Tag Archives: App Store

One More Lame Analogy About The App Store

I’ll post this thing that just occurred to me, because I amused myself with it and it seems to sum up the situation with the App Store.

Before the App Store, Mac apps were like a comedy or a drama on HBO. Big budgets, top talent, and absolutely no restrictions. Everyone was working under just one limit: what’s the best thing they could produce?

After the App Store, Mac apps are like a show on network television. The limits there are much more real: what’s the best thing you can produce, under the restrictions imposed by broadcast standards?

The way I see it, under the new rules, there’s the risk that Mac software might occasionally be as good as “The West Wing” but it could never be as great as “Boardwalk Empire” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or (the absolutely shattering documentary) “How To Die In Oregon.”

“Futurama” and Conan O’Brien were forced to flee to cable TV, while “Family Guy” and Jay Leno continue to flourish on networks. Honest to God…is that what you’d like to see happen to Mac software?

[Notes: Yes, thank you, I know that “Family Guy” was exiled to cable for a bit before being brought back to FOX. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lazy, sucky show. And the larger point is that creative endeavors don’t exactly flourish under content limitations.

At minimum, the new rules represent a major (and hopefully only temporary) setback. It’s going to take some time — maybe even a couple of years — before developers learn how to do everything they need to do under App Store restrictions, and Apple learns which of these restrictions could stand some loosening up. And until that happens, there will be some very real limitations on how good a Mac app can be.]

iCloud and App Store Transition: Yojimbo

Today, Bare Bones Software posted an advisory to educate the users of Yojimbo (BB’s fab personal data archiver and organizer) about the transition from MobileMe to iCloud:

As one of the very first developers to adopt MobileMe for synchronization, we’re accustomed to working closely with Apple to address the complexities involved. iCloud represents a radical change in how data synchronization operates; it’s unfortunately not just a switch that developers can throw.

It’s easy for us all to think “Apple has this new iCloud service that’s way, way better than MobileMe. This is going to be great!” But a lot of developers are really feeling the pain. Products that were working just fine are now broken. Time, money, and resources that developers could be investing in making a great product even better must instead be spent just to keep their software working.

“So what’s the big deal?” you might wonder. “An app used to rely on MobileMe…now it has to use iCloud. iCloud is much better than MobileMe. Developers should quit whining, grit their teeth, and get on with it.”

They can’t. It’s horribly like a home renovation.

(And anybody who’s ever renovated a home is now shuddering.)

It’s not as easy as swapping the old cast-iron tub in the master bath for a whirlpool spa. You need to change the flooring so it’ll support the new tub. New pipes need to come in to feed it. The old water heater isn’t big enough for the new tub. You’ll need a new one of those, too. You hire a plumber to upgrade the house’s 50-year-old water service…

…And oh, ****. He can’t do the work without a construction permit. You go to your Town Hall. An inspector tells you that the plumbing in your 50-year-old house isn’t up to code, and your entire water service has to be upgraded. Your plumbing is perfectly safe mind you…it’s just that since the system was installed, the town chose to change their definition of “safe.”

See? All you wanted to do was take a bath with your spouse, like in that super-hot scene between Kevin Costner’s and Susan Sarandon’s butt-doubles in “Bull Durham.” And now, here you are, fighting a massive bureaucracy just so that you can continue to have running water in your house.

That’s what many Mac developers are dealing with right now. An app does syncing through MobileMe. Now, it needs to do it through iCloud. Fine. But Apple won’t let an app use iCloud unless it’s sold in the App Store. Fine. But Apple won’t approve an app for the App Store unless it’s sandboxed. And for many developers, sandboxing means that half of their app’s features will either no longer work at all, or will need to be dumbed way, way down. Selling your app there also means being cut off from any kind of simple and direct line of communication with your users.

The knock-forward list of problems here is a long one. My initial “what’s the harm?” reaction to the App Store’s requirements was based on the idea that a developer could still sell their apps outside of the Store if he or she wanted to. My attitude has changed. iCloud is just one example of a larger (and kind of nasty) problem: Apple is making the newest and most desirable features of the OS exclusively available to App Store software. How does that encourage developers to create the best apps possible?

No wonder so many developers are feeling a little bit smacked around by Apple. I wouldn’t necessarily read that conclusion into Bare Bones’ update page, of course. But that’s the impression I get from so many developers of so many popular apps. They’ve been sharing some profoundly sad stories with me over the past year. Yes, I’ve heard the phrase “that’s it; I’m out” at least once.

This is bad hoodoo. Very, very bad hoodoo. It doesn’t mean that MacOS is doomed. But it means that many apps aren’t going to be as good as they can possibly be. I worry that many of the best and most Mac developers are going to start to ask themselves if this is all worth it.

Open Question: Which MacOS apps will be broken by sandboxing?

There were some quick responses to this morning’s post about the App Store. I immediately wished I’d at least mentioned the awkward transition the Store is going through right now. Apple is demanding basic changes to the way that apps operate. It’s called “sandboxing” and it’s designed to ensure that no app, either through malice or incompetence, can interfere with any system process or anything that any other app is doing.

Which isn’t a bad goal. It’s very user-positive. But keep in mind that Mac developers have been building apps any way they like since 1984. Many apps use techniques that are perfectly harmless, but impossible to implement under sandboxing. Other apps are designed to deliver a basic, system-wide function that’s fundamentally incompatible with the concept.

I’ve been aware of this for a while and have written and spoken about it frequently. But I only just now realized that I’ve never seen a public list of apps that are broken by sandboxing. Yes, it doesn’t mean the end of the app — users can still sideload it outside of the App Store — but it does cut the app off of Apple’s “blessed and trusted” mechanism for purchasing, installing, and updating safe apps.

I will quickly categorize three standout types of “broken” apps:

1) An app that fundamentally can’t function in a sandboxed environment. Generally, system apps that do something Wonderfully Clever. It can’t work, so it won’t be updated.

2) An app that uses a Clever Trick as a shortcut. Developer will finally sit down and figure out how to make that function work within the new rules.

3) An app that’s simply old and in its “dividend” phase. Maybe it doesn’t work because of a shortcut, maybe it doesn’t work because it hasn’t been updated to completely use the modern framework. It’s not that there are any technical barriers to making it work under the new system, but at this point in the app’s life it generates enough revenue only to support simple bugfixes, and not top-to-bottom rewrites. Developer shrugs, thinks “Okay, my Austin Powers Talking Clock had a good run and now it’s time to move on” and the app dies.

I am literally minutes away from leaving my house for an unbreakable appointment (or else I’d do an exhaustive search to see if such a list already exists).

Still, I thought I’d leave an open question:

1) Do you know of an app whose future is put in jeopardy by sandboxing? (Ideally: an app that you wrote)

2) Is it so bad that there’s a real risk that the app will be frozen in its pre-sandboxed state?

Leave responses in comments.

The Mac App Store: Falling In Love Again

BPL Staircase

Y’like that photo? It represents two things: the grand staircase of the Boston Public Library, and the regular renewal of my love for the Mac App Store.

It’s one of those rare scenes where it’s almost impossible not to come away with a great photo. I mean, just look at what’s there. Plus, the balcony that the camera is sitting on is at exactly the same level as the bottom sills of the windows on the other side, and there’s even a seam in the marble that shows you where to center your lens.

The shot and the composition is right there waiting for you but you can make things better with proper technique. I’ve taken this same photo over and over again and I think this version includes pretty much every mix-in ingredient from the sundae bar. The camera was sitting flat on the balcony to eliminate camera shake; I selected an aperture from the lens’ “sweet spot”; I used a super-wide-angle lens to get the whole thing in one shot; I shot on an overcast day so that the west-facing windows didn’t blow out the stairs; I manually selected an exposure point from the midtone range of the scene; I waited until the area was clear of people (or for there to be a person in there standing still and doing something that enhanced the scene); and I shot seven bracketed exposures, which I assembled into an HDR image to get around the limitations of the image sensor.

To summarize: I tried to Ansel Adams my ass off with this one. Gosh!

The HDR image was created by Photomatix by HDRSoft. It’s the go-to app for people who think a High Dynamic Range photo should look like a photograph and not like a frame from a computer-generated short circa 1998.

Generating this image was a needlessly long and complicated process. Oh, the app is easy as pie. It was only complicated because I hadn’t really used the app in ages. I downloaded a fresh copy from HDRSoft and looked in my Mail archive for the license code, but I couldn’t find it. I used their website’s automated thingy to have it re-sent to me, but they didn’t have the code on file and it was a holiday weekend.

So I had to dig through my closet for Lilith 9, my 2008-edition MacBook Pro. After thirty minutes of charging, I booted it up for the first time in a year and a half. I remembered my admin password after seven failed tries and I had to remember how things work in MacOS 10.6. But then it was like I was entering the tomb of The 2009-2011 Version Of Andy Ihnatko. Here, arrayed in the undisturbed air almost as though he had just departed moments ago, were all of the tools and amusements and artifacts that he surrounded himself with in life. For what purpose were they buried with him? History may never know.

Anyway, yes, Photomatix was installed and licensed on this machine. More good news: I could upgrade to the 2012 edition and still use the old app’s registration credentials. I copied over the source images and soon had the merged HDR image that I’d come for.

If I’d acquired Photomatix from the App Store two years ago, I’d have had it up and running on Lilith X after just five minutes of clicking…no registration code required. Every time I encounter into a situation like this, I love, love, love, freaking love the Mac App Store. I want to put five dollars in an envelope and send it to Apple, in the hopes that it might land in the hands of someone who was responsible for making the App Store happen.

The Store is still a source of some worry. Apple is the sole authority on what apps can and can’t run on an iPhone, iPod, or iPad. That rankles, given that an iPad costs as much as a Windows 7 notebook. Shouldn’t I have the right to do whatever the hell I want with a computer I paid $400 to $875 for? The situation is different on MacOS but developers still feel enormous pressure to kowtow to Apple’s rules and seek their approval. The App Store’s where all the money is.

So noted be. But damn, yes, the Store makes life so much easier for every user.

Which is why we sigh and we move on, instead of driving to Cupertino with a trunk full of V for Vendetta masks and a collection of signs that we hope will be amusing enough for people to reshare on their Tumblrs.

The difference between the Mac OS and iOS App Stores

My Close Personal Friend™ Daniel Jalkut is the developer who makes MarsEdit, the slightly-better-than-wonderful MacOS blogging tool.

He’s released an “extremely minimal” update to the app, as in: 3.2.1 is now 3.2.2. Apple has rejected the update from the App Store for “alleged violations of their policies that [DJ] can’t yet make sense of.”

But while he sorts that out…everyone can download 3.2.2 directly from Red-Sweater.com.

And that’s the difference between the two App Stores. When an Mac OS app gets rejected, it’s annoying, yes, and I can only imagine the Epcot of Delight that Daniel’s going to go experience as he tries to figure out what exactly Apple thinks is wrong with MarsEdit 3.2.2. But in the meantime, the gears of progress keep spinning, and he retains control over his destiny.

If MarsEdit were an iOS app, however, he’d be screwed. An iPhone or an iPad developer can’t make an end-run around the App Store. It’s bad enough when users can’t get their hands on software update that the developer feels is necessary. But when Apple says NO SOUP FOR YOU! to a developer who’s sunk thousands of dollars of real money, to say nothing about hundreds or thousands of man-hours of work, into creating what was hopefully going to become a profit-making app…yowtch. I think that experience would make this developer impatient for a day when one could make a nice living writing apps for Android devices.

Red Sweater Blog – MarsEdit 3.2.2.

Mac OS App Store Now Open

Yup, the App Store opened today, as predicted. Some quick bullets:

  • You’ll need to download an OS update to get access to the store: it’s a Mac OS X 10.6.6 party.
  • Once you’ve updated, you’ll find a new item in the Apple Menu. Click “App Store…” to open the Store window.
  • It’s not a page in iTunes. The Store is its own separate app, with a Dock icon and everything.
  • If you’ve seen the App Store app on the iPad, you’ve got a handle on the Mac OS X App Store. It’s practically the same browsing and shopping experience.
  • Pricing (which is set by the developers) seems to be a hybrid of desktop and iOS app structure. The familiar hits haven’t suddenly dropped down to $2.99, which is a relief; it means that we might avoid a “race to the bottom.” But there are many free apps and cheap games.
  • It’s a simple click-to-purchase. Sign in with your AppleID. The app downloads and the icon leaps from its spot in the store and directly into a spot in your Dock (Yes. With animation and everything). Apple couldn’t have come up with a simpler method of installing an app.

So far, so good. Now we just need to see how well this whole ecosystem works. It’s easy to get developers to get on board for the launch. It remains to be seen if, a year from now, the developer community decides that this is a great way for them to reach consumers and sell them software. The first sale is easy…but will the App Store help them to build a relationship with their customers that leads to ongoing paid upgrades?

I’d think about this some more. But my Cheerios are getting soggy.