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The Omni Group and The App Store

September 30th, 2016

Rob Fahrni

The Omni Group: “The app is now a free download. When you first run the app, you’re asked whether you’d like to start a trial or purchase a license. But before you purchase anything, we also explain that discounted pricing is available to existing Mac App Store customers. If you check for discounts, validating your previous install, we either offer you discounted upgrade pricing (50% off) or—for recent purchasers—a completely free upgrade to the new version.”

This is a significant breakthrough. The App Business is a tough nut to crack, especially with millions of competitors in the store. Couple that with the lack of trials and it’s very difficult to keep a business afloat. The Omni Group happens to be a longtime developer of Mac Apps so they know what’s at stake. They create beautifully designed and engineered software at a fair price for Mac and iOS. They’re one of the best in the business.

Until now only really big companies have been able to provide what could be seen as a trial. Microsoft and Adobe are so large they setup subscriptions for their software, think Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud. While Omni is definitely one of the big players in the Mac and iOS market they’re still a very small company. With this move it finally appears that Apple is relaxing their stance on trials a bit. For productivity software having the ability to use a trial that creates meaningful output and becomes a read-only viewer after a period of time is huge. This will give folks the time to create some drawings, kick the tires, and decide if they really want to purchase OmniGraffle. Brilliant!

Future macOS Frameworks

September 26th, 2016

Rob Fahrni

Duct Tape, fixer of all things!I stumbled upon an interesting conversation between some well know Apple Ecosystem Developers this morning discussing, maybe lamenting, the lack of UIKit on macOS. I’m afraid I may have pushed these fellas to take their conversation private, I am sorry if that was the case.

Here’s the tweet that started the conversation:

I’m not known in any development communities. I’m what you’d call a nobody. But I’m a nobody with years of experience that has seen changes to my development ecosystem.

Having experienced a dramatic shift in Windows Development technologies I have opinions about what I would expect to see from Apple. These opinions and $10.00 should be enough to buy you any item on a Starbucks drink menu. Take if for what it is. An opinion of a nobody.

What I Expect

Given Apple’s love and focus on Swift I fully expect Apple to put their effort into moving their frameworks to focus on Swift while continuing to allow App developers to use Objective-C with anything new. I’ve written about the idea of Swift only Frameworks. I believe we will eventually arrive there. For now we have excellent UIKit support for three different devices; iOS, watchOS, and tvOS. Odd man out would be macOS. It doesn’t make sense, at least to me, for Apple to spend time back porting or adapting UIKit to the Mac. Their bread and butter is their  iOS based trio of the phone, watch, and cable like device. Since iPhone accounts for around 60% of revenue it makes sense for the iOS Platform to be their primary focus. That begs the question, will the Mac ever receive the attention we’d like it to receive? Probably not.

In the end I’d expect Apple to push iOS forward while keeping the Mac as a primary development system for iOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS developers with the latter receiving very little attention from a new Frameworks perspective.

A Brief History of Windows Development

Like I said above, I’m opinionated and I’ve been around the block a few times. I know Apple isn’t Microsoft and people tend to hate those comparisons. But I do see similarities between the Microsoft of the 90’s and the Apple of today. That’s a discussion for another time.

The discussions around Frameworks reminds me of Microsoft’s transition to .Net and C# as an easier way for developers to create Windows Apps. Apple is making such a big push with Swift a new framework targeting Swift developers feels like a natural progression.

It’s taken over 15-years to really push app development into a .Net world. I suppose some could argue it took less than 10 and I wouldn’t fight that. The point is Microsoft managed to push an entire development community to a new technology while allow old technologies to continue to not only function but grow. Look at the Microsoft Office Apps and Adobe Photoshop among others. They continue to be very relevant today and continue to add new features while the Windows API receives much less attention than does .Net and C#.

Ultimately the point is I know Apple could choose to push toward a Swift only framework and allow legacy Objective-C/Cocoa apps to continue to grow and thrive. Microsoft is a prime example of how a company could pull it off.

I think it’s kind of nice being a new developer to Apple’s platforms. I don’t have 20+ years of baggage like I do with Windows. It’s been so much easier to move from Objective-C to Swift because of it. Well, that and being most familiar with C++ made the transition to Swift feel more natural to me.

Whatever Apple has in store for us, be it the growth of Cocoa, a new Swift centered framework, or a Swift only framework, I’m ready for it and welcome it.

macOS Sierra and my MacBook Pro

September 25th, 2016

Rob Fahrni

I recall listening to a podcast I really love a few months back and one of the hosts described his late 2011 as unusable. That statement is completely hyperbolic. I’m writing this post on my late 2011 15in MacBook Pro and it runs just fine.

If you’re an Indie dev and looking for a MacBook Pro laptop to get started I’d recommend considering a late 2011 15in MacBook Pro. When you get it add some additional RAM to it and pickup a nice big SSD for it. It’ll server you well, just like mine continues to serve me.

macOS Sierra

Evernote to use Google Cloud

September 21st, 2016

Rob Fahrni

Evernote: “Until now, Evernote has owned, configured, and maintained its own servers and networks. This approach gave us the ability to build the service we wanted the way we wanted to build it. But it is also limiting—expensive to maintain, slow to upgrade, and difficult to scale. And while the infrastructure we have now is perfectly suited to support Evernote as it runs today, it lacks the speed and flexibility we need for tomorrow.”

It’s interesting to see Evernote make this move. It almost feels like they’re hoping Google will purchase them. We’ve all heard that Evernote is in trouble and only time will tell if there’s anything to that rumor.

Evernote has maintained their own hardware all this time and decided to go to hosted. On the flip side we see Dropbox move the exact opposite direction. Opting to move from Amazon Cloud Services to their own hosted infrastructure.

I’m a big fan of Evernote. It’s one of those rare applications I use everyday. It will be interesting to see how this goes.

Tim Cook’s Spinal Tap Moment

September 9th, 2016

Rob Fahrni

NDTV: “Well we launched a pencil not a stylus, first of all, and there’s a big difference”

When I heard that all I could think of was Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel explaining how their amps go to 11.

I know, I know, Apple Pencil is different because it has some smarts in it.

It’s still funny.

Exeter: Internet Backwater

September 9th, 2016

Rob Fahrni

Watch out! It's a blog fly!The Sun Gazette: “The first time Frontier will be asked for an update on their progress will be the end of next month, when it is required to present the first of its semi-annual (twice per year) report to TURN and ORA. The first milestone won’t happen until Dec. 31, 2018 when Frontier is required to add 100,000 homes with service at speeds of 25/2-3 Mbps in households where fiber optic service is not currently available as part of an effort to bridge the digital divide in both urban and rural areas.”

I have Frontier‘s service and I actually feel lucky to have it. When we moved back to Exeter I hadn’t considered internet services. Heck, we had Comcast in Visalia and it was a decent 50Mbps unlimited, which was just fine. When we met our real estate agent to get the keys to our new place she asked “What are you going to do for internet service?” Silly me, I said we’d get Verizon DSL, like we had back in 2008. Turns out Verizon was at capacity. Whoops. We went with Dish Internet, which is not so good. It’s satellite which is good for the desperate, I guess I fit that description. Desperate. We bought it but it had restrictions on use; 15Mbps down, 2Mbps up, 50GB per month data limit. When we hit the 50GB limit mid month (every darned month) we were throttled to dial-up speeds. We got by but we couldn’t do any streaming or play games. It just wasn’t good enough for that once you bake in the delay from the ground to the satellite.

After struggling with Dish Internet for about a year we were relieved when Frontier took over Verizon’s network. I set a reminder to call them the day it became Frontier’s and signed up. Luckily we managed to get in. I’m now the proud user of a 2Mbps connection without data limits. We can now stream, which we do all the time, and overall I’m really pleased with their customer service. They’ve been really great. We’ve also had a couple visit from their tech’s and both have been outstanding. They actually know what they’re doing, YES!

Does that mean it’s perfect? No. It’s not. I’d love for our tiny hometown to get a few decent network options. We basically have one plus a bunch of scavengers that offer satellite or ground based radio systems that are expensive and not overly useful, except for the desperate. Which, as I’ve said, all of Exeter is desperate for decent internet.

I can’t imagine trying to run a business with this level of service. It’s been solid, but the numbers need to jump up.

If we can manage to get 25Mbps, or even 15Mbps, consistently? I’d be thrilled to death.

iPad Pro and Developers

August 30th, 2016

Rob Fahrni

A wonderful bouquet of flowers.Moshe Berman: “But expecting app developers to build professional apps with the current UIKit is like asking a chef to make a pizza with only flour, and water. Without more ingredients it’s not pizza.”

This is a really nice piece by Moshe and I’d encourage you to read the entire thing. Moshe has some really good suggestions for Apple, but overall the responsibility to create great professional apps lies with developers. I’m guilty of putting too much blame on Apple for poor App Store sales. It all comes back to the developer of apps to figure out their audience.

When I think of Pro applications for iPad my mind instantly turns to drawing, diagramming, and design applications. Things like FiftyThree’s Paper, Sketch, Acorn, Photoshop, Flinto, and even Adobe’s new Experience Design. All of the apps I just listed, with the exception of Paper, are Mac only.

There is definitely a feeling amongst App developers that people don’t want to pay for Apps. It’s proven to be true time and again as Indies fail with solid applications. Some shops, like The Omni Group in Seattle, have managed to keep their apps in the App Store (Mac and iOS) and by all accounts continue to do well. Something you’ll notice about Omni is the price of their iOS Apps. They actually charge real money for them, not some silly $0.99, more like $99.00 for the Pro version of OmniGraffle for iOS.

There are signs that even the best of software shops struggle to keep revenue for their iOS Apps where they’d like them. Panic, another of the best Mac developers in the business, noted in their 2015 report.

iOS Revenue. I brought this up last year and we still haven’t licked it. We had a change of heart — well, an experimental change of heart — and reduced the price of our iOS apps in 2015 to normalize them at $9.99 or less, thinking that was the upper limit and/or sweet spot for iOS app pricing. But it didn’t have a meaningful impact on sales.

As a result they mentioned raising prices. That’s not a bad thing. People that depend on Panic software to conduct their day-to-day operations will happily pay more for their awesome software.

That brings me back around to the Pro angle. We have shops like Omni and Panic creating Pro level applications with the existing features of UIKit. In the end it’s all up to developers to build Pro apps, find a pricing model that works for them, and market their apps.

Vesper: A Post Mortem

August 24th, 2016

Rob Fahrni

A wonderful bouquet of flowers.John Gruber: “What went wrong was very simple. We never made enough money. Why we didn’t make enough money, what we should have done differently to make more money — those are complex questions (which I’ll tackle below). But what actually sunk Vesper was not complicated. Even as a relatively popular app at a relatively high price (for iOS), revenue was never high enough. Brent took a job at the excellent Omni Group in September 2014, and from that point onward the writing was on the wall. We could have, and probably should have, shut Vesper down a year ago. But we loved it too much. Or at least I did.”

Brent Simmons: “This is the last app on the App Store where I wrote all (or almost all) of the code. Odds are excellent that there will never be another app written largely by me on any app store.”

It’s hard to make decisions like this. Vesper was the result of a lot of hard work by a small group of dedicated people. Vesper will be missed, by them the most.

The most fascinating part of this entire post mortem from John and Brent is the belief that creating a Mac App first may have lead to success. Obviously these guys know their Mac brethren better than I, but I always thought a subscription model was a better option for them, and I wrote about it in 2015.

I think the idea of a sustainable business is the right way to look at this, but pricing an app at $9.99 isn’t the proper solution. The proper solution is to charge for their “fast, reliable, unlimited sync.” That’s the value, the app is just a way to get to your data.

Obviously there are a few really great companies out there making a go of it but the market has changed so dramatically from the time Brent started Ranchero. At the time the Mac wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today and the App Store model didn’t exist. Sure, you still needed a great product and had to work hard to get the word out, but people still understood the value of software. Today iOS and Mac Apps have been reduced to commodities and commodity pricing. Most people expect free and get it from companies that make their money other ways, including services, which is why I think the service is the most valuable component. Does it mean you should only do services and not native clients, no. The client side provides the great experience and the service opens the door to the magic of data flowing from one point to another. Without both sides you can still have a great experience but it may not be as great as it could be.

Thanks John, Brent, and Dave for giving us Vesper.

iPad as MacBook Pro Replacement

August 9th, 2016

Rob Fahrni

On a Slack channel some friends were having a discussion about using the iPad as a daily driver replacement for a MacBook Pro. This is how I feel about the idea. Is it an impossible notion? No, not at all, but it would have to be a true replacement, it would have to change to fit me, not the other way around.

“If I could get an iPad Pro (9.7) that was as powerful as my 15in MacBook Pro, could run Xcode fine, and would detect proximity to a full size keyboard, monitor, and mouse and let me use them? Sign me up.

Until then. Can’t use it as a daily driver.”

That’s it in a nutshell.

Post Mac Apple

August 6th, 2016

Rob Fahrni

Recently Vivek Wadhwa of The Washington Post wrote:

Apple should release a version of iOS for non-Apple devices. This suggestion will seem like heresy to the brand’s loyalists, but it may be necessary for the success of the company.

Imagine those Samsung, LG, and Xiaomi smartphones having an original Apple operating system on them rather than the imitations they are presently running. Offered the choice, users would upgrade in droves. And those users would download new applications and sign up for Apple’s subscription services, giving the company a cut of everything they purchased, as well as valuable data and marketing opportunities. Google’s Android business would finally have a formidable rival.

First off, I don’t think Apple is in bad shape because they own less of the mobile market than Android. In fact, they make more money than all Android devices combined. So the thought of being a formidable rival is kind of moot, but that’s not what I wanted to write about, just an observation.

I think macOS would be a much better OS to OEM. Why? Well, Apple is paying so much attention to iOS based devices, the iPhone in particular, they’ve ignored their laptop and desktop computers for a very long time. In fact most of their computers are rated Don’t Buy by Mac Rumors.

Mac Rumors

Mac Rumors

Of course they’ve tried this before. Before Steve Jobs returned in 1997 Apple had OEM’d Mac OS to a few partners. Those partners were doing fine at the expense of Apple. When Jobs returned it was one of the first things he killed so Apple could focus on their core business, the Mac. Fast forward 20 years and Apple is as unfocused as ever. They’re building all kinds of stuff looking for the next iPhone. Here’s a hint Wall Street, I don’t think you’ll get another iPhone-like success for many, many, years.

Anywho, back to macOS on other hardware. Since Apple hasn’t shipped new Mac hardware for professionals in a long time professionals have either created their own solutions or switched to Windows or Linux. Yes, people are switching to Windows because their Macs are not up to the task. Those of us that live on the platform feel strongly about it. I love using the Mac and macOS to do my work but most people just see it as a hammer. They don’t have an attachment to the OS or the hardware. If you can get a PC with Windows that blows the doors off a Mac Pro and your production software runs fine on Windows, why not switch?

What if there were another solution to the problem? What if Apple selected a single OEM and allowed them to create high end hardware that runs macOS? That’s what I’d prefer to OEM’ing iOS to other mobile phone makers. The professional market may appreciate it too.

I know the iPhone and iOS are killing it revenue wise. That idea seems to be the driving force behind Mr. Wadhwa’s piece, but it would be really nice to have alternative hardware designs that don’t focus purely on thinness and lightness. I still love my SUPER FAT 15in 2011 MacBook Pro. It’s perfectly suitable for people creating iOS Apps or small Mac Apps. Folks editing Audio and Video or making movie magic the likes of Pixar and ILM need powerful computers. I’m sure they’d appreciate faster Macs every year or an OEM that could deliver faster, specialized, expandable, repairable, Mac alternatives running macOS.