Sep 26

Amazon is introducing a new Kindle device: Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition. The hardware is nothing special to write home about: A run-of-the-mill Android tablet with a 6″ screen. What makes it special is the complete package that includes a kid friendly case, a no questions asked replacement warranty, and a year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited. What Amazon is telling parents (and grandparents) is that you can buy this package and then never have to worry about the device breaking or worry about buying apps. Everything is included for $149. I think this will be bestseller for the holidays.

If you develop apps for kids you should take notice of this new device. Make sure your apps are available on FreeTime Unlimited.

Unlimited apps is of course Amazon’s way to devalue apps similar to what they have done with Kindle books. Make no mistake of what side Amazon is on. Hint: it’s not app developers or book authors. But can you afford not to participate? If your competitors are on Unlimited, customers will select their apps over yours.

One way to reduce the risk of selling on the Kindle platform is to do multi-platform development. I think this can work especially well for kids educational apps. Take a look at Unity for this. Since version 4.3 they have a complete system for developing 2D apps. For an introduction to Unity check out Brian Moakley’s epic video tutorial series on

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May 31

The App Business is what many people would call a perfect location independent business. You can do your work from almost anywhere in the world. That’s the theory at least. My wonderful wife challenged me to put this theory to the test. So for the past several months we’ve been traveling around New Zealand and Australia.

It’s been a fantastic trip! And for the most part the location independence worked out really well. Time zone differences were a challenge. Especially after the southern hemisphere switched to winter time when the northern hemisphere changed to summer time. Phone calls with customers in Europe were difficult to schedule at a convenient time. But having a few very early morning and late evening calls is a small price to pay while traveling the world.

I’ve learned a lot about staying connected with mobile phones, and finding decent Internet speed and reliability in remote locations. I will be writing more about this in the future. I even got a peek at the ‘dark side’ by picking up a cheap Android phone and used it as my main phone for several weeks.

Long travels is a good time to catch up on reading. If you liked my earlier recommendation of Daniel Suarez books, then you are going to love the Singularity Series by William Hertling. Both authors write about technology dystopias in the near future. They both have a strong technical background so the stories are absolutely believable. As a tech geek it always bugs me when authors use computers to make leaps that you know are not feasible.

(Note: I just noticed that there is a #AmazonVacation campaign going on at the moment. I guess the goal is to boycott Amazon so that the Department of Justice can sue Apple again to restore competition in the ebook market. Or something like that. So if you don’t want to click on the Amazon links above, here’s a link to the iBookstore instead.)

Anyway, great books if you find yourself on a airplane ride in the near future. Like if you’re going to WWDC.

I will of course be in San Francisco next week attending both WWDC and the fantastic AltConf. Hope to see you there!

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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.


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.


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:

  • 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.
  • 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:

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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