. It’s so important to maintain the integrity of the good news. It made me think of when Paul confronted Peter in Antioch.

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions? [Galatians 2:11-14]

Really, Paul? Peter hadn’t fallen into sexual immorality. He hadn’t murdered anyone. He wasn’t blaspheming. He was just eating with different people. Is that so bad? Apparently it is. Peter was upholding the traditions of men, which as Jesus told the pharisees in Mark 7:13, make the word of God of no effect.

The legalistic mindset is not overt. It is wreathed in subtlety. It is perhaps the scariest tendency of our human nature. We must guard and protect the gospel, not only from false teachers, but even from our own unconscious influence.


On January 14th, the guardian posted this data sheet that shows US donations for Haiti amounting to just over $130 million (hopefully much more has come in since then). Meanwhile, these box office numbers show the 3D blockbuster Avatar with a US gross of well over $500 million. Just a thought, have you paid more money watching Avatar, or helping the Haitian crisis? In case it isn’t obvious, that’s a rhetorical question.

more tablet excitement

The January 27th event is finally official. The pictured invitation has gone out to members of the press.

Shortly after the announcement of the original iPhone, Steve Jobs made a powerful statement about the dynamic touch interface on the new device.

It’s the first thing to come along since the mouse and the bit-mapped display and take things to the next level.

The mouse and bit-mapped display has been the standard MO since the Macintosh was first introduced in 1984. I believe this statement by Jobs indicates that he believes these touch screen mechanics are going to dictate the next generation of computing devices. This trend is what the Apple Tablet is aiming to continue. I think Apple sees this new interface technology as something that will (long term) marginalize the use of keyboard/mouse systems altogether. They’re making steps one at a time to introduce this next iteration of interface design as marketable devices. The iPhone was just the first step. No one can argue that the iPhone has been anything less than a complete runaway success. We’ll see if the new Tablet will be able to take that success to a larger platform.

tablet input

Shawn Blanc has posted a lengthy article summarizing all his Apple Tablet predictions. His last statement concerning text input was:

I personally wouldn’t rule out a full-width software keyboard that you touch type onto with all ten of your digits.

Honestly, I cannot see a ten finger keyboard possibly being the main text input method on the tablet. Imagine sitting on the New York subway with your shiny new Apple Tablet. You decide to write an email. You set the tablet down on your lap, bend your neck awkwardly downward, and start typing away in hopes that you wore tacky enough pants that day to keep your tablet from sliding around. To me that’s just not a possibility.

My feeling is that we are likely going to see some new form of text input that we have never thought of before. That would certainly explain rumors of a learning curve.

app store finds

Today I Came across a new (to me) website. “TapFancy is a showcase for the very best in iPhone and iPod Touch application design.” Browsing through it, I saw two apps that I hadn’t heard of yet that really caught my attention: Reeder and Best Exit.

I found both apps to look exceptional after just a little time with them, and worth looking at, even if only to see the design.

Reeder is definitely the cleanest feed reader I’ve seen. It syncs with Google Reader. I actually might use it, which is more than I can say for any of the other mobile feed readers I’ve tried. It’s definitely the best attempt to date.

Best Exit is just plain awesomeness. Picture this: you’re on the highway, and want to find the next exit with food/gas/hotel/etc.? This shows you all upcoming exits, their distance, the services available. You can even drill into each exit to find what restaurants/stations/etc. are available, and get more detailed information and directions. The idea is very well executed. It works just as you’d expect.

Both apps are impressive, and well worth a few bucks. Check ‘em out.

tablet musings

My mind has been tinkering with speculations about the Apple Tablet for many moons. Everyone is talking about hardware, interfaces/interactions, e-reading, and App Stores. I have my own ideas and contemplations about all of these things. But to me, the real question is what will the tablet bring to the table that’s fresh and exciting to a large audience. There must be something. Apple isn’t just going to sell a big iPhone.

What my logical, Spock-reminiscent brain keeps arriving at as the most likely core, compelling new feature of the Apple Tablet is a touchscreen-centric iLife suite. My brain can’t even begin to conceive how awesome iLife could be as multi-touch based applications: iPhoto, iChat, iMovie, GarageBand! The prospect makes me giggle with delight.

The iPhone has communications down. There isn’t a lot of room for the Tablet to improve upon that (except possibly switching to a cellular data provider other than AT&T). But email, texting, calling, twittering, facebooking, all your favorite communications are handled marvelously on the iPhone. Aside from a “mobile phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device” (Steve Jobs’ initial description of the iPhone), I believe iLife is the most mass-marketable trick up Apple’s sleeve. It’s a huge part of what makes owning a Mac attractive to non-computer-type people. And to bring that into the mobile space in a satisfying new way could be a huge hit.

Also, Apple always likes to set the precedent of what the software will look like on their platforms. They want developers to follow their design cues. On the iPhone that meant making apps like Mail, MobileSafari, and Weather. When you break down software on the iPhone, much of what you have are amazing widgets. But if they’re releasing a new 10-inch device, there needs to be a trendsetting, substantial line of software to go with it. The iLife suite totally fits the bill. As great as their hardware is, software has always been the most compelling reason for playing in Apple’s court. The same will stand for the new tablet. Whatever we see, there are definitely going to be applications that will be compelling to your average everyday person. And to my mind, that’s iLife.

In any case, I’m excited to see what Apple has to offer.

dropbox partition

Last week I was discussing a frustration of mine about Dropbox. Frequently, I will drag a file out of a shared folder on Dropbox intending to copy it to a more suitable location for editing, storage, etc., but it instead moves the file to the new location. In the process, it’s removed from the Dropbox folder, and subsequently from the folder on all shared computers.

What I really wanted to happen is what happens when you drag a file out of a different drive. The file is copied, and unchanged in its original location. My friend Sean’s suggestion was (in hindsight an obvious one) make a separate partition for Dropbox.

So I did. I haven’t witnessed a huge number of advantages to this, but it does fix my copy/move problem. It also appeases my own mental delineation between Dropbox and regular files on my hard drive. Conceptually, Dropbox is a separately maintained file structure, mainly for small files and quick automated backup.

If you would like to do this, here are some simple instructions. First you need to create new partition using Disk Utility. I created a seperate partition roughly the size of my available online storage. Then you need to move the Dropbox folder location. The Dropbox option for changing the location of the “Dropbox” folder did not work for me. It failed repeatedly with an error about not being able to copy some files. Instead, I copied the folder manually to the new location. Unlinked my computer from Dropbox, and re-linked it to the new location. You will need to select the option to merge with the existing “Dropbox” folder, which will recognize the files are already there and be syncronized almost immediately.

At first I named the drive Dropbox, and had it sync directly as the Dropbox folder. The problem with this was that the root of a partition has many hidden files such as the trashes folder. This syncs a lot of unneccessary junk to Dropbox, and wastes too much space. So instead I named my drive “Cloud,” and kept “Dropbox” as a sub-directory.

Anyways, it was a good solution for me. If anybody else tries it, feel free to leave your findings in the comments.

no flash

Over lunch I read a great article on the Apple Tablet by Andy Ihnatko. He gave what I consider to be a very pertinent observation of Apple’s design process that most people don’t really understand.

You want to try to figure out the UI of the [Apple Tablet]? Go get yourself a comic book, or any other rectangle that measures roughly 10” on the diagonal. Hold it as though you’re reading what’s on the surface.

You see the problem? Your fingers get in the way. Think about how big that surface is, too. That’s a lot of acreage to scan, looking for the right buttons to push.

While you’ve got it in your hands, imagine that it’s a sheet of thin steel. That’s heavy, isn’t it? Hard to hold up for long periods of time.

Think about how a user interface would have to incorporate those observations. Now imagine that you’ve been doing this experiment for four years and not four minutes.

Yesterday, there was some chatter on twitter about flash not being on the iPhone. To me it’s a no-brainer that flash is “missing.”

Think through this same design process with interacting with flash on an iPhone. Go to a few flash websites. See how they interact with your mouse cursor, with hovering over buttons, with keyboard input. Now imagine how any of that works on an iPhone without a keyboard, and without a mouse. It doesn’t, but nearly all flash centers around this type of interaction. It’s not a question of the iPhone’s technical capabilities, or Apple wanting to subvert the ubiquity of flash. It just doesn’t work with a touch device. And if it doesn’t work, then Apple doesn’t ship it.

jailbroke and back again

Yesterday, I jailbroke my iPhone. It was the cool thing to do. There were promises of slick new interface elements and pretty home screens. And, while there were pretty home screens and slick interface elements, there was also a bunch of baggage: extra apps for managing my jailbroken phone, utilities with ‘challenging’ interfaces, and a general feeling that now my phone was dirty.

The fancy new home screen was great, but there were just a few icons to fix. I quickly realized that I would be endlessly dissatisfied, knowing that I could make the changes, update the things that I thought could be better, skin all the ugly apps with new images.

What’s more, I remembered why I use Apple products in the first place. Sure there are a million choices in the PC (Windows/Android) world. I can make things look this way or that. I can download this or that utility. I can use this or that hardware. But really, I don’t want to. I want my phone to be done when I buy it. I want to know what it does, and how I’m going to do it. I don’t want to scour message boards for help when I’m in over my head.

iPhoto works, iTunes works, iMovie works, iChat works, Safari works, Apple stuff works. Sure there might be a program that lets you organize photos better than iPhoto, or a faster music player than iTunes. But my Mac was handed to me preloaded with 98.3% of what I want my computer to do. You can’t put a price on that.

And before I jailbroke, my phone was the same way. So, I restored my backup, and my iPhone is back to normal. All is right with the world.

letterpress type

Some letterpress type numerals.


David, releasing his inner rockstar.

chi town

The Chicago city skyline.

@skoda on App.net @technochocolate on App.net