Jun 21

Ever since the introduction of the Apple TV there has been a lot of discussion and speculation about apps for the device. I think those discussions have missed some important technical aspects.

My Basic Assertion

Apple has sold over 13 million Apple TV boxes. This is a good market size for attracting developers to the platform. It avoids the chicken and egg problem where nobody wants to buy new hardware until there are apps for it, and developers don’t want to invest in a new platform until there are enough potential customers.

Apple TV customers are purchasing over 800,000 TV episodes and 350,000 movies per day. And Apple is continuously adding new services to the current generation Apple TV, also indicating that this is not a product that is about to be replaced.

Therefore, my basic assertion which the rest of this article builds upon is that an Apple TV SDK and subsequently apps for the Apple TV need to work on the current generation Apple TV hardware.

An Actual TV from Apple

For years there have been speculation that Apple is just about to launch a flat screen TV with the Apple logo on it; to revolutionize our living rooms. For the purposes of this article I will just posit that any app capable hardware built into an Apple TV set will have to be compatible with the current Apple TV box, per my basic assertion above.

The Apple TV SDK

The 3rd generation Apple already runs iOS, so “all” that’s missing is an App Store, some people say. Oh, and a way to control apps other than with the anemic Apple TV remote.

The solution to the latter problem is the new game controller API introduced with iOS 7. I’m speculating that compatible game controllers can come from third party accessory manufacturers as snap-ons to your existing iDevices, and as low cost freestanding devices similar in form factor to Wii remotes and other game console controllers. A minor complication is that the existing Apple TV owners don’t have game controllers, so if an App Store is introduced, I will not “just work” for them.

More problematic is where purchased apps will be saved on the Apple TV. The “black puck” generation Apple TV officially does not have any internal storage. However iFixit’s tear down showed that the device does have a 8 GB flash memory chip. Allegedly this memory is used for caching streaming movies to improve the watching experience.

8 GB seems a bit excessive for just a cache, so say that we allocate half to storing apps. Remember back in the day when we only had 4 GB storage on the original iPhone? How many high quality iOS games would fit into 4 GB today?

So why not stream the apps too? Movies and music are great candidates for streaming since you typically consume them linearly. Compiled code is unfortunately not so predictable. There are other systems out there that stream software, so it’s not an impossible problem. But it doesn’t seem like a trivial thing to add on top of iOS when it was not initially designed for this.

For this reason I think it’s unlikely that there will be an Apple TV SDK anytime soon.

Future Apple TV Hardware

Apple is no stranger to releasing new hardware that replaces and obsoletes their current models. Releasing a new Apple TV that has built-in storage would be easy for them. But wait, they already did that. The first generation Apple TV had a built-in 40 or 160 GB hard drive. Flip-flopping back to the hard drive design after they finally found success with the current model, would be a strange product evolution path.

What about flash memory? Even though Apple is the world’s largest buyer of flash memory, it’s not cheap. The main technical differences between the various iPhone/iPad/iPod models is the amount of flash memory included. Take a look at the price differences to get a feel for how expensive flash memory is. At the current $99 price the Apple TV would be a stand-out in the game console market. At $199 it would be in a crowd of low powered game machines.

AirPlay

The Apple TV can act as an AirPlay receiver for both audio and video. iOS apps have been able to send streams over AirPlay since iOS 4.3 and AirPlay mirroring is available in iDevices starting with iPhone 4S. I’ve written about the AirPlay potentials for app developers before. And there are several games on the App Store that make use of AirPlay. What is new this time around is the game controller API. This enhances game play in several ways, including: Significant screen areas no longer need to be dedicated to touch areas for your fingers to control the game. This makes even less sense when you’re viewing the action on your TV and (hopefully) not touching your TV to control the game. Also, with physical buttons on a game controller you can keep your eyes on the big TV screen instead of having to look down on your iDevice screen to see where your fingers are.

I this regard agree with Kyle Richter that the “Apple TV SDK” has already been launched. You will use the iDevice you already own to purchase and play games on, and then use the current Apple TV to display the action on your big TV screen so that your friends and family can be part of the fun.

The game controller API will certainly enhance game play and raise the awareness of gaming with your Apple TV. But it’s not a requirement, as all games that support the game controller API presumably have to work without a game controller connected.

New game console generations are launched about every 5-6 years. People just don’t upgrade components in their entertainment system as often as they upgrade their mobile phones. With this upgrade cycle Apple can take advantage of newer gaming hardware much quicker than the competitors if the games actually run on iDevices instead of on the Apple TV.

AirPlay has a drawback in that there is a lag between the bits being drawn on the screen on the iDevice and the image shows up on the Apple TV. This could be irritating for some fast paced games. But this could be countered in the app with some clever delay handling and by designing your game mechanics with this in mind. When this is not possible, the active player can use the iDevice screen and friends watching would look at the TV not caring that there is a slight delay.

Multiplayer

iDevices can already communicate with each other, so a multiplayer game can be done by having one device be the master that renders the screen for all players, and the other devices just send the movements of their players to the master.

With stand-alone game controllers (i.e. those that don’t snap on to the device) you could connect multiple controllers to one iDevice for multiplayer capability. This is even easier to handle from a programming perspective.

What Does This Mean for Your App Business?

If you don’t already own an Apple TV go buy one. Also get that new fancier flat screen TV you’ve been wanting. Write them off as business expenses since you of course need these new toys to properly test your apps.

If you are developing games, you should definitely add support for the game controller API when you update your apps for iOS 7. Remember that Apple loves to feature apps that make good use of new technologies and APIs.

You should also consider supporting AirPlay. This is very easy to do.

The next level is to consider the Apple TV environment when you design a new game. I’m sure there are many new and exciting game ideas that will be invented over the next several months.

written by Nick

Jan 03

This blog was started in March 2008, back in the days when all iPhone development information was covered by Apple’s draconian NDA. I take great pride in having helped many developers get started with iPhone and iPad development, and answering their questions here on the blog.

Today the landscape for information for iOS developers is very different. For pure programming questions is impossible to beat the sheer breadth of StackOverflow. That is one reason why you have seen a lot fewer programming related blog posts here lately; there’s no point in writing up something that is already well covered on another web site.

If you miss the pure programming topics, here are a few blogs and resources for iOS developers that I highly recommend:

  • RayWenderlich.com has awesome in-depth tutorials on many iOS topics. With each new iOS release they also publish a tome of a book packed with tutorials and sample code. A great resource to quickly get up to speed on new iOS API:s.
  • ManiacDev.com regularly publishes short notes on new open source components and projects for iOS developers. Keeping an eye on this can save you a lot of time in your app development.

So what does the future hold for this blog?

I want to continue helping app developers on their journey to make great apps and to be able to make a living doing so.

Today I’m happy to announce that I’m relaunching this blog as The App Business Blog.

It is increasingly clear to me that pure development skills are not enough to survive and thrive in today’s very competitive App Store marketplace. So going forward you will be seeing a lot fewer programming topics covered here, and a lot more information about marketing your apps. You can also expect more reviews of books, services and information products relevant to app entrepreneurs. (If you have a product or a service that you think is relevant to the readers of this blog, please contact me here.)

Comments are now enabled again, so please let me know what you would like to see here in the future.

written by Nick

Apr 02

The Dilbert widget for embedding the comic strip uses Flash, so you’ll have to tap on the link the old fashioned way to see today’s comic:

http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2012-04-02/

written by Nick \\ tags:

Apr 01

Consumer Reports have been known in the United States as the premier, independent testing lab for consumer products. To iPhone owners they are probably best known for their role in stoking the flames of reported issues with the antenna design of the then newly launched iPhone 4.

Last week it was time for another attack on Apple’s latest product: The new iPad gets up to 13 degrees hotter than the iPad 2 when playing a game

This report had many experts scratching their heads, and it even prompted an official response from Apple.

Now it seems it may just be part of an elaborate launch promotion for their latest app: iGRill.

Inspired by earlier apps that exercised the iPhone CPU to the point where it could be used as a hand warmer, and this video showing how the iPad can be used as a great kitchen appliance, it was obvious that the latest advances in thermal engineering of the new iPad called for an app like iGRill.

Here’s how it works: Place your new iPad on a flat surface in your kitchen. Make sure that the surface is not flammable and that it can withstand prolonged exposure to the immense temperature of 116 degrees Fahrenheit. Now launch the iGRill app and turn up the dials to maximum heat. Wait a few minutes until the awesome heat animation indicates that the surface of the iPad is now exactly “13 degrees hotter”.

Bring out your raw meat, raw chicken and other foods that are dangerous to consume if they’re not thoroughly cooked. Place the food on the screen of the iPad in the indicated areas. Be careful not to layer the food items. Note that there is no need to add any cooking oil, since the oil from your fingers stored in the oleophobic coating of the screen is sufficient.

If your new iPad and your iPhone are both on the same iCloud account, then you will receive an iMessage as soon as the food is done. This way you don’t have to hang out in the kitchen for months while the food slowly turns into charqui.

Another exciting feature, which can be unlocked with a modest in-app purchase, makes use of the front facing camera. The camera will capture an image of each food item as it’s placed on the screen. The app then matches the captured image with GR’s extensive food database and provides you with instant nutritional information.

The iGRill app is not yet available in the App Store, but we understand there have been heated discussions between the developers and Apple. So look for it to appear in the What’s Hot section soon.

written by Nick \\ tags:

Dec 10

I read an interesting article at NYTimes Blogs about Apple’s Spot-the-Shopper Technology

The article claims that Apple’s system “has had the ability to show the in-store location of a shopper who has come to pick up a purchase”.

How does this work?

I don’t have any insider knowledge of how this system works, so this post is just my speculations. I know that I have very smart readers, so I’m curious to know what you think.

First let’s tackle the easier problem of knowing when a customer arrives at the store. Here are some ideas of this could work.

The Apple Store app could use a mechanism that is similar to the location reindeers in the Reminders app. As soon as the app realizes that the phone is in the vicinity of the Apple Store it sends a message to Apple. GPS is usually not very accurate indoors, but combined with Apple’s database of WiFi hotspots (I’m sure the Apple Store WiFi locations are in their database) it should be accurate enough to provide an alert.
The Apple Store app sends the MAC address of the WiFi network interface in the customer’s device to Apple. As soon as the device tries to connect to the Apple Store network, the MAC address is detected and the system is alerted that the customer has arrived.

Neither mechanism is foolproof. If the customer’s device is in airplane mode, for example, then I can’t think of any mechanism that would work. Since Apple is not advertising this functionality, it doesn’t have to work every time. But each time it does and a customer is delighted by the experience, it’s a win.

Now to the more difficult problem (I think) of locating a customer in the store.

The article shows an iPod touch with a map of the store and locations of people who have requested help highlighted in red.

For iPads with “help buttons” that are part of the store’s fixed display, it’s of course easy to place them on a map and highlight the location when someone asks for help.

But what about customers who have arrived to pick up a purchase? I can’t imagine that GPS is accurate enough inside a store inside a mall to pinpoint a customer.

I wonder if it’s possible for the WiFi access points inside the store to triangulate the location of a given MAC address with enough precision?

Have you experienced this system first hand? Were the Apple employees able to find you in the crowd?

Comments are open.

written by Nick \\ tags:

Nov 17

I saw the Steve Jobs interview movie by Robert X. Cringely today. For die-hard Apple fans it doesn’t contain any new information. But most stories about Steve Jobs are related second or third hand. This is a rare opportunity to see and hear the man himself. Very entertaining, and definitely worth watching if you get the chance.

There’s also an interesting and geeky story behind the movie. The full interview was thought to be lost for many years, until a VHS copy surfaced. With sophisticated image processing the VHS tape was used to create a movie that was watchable on the large screen of a movie theater. No small feat. It was very evident that the source material was not high definition, but it was not too distracting. Maybe that was because of the entertaining subject, or the reality distortion field coming through.

written by Nick

Nov 11

Happy 11-cubed day!

Everybody has been reviewing and posting excerpts from the Steve Jobs biography recently. So I’m going to talk about a different book.

If you’re already a fan of Neal Stephenson, you can stop reading now and just go and get the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Stephenson has written several classic Sci-Fi/Cyper-Punk/computer-related novels. Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon are two of my favorites. He made a detour, in my opinion, with the Baroque Cycle which I never managed to get through.

With Reamde he’s back in a contemporary setting and the story revolves around a fictional MMO called T’Rain. If you’re into playing World of Warcraft, then you’ll find the similarities and story plots very interesting.

Throw in a gang of international terrorists, rouge Russian mobsters, and a group of Chinese hackers, and you get a very intense and fast-paced thriller that moves between the virtual and real world.

This was the longest book I’ve read with iBooks (print length 1056 pages). With such an engrossing story, the chrome of the app and the iPad itself disappear. As I suspected the very realistic page turn animation in iBooks doesn’t matter when you’re actually reading a long book. However, one iBooks feature I found myself using frequently, and one that’s sorely missing in the Kindle app, is the number of pages remaining in the chapter. With Stephenson’s prolific writing don’t be surprised to see that you have 384 pages remaining in the current chapter…

written by Nick \\ tags: ,

Oct 12

If you installed a beta version of iTunes along with the beta releases of the iOS 5 SDK, you may encounter a problem when trying to update to the public release version.

When I tried to update my non-development iOS device to iOS 5 with a beta version of iTunes 10.5 I was informed that I needed iTunes 10.5 to do this. Fine. Since I knew that 10.5 had been released to the public, I selected Check for Updates to download it. But the Software Update application said that there was no update available for me.

Solution: Download the iTunes disk image file here and install it.

written by Nick \\ tags: ,

Oct 05

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out okay. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned Coke bottles for the 5-cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky–I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation–the Macintosh–a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30, I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down–that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the Valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me–I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, “Toy Story,” and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up, so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying, because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called “The Whole Earth Catalog,” which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: It was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of “The Whole Earth Catalog,” and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Watch the video here. Try to ignore the impolite, bored looking Stanford graduates. They may not understand what a truly extraordinary man Steve Jobs was.

Steve – Thank you for creating and leading our tribe.

written by Nick

Aug 18

We need to submit our app to the store before it closes for the weekend—what time does the app store close on Friday nights?

I found that quote on the very funny site ClientsFromHell.net. Reportedly it’s an actual quote from a real client.

Of course the App Store is not shut down for customers during weekends. But we have recently found out that the app review team no longer works on weekends. Back in the days when it seemed like the app reviewers were constantly having trouble keeping up with the ever increasing flood of app submissions, you would see apps get approved at all hours of the day and on weekends. No longer.

In a previous life when I was building large scale web sites and server systems we learned to never deploy new code on a Friday, unless you wanted to work on weekends to fix bugs or deal with launch jitters.

The same thing applies to iOS apps now. Don’t set the release date of an app to fall on a Friday. Should there be a problem with the new version of the app and you want to push through an emergency update, then nobody will act on your request until the following Monday.

But, you don’t have control over when an app will be approved, you say. That is true, but you can set the date when the app will be released. And you should always, always use this feature.

Look at the current App Store Review Status and add some margin to allow for delays. For example, today the status says that 99% of all new app submissions and 99% of all app updates are reviewed within 7 days. I would set the release date to around 2 weeks for an app update. Make sure that the date is not a Friday, and that it’s a day when you’re available and ready to handle new customer support issues.

For a new app submission I would set the release date even further into the future to allow your marketing campaign to ramp up and steam forward towards a known date. But that’s a different topic.

written by Nick \\ tags: ,