Google Obviously Loves Developers, When Will Apple?

Google io logo

When is Apple going to begin listening to developers as well as Google does?

The tools Apple gives developers as part of iTunes Connect (the portal we use to publish and maintain our applications), are better than they used to be but are subpar compared to just about anyone else.

I have a few applications in the Apple iOS ecosystem and I have almost no knowledge of who my customers are and I’m not able to respond to reviews.

Google, on the other hand, has been taking a very different approach, listening to developers and acting on the feedback.  Recently Google started allowing developers to respond to reviews.  Its super-easy for a user to dislike one feature in your app and give a scathing review.  If you are an Apple developer, you have to just sit back and take it.  

At Google I/O last week they also announced several other enhancements to their developer program to help:

  • Beta testing and staged rollouts

We have introduced support for beta testing and staged rollouts so that you can get feedback on your new app or app update early in its development and make sure your users are happy with the results. You can test two different versions on two different groups at the same time, such as testing a newer version with your employees first, and a more mature version with a group of external testers.

The beta testing is private on Google Play, and you can specify who gets these versions by adding Google Groups and Google+ Communities. Users give you feedback privately rather than through public reviews. When you’re satisfied that your new version is ready, you can now do a staged rollout to a percentage of your userbase. To give you more flexibility in light of beta testing and help get your whole team involved in the Developer Console, we will soon launch additional access controls.

  • Localization Help

We’re collaborating with Google’s internationalization team to make translating your app into new languages easier than ever. You can purchase professional translations of your apps from independent providers through the Google Play Developer Console. You can upload the strings you want translated, select the languages you want to translate into, and select your translation vendor based on time and price. If you’re interested in translating your apps with this feature, sign up to be a part of the preview in the Developer Console today on the APK page.

The new optimization tips for localization will help you identify new potential opportunities for global expansion based on popular languages for your app’s users and category. To fully localize your app into a language, you need to translate the strings in an APK, translate your Google Play store listing, and upload localized graphics. The optimization tips will also let you know if you’re missing any of these pieces.

Google also announced Android Studio which offers some really innovative ways to preview what an application will look like on various devices and in various languages. Developers also get to see previews of colors and localized strings in the IDE. It’s developed in conjunction with JetBrains, who produce so many great tools. It has to be better than Eclipse.

If you missed the Google I/O Keynote, here it is, but keep in mind, it’s 3-1/2 hours long:

Apple knows they have developers in a position that we need them, way more than they need us.  It’s a really popular platform and people can make reasonable money on it. It’s pretty obvious when WWDC sells out in 90 seconds!

It would be really nice if Apple showed they cared about developers as much as Google does. Google needs developers and they show it.  There was a good post on the Treehouse blog, Why Google Loves Developers, that talks about this very same thing.  They point out it’s not just about Android but Chrome as well.

So, will Apple realize what Google did last week and follow suite with improvements to their developer support? Only time will tell. As an iOS developer, the Android ecosystem is looking like an attractive place to bring some applications. I have been interested more and more lately and the recent announcements just makes the Android platform that much more attractive.

As iOS and Mac developers, we are customers of Apple.  Good vendors listens to their customers, Good did.  How long do you think you would get with your business if you ignored your customers?  It depends I guess if you dominate your market or not.  If you do then you have some time before it comes back to bite you, if you don’t then you will never succeed.  Customers are #1…always.

It will be very interesting to see what Apple has in store for developers next month at WWDC. I can’t see a technical reason Apple developers can’t have the same support from Apple as Google gives theirs.  If Apple values their developers they should offer the same functionality on their platform, we have been asking for a long time.

Free Ultimately Always Has a Price

Gr logo

I bet by now you have heard the news Google Reader will be shutting down on July 1, 2013:

We have just announced on the Official Google Blog that we will soon retire Google Reader (the actual date is July 1, 2013). We know Reader has a devoted following who will be very sad to see it go. We’re sad too.

There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.

To ensure a smooth transition, we’re providing a three-month sunset period so you have sufficient time to find an alternative feed-reading solution. If you want to retain your Reader data, including subscriptions, you can do so through Google Takeout.

Thank you again for using Reader as your RSS platform.

That’s it..thank all of you for signing up for our service, relying on it but we have to go now.  Virtually everyone I know jumped at the chance to use Google Reader to keep track of their RSS feeds and synchronize them with a supporting client application on your Mac, Windows PC and any iOS and Android device. The ease of use and integration with the platform almost eliminated the market for desktop (Mac and Windows) RSS reader clients.  

What happens now when Google Reader has its plugged pulled this summer?  We lose all of the conveniences afforded to us by Google Reader and we have no where to turn to at this point.

Marco Arment points out this may not be a bad thing:

Now, we’ll be forced to fill the hole that Reader will leave behind, and there’s no immediately obvious alternative. We’re finally likely to see substantial innovation and competition in RSS desktop apps and sync platforms for the first time in almost a decade. 

I think he’s right but at a cost.  All the RSS reader applications who use Google Reader will now need to scramble and retool with their own sync platform or work with others to create one that many can use.  It won’t be free to build, support and maintain.

Possible solutions do exist today but not really 100% replacements for Reader; both NewsBlur and Feedly have been mentioned but they seem to be having some scaling issues at the moment. 

It seems others, such as David Smith, envisioned something should be available that is not run by Google.  David announced last night that he is working on such a platform and has for months:

Feed Wrangler will be a paid, subscription based service. I believe the reason that Google turned its back on Reader and left its users hanging is that they were users not customers. I’m not interested in building a platform designed to attract as many users as possible and then work out how to sustain it later. I want to instead build something that is sustainable from Day 1. I want my customers to feel confident that they can expect this to be around long into the future. I want to build a relationship with them and make something they really, really love. 

I agree and this sums up my thoughts on free.  Free services are not good for its users in the long run, they’re not sustainable and the company operating the services has no real obligation to keep it going.  I like to give money to the services I use, it makes me feel good that the service I rely on will be there tomorrow.  I would have gladly given Google money for my Reader account, but they never asked.  It gives them an out.

I don’t trust Google will not shutdown other free services, such as Feedburner.  Those of you consuming free services probably should take this opportunity to take a look and reflect on what would happen if they went away.  How would you replace them?  Are there comparable services you could pay for that may be a more sustainable business model?  Entrepreneurs creating free services…do you think that’s the best way to go?  Me either.

Impressions of the Google Nexus 7

Nexus7

I watched the Google I/O keynote, suspecting the leaks were right about the Nexus 7 tablet and they turned out to be true.

I got in the queue for one of these and have been using mine since the middle of July.  The short version is; this is a fantastic device that I love to use.

Background

I am an owner and user of all the Apple iPads.  Since the first version these have been my primary means of content consumption beyond my Mac Pro and MacBook Air.  The iPad is a great size for sitting on the coach and catching up on reading, surfing the web or responding to emails.  In general, I use the iPad more than I do my MacBook Air when sitting around at night.  The real exception, when I need to write something lengthy and I want more of a touch typing experience.

I do own a Kindle 4 and we have a Kindle Fire in the house.  These are also great devices but they tend to be Amazon content consumers and not a general device.  Honestly, not used much since the iPad has the Kindle application.

The Hardware

I would call this device the same size as the Kindle Fire.  It’s nice when you have the latest cutting-edge device, one that ships with a Quad-core Tegra 3 processor, 1 G of RAM and an amazing 12-core GPU and runs the latest Android Jelly Bean v4.1.  It’s just plain fast.

I don’t play many games but I do use some graphic intensive applications, mainly related to astronomy and rendering star charts.  Using these apps on this device, the rendering is extremely smooth.

One thing I like about my Kindle 4 is the battery life, it lasts forever.  The battery life reported on the Nexus 7 is 10 hours for most tasks but I think it is longer.  I use the device a lot, I mean a lot and I am only charging once or twice a week.  Not exactly scientific but it lasts a long time.

Positives

There is a lot to be pleased with in the hardware and overall presentation.

  • Did I mention it’s fast?  Oh yes, it is fast.
  • There lots of software that run on it already and done very well.  Flipboard, Kindle and Instapaper are great examples.
  • Nice controls, consistent and non-hardware except for volume controls.
  • Great integration with Google Play.  It’s easy to get applications, videos and music.
  • Video play is really smooth.
  • Audio quality is great.
  • Text rendering is really sharp and smooth.  This one bothers me on pre-retina iPads.  The text in the Kindle app is not as nice as it could be.  
  • Size – it almost fits into a shirt pocket.  It’s a lot less bulky than the iPad

Negatives

There is always a few issues with anything new and the Nexus has a few, some are probably my lack of understanding and are not even Nexus 7 specific.

  • Not all of the applications I use on the iPad are available on the device, but it will get better.
  • Not all of the applications I found for Android run on this device, will also get better.  
  • When using the browser, the fonts are often so small that their hard to read and I have to zoom in.
  • WiFi-only – I own 3G iPads and I never have to worry about having an Internet connection but with this device I do.  Not huge, but a factor.
  • Orientation is locked by default.  I lived with this until I figured out that it could easily be turned off. 
  • Headphone jack on the bottom, wish it was on the top.

Finally

I love the Nexus 7, it fits nicely into my collection of devices.  Devices I actually use.

I have been critical of the other Android tablets I played around with, too many have iPad envy.  The Nexus 7 is trying to be its own device in its own form factor, one that is a nice size.

I’m looking forward to the next version of this, maybe one with 3G so I can keep the Nexus 7 with me and use it for navigation.  I use my iPad this way today, and it’s just a bit too big.

 

Book: UnMarketing

Unmarketing

I am not really a fan of marketing, most of it sounds so disingenuous.  The best and most effective marketing is not seen, this occurs when you are marketing and no one can identify it as marketing.

I found a book by Scott Stratten titled UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging which teaches how to do it right, to be genuine.  This book hits on so many points that are important to today’s entrepreneurs that as I read it I just had nod my head over and over.

Some people claim not to be marketers, not to be sales people, but you are.  Sorry to be the barer of bad news but you deal with people each day and are marketing yourself.

I’ll admit I “read” Scott’s book but I did it in the audio version from Audible.com and I’m so glad I did.  If I read the Kindle or printed edition it would have been in my voice and not Scott’s.  Scott is great narrator and very entertaining.  It appears the book on Amazon is a revised and updated version but I think the material from Audible is so applicable today that it doesn’t matter.  Your mileage may vary of course.

When I think of traditional marketing I think of writing and sending press releases, sales pitches and all those things associated with the unpleasant part of selling a product.  Scott takes the approach that has worked for me in acquiring new clients, low pressure and being yourself and helping people because you care about helping people.

Many of the things taught in this book seem to be obvious but so few people actually get it.  Scott goes into great details on:

  • How to build trust
  • Examples of companies that don’t get-it
  • No cold calling
  • Evaluation of the main social media services
  • Fast and relevant interaction with an existing customer
  • Tweeting just to tweet
  • Transparency and authenticity (my favorite)
  • so much more…

Summary

I loved this book.  I read a lot of books and I occasionally will point one out here but only if I really liked it.  This book is one I really liked and continually get a lot out of.

This book is loaded with gems, some will apply to your business and some might not but I think there is something in here for everyone.  Read this book and make our social media world a better place.

Scott also runs a very good blog where he discusses various topics close to the book topics.  Almost like a running errata list.

 

Marco’s Love of Android

I have been following an interesting discussion between the Shifty Jelly folks and Marco Arment of Instapaper regarding the merits of developing for iOS versus Android and whether it’s worth the developer’s time (read money) creating for the platform.

Eric Schmidt spoke recently at Le Web where he said developers, like it or not, will target Android.  As someone who writes iOS applications, it seemed like an arrogant statement and Marco had his thoughts, which seem reasonable to me:

Android devices have been selling in large quantities for a long time. That’s not new. Yet today, compared to iOS, Android is much less profitable for developers (especially for paid apps), its users are less influential for expanding new services, and its app development is much more painful and expensive. And in the rapidly growing and increasingly influential tablet market, Android has an extremely low marketshare.

Shify Jelly creators of applications for both iOS and Android took offense to Marco statements and wrote some elegant dialog as to the contrary:

First some background. We’ve been in the iOS app store since August of 2008, which for those that are counting is only a month or so after it first launched. We’ve been on Android now for about a year. We make serious apps like Pocket Casts and Pocket Weather AU, things that take a lot of development effort and involve serious server back-ends. We’ve made enough money since then to support 2 full time staff, and 2 part time designers. Yes we’re the guys who had the run in with Amazon, the email from Steve Jobs, and we’re not millionaires.

Finally, since neither of these developers allow comments on their blog, Marco’s rebuttal to the challenge by Shifty Jelly:

If you make the first great Android Instapaper client that:

  • uses the official API
  • contains a significant portion of the iOS app’s features, the details of which we’d work out privately
  • runs on a wide variety of Android devices and OS versions including modern smartphones, the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, and whichever 10” tablet matters at the time of completion
  • is priced at $2.99 or higher in the U.S. with approximately equivalent pricing elsewhere, and satisfies requirements to be sold in the Google Marketplace, Amazon Appstore, and whatever B&N uses for the Nook Tablet

I’ll call it the official Instapaper app for Android, I’ll promote it on the Instapaper site, I’ll drop the subscription requirement for its API access, you’ll answer all support email that comes from it, and we’ll split the net revenue 50/50.

As you may know, I write iOS applications but have not given Android much thought primarily for Marco’s reasons.  I like to keep an open mind and would target Android if there was money to be made in any of the apps stores.  I just don’t see it.  Certainly there are tons of Android phones flying out of the stores but are those people spending the money like the users in Apple’s App Store?  I fear not, at least not today.  If users aren’t spending their hard earned dollars on applications how can we be expected to spend our hours on developing for a platform with almost no return.

Who is making money selling their Android applications today?  Please leave a comment.

The dialog is worth the read and is food for thought.  It’s interesting how, since neither allows comments on their blogs, they are forced to trade shots in this way.

 

The Android Hubbub

Images

I wrote a few months back about dumping the iPhone in favor of an Android phone running on Verizon, not because I didn’t like the iPhone but because I despised AT&T.

We hear a lot about how fast the adoption of Android is and how it is taking over as the #1 mobile operating system.  Sure, when carriers are signing up to sell as many Android handsets as possible it’s no wonder Google claims the adoption rate is so high.  One thing the numbers don’t take into account is quality, we need to remember that quantity does not equate to quality.

Since October 2010 I have been using a Droid X and having come from an iPhone 3GS, I think I have a fair amount of experience using both platforms.  Comparing the experience of using both, I arrive at the following conclusions:

  • The Droid X is nice hardware, very comparable to the iPhone
  • The Droid X running Android is quite a bit slower than the 3GS.  Remember, the 3GS hardware is pretty old.  Applications are not nearly as responsive as the iPhone.
  • The Android applications I used crash quite often.  I don’t want to name any but suffice to say, very similar applications with some being from the same company, crash more often than is acceptable.
  • The aesthetics of the iOS applications are far and above any Android application.  I struggle to find an acceptable beauty in any, with the slight exception of the official Twitter application.
  • Applications on Android have an inconsistent user interface, maybe because of the lack of quality control going into the process of putting something in the app store.

After using the Droid X for these months I can safely say it was a suffering experience.  I grew to a real dislike for the device and often times hoped I would lose the phone or have it fall to an untimely death just so I had an excuse to replace it.

I am happy to report that I have come to my last ounce of patients with Android and am returning to the iPhone.  Oh how I have missed you.  I had hoped to wait until the iPhone 5 was available but resolved that life is too short to have to have a sub-par mobile experience.

I ran into an article recently titled, “Android Isn’t About Building a Mobile Platform“, which really explains a lot about Google’s drive behind creating Android:

Google is building Android not so they can make great mobile devices and sell them to consumers. Rather, they are making them for these two simple reasons: (1) to disrupt Apple’s growing dominance of mobile devices, both so Google doesn’t have to rely on Apple for access to their users and to eliminate their paid-for application model; and (2) so Google can control the mobile industry and thus secure advertising from it.

It makes a lot of sense and is brilliantly clear but a shame.  I believe if the goal is not to create a great mobile platform but rather just a conduit for advertising then it will always be sub-par.

So to my readers, I am not writing this post to complain, but to warn.  I write this from the standpoint of someone who has given two popular mobile platforms a fair shake and come to the realization how different they are.  Different can be good but it can also be a step backwards, Android is certainly a step in the backwards direction.  The grass is not greener on the other side of this fence, there are just seeds on this other side.  It’s young and will likely evolve but it has a long way to go.  Appreciate your iPhone as I will, which is out for delivery and will arrive today.

Making Money on Mobile Applications

Tim Bray had an interesting and timely post recently regarding his view on a developer’s ability to make money creating mobile applications.

As a developer who is in the process of publishing my first application to the App Store, I have spent some time examining the various mobile platforms and looking at paid vs. ad supported applications.  I am in no-way suggesting Tim is wrong nor am I supporting his view.  He brings up great points and I wanted to give a bit of my own feedback from the perspective of a developer who did a bit of research to choose a platform to support.

Tim does bring up some good points and his view is probably reflective of many mobile application developers.  Keep in mind, Tim works for Google so his Google Goggles may be on and he is not seeing very many developers making money selling Android applications.

One point which keeps sticking in my mind is, at least in the Apple App Store is when selling an application, you get the sale once and that’s it:

…I deeply believe that the app-sales business sucks. Selling anything on a one-time basis at a price below $10 is historically the kind of business that’s been owned by companies like Walmart. I acknowledge that it’s working for some people, but it’s just not where I’d want to be.

So, which platform makes the most sense to start with?  I really don’t know but can make a best guess and say Apple.

iOS vs. Android

The intent is not to start a flame war here but just calling it like I see it from a very high level as well as from a user level, owning both an iPhone and a Motorola Droid X:

Android has a ton of handsets out there so the market is very attractive for developers.  The barrier to entry is also extremely low and the process of submitting applications virtually non-existant.  This leads to a lot of really low-quality apps, which people are not interested in paying for.

iOS whose barrier is considerably higher here, with a $99 annual fee and fairly stringent review process before an application can see the light of day in the App Store, this leads at least to a lower number of bad apps getting to market.   The early days of the fart app are gone and now we are seeing good quality.

Ad Sales

I think it would be interesting to be able to have two identical apps, one is paid and the other is ad-supported, in order to find out which is better.  The question could become, do I charge $0.99 for my app or give it away and put ads in the application.  It seems many Android developers are going down the ad-supported path.

Tim says:

I work for Google, and this is obviously one of our strengths. I don’t have the strong positive vibe about ads that I get about the relationship selling, as in upgrades and in-app. Having said that, I know for a fact from talking to developers that ads are starting to work pretty well for some of them.

Since he is employed by Google so I will therefore assume he has been speaking to Android developers, I have to think ads are what works best for them.

Upgrades and In-App Purchase

I think there are folks who are very successful with in-app purchases but I’m not sure to what extent.  Do developers turn on features in applications based on a purchase?  I can see this being very effective way for additional revenue beyond the initial $4.99 sale.

Looking at the history of the Apple App Store paid upgrades seem to be non-existant.  I have bought a lot of apps for either the iPhone and iPad and have never once been asked to pay for an upgrade from version to version.  This seems like something developers have secretly agreed on and nobody does it.  I can’t say it happens on Android, since I have never paid for an Android app, all the ones on my Droid X were free.

I wonder what would happen if charging for an upgrade was attempted?  In the Apple App Store it would have to be a totally new version and it would not be an upgrade at all but totally new.  Didn’t Tweetie try this?  I bet it doesn’t work.

In-app purchases does seem like an attractive option.  Produce new versions of the application which can only be accessed by spending more money.  I like it from a developer perspective, but probably not from a consumer one.  If the features were big then may they would be worthy of paying a fee but a clear distinction would have to be made between an upgrade and something considered a new purchased feature.

Rich Client on a Web Service

My intention is simply this; create a headless (no UI) web applications, all web service, where I can create any client I want to access and consume the web service(s).  This way the client could be an iOS device, Android tablet or maybe even a Windows Mobile Phone 7.

The web service would be a SaaS model which charges monthly for the privilege.  The client application would be given away and with recurring monthly revenue the problem of making money on mobile solved.  Another variation worth considering is selling the application for a small amount which is fully functional standalone but adds functionality when used in conjunction with the web service.

One aspect of this model which bothers me is what happens when the user doesn’t have good service or the web service was down for maintenance?  I think the ability for applications to store data locally to later be synced back to the cloud gives the user the best of both worlds.

Conclusion

I am interested in learning more.  I know very little about being a successful mobile developer but I have been marketing software for a long time.

How can one make a living differently from what I am suggesting?  Are app sales dead and only limited a few developers?  I don’t think so but these are hard numbers to acquire.

 

App Inventor for Android, VB Revisited

Google announced a new product today, App Inventor for Android.  This is a development environment for creating applications on Android, only you don’t need to be a developer, says Google:

You can build just about any app you can imagine with App Inventor. Often people begin by building games like WhackAMole or games that let you draw funny pictures on your friend’s faces. You can even make use of the phone’s sensors to move a ball through a maze based on tilting the phone.

But app building is not limited to simple games. You can also build apps that inform and educate. You can create a quiz app to help you and your classmates study for a test. With Android’s text-to-speech capabilities, you can even have the phone ask the questions aloud.

To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a developer. App Inventor requires NO programming knowledge. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app’s behavior.

Here is App Inventor in Action:


Is this the new Visual Basic?

I think we saw this before with Microsoft’s introduction of Visual Basic.  Visual Basic was an environment for just about anyone to create applications for Microsoft Windows.  Sure, it was used a TON and created a rich marketplace but it also created a lot of really bad software with really poor code bases which were hard to maintain.  I think a few readers probably still have their fair share of VB 6 code out in the wild.

I saw so many applications created by dragging-and-dropping controls on a form by business people, farm-hands and anyone else who cared to pick-up a mouse.  These applications were often toys created by mort.

Dave Winer of Scripting News, agrees this may not be the thing for the marketplace.  He certainly has seen technology come and go:

This idea of a once-and-for-all development tool is like the Divining Rod of the Olde Days. Perpetual Motion. The goose that laid the golden egg. The fountain of youth. Shangri-la. Bigfoot. The Loch Ness Monster. Cold fusion. The Singularity!

Jeff Jarvis and The Quark of Programming also offers an interesting perspective:

Will App Inventor yield lots of crappy apps? Of course, it will, just as Quark enabled sinful design and Blogger wasted bits. That is true of all such technologies that lower the barrier to entry to a former domain of priests. That’s precisely what the printing press did. As much as the web breaks down priesthoods, it created new ones. Developers are merely the latest. They say that mortals can’t do what they do. But what if they could? What if they could translate a thought not just into words and design but into action?

I imagine Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com going positively batshit over this, enabling businesses to create apps for, say, their sales teams to manage and share information about and with clients. I imagine small businesses using App Inventor to create apps like Chipotle’s that enable customers to make burrito orders before they arrive. I imagine teachers being able to make exercises and quizzes in apps (forget the electronic textbook; give me the electronic workbook!).

I think Jeff is right, there will be a lot of crappy applications created.  This could be a huge problem too.  Let’s say the Android app store skyrockets to 1,000,000 applications, how would you ever filter out the junk from the good?  It would be nearly impossible.  As it is, Apple has a pretty stick policy to filter apps fro there store and it is still hard to find an application never mind a good one.

On the other hand, from a business perspective, this is a potential great move by Google to create a ton of new applications for their store.  In one fell swoop they can have developers and non-developers creating applications for their store.  I speak from experience, it is not trivial to create iPhone applications, certainly not something a non-developer could easily tackle.

I would love to see a tool like this succeed, but I have seen others fail.  Why should App Inventor be any different?