Wednesday, June 27, 2007

iPhone: The Reviews are in and it's a Hit

Yesterday media reviewers were finally allowed to post their writeups of their testing time with the iPhone, and overall the reviews are positive. While the iPhone isn't without it's shortcomings, it IS a 1.0 product so that's to be expected I guess. Overall, there are few surprises, which, considering the hype is GREAT for Apple.

Walt Mossberg et al starts out almost gushing over the thing:
We have been testing the iPhone for two weeks, in multiple usage scenarios, in cities across the country. Our verdict is that, despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer. Its software, especially, sets a new bar for the smart-phone industry, and its clever finger-touch interface, which dispenses with a stylus and most buttons, works well, though it sometimes adds steps to common functions.

David Pogue at the New York Times is also really positive:
The phone is so sleek and thin, it makes Treos and BlackBerrys look obese. The glass gets smudgyóa sleeve wipes it cleanóbut it doesnít scratch easily. Iíve walked around with an iPhone in my pocket for two weeks, naked and unprotected (the iPhone, that is, not me), and thereís not a mark on it.

But the bigger achievement is the software. Itís fast, beautiful, menu-free, and dead simple to operate. You canít get lost, because the solitary physical button below the screen always opens the Home page, arrayed with icons for the iPhoneís 16 functions.

So how is entry with the "virtual" keyboard? For both reviewers, it's a non-issue. The Mossberg Solution:
The iPhone's most controversial feature, the omission of a physical keyboard in favor of a virtual keyboard on the screen, turned out in our tests to be a nonissue, despite our deep initial skepticism. After five days of use, Walt -- who did most of the testing for this review -- was able to type on it as quickly and accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years. This was partly because of smart software that corrects typing errors on the fly.

David Pogue:
...the instructional leaflet encourages you to ďtrustĒ the keyboard (or, as a product manager jokingly put it, to ďuse the ForceĒ). It sounds like new-age baloney, but it works; once you stop stressing about each individual letter and just plow ahead, speed and accuracy pick up considerably.

Not surprisingly, both reviewers found the AT&T EDGE network to be less than stellar, but praised the ability to connect using WIFI when available. David Pogue:
The New York Timesís home page takes 55 seconds to appear; Amazon.com, 100 seconds; Yahoo. two minutes. You almost ache for a dial-up modem.
Ouch.

Some of the major and somewhat surprising shortcomings (for them, and for me) according to Pogue:
Thereís no memory-card slot, no chat program, no voice dialing. You canít install new programs from anyone but Apple; other companies can create only iPhone-tailored mini-programs on the Web. The browser canít handle Java or Flash, which deprives you of millions of Web videos. The two-megapixel camera takes great photos, provided the subject is motionless and well lighted . But it canít capture video. And you canít send picture messages (called MMS) to other cellphones.

A lot of these things are disappointing. While it's not something I'd use that much, video capture I figured would be a given, it was the only thing that made the whole YouTube on the iPhone thing make sense to me. Since you have no ability to capture and upload video, YouTube's only real purpose on the phone is to give you the ability to watch those stupid "skateboarding dog" videos where ever you are? Yeah that makes sense.

Pogue also mentions that a faster network is coming, but for NEW phones:
A future iPhone model will be able to exploit AT&Tís newer, much faster data network, which is now available in 160 cities.

So does that mean that our first-gen phones will be stuck with the EDGE network forever? I thought Apple said this would be a software upgrade? This is a bit troubling. Also troubling is the fact that the iPhone doesn't support SIM cards. Another interesting shortcoming is that there's also no way to cut, copy, or paste text. Hmmm. Version 1.0, just keep repeating that.

In addition to the glowing reviews from Mossberg and Pogue, there's lots of iPhone love coming from everywhere. Steven Levy reports for Newsweek:
The bottom line is that the iPhone is a significant leap. Itís a superbly engineered, cleverly designed and imaginatively implemented approach to a problem that no one has cracked to date: merging a phone handset, an Internet navigator and a media player in a package where every component shines, and the features are welcoming rather than foreboding. The iPhone is the rare convergence device where things actually converge

Levy also backs up my "why YouTube?" comment when he says "At launch, only a small percentage of the millions of video will have been reformatted to work with the phone. The fact is that YouTube without the long tail of hundreds of thousands of videos is barely worth the effort." So true.

Finally I'll add comments from USA Today's Ed Baig:
The mania over Apple's iPhone launch has created stratospheric expectations that are near impossible to live up to. Yet with a few exceptions, this expensive, glitzy wunderkind is indeed worth lusting after.

That's saying a lot. After months of hype, Apple has delivered a prodigy ó a slender fashion phone, a slick iPod and an Internet experience unlike any before it on a mobile handset.

I hope to post my own review here once I have an iPhone in my own hot little hands. I'll be in line here before the 6:00 AT&T store reopening. Things I'm personally looking forward to? Good email support, visual voice mail, good syncing and the video iPod support (I haven't upgraded to a color or video iPod yet).

Read more:
Mossberg: Testing Out the iPhone
Pogue: The iPhone Matches Most of Its Hype
Levy: At Last, the iPhone
Baig: Apple's iPhone isn't perfect, but it's worthy of the hype

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On Development: So You Want to Run a Software Promo?

On Software DesignSo you've got a cool software product for the Mac, and now you're looking for ways to either get exposure, or boost your sales. Well you could send out press releases, and send your news to Mac news sites, but this can be very hit or miss for a lot of us, especially when starting out. What do you do now?

Well lucky for you there are a bunch of options that you can take advantage of whether your app is new or already established. I've used 3 of them so far, MacZOT!, MacUpdate Promo and MacSanta, and this is information on what I've found.

Let me just say up front that all 3 work. They will all give you a bunch of discounted sales and a bunch of new users. Let me also say that I used all 3 in "discount" rather than "giveaway" capacities. I'm not really interested in giving away product so much, I don't really see that as a viable business model, but I like to run discounts of various percentages from time to time. I think sales are a good way to sell to the "window shopper" who may not be looking for your product necessarily, but with a discounted price, will pony up and take a chance. It's also a great way to grab those people who intend to buy your product, but never seem to get around to it. A nice discount is a great incentive.

MacZOT!

I first tried MacZOT! not too long after it launched. MacZOT! runs a new deal every day. Sometimes the deals are discounted, but other times they are "mystery" packages that you buy without knowing what you are getting. The mystery bundles I think net you more users, but my understanding is that you don't make a lot per sale. I listed MacGourmet there as part of a one-day deal for $17 (about 30% off), and sales were decent, not gangbusters, but OK for a single day certainly.

Overall the experience was positive. Set up was probably the most difficult for them. At least at the time, they didn't have a fixed format you could drop your info into, so I think they grabbed (what used to be god-ugly Dreamweaver generated) html code directly from my site. The MacZOT! cut was reasonable (I don't recall exactly what it was at the time) and I was paid in a timely manner via a PayPal. Instead of distributing serial numbers, we essentially sold 100% off coupons to be used in the Advenio store. This worked well. It added people directly to my database, and serial number delivery took no special work.

MacUpdate Promo

Following on the heels of macZot! is MacUpdate Promo. Just like macZot! they run a new deal every day. I listed SQLGrinder there recently for about 50% off ($29.95 vs. $59). MacUpdate's cut was 40%, which is high, but you can get a lot of sales using them. A lot of people go there every day, and MacMinute currently covers each daily deal.

Setup was totally painless. Because SQLGrinder is already listed on the site, they already have all of the information on the product. The one glitch I had with them (because, I think, of some sort of vague communication) was with the distribution of serial numbers. I thought that I'd give them a chunk of pre-generated serial numbers at the end of the day, and they'd send them out, but actually you are required to distribute them. Both generating them and distributing them turned out to be a pain for me, because of the system I have in use (eSellerate), but your mileage will vary. With 3 options, I think this part of the promo will be a lot less trouble for some people.

Overall, for what I consider a "niche" product (Mac database developers), sales were quite good. Good enough so that I'd consider posting MacGourmet there at some point, if I could find an easy way around the serial number distribution bottleneck I mentioned. Finally, one drawback is that it took a week to get paid via a PayPal. Why that is, I'm not sure, but that seems to me to take longer than it needs to. Just something to be aware of.

MacSanta

While the two previous did work for me, MacSanta worked the best by far. Major props have to go out to Paul Kafasis of Rogue Amoeba for setting this up around Christmas last year. MacSanta was easy to do, Paul took care of the placement, and everything used a single 25% off coupon code (MACSANTA), redeemable though each developer's store. Because of this, developers got to keep the greatest amount from the promotion, rather than having to fork over a substantial percentage to a third party. Even now, the MacSanta page stands as a great index for some awesome Mac software. In addition, I thought it did a great job of promoting community spirit among Mac developers of all sizes. Please Paul, run MacSanta again this year, it was great.

So there you go, my personal experiences running promotions using some of those available to indie Mac developers. I've used all three of them, all 3 were positive for me, and all 3 are promotional vehicles I'd consider using again.

As one final note, it is also possible to run your own promotion. I ran one with a discount for the MacGourmet 1 year anniversary, and sold about as many copies as I did during the MacZOT! promotion. The problem with this of course is that unless you can get some news sites to cover the promotion, no one will know about it. 2 out of the 3 promotions I mentioned already have built-in audiences, which makes your job half as difficult.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

MacGourmet 2.1.3 Now Available

MacGourmet 2.1.3, a maintenance release that fixes a bunch of minor issues, is now available. For a full list of changes, please see the release notes. Check out this MacGourmet News post for more information and a sneak preview of the upcoming nutritional database feature of MacGourmet.

MacGourmet 2.1.3 can be downloaded from the MacGourmet download page.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Musings on the WWDC 2007 Keynote

Well another WWDC keynote has come and gone. I didn't get to WWDC again this year, but I monitored the web pages giving the play by play and have now watched parts of the keynote itself.

Just some quick comments:

I found both the transparent menu bar and the reflective dock to be more useless eye candy that doesn't seem to have any good reason (like improved usability) to be there. If anything, it actually introduces usability issues.

I found it interesting that apparently the iTunes UI team is driving the UI of the Mac, and not the other way around. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't find a lot of good in iTunes, but I'm not convinced that a "record collection" motif will work for everything on your Mac. All I can say is that the changes to Finder had better be more than just superficial. The first time I use the Leopard Finder and it totally hangs on me for 8 minutes because a shared volume isn't there will certainly show that nothing's really changed.

I'm still scratching my head over why we REALLY need Safari on Windows... *shrug* (UPDATE: From a comment made by John Gruber: "My somewhat-informed understanding is that Apple is currently generating about $2 million per month from Safariís Google integration. Thatís $25 million per year." Oh THAT'S why!)

I really would have rather had Steve say "As 3rd party developers, you can't develop for the iPhone yet, and you may not ever be able to" rather than the "Web 2.0 is Sweet, and it's all you need" line. Look at the demo of the web app versus the iPhone native app. It's not the same user experience at all. Pay special attention to the scrolling. In the address book, the list itself scrolls but the whole UI doesn't. In the web app demo, the entire UI scrolls, to the point where you actually see some kind of blank space. It's just not the same. I'm sure there will be people that will produce web interfaces geared towards the iPhone, and that's fine, but it's certainly not a panacea if you are a Cocoa developer vs. a web developer, and you are used to local access and storage, and being able to deliver the same user experience as native applications. Still, I'm holding my judgments and plans until I see what we can actually do once the phone is out and in our hands. (It looks like I'm not exactly alone with my impressions.)

Overall an unspectacular and in some ways disappointing keynote. (Interesting, anyone else notice that there is no longer a link to the developer site on the Apple home page?)

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