Thursday, September 20, 2007

On Simplification and Adding New Features

On Software DesignSimplify, simplify, simplify. It should always be one of your goals when designing and developing software. I'm a big fan of simplification. There's a certain elegance and single-mindedness to a simple application. But there's at least one problem: for every user who wants an application to stay simple, there's at least one other who is demanding feature "X."

I'll use MacGourmet as an example. Version 1 started with the "keep it simple" goal of not adding too many features, of keeping things almost to a minimum. Some people liked the application this way. Soooo many others demanded more fields, nutritional calculation, menu planning, more publishing options, more printing options, more import and export options... well you can see where this is going.

It's really, really hard to do both: add the features users really want, and keep things simple at the same time. For instance, there is just no easy way to add nutritional analysis and menu planning to MacGourmet, not without complicating things somewhat. Each of these features requires new UI elements, and new organizational elements. You need to somehow incorporate them into the user interface, without overwhelming it or cluttering it up, and this takes time and thought, and well, design.

On top of meeting the demands of your users who want more, there's the drive to "release or die," the reality that in order to keep your application selling and generating revenue, you have to keep doing releases and updates. Beyond bug fixes and minor enhancements, this usually means new major features, especially if you want need to charge for your upgrades.

Finally, as if all this weren't enough, it really doesn't matter what people ultimately use and what they don't, when purchasing and picking their application from a group of competitors, they will often ultimately pick based on feature set, whether or not they will use all of the features. Then, however, they don't want the unused features in their face while using the application. It's a difficult balance to maintain.

So, what's the solution? How do you keep things simple, add new features, and keep making money? There are many schools of thought on this.

The first one is pretty much K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Stupid). Essentially, just don't add major new features, Keeping things simple, and very focused instead. This works, if what you are doing will always appeal to new users over time, and what you are doing satisfies enough people. This path can suffer though, when your application is compared to competitors in the same space.

The second possibility is some kind of adaptive UI. Microsoft tried this with Microsoft Word, hiding little used features and menu items, but I personally found this maddening. Things would just disappear if you hadn't used them in a couple of weeks, forcing you to try and remember where it was in the first place, and to search for it's location if you didn't remember.

Finally there is the plug-in route. Start simple and let people add things "a la carte," instead of loading up your application with a bunch of features, all of which next to no one will use in their entirety.

I chose the third method for adding major new features to MacGourmet. Plug-ins allow you to add and remove features as desired. They also allow me to keep MacGourmet, at its core, much simpler than if every feature that every user ever wanted was added to the base product. I've already received some push back from people who say MacGourmet 2 is more complicated than the first version, and they're right, it is, but that's only because so many people had been asking for so many things.

Starting with Nutrition, major new MacGourmet features will be made available via optional plug-ins, some free, and some at an additional cost. Doing this, however, will allow the base application to stay as simple as you want it to be, and hopefully I'll be able to maintain the "free upgrades" path that it's been on so far. Don't read this the wrong way, there will still be major improvements to the "core" application, like a much improved shopping list (which has already been redesigned) and other features that are considered essential to a basic recipe application. The good news for some of you, if all you want is the basic application and if this method works, is that you'll probably keep getting improvements for free. So long as the basic application keeps paying its way with new users, there shouldn't be a need for upgrade fees.

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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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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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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Go to College to Study CS? Absolutely.

Wil Shipley answers a reader's question about whether or not they should attend college and study computer science, and whether or not it's worth actually getting the degree. In addition to his ultimate conclusion:
Are you going to use the lessons you learned in CS in 'real-world' programming? Yes. Not all of them, but the ones you do use are going to make a HUGE difference. The delta between programmers who know when to use a hash table and those who don't is enormous. The delta between programmers who understand the O(n) stuff and those who don't is also huge. Too many programs are written by programmers who, frankly, suck at theory, and they write slow, crappy programs as a result. Get a solid basis in the science before you become a programmer.
which I totally have to agree with, I'd add a bunch of things.

Do you HAVE to get a degree in computer science to work in the industry, develop Mac applications, etc.? No, you really don't. But here's what actually studying it in school will give you, above all else: a solid background in the science of developing software. How to write better, tighter, cleaner code. How to think about the "big picture." How to plan and actually design things, rather than just throwing things together. How to work on projects with a team, and with other people's code. The advantages are many.

Granted, some people will have these skills naturally, but that vast majority won't, and attending a good C.S. program will teach you the basics that you will use for the rest of your career. Instead of just learning one programming language, you'll learn the theory that will allow you do easily use ANY programming language, without much struggle.

One thing that you'll have to be aware of, though, is that a lot of good programs will require you to also study math and science, and this can be a detraction. But they do it in the spirit of "well-roundedness." They also do it because it adds more theory and problem solving skills to your kit, and that's what computer science really is, problem solving. Some programs can be really tough, and not everyone will be like Wil who "literally got an 'A' for showing up." My computer science class started with around 54 students. By the end of a very punishing first year, that number was cut in half, because people realized that it wasn't for them, and that there was actually work involved.

Still, it's worth it. And you'll see the fruits of your education throughout your career. You'll see the fruits when you compare your clean, well organized code to the sometimes sloppy code of someone who didn't go to school (I know, this is a generalization, but in general, I've found the code of people who went to school to be be much better than that of those who didn't). You'll see the fruits when you are being considered for a position along with someone who has similar experience, but no degree. And you'll see the fruits of your study because when you REALLY have a strong foundation in software development, all the basics will come so easily, you'll be able to concentrate on solving the real problems, and that's what makes software development enjoyable.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

iPhone: Is There Something Apple Isn't Telling Us Yet?

This month's Popular Science (April 2007) has a How It Works write up on haptic feedback for touch screens: the ability to "feel" a touch on an LCD touch screen.

The Phone that Touches You Back

Will the iPhone have this? One of the big knocks vis a vis "Smart" phones and PDAs that have keyboards is that you won't be able to type well with the flat, LCD touch screen on the iPhone because of no tactile feedback. If the iPhone incorporated this tech, and it's here already, seems to me one of the big knocks against it would be knocked out.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Is Adobe's Apollo the "Real Deal?"

Adobe has been working on freeing flash and web development from the browser for a while now, supplementing or even replacing rich web clients, and Apollo is their solution:
Adobe Systems is opening a new phase in the rich client wars, releasing code that could help developers change notions of what a PC interface looks like.

The company is posting early code and a software development kit (SDK) for Apollo, its runtime engine for web-like applications running on a desktop without a browser. Apollo launches at the end of the year.

We've seen the claim before. A 4GL-ish based system that will put software development in the hands of everyone, and Apollo is another of these, I think, but will someone get it right this time? I always wonder at claims something can make anyone a "developer." OK, it can make you one, but it doesn't make you a good one necessarily. Look at all the terrible flash-based web interfaces out there.

While conceptually similar to Widgets in Apple's OS X, and Windows Vista's oh-so-originally named Gadgets, Apollo goes a step further, Adobe says. It can run on the desktop, is capable of accessing data on the local hard disk, and of integrating with other applications - such as Adobe's PDF.

Adobe wants developers to build Apollo-based desktop applications using existing tools and expertise, such as Flash, Flex, HTML, CSS and AJAX.

This is probably one of the biggest risks around Apollo, that Apple and Microsoft, the owners of the desktop, are already doing something similar, though both are confined to their own respective "sandboxes" right now and Apollo isn't. There isn't anything to really stop, say Apple, from making it so Dashboard widgets can run outside of Dashboard. In fact, there is already a way to do it.

Apollo gives developers a way to customize the desktop, and move away from the cookie-cutter Microsoft-defined look and feel that's defined the PC market for 30 years. This could come in quite handy for banks, telcos and other brand-conscious organizations that want a customized interface to be the first thing users and customers see when working, instead of the Microsoft logo and standard Windows front-end.

Apparently, the Mac/PC user interface is dead, or at least a lot of people are trying to kill it, to make it disappear into the background, replaced by task specific UIs, all different and all branded.

I think to really see the potential benefits and uses of Apollo you need to watch this demo video. It shows some of the interactions between an Apollo "app" and a web site, in this case Amazon.com. I think that rather than replacing traditional desktop apps, Apollo has the potential to create a whole new class of web-aware applications. While it won't make every web designer a software developer, it does potentially open up new ways for those of us that do develop software to build web-aware applications, and that could lead to a lot of new ways to present and manipulate data.

Read more: Adobe targets developers with Apollo
More information on Apollo: The Apollo wiki

(Note: I haven't actually had time to download and evaluate Apollo yet.)

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

MacGourmet 2: A Development Post-Mortem

On Software DesignIt's always my intent to document the process of development here, and one good point to do this is always after a new major version is released. A post-mortem is a great way to look back at what went wrong and what went right in a development process.

Looking back, now that MacGourmet 2 is out, I can say that things took longer than I intended them to take. What caused this? Well version 2 had two major internal changes that took a lot of the development time. The first was the switch to the latest version of the SQLite database. Why was the switch made at all? Well the new database format needed to store a lot more information in version 2. SQLite 3 is also much faster and generates a much cleaner, smaller database file, in addition to being the version that Apple is using for CoreData (MacGourmet still uses its own version of SQLite because it predates CoreData by probably close to 2 years). Doing this, unfortunately required migration from one database to another, which wasn't trivial. This has to be done right, and it has to be tested, tested, tested. This was why there was a somewhat lengthy closed beta. This had to be right before released into "the wild."

The second major change was brought about because I added customizable table columns in the recipe box. This necessitated a switch in functionality between the "My Lists" section on the left and the list of items on the top right. This kind of needed to be done already because, since the time when MacGourmet was first created (MacGourmet was started around October of 2003, and it's first public release was in June of 2004), Apple has added sublists to the source list on the left of their iApps. When version 1 was created, every iApp was limited to one level in the source list. What did this mean? Well it meant a lot of recoding and a lot more testing. These interactions, drag, drop, selections, are probably the most involved.

What else caused a delay? Well Apple announcing Intel Macs at Macworld 2006 and shipping them in February greatly sped up my plan as to when I was going to do all of my universal binary work. They had originally said that there would be no Intel Macs until around July. MacGourmet 1 benefited, because I had a universal version available a lot earlier than I had expected, but it also set back other development. I was almost hoping that only version 2 was going to need to be a universal binary.

Making MacGourmet universal actually wasn't that bad, the hardest problems were with 3rd party products I use. I had to wait for eSellerate to update their framework, and when they did, they required a switch to a different SDK, so that was a project I wasn't expecting to have to spend time on. Because I use my own SQLite build, I also had to build both SQLite 2 and SQLite 3 as universal binaries. Again, more work I would have preferred not to do when I did it.

Another thing that took a lot of time? All of the new themes. I tried to offload these, and actually did offload a lot of the graphic design, but in the end, I wound up doing all of the html and CSS for them myself, because, well they needed to be done, I knew I could do them, and I got tired of waiting for someone else to do them. I'm kind of like that. I'm a firm believer in "if you want something done, and done right, you often have to do it yourself." I'm working on offloading more of this stuff so that I can write more code.

Finally, an all new version requires new documentation, a new site, and new packaging (in my case, as I have a CD edition available). Like most indie developers I do a lot of this work myself... and unlike writing code, working on these tasks, at least to me, is like having teeth pulled. I offload what I can, like graphic design, but I can be kind of a control freak, so if I need something done, and I'm able to do it, I wind up just doing it, but this all takes time. I need to offload more of this in the future, and again I'm working on that.

So, nothing really went terribly wrong, so what went right? Well one thing that springs to mind is the beta test. The people who downloaded and used the beta did a tremendous job helping get things ready to ship. Feedback was great. A lot of people seemed to be new to beta testing so I think next time I may need to add a primer on the process for first timers. Why do I say this? Well a surprising number of people wrote to me worried that the beta expiration date would leave them without the use of their application. At least with the way I run things, this will never happen. There will always be an update out prior to expiration that at the very least extends the beta period.

One thing I will say is that doing an all-new version 2 is a lot different from doing a version 1. For one thing, while you are working on the new version, people are still buying, using and needing help with the current version. This can be a time-sink and it was a challenge to balance the two some times.

Some additional release-related quickies to remember the next time I do a major version release:
  1. Don't pick the week of Macworld, unless you're showing AT Macworld. Too much news, and the minute your news release is posted, it's pushed off the front page by the myriad of posts after yours. Pick a slower news time if you can. If you DO pick this week, send your release later in the day, EVERYONE seems to post in the morning, so your release disappears that much quicker.

  2. If you are dropping version support for an old version (in MacGourmet's case, 10.3.9), even if the update is free, you can't display this information in enough places. People will still download it, run it and wonder why it doesn't work. Big stickers screaming "THIS REQUIRES MAC OS 10.4 OR LATER" would probably help, but probably not.

  3. Pray, PRAY that all of your systems cooperate. The day of the release the websites went down, and from 2PM that day until about 24 hours later, for some reason I wasn't been able to talk to my POP server to get my email in my normal way. Then, I went into the office, and found no network at all. Frustrating.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

My Macworld 2007 Reactions

Well, I feel like I'm a kid on Christmas morning, and I've got the glow of having opened a lot of great presents. Of course these presents will cost ME but that's OK.

Apple's Macworld keynote was all about one thing really: iPhone. I must say, I'm impressed, and I want one. I already have Cingular so this isn't a problem for me. The fluid, changeable user interface is absolutely beautiful. It's completely touch enabled, with lots of subtle but meaningful animations. When you look at the UI, I think you may be looking at the direction the Leopard look and feel is moving in, even though we haven't been shown anything. I think you will see these colors and textures show up to finally replace Aqua, and I'm excited for it.

If you go to Apple.com you can see lots of movies of the new iPhone UI in action. It looks like streamlined apps and widgets really. Music and video look look awesome. The screen appears like it's amazing to look at. It's a widescreen video iPod, as rumored.

The phone features look really cool and easy to use. It's so much better than any phone I've seen. With big, clear buttons and an interface that changes to accomodate phone actions, you can easily call people from your list, even conference call people. Beautiful interface to my address book, SMS that is essentially iChat for the phone and a really nicely iPhoto integrated camera, and a real user interface to my voicemail? Wow.

The internet device apps look easy and functional. Mail looks simple but usable. Safari also looks nicely minimal, though honestly it remains to be seen if browsing the web on the iPhone is any better than any other handheld device. My HOPE is that a lot of Mac sites build stylesheets for the phone, so at least the Mac web will be easy to use. If you're at home, browsing and networking traffic will use your WiFi connection, instead of using Cingular bandwidth. Browsing from the couch just got easier. Maps, well that has the possibility to be awesome. Beautiful Google maps and satellite images in your hand wherever you are? Wow. The widgets look neat as well, but my big question is "will we Mac developers be able to build new apps and widgets for this thing?" I have ideas already, I'd love to be able to make them happen. 3rd party apps for this device would be killer. We'll have to see. It's OS X after all... Please Apple, let us develop for the iPhone.

Next up is Apple TV. I want this too, even if it is really just as I'd feared, essentially an Airport Express for video with internal storage. The Apple TV does output 720p, which is HD, so it looks like they did indeed upgrade the video from the store, assuming you can buy your movies in this res (why not?). I still hope they add recording at some point, but it looks like that's not in the cards.

Not mentioned but also released, was the new Airport Extreme. Stephan pointed this out in his reactions blog post. It is not only WAY faster, but it now looks like Apple TV or the Mac mini, and in addition to doing wireless printing, you can now also add wireless storage, creating a shared NAS drive. This alone is worth the upgrade I think.

So yes, Jobs unveiled the iPhone (called, surprising the iPhone) and the Apple TV. Neither of these were real surprises. What WAS a surprise was the lack of information on ANYTHING else. No Leopard, no iWork. I thought these were a given and I know I'm not alone. I guess WWDC will be "The Show" for Leopard again maybe, I'm not sure.

Even though we didn't get to see everything we expected, I can still say... it's a great time to be a Mac geek. :)

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Macworld 2007 Predictions

It's that time of year again, and it's time for my own personal predictions of what we'll see at Macworld. Note that these things are only based on my idle speculation, not on any insider info.
  • Leopard Fully Unveiled - Expect Jobs to take the wraps off of Leopard, fully this time. WWDC allowed access to enough of Leopard to let us get familiar with the underlying technology, but expect the curtain to be pulled back at Macworld. What do I expect? A newer, smoother look to OS X. Think about it: Aqua is from the days when Apple was producing hardware that was colorful and translucent, just like Aqua is. None of this is true any more, so expect Leopard to more closely resemble what we see now: smooth, sleek, clean lines with no more brushed metal, and no more bubbly buttons. Think the unified look but system-wide. We'll get a ship date, but it will be later rather than sooner.

  • Spotlight: Redux - This HAS to be a candidate for a redesign. What we have now is awful, it's by far one of the most poorly designed pieces of the OS and always feels so out of place with the rest of things. I curse it every time I try and use it. It's such a great idea, but the main UI is so poorly implemented I have a feeling it goes unused half of the time.

  • Updated iWork and iLife - These are a given, aren't they? I'd expect iWork to finally include the much rumored spreadsheet. iLife will more than likely include incremental updates and a much improved iWeb.

  • iTunes Store Gets a Quality Bump - I think we might see Apple increase the video quality, again, joined by a long overdue increase in the music download quality. I buy a lot from the store, and I'd love to have all of it lossless.

  • iTV - Or what will more likely be called something like Mac Media Center as iTV is not going to be the name. We already know that it will allow you link your Mac and your home entertainment center. The big question is "so what?" Just that alone isn't totally compelling. Let me record content and dock my iPod and now we're talking. I think the rumors of it having an internal disk are true, so the next logical step is recording, right? Maybe. That disk could also just be used for caching as well. I have high hopes for this, but fear it will just really be an Airport Express that supports video and disk caching.

  • Updated iPods - Expect updated iPods to be announced, along with record sales over Christmas. Will these new iPods have wide screens? Hard to say, maybe the new iPods will really just really be the product in my next prediction:

  • The iPod Phone - Yeah, I think this will be Steve's "One more thing." It's just been too long coming, and this would be a BIG thing to debut. Let's face it, phones suck. The interfaces are terrible, and we all know it. They are currently just one big mish-mash of features all thrown in there with no cohesive plan (at least by appearances anyway). I'd personally love to see a brushed metal Nano-like phone that opened up the OS to developers, the same way Apple has opened up the iPod for games development. I still think that dual batteries would be a must for reliable usage. It's quite possible that any new iPods shown will really be the iPod phones.

So there you have them, my own predictions. I don't think we'll see a new ultra-thin laptop (though I'd personally kill for one). I don't think Jobs will use Macworld to announce new Cinema displays with built-in iSights, he can do that any time he wants. I also don't think we'll see new Pro hardware, that's usually shown at WWDC.

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Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Year in Review: 2006

Well it's that time again, a time when I like to look back at the year that was and take stock, and gaze out at the coming new year a bit.

2006 was a big year for me, seeing two major updates, SQLGrinder 2, and MacGourmet 2. SQLGrinder 2 was released in June after a lengthy beta and has seen 3 minor updates with another coming after the first of the new year.

MacGourmet 2 finally saw the light of day in the forms of both closed and public beta releases, and the official MacGourmet 2 release will come just after the first of the new year as well.

Two major product updates in the one year, wherever did I find the time?

What about Stephan? Well, he's been busy too. Among other things he's been working on a new Mac app, something he hasn't taken the wraps off of yet, and he's also been working on garnering support for a MacXword rewrite.

So, what can be expected in this new year, 2007?

Well I don't like to talk in terms of vapor, because mentioning things that aren't ready for release, things what will HOPEFULLY be ready before too long are vapor to me, but it's a really good bet that in 2007 MacGourmet will see the addition of nutrition support, and menu planning. I've already done most of the work for an import/export release which will add many new formats and options, including recipe and shopping list export to your iPod. .Mac syncing is also a safe bet, as is more blogging support. Additionally, there are a lot of wheels in motion for some really cool things down the road, things I can't talk about yet, so it should be a great year.

On the SQLGrinder front, it will continue to see improvements to things like the schema browser, editor and SQL statement library, as well as some new tools.

Finally, I'm also hoping that the Advenio and product sites will get a complete makeover in the new year, as that's been LONG overdue. Welcome 2007!

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Save MacXword!

Apple made some changes that prevent MacXword, Stephan's app for doing crossword puzzles on your Mac, from running properly as a universal binary without a LOT of work on Stephan's part. He's looking for support to essentially rewrite large parts of it and update it to the current version of OS X for PowerPC and Intel. Your donation can get help get it done.

Read more: Save MacXword!

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See You At the Leopard Tech Talk Boston!


It's official, Stephan and I will be representin' and keepin' it real at the Leopard Tech Talk in January. We look forward to maybe seeing some of our fellow developers there.

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