App Store Paid Upgrades

Wil Shipley from Delicious Monster wrote a great blog post on the need for paid upgrades. To compensate for this missing feature app developers tend to do one of three things:

  • Make it free – I presume this is what Apple is going for. Make it feel like a bargain.
  • New App, Pay again – The most notable example of this was Tweetie (now Twitter for iPhone) upgrading to 2.0 was a new App. Lots of users didn’t like this. I suspect paying the same money for an “upgrade” would have hurt less psychologically.
  • Temporary free/discounted new app – I’ve seen this a few times. The new app is priced low or free for a weekend so users can upgrade. Then the price goes up. Not a terrible strategy, but hardly great for any party.

I’m surprised Apple still hasn’t caved on this. It must be the #1 requested feature by developers. It would also be a huge revenue generator for Apple since they take a cut of every sale. I’m guessing Mac OS X 10.8 will be a new app and not an upgrade to 10.7 in the App Store.

Web App Stores Via Twittter/Facebook

It seems likely to me that Facebook and Twitter will eventually be competing with Apple in terms of App stores. Facebook sort of already is with their extensive apps platform, however that’s just competing for developer attention. Twitter doesn’t really have an equivalent today (developers mainly build clients and interact with data), but don’t underestimate their clout.

The reason I say this is that Facebook and Twitter have become identity gatekeepers on the net. Already you can login to many sites via accounts with one of the two sites. Creating the API’s to handle purchase/subscriptions and transparently handling the billing to effectively turning a HTML5 site into an “app” is the next logical step. They could undercut Apple and still walk away with a handsome profit for not doing terribly much more than leveraging their size and reach. These apps would work on any device with a web browser. Desktop or mobile.

Given both sites need to diversify revenue streams (something Google never figured out), it seems only logical to make this step. $0.99 for Angry Birds seems more than plausible.

And yes, there are offline abilities in a browser.

Steve Jobs: Thoughts On Flash

Apple today published a letter from Steve Jobs aptly title “Thoughts on Flash“. What’s interesting isn’t so much what he said, but what he alluded to. This letter is about Flash, but it’s also about the future if the iPhone platform strategy. It also alludes to the future importance of WebKit and the open web. Lets walk through this. From his points:

First, there’s “Open”.

Steve is right. Flash isn’t really “open”. The iPhone isn’t either by any means. In fact it’s the most restricted computing platform in the world as far as I know. What he did note is that the iPhone uses WebKit and by proxy the web is the most open platform on the planet. That’s very noteworthy.

Second, there’s the “full web”.

Flash video itself isn’t that great by todays standards. That’s why sites like YouTube are serving HD video in H.264 rather than VP6. H.264, VP8 and Theora are the future. If all 3 or just one will survive remains to be seen. Regardless any of them can be played outside of Flash. The dependency on Flash to build a player is going away more and more each day.

Regarding games, this is a silly point. Almost all Flash games need a keyboard or mouse to work. They would never work with a touch screen. Nor would they scale to fit the screen. They would need to be significantly reworked/rewritten.

This is yet more alluding to WebKit and HTML5 where there are solutions already in place.

Third, there’s reliability, security and performance.

It’s pretty hard to dispute the reliability of Flash. It’s by far the driving force behind things like out of process plugins (OOPP) in Firefox among other browsers. It’s also been subject to lots of security vulnerabilities.

Fourth, there’s battery life.

The WSJ quotes Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen as saying the claims of Flash being battery draining are “patently false” but if you look at a CPU monitor while browsing a page with Flash, you can see the load increase quite a bit. Blocking flash on your browser does speed things up and keep your system cooler. I’m very suspect that Adobe has solved this in cell phones when they don’t even seem to have it under control in Windows.

Fifth, there’s Touch.

I already mentioned that mouse/keyboard interfaces just don’t work on the iPhone. No need to rehash that.

Sixth, the most important reason.

That’s actually a vague header. The reason is that they don’t want a third-party sitting between the iPhone API’s and developers. If that happens, developers are limited to what that third-party decides to implement. At the very most developers on the Flash platform get whatever is supported on all Flash platform (greatest common denominator).

That leaves Apple in a stupid position. They could implement killer features in the iPhone and create amazing API’s to take advantage of the features. But if Adobe doesn’t see a way to support things across platforms, or just doesn’t see the cost/benefit of implementing that feature, developers can’t use it. That marginalizes the product for Apple as well as developers.

Conclusion

I found this very interesting that he closed it like this:

New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

In February of 2007 Steve Jobs wrote another letter on DRM. It’s noteworthy because in January 2009 Apple launched the ability to buy non-DRM protected music. The letter was really a hint at where things were going. He’s repeating the PR strategy that he used then, make no mistake of it.

I have a feeling the day will come where the App Store is deprecated in favor of promoting HTML5 based Applications either directly off the web or packed similar to how Dashboard Widgets are done now on Mac OS X. The App Store will be around for quite some time, but it will eventually morph.

That is why WebKit is so important to Apple. They want to abstract their OS to the point where they can provide very high level hooks into features they want developers to be able to use. The current iPhone App SDK was a solution created by Apple as a way to let developers put applications on the iPhone as an afterthought. The moderation is so that they can keep their security record intact and could shut down a malicious app before trouble becomes rampant. That puts them in the position where they can either approve all content and be viewed as sleazy by more conservative folks, or they can let everything go and accept that reputation. They obviously made their decision. Developers and some geeks hate it, but 99% of the rest of the world doesn’t even know about the process. Nobody wants to know how sausage is made.

The App Store will likely morph to feature Dashboard Widget like applications (not to different from Palm’s WebOS). Apple will still be able to cash in via that distribution point since they can use DRM giving them the only way to actually sell a protected application. You can view them online via you’re browser.

That’s my prediction. The day will come when the iPhone SDK that we know today will be deprecated. WebKit and HTML5 aren’t there today, but the day will come when they will be the tier 1 development platform for the iPhone. Steve Jobs is just laying the groundwork today.

For desktops, other platforms and browsers it’s worth noting that there’s a lot to gain here.

iPhone Apps On Your Desktop

Apple should let users purchase iPhone apps and run them on their desktop similar to Dashboard widgets.

You should be able to purchase through iTunes just like users do already and then be able to run them on your iPhone, iPod touch, or on your desktop. Apple already has the technology to do this on x86 based Macs already (proof being the iPhone Simulator). By doing so they would open up the market to a wider set of users who don’t use iPhones but wouldn’t mind some addictive games/utilities and other toys. Most of the applications would actually translate very well. The presentation could be similar to that of the Dashboard Widgets. Same size, same functionality. Controlled via a mouse. Gestures would be slightly more difficult to handle but could be managed with an appropriate human inteface API.

Bonus points if they copied the Kindle’s iPhone app’s sync ability so that developers could let their applications stay in sync via WiFi or MobileMe (remotely). Keep your high scores intact between your phone and your computer.

Locking The Front Door But Leaving The Back Open

Here is an amusing yet failing attempt at security available in the App Store called Spaghetti Pad. Here’s the description from the app developer:

Is somebody always looking over your shoulder, snooping on your iPhone? Sure, we know. That’s why we built Spaghetti Pad. It’s a semi-private notepad which obfuscates your notes so they’re more difficult for others to read — without login screens to slow you down.

How does it work?
Spaghetti Pad takes advantage of the amazing power of the mind to read words with mixed up letters. As long as the first and last letters are in the correct place you can still read the word. Just type in your note normally and Spaghetti Pad will mix the letters up for you. When you view the note later it’s all spaghetti text, slow for others to read but easy for you.

The Technique Is Real

The technique used is actually true, research is showing that we read at least partially the shape of the word rather than the individual letters. Take the following example:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

This may be slightly more difficult for people whom English isn’t their native language, but most will read it nearly as quick as if it were all spelled out correctly. More research can be found here. I should note this was an Internet meme sometime around 2003.

The Use Case Fails

Now ask yourself: what allows me to read the text, but prevents someone next to me from doing the same? Does your brain hurt yet? Virtually all of us can read it because we all read the same way. It doesn’t even slow down reading very much. As a result it appears like security through obscurity, but in reality it’s less effective than Pig Latin or Ubbi dubbi. With Pig Latin, there is at least a little bit of knowledge required before decrypting it becomes natural (though you can sometimes guess). Igpay Atinlay isway otnay ecuritysay.

Your better off getting one of these privacy screens.