Shame and anticompetitive hijinks

24 05 2012

This week, Apple pulled one of Rogue Amoeba’s iOS apps, from the App Store. Reportedly, little explanation was given. I think I might know what’s going on here.

Apple has a history of taking ideas from existing iOS apps, building them into newer versions of iOS, and then making the app essentially useless. It is kind of a dick move when you think about it for half a second. I know people like to associate that “good artists copy, great artists steal,” phrase with Steve Jobs in particular and Apple in general. Unfortunately, when hardworking independent developers get screwed over, everyone loses, even Apple.

Of course, the developer is going to take the brunt of the blow in the form of lost sales. Users who are not aware of the app from whence some iOS feature came will not know that there may be some better alternative, still on the App Store. This might keep the user experience from being as good as it might. In the end, Apple is hurting itself a little by potentially alienating developers. I know, personally, that if I worked my ass off on an app that I was proud of and Apple came along and ripped me off, I would reconsider developing for Apple’s platforms in the future.

Maybe I am completely wrong about all of this and I am just overreacting. I really hope I am. Hopefully, Rogue Amoeba’s app goes back up on the store and they go back to making money from it. Thanks for indulging this rant.


Snow Leopard will be needed to move to Lion

27 06 2011

Apple is preparing to launch the newest version of Mac OS X, Lion, sometime next month. According to an email exchange with Steve Jobs earlier this month, it will not be possible to simply install Lion on a blank drive.

In the use case scenario that I have in mind, my hard drive in my MacBook has died, so I have to swap it out for a new one. If I do not have a cloned backup of my original hard drive, but something like a Time Machine backup, then I would have to reinstall the operating system, starting with Snow Leopard, then upgrade to Lion before I could get all of my data, files, and media back on my computer.

If I did have a cloned backup, I suppose it would be possible to do a bit-for-bit restore of the orginal hard drive to the new one. Nevertheless, Apple is taking away a popular hard drive recovery option.

I does not have to be a hard drive failure. It could just as easily be a hard drive upgrade. Even so, the issues are the same. Apple makes it impossible for a user to restore their system without a lot of hassle. I have a problem with this.

Apple has always made system restoration so easy in Mac OS X. They may be taking the Mac App Store thing a bit too far by insisting that people upgrade there and there only and making it the only way to restore your system after a new, blank hard drive is put in. Hopefully, Apple will change its mind and allow for users to create their own boot disks, whether on USB flash drive or DVD.

Apple’s AirPlay UX for the iPhone needs some work

28 12 2010

Apple pushed out iOS 4.2 with 4.2.1 on November 22. With it came AirPlay, a service that allows users to stream audio, video, and photo content from their iOS-powered devices to a television, stereo, or some other device. The AirPlay UI works by allowing the user to tap a control in the iPod app, next to the “Forward/Next” button to bring up a list of available AirPlay devices on the local network. If there are no available TVs or stereos, the AirPlay button does not appear. This is when a really annoying issue pops up.

AirPlay screenshot This AirPlay UI works well on the iPad. On the iPhone, it could do with some tweaking. In my opinion, Apple is trying to cram too much into the lower portion of its iPod app interface. When there are AirPlay devices available to an iPhone or iPod touch, you have Back, Play/Pause, Forward, and AirPlay put right against each other, leaving little room for error when pressing one of these buttons, the Play/Pause button in particular.

One of my coworkers has AirPlay enabled on his computer at work. Thus, it shows up on my iPhone. On several occasions, I have accidentally hit the Forward button instead of Play/Pause. This is a minor annoyance when I am listening to a 3-minute song. However, this becomes more of an issue when I am halfway through a 90-minute podcast. There is no way to recover from this user error except to manually scrub the track and try to find where you left off.

I have no data on how many iPhone/iPod touch users actually take advantage of AirPlay. It does not seem like a killer app. Apple could probably move the AirPlay control to a place on the UI that is a little more obscure. They could move it to the iPod prefpane, above the track list, or below the track timeline.

Again, this not a fatal flaw, but it is annoying. It feels like a marketing call than a design decision. There are a few alternatives to what they did with this, but this is really not working.

Ping is a mistake for Apple

1 09 2010

Today, Apple announced that they are opening their own music-centric social network called Ping. This might be a good idea if it were an independent company, but not Apple.

Ping screenshot

Screenshot from September 1 Apple music event

The big problem lies in Apple allowing users to comment on artists, albums, et cetera. As someone who spends a fair amount of time on YouTube, Digg, and other places  that allow user comments. The problem with having an open forum where anyone can say anything is that anyone can say anything.

On YouTube, in particular, discussion is not nearly as rich as one would like and is laden with swearing, bad grammar and spelling, trolling, and off-topic discussion. Apple, which is so concerned with its outward public perception, may be biting more than it can chew by hosting user-generated content, especially semi-anonymous comments that are only tethered to their respective authors by an iTunes Store account.

Apple has had, one more than one occasion, deleted threads and posts in their discussion forums. It has, albeit with limited success, deleted applications from the App Store based on its content. In one case, Apple was worried about bad press. In the other, Apple was worried about about general public perception of its social and cultural values.

Unless Apple wants to get into the business of moderating what could very well turn into a never-ending, ever-increasing deluge of comments, this is going to be a mistake for a company that obsesses over its public image as much as Apple. I certainly believe that Ping has a chance to be a very popular platform for the discussion of relatively unknown, indie music, where trolls and the like are not likely to turn up. Discussion on more popular music will be completely useless due to the inevitable torrent of comments, most of which will undoubtedly be asinine and pointless.

I could be wrong, but I do not think that Ping will turn out the Apple is pitching it. Then again, what has?

Update: Told ya.

No more back scratches!

21 06 2010

I had to write about this. This may piss off some iPhone case makers. Apple’s newly-announced iPhone 4 is using the same scratch-resistant tempered glass on the back as it is on the front.

Any iPod or iPhone owner could tell you that the polished backs of all of these devices have had a difficult time with tiny scratches. These devices always look so shiny and beautiful when they come out of the box for the first time, but then they are tarnished by life in the real world, (just like people).

I do not think this blog post exists for any reason beyond my excitement that I may own an iPhone 4 (or possibly iPhone 5) and that it will not need a case the way my 3GS does now.

How background applications could work on the iPhone

26 01 2010

As with any product made by Apple, the iPhone’s interface and overall user experience could be improved in a few areas. Ars Technica has compiled a list of twelve features that they would like to see in iPhone OS 4.0. The final item on that list is multitasking and running multiple applications on the iPhone.

The reasons that Apple has given for not already including this feature on the first three iterations of the iPhone OS are perfectly valid. The battery life of the phone would suffer. There is limited memory. There are limited processor cycles. However, the iPhone seems to be directed towards technologically savvy consumers. One might reason that the majority of iPhone owners would be willing to suffer deteriorated battery life in order to get multitasking.

The usability issue with not having multitasking capabilities is that the user would have to leave an application in order to run another application. An example would be trying to send an email to schedule an appointment. One would have to leave, open, get the desired information, and return to to finish the email. This process may even have to be repeated several times in the course of writing that email.

Mac OS X has an excellent application switcher in the form of Cmd-Tab. There is no reason that some adaptation of this could not be ported to the iPhone. A shake gesture could be set up to call up the switcher. The double-press of the Home button could also be configured for this.

As for background applications, like an instant messenger application, those could be set up and enabled for background processes just like Apple has set up push notifications in iPhone OS 3.0. There is no need for an ugly Windows-style process manager. Just show a simple list of applications that have background capability and whether or not it is enabled. It could be as simple as that.

Apple has the ability to allow people who want multitasking and background processes to do it effectively. Hopefully, this feature will make an appearance in iPhone OS 4.0 sometime this year.

Don’t like the App Store review verdict? Write Steve Jobs

2 12 2009

The developer who produced the live video streaming iPhone application “Knocking™ live video” wrote an impassioned letter to Steve Jobs after the Pointy Heads, LLC-produced application was rejected. It was rejected for a very valid reason: it used a private API. This is a faux pas in most programming circles.

A private API in the iPhone SDK is an API that was included by Apple but is not supported officially in any way. The API was written and included mainly to assist Apple’s own internal development efforts, not those of third-party developers. Essentially, the Pointy Heads developers have built a tripod and one of the legs could disappear at any moment.

When one finds the “Knocking live video” application in the App Store, the ratings are less than confidence-inspiring. The average rating barely musters above one out of five stars. Many of the reviews simply state that the application did not work as advertised.

Screen shot 2009-12-02 at 9.40.52 PM.png

This only serves to emphasize the need for App Store reform. Excellent, experienced developers can have their applications rejected for arbitrary ridiculous reasons. However, if you are a mediocre developer but a good speech writer, then you stand a better chance of getting your app into the store right away.