Personal information collected *is* the product

Do you read the privacy policy for an app or website your child uses? I do.  I don’t enjoy reading privacy policies written in cryptic legalese but I force myself to do it.  The least I want to know is how collected information will be monetized.  Is it going to be used to sell me another product or to sell my information to third parties? Selling information to third parties raises my concern, for obvious reasons.

Check out the results of  global project about personal information collected.  If you have not read privacy policies in the past, these results may make you see why it is in your interest to do so.  29 data regulators reviewed apps and websites either designed for children or popular with children.  These efforts were part of The Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN) “Privacy Sweep”.

About the GPEN Privacy Sweep

The goals of the Sweep initiative included: increasing public and business awareness of privacy rights and responsibilities; encouraging compliance with privacy legislation; identifying concerns that may be addressed with targeted education and/or enforcement; and enhancing cooperation amongst privacy enforcement authorities.

What are the concerns raised?

Privacy Ranking

I am sad to see that 71%  of websites and apps don’t even offer a way to delete an account once it is created.  67% of  sites and apps reviewed do collect personal information from children.

Why is that? It is clear to me that information collected is the product.  Information through relevant advertisements turns in to money.  Have people given up on making money by selling  apps? It seems that the main source of revenue is advertising, and not just for free apps but also for paid apps.  Advertising without collecting personal information cannot be relevant, and hence is ineffective.  So you need personal information to make advertisements; a vicious cycle.  On a positive not,e at least 31% had some control in place to limit information collected.  24% encouraged parental involvement, which is also a good sign.  We need more apps and websites that behave like this.

Let’s look at US specific findings as part of this global project.  Bureau of Consumer Protection reviewed total 364 apps.  Review included 183 apps from Apple’s store and 181 apps from Google’s store.  45% of the apps reviewed had a direct link on the app store to their privacy policy.  Yet, 38 apps had privacy policy placed in hard-to-find places.  So, in essence, only 35% of the apps had a direct link to their privacy policy.  Quite alarming.  Also many apps did not inform parents about the app’s features to collect personal information.

I understand that developing software is difficult, and we need a way to monetize our efforts.  For us at “designX6” it is a simple decision.  We make money by selling software, not by selling advertisements in our software.  As an example,the  Hallows Thieves game we created in 2012 has no advertisements, or in-app purchases.  We also do not collect any user information.  Over the last few months we worked on a new version of this app, keeping our philosophy of “sell apps, not personal information.”

Pay one price, and play the game on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch with our Universal app release.  We have some improved animations this time for ghosts and candies.  We hope you will like our spin on these characters in the game.  Go get the Hallows Thieves from the app store this Halloween, and rest assured that the app will not collect any personal information from users–simple as that.

Lot of us are willing to buy an app for ad-free browsing

It is clear that there many people do not like ads on the web pages we browse on our iOS devices. Apps which provides ad-free browsing experience are always in top 10 paid app list.  The iOS9 release included “Content Blocker API” made it possible to create such apps.

iPhone top 10

As you can see, “Crystal” and “Purify Blocker” apps are still in the list.  Marco Arment though decided to pull his app Peace from the store.  For 36 hours, “Peace” was at the  number 1 position in the top paid app category.

Is this just a fad? Or is there a clear message for content creators who depend on ad revenue to figure out another model? What you think?

iPad top 10

Watermelon: anger on the inside contained by joy on the outside

We watched the movie Inside Out with Manas this summer.  After watching the movie emotions were high in our day-to-day conversations with Manas.  Last Sunday as we were having breakfast, Manas was making a weird sound, which for no good reason irritated me.  I told him that I was getting angry and on our anger scale I had reached “Pineapple” anger.

Anger Scale

As you can see, our anger scale is based on fruits.  We have used this scale since Manas was in preschool.  In our experience, it helps him (and us) calm down by talking about how you feel at the moment.  Anyway, Manas continued making the weird sound, ignoring my anger scale warning.  Finally I said “I am at Watermelon level now”, which means am going to burst.

That’s when suddenly he stopped me and said, I want to share an analogy with you.  Watermelon’s green shell keeps juicy red pulp which is anger, inside.  In Inside Out green Joy keeps red Anger inside, rather than anger showing up outside all the time.

Inside Out – Joy

“Wow, that was deep”, I thought to myself.

How can I keep my anger after that wonderful analogy? We talked again some more about emotions over the breakfast.  Kids never stop surprising you.

The Start of the Majestic World

Do you like conspiracy thriller books?  Then enjoy the new novella by a talented upcoming author from the designX6 team, entitled The Start of The Majestic World.  Here is a sample chapter reading from the book.

Below is the book description from Amazon:

Agents Maynard and Brett are no strangers to complex mysteries and morally grey assignments. When they are sent in pursuit of a mysterious rabble-rousing radio personality, however, they stumble upon a web of conspiracy and betrayal beyond anything they could have imagined. As events lead them from the brooding hills of Appalachia to the remotest wastes of Siberia to the deserts of the American southwest, they discover unlikely allies and twisted madmen, scientists bent on playing God, and mounting evidence hinting at sinister machinations that threaten the entire nation. With each thrilling episode, the ever-escalating power and scope of the danger they face forces them to call upon all their skills and experience to survive.

Enjoy!

Is iOS ecosystem healthy?

Neil Cybart’s article on declining iPad sales is astute and worth reading.  Neil in this post observes that iPad is mostly used as a device to consume contents.  To grow sales again, Apple need to transform iPad in to a content creation device.

By selling a device that is truly designed from the ground-up with content creation in mind, the iPad line can regain a level of relevancy that it has lost over the past few years. In every instance where the iPad is languishing in education and enterprise, a larger iPad with a 12.9-inch, Force Touch-enabled screen would carry more potential. Simply put, the iPad needs to stand out from the iPhone and Macbook. The iPad Air and iPad mini aren’t doing it.

Finding iPad’s Future : Neil Cybart (10 August 2015, 3410 words)

I think just new hardware is not enough for content creation.  I agree with Khoi Vinh’s thoughts on why iPad sales has declined.

To me, the central issue is whether Apple is functioning as an effective steward for the iPad as a platform. Are they creating the right conditions for it to succeed? Are they innovating iPad technology, both hardware and software, quickly and aggressively enough? Is Apple setting the stage for must-have software on the iPad?

More practically, you could ask: are developers getting what they need in order to create breakout software specific to the iPad? Have we seen iPad-specific apps that are so compelling that consumers feel that they must own iPads in order to use them?

iPad Sales on a Downward Trajectory : Khoi Vinh (1 May 2015, 1226 words)

Lukas Mathis also highlights iOS issues as well lack of interest from iOS app developers.

iOS is a cumbersome system for even reasonably complex productive tasks. Apple has started fixing the window management problem, but there’s still the document management problem1 (most real-world tasks involve multiple documents from multiple sources — there’s pretty much no way to organize and manage document from different applications in iOS), and the workflow problem (many real-world tasks involve putting the same document through multiple apps, which iOS is still not great at, albeit getting better).

And then there’s the fact that few developers are willing to invest a lot of money into productive apps on the iPad. They are expensive to create, the market is small, and Apple’s handling of how apps are sold on its devices does not instill confidence.

The thing that’s preventing people from using the iPad productively is not the small screen, it’s the operating system.

 – iPad: A Consumption Device, After All? : Lukas Mathis (14 August 2015, 1493 words)

It is clear that common thought here is lack of software innovation.  Is software really important for Apple? Do Apple believe creating good quality software takes fair amount of work? Apple is giving away their software for free for a long time now.  They also created a market where users expect either free or cheap software.  I have written about this concern earlier here and here in 2013.

Brent Simmon’s post on making living by selling apps is accurate and disheartening at the same time.

Yes, there are strategies for making a living, and nobody’s entitled to anything. But it’s also true that the economics of a thing may be generally favorable or generally unfavorable — and the iOS App Store is, to understate the case, generally unfavorable. Indies don’t have a fighting chance.

The platform is awesome. We love writing iOS apps. It’s fun and massively rewarding in every way except monetarily. As a craft — as a budding art form, perhaps — it’s juicy.

Love : Brent Simmons (30 June 2015, 850 words)

Based on our own experience, developing good quality software is difficult and definitely not free.  It is hard to stay motivated without fair return for the work involved in developing good software.  Having said that we are going ahead with our plan to release Hallows Thieves like I said earlier this month.  We believe this is the the right thing to do.  We want our app in the app store to deliver 100% of benefits and features we promised you.  It is sad that simple program like Hallows Thieves is broken within just couple releases of iOS.  Apple must pay attention to software quality as they add/update their software platform.


PS: Just noticed a nice article,

Meanwhile, the irony is that it’s not actually the gold that’s the luxury but the software – that tap on the wrist telling you to turn left. In a sense, the gold case is an accessory to the software in the same way that the strap is an accessory to the watch.

How is the Apple watch doing? : Benedict Evans (13 August 2015, 1654 words)

Well said, hope Apple has plans to make iOS ecosystem exciting, again.

 

You will get a new version of Hallows Thieves, soon!

Have you played Hallows Thieves game lately? Default levels for the play (Easy, Medium, and Hard) we created are just right.  For the adventurous players, we created “custom” setting.  See the screen below.

We have a problem with slider control now.  Everything else works just fine.  So you can play the game as usual without realizing something a miss.  Adventurous kids and parents are probably missing custom setting.

We think that with iOS 8 major or some minor release, slider control stopped working.  We realized the problem around mid of April 2015.  Thanks to our tester, Manas.  Our first thought was to recompile and release the update.  That plan did not go well.  Codes which were just fine when we released the game in October 2012 now simply would not compile.  Classic example of taking technical debt by using a platform.  Probably iOS 8 release deprecated something we were using.

Anyway, time to move on and fix the problem.  Just today Hallows Thieves app got approved for distribution through Apple’s TestFlight Program.

So what’s new? We are building Hallows Thieves from scratch again.  Big plus for you is more value for the same money.  This time our witch and ghosts are universal.  I mean we are building universal app.  Buy once and play the game on iPhone, iPod-touch, and iPad.  We are also adding some animations to the game.  For example candies now bounce in the basket and ghosts swirl as they try and protect candies.

For techies out there, all codes are in Swift and we are using SpriteKit now.  We hope Apple will provide better support for these tools going forward.  With this release we are ready to payoff our technical debt due to use of iOS platform.

For all existing users this will be a free update.  We are sorry for inconvenience caused due to slider control defect.  If you can not wait for the official release, please email us.  We will be happy to include you in pre-release beta test group.


PS : Our beta release build is a solid build and well tested by designX6 team members.  We do not expect crash or any other system wide issue in the beta build.

How do you know quality of software in a car?

When did you purchase your car? In last 5-7 years? How would you describe your car purchase? A car with some advanced software or advanced software with a car?

Car manufacturer’s of hybrid and electric cars are the leaders in using software to provide more functionality and value to the customer. For that matter Tesla and other electric cars can be aptly described as a computer with wheels, steering, electric motor, and a giant battery.

So how much of the car we buy today is software? I could not get a list of Electronic Control Unit (ECU – microprocessor unit which runs software) and the function of each unit from car manufacturer’s web site. However I noticed a nice IEEE Spectrum article which has a table for functionality delivered by software. Also there is a list of ECU’s shared on Priuschat forum. Take a look at the table below which is based on information from these two resources. It is clear that not just hybrid and electric cars, almost all cars today have more software controls than ever.

Car ECU

If software is everything in a car then how do you and I know quality of the software? How can I compare software from Toyota with say software from Honda?

Consumer Reports reports on 17 trouble spots and J. D. Power study looks at 177 specific problem symptoms grouped into eight major vehicle categories. See table below to know these trouble spots and problem categories.

ConsumerReport & J.D.Power

Both survey depends on users like you and I to report the problems. As you will notice there is no category called “software”. May be because software is everywhere hence cannot be a category on its own or may be because when we report on say transmission issue car manufacturer knows it is actually a software issue.

What about publications like “Car and Drivers” where they conduct various tests and publish comparison report? See below list of parameters on which cars are compared against each other.

  • Power train
  • Chassis
  • Acceleration
  • Driving experience

Here also there is no mention of software as one of the parameter for comparing cars.

Should we as a consumer start demanding software specifications and test results? Do we care enough to ask for better quality software? Considering various recalls recently due to software issues for Prius, Ford Fiesta and Focus, Honda Acura MDX/RLXHyundai Santa Fe, GM Cadillac XTS and Impala I just don’t see how we can ignore the problem. I think acknowledging and understanding complexity will be the first step in the right direction.


PS:
1. Yes I am aware that crashes attributed to vehicle issues are tiny (~2%) compare to crashes due to driver error (~94%) according to NHTSA crash stats and data referred in wikipedia article. Per NHTSA crash stats that translates to ~44’000 crashes out of ~2 million estimated crashes for the period 3 July 2005 through 31 December 2007.
2. I am sure you have heard about several software issues with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and just two weeks before Airbus A400M military transport aircraft crashed probably due to a software glitch killing four crew members on board. Issue is certainly not unique to cars alone.

Cook With Me sales across the globe

I wish we knew how to contact customers who bought Cook With Me from app store simply to say thank you.  We are pleasantly surprised to see sales trickling in from all regions of the world not just USA.  See below last few weeks of sales for our recipe app per geography.

Cook With Me Sales

Considering ours is not a free app and we make it clear in release notes that app contains only 27 rice recipes, good to know that pricing and simplicity of app is appreciated by customers like you.  Thank you from all of us at designX6.  We plan to update our app soon with few more recipes and some exciting features.

PS: We will be thrilled if you have bought our app and want to reach out to share your feedback with us.  We are hungry for your critique.

Recipes written in simple steps

Today is Sunday.  It is raining outside, well I should say more like torrential downpours like most monsoon days in Kota Rajasthan north of India.  I am visiting a friend, Sandeep from my college after almost six years.

A nice hot tea made with ginger tastes so good on such day, and that’s exactly what my friend offers when I reach his apartment.  We quickly go back in memory lane and talk about our college days over a hot cup of tea.  Few hours later, hunger strikes.  With such heavy rain outside, Sandeep suggests we should simply cook at home.  His plan is to make a mix vegetables with curry and chapati, Indian bread.  I am impressed that Sandeep has learned cooking.

I help with what I can, cut the vegetables.  Cauliflower, green bell paper, potato, onion, tomato, green beans, and green chilies.  Sandeep then asks to grate ginger and garlic.  So far so good, we are making progress.  Sandeep is on to kneading the dough for the bread.  In just few minutes he is done, I am impressed already.  Sandeep starts making chapati and on another stove I help with sautéing vegetables.  In less than hour and half we are ready to eat.

We devour on freshly made chapati and mix vegetables.  Sandeep prepared an excellent meal for us, very tasty.  Now you should know that I know nothing about cooking.  This food is an inspiration to start cooking.  I am thinking when I go home I should be able to cook something like this.  I ask for recipe and Sandeep suggests I should write recipe based what I have seen in the kitchen and he will help with any edits as necessary.  Sure I will send my notes shortly, I said.  Rain is slowing down now and with awakening of reality to go to work next day, we both decided to call it a day.

To write down recipe in small steps, turned out to be lot harder than I thought.  I did my best to write recipe that included ingredients, measure, steps, cooking time, and heat.  Sandeep has to correct a lot of what I wrote.  In the end, we created a winner recipe which I used lot many times in years to follow.

After almost twelve years, in 2012 when we decided to work on Cook With Me, we decided to write recipes in steps.  Remembering my experience with writing such recipe, I thought this is going to be more difficult than it appears.  In spite of work involved, I knew that such efforts are well worth the efforts.

Mrunal started writing recipes in steps and on countless occasions I argued with her about some difficult steps.  Striking a balance between too simple and too complex is difficult.  We understand that there is no one answer and what we created in our first release of the app is just a starting point.  Based on my own experience, I can surely say that simple format helps with cooking and encourages you to write recipes which your family and friend may actually put to use.  We look forward to adding ability to create and share your recipes in our simple format, soon.  Till then enjoy Mrunal’s recipes we offer in Cook With Me, hope you like the recipes and simplicity of the format.