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On Being Overpriced

In the recent hubbub over Motorola Xoom pricing, I started to think a bit more about the current landscape of tablets on the market today—the iPad, and the competition.

Obviously, the iPad has won round 1. And it looks like round 2 is starting with Apple throwing all the punches—even though there's been no word on a second revision from the horse's mouth (yet).

But I was thinking to myself, "Why (and how?!) is Apple the only company selling a worthy $499 tablet." Apple's always been known to most people in the world as a luxury brand—and they are, in some senses—but why is Motorola introducing a tablet that retails for $799 minimum at launch, and will someday have a $599 version?

Motorola, and others in the 'actually working / almost shipping' tablet manufacturing market, probably see that the mid-range iPads are more popular than the cheap ones, and they target this price range/feature set. So, in a sense, what they're doing makes sense: target the large part of the bell curve of tablet sales, and make a great sub-$800 tablet.

However, I think they neglect to see one of Apple's greatest advantages: the upsell.

Apple has a $499 iPad, sure. But I don't know anyone that owns it. People instead go to the store feeling like they can afford $499 (it's only $500, right?). Then they look at numbers like 16 GB with WiFi only, and then see that they can just pay a little more and get 32 GB. A little more than that, and they can also have 3G, in case they ever need it.

Thus, Apple can still make a small margin on the $499 iPad, but they absorb the downside of that small margin by selling people the second model in the lineup. The $499 iPad is worth far more than you can imagine to Apple's iPad sales—even if it's not the hottest selling model. Even if Motorola would take a loss selling a $499 Xoom, they should do it.

On Developing for Android... or Not

After having jumped into the pool of mobile app development head first (more on that to come), I finally have a little more perspective when it comes to developing for iOS vs. Android.

One of the first things that I did when I started developing an App for iOS is purchase an iPod Touch. There's no way I wanted to be using my iPhone for all my development work, and I needed a device I could acquire quickly, at a low cost (i.e. without a contract), and not worry about battery life, durability, etc.

Plus, I know tons of people with iPod Touches already—most are people who don't want to spend an outrageous amount of money on a 'smartphone' plan with one of the major US carriers, but want a great mobile computing device/PDA/media player.

So, buy the iPod Touch for ~$200, download Xcode, and you're good to go for iOS development. Plus, the whole App Store process, while it's a bit convoluted at times, is very well structured, and offers developers easy avenues towards getting an app from development to sale to success with little effort required.

Of course, as I'm getting nearer and nearer the App's release, I'm hearing calls from all corners of Geekdom, "When you gonna release for Android?!" And the more frequent the cries of distress, the more frequently I look around for ways that I can/should start developing for Android.

Task 1 - Finding an Android-running device on which to Develop my App

Well, I was thinking to myself, I might as well at least buy an Android-running device and check things out.

First problem: There is no iPod Touch equivalent for Android. Why not? The iPod Touch is a hugely successful product, and if it's true that Apple always vastly overcharges for hardware, why isn't there a manufacturer who can capture some of Apple's market with an iPod Touch-like device. Something that is basically an Android phone, without the phone?

Well, either the manufacturers know they can't compete with Apple (for some strange reason), or maybe justjimjpc, from androidforums.com, knows what he's talking about:

An Android that is not a phone .... What For ..???? I never saw the use for a Touch except for those that could not qualify for a phone ...

Maybe some day a maker will make such a unit with android ... but not a big market IMO

(Source)

I don't know what kind of alternate reality this guy lives in, but I beg to differ with him: there is a market for the Touch—developers like me who just need a device to develop with, but not pay contract fees for.

Oh, and there are a few other people that like iPod Touches as well—something like, I don't know, 45 million people?

Task 2 - Finding a Good IDE in which to Develop for Android

Well, there does happen to be an Android SDK for Mac OSX, so that's good news. The Android developer website looks a little jarring, but it seems informative.

I heard mention of the Eclipse IDE, and it seems that's the way to go for Android dev, as there are special plugins/tutorials/etc. for it... but I've never used Eclipse—I'm more of a TextMate, Coda, etc. kinda guy, and even Xcode can be a little overwhelming sometimes. Hopefully TextMate, at least, is supported as a first class citizen of Android development tools.

Task 3 - Targeting an OS Version/Platform/Resolution/etc. for Development

I was glancing at 'Downloadable SDK Components,' and started getting a little scared... I saw in the list: Android 2.3.3, 2.3, 2.2, 2.1, 1.6 and 1.5...

Not only that... there are devices on the market today running each of these platform versions, and mixed with that, devices have vastly different hardware capabilities. One of the nicest things about iOS development is that I can target the iPhone 3G+ and iPod Touch running 3.2.x, and know that certain things will work, and others won't, and that certain things will run slowly, and others won't, across all iDevices.

Even a relatively simple app will require things like GPS interaction, different touch gestures, XML handling, filesystem access, etc.—and many of these things change a tiny bit from version to version of an individual device and OS. Keeping track of just the three main versions of the iPhone (3G, 3Gs, and 4) is hard enough—but worth the effort, since each individual revision exists in the hands of real users in the millions.

Why would I want to target even 10 different Android phones, especially since no individual unit comes close to the market penetration as one model of the iPhone?

Task 4 - Develop an App for Android?

I'm going to hold off on any Android development right now. For one, the complexity of targeting multiple versions of the platform, and multiple devices that have vastly different hardware capabilities, screen resolutions, etc. is simply not worth my time and effort.

Additionally, there's no way for me to get an Android device for development right now without paying a contract, or buying a used handset without a plan...

Finally, why develop for a platform that I don't use, and that I only know of two family members/friends who use? I know a huge number of iPhone users, and many teens and kids with iPod Touches. I can count over 20 in my extended family. I know more BlackBerry users (currently) than Android users—and I'm definitely not going to develop for BlackBerry!

Could my perspective on this change? Yes, most assuredly. But at this point, I can say with certainty that it's not worth my time/resources to try to develop an App for the Android market.

Developer Experience on the Mac App Store

This year, one of my resolutions is to become a more experienced programmer—not only in web development (I can hold my own with PHP, server scripting, and web design languages)—and one of the measurable achievements I'd like to accomplish is having apps on the Mac App Store and iOS App Store.

I submitted a new Mac App, Visibility*, on January 9, and was hoping the app might be reviewed quickly so I could experience a few days on the Mac App store soon after its launch. Well, after more than two weeks of waiting, the App is still 'Waiting for Review.'

Following the advice of some other developers on Apple's Developer Forums, I submitted an expedited app review support ticket... and didn't get a response for over a week!

From the response email:

Thanks for your email and feedback. In order to get as many developers into the Mac App Store as possible we are reviewing apps on a first-come first-served basis. The size of any individual app or its fixes do not have an impact on when the app will enter In Review state.

We will get to your application as quickly as possible.

If your update is for a critical bug fix (reproducible crashes, for example), we can expedite a review. To do so, please let us know how we can reproduce this issue so we can confirm the resolution during our review. 

I'm in agreement with some other developers who are getting restless about their Mac App Store development timeframes—if there's no way to know how long it will take to get an app, or even an update to an already-submitted app, to the store, how can we commit resources to developing for the Mac App Store? It has taken many developers over a month to get their Apps approved.

Hopefully Apple will accelerate the approval process soon... or at least offer developers an estimated timeline for approval!

*It's an extremely simple app, but it has already allowed me to learn more about Xcode, Objective-C programming, Interface Builder, and the App Store process.

Mac App Store - Real Reason for It?

Mac App Store Icon - LogoThis might just be too crazy to be true, but I just thought, after reading that some of the bestselling games for the Mac were added to the Mac App Store, if there might be an ulterior motive to the Mac App Store...

Besides adding some revenue to Apple's bottom line, offering a convenient means to Mac users discovering and purchasing new software, and making the Mac more in-line with the iOS device philosophy, what if Steve walked into an Apple retail store one day last year and said:

"I really like the entrance to this store. There's something magical about it. Every product we display in this physical space is our own, and it exudes beauty."

Johnny Ive then says, "Yeah, mate. That's exactly why we made it this way."

Steve continues, though, "But look beyond... do you see that wall back there? Look at all those disgusting, multi-colored boxes of cardboard and plastic. Shades of blue, red, yellow... nothing matches. Let's get rid of it. Right now." [Steve is here referring to the wall of third-party software for the Mac].

Tim Cook replies, "Alright, Steve-o. I see what you're saying... but let's not be too hasty. It will take a few months for people to get used to buying software on their Macs... plus, Lion's not out yet! Let's wait a few months, but we'll do it."

Steve concludes, "Fine, fine. Let's get this done now... and don't worry too much about the developers—I just sent out a batch of our finest kool-aid."

I could definitely imagine this happening.

Switched back to Safari from Chrome... Again

Google Chrome No MoreGoogle lit up the hornet's nest yesterday when they announced that they were dropping built-in support of H.264 for their own 'open' WebM and OGG video formats.

I reconfigured Xmarks on all my computers (to sync all my bookmarks between FireFox, Safari and Chrome), and I'm back to using Safari full-time, with FireFox as my main backup. (FF 4.0 can't come soon enough).

It was good knowing ye, Chrome. I actually had my sights set on using Chrome indefinitely until yesterday.

(One of the many reasons I detest this decision by Google is that I have tested the waters of using WebM and/or OGG video for some web projects (using the HTML5 video tag), and found it sorely lacking, and a major pain to even attempt to use.* If I'm having so much trouble getting video into this ridiculous format, how can I ever expect my Mom/Sister/Friend/Brother/whomever is not as tech-y as I to do it?!).

Google: Please rescind your decision. For the good of the web, and for the good of my 500+ already encoded videos, and for the good of web developers, video content producers, and device makers everywhere.

For anyone else switching from another browser to Safari, here are a few tips:

  1. Install Xmarks to sync your bookmarks. It's awesome.
  2. Install Keywurl to search from Safari's address bar - it's even better than the 'wonder bar' or whatever it's called in Chrome. (How to install for Safari 5).
  3. Install the Ultimate Status Bar extension for Safari, and ditch the status bar. It's also awesome.

The only thing I love about Chrome that I can't do with Safari is use the Shift+Command+N shortcut to quickly open a 'private browsing' window. Oh well.

Just six months ago, I switched from Chrome to Safari when 5.0 was released... but then I switch back to Chrome again for it's private browsing keyboard shortcut (I used that a lot for website anonymous user testing...). Now back to Safari!

*See: HTML5 Video Embedding on a Drupal website

My Experience with the Apple TV

I've only been using the Apple TV for a few days now, but I have used it enough to jot down a few first impressions. I'll likely do a full-on review at some point in the future.

Apple TV (2010 - Black)

Some of the things I really, really like about the ATV (I have the black/2010 model):

  • Disappearing act: This thing is tiny, and it's black. I hate seeing anything besides my speakers and my TV, and the Apple TV is much better at hiding in my cabinet than my now-RROD Xbox 360. Oh, and it's silent.
  • Surround Sound, HD, Effortless: It's awesome to finally be able to stream all my movies (HD or not) from my Mac with 5.1 digital surround. So awesome. (See my article on how to rip Blu-Rays and DVDs and get them to work with the Apple TV and other devices).
  • Speed, Wireless N: Since I have an AirPort Express with 802.11n networking and a decent Internet connection, everything is fast—watching videos on YouTube, popping around the system, browsing my computer's movie and music library. Awesome.

Some things I don't like all that much, but will definitely live with:

  • You have to have iTunes and your Mac on at all times to share to the Apple TV: Hopefully Apple will find a way to sell me another device to store all my content off-Mac so I'm not burning an extra 100W when my computer is serving up content.
  • No 1080p: Not a deal-breaker for me, as I have a 720p 42" TV, but someday, I'll upgrade, and want those extra pixels.
  • Harmony Remotes don't work out-of-the-box with the Apple TV: Still takes some time to have to program the remote manually if you want everything to work correctly. Ah well.

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