Keynote 6.x – Has Apple lost focus on their user base?

More than a year after first release and couple updates, I still don’t like new Keynote. I thought features like similar look and feel between OSX and iOS, new transitions, and iCloud support will win me over but…It is clear that in order to simplify this time around Apple actually added more steps for a user like me to get job done. Let’s look at simple example to understand what I mean by additional steps.

Consider changing color of an object on the chart. In Keynote 09 color tool was right there in the top menu bar, just one click away. See screen capture below:

Keynote 09

In Keynote 6.1 same tool is at least two clicks away. One for expositing the “Format” side bar from right, second to expand “Fill” menu so as to click on color tool.

Keynote 6.x

Of course one need to remember simply clicking on color shown next to “Fill” menu only exposes predefined colors and gradients based on template you are using. Which means you must expand “Fill” menu to access color wheel.

Interface is same on iOS and OSX but this is coming at cost of adding more steps for simple task like one I described above. Why would Apple do something like that?

  • Common UI is more important than fewer steps to complete a task
  • Appropriate defaults will make novice users productive quickly

First reason is really against Apple’s design principles. Second reason may be true but works only if your goal is to please novice users. BTW these novice users may realize these additional steps sooner than later as they get comfortable with the software. Quickly turning in to an annoyed user like me.

I always appreciated Keynote’s design compared to PowerPoint. Simple things like how ruler work, aligning of objects and text on a chart, and many more such features shows thoughtful design. Not just me but others who suggested Keynote over PowerPoint probably did so because of thoughtful design. Has Apple lost focus on their user base who appreciated this thoughtfulness? Or this is new Apple who is more worried about monetizing hardware than providing the best tool to get job done? We will see. As much as I like their hardware which is still the best in the industry, software (free software¬†ūüėČ is bothering me a lot lately.

Now OS X is free so as productivity apps

Today we are going to revolutionize pricing because the days of spending hundreds of dollars to get the most out of your computer are gone. Today we announce a new era of mac because today we are announcing that mavericks is free, free is good

– Craig Federighi – Keynote October 2013

I get the total experience part at the cost of providing some software free like I said here¬†recently. With this week’s keynote it is very clear that Apple is further ahead on this path. They just made operating system free so as apps required on day to day basis.

In the keynote not just Craig but Eddie Cue, Phil Schiller, and Tim Cook said software is an essential and important component of total experience, we just don’t want to charge for it. In other words buy our hardware and we will deliver complete experience by providing essential software for free.

We have entered an interesting era in software development. It seems like software development efforts are monetized either via hardware product or selling targeted ads or getting acquired by big company.

iOS apps is a business or not? Apple’s 5S & 5C launch raises the question, again

Three things I am left with after watching Apple’s¬†iPhone 5S and 5C¬†keynote.

  1. Experience not price
    For last few weeks we all read about how Apple should and will launch new cheap iPhone. In fact letter C in 5C was interpreted as cheap by analysts and pundits way ahead of actual launch. Well, cat is out of the bag now and it is nice to know that in spite of market/wall street forces, Apple decided not to make iPhone 5C free or cheap NEW iPhone. See the opening video about iTunes festival, 5C video, and Infinity Blade III demo, all screaming experience you will have as a part of Apple community essentially justifying price.
  2. 64-bit architecture hardware and software
    Launch event confirmed the speculations, A7 chip in iPhone 5S boasts 64-bit processing while iOS 7 provides 64-bit support. At the event, Infinity Blade III team was chosen to demonstrate power of new hardware and software. Watch the demo and you will know how statement was made about user experience, again.
  3. iPhoto, iMovie, Keynote, Numbers, and Pages apps are free with purchase of new iOS7 compatible hardware
    This really made me think again about my earlier post¬†When if ever Apple will enable sustainable business on the app store?¬†If apps are sold at low price (even the cool Infinity Blade III will be $6.99 only) or free (Apple’s productivity apps) I am not sure how an indie developer can build a sustainable business. Anyway, Apple made a point again about overall experience you can get out of the box if you are part of Apple’s ecosystem.

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.


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.