On Anvils and Axeheads

There’s a bizarre meme which seems to have cropped up in the technology journalism world, which can best be summed up as follows:

The iPad is a content consumption device, but has little value for content creation.

Now, if you look at Apple’s more advanced apps such as the iWork versions, iMovie, or the stunning new Garageband version, what you see very clearly, especially with Garageband, is that the iPad paradigm already does some things for content creation better than a desktop OS can. Application designers have only just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible, when freed from the necessary mindset of everything rotating around moving a single point focus-assigning dot around the screen.

The next extension of this meme seems to be that the iPad is poor for content creation specifically because there’s no programming tools on it – that in effect, you can’t create iPad software with an iPad. Some lament that this relegates the iPad to an ancillary role, forever enslaved to a desktop computer.

This argument has two main problems:

  1. So?
  2. Programs aren’t content, they’re tools.

I would argue that programming is not content creation. Content is what you make with programs. By way of analogy, consider a small village, in which you have a blacksmith, and a woodcutter.

The blacksmith uses his anvil to make axeheads, which the woodcutter then uses to cut down trees which both feed the blacksmith’s furnace, and produce rudimentary furniture. Is an axehead any less of a tool because it can’t make other axeheads? Is it any less of a tool because it can’t be used to make a hammer and nails to hold together the wood it cuts to make furniture? Do we think the axehead is a doomed or stupid tool because it can’t do these things?

Do we seriously want to use an anvil to cut wood?

The reality is that for most people, most of what they can, or would use computers to do can be done as well, if not better on an iPad. If your computing needs can’t be met by an iPad, then you’re probably not in the “most people” category. That’s something that never fails to amaze me – technical geeky types who are completely oblivious to the fact that their preferences for how technology should work are so far removed from what the general populace wants, that they can’t actually recognise that fact. You see it in tech journalism all the time, usually regarding Apple products.

iTunes Subscription Madness.

So the other day, Apple announced a change in their iOS developer rules that enables apps to have subscription billed content.

Anyone who reads a magazine app now has an Apple-mandated choice to subscribe and buy content wholly within the app. Yes, choice.

Now the tech blogosphere pundit-tards are losing their freaking minds because Apple mandated that consumers have a choice of how to subscribe, and whether they want to give their personal info to publishers. It’s easy to see why some companies like Rhapsody are looking at taking their bat and going home when you consider their sales plan:

  1. make a free app which acts as a reader / viewer for your content.
  2. Get your customers to download that app from the appstore, for which Apple will wear the hosting and bandwidth costs.
  3. Sell access to content yourself, keeping all the profits, while stiffing Apple with the expenses.

Yeah, that was going to work. Apple are idiots, you see. They’re a social-good commons that all people should be able to exploit for nothing while reaping the benefits, right?

Oh wait, that’s not what’s happening, is it? No, the way it works now is:

  1. make a free app which acts as a reader / viewer for your content.
  2. The customer chooses if they want to subscribe through your website, or internally within your App.
  3. If they buy in-app, the customer chooses if you get their personal details (which you sell to advertisers) or not.
  4. You keep 100% of revenue when you process the subscription on your site, Apple keeps 30% when it’s done as an in-app purchase.

Ironic really that pundit-tards scream about Apple locking down consumer choice, then when they actually come up with a policy that mandates consumers get a choice, it’s not the right choice. Rhapsody are talking legal action, yeah have fun with that, and many organisations are threatening to leave the platform.

Well, don’t let the door hit you in the arse on the way out. You see folks, what all these companies either fail to grasp, or are well aware of and weeping into their hats about, is a fundamental fact about what the obsession with design has meant for Apple:

Apple’s products are better at being what they are, than (any) developer’s apps or publisher’s content are at being what they are.

The iPhone is a better music player than Rhapsody is a music service. The iPad is a better tablet than the Kindle App is a book buyer/reader. For the vast majority of consumers, the Apple product experience is so much better than the competition that non-Apple “exclusive” software or content simply doesn’t enter the equation. This isn’t a matter of market abuse, monopolies or anti-trust, it’s a simple case that noone else has built a device that is close enough to being on par with Apple devices, that content availability is a factor in purchase decisions.

Why do you think the lack of Flash has meant bugger all to the vast majority of iOS users? Content is only king, if all other factors are equal.

Damn Right.

Steve Jobs’ clean, methodical takedown of Flash.

Everything about Adobe these days is summed up by this basic point.

Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

Adobe has been obsessed for the past decade with the idea of becoming a platform vendor, rather than a tool vendor. As a maker of tools in the desktop publishing era, they were fantastic, but once Acrobat became something more than a convenient printing format, and especially once they were infected by Macromedia, this ridiculous notion of Adobe as a platform, Acrobat, Creative Suite and Flash, gained ascendancy.

We are all poorer for it, because innovative nimble companies can’t get the market share and finance to directly compete with, for example, Photoshop; instead relying on crumbs by making low end, budget “recreational” visions of Adobe apps. I haven’t used CS5, but CS4’s primary characteristic is that it feels old, as in “take that old dog out behind the woodshed and shoot it”.

iPad reaction, or why Adobe is clueless.

Evergreen stalwarts of mediocrity, Adobe are crying to momma because big bad apple won’t let them play in Apple’s sandpit:

“without Flash support, iPad users will not be able to access the full range of web content, including over 70% of games and 75% of video on the web.”

As usual, Adobe have got it completely ass-backwards. Noone buys a Flash device. They buy an iPod, an iPhone or now an iPad, and they do it in ridiculous numbers. Flash not being on Apple’s devices has done exactly zero to harm sales and popularity of the device, and zero to harm the popularity and usable integrity of the platform.

Adobe’s statement would be better phrased as:

without iPhone OS suport, Flash developers and website designers will be unable to target the 100% of iPhone OS users, who represent the most financially lucrative consumer demographic. That’s why we’re falling over ourselves to salvage something with vapourware mutterings about CS5 producing “real” iPhone apps.

Oh, and while we’re talking about all those “great” flash sites, lets remember that when YouTube was faced with the opportunity of the iPhone, they went and rebuilt their entire system in h.264, and are now migrating to HTML5, Vimeo are going to HTML5, Zero Punctuation one of the web’s most popular video shows, has gone to h.264 (and the files are now about half the size of the Flash versions).

Cast your mind back to the start of the iPod, when everyone was declaring iPods to be the devil’s own product, and doomed to fail because it didn’t support .wma or .wmv or playsforsure or whatever Microsoft’s strategy of the nanosecond was. The vast majority of portable audio players supported MS’ formats, so all those poor Apple customers were being “locked out” of the “majority” of content.

Yeah, how did that work out? Anyone recall? Oh wait, Apple gouged out Microsoft’s brains and violated the corpse before playsforsure got knifed by Microsoft in favour of their next failsforsure effort, Zune.

If you want to be successful in a consumer category, you have to play in Apple’s sandpit, because noone else is capable of delivering a compelling consumer experience. The most hilarious, or perhaps pitiful aspect of this is that this situation isn’t a result of illegal, monopolistic or anti-competitive tactics by Apple, it’s just that almost everyone in the consumer electronics business actively sucks at the job in comparison.

Apple offers a manicured sandpit, your other options are craters of turned earth. Where do you want to play?

Apple Event Speculation

If Apple are about to launch a tablet style computer, I wonder if their recent purchase of an online advertising company Quattro is because they’ll be offering a centralised advertising service for tablet format publications, so that a publisher can just specify a place for an ad, and get a royalty paid direct by apple for the number of impressions the ad gets.

If they were to do this, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple had a policy of text-only, or static ads – overly animated attention stealing ads are, I suspect, the reason people have developed both cognitive blindness for banner ads, as well as ad-blocking software.

A couple of hours until we find out.

EDIT: still waiting, but I thought I’d chime in a bit about why previous tablets have largely failed – in the Windows world, they’ve been about selling a windows computer that doesn’t need a keyboard – that’s the goal as far as microsoft and OEMs have been concerned. The goal hasn’t been “create the best digital magazine experience”, where the hardware and software are just the enabler, because people in the PC world haven’t really had the big picture vision to want to move the world in a particular direction as the goal, in the way Apple did with music. Microsoft doesn’t really want to change the world, they’re the established player, keeping the world the way it is, thankyou very much, is their be all and end all goal.

Appletalk Printers and Snow Leopard

One of the changes that’s come in with the move to Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is the depreciation of Appletalk as a protocol. Despite not really being used too much on modern Macs, it has kept a whole generation of older printers running, usually with adapter dongles by companies like Asante. These bridge from Ethernet to Localtalk cabling, and allow the printer to be accessed from any other Mac on the network.

Another solution was to run a piece of software called Localtalk Bridge on an old Classic Mac OS machine (Mac OS 9 and earlier) that has both serial and ethernet ports. I found this solution had one advantage over the Asante dongle – it would stand up to large amounts of data. The Asante solution seemed to freeze up and stop responding if you sent enough graphically intensive print jobs to it. I’m assuming that it might be something to do with being unable to spit data out over the Localtalk connection as fast as it comes in over the Ethernet.

In my case, the machine doing the localtalk bridge was a first generation PowerMac 7100, running System 7.5.5, and set to load Localtalk Bridge on boot. So printing was a matter of boot the 7100 from its keyboard, wait a minute, print, then shut down by pressing the keyboard power button again, and hitting Return when you hear the beep. It was run essentially headless, connected up from its AV card s-video to composite connector, then to the video-in on a VCR (where it could be seen by hitting the AV button on the VCR remote), which acts as the broadcast TV receiver on my little studio TV.

It’s a ridiculously Rube Goldbergian printing setup.

So, when the new Mac Mini arrived with Snow Leopard, replacing the previous final generation PowerPC Mac Mini as my main machine, I was wondering how to keep my printer running. Digging through my random cable drawer, which is kindof like the Flying Spaghetti Monster mixed with The Terminator, I found one of those random cables that give you a “what the fuck is this for” moment – a USB to Parallel printer cable.

Now, I assumed this wouldn’t work. It seems so counter-intuitive that a printer which is almost old enough to engage in consensual sex would work with a brand new OS, using a connector on the computer’s end that was a science fiction idea when the printer was released, and a connector on the printer’s end that has never been used on a Mac.

I plugged the cable in, opened the Print & Fax prefpane, hit the “+” button, and there it is. Standard couple of click set up, and it’s there, custom icon and all the printing settings available.

It works. Perfectly.

So, now the old PowerMac 7100/66 AV, the first computer I owned after an Amiga 500, is finished. All that remains is for it to be wiped and taken to Anchorhead Reverse Garbage, along with the old 17″ Sony CRT that was bought with it.

If this article was of use, a donation would help support my projects.

App Store Thing

These days it’s popular to rag on Apple’s iTunes appstore. Turn to any techtard / new media douchebag commentary site, and you’ll find whining about market abuses, slow app approval blah blah blah.

Well for all the ‘tardary developers claim about the appstore, here’s a story about why the appstore can be a great thing for consumers…

As a recent iPhone buyer, I wanted a file transfer solution to provide the iPod as hard disc functionality that the classic iPods sported. So, I did a bit of research and the reviews seemed to indicate that Veiosoft’s DataCase was the best solution. I bought DataCase, and attempted to use it to back up files from my Mac.

You’ll notice the word “attempted”, yeah, not “succeeded”. Put simply, my experience of DataCase was that it probably shouldn’t be on sale. Some files I attempted to transfer over would just vanish when they arrived on the phone, and then magically cure themselves a while later. None of the files transferred over were viewable on the phone – tapping them would produce a grey screen, though if you rotated the phone’s orientation, the file would appear while it rotated, and then go back to the grey screen. The only way to view it was to go back to the file list, then tap the file a second time. The crowning fail of the app was that while it claims to support rotation, and certainly does for the file browser, when viewing movie files it has a hard-coded orientation. That’s ok if you’re right handed, and you rotate your phone counter-clockwise to put it into landscape orientation. I’m lefthanded, however, and when I rotate my phone clockwise to landscape, the app shows its file browser correctly, and then displays the movie itself upside down.

Retarded. Brutally, freaking retarded.

I deleted and downloaded the app afresh. No difference.

How does something like this get through a developer’s process?

I filed a support email with the developer, but didn’t get a response. So, I decided to try letting Apple know what I had experienced.

Whenever you download an app, you’re emailed a receipt (even for free apps). On that receipt is a “report a problem” link. So, I followed the instructions, and sent an email expressing my issues with the app – that it’s basic functionality didn’t work, and that it made claims of functional behaviour based on the experience expectations Apple provided (rotation) that wasn’t implemented correctly as the user would expect.

I asked for a refund or iTunes store credit so that I could buy a different app to do the job.

Less than a day later I received a response from Apple, and here it is… I’ve removed the CSR’s name, only because I’m not sure about the ins and outs of naming Apple employees in this situation.

Hi Matt,

[removed], here from the iTunes Store. I understand that your purchase of “DataCase” has not been functioning as expected. I’m very sorry to hear that this item did not meet the standard of quality you have come to expect from the iTunes Store. I can certainly appreciate how eager you must be to rectify this issue, and I would be more than happy to help you out with this today.

I have gone ahead and reversed the charge for “DataCase”. You will see a store credit of $8.17 plus any applicable sales tax, on your iTunes Store account in three to five business days. You may need to sign out of the iTunes Store and then sign back in before you see the credit in your account.

If you have any further questions or concerns regarding this issue, please let me know and I would be more than happy to address them for you. Thank you very much for being part of the iTunes Store family, Matt, and I hope you have a great day.

That’s good customer service. It’s perhaps an overlooked advantage of Apple acting as a gatekeeper in this market. Apple gives us certain expectations of polish, and their position as a gatekeeper means we can use their standards against developers who drop the ball.

The happy ending is that I bought Olive Toast’s Files, and it works wonderfully.