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.

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.


Hallows Thieves are year old this Halloween

Time waits for no one, this Halloween our evil witch and her loyal ghosts turned year old. Seems like just yesterday when we released our iPad only Halloween game for kids, HallowsThieves. Just today I accidentally discovered that our little game was mentioned on iPad Kids website last month, thank you Jess for including our app in your list.

We all enjoyed working on this game and we hope folks who bought this game have enjoyed it too. Here is one behind the scene story about graphics in the game.

We always wanted simple graphics which are neither too polished nor unprofessional. Mrunal tried drawing few pictures, even Manas chimed in with his talents but we were not happy with results in general. Our graphics expert Georgia suggested a nice idea that Mrunal can draw outline on piece of paper and then she will color the same afterwards. The idea worked, we got graphics like we wanted. Ghost and witch outline was drawn on paper first by Mrunal then colored by Georgia using PaintShop Pro. I am attaching some sketches here, enjoy!

PS: Kids will be out today for trick and treat, 31’st October we had lots of rain.

Halloween is around the corner

Did you start putting up Halloween decorations yet? In our neighborhood some families already did. As per as we are concerned not really. Having said that here Manas’s video from few months back when we released HallowsThieves kids game on Walpurgis Night. Do consider buying this fun game for some Halloween fun this year.

HallowsThieves – new build for Walpurgis Night

As I said in my previous post, we decided to update our HallowsThieves kids game for Walpurgis Night. Walpurgis Night or Walpurgisnacht as in German shares many of the traditions of Hallloween hence the updates at this time of the year.

So what’s new then? Well we rebuilt the game for iOS 6. + and in the process got some performance improvements. We also have new app icon. So for those who already purchased our game, do update and others please read about the same on our web site and if you like what you see there then buy it. Enjoy the festival with witch, ghosts, friends and family!!!

HallowsThieves app icon

iPad mini and HallowsThieves

Seems like yesterday when I posted our thoughts around dealing with various iPad screen resolutions in “iOS app ecosystem and shiny new Apple gadget launch” post. Month has gone, Halloween is almost here, we sold few copies of HallowsThieves, and now last week or so we were  wondering again how our game will look like on iPad mini.

Fortunately iPad mini’s screen resolution is same as iPad 2 on which we have tested our game thoroughly. iPad with retina display also received some spec updates but retained screen resolution which means our game will play just fine. So at least this time we expect   no impact on app we released.

We are working on our next app and sure will try and keep up with hardware changes Apple is introducing.

HallowsThieves – the evil laugh story

Other than graphics in the HallowsThieves kids iPad only Halloween game we knew that we needed good background music as well as sound for the witch, cat and the ghosts. We decided to record all the sounds on our own rather than using computer generated sound. I am so glad that we decided to do so.

Looking back if you ask me to choose the most enjoyable moment during the game development, I think it was when I recorded the evil laugh for the witch. Obviously I had to practice before I was ready to record. For recording I looked at various tools and decided to use GarageBand. Recording worked out very well with GarageBand on iPad. I will definitely recommend GarageBand for recording sounds.

You can hear that evil laugh in the game now.  Fun part was when my five year old son started mimicking the same, our home for those days was filled with evil laughter. I hope you will enjoy the laugh as much as I enjoyed working on it.

HallowsThieves – creating new levels of play

We were very happy with the game till Rick suggested we can make game more exciting by making some parameters configurable. Question was can we still meet our deadline of September 2012 release.  Rick thought we had a good shot at it and it was worth doing so that’s what we did. Following parameters are configurable in the game:

  • Moon – The speed of the moon is really the total time kids will have to retrieve the candies (play the game)
  • Witch – Changing the speed of the witch provides more or less chances to tap on her over the moon to retrieve candies. There is also a magic switch which when turned ON means each time you miss tapping the witch when she files past the moon you will lose collected candy from your basket.
  • Candies – You can change number of candies you need to retrieve in order to win the game
  • Ghosts – Kids can make the ghost thieves fast for an exciting challenge or slow them down a bit until they master the game

We also thought that having some predefined levels will also help hence we added three predefined levels. See below screenshot of configuration available in the game. We hope kids will like the idea of creating new levels of play, almost unlimited possibilities exist so go challenge yourself.



iOS app ecosystem and shiny new Apple gadget launch

Almost a year back when we started working on the HallowsThieves iPad-only kids Halloween game, other than software tools we knew that we needed to invest in target device, iPad for testing. The question was: other than iPad 2, do we need to budget and plan for the rumored upcoming iPad 3. Considering we wanted to release our Halloween game in September 2012, you can imagine dealing with a shiny new iPad was almost given. This is the state of the iOS ecosystem, you always need to be on your toes technologically by thinking ahead about expected iOS changes and financially by buying shiny new gadgets as you are developing iOS apps.

Rick, lead developer had a cool plan to deal with retina display iPad if it released in the market before we submitted our app for review. When Apple finally launched the new iPad with Retina display in March 2012, we were already working on the game (FWIW we were working on two products at the same time game and xxx; we’ll blog post for another day). Rick’s idea was to use high resolution graphics and scale them down for iPad 2 display dynamically. Apple’s suggestion was to use two sets of graphics; one for iPad 2 and another for the new iPad with retina display. Rick’s idea is what you see in the product today and we are very happy with the end result. This was cool not just from development point of view, but for users it meant less storage space on iPad where storage space is premium.

As we were getting ready to submit our app for review this August/early September time frame, rumor mills were churning stories not only about iPhone 5 but new iPad mini as well. We started thinking again… should we consider buying one? Will our app work as is with logic to dynamically scale images based on screen resolution? Fortunately, as it turned out there was no mention of iPad mini during Apple’s event on September 12th. Maybe Rick’s logic would have worked if that were the case, who knows… we will have to wait for iPad mini launch to find out.

Anyway, as long as we are part of the iOS ecosystem it will be challenging to keep developing apps per our plan while at the same time thinking about the impact of shiny new Apple gadgets on our app.

Shiny new gadget