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I love the concept of doing (relatively) controlled, scientifically sound experiments around some of the voodoo in the coffee-snob world.
I’ve always wanted to set up a controlled panel with expert tasters and properly blind-test some common AeroPress myths. My hypothesis is that many common “best practices”, such as rinsing the filter, a separate “bloom” stage, and water-pouring techniques, don’t have any noticeable effect on taste and are therefore unnecessary. In reality, I don’t know whether I’ll ever set up such an event.
But I do have some doubts about Seth’s results. For one, coffee preferences vary widely — he doesn’t even specify whether any testers added dairy or sweeteners, which radically swing the flavor in uncontrolled ways and severely reduce the detectable differences between the actual coffees.
He also doesn’t specify which AeroPress method led him to conclude that a blade grinder is better than a burr grinder. The AeroPress can brew a lot of different flavors and strengths depending on method, ratio, and grind size. Coarser grinds wouldn’t see much benefit from a burr grinder,1 but a finer grind would, and the grind size has a major effect on the coffee’s taste in my (admittedly uncontrolled) experience. The ratio of beans to water also has a huge effect — using a fairly diluted ratio (or preferring a very dark roast) might explain why he didn’t detect much difference between bean freshness or origin.
I’m glad to see some real experimentation, though, rather than someone’s ritualistic voodoo placebo.
Unless you’re grinding coarsely for a French press, in which case a burr grinder reduces the amount of accidentally-fine particles that fall through the filter and form sludge on the bottom of your cup.
The AeroPress, with its paper filter, doesn’t have that problem and can accept any grind level. Some people even use it like a French press — inverted, coarse grind, long brew time — but that’s not all it can do. ↩︎
Joe Cieplinski, in response to my post about paid apps, and in particular my closing statement that the glory days of paid-up-front are over:
I don’t disagree with most of what he wrote. But when I get to a line like the one I just quoted above, I’m reminded of exactly what bothers me about most blog articles from app developers: “This is true for me, so it must be true for everyone and every other app in the universe.” The one-size-fits-all mentality that caused the race to the bottom in the first place continues. …
There are many other kinds of apps where moving to this sort of model might make a lot of sense, too. It’s certainly worth careful consideration. But the problem arrives when you assume that all iOS users think and behave alike, and therefore all apps must be monetized similarly.
That would be a fair point if I hadn’t written this line in the original post:
Apps targeting niche markets can still find enough paying customers to stay alive if they’re much better than any free alternatives, but the number of apps in that situation is always shrinking.
Cieplinski sells Teleprompt+. It’s exactly the sort of niche market that will be able to sustain paid-up-front pricing for a while longer than mass-market apps, maybe even indefinitely.
But searching for “teleprompter” in the App Store today brings up about 40 other iPad teleprompter apps. About a third of them are free, and almost none are anywhere near Teleprompt+’s $14.99 price, with most paid alternatives around $3–5. And that’s just for iPad — the iPhone app market is much larger and even more competitive in most app categories.
Cieplinski claims his app is the best, and that will sustain his ability to charge a relatively high price. But when even a niche as seemingly specialized as iPad teleprompter software gets so crowded that there are 40 of them, it’s probably only a matter of time before a few of the free ones are good enough to severely reduce the sales of the paid apps, if that hasn’t already happened.
The ultra-narrow, very-high-priced, very-low-volume markets of extreme specialization, custom development, and specialized enterprise software will always exist, but the “middle class” paid-app economy is being gutted by the oversupply of free apps reaching into ever-more-specialized niches.
There are a lot of developers making a lot of iOS apps, and competition is fierce. It’s unwise to assume that any profitable niche is safe from being undercut by free alternatives.
I have been talking to a lot of the most successful app makers out there — who many would assume are millionaires off their top apps — and I’m hearing the same thing again and again: people just aren’t buying as many apps anymore. …
People are downloading more apps than ever before and there are still incredible opportunities. Developers who can adapt have an extremely bright future!
Since publishing that article, I’ve heard from tons of developers by Twitter and email. Almost all confirmed that their paid-app sales in 2012 and especially 2013 (so far) were much worse than the previous years.
Some reported switching from paid-up-front to free-with-IAP. All of these reported not only a huge increase in downloads (of course), but a substantial increase in revenue.
This isn’t the end of making money in the App Store — it’s just the end of selling mass-market apps for a few dollars up front from five screenshots alone.
He’s such an ass. But he has been gone for a while, and they’re now just as good (and just as bad) as most other tech-news sites.
Anyway, here’s a more accessible regurgitation of Distimo’s latest study on App Store revenue than what you can find on Distimo’s own site. If you don’t believe me that free-with-IAP is the way to go, maybe you’ll believe science! Or, at least, something claiming to be science as filtered through TechCrunch.
Another look at the Distimo data by Lattice Labs, with more discussion about which model developers should choose.
They argue for subscription being the best, but having built The Magazine as an auto-renewing subscription, I don’t think I’d use auto-renewing again, even if I could figure out Apple’s vague, ever-changing, usually-arbitrary definition of what types of apps are permitted to use them.
Auto-renewing subscriptions are implemented terribly for both developers and customers. Any revenue you get from “accidental” renewals is marginalized by customer anger, confusion, and the resulting support emails and 1-starrers.
If I had to implement a subscription model today, I’d definitely do the manual-renewal type (like how Instapaper’s search subscriptions are sold in-app).
To everyone wishing that your apps could get approved for auto-renewing subscriptions: Trust me, you don’t want that headache.
Transport Tycoon is a very click-heavy, micromanagement-heavy game. By the standards of the ’90s, when it came out, this was normal — anyone playing PC simulation games in the ’90s probably didn’t have anything else to do than click a million times to accomplish fairly common tasks, such as “Add two more passenger cars to every train on this route,” “Make this train stop at every station it passes,” or “Make six identical buses that go between these two stops.” It has a very complex interface full of tiny, cryptic controls to manage its very complex feature set.
When they announced that they were bringing it to iOS, I hoped that they would redesign the game for touch, not just port it. iPad and (especially) iPhone games can’t have all of the same mechanics as a game designed for a mouse and played by people with too much free time almost 20 years ago.
Doing it well would have required simplifying the mechanics by removing some features, big and small, to reduce the interface complexity and make it fit better in today’s context of simpler, more accessible games that require less instruction up front and can be played in blocks of a few minutes at a time.
Unfortunately, it’s much closer to a straight port, so it feels exactly as you’d expect: like clumsily, tediously playing a game on a touch screen that was designed for different hardware in a different era. It’s not even that great of a port — the graphics are low-resolution, gloomy, and dated, it’s hard to fit much on screen, and they missed tons of opportunities to improve the interface. Even though I know this isn’t the case, it almost feels as if they’re just running the original game in a DOS simulator.
Playing it feels like work. It’s not fun. I tried getting into it a lot over the last two months since I was accepted into the beta, but I rarely got past building my first transit line before wanting to throw my iPad out the window and find something else to do.
All it did for me was motivate me to reinstall the fantastic OpenTTD on my Mac so I could play the game properly. A few hours into it — since time flies when you’re having fun, a feeling I never got from the iOS version — I was reassured that I’m not sick of Transport Tycoon.
Brent Simmons on why he performance-tests Vesper with improbably huge datasets:
I’ve learned that I’m unlikely to over-estimate the amount of data people like to keep.
I learned the same thing when running Instapaper: it wasn’t uncommon for an account to have 10,000 unread items. The highest I ever saw that wasn’t an obvious bot was just above 50,000. Even though the interface wasn’t designed to make that very manageable, I always had to ensure that the technical design could handle it gracefully.
Tonx provides you with the best coffee beans, in your home, right when you need them. With their team of coffee industry veterans, Tonx sources the highest quality beans from top producers around the world. They nail the roast and ship within 24 hours so you never worry about having fresh beans in your kitchen, cubicle, or batcave.
Tonx also has excellent customer service — they’re available any time to troubleshoot your brewing or help select gear.
Its experience with the thermostat showed that people will pay several times the price of a conventional device for a sexy, high tech, high-performing alternative. It hopes for the same with the Protect. At $129, it costs far more than a simple smoke alarm, which can go for less than $20, and it’s still expensive compared to combo smoke–CO detectors, which typically cost under $60. Nest’s pitch is that it is delivering something incomparable, with Wi-Fi, multiple sensors, pre-alarms, and an emotional tug that transforms a mechanical wallflower into a beloved digital blossom.
On the surface, it seems like this logically follows from their success in the thermostat market and may even be a higher-volume business. Smoke alarms are required in almost every home and apartment in wealthy countries — in New York, as in many places, a smoke alarm is currently required on each floor of a house or apartment, inside every bedroom, and on the wall or ceiling outside any bedroom area (usually a hallway). So a compliant two-story, four-bedroom house in New York needs one CO alarm and probably at least six smoke alarms. (In new construction or renovations, the smoke alarms need to be hard-wired and interconnected, too, so they all freak out when any one detects smoke.)
Like thermostats, smoke and CO alarms are also all terrible. Thanks to the market’s constant push for cheaper, more disposable consumer products, it’s nearly impossible to buy one that’s not a piece of junk with a pretty good chance of deciding its battery’s dead or malfunctioning at 3 AM sometime in the next year. (Smoke alarms rarely malfunction quietly or during the day, resulting in a process that angers residents so much that they’re motivated to set the world on fire, negating most of the safety benefits of smoke alarms.) Oh, and now you’re required to have six of them in your house. Good luck ever sleeping again.
Two of the biggest draws of the Nest thermostat were its remote-controllability via mobile apps and its learning algorithms, neither of which solve very common problems for smoke alarms.
I bought Nest thermostats so I could turn on the heat or air conditioning from the car an hour before returning home from a weekend trip, or adjust all thermostats in the house while sitting on the couch.1
Most people’s biggest annoyance with smoke alarms, besides having to change their batteries at 3 AM, is frequent false alarms while cooking.2 Nest’s new Protect smoke/CO detector has features to address and mitigate this which sound nice.
But the biggest cause of false alarms is bad placement. The smoke alarm that’s required on the same floor as your kitchen probably doesn’t need to be anywhere in or near your kitchen, as long as there’s not a bedroom immediately adjacent.
The problem isn’t that a better smoke alarm needs to come and fix this — smoke alarms that go off when filled with smoke are doing their job. The problem is that most people annoyed by their smoke alarms can’t move them to a more appropriate location that would minimize false alarms, usually because they’re in smaller areas like apartments that don’t have better places, or they’re renting and aren’t allowed to relocate or disable the smoke alarms.
The Protect follows the apparent Nest mission of premium, “smart” updates to widely hated, “dumb” household devices, but I don’t think it’s providing a big enough benefit to a big enough problem for many people to upgrade. If your smoke detector has too many false alarms, moving it is going to be a far more effective upgrade. And if you can’t move it, you probably also can’t replace it.
Nest’s app is so clunky that this isn’t as easy as it should be. It’s a fantastic example of good-looking visual design but abysmal functional design. Anyone who calls Nest’s app “well-designed” probably hasn’t used it. ↩︎
Don’t fry in olive oil — it has a low smoke point, and if you’re frying hot enough to make it smoke (likely if you’re frying, say, chicken), you probably won’t notice the taste difference, and a higher-heat oil will cause much less smoke. I prefer safflower.
Ventilation helps more. Little residential range hoods rarely do much, but a good box fan on the windowsill (or shoved in the window), blowing out, will do wonders. ↩︎
For some reason, developers are almost universally fascinated by building yet another todo list, notes app, weather app, or (most recently) a podcasting client.
“For some reason”? There’s a great reason.
In this modern App economy, stop sherlocking yourself out of the gate and focus on harder problems than just another version of Elements or Clear with a different interface skin. Those markets are saturated to the point where you’re betting against yourself before you even ship 1.0. Look to emerging markets that have a need ready to be filled, or even existing niche markets that have a few products poorly executed.
Whether you should enter a crowded market is complex, and it deserves a much more nuanced answer than simply, “No.”
Yes, there are a lot of to-do apps. But Justin’s representative for this category, Clear, was released just a year and a half ago, and there were a lot of to-do apps then, too.
Six months before that, Tweetbot was released into a very crowded market dominated by Tweetie, Twitterrific, TweetDeck, and Echofon, plus tons of lesser-known alternatives.
The podcast-app market shouldn’t exist at all, since Apple only permitted podcast clients in the App Store after they had been shipping one in iOS and iTunes for years. Yet there are many apps thriving there today, and more coming out soon.
And the weather market has always been crowded with seemingly insurmountable barriers: not only has Apple shipped a very good weather app since day one, but the few users who seek alternatives generally go with established names like The Weather Channel. Yet Dark Sky launched in mid-2012, did something different, and kicked ass. Great new weather apps come out all the time and find substantial audiences, such as Check The Weather and Perfect Weather, and I’m beta-testing another great one right now.1
Titans rise and fall quickly in most app categories, and iOS 7 is a clean slate that’s accelerating this process. Are you still using the same to-do, note, weather, and podcast apps today that you used a year ago?
A given category may seem crowded and impenetrable today, but if you want to start working on a new app of that type, suppose it’ll take you 6–12 months to ship 1.0. How many of the apps in that category today will still be widely used and frequently updated in 6–12 months? How likely is it that at least one new competitor will enter that market during that time and earn high praise from Viticci, Rene, and their audiences? What’s stopping your app from being one of those?
Justin’s right that “just another version of Elements or Clear with a different interface skin” isn’t much of a guarantee for success, but that’s grossly trivializing the differences between apps in the same broad category. As I wrote in my Overcast announcement, similar-sounding apps can differ tremendously by their respective developers making hundreds of small decisions differently along the way.
Seeking out new niches is good, but often, a niche is underserved because it’s underpopulated. Maybe there aren’t any apps to do X, or the only two X apps suck, because there aren’t enough people who need an X app for any developers to build and maintain a good one.
Emerging markets can also be dangerous because they’re extremely volatile. If your market hasn’t been Sherlocked yet, you don’t know what the effects or extent of a Sherlocking will be. Mature, crowded markets behave much more predictably: the chances of becoming a huge success are smaller, but so are the chances of being suddenly steamrolled out of business.
There are so many to-do, note, weather, and podcast apps because there are tons of potential customers in those categories, and the potential for differentiation is much larger than a simplistic category label suggests. That’s why so many people are dissatisfied with their to-do, note, weather, and podcast options, why so many of them will buy every major new one that comes out, and why there will always be dissatisfied developers making more.
I bet almost everyone who writes about Apple stuff is beta-testing a weather app at least 50% of the time. ↩︎
A crystal-clear view of how much John Boehner and the House Republicans don’t give a shit about our country and are holding it hostage in a huge, pathetic, childish, dick-waving game of chicken, because they absolutely refuse to accept a law that Congress and the President negotiated together and passed three years ago to improve our country’s dysfunctional health-insurance system.
Good for the Democrats for finally standing up to the Republicans’ sleazy legislative tactics, showing some balls for probably the first time since I’ve been old enough to vote.
Here’s hoping my currently-unemployed friends in D.C. can get back to work soon. Mr. Boehner, stop disgracing my home state and do your job.
“No Congress in 224 years of American history has allowed our country to default, and it is my sincere hope that this Congress will not be the first.”
Me too, but I bet they will.
The Tea Party is a radical, irrational, ignorant, extremist group that demands the impossible and refuses to compromise. The modern Republican party has repeatedly proven that it’s willing to destroy anything and anybody to prevent any Obama initiative from succeeding, encourage ignorant (and often racist or xenophobic) voters to think Obama is illegitimate or “un-American”, and get itself back into power so it can go back to ignoring its base and serving big business.
What part of that will change in the next week?
Congress’ rules and legislative process aren’t perfect, set in stone for eternity. (Neither is the Constitution, for that matter.) When one House representative can shut down the entire country indefinitely and potentially torpedo our economy for a generation, that’s a massive security hole that needs to be fixed immediately.
(To those complaining that I’m posting about politics: I’d love for the U.S. political environment to return to a state where I can just do my job and ignore it.)
But say, you find TPM on Flipboard, decide it’s great and add it to your viewing routine on Flipboard. Probably you just keep reading us on Flipboard. Clearly you like Flipboard or you wouldn’t be using it. So why would you start visiting TPM? You likely won’t. That may be great for you. It’s definitely great for Flipboard. But is it great for us? Not really.
In my experience, this is true of so many online text middlemen. They promise “reach” or “distribution”, but usually, they’re just filling their monetized product with your content for free.
Whenever one of my posts gets a lot of attention, I get “offers” to “syndicate” my post from places like Business Insider. It’s worded as if they’re doing me a favor, with the usual empty promises about “reach” or “exposure” (as Josh cites). I agreed to a few of these in the past when I was more naïve, but they never sent a meaningful amount of traffic back to my site, and my audience never grew noticeably in their wake. As far as I can tell, they never accomplished anything except giving the other publishers free content and competing with my original post in search ranks, actually devaluing it. These aren’t “offers” or “opportunities”, they’re solicitations to give your work away for nothing.
Josh’s position seems to be that for most publishers, permitting a news aggregator to reproduce their full-text feed is like a large-scale version of those “offers”. I’m inclined to believe him: navigationally and conceptually, people who browse in Flipboard are browsing Flipboard, not browsing the individual target sites within it. If you aren’t profiting directly from that browsing (such as with sponsored links right in the feed or articles), I don’t see how you’ll ever see much of an upside.
One of the reasons I’m sensitive to similar comparisons to Instapaper is that it was expressly designed not to have this problem: the vast majority of articles read in it were first real pageviews on publishers’ sites, found by the readers’ own browsing habits. You don’t browse Instapaper — you browse on your own and send to Instapaper. That little structural change makes a huge difference.
Apps like Flipboard aren’t “scams”: they’re just likely to be a bad deal for a lot of the publishers, much like discount Mac software bundles and mass coupon/discount distributors like Groupon. Like all of those, every publisher needs to look through the hype and decide for themselves whether the upside is worthwhile.
I’ve been listening to NextMarket for a while. There’s tons of great info in there for anyone interested in the podcast business — in particular, I learned a lot from Libsyn’s Rob Walch and Microsoft’s Rob Greenlee, and the BlogTalkRadio episode taught me that they’ve patented some techniques for calling into podcasts so I’ll now avoid ever doing a call-in show (because patents foster innovation!).
Anyway, I did an interview, and I think it turned out well.
If you’re running IT for a growing business, putting resources into
internal collaboration and file sharing is low on the list of fires. But
when your staff starts using small-business solutions that won’t scale,
you get tasked with fixing it. Beasts like SharePoint seem like a great
choice until you discover all of the extra fees (and see the looks on your
users’ faces when they use it).
That’s where Igloo is different. It’s an intranet you’ll actually like.
We do the hard work: hosting, management and new features every 90 days —
available instantly to all Igloo customers. It’s easy to use and still
includes the enterprise features you need: we can integrate with your
authentication system, easily manage a granular permission model for team
rooms and content, and allow your teams to set up their own rooms with
There’s potential for massive profits: most customers of shared hosting and VPSes never come anywhere near their resource allocations so the machines can be extremely oversold, and most dedicated-server customers keep paying the “new” price of the server every month for years after its value has plummeted through the floor.
But it’s also highly commoditized: hosts can’t differentiate their products very much, there’s effectively no barrier to entry, switching at any time is fairly cheap and easy, and most customers buy primarily on price.
Long-term reliability and reputation are spotty and hard to evaluate. Most customers haven’t tried many hosts, so reviews have little context or credibility. Even credible reviews may not apply to your situation, since customer needs vary so widely — a novice running a small phpBB forum on a managed VPS with cPanel will have a very different experience than a sysadmin running a high-traffic web app from ten unmanaged dedicated servers. And since large hosts have complex infrastructures, different customers of the same company at the same time with the same needs can have very different experiences by being in different datacenters, behind different routers, or served by different virtualization-host servers.
Most hosts are mediocre or overpriced, so when word of a good, reasonably priced host gets around, they usually get a deluge of new customers, leading to frequent changes and growing pains. So even if you pick a “good” hosting company, being their customer today or next year might be significantly worse than it was when their good reputation was built.
The combination of high profitability, heavy competition, lack of differentiation, and volatile reputations leads to frequent mergers and acquisitions.
As just one small example: if you were an EV1 Servers customer ten years ago, a 2007 merger forced you to become a customer of The Planet instead. But in 2010, SoftLayer — which was formed by ex-executives of The Planet — pulled a NeXT and “merged” with The Planet by taking it over, “sunsetting” its infrastructure, and making you a SoftLayer customer… until a few months ago, when IBM bought SoftLayer. Now you’re a customer of a Wikipedia article with “multiple issues”, wondering where your commodity web host fits in “a branded ecosystem of cloud computing products and solutions from IBM” as they assure you nothing will change for the worse.
Web hosting customers are nomads. If your host hasn’t been ruined yet, just wait.1
Today, news broke that GoDaddy bought Media Temple. GoDaddy is a horrible company run by horrible people selling horrible products. Media Temple made a big name for themselves in the late 2000s with modern design, strong branding with lots of parentheses, and heavy marketing in the Rails and design communities, but I’ve never been a customer of theirs — they always looked overpriced to me, and they’ve had a lot of growing pains.
If you’re a Media Temple customer wondering whether you should prepare for the worst, the short answer is: probably. While GoDaddy claims that Media Temple will be run as a separate business, with the implication that nothing will be changing and Media Temple customers shouldn’t be worried, look at the language they’re using:
As for why [Media Temple] decided to finally exit after all this time, co-founder Demian Sellfors said that this was always the plan.
“We’ve had our eye on an exit since we started 15 years ago,” he told me. “We regard ourselves as entrepreneurs first and we designed it for exit from the start, even if on the way we accidentally built a phenomenal culture and a business that resounded with the marketplace.”
Translation: “I’m outta here.”
Virb was acquired by Media Temple last year, but isn’t included in the GoDaddy acquisition. Virb’s blog post is so clear that you don’t even need to read between the lines: (emphasis theirs)
After early meetings with GoDaddy, it quickly became apparent that we shared different visions for our website builders. So… I’m thrilled to announce, GoDaddy has decided Virb will be sold back to its original founder and investors, Brad Smith (that’s me) as well as Media Temple’s co-founders Demian Sellfors and John Carey.
Translation: “We hate GoDaddy, and we’re all outta here.”
It looks like there are about to be a lot of job openings at Media Temple, even at the highest ranks. (And who will GoDaddy replace them with? Open-minded, outside hires? Sure.) Some turnover after an acquisition is normal, but this looks above average already, and likely to get worse — how many people with enough taste to create and run Media Temple are likely to have a positive opinion of GoDaddy?
Shawn Blanc is more optimistic, hoping that this “new GoDaddy” is improving and becoming less horrible, but I don’t believe that for a second.
If you’re at Media Temple and not running for the exits yet, I suggest that you at least make an escape plan.
People always ask me what host I recommend. Since the environment is so volatile, take all of this with a grain of salt:
For VPSes, I use and recommend Linode. They’ve been remarkably consistent over the last couple of years, and their control panel is excellent. I ran some test servers on the cheaper, SSD-equipped DigitalOcean over the last few months, but found them to be inconsistent and immature. I think they’re having trouble keeping up with their growth.
For dedicated servers, after prior mediocre experiences with Rackspace and ServerBeach, I hosted both Tumblr and Instapaper at SoftLayer (well, The Planet first) and was generally happy most of the time. But in the last year, their pricing (especially on RAM) has become less competitive and the salesman discounts have become weaker, and the IBM acquisition has me worried for their future. After testing Overcast cheaply for months on Linode, I just deployed it full-scale on a server at Limestone Networks, which has very good pricing, but looks a bit young and unproven. Here’s hoping it doesn’t suck.
Of all types of web hosting, shared hosting is consistently the worst. It’s the cheapest by far, and you get what you pay for: I’ve never used or heard of a shared host that was consistently good for most of its customers. My least-horrible experience was with DreamHost, so I guess I “recommend” them: if you need the worst kind of web hosting, you might as well not pay much for it. ↩︎
I beta-tested Weather Line (and even contributed two tiny lines to the design!), and I really like the hourly graph and overall visual style.
Developer Ryan Jones and I frequently debated the names of the “Hourly”, “Daily”, “Monthly” section labels. It’s a tricky design challenge in context. I pushed to rename them to “Day”, “Week”, and “Year”, which isn’t perfect either. What do you think?
Duncan Davidson’s take, with more links to other previews.
Like Duncan, I’ve had an RX1 for a while now, and it’s fantastic — the sensor and optics blow away most of what I’ve seen before on any camera system at any size. But it’s not perfect:
The body is small, but the lens is so long that the camera isn’t “pocketable” at all — it won’t even fit gracefully in many jacket pockets or small purses. I’d love an RX1 with a slower but much shorter lens, possibly at f/2.8 instead of f/2.0.
Its contrast-only autofocus is faster than every other contrast system I’ve seen, but it’s still much slower than an SLR phase-detect system.
Its battery life is terrible.
It can only use one lens.
The A7 and A7R both fix the lens limitation, but it’s a brand new mount with very few lenses, and they all look pretty expensive.
The A7 (not the A7R) has a hybrid contrast and phase-detect autofocus system. The similar-sounding systems in a few other compacts are better than contrast-only systems but not as good as SLRs’ phase-only systems, so we’ll see how this works out. The A7 also has larger pixels and better high-ISO noise performance than the A7R, so between the two, I’d pick the A7.
But both the A7 and A7R with a lens mounted are substantially larger than the RX1, and despite the extra size, they both inherited its terrible battery life.
I think they’ll do well with these, but I don’t want one. They’re much too big for me.
The decision came about 24 hours before the Treasury was due to exhaust its borrowing authority, putting the nation on the brink of a default.
Good for Democrats and Obama for standing their ground and not giving into a dangerous, reckless tactic that cost the country dearly (and almost cost us much more).
The Tea Party is probably the loudest and most dangerous fringe in U.S. politics today (and that’s saying a lot — both sides have some really whacked-out fringes). But this just shows that the real power in the Republican party is, was, and always will be big money. And big money won’t let a debt default happen, because it could be very expensive for them.
Democrats have known this about our party for years: the needs of the people always take a back seat to the needs of big money. Truly liberal policies are rarely even discussed, let alone enacted, even when the Democrats are in power.
The Tea Party was under the impression that they actually had more power over the Republicans. But no — they have enough to cause trouble, but not enough to actually make policies against the interests of big money. (Nobody can.)
One of my most surprisingly difficult decisions for Overcast is how to label the playback speeds.
In the early days of iOS podcast playback, when Apple first implemented multiple speed settings, they used inaccurate labels. Apple’s “2x” setting, for instance, was really 1.5x. Their “1.5x” setting was really 1.25x. And their “½x” setting was really 0.8x.
Podcast apps therefore face a difficult choice: do you use Apple’s old label scheme, which is familiar but inaccurate, or do you use correct labels? Here’s how the top apps chose, as of today:1
Apple Podcasts: Accurate labels. Range is 0.5–2.0.
Stitcher: Legacy labels. Advertising range 0.5–2.0, but true range is 0.8–1.5.
Instacast: Legacy labels. Advertising range 0.5–3.0, but true range is 0.67–2.0.
Pocket Casts: Accurate labels. Range is 0.5–3.0, sort of — the 3.0 speed is simulated from 2x audio.2
Note that nobody has a true speed of less than 0.5 or greater than 2.0, and nobody offers any unique intermediate speeds such as 1.1x or 0.9x that actually sound different from nearby “even” speeds such as 1.0 or 1.25. Why?
The kTimePitchParam_Rate parameter declared in AudioUnitParameters.h is used to control audio playback rate from 0.5x to 2.0x speed. AudioUnitParameterValue is a Float32 rounded by the unit to whichever of the following is closest: 0.5, 0.66667, 0.8, 1.0, 1.25, 1.5, 2.
If you dive down to very low-level APIs, you can use different audio units to vary playback speed by different amounts, or you can bundle a third-party time-stretching algorithm such as Dirac. But they’re much more complex to use, much harder on the CPU and battery, and mostly designed for music. They’re not nearly as natural-sounding and listenable as Apple’s built-in (but limited) AVAudioPlayer/iPodTime algorithm that’s specifically designed for processing speech.
It’s very unlikely, therefore, that we’ll see an iOS podcast app that can legitimately offer playback faster than 2x. (And that’s probably for the best: true 2x playback is very fast and hard to keep up with.)3
Labeling the speeds in the interface is still a non-obvious choice, though.
If you use the old, inaccurate labels, people accustomed to the old labels will see your speeds as equivalent. You can even offer a “3x” label, representing 2x playback, since Apple’s old scheme topped out at a “2x” label for 1.5x playback.
But this tricks customers and reviewers into thinking you’re offering something you’re really not, and thinking any competitors with speed-accurate labels are inferior.
If you use speed-accurate labels, you’ll look worse in direct comparisons. Customers will request that you add speeds from inaccurately-labeled apps (e.g. “3x”) that you already support. This will haunt you in reviews and feature comparisons forever. But you’ll be technically correct.
Overcast will use speed-accurate labels. I’ll take the heat in reviews.
It’s easy to measure: use a separate stopwatch (either a real one or a second iOS device) and see how much real time passes relative to the podcast’s timestamp. ↩︎
Pocket Casts has a speed slider that advertises 0.1x-granularity over a range of 0.5–3.0. Between 0.5 and 2.0, it appears to be rounding to the nearest kTimePitchParam_Rate value.
During “3x” playback, the audio is actually playing at 2x speed, but every 1.5 seconds, it skips ahead by 0.5 seconds. Playback completes in the correct amount of time for true “3x”, but you’re missing a third of what’s being said.
I asked Pocket Casts’ developer about this, and the app isn’t specifically creating this behavior — this is just what happens when you give AVPlayer a rate of greater than 2.0.
I’ve tried listening to a few shows like this, but I don’t find it useful. I’d rather unsubscribe to a third of my shows or skip a third of the episodes. ↩︎
This is probably why Apple originally used the misleading labels: to give people what’s probably best for them, while giving them the illusion that they’re getting what they think they want. It was a very 2008-era-Apple decision. ↩︎
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Something felt a bit off about this week’s Apple event.
Part of it was the lack of surprises, which isn’t Apple’s fault. All of the product upgrades, while nice, were incremental and predictable. None of the pricing was a surprise. In fact, the only unexpected product announcement is the zombie iPad 2 sticking around for another year, shamelessly at the same price as last year.
The presenting executives seemed a bit off, too. Their energy was flat, as if Apple wasn’t particularly excited about these announcements either (with the notable exception of Craig Federighi, who was properly energized and most polished). Most of the jokes and digs at competitors were awkward. The lines were so tightly scripted that the presenters often stumbled off-script slightly, and rather than rolling with it naturally, they’d just jump back and awkwardly retry the line. Nothing about the speeches seemed natural — at best, the presentation felt uptight.
The product messaging was almost entirely just rehashing old talking points. We’ve seen the Dots video for months.1 We know Microsoft’s tablets suck, and the market leader doesn’t need to kick them while they’re this down. We know that effectively nobody browses the web on their Android tablets full of stretched-out phone apps. We know the iPad is number one in customer satisfaction. Hardware, software, services, technology, and liberal arts, right?
We know that people are using iPads in all sorts of different ways. Look, firefighters are launching space shuttles with an iPad! Farmers are building wind turbines and composing songs! And Apple can’t wait to see what we do with our iPads.
But they already know. Everyone knows what people do with iPads, because iPads have been heavily used in public for over three years. It looks like most people use iPads for basic web tasks (email, browsing, Facebook), reading, and, importantly, casual gaming. Going into the holiday season, in which tons of iOS devices are usually sold that will primarily be casual-gaming devices, Apple hardly even mentioned games.2 Is that because they don’t need to, since games are already a popular iPad use, or because they’re not in touch with one of the biggest reasons people buy iPads?
Suppose the event worked, and we’re all jazzed up to buy the new iPads. Well, too bad — you can’t even preorder either of them yet. The iPad Air will be released 10 days after the event with no preorders, and the one likely to be in much higher demand — the Retina Mini — doesn’t even have a release date yet, except “later in November”.3
Mavericks, iLife, iWork, and the incrementally updated Retina MacBook Pros look good, but I can’t help but feel like the event wasn’t up to Apple’s standards.
Is it just me, or has the premade-video time been steadily increasing in Apple events? One or two, fine. But this felt like too much. It’s a live event — nobody needed to travel out there to watch videos. Videos should support the presentation, not lead it.
Highly produced marketing videos don’t feel substantial or sincere. We want to hear more from the humans who are right there in the room! Let us continue to believe that these are relevant industry events rather than giant commercials. ↩︎
There’s also no new iPod Touch to address that market this year, although the iPad Mini probably somewhat reduced the demand for the Touch. ↩︎
Maybe they’ll release the Retina Mini on Black Friday. It would get a lot of people and attention to Apple stores on the biggest shopping day of the year. ↩︎
Intro reconfigures your iOS device (e.g. iPhone, iPad) so that all of your emails go through LinkedIn’s servers. You read that right. Once you install the Intro app, all of your emails, both sent and received, are transmitted via LinkedIn’s servers. LinkedIn is forcing all your IMAP and SMTP data through their own servers and then analyzing and scraping your emails for data pertaining to…whatever they feel like.
LinkedIn is offering to take control of iOS devices via MDM security profile to set themselves as a rewriting-proxy email server under the guise of a cool new feature that millions of people will probably install. Technically, you could argue that this is opt-in, but it has massive security ramifications beyond what users should be expected to predict or understand.
Apple better already be paying attention to this. While it’s within the technical capability of iOS MDM profiles, it’s almost certainly violating the spirit of any common-sense rules or standards. Apple probably has enough of a relationship with LinkedIn, and enough power with the App Store, to wield a big stick and eliminate Intro without any technical changes to the profile system.
But what happens when using profiles for non-security, non-enterprise features becomes widespread? Won’t Google, Facebook, Twitter, and just about every social or ad-supported service want the same access to make it easier to mine your private data, spam your contacts, and evade App Store restrictions? It won’t be hard for the big services to come up with compelling features and friendly messaging to get millions of people to install their profiles, too.
And isn’t this a huge malware risk?
Apple needs a generalized solution to this problem quickly. The big question is whether they can do anything substantial about the profile system without causing issues for legitimate enterprise use1 — I don’t know enough about it to say.
TestFlight uses an MDM profile to automatically gather UDIDs and force-install that stupid web-clip icon on your home screen. I don’t believe this is worth the security risk of having so much access to my phone — I don’t trust them to always use this power responsibly, no matter how many free T-shirts and burritos they give out at WWDC — so I’ve deleted it.
If that means I can’t beta-test apps using TestFlight anymore, that’s fine — that’s not really my problem. I’ve tested lots of apps distributed via Hockey that didn’t require me to install a security profile.
You can delete any unnecessary profiles from your iOS device in Settings, General, Profiles. ↩︎
The iPad 2 was released on March 11, 2011 for $499. Apple reduced its price to $399 in March 2012, and they announced this week that it will continue to be available at that price, probably until at least late 2014.
Steve Jobs proudly presented the iPad 2 to the world, in his second-to-last keynote, proclaiming that it had a whopping 65,000 apps.1 It was the first iPad to offer Verizon 3G, cameras, Smart Covers, and GarageBand, and it shipped with iOS 4.3: not only did this predate iCloud, but it predated Siri, which debuted seven months later on the cutting-edge iPhone 4S.2
BlackBerry was still a month away from releasing the PlayBook, HP was preparing to launch the TouchPad shortly after that, and the Kindle Fire was still six months out. Google was busy finishing the first version of Google+. President Obama hadn’t yet been re-elected, Osama Bin Laden was still alive, and most of the Arab Spring hadn’t happened yet.
Not only will the iPad 2 likely remain for sale for another year, but Apple also repackaged its hardware into smaller dimensions just last year to make the first iPad Mini, which is also still for sale for at least another year. And the first-generation Mini is perfectly fine for most usage by most users, just like the iPad 2. I wouldn’t be surprised if the iPad 2 and iPad Mini both ran iOS 8 next year and continued to be useful well into 2015 — in fact, I’d be surprised if they didn’t.
Rather than asking how Apple can keep selling the relatively ancient iPad 2 at just 20% less than its original price, maybe we should be asking why all tablets aren’t expected to be fully useful for over three years after their launch.
Or maybe Apple should be concerned that most people are using their iPads for such mundane tasks that years-old hardware is still adequate.
In this week’s iPad event, Tim Cook announced that there are now 475,000 iPad apps. ↩︎
Which is still being sold. But at least it’s had a price cut every year. ↩︎
Dan Benjamin’s Quit! podcast has been on a roll recently, with very few callers and a lot of Dan yelling at everyone. In this episode, he talks about the frustration of being an employer and sorting through hundreds of bad resumés to find good candidates.
One thing irritated me, though: it sounds like his assumption is that job postings need not list the position’s salary or a salary range, which should instead be negotiated in the interview. When I was job-hunting, this always drove me nuts.
If you bring someone in for an interview, or even have a phone interview before they know the salary range for the position you’re hiring for, there’s a good chance you’re wasting both your time and theirs. A candidate should not learn the position’s salary range for the first time in the interview.
A job’s salary is one of the biggest factors in whether an applicant can or should consider it at all. It’s just as important as the physical location. Dan said he was hiring for a local-only position, so location is an essential eligibility requirement for him as the employer; similarly, salary determines whether the applicant can afford to take the job, so it’s an essential eligibility requirement for the applicant.
Just as Dan shouldn’t waste time interviewing a candidate who lives in Alaska and won’t move to Austin for the job, applicants shouldn’t waste time interviewing for a position that can only offer a salary far too low for them to accept. Therefore, it’s in both parties’ best interests for the employer to specify the salary range in the job posting.
If you see a job listing that doesn’t specify a salary range, assume it’s so low that they’re embarrassed to include it, they don’t respect you enough to tell you, or their heads are so far up their asses that they think you should just be dying to work there at any salary, none of which bode well for employment there.
If a salary range is specified and you’re young or it’s an entry-level position,1 consider whether you’d accept the job if they offer you 10% less than the low end, because that happens all the time. “Oh, that range was for more experienced applicants.”
And if a specified range is meaninglessly wide, such as $25,000–$85,000 per year, the job requirement is so poorly defined that good candidates probably shouldn’t bother applying — it’s a huge red flag indicating that the company is poorly run.
It’s also very common for small tech companies and startups to offer embarrassingly low salaries, padding them with stock options instead of real, immediate money.
Stock options should be considered a potential future bonus, not guaranteed padding to make a low salary more competitive. Consider whether you’d still want the job if the stock options ended up being worth $0, because that’s probably what they’ll be worth.
From talking to people in the industry, even when they’re worth more than $0, it’s usually on the level of a small bonus equivalent to about another $5,000–15,000 per year of salary. Anecdotally, I was very lucky with Tumblr, but I’ve had stock options in three other companies: one is still private and therefore of undetermined value, one was worth about $20,000 per year that I worked there (for a relatively low salary), and one was worth $0. ↩︎
What’s great about Siracusa’s reviews — and what I’ve never found to be the case for anyone else’s 20,000-word reviews (sorry) — is that they never feel long. It’s edited well, but more importantly, John has an impeccable sense of what’s worth discussing for the kind of people who read 20,000-word OS reviews. And since it’s consistently interesting, it’s over before you know it.
(Don’t forget the meta-post, which you can read before, during, or after the big one.)
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