Thought-provoking analysis by Underscore David Smith on a seemingly simple app.
(By the way, the app is great. And it provides much of its value even if you hardly ever remember to open it.)
Thought-provoking analysis by Underscore David Smith on a seemingly simple app.
(By the way, the app is great. And it provides much of its value even if you hardly ever remember to open it.)
I’ve always joked that this site is about headphones and coffee, with occasional posts about computer and tech stuff. But I’ve never found a way to write about headphones and coffee in the same article until now.
Tube amps look badass.
I enjoy them both every day, and both help me work. They’re both potentially great values, too: while greatness in some categories can get very expensive, most of the best coffee is less than $20 per pound (or less than $8 unroasted), the best coffee brewers are $25 or less, and most of the best headphones are under $700.
$700 might not sound like a great value in headphones, but many high-end headphones are much less. Even most “audiophiles” would have very few serious recommendations above that (most would have only one or two). That’s saying a lot — audiophiles can go really far off the deep end with most equipment.
And most headphone buyers don’t need to go anywhere near $700: there are some fantastic headphones under $300, and many great models under $150.1 If you were buying a pair of speakers, $700 will get a midrange set, finding anything good at $300 would be difficult, and you couldn’t get much of anything for $150.
Full-sized headphones2 also last practically forever relative to other electronics: I used the same $100 pair every day at work from Pittsburgh in 2005 through every day I worked at Tumblr, almost all time spent developing Instapaper, every episode of Build and Analyze and Neutral, the first few ATPs, and most long flights I took over that time. And they still work perfectly well — I only stopped using them because the original (but replaceable!) earpads are finally disintegrating and I wanted to upgrade to higher-end models.
Since I work at home, I can also usually work with open-backed (or simply “open”) headphones. Most of the best full-sized headphones in the world are open, and you can get dramatically better sound quality at a given price with open headphones. (The downside is that they provide effectively no isolation either way — you hear noise from around you, and the people around you clearly hear a tinny, annoying rendition of your music. Please know what you’re buying and don’t wear open headphones near other people.)
So when my wife requested that we move my best open headphones to her desk, I took the opportunity to upgrade. I wanted excellent sound quality, but I didn’t want to sacrifice long-term comfort, I didn’t want to spend over $700, and I didn’t want my headphone choice to require an upgrade to my nice, small desktop speaker/headphone combo amp.
I couldn’t find anywhere to try most of the high-end models in person, so I turned to research. I spent hours looking through HeadRoom and read this entire mega-review. I read opinions, compared charts, and even bought a crazy app that simulates high-end headphone sound signatures with a parametric equalizer. (It works enough to give you a rough idea, but that’s about it.)
Most of my research led me right back to the Beyerdynamic DT-880 that I already had. While many high-end headphones are regarded as sounding better, almost nobody has credibly said that another model is more comfortable for long listening. But I wanted to see if there was something I was missing at the higher end — after all, I hardly ever buy new high-end headphones, so I wanted to make sure I was getting great ones.
Eventually, I made a decision: I got the highly regarded Sennheiser HD 650. I spent a few days listening to them exclusively, and while they were very comfortable, their reduced treble response didn’t sound very good to me, and their silver-plastic construction looked and felt far below their $500 price. Put simply, they sounded timid and felt cheap.
Since I had some time before the return window expired, I decided to see what Beyerdynamic had done since the DT-880: I borrowed the highly regarded Beyerdynamic T1 (despite being well above my intended price range) and ordered the newer T90, which looked promising but had very few reviews yet.
Beyerdynamic T90 headphones with the Schiit Lyr amp.
In order to give these headphones a fair shot, I also borrowed two more amps to test alongside my Icon-2: my audiophile cousin’s Bottlehead Crack, and a high-end Lyr that Schiit (pronounced exactly as you’d hope) was kind enough to loan me for this article.
With these, I tried four DACs: the iPhone’s built-in one, the Mac Pro’s built-in one, the Icon-2, and an HRT Music Streamer II.
* * *
Similar to the audiophile world, the process of making coffee allows effectively infinite tweaking. People obsess over every variable: bean origin, bean growth environment, bean processing, roaster type, roast curve, roast darkness, water-to-coffee ratio, grind size, grind type, grind temperature, brew method, brewer material, water pressure, water temperature, bloom phases, water-pouring speed, water-pouring pattern, agitation method, agitation speed, agitation pattern, agitation duration, brewing time, filter type, filter material, filter method, filtering time, cup type, cup shape, cup material, cup insulation, everything else I forgot to mention, and whether you’ll be dumping a bunch of milk and sugar into it to mask all of these details anyway.
I’ve tried playing with most of these variables, and I’ve only found a handful of them to matter in a way that’s noticeable to me when I’m actually drinking the coffee.
That’s a good thing, really. If I’m perfectly satisfied not worrying and fussing about most of these factors, and can happily enjoy a cup of world-class coffee every day with relatively little expense or effort, that’s a win in my book.
Critically, I’ve also discovered that my tastes differ from what coffee experts usually agree is “best”. I’m rarely extremely happy with what I get from well-known great-coffee vendors like Stumptown and Tonx because they roast too light for my taste. Their coffee still tastes good to me, and it’s a million times better than Starbucks and other mass-market chain coffee. But I prefer a Full City roast, and if I had to guess, I’d say most of what I’ve had from Stumptown and Tonx has been a New England to American roast — much lighter roasts that substantially change the flavor profile.
They’re roasting for most coffee geeks, but I prefer a different style. (This is why I home-roast.)
* * *
Audiophiles swear that every factor matters. Every component, down to the power cables, has infinite room for expensive upgrades that supposedly deliver better sound in subjective ways that sound like pompous, obtuse, pre-Gary Vaynerchuk wine reviews. If you claim not to get the same results, there’s always another inferior part of your setup to blame. (Much like alternative medicine and paranormal phenomena.)
In addition to the costs, high-end audio can also quickly become a pain in the ass. Not only do you start needing more separate components to replace what was previously integrated into one, but many of them are finicky and unreliable. My NuForce Icon-2 is the least reliable audio component I own, often dropping one channel or developing a popping noise until I unplug it and plug it back in.
Vacuum-tube amps are even worse. They’re inconsistent, often introducing a constant low-volume hiss, occasional pops, or bizarre-sounding electrical interference noise. And like incandescent light bulbs, tubes burn out and need to be replaced after a few months or years.
The audiophile community is rarely happy with the stock tubes that come with amps, instead recommending obscure aftermarket tubes from the 1960s to get desirable sound signatures. Two of the most frequent aftermarket tube sets recommended for the Lyr were cheap on eBay (Tungsram Tesla and 6N1P-EV), so I got them for testing as well.
I bought parts for Soviet missiles on eBay because I’m an idiot.
It’s nearly impossible to find proper blind tests on high-end audio equipment, but most claims and common wisdom don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. (Seriously, read those last two. It’ll be a while. I’ll wait.)
Evidence suggests that most amps don’t really sound different under non-distortion conditions (as long as they have enough power). I’ve suspected the same about high-end DACs, despite frequent contrary claims.
But I wanted amazing sound from my headphones, so I tested the growing mass of gear around my desk for over a month. I tried every combination I could between the three amps and four DACs. I didn’t have the resources to do a proper blind test, but I gave everything a fair shot with different kinds of music, different volume levels, and both long-term listening and rapid A/B testing.
I’d love to tell you that the best-sounding combo was the most expensive, following some of the audiophile community’s most popular recommendations: the Schiit Lyr with the Beyerdynamic T1 and HRT DAC.
It did sound amazing.
However, I couldn’t detect any quality difference at all between any of the amps. There were some volume differences — the iPhone and Mac didn’t have enough power to drive the HD 650 and T1 very loudly, and the Icon-2 only had a little more, while the homebrew amp and Lyr had tons of headroom. But when I normalized for volume, I couldn’t detect any difference in their sound.
It’s worth buying a separate amp if you need the power to drive big, high-impedance headphones, or if it provides other features that you need in practice, such as a hardware volume knob or multiple inputs. For audio quality alone, I haven’t found a reason to recommend an upgrade if your existing setup can drive your headphones to acceptable volumes.
The DACs fared even worse: I couldn’t detect a difference in any of them. To my ears, the sound was identical between my iPhone, Mac, and both audiophile DACs.3
Fortunately, the headphones are another story.
The HD 650’s timid sound and tacky plastic weren’t right for me, but I can tell why so many people love its sound: its timidity is comfortable, mostly balanced, and unobjectionable, much like medium-roasted coffee.
The T1 was very good, but I never got it to sound like its price. It was also significantly heavier and had a much bulkier cable than the cheaper Beyerdynamics, so it wasn’t as comfortable.
The T90 is clearly the successor to the venerable DT-880. It’s almost exactly the same size, shape, and weight, with nearly identical construction. It’s just as comfortable as the DT-880, too — an extremely high bar. And it sounds more crisp and detailed than any other headphones I’ve ever heard, including the T1.
Audiophiles criticize many Beyerdynamic models for having too much treble, and they’re right. The slightly aggressive treble is one of the only downsides of the DT-880. The T1 is slightly more balanced, but the T90 has even stronger treble than the DT-880, making that the only downside of the T90. But I actually like it a lot of the time, especially when listening to live concert recordings (Phish or otherwise).
The T90 has practical advantages over the others, too: not only is it the most comfortable for long listening (tied with the DT-880), but it’s incredibly easy for amps to drive — even my iPhone and Mac can drive it pretty loudly, unassisted. While a headphone amp can help it reach the loudest volumes, it’s not necessary for most T90 owners.
I kept the T90.
* * *
As I’ve figured out that most coffee geekery doesn’t matter to me, I’ve been freed to invest time and money into only the parts that I’ll notice most. I’ve also learned that my tastes differ slightly from the expert community’s.
Through this big headphone experiment, I’ve learned that the same is true for my audio equipment.
Headphones matter. A lot. I’ve never regretted a penny that I’ve spent on good headphones.
But it’s too easy to get wrapped up in the mostly-placebo obsession with the surrounding gear, or convince yourself that you need to hear what audiophiles hear and have the same opinions.
Any audiophile who reads this article will find endless flaws and omissions to justify disregarding it and discrediting me. I haven’t found a way to try the Sennheiser HD 800 or Audeze orthodynamics yet. I only tried a handful of DACs and amps, and none were more than a few hundred dollars. I listen with a computer, and it’s often playing lossily-encoded Phish with iTunes (gasp!). This wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive review of tons of high-end headphone gear.
But I think it’s poor advice to tell people that their $200–400 headphones “probably don’t sound as good as they could” without a $200 DAC. I expected there to be at least some noticeable differences between these high-end amps and DACs, but I just couldn’t hear any.
Your money’s better spent on the best headphones you can afford and whatever reasonably priced amp can give them the power they need, if they really need one.
Give yourself permission to draw the line somewhere. There’s always something “better” available. You don’t need every upgrade. You might not even notice it. And there’s no shame in realizing that you can’t tell the difference, or that you like things a bit differently than the experts.
(I’m writing that for both your benefit and my own.)
When you test audio gear, you focus on it much more than usual. You pick great, varied, well-recorded music, you play it a bit louder than usual, and you pay attention to the details. You immerse yourself in the music, create an experience with it, and appreciate it. That’s why new gear always sounds so good.
You can do that anytime you’d like without spending a dime.
None of them start with “Beats”. ↩︎
Note the “full-sized” qualifier: these are large enough that you’d look ridiculous walking around with them, although some people try. They don’t fold much, and come with big, unwieldy cables. Most of the highest-end models even terminate in a giant quarter-inch plug instead of the eighth-inch size common everywhere else except the highest-end (or oldest) audio setups, for no good electrical or practical reason (adapting the other way when necessary, from an eighth-inch plug to a quarter-inch socket, is much more elegant) except that quarter-inch plugs imply high-end power and substance.
Portable headphones have very different designs and priorities, and it’s best to buy separate ones: in the time since I bought those big Sennheisers, I’ve gone through five pairs of portable headphones for walking and commuting. None of them were great, and four died with just-out-of-warranty failures. ↩︎
One practical reason to have an external DAC is that it’s a fancy word for “USB sound card”. If you already have a USB hub to plug it into, it’s nice to run your computer’s sound output over USB instead of the headphone jack, resulting in one less wire that needs to be plugged into your laptop every time you set it up at your desk. ↩︎
Indeed, over the last two weeks both Apple and Samsung have had worrisome earnings reports, but for very different reasons: namely, both bear arguments are coming true.
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Watch the video if you can find a way. It’s very good. (It keeps getting removed from video sites, although that’s more likely because of ARD takedown notices, not a government censorship conspiracy.)
There’s more coverage by The Guardian and The New York Times.
Edward Snowden is a national hero and a true patriot. History will not look kindly on the government’s actions during this time. This will tarnish President Obama’s legacy much more than an overloaded website.
Snowden’s cause is still news, and it must continue to be news. As it develops, it’s getting even scarier. This is a massive scandal that will tarnish the United States’ long-term reputation even more than the entire George W. Bush administration. We can’t let our never-ending supply of frivolous news bury this with public apathy and indifference.
Robert McGinley Myers:
Reading about the truly insane things audiophiles will do in pursuit of the perfect sound, I can’t help reflecting back on that unfortunate period in my life when I almost fell down the same rabbit hole.
For me it started with a simple search for better headphones.
Excellent article, especially if you liked yesterday’s.
A lot of people who know relatively little about Microsoft are commenting about new CEO Satya Nadella, and I’ll gladly join that list.
Nadella comes from Microsoft’s enterprise and cloud services division, which suggests that these are likely to become Microsoft’s focal areas going forward. I’ve seen two main opinions on this:
In the former case, Microsoft tries to be more like Apple and Google. They try (again) to break into the mobile and tablet markets successfully.
But Microsoft is terrible at being like Apple and Google. They’ve tried. They’re still trying, in some areas. And for the most part, it’s been a series of embarrassments and huge financial losses.
It’s too late for Microsoft to meaningfully break into the mobile space. If there was any chance of their products making it big there, we’d already be seeing strong growth. Successful mobile platforms don’t grow slowly and quietly.
But it’s just not happening for them, and it’s too late to try again. That ship has sailed. The market has been taken, and the juggernauts of Android and iOS are now deeply entrenched. There won’t be room for a strong third player for many years — probably a decade or more.
If the consumer-product-visionary strategy was going to work, its time has long passed.
With the enterprise-and-cloud strategy, Microsoft becomes more like IBM. They don’t need to kill off Windows — on the contrary, their enterprise business depends on the continued ubiquity of cheap Windows PCs — but they don’t need to try to shove Windows into the phone and consumer-tablet markets anymore at the expense of its suitability to boring office PCs (which they did, quite destructively, with Windows 8).
Instead of desperately trying (and failing) to be cool, hip, and “innovative” to consumers — a long-running flaw of Bill Gates, not just Steve Ballmer — Microsoft embraces and accepts its boringness, using it to their advantage.
Windows and Office don’t need to change much over time. Even today, nobody wants them to (except Microsoft). Just put out new versions every few years with minor improvements, a handful of new features, and slight facelifts. No more radical changes, ever. Give the customers what they want: the same Windows and Office, but a bit better.
PC sales growth is down, but I don’t think the market is going to meaningfully contract for a long time, if ever. Tablets aren’t replacing PCs for most people. And no matter how well Apple does with the Mac, they’re always going to leave huge gaps in the market for Windows PCs to fill.
Microsoft can keep being Microsoft, they’ll keep making tons of money, and we can continue to mostly ignore them. (Quick, name anything IBM has done in the last 10 years.) As their enterprise business is churning away, they can continue to build up their cloud-services business into a large-scale AWS competitor.
Appointing Nadella as CEO shows promise for this theory, and I think it’s their best move.
Spot-on analysis by Drew Crawford of the mobile game market today:
The fundamental problem with selling games is that you have 150,000 games that you could play instead. If you think you have a unique game, you probably don’t. And even if you do, it doesn’t matter, because nobody will ever find out — they’ll just play whatever game is in the top list or that their friends saw in the top list, because nobody is playing any appreciable fraction of 150,000 games.
This is, basically, a problem that is unique to the games market. If you want to take notes on your iPad for example, there are maybe 25 apps that realistically will do what you want. And so you if you are really motivated you can try all those apps for yourself. Or you can look on the internet and find an article where somebody’s done that for you. But nobody’s playing 150,000 games. Not me, not you, not IGN. Nobody.
Crawford’s right that this is more of a problem in the game market, but it’s definitely a problem everywhere else, too. See John Roderick’s version about the music business and my previous posts on the deluge of competition and difficulty of sustaining paid sales in today’s App Store.
Many people have misinterpreted my position to be the blanket statement that “all paid apps are dead”, and plenty of articles argued against that straw man, but I’m not sure anyone credible has ever said that unconditionally. Some paid apps do well, but that number is getting smaller. The problem isn’t price, per se — it’s ever-increasing competition in every category, with much of it free. Downward pricing pressure is simply a side effect.
A secondary problem for paid-up-front apps, which I’d like to see writers like Dan Counsell address, is sustainability. You can get decent money briefly with a paid-up-front app, but how do you fund its maintenance and future improvements? Paid apps have no good, effective, generalized solution — they only have a handful of bad options that most customers hate. Freemium apps have more palatable options.
Microsoft’s new CEO should relaunch the giant Surface table with an exclusive new app named Paper.
Sponsored by Squarespace, Ting, and lynda.com.
Somehow, the idea that LED bulbs run hotter than other types has permeated common knowledge. I’ve heard everyone, from electricians to people in Home Depot to John Siracusa, stating it as either fact or hearsay. Given that they use much less power than other bulb types to produce equivalent amounts of light, this never made a lot of sense to me.
Here’s actual data and thermal images that clearly disprove this myth.
Rebellion acquired the MoonBase Commander intellectual property during an Atari bankruptcy auction last summer.
I actually almost bid on it. (I didn’t think anyone else would.) I’ve wanted an iPad port of Moonbase Commander for years, and I thought it would make an interesting next project. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about making or selling games, and I wanted to do Overcast instead, so I tabled the idea.
Fortunately, Rebellion (an actual game company) picked it up and they’re actually using it, a much better fate than it probably would have had with me.
“[MoonBase Commander] was one of our first priorities at the Atari auction. We’re big fans of the game — it’s a classic example of simple, elegant design and it’s aged so well. Our main priority was getting Steam support sorted and show it to a whole new generation of PC gamers,” said Jason Kingsley, CEO and creative director of Rebellion, in a press release today.
Kingsley also teased new MoonBase Commander games, and implied that Rebellion would likely release them on mobile devices.
Now we’re talking.
Just please don’t mess it up with in-app purchases. It’s an exceptionally balanced, turn-based strategy game. Nobody should be able to buy an instant health boost to their main hub or pay a dollar to remove your crawler at the last minute.
Thomas Baekdal (via iOS Dev Weekly):
What if I gave you a choice between doing the right thing, and doing the wrong thing. Which one would you choose? …
But what if I then told you that by doing the wrong thing, your revenue would go up by 25% and your costs would drop by 50% (doubling the profit), now what would you do? Would you choose to do the wrong thing and go for the money, despite the fact that it is still the wrong thing to do?
This is actually the exact dilemma we are faced with in the media industry today.
I wouldn’t say it’s “right” vs. “wrong” — rather, the dilemma is usually between “great but less profitable” and “mediocre-to-bad but more profitable”. Most of the time, it’s a quality dilemma, not a moral one.
It’s easy to slide into mediocrity when more people are involved and leadership is weak (hence, “design by committee”), or when business isn’t going very well (hence, “rate this app” dialogs, or the entire publishing industry). Big-company iOS games are all but guaranteed to be horrible.
By my friend and former coworker, Meaghan O’Connell:
If you’re an early employee and the company is new, your options are pretty much worthless for now. If the company succeeds later on, though, this is to your advantage. This is why people shittier than you always want to “get in on the ground floor.” Getting in on the ground floor just means you paid less to get more. Your “strike price” is way lower, and maybe you got your option grant before they hired a lawyer who advised them to stop giving people so much stock, you newbs, you’re giving away the farm.
TIP: Always join a company before the lawyers do.
I’d like to see Apple get back to doing fewer things and doing them well. That means no TV or smartwatch. …
Apple, fall in love with the next product category and lead us there. We’re ready for the next thing you love, not the next thing that Wall Street assumes everyone wants.
Agreed. The last thing Apple needs is another product line to support — they’re spread so thin that they’re barely able to maintain software and service quality for their existing products.
New Tonx-like service, but with a twist: your first shipment is a sampler of four different beans with different roast levels, and you get to pick your favorite category for your future shipments.
They sent me a sample. I really liked having the choices, and they did taste noticeably different, but none swayed me from my home-roasting (mostly because I’m a picky control freak). Despite the hopelessness of my satisfaction with other people’s roasts, I can see a lot of people liking this service. The packaging and website are also very nicely done, with liberal but well-executed use of Brooklyn-Portland fashion.
One nitpick that’s not unique to Driftaway: I strongly disagree with the current common wisdom among many specialty roasters that Kenyas should be lightly roasted. Most Kenya beans — my favorite origin and my most frequently roasted by far — have a strong tartness and a deep body. Light roasts amplify the tartness and mute the body, yielding an overly sour cup. Bringing the roast darker (I like a Full City) brings out the complex body, adds a touch of dark-roast flavor, and reduces the sourness from the dominant flavor to a nice, tart accent. The ability to reliably strike that balance — darkness, complexity, and a tart accent — is what makes Kenyas so great.
Wise words from John Gruber on soon-to-be-NFL-player Michael Sam coming out as gay shortly before the NFL draft.1
We look back on ugliness of our country’s past bigotry with regret, shame, and almost disbelief at how cruel our ancestors were. We don’t need to look very far back — many of us can even look back to our own childhoods.
Bigotry never goes away completely, but most forms eventually cross a line after which most people consider them offensive and shameful. They become far less common, legally prohibited in many contexts (such as employment and housing discrimination), and marginalized to only the most ignorant, nasty fringes of society. As society progresses, classes of bigotry cross this threshold, but they rarely go the other way — history proves the bigots wrong and slowly erases them.
Racism and sexism2 are over that line, but we’re currently still in a painful transition trying to push two major issues over: sexual-orientation discrimination and, in the U.S., access to health care.3 What side of history do you want to be on when your grandchildren ask what you did, thought, and voted for during this era?
I don’t think Sam will have any trouble getting drafted. This is a bold challenge to the teams4 to start a new (though long overdue) era and admit to the world, probably implicitly, that sexual orientation is completely irrelevant in any professional context. Anti-gay bigots are cowards — none of them have the guts to reveal and own their bigotry publicly. Sam will win.
Warning: I don’t know anything about sports. This is the first time “NFL” has ever appeared on this site. I think I’ve gotten the facts right on this — please let me know if the NFL is really a basketball league, Sam is really a baseball player, “the draft” refers to air currents, or bigotry is really beneficial to society. ↩︎
Maybe. Actually, sadly, probably not. ↩︎
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. But I think these are the most hotly contested forms of discrimination that affect the most people today. ↩︎
VC and friend Bijan Sabet on the kind of products that really succeed and disrupt.
More on why he’s asking.
Jonathan, “the song-a-day guy”, writes so many great, catchy songs that you’ve probably heard a few, including the Antennagate song that Jobs picked to open the official press conference, or the Accidental Tech Podcast theme song in almost every episode. (Far fewer of you heard the How To Fold A Fitted Sheet song featuring my wife and dog.)
Clever, extensive “art installation” that probably isn’t funny enough to make it worth getting shut down and possibly sued, which is likely since they’re obviously getting awful legal advice:
“By adding the word ‘dumb’ we are technically ‘making fun’ of Starbucks, which allows us to use their trademarks under a law known as ‘fair use.’ … It’s the same law that allows Weird Al Yankovic to use the music from Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ in his parody song ‘Eat It’.”
Yikes. Both sentences are pretty severely wrong. Good luck with that.
Ben Thompson has the best take on Microsoft’s present and future that I’ve seen yet.
I suggest you first listen to his Vector episode, then read this, if you’re into Microsoft suggestions and speculation. The podcast also has more detail on the interesting patent issues that make Motorola worth far more to Lenovo than almost anyone else.
John Voorhees tweeted:
Podcasters: If you use a Squarespace player for a new show, add a download link so I can try via Huffduffer before subscribing. See @atpfm
You can see the resulting “Download MP3” link on any ATP episode.
Previously, I used this script to pull the episode file size and playback duration out of one of the Squarespace
data- attributes and display them, too, but a change by Squarespace a few months ago removed that information from the markup.
Update: Squarespace Guru says that this only works if the audio element is the last block in the post.
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Thanks to Treehouse for sponsoring Marco.org this week.
Jeff Vogel on what it’s like to put yourself out there, and what happened to Flappy Bird:
Dong Nguyen quit. A fortune coming through the door, and he walked away. …
Think about this. I mean you, personally. Think about what it would take to make you run from a gold mine like this. Really. Think about why someone would do this.
This is not about money.
Flappy Bird’s success was hilarious, but it also appears to be completely earned. I’ve read the posts suggesting he cheated at the ranks or reviews, but I haven’t seen any that supported those claims enough. Some guy in Vietnam made a primitive, crude, completely unoriginal game with cute, equally unoriginal artwork that was charming in its shittiness, frustratingly difficult, and inexplicably addictive.
A charming, comically shitty, addictive, accessible yet difficult, very casual, very quick to play, completely free game with no manipulative in-app purchases? Of course it succeeded in the App Store, fair and square.
Then so many people brutally harassed and abused the developer that he couldn’t take it anymore and deleted the number one app in the App Store in an attempt to do anything to make the abuse stop.
Flappy Bird was a cultural tragedy, and the tragedy has nothing to do with the game.
I wanted to take this moment to write you this letter so that you know who I am. Because I now know exactly what you are.
Candy Crush Saga is made by truly awful people. Playing it or having it installed on your phone at all is supporting this cruel, predatory behavior. Vote with your feet.
This week: Gesture explanations, usability ceilings, Flappy Bird, Comcast, and beacon.plumbing.
Sponsored by Hover, Squarespace, and Transporter.
The new rejection language:
We found your app name attempts to leverage a popular app.
As far as I know, they’ve never done this before. Is there any chance that it will be consistently enforced in the future? The App Store has been filled with scammy clone games with misleadingly close titles to popular hits for years. This has always been one of the many App Store dysfunctions where Apple is almost entirely hands-off, to the detriment of the store, consumers, and legitimate developers.
This can be a great rule if they actually enforce it consistently. Unfortunately, precedent isn’t encouraging — the App Store has never enforced its own rules consistently.
Your mobile app loses more users on the first day than any other. Stop that. Serve up content your new users care about.
You likely already support deep links via custom URL schemes in iOS, but this only works for users who’ve already installed your app. Wouldn’t it be nice to deep-link new users to a specific spot inside your app as well?
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Thanks to Tapstream for sponsoring Marco.org this week.
This week: Flappy Bird hamburgers, things John likes, WhatsApp, and replacing Objective C (Copland 2010). It’s a good one.
Sponsored by lynda.com, Ting, and Squarespace.
It’s interesting that so much coverage of the WhatsApp acquisition by Facebook has used the same word: conglomerate.
Our industry has reached a chilling point where the biggest players are so big, with so much cash, so much to lose, and effectively zero regulation, that they can simply buy anyone who threatens their dominance.
Both OS X and iOS are affected. iOS has been patched already, but OS X hasn’t — see for yourself.
Great post by Supertop, makers of the Castro podcast app:
The background fetch API is a game-changer for iOS developers. It has the potential to free us of significant server and infrastructure overheads. This is particularly relevant at a time when many developers are wondering how to stay independent. For Castro, the decision was an easy one and we strongly advocate that other developers take full advantage of this new API as well.
(Since I’m working on a competitor to Castro, take all of my comments here with a grain of salt.)
Service-backed apps still have a lot of advantages and exclusive capabilities over iOS 7’s Background Fetch. I think server-side crawling is still the best choice for podcast apps and feed readers, for which users want fast updates to collections of infrequently updated feeds.
Overcast has been crawling tens of thousands of podcast feeds every few minutes for the last 6 months using standard HTTP caching headers. In the last week, 62% of all requests have returned 304 (“Not Modified”). Many of the rest returned the entire “new” feed, but none of the episodes had actually changed, making the server download and process hundreds of kilobytes unnecessarily.
An app using Background Fetch needs to make all of those fruitless requests just to get the handful of occasional changes. All of those requests cost processor time, memory, battery power, and data transfer. And each copy of the app needs to download those hundreds of wasted kilobytes when a server erroneously reports an unchanged feed as new.
While a server can easily crawl a feed every few minutes without problems for either side, 20,000 copies of an app polling a show’s feed will be noticeable — and they won’t even get the updates as quickly as the server-side crawler since they’re running less frequently.
A server can simply send a silent push notification to all subscribed apps when there’s new data in a feed, and each app can download just the changes. With infrequently updated feeds, like podcasts, this leads to huge savings in battery life and transferred data over time.
I agree with Supertop that it’s important to minimize hosting costs, especially as App Store economics become more challenging, but hosting is cheaper than ever with SSDs and modern CPUs. At launch, I’ll be paying more each month for my health insurance than all of the web-hosting expenses, and I bet this will remain the case for a while.
But getting hosting this cheap requires a bit more work. You probably can’t use most cloud services, you probably need to learn basic Linux server management (it’s not as hard as you think), and you need to be a bit careful with your decisions and implementation. I’m still using VPSes, dedicated servers, PHP, and MySQL because I know how to host scalable web services very cheaply this way.1
Background Fetch is a great option, but there’s still a lot of value in a web service if you can make one.
The entire Overcast feed-crawling infrastructure can run on a $40/month Linode VPS. And Linode hasn’t even deployed SSDs yet.
To give myself more headroom for testing and the launch, whenever that actually happens (not soon), I recently switched to a dedicated server at Limestone Networks (that’s a referral link) with a quad-core Xeon E3-1270 v3, two 100 GB Intel enterprise SSDs in RAID-1, 16 GB of RAM, and far more bandwidth than I can use for $277/month.
I still can’t believe it’s that cheap. This could have been Instapaper’s master database server, which cost $1,200/month just a few years ago. I don’t think there’s a better value in dedicated servers these days than a Xeon E3 with an SSD or two. ↩︎
The X introduces a new “forked” version of Android that’s akin to what Amazon does with its Kindle Fire line. Nokia is effectively taking the open-source elements of Android and then bolting on its own services, a Windows Phone-like UI, and yet another Android app store. The downside to this is that the Nokia X devices won’t have access to Google’s Play store or Google-specific apps like Gmail, Chrome, Maps, and others. However, Android apps will run on the devices with only limited changes required by developers.
There’s a good chance this will get nixed shortly by Microsoft or simply be a market flop at launch. But there’s a small chance that this might become the most interesting mobile story of the year.
This kind of approach won’t be easy, and its success is anything but a sure thing. But I think it’s Microsoft’s only chance to break into the mobile platform business, if they still want to be in it. Windows Phone 7 and 8 have been complete failures with no hope in sight, and the sooner Microsoft can admit that to themselves, the sooner they can try another strategy — if it’s not too late.
I love that Tim Cook has always been Tim Cook.
I’ve seen this podcast-episode link recommended a few times by fellow software developers over the last couple of weeks. I finally listened to it, and I can see why. The podcast hosts, who are screenwriters, interview the CEO and product manager of Final Draft, the industry-standard software for writing screenplays — which the hosts aren’t fond of.
I don’t know anything about screenwriting, but I’ve heard people complaining about how much they hate Final Draft for years. It sounds a lot like the complaints about many other pro apps: customers dislike its design, quality, rate of progress, pricing, or all of the above.
I guess, being in the software business (sometimes), I’m supposed to identify with the Final Draft CEO. Application software faces a tough market these days, and the hosts weren’t entirely fair at times.1 But all I heard from the Final Draft CEO was an incredibly defensive, emotionally manipulative barrage of excuses and assaults against his customers. He makes his problems their problems, and any valid criticisms or hard questions are yelled down and distorted with argument-ending guilt trips about feeding his staff.
It’s quite something to hear, perfectly illustrating the dysfunction that can result from a complacent software vendor being out of touch with its customers’ needs, unwilling to listen to negative feedback, and unable to adapt to a changing market. Developers can all learn something from hearing this. And if Final Draft is a reflection of its CEO, I can certainly understand the widespread resentment.
Update: This post by a competing developer and the follow-up in the next episode are also quite good. I had no idea Final Draft was so antiquated — QuickDraw? No Unicode? — and it makes the CEO’s excuses even worse.
The hosts spent far too much time at the end berating the CEO for not asking anyone they know for feedback. But before that, their questions were quite reasonable. ↩︎
Reuters: (via DF)
Google Inc has deployed lobbyists to persuade elected officials in Illinois, Delaware and Missouri that it is not necessary to restrict use of Google Glass behind the wheel, according to state lobbying disclosure records and interviews conducted by Reuters.
I don’t think there are a lot of reasonable people still arguing today that texting while driving is safe.
No reasonable person who has used Google Glass could conclude that interacting with Glass while driving is substantially different from texting while driving.
There’s no gentler way to put this: When — not if — distracted drivers using Glass kill others or themselves in accidents, those deaths are now partly on Google.
Had Google just produced Glass, and harm resulted from misuse outside of their control, it wouldn’t be reasonable to ascribe much blame to them. But to actively fight against clear, valid safety concerns makes them an accomplice — morally, if not legally.
This action by Google is simply reckless, disgusting, and disgraceful.
Great piece from Ben Thompson, although I don’t agree with his conclusions.
The argument that we don’t want “such a dysfunctional government” regulating broadband is weak: “the government” isn’t one big coordinated bogeyman that can’t be trusted with anything. That’s just rhetoric that politicians1 use to avoid regulation so corporations can make more money at the expense of the citizens or environment. In practice, governmental regulation works so well in most cases that it’s taken for granted and too boring for most people to even think about.
I also don’t buy the position put forward by the big broadband companies that regulation would hurt their ability to “innovate”. Innovation is almost certainly not what we want from our ISPs: introducing artificial limitations on cheaper plans, pushing normal service to higher prices, transitioning from monthly to annual contracts with zero consumer benefit, and bundling services you don’t want with your internet service are all considered “innovation” to an ISP. “Innovation” makes them more money or adds proprietary services so they aren’t dumb pipes.
We definitely don’t want any of that. We want our ISPs to be as boring as possible. Dumb pipes are exactly what ISPs should offer, and that’s what common-carrier regulation would maintain.
What we do need is continued coverage expansion and speed increases, but this has nothing to do with common-carrier classification. At all. It’s just political drama so they can avoid regulation and make more money. The big ISPs have always trotted out weak sob stories about needing zero regulation so they can keep expanding service, but these are really threats to the American people and government. “Give us everything we want, or we’ll hold broadband hostage.” They’ve always done whatever they wanted whenever it was convenient and profitable. And it’s very profitable.
What’s most damning to their argument is that they’ve all acted within common-carrier boundaries anyway for most of broadband’s existence, with very few exceptions, and they continue to make record profits, expand service (mostly), and increase speeds. Common-carrier regulation would simply prevent some very harmful “innovations” that the ISPs have, to date, never needed to remain profitable and keep expanding.
Don’t believe their bullshit. They’d be perfectly fine as common carriers. Almost nothing would change from the way they’ve always operated.
Usually Republicans, but Democrats certainly do their share of shamelessly serving big corporations at our expense, too. ↩︎
This week: Wolfram Language, Apple’s SSL bug and the NSA, warnings as exceptions in production, and that Scriptnotes episode.
Sponsored by Picturelife, Squarespace, and HelpSpot.
The more I learn about pCell, the more interesting it sounds. It still blows my mind that such a concept can work at scale at all.