Introducing Note-It

Screenshot 1afaa9c247a71c1346fa2d51bf413fae

I’m happy to introduce my latest application for iOS devices, Note-It, is now available in the Apple App Store. This is a productivity utility I wrote for myself with the hopes others might find it useful as well.

The idea for Note-It was born as a solution to the way I research on the web on my iPad. I read articles in Google Reader, visit links from tweets on Twitter and copy URLs from the sites I visit in Safari. I often take these links and paste them in an email which I send to myself to be viewed later.

Note-It helps me be a bit more productive by cutting out some steps.

  • I can only send to one email address maintained in the Settings part of the app. When Note-It sends an email, it only uses this address. No more typing my email address.
  • My main use case is finding a URL or some block of text I want to save for later, copying and pasting in an email.

Note-It monitors the clipboard and when active, will ask if I want to use what’s in the clipboard and paste it into the current note.

There is only one note active at a time, put as much as you want to save and send it off.

A complete archive of sent notes is available in case you forgot what you sent previously.

The user interface is simple by design to compliment how simple the application actually is.

31 Great Days of iOS

It’s been a while since I had the time to post anything but I wanted to share this great summary post by Chris Risner of the Microsoft Azure team where he is focused on mobile.

Chris blogs each day in January about a specific topic iOS developers may face in their applications.  The post is titled 31 Days of iOS and each post is a detailed tutorial on a specific topic that day.  

Day 1: Getting set up for developing for iOS
Day 2: An inro to Objective-C
Day 3: Creating your first iOS App
Day 4: Working with Multiple View Controllers and Storyboards
Day 5: Programmatically showing View Controllers
Day 6: The Delegate Pattern
Day 7: Making Network Requests
Day 8: Performing Posts and Setting Request Type
Day 9: Handling Text Input
Day 10: Singletons and the AppDelegate
Day 11: Saving Data using NSUserDefaults
Day 12: CoreData
Day 13: The TableView
Day 14: The UIWebView
Day 15: Connecting to Built-In Apps
Day 16: Handling Device Orientation
Day 17: Using the Debug Console
Day 18: Opening your App from a Link
Day 19: Showing the User’s Location with Maps
Day 20: Displaying Info with Maps
Day 21: Using the Camera
Day 22: Using the Gallery
Day 23: Using Background Threads
Day 24: The View Life Cycle
Day 25: The Application Life Cycle
Day 26: Setting up Push Notifications
Day 27: Sending and Receiving Push Notifications
Day 28: Activity Indicators
Day 29: Advertising with iAd
Day 30: Adding Analytics to your Apps
Day 31: Submitting your App to Apple

Chris is speaking at CocoaConf DC in March, in case readers are planning on attending.  I will be there.

Work Hard, Work Smart and Don’t Play the Lottery

Helpful apps

The New York Times had a great article this past weekend titled As Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living.  As the title indicates, the life of a mobile developer is not often the glamor we hear about.  The million-dollar jackpots are few and far between and are more difficult now than in the early days of the Apple App Store.

The article chronicles the two very different levels of success; one, Ethan Nicholas who created the iShoot game and made over $1 million in 2009.  The other part of the story is a couple who worked full-time on a handful of applications focused on children.

It saddens me when I see smart people treating the app store akin to The California Gold Rush; same state and the same dreams of getting rich and too often a very similar outcome:

The Grimeses’ quest cost them more than $200,000 in lost income and savings. So far this year, their eight apps have earned $4,964. When the newest iPhone came out at the end of September, the couple immediately bought two. 

I can attest to the same experience as the couple who lost it all.  I didn’t let it go that far but having an idea, creating an application over a couple months and receiving very little return for my efforts…followed a similar path.  In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised. 

The app store is stocked with so many applications it’s almost impossible to stand out in the crowd.  Unless you are well-funded and can afford a lengthy and costly marketing campaign you will likely be cast to the abyss that is the app store.  Those lucky few will be selected by Apple to be promoted on the store, to be glorified in iTunes and will go on to nice rewards.

This is not the path a smart business person should travel.  Developers are smart, we work hard and just want to be rewarded for our efforts.  It is because we are smart that we should step back and think about the path of one-time customers greedily parting withe their $2.99, $1.99 or, I shudder to say, their $0.99.  We can’t support our families with these measly morsels.

Creating applications for iOS and Android are fun and very rewarding but these platforms should not be the island for your application.  The people building businesses in this space today should be cleverly thinking of ways to monetize their idea without the goal of hitting gold but rather building on a customer base willing to keep giving you money.  How many applications can someone create, sell for $0.99 and get a lifetime return of $5,000…if you’re lucky?  This is not even breaking even, it’s a really weak business model.

The better approach is solving real problems for someone who is willing to give you money to ease their pain and continue this on a regular basis.

Refer back to Ethan Nicholas and the direction he has taken since his million-dollar application idea:

Mr. Nicholas and a friend, Brent Miller, were inspired to form a company. “We were going to make another million or two,” said Mr. Miller, 38. But when none of their new games sold like iShoot, the pair moved in an entirely new direction. They founded echoBase, a start-up with 14 employees that is developing apps to allow doctors and nurses to view and update medical records across different computer systems. They brought in Mr. Miller’s father, Rod, a former I.B.M. sales manager, as chief executive.

This is an example of a solution to a real problem, making the life of doctors better and at the same time providing accurate and reliable care to the patient.  The application is free on the App Store but it’s very clear in the description that a server piece is also needed.  I am sure THIS part is not free.  This is someone who has made it in the App Store but realizes it’s not easily reproducible.  This should be the type of applications we are creating, ones that create a revenue stream for developers but also add real value to users. 

An organization like echoBase has iOS client software and some generic server piece which opens the doors to using other clients as well.  Anything from Android and Windows RT to web and rich Windows Desktop apps.  

The Apple App Store is very different today than it was in 2009 but it still holds great value to the people who are smart and don’t try to play the app lottery. 

Get the Best Twitter Client for the Mac

Tapbot icon

It seems I have been on Twitter for longer than anybody.  Heck, when I started we didn’t have no stinking graphical clients, it was done with SMS.  

I have used many of the graphical Twitter clients on the Mac and some are nice but not the best fit.  I won’t bore you with the long history of my Twitter client usage, since this is not about me.

I do want to say I discovered a great client to use on my iPhone and iPad named Tweetbot by the lovely folks at Tapbots.  I use both everyday and love them.  Well, they recently offered people to try out the Tweetbot for Mac beta, I jumped right on and have been using it all day, everyday.   

This week Tapbots released the official version for the Mac over on the Mac App Store for a measly $20.  Sure, you can try to say it’s too expensive but you obviously have no idea what it takes to write software and when the software is good…it’s even harder.  I rushed to give them my money.

John Gruber echoes my sentiment exactly:

When a great iPhone app comes out, it’s easy to ask the developer to expand it to the iPad too, and then bring it to the Mac. You know what’s hard? Actually doing it. But Tapbots has done it with Tweetbot. $20 for a Twitter client? Damn straight. Screw the race to the bottom. I’m happy to pay for quality work.

For more, see Rene Ritchie’s iMore interview with Tapbots developer Todd Thomas and designer Mark Jardine.

Now, I can keep all of the things I do on Twitter nicely synced.  Great stuff.

Hate that Apple Podcasts App in iOS 6?

2012 10 03 16 19 56

I installed the Apple Podcasts app on my iPhone 4 to try it out when it was first released but it didn’t resonate with me so I kept accessing my podcasts in the Music app.

After upgrading to iOS 6 I noticed podcasts were no longer accessible from the Music app, I was forced to use the Podcasts app.  Frankly, the app is lousy with two icons for each podcast I listen to and it’s hard to determine how much time is left in the current episode.

Thanks to a good friend on Twitter, I don’t have to keep that lousy app and I can go back to the way it used to me.  Follow these three easy steps:

  1. Delete the Podcasts App on the iPhone (be sure you don’t sync it back to the phone on the next sync).
  2. If you are running the Music app, close it.
  3. Now reopen the Music app and voila..podcasts are now back under the More button.

I really hate Apple pulling stuff like this.

Thanks Kevin for the tip.

Lesson Learned : Don’t Be The Cheapest

My new MacBook Air 13″ has finally arrived and is a gorgeous example of Apple’s design, but this is not about design.

I documented my horrendous dealings with MacMall and the amount of time wasted before finally giving them the boot once and for all.  I won’t go into the painful details of that ordeal but wanted to share my experience with Apple.

I ordered the MacBook Air directly from Apple on 8/23/2011.  The model I ordered included the upgraded processor (1.8Ghz i7) and therefore takes some extra time.  Apple indicates today the item ships in 1-3 business days and free shipping is 3-5 business days for delivery.

This is the Apple way:

  • They do a great job of setting my expectations and does the same with this order.
  • Order shipped on 8/25/2011, not a full 48 hrs after placing the order.  Beating the expectations they set of at most 3 days.
  • Shipment confirmation gave a delivery estimate of 8/31/2011 but actually delivered on 8/29/2011, a full 2 days before their estimate.

Apple is not performing any magic, they give estimates out beyond what it takes to deliver.  This gives them some buffer for problems out of their control and also makes the customer extremely happy when the product is delivered *before* the estimate.

I decided to originally purchase from MacMall because their prices were cheaper and I would not have to pay CT sales tax.  The savings turned out to not be worth the hassle.  MacMall can take a lesson from Apple and provide delivery guidelines within their control and ones customers can live with.  This would make for happier customers and ultimately make the job of the MacMall customer service reps a lot easier.

It’s really easy and natural to simply chose something based on price but sometimes it’s not worth what you’re giving up.  As a business owner we sometimes think we need to compete based on price, be the cheapest and the customers will be ours.  When we venture down that path, we sell ourselves out and find out too late this was not the right path and probably too late to raise prices back up.

Apple doesn’t play into the retail game, they charge a price they want and don’t discount it.  They balance this will providing good, reliable service.

Lesson learned.

MacMall : Winner of the Worst Customer Service on the Planet Award

GlobalImages hdrLogo

I deal with a lot of companies online and in-general, they are all pretty good.  My recent dealing with online Apple retailer, MacMall, forced me to create an award here and present them with the Worst Customer Service on the Planet Award.  I hope they like it because they certainly have earned it.

Once Upon a Time

I have never bought anything from MacMall before but have witnessed a barrage of email begging for my business.  When the new Apple MacBook Airs were released I decided I might give MacMall a try because they had free shipping, $50 price tag less than Apple, an additional discount code from AppleInsider and no sales tax.  In all I would save about $175.

Upon deciding to order the 13.3″ MacBook Air with 4G RAM, 256G SSD and the upgraded i7 processor, MacMall’s web site indicated the item would ship in 5-7 days.  Being the inpatient person I am, that seemed too long for me but decided I would forgo the need to have it now and order any way.   The first attempt at ordering failed when I attempted to use my Bill Me Later account.  MacMall web site said they had a problem with my Bill Me Later account and I needed to select another source of payment.  Fine, just use my reliable MasterCard and be done with it.  Order placed on August 9, 2011.

MacMall Air

The screen capture above is exactly what the web site said when I placed my order and it is exactly what is says today, 8/24/2011.  The wording is deceptive.

The following day I received 2 emails asking me to call their credit department to verify some information.  I thought this was sort of strange, you know for an online retailer and all, but I gave them a call.  After sitting on hold for the better part of 30 minutes with a recording telling me how important my call was to them, I was cut off after customer service hours ended for the day.  I decided to respond to their email, hoping they could resolve the issue in an email exchange.  Two emails went unanswered.

The next day I received a call from their credit department while I was out, telling me it was important they received a call from me about my order.  I went back to the phone to give it another try, sat on hold for 15 min. or so and finally connected with a live person.  I indicated I was calling about my order, was asked for my order number and she looked it up.  Her first question..”what’s the problem?”.  Dumb founded, I told her that I was asked to call in regarding my order.  Finally she said she needed to go over my order to sure what I ordered was actually what I wanted to order.  What??  This is 2011 and I shouldn’t have to call in to reiterate my order.  What is the point of ordering online if I only have to call in anyway?

So after 10 minutes of answering questions and telling them that I really did want to order this laptop, the graciously accepted my order.  I would told it would ship in a few days.

A Few Days Later

When a week had gone by and I hadn’t received an email or any updated notification about my order I decided to contact their customer service department about the order.  A quick email sent looking for an update.

Did I get a reply back via email?  Nope!  I received a call later that day from someone who could barely speak English telling me my order should ship on about 8/23/2011, a full 2 weeks after the order was placed.  At this point I am about fed up with MacMall and really wanted to tell them what they could do with their MacBook Air but I am saving nearly $200, right?

As 8/23/2011 came, I waited until the middle of the day to check my MacMall account for an update…nothing.  I don’t think it is too much to ask to give me something, I mean, I called in last week so they know I am following this.  I decided to give them a call so they might be able to tell me when my Air is ahipping.

A brief time on hold reveals I have a new *estimated* ship date, the end up the month.  Huh?  It didn’t compute, 8/31 is the end of the month and a full 3+ weeks after placing the order and it is still estimated.  Apple’s web site says 1-3 days for this model and by the time I see this from MacMall it will be a month.  I’m sorry but not acceptable..CANCELLED.

Moral of the Story

I ordered the MacBook Air from Apple right after my happy divorce from MacMall.  I will pay more but the price will be worth every penny knowing I am not giving it to MacMall, not now, not ever.

This post would just be a rant if I didn’t learn some lessons and share with readers.  I think good customer service is just common sense, treat people the way you want or expect to be treated:

  • Set realistic expectations to your customer.  If you say 5-7 days, make it 5-7 days, not some unknown time frame which is longer.  Better yet, say 5-7 but mean 2-4.  This way you went above my expectations.
  • You offer a phone number to take orders but also allow for online ordering.  If I order online that means I don’t want to talk to you on the phone so don’t call me.  This goes for customer service too, if you have a form which I fill out, respond back to me in an email and not bothering me with a phone call.
  • If you do force your customers to call you, don’t leave them on hold for more than a couple minutes.  Telling your customers during their hold time that they are important to you means nothing after being on hold for 1/2 hour.  Sorry, but it doesn’t.
  • Keep in contact with your customers, don’t leave them hanging.  If you tell them you will do something for them by a certain date, do it or at least have the courtesy of a follow-up email or phone call (depends on their preferred method of contact).

This experience has been the worst example of customer service I have ever witnessed.  I order a lot online and I mainly order only online and MacMall is the hands-down winner of the Worst Customer Service on the Planet Award.  Congrats, you are truly #1.

Thank you for reading my rant, I hope I have saved you some pain.  Also remember, price should not be the only deciding factor..lesson learned.


The Confusing Mobee Magic Charger

I recently purchased a Mobee Magic Charger for my Apple Magic Mouse.   I have been using the Magic Mouse for a few months, I love it with the exception of its insatiable desire for AA batteries.  It seems like I am always putting new batteries in it.

I heard about the Mobee Magic Charger from some Apple-related blog and thought it was a great idea.  It is a bit pricey at $49 but I figured if it saved the aggravation of replacing batteries and it was a better choice for the environment than throwing away batteries once a month, it would be worth it.

One of the interesting features of the Mobee charger is it is inductive.  This means I put the batteries in my Magic Mouse and set the mouse down on the charging pad supplied by Mobee.  I never have to remove the batteries from the mouse, just set it on the pad when I am not using it and it charges.

I was planning to write up a detailed review of the charger but Marco Arment beat me to it and his findings and reasonings meshed so well with mine that I refer you to Marco instead.

As Marco reported, there are problems with the charger.  Although not identical to his, mine are similar.Mobee reports the mouse should take up to 5 hours to fully charge, I had mine on the charger for (2) 24-hour stints and my Mac reports a charge of 76%.  Mobee indicates in their FAQ that this is normal behavoir:

That’s a normal behavior.


The Alkaline batteries originaly delivered with the Magic Mouse are 1.5V per cell, meaning 3V for the 2 cells when you use brand new batteries.


We are using NiMH batteries, these are 1.2V per cell. Thus when fully charged that’s 2.4V which means that OSX will read 70 to 80% only.

The charger flashes its green light indicating it is charging, but never stops.  I would expect a solid light when fully charged.

I have only been using the charger for a few days and will post an update a few months from now, or sooner if I decide not to continue using it.  When we purchase Apple products we have certain expectations set;  we know we are getting quality and we know how the products work as well as that they will just work.

Purchasing this charger and putting it to use it does not follow the same guidelines we expect from Apple.  Since they use smaller batteries, the charge indicator never goes to 100%.  How is this acceptable?  A novice user will be confused by this, I was confused by this.  The mouse sits on the charger seemingly never ending its charge cycle.   When I charge my MacBook Pro I know that when charging the indicator is orange but when fully charged it is green.  There is little to be confused about here.  The Mobee does not adhere to those Apple standards and my guess is, increases their support calls.

I can’t really say I would recommend this device either, it’s confusing.  I reserve the right to change my mind later after using it for a while.

Is JetBrains appCode a Solution Looking for a Problem?


Sometimes when a company releases a new product I sit back and think if I would use it.  If not, I try to understand who the customer might be and the reasons they use it.  When I first saw the announcement for the new Objective-C IDE from JetBrains, appCode, I asked myself those questions.

As a user of Apple’s XCode IDE for writing Objective-C, I tried to imagine the reasons why I might use it and none came to mind.  I also tried to imagine who might use it and I couldn’t think of anyone.  OK, maybe there are folks out there who use XCode and hate it, they may use it but I think the market is far too small to consider putting efforts into writing an IDE to target those people.

InfoQ has an interview with Maxim Shafirov of JetBrains about the project and after reading the article, I am still scratching my head.  From the article, appCode features include:

Main features of the IDE are:

  • Smart editor with code completion
  • Opening and creating Xcode projects (including Xcode 4)
  • Integration with the standard Interface Builder
  • Running applications in iOS Simulator
  • Debugger with breakpoints, variables, watches and evaluate expression
  • Refactorings, e.g. ‘Change Signature’ and ‘Extract Method’
  • On the fly code analysis and quick-fix suggestions
  • Tight version control systems integration (Subversion, Git, Perforce and CVS)

    I don’t see a feature here in the short list which Apple’s IDE doesn’t include.

    A question I asked myself..why develop appCode in the first place?

    InfoQ: What drove the decision to develop appCode?

    Maxim: We at JetBrains admire what Apple has done to desktop apps and more generally to a consumer targeted software. They’re setting new interaction design quality standards. But this is not the case when it comes to developers software, in our opinion. So we see a great opportunity for JetBrains to bring its development tools expertise to this emerging market of developers, who know how a great software should look, who care about their productivity and code quality.

    Developers even need to have XCode 3 or 4 installed to use appCode:

    InfoQ: Do I still need XCode / the Apple development infrastructure to develop applications?

    Maxim: Yes. You need to have Xcode 3 or Xcode 4 installed. At the very least we need a platform SDK that comes with Xcode, the Interface Builder and device simulator.

    I have used JetBrains’ RubyMine IDE in the past and it is not free.  I don’t think other JetBrains’ product are free, so one can only assume appCode will not be free.  Why would I pay for something Apple gives me free, as a registered developer or $5 in the App Store?

    I had thought that maybe appCode would be developed to be cross-platform, like their other products, and run on OS X as well as Windows and Linux.  This would make it a really nice proposition for non-Mac owners but the dependency on XCode makes it unrealistic.

    In summary, appCode:

    • Is an Objective-C IDE just like XCode
    • Needs XCode to Run
    • Only runs on OS X
    • Is likely not to be free

    To be fair, I downloaded appCode and it looks nice, opens my XCode projects but I ran into issues trying to actually run the project.   It built but the simulator never loaded and ran.  I will probably wait for a future EAP build to try again.

    I realize appCode is only an EAP and not even beta at this point.  I’m sure things will improve and new features will be added but I’m not sure JetBrains has a winner here.  The XCode environment is the gold standard for Objective-C development and I don’t see so many problems with that would drive me to use an alternative IDE at this point.  I will keep an open mind but it seems JetBrains is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.


    Apple Lets Developers Refine the Rules

    In a recent post here, I gave my interpretation of the new Apple App Store Subscriptions but it appears the view is not as crystal clear as at first glance.  In recent days there has been a fairly serious developer backlash not directly against the rules but how they are being interpreted internally at Apple.

    Go for it

    Initially the rules seem reasonable, to me anyway, but digging a bit deeper they look a bit greedy.  Apple wants their cut, period.

    The update to the rules causing the most buzz is 11.2, which says:

    11.2 Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected.

    11.2 seems to be pretty clear and all encompassing.

    Wait for it….

    We are now at the point where Apple waits for the backlash and will regroup and refine the rules.  Prominent developers started right away, Richard Ziade of Readability posted “An Open Letter to Apple”.  Readability is a service which does not produce original content but displays content from other publishers.  Readability is clear with their stance:

    We’re obviously disappointed by this decision, and surprised by the broad language. By including “functionality, or services,” it’s clear that you intend to pursue any subscription-based apps, not merely those of services serving up content. Readability’s model is unique in that 70% of our service fees go directly to writers and publishers. If we implemented In App purchasing, your 30% cut drastically undermines a key premise of how Readability works.

    Richard was recently on The Daily Edition with Dan Benjamin where he clarifies his position and details options.

    Other known developers in the community also speak out.  Marco Arment of Instapaper wrote how great IAP would be for users but how hard they are to implement:

    Since there are so many gray areas and it’s very far-reaching, this is going to be a difficult policy to enforce consistently.

    One issue is that this policy assumes that all apps are made by someone with the ability and authority to collect IAP payments on the service’s behalf, which isn’t the case for third-party clients using a service’s API.

    If Twitter charged a subscription fee, or even sold any content whatsoever, no third-party Twitter clients would be permitted on the App Store, effectively preventing that entire market.

    This is very true and based on the Readability case, it is a possible far-reaching problem.  Even if developers conceded completely to the new rules, it doesn’t make great business sense.   Margins are often thin on services anyway and sharing 30% with Apple may be too much and cause services to shutdown because they can’t retool fast enough or retool in a way that is cost effective.  Matt Drance has some great insight about the economics of it:

    The requirement that IAP content be offered “at the same price or less than it is offered outside the app,” combined with the 70/30 split, means developers must make less money off of iOS by definition. They can’t price their IAP content higher to offset the commission, nor can they price their own retail content lower.

    So the current IAP definition is a proven fail for some developers.

    Clarify it

    We have seen this before when Apple decided to ban developers who used developer tools not Apple’s own.  This included Flash, Mono and others.   AppleInsider had good coverage.

    But after much backlash on the web, Apple backpedaled and changed the rules.

    Are we going down the same path with in-app purchases? I don’t know but if I was a betting man, I would say we are.  I would expect the rules to change and/or clarification to be published that will lead to apps, like Readability, to be allowed in the store.

    An email to Steve Jobs supports the way I expected in-app purchases to work but contradicts how they seem to work:

    Hello Steve,

    As a full time iOS developer, I am concerned (and confused) withe the new App Store guideline regarding “Apps offering subscriptions” (section 11.12).

    Most of the iOS apps I have developed, as a contractor for other businesses, have been free apps that had login screens to allow the user access to some amount of private data. and/or service. These businesses have all been well established companies that sell some kind of service to their customers (Software As a Service companies) and the iOS app was merely another “portal” for their users to access their data/services (in many times, in a limited i.e. “mobile” fashion)…. for example; SalesForce. I am concerned that most of these businesses will choose to not develop an iOS app for their customers if the IAP & subscription policy was in place.

    Would these type’s of free apps be still be allowed in the App Store or will they now be expected to use IAP?

    Steve’s reply:

    We created subscriptions for publishing apps, not SaaS apps. 

    Sent from my iPhone

    This is becoming a common Apple move, they go for it all with a fairly generic rule but later backtrack with clarifications.  It makes them look good and makes the developer happy.  Let’s hope for the best possible outcome for us on this one too.