Jun 172011
 

I just made up a maxim about online security firms. How do you know a computer security expert that is offering advice is pimping his own products? His lips are moving. While the majority of PC security alarmists are correct that people need to lock up the silverware when they announce the latest catastrophic Windows or Flash vulnerability, they’ve been a little more “cry” than “wolf” when it comes to pronouncements about the insecurity of Apple’s platforms. Case in point: Kaspersky’s CTO Nikolay Grebennikov, who thinks Apple needs to open up iOS to allow the “security pros” to handle locking down threats that are coming any day now.

“The Android platform, which is growing its market share, is much more open than the Apple iOS and it’s easier to create new applications for Android, including security software”. Ah yes. The beauty of “open”. Want to know why security software is required for Android? It’s a platform that allows average users to approve an app’s access to processes on their shartphone about which they don’t have a clue. It’s a platform that doesn’t vet apps submitted to its market, allows apps downloaded from shadow markets to be sideloaded onto its devices, and relies on the hobbyist community to report malware to Google for apps in their own Market. But please, Nikolay, continue…

“Apple is the only protector of its iPhone and iPad users but they don’t know the real situation with threats. It’s not possible to create the products they create, and be a world leader in security too; that expertise is elsewhere.” That’s why Apple has an actual approval process to get an app in their App Store, doesn’t allow apps to be sideloaded onto their devices and sandboxes its apps’ access to system resources. You say “closed”; I say “secure”.

I know it sucks to be relegated to the business equivalent of fogging up the glass of the App Store from the outside, licking your chops at the billions in potential revenue you’re missing out on because iOS doesn’t need your voodoo. But if you check down a couple of doors and go to the Android storefront, you’ll find they’ve had 3 instances of malware in their Market in the last month alone. I’m sure you two have plenty to talk about.

May 142011
 

Mark Reschke, one of the three wise men over at Three Guys and a Podcast (T-GAAP) posits that Amazon – and the recent intimations that the company will be releasing a competitor to the iPad – is the biggest threat to Apple.

They shouldn’t be, but they are.

Although Amazon isn’t what I’d call a hardware company, they obviously have experience with its manufacturing. I also wouldn’t call the Kindle an unmitigated success: it wasn’t until Amazon slashed its price in response to the announcement of the iPad that they were anything but a niche product. To this day, no one knows how many of these things have been sold, let alone what the margins on them are.

The credential that makes Amazon dangerous to Apple is the reason I recommended they take over the Android Market: their selling infrastructure, specifically with media. This, combined with their size, makes them a capable adversary for Apple.

Why size? Because Andy Rubin’s shop isn’t going to yield significantly on the Android experience to a nobody – especially with all the mouth moving at Google’s I|O about anti-fragmentation. And as Reschke mentions, for Amazon’s tablet to be successful, it’s going to have to deviate from other offerings to leverage the strength of their media library. If Google is interested in having their Android tablets do anything but fail miserably, Amazon is their best bet.

Game on, Bezos.

Apr 282011
 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Google’s Android OS for mobile devices will doom Apple’s iOS soon. Witness the impending savage brutality:

The analyst’s conclusion: Android will overtake iOS by July of this year. Looks pretty obvious from this graph, right? Not really.

1. Where did you people learn statistics?

Wanna hear something awesome? I will be a millionaire by the the time I retire and I have the statistics to prove it. You see: I found $100 bill on the street today. If you assume that I will find $100 on the street every day for *cough* *ahem* *cough* years, and allow for compounding at a modest interest rate, I will be a millionaire around 65. Screw the IRA!

Distimo used the February-March 2011 month-to-month data to project the June numbers. I know this because they say so in their write-up. Taking month-to-month growth of an app ecosystem and extending a line from it is as meaningless an exercise as taking any 2 short-term data points and extending a trend line from the segment formed. And speaking of drawing…

2. Where did you people learn to draw?

Maybe it’s me, but do you see the line come off a little “flat” for iOS in March and get a little goosed for Android around mid April? You guys know something we don’t? Wanna let us in on it?

3. Try looking up “ringtones” in the Android Market.

Wanna guess how many of these apps are conduits for pirated, copyright/trademark-violating properties? If you guessed “a shit-ton”, you’d be correct. People used to joke about how many fart apps were in the App Store. The Android Market wishes it had apps as valuable as the worst fart app ever put up. Distimo does note that Android now has more free apps than the App Store. Nothing screams “make money here!” to app developers as effectively as having more stuff not worth paying for in your market.

4. So I guess the iPad doesn’t count now?

We’re comparing OS markets, but we’re leaving out devices that make up part of the market ecosystem. I guess if you want a graph that fits well in landscape orientation, you have to cut some corners. Like not drawing our lines straight. Or making that ziggy line on the y-axis between 50,000 and 100,000 on a graph that spans 0 to 400,000. Hallmarks of a company that should be taken seriously.

If you’re banking on Android overtaking iOS in the near future, you’d feel a lot better if you sought out analysis that actually makes sense, as opposed to getting it from another no-name firm with zero track record looking to make a quick buck by using shitty statistics poorly.

Apr 042011
 

Some of you may recall that not too long ago Google had a small problem with its Android Market: malware representing a developer’s entire portfolio was downloaded over a quarter million times before Google yanked it after an Android hobbyist website discovered it. Now step back for a moment and imagine the fireball of rage that would have broke the internet if this was a problem discovered in the Apple’s App Store. The beauty of Google’s customer base is that it’s comprised of two polar opposites that together don’t really care about Google’s hilarious non-stance on protecting consumers in their own marketplace. One the one hand, you have freetard hobbyists; on the other people who believed the pre-iPhone Verizon salesman when he said that an Android phone is every bit as good as an iPhone. The hobbyists’ “free as in freedom” mentality that allows them to tinker with their kit without harassment classifies downloading malware as a small price to pay for the ability to steal apps. The customers who were bamboozled into thinking their shartphone was “just as good” as an iPhone probably don’t know how to download an app in the first place and don’t know this issue even exists.

If I were Google, I would actually be pursuing Amazon to take on the role of exclusive curator of the Android Market. Why?

1. The pay isn’t that good. I think people overestimate the rewards and downplay the responsibilities of running an app store. In exchange for 30% or so of an app’s cost, Google has to host all the content, manage (however reactively) the presence of apps that blatantly violate copyright, are malware, promote bad things like hate speech – whatever. This kind of management saps resources that significantly cut into that 30%. And let’s not forget that in the Market, free apps outnumber paid apps by a much greater margin than the App Store, which means that 30% is drawn from a much smaller pie. Here’s a business reality that may not resonate very popularly with the freetard community: when you destroy the value that a good or service is meant to have (“meant” as defined by the market, not necessarily what the developer wants you to pay), you’ll end up with an ecosystem devoid of value for the people providing the goods or services. Google has to realize this.

1a. This isn’t how Google makes its money. The Market is one of those “nice to have” things that allow clueless salespeople to claim that Android is competitive with the iPhone. It’s not Google’s core business – not even close. On some level, Google has to realize they’re not doing this very well. Amazon, on the other hand, possesses the infrastructure – and apparently the desire – to do this at least as well as Google does now.

2. Freedom to be a hypocrite. Check out the reaction to Google circling its wagons and telling manufacturers and carriers that they can’t mess with Android too much or they’ll risk getting shoved out of the ecosystem. Even as Android apologists are arguing (poorly) that this is the right move for Google, a lot of freetards aren’t too happy about it – basically because it’s the complete opposite of what folks like Andy Rubin and Vic Gundotra have been talking up about their ecosystem. Imagine what will happen if Google starts to aggressively bounce crapware from its Marketplace? If you look at its content, you have to wonder how much longer Google can not purge it. Between the “ringtones apps” that rip off Top 20 pop singles and movie wallpaper, It’s amazing to me that Google has been allowed to operate an appstore environment that turns a blind eye to flagrant copyright and trademark violations for this long. Where is the RIAA? The MPAA? Bueller? With Amazon, Google has a chance to offload the responsibility for the mess that the Market has become. With Amazon’s credibility on the line, it’ll take at least some care in screening which apps appear on their site and give Google plausible deniability. Lord knows they hate to come off looking like hypocrites.

So as much as I’d like to see Google continue to mismanage its app store so TMA can continue to point and laugh at it, I also feel like this is pointing out the obvious. The best place for the Android Market is with Amazon.

Feb 172011
 

Despite the fact that competitive individualism is a founding principle of this country, many people have come to equate making money with being evil. Granted, from Madoff to Microsoft, there are a number of examples of “evil” moneymaking, but this derision of success coincides more closely with human nature’s schadenfreude: that innate satisfaction many of us feel seeing successful people and endeavors fail. Apple has all the makings of a company that people want to depict as evil. Apple is incredibly successful; the most headline-dominating brand in technology. They make buttloads of money. They have a CEO who speaks a little too straightforwardly for some sensitive souls. In a sector filled with dweebs that like to tinker, Apple builds its products for everyday people and separates its user experiences from the neckbeards who want to hack them. Apple is a company that some people love dearly and some hate passionately, which provides a whole shadow economy for jackasses to profit from by pitting one group against the other.

So TMA was not at all shocked when the Engadget hordes got wind of Apple’s new subscription model policy. Negative comments (yes, I know I’m an idiot for reading them, let alone responding to them) boil down to:

-30%?! Don’t they make enough money?!
Does anyone know how much it costs Apple to maintain a subscription through iTunes? Apple’s iTunes/App Store infrastructure cost billions to set up – do you think hosting and maintaining subscriptions should be free? And anyway: if the service stays in the AppStore, why the fuck do people care how much Apple takes? Do you think Netflix would pass the savings onto you? As an aside, I don’t agree with all of Apple’s “30% across-the-board” policy. It strikes me as fairer when Apple is doing the hosting and subscription management, as will be the case with periodicals, but Netflix? Notsomuch. If there’s any part of the policy that will end up segregating itself for renegotiation, it’ll be for that portion of content for which Apple is responsible for only managing the customer information.

-If Apple loses Netflix/Amazon/Sirius/insert your possibly-effected-but-still-too-early-to-tell app here, I am so never buying an Apple product again
First of all, do you think Apple just dropped this policy bomb on companies without at least notifying them first? I’m not saying they agreed with it, but you can’t think Apple didn’t approach a cornerstone app like Netflix and say “Listen, we’re starting this subscription model for periodicals and we have to apply it across the board – including you”. And if they didn’t give them a heads-up, shame on them. If individual apps start disappearing from the app store, you can bet your ass Apple will renegotiate the terms. People who think Apple is in some throne-sitting position where it can dictate unreasonable terms without repercussions need to schedule their head-from-ass-ectomies ASAP. Remember Apple’s insistence on the $.99 song, despite the labels’ whining? Well, now there’s variable pricing for music on iTunes, so you can pay for the full value of that Lady Gaga song.

-Apple’s anti-competitive practices are going to land it in anti-trust land
Probably not. I know I’m going against the wisdom of several dozen TechCrunch commenters, but you have to have a controlling interest in a market before you can abuse that market. Last I checked, there’s not a specific market called “good tablet computers”; even the sub-category of devices that Apple’s iPad dominates is populated by a few other knock-offs like the Galaxy Tab. Now that Apple has shown the entire tech sector that there is a huge market for these devices as well as what size the device should be, 2011 is going to be flooded with iPad wannabes.

-Google’s devices and One Pass system is getting my business now
Leave it to Google to take advantage of a sucking wound, or in this case the howling maws of publishers and pundits complaining about Apple’s 30% cut. Google recently announced a subscription maintenance plan that would charge publishers a low, low 10% fee. If you act now, Google will even give subscriber information for free. Apple, on the other hand, makes people opt-into allowing publishers access to customers’ information, something that protects the customer, but pisses off publishers. Google, obviously, has no such qualms about whoring out having users’ information parsed in exchange for a better deal and a knock-off product. It’s a big part of their current business model.

As usual, this whole brouhaha boils down to a small number of irate freetards and pundits that are paid to pit fanboys and freetards against each other talking down a policy by Apple that makes businesses pay to use Apple’s infrastructure and doesn’t let them have their way with your data unless you choose. Same ‘ol, same ‘ol.

Jan 102011
 

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t exactly high-five my monitor when I read the announcement about an upcoming “Mac App Store”. My thought was “cool”. I probably shrugged. While it was going to be nice having an Apple-backed resource for getting software, I didn’t think it would provide compelling advantages to shopping direct with developers. After having the opportunity to play with it a while and downloading a few software titles, however, there are things that make the App Store something more than a convenience. It’s another impressive factor to be considered by people making a platform decision – or those currently on a non-Mac platform to switch.

No License B.S.

How many times have you gone to install a piece of software, discover that you’d lost the license key and have to jump through hoops to get the key back, if you did at all? Ever been prevented from installing software on multiple Macs, or at least feigned feeling badly about doing so? No more. Apple uses your MobileMe account to track your purchases and will download copies to as many machines as are authorized under your name.

A Central Hub for App Discovery and Due Diligence

One of the best things about the iOS App Store (or most destructive, depending on your level of impulse control) is that it allows you to find software that you didn’t know you needed. This can be in the form of “New and Noteworthy”, “What’s Hot”, “Staff Favorites” or the straight-up “Top Charts”. Categories like Games, Lifestyle and my personal favorite “Pr0nductivity” further segment your options.

Some people spam the App Store reviews, especially for the free or low-cost software (“Nowhere in the software description does the developer state that there is a subscription fee!!! It took 3 whole minutes of my life to install this free POS!!! Waaahhh!!! One star!!!”), but there are also many thoughtful and well-written reviews. Off the cuff, I’ve noticed the Mac App Store reviews are generally better, probably due to the relatively higher prices. Think about how you used to get software. Either you knew you needed it, or you read a review on something like Macworld or iusethis.com. The Mac App Store, like the iOS App Store, provides not only tools to find new software, but numerous reviews for each of them.

One Stop Updating

Dazzle has been a godsend for OS X software updates, but you need to be running the application to have access to updates, and even then some apps require you to enable automatic updates in preferences. The Mac App Store handles updating centrally, so every time you open it, you see the familiar App Store badge with the number of updates available. Not only is the process centralized, the quality of the experience is consistent for all apps you get from the store. If you’ve ever used the shitastic Microsoft Office or any of the Adobe updaters, you know straightforward software updates aren’t a given.

The Upshot

The option for developers to submit their apps to a centralized Apple repository will affect the process of app discovery and administration for all Mac users. As my friends at T-GAAP allude, this is going to put pressure on big houses like Adobe and Microsoft (OK, who are we kidding? Microsoft doesn’t give a shit about the Mac platform). People who buy Photoshop now may still end up doing so, but I’m willing to bet that some users give serious thought to their use cases before plunking down a grand and still having to deal with invasive license keys and shitty updaters. Maybe they’ll buy Pixelmator in the App Store instead. Like a lot of other (respected) pundits in the Appleverse, I think the overall effect will be of driving down the cost of apps.

2.0 Wish List

As with any 1.0, the Mac App Store isn’t perfect. Some things I’d like to see incorporated include the ability to download demo versions of apps (a less egregious in the iOS App Store IMO because of the cost of downloading a stinker is generally less). I’d love to see the inclusion of more sophisticated apps – yes, even Photoshop. I don’t know how robust the App Store can be in administering updates as complex as Adobe’s appear to be, but it’d be great to have the entire Mac App universe under one roof.

Jul 202010
 

TMA once had a dream of ubiquitous media that required 2 things Apple lacked: a buttload of server capacity and a codec that would make HD streaming bandwidth-friendly. Last year, Apple started work on a monster server farm in North Carolina. I speculated of the high-definition Red codec under development at the time:

If this codec materializes‚ even if proprietary‚ it will be “proof of concept” for the folks in Cupertino (who know a thing or two about codecs themselves).  This may be the solution to the bandwidth problem.

TMA just quoted himself in his own blog. And he’s referring to himself in the third person. Awesome.

So yesterday Hardmac, who TMA has never heard of before, threw out a rumor that Apple actually is working on their own codec based on the same wavelet compression Red uses.  Consistent with other Apple-backed codecs like AAC, it’s based on a royalty-free format, so let me be the first to speak on behalf of Cupertino to the freetard community: you’re welcome.

The hardware exists, the library exists, and the capacity soon will. The codec would be the last and arguably most important piece of the puzzle: a low bandwidth way to distribute HD content to Apple devices. Prepare yourselves for one of the biggest “one more things” Apple has ever unleashed.

Jul 152010
 

On June 7, John Ciancutti, VP of Personalization Technology for Netflix announced the availability of Netflix for the iPhone “this summer”. A month later, not a word more about the port. The topic’s discussion thread on the Netflix board is filled with “where is it?” posts with nary a peep from management in reply.

So what could be the holdup? I mean, the app exists for the iPad; it’s essentially the same port. These announcements are usually followed by a product in relatively short order. What could be responsible for the delay?

Unlimited. Data.

You see, there’s a shitload of iPhone users out there (present company included) that didn’t think a $5/month savings on their AT&T bills was worth it – especially when 3G streaming media options were in still their infancy.

There are 14 million Netflix subscribers and over 35 million iPhone users. This is in no way scientific (and doesn’t account for Microsoft’s Silverlight abomination, which doubtless adds overhead) but while monitoring my Netflix stream on my laptop, the smallest pull I could achieve was about 250kb/second. If this is even close to what an iPhone app would pull, AT&T’s network would be toast.

AT&T may be stonewalling until more people switch to capped plans or new users join (unlimited data is no longer an option for new accounts); it may have no intention of allowing the app it at all. I don’t believe the company is in any position to allow its network to be jammed up any further, and that’s exactly what Netflix on the iPhone would do.

Update: On August 26, Netflix finally released their iPhone port. In my testing, it played flawlessly over WiFi and just about as flawlessly over the black hole of 3G also known as Manhattan (there was a 2 second period of stutter when I first started “Objectified”). The only 2 drawbacks in my limited experience: you can’t manage your DVD queue from the app and for some reason the “Resume” button means “Start me over”, which is annoying. All in all, a great addition to the iPhone and a huge win for people who decided to stick with unlimited data on their AT&T plans.

Jul 152010
 

Tech’s most popular head-to-head pairing, Apple vs. Google, is a battle originating and fought mainly on the mobile phone battlefield. The iPhone OS and hardware are made by Apple, and despite its problems with AT&T in the U.S., its carrier relationship is the envy of every other phone maker in the industry. This integration of hardware and software, leveraged relationship with its carriers and the closely-curated nature of its App Store allow Apple to deliver a consistent, fluid user experience.

Contrast this with the relationships Google has with its Android partners. Google supplies the OS, HTC or Motorola provides the hardware and any one of a number of carriers provides the service. Its App Store is a loosely-managed free-for-all of copyright-challenging ringtones and mostly minor titles from fringe developers.

So what’s the worst that can happen? Motorola’s recently-released Droid X provides some insight. Gizmodo, who I generally despise precisely for its gratuitious fellating of Google, absolutely panned the device as a giant (5″ x 2.6″, 5 1/2 oz.), spec heavy, performance retarded amalgmation of Android 2.1 (even though the vastly superior 2.2 has been available on the Nexus One since mid-June), Motorola’s Blur social networking overlay and enough pre-installed crapware to make Sony blush.

On paper, the Droid X is one of the best Android phones ever made. But unlike Apple, who controls every facet of the product experience aside from the carrier, the up-and-coming OS’s implementation is a victim of several unleveraged relationships. God help me – I’m about to quote Gizmodo:

The software—a discordant melange of the not-so-fresh Android 2.1 and various bits of the Blur “social networking” interface from Motorola’s lower-end Android phones—is the shudder-inducing poster child for the horrors that can occur when most hardware companies try to make software. It’s ugly, scattershot, and confusing. It feels almost malicious.

If Google had manufacturer and carrier control, they wouldn’t have to deal with this shit, which is why I imagine they took a shot at selling the Nexus One themselves. This phone would ship with Android 2.2 and be stripped of both the crapware (which I suspect was not Google’s idea) and Motorola’s joke of an OS overlay. Instead, a device that’s a specification juggernaut is transformed into a Frankensteinian shitshow that makes everyone involved look stupid.

And that’s what I mean about 2 degrees of fragmentation – and if the carrier was actually responsible for any of the crapware pre-installed on the X, that would be 3. There’s the experience of the Android OS from Google, which has limited control over it (which is why there are 3 major versions of Android in circulation) and there’s the Blur overlay forced onto the device courtesy of Motorola (HTC also has the Sense overlay for many of its Android devices, but it’s not nearly as obtrusive or shitastic).

So when people ask their friends about “an Android phone”, they might get the enthusiastic answer version from a geek running Froyo on a Nexus One or the serious buyer’s remorse answer from someone who was marketed a superior device that’s hamstrung by an old OS and an aneurism-inducing faux UI provided by their meddling manufacturer.  And despite what Google execs would have you believe, fragmentation is not a fairy tale. It pisses consumers off and makes people wipe their asses with your brand. Then again, as long as people are granting Google the right to exploit their search habits and identity, I don’t think they care how many different versions of their derivative OS exist – as long as all of them keep pumping the ducats into Google’s coffers.

Apr 092010
 

1. That it allows free app developers to make money, which allows free apps to have richer content.

2. …that’s all I got.

No smart person can argue against “paying” for a free app through advertising – even for the worst quality app. I agree with people having to pay for an app with either with their wallet or with their attention, but not both.

Although it’s popular to characterize the app market as “a race to the bottom”, the App Store is still a free market. Pricing decisions, in the end, are made by the developers themselves. If a shop chooses volume over per unit revenues, that’s on them, just like in any other free market.  If the majority of developers were losing money in the App Store, there wouldn’t be 170K apps there. Apps that aren’t making money are either poor in quality or are not priced in a way that allows them to recoup the investment in them. Neither of these things are the consumers’ or the market’s fault. Any perceived “downward price pressure” present in the App Store economy does not justify iAds.

People thinking that Apple themselves will be adding prohibitive criteria of “too much advertising” as part of the app approval process are deluded, especially with the slew of new variables for notification Apple introduced as part of 4.0’s multitasking feature. It’s the market’s job to reward the $4.99 app developer who tastefully integrates advertising and punish $4.99 app developer who slathers ads all over the app.

My point is that there’s already a revenue model in place for paid apps: it’s based solely on the quality of the app plotted against its price. When Steve said “mobile ads suck”, my thought response was “isn’t that why you developed the alternative revenue model of paying for an app?”.

I think that’s what Steve meant when he said “It’s all about helping our developers make money through advertising so they can keep their free apps free.” If that’s the extent of iAd implementation, there is nothing but win. I personally didn’t get the impression from the presentation yesterday that iAds were limited to free apps.

If developers of paid apps use iAds, it drops a layer into the user experience that benefits only one party in the developer-consumer relationship. I have yet to see a model of advertising overlaid onto an already-purchased product that adds any value for the user; the very best models are successful if they don’t piss them off. If iAd implementation is not restricted to free apps, I don’t see anything in it for consumers, but a lot of opportunity to degrade the paid-app experience.

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