Articles for July 2013

iOS 7 beta 4 – Slide to unlock

iOS 7 beta 4 is here. Finally Apple addressed slide to unlock usability issue with which I struggled several times. See the new home screen below where now arrow points the direction in which you need to swipe to unlock the screen.

 

Chromecast streaming stick and iPod nano refresh in 2008

Have you watched Chromecast intro keynote on YouTube? The way Mario Queiroz introduced the Chromecast reminded me immediately how Steve Jobs has introduced iPod mini, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle in the past. Tiny size but power of the device was touted so as the simplicity in using the device was stressed in Steve’s keynote as well in Chromecast intro keynote.

Check Mario version first when he shows Chromecast:

Now take a look at Steve introducing iPod Nano refresh on September 9, 2008:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWCcHMtIoLQ#t=16m32s

Similarity right down to “I happen to have one in my pocket” is funny. We will call it as just a coincidence.

Web as a book-publishing medium

Matthew Butterick published Practical Typography on the web. Simple to the point advice for understanding and implementing principles of typography in writing any document. Matthew call this as an experiment to see if web can be used as book-publishing medium. I sincerely hope his experiment succeeds and we see more books from him and others on the web with such a nice format, flow, and good contents. 

App analytics company says free apps with ads are winners

Flurry which offers their app analytics service for free concluded that since customers are not willing to pay for apps/contents, free apps with ads are the winners as per as monetizing your development efforts goes. I see couple of problems with this theory.

  •  “While consumers may not like in-app advertising, their behavior makes it clear that they are willing to accept it in exchange for free content, just as we have in radio, TV and online for decades” Really? Some free to air channels are fine but what about cable TV and paid radio channels like SiriusXM?
  • Monetizing your development efforts is challenging no doubt. Free apps with ads trumps in-app purchases is true probably only when app is in the top chart on more than one app store and or you have funding available to wait long enough for return on investment. Quick glance at top chart in app store confirms this theory. Generalizing the win of free apps with ads is same as chart you see in the article about average price / app. With million+ apps, and billion+ downloads “Average” price per app even by weighted monthly average has no meaning. Just because more developers are making their apps free does not mean that they figured out way to make money and we all need to follow that.

When if ever Apple will enable sustainable business on the app store?

Ben Thompson of Stratechery wrote thought provoking three-part series on why Apple is hesitant to enable sustainable businesses on the app store. In first two parts of the series Ben describes examples each from productivity apps and casual games to prove how Apple is not supporting a sustainable business. In the third part, “Apple has been burned by productivity apps before” is an interesting section. Yes, Apple do want to ensure that no app becomes stronger than Apple hardware. I do think though that Apple will turn around and enable sustainable business on app store sooner than later. Rather it will be interesting to see how long Apple decides to defer this topic.

Most will agree that after initial success of Macintosh, high price and limited range of software titles was a big factor for slowing Macintosh sales. Not just that but Guy Kawasaki’s comment about PageMaker in the book The Macintosh Way (p.23) “PageMaker is the Aldus product that launched desktop publishing. The creation of PageMaker was an act of God specifically intended to save Apple” explains very well importance of third party software back then for Apple.

Things did change with huge success of iPod. As much as iPod success was about design, availability of iTunes on Windows helped enormously. John Gruber’s classic “Why 2004 Won’t Be Like 1984” explains how Apple’s music platform with huge market share placed Apple in very different position than in 1984. This time around though in-house development to help users who are not on Apple hardware deemed necessary by Apple to grow the market share and mind share. Software’s availability did played a big role in success of Apple’s hardware just like old times with PageMaker .

Of course by the time iPhone was launched, Apple understood benefit of dominating market with their hardware. Even with that there is no denying that availability of third party apps changed iPhone sales trajectory big time. No matter how much Steve Job’s resisted the idea of enabling third party apps, third party apps not just helped iPhone sales but became booming business on it’s own for Apple, probably beyond even Apple’s imagination. Today there are lot many developers willing to create free or low price app but I hope Apple is not taking this privilege for granted. As much as developers want to be part of growing Apple ecosystem, Apple also needs this flock on their side. Marketshare and mindshare without availability of apps for your hardware is difficult if not impossible.

If availability of software is must have then well designed quality apps can take popularity of your platform to another height. No doubt Apple helps with better design experience for developers from very beginning though Apple’s consumers as well developers appreciated good design which continues till date. Point I am trying to make is design and quality of apps does come in to play once availability issue is dealt with. Well designed quality app takes time to build and efforts need to be monetized to stay in business not just at the time of launch but subsequently also. Can Apple afford not to have design minded developers / content creators on their side? Or the new game is more favorable for big gaming companies churning hits (free or low price paid apps) now and then on multiple platforms? I would like to believe that design minded indie developers / content creators are important to Apple. Hopefully Apple will take steps to ensure that these design minded developers / content creators stays in business within Apple’s ecosystem.

The psychology of advertising in theory and practice

Open Library is a great place for reading thousands of books online specially the ones which are very old and in some cases are out of print even. I am reading “Psychology of advertising in theory and practice” book at the moment written by Walter Dill Scott in 1921. Fascinating to see a book that old talking about illusion, perception, memory recall, instinct, and so on and relate that with advertising. Also interesting is to see some old ads, visuals, copyright just exciting.

Which plate works great for taking food photos?

From early on we decided Mrunal will take all recipe pictures in her kitchen. Essentially no food photography simply the pictures which you and I can relate with and easy to shoot using point and shoot or digital SLR available at home.

Easier said than done. We started seeing issues with our plan as soon as we started. Biggest issue was with plates we were using for plating. They were shiny. We thought, how difficult it would be to find plates which are not shiny but have matte finish instead? So the hunt started. Mrunal shopped in stores like Walmart, Meijer, Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Home Goods, World Market, and even an antique store. Georgia tried stores like Target, The Container Store, and so on. Pretty much anything in and around our town. We bought some plates we thought would work. Find below some pictures of our hunt for perfect plate.

Rick even tried hand painting some plates Georgia bought to get a matte finish look we were looking for. Though pictures looked good we discarded the idea as these plates were good for one time use only. They could not withstand washing /cleaning after each plating. See below Rick’s hard work.

 

Thanks to Georgia, she discovered “Heath Ceramics” plates online. These plates turned out to be perfect for what we were looking. We would recommend buying these plates. Good for everyday use and of course great for taking recipe pictures.

Beet rice

 

We use Trello, do you?

In the past we relied heavily on Dropbox for sharing documents within the team. We were sharing following type of documents on Dropbox.
+ App ideas – Text document to capture ideas we may pursue beyond apps already in works
+ Prototypes for app we are building – Developed in Inkscape, PaintShop Pro, or Keynote
+ Release road maps – Text file for HallowsThieves game as well recipe app in making
+ App store – Text files for keywords we would like to use in the store, app description etc.
+ Story of the app – Text file to capture core idea of the app we are building
+ Pricing – Thoughts and proposals around pricing
+ Info/Observations about competitive apps
+ Recipes – Text and JSON files
+ Recipes Photos
+ To-do list

Number of documents kept growing over period of time. For a while we did a good job with creating folder structure to have some order to the information we wanted to share. Very soon though folder structure seemed more like burden to maintain and even too rigid some times.  We also have to keep track of comments/feedback about documents in our emails separately.

That’s when we decided to try Trello. I know what you are thinking, Trello as Dropbox replacement does not make much sense. Trello does not even allow you to attach file more than 10 MB to a Trello card. Having said that in our case though as much we were sharing files, we were actually sharing information. Information which is organized in some folder structure. Yes we could have thought about some content management system or TWiki but we decided to try Trello instead. Glad we did. Trello helps us organize information in much flexible way. Our information is organized in three boards. Two for two products we have and one for “Everything Else”. We also stayed with default lists “To-Do’, “Doing”, and “Done” within each board to manage information as individual cards in the list. We share our feedback via comments attached to the cards rather than separate email thread(s).

In summary if you are looking for simple way of organizing information, sharing thoughts/comments about the information you want to share, try Trello. Joel Spolsky and team thank you for building and sharing such a useful tool with all of us.

If “PowerPoint” limits your thinking use “Word”

My cousin, Sameer always likes to ask about book(s) I am reading when we talk. Probably he likes recommendations from someone he knows rather than anonymous reviews on Amazon and other book stores. Few weeks back when we were having a conversation, apart from other topics as expected he asked about books I was reading. I was reading an interesting book “How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid…” by Franck Frommer back then with one or two other books. After our conversation I sent him an email with links to the books I was reading. As I was writing the email to Sameer, various thoughts crossed my mind about subject of the book, the infamous PowerPoint slides.

Looking back at my fifteen or more years in small and big companies, I could not agree more with Franck’s observations about PowerPoint (or include Apple’s Keynote as well) usage and growing popularity of the same in the business world. It is true that in the business world PowerPoint usage is so ubiquitous that meeting without PowerPoint slides is almost unthinkable.

All these years I have created hundreds of PowerPoint presentations for business meetings. In recent years though I started realizing shortcoming’s of PowerPoint / bullet point thinking more and more. As much as I wanted to point fingers to practices followed in the business world, it dawned on me that I am also not doing anything different to break away from what it seems like a norm now. In the process it’s me who is now reduced to few good bullet points and that’s all. The thought was very very scary. Anyway I am trying different things in the business world in last 3-4 years and more so in life outside business world. Today I thought about sharing what I am doing in the business world to ensure my thoughts are not reduced to only few good bullet points.

I started creating a word document per project. Yes a word document which captures all my thoughts about what is that we are trying to do, who is target customer, competitive information, sales strategy, risks and mitigation’s, value proposition, and so on. All the elements of a typical business plan. I capture all this with one twist though. I do not use predefined standardized business plan template. I believe use of template leads to same mediocre thinking which comes with starting with PowerPoint slides. Goal of writing such document for me is to liberate from bullet point thinking. Express my thoughts more like a story instead a disciplined business document. Act of writing such document is helping me enormously. I am more prepared than ever on the subject and at the same time able to satisfy my creative needs. I will post things I am trying outside business world in some future post(s) till then “Happy Writing!!”