Life, Technology, and Meteorology

Month: January 2008

Signs that Apple is Becoming a Big Evil Corporation

Over the past few years it seems that Apple is slowly selling its soul. It’s a bit unsettling, as many people look to Apple as an example of a virtuous company. That’s how it started anyway, just two guys in a garage designing cool computers. Now it seems with every record quarter, new kick-ass product, and innovation made in media, Apple sells itself out. Before I continue down this road, let me make it perfectly clear that I still think Apple has it’s virtues. Apple products are top-notch, and I’m happy the Mac market share is expanding at the rate it is, simply because more Mac users means more potential Seasonality users. The Mac platform is a good place to be right now. So before you send me that hate mail, just remember that I’m telling it as I see it, and this is how I’m seeing it.

What does it mean to become a big, evil corporation? To me a big, evil corporation is one that is driven completely by profits, does not care what it sells, just that consumers buy it, and doesn’t care what it does to produce the products it sells. Actually, it pretty much is against everything that Apple stands for: free ideas, thinking different, and building tools that innovate to help you innovate. Imagine a bright, shiny, chrome shield of virtue; Apple’s coat of arms if you will. Here are a few things I’ve noticed keeping that shield from being shiny and new.

The iTMS

I spent some time thinking back to where it all started, and the best turning point I could think of was the introduction of the iTunes Music Store. I still remember the day this store opened. I remember downloading a fresh version of iTunes, and checking out the hip store that was so easy to shop at. 1-click shopping to purchase any of thousands of songs. Sure there was DRM, but there had to be or else none of the music companies would go for it. “Apple did good though! Only $0.99 a song, and you can play it on 5 devices, AND burn it to a CD!” DRM was certainly a bullet Apple had to bite, otherwise the iTMS would never exist as it does today. However, Apple as a corporation is about free thinking, selling products that you can use for endless innovation. DRM is most certainly against those ideals, being practically invented for the music and movie industries, which are the epitomes of big, evil business… Chink.


Remember when .Mac came out and they weren’t charging for it? “Really, it was free?” Yep. Does it make sense for this service to be free today? Maybe not. There are certainly a lot of people who take advantage of .Mac, and someone has to pay for all that bandwidth and server hardware. It’s not really Apple’s responsibility to provide such a service for no cost to all Mac OS X users. So what’s my dig with .Mac? What I don’t like about it is how many features in Mac OS X and iLife especially are completely crippled for users who don’t subscribe. Why can’t I use any online-accessible directory as an export location for iWeb or iPhoto galleries? To add insult to injury, Apple really puts pressure on developers to make use of .Mac in their software applications. Really then, it’s developers who sell .Mac for Apple. Want to sync X, Y, and Z apps with each other? Sorry you can’t do that unless you have a .Mac account…

The fact of the matter is, I wouldn’t even mind paying for .Mac if it was competitive in the hosting industry. For $100/year, you’re getting a paltry amount of online disk space (this was made somewhat better recently), a couple of email accounts, and some web space with a small helping of bandwidth. Compare to Google, who gives away disk space, email, and shared documents for free. .Mac is just another hook Apple uses to get more recurring money from customers, instead of being a solid innovation in the online sharing community like it should be. Sounds big evil corporationy to me… Chink.

“Because of Accounting…”

It seems we are seeing these paid hardware unlocks from Apple much more frequently. First, last year with MacBook Pros and 802.11n, and now with the recent iPod touch update. It’s blamed on some accounting rules, but really, since when can a company not decide to give something away for free? Why can only products sold on a subscription basis be given free feature updates? Is Leopard a subscription-based product? In the case of the MacBook Pro, the network card was already there, but you had to pay an extra $2 to use it at that speed. Why? Why can’t the users who bought those machines just find out their laptops are even more awesome than before? $2 is a pain in the butt. Katrina has one of these laptops, and we just never paid: not because of the money or the principle of the thing (the latter of which is certainly a valid reason to avoid a product for us), but because it was just another line-item on our todo list that gets lost below all the other important stuff.

Now the big rage is this iPod touch update. 5 new apps for the iPod touch, only $20…what a deal!</sarcasm> Actually, it is a deal. Those 5 apps make the iPod touch twice as useful as it was before, useful enough that I bought one yesterday to replace my Dell PDA. Now I’m in the software industry, so I understand that paid updates are important. You can’t just give away free updates forever, because you have to pay for that continued development. Furthermore, when current iPod touch users purchased their devices, they paid for the current features, so it was worth it to them at the time. If the iPod touch didn’t fit your needs before, then why’d you buy it to begin with?

On the other hand, these 5 applications have been on the iPhone for quite some time. They aren’t really new developments (though there are some new features in each of the apps), and the touch only came out back in September. If someone just bought a product from you less than 6 months ago, you shouldn’t be sticking them with an upgrade fee. Apple screwed up by crippling the iPod touch from the start “to protect iPhone sales,” they should be biting the bullet. It’s just a collection of bits anyway, nothing physical that would actually cost Apple money to offer.

Admittedly, this brings up a tricky topic: upgrade fees. Now since I just bought an iPod touch, if Apple decides a year from now to release and charge for a big software update, how will I feel? Actually, that would be completely fine by me. In fact, I’d be happy if they were still upgrading the software on my device after a year. So where do you draw the line? Somewhere between 5 and 12 months I think. Seriously though, Apple here is releasing software version 1.1.3… This is a point release, what most of the industry would consider a bug-fix. To charge for a point release is absurd, so at the very least, the iPhone/iPod touch development team needs to get their version numbering in check.

Upgrade fees are a fact of life, but these few select examples rub me the wrong way. I’ll be the first in line to buy a new version of OS X every year, but even noting that Apple has to point the finger at “accounting” is kind of a clue the company is going evil. Chink.

iPhone nonSDK

Just over a year ago, Apple dropped the bombshell that it’s new iPod phone would be running a “stripped down version of OS X.” I couldn’t believe it… I thought OS X was just too big for an embedded device, and I’m glad I was proven wrong. That means developing for the iPhone wouldn’t be much different than developing for the Mac. Awesome. Until developers asked Apple how we could go about writing software for the iPhone. Their answer: web apps… Great.

Now to give Apple credit, an SDK is expected sometime next month, and I’m anxiously awaiting such an SDK, but they didn’t get it right from the start. The iPhone is an iPod, but it’s a lot more than that…it’s a mobile device, and developers expect to be able to write software for mobile devices. Actually, development of new software for mobile devices really drives the platforms forward. Not having this is a slap in the face, almost as big as DRM. I’m just hoping they get it right the second time around. It would be a shame if they place too many restrictions or force developers to get “approval” to write apps for the platform. The verdict is still out on this one, but it still strikes me as a big evil company lock-out. Chink (but you might be able to buff this one out).

Time Capsule

To wrap up my argument, I present the new Time Capsule announcement. If you’re unfamiliar, Time Capsule is basically a networked attached Mac hard drive, a NAS. Apple is marketing it as a Time Machine backup device, a hard drive any of the Macs on your network can use to backup files to. It’s certainly a product that Apple should produce, and it really seems like something they could do a nice job with. So what’s the problem?

For this one, you need a little bit of background. You see, when Time Machine was originally announced at WWDC 2006 (!), Apple claimed that backing up over a network would be supported. To me, this was it. I like running servers, and setting a Time Machine server sounded like a nice idea to me. Even better, last year the NAS market took off, and I ended up purchasing a 1TB NAS from Micronet, expecting to have no problem backing up over Samba, NFS, or whatever other network protocol Mac OS X supported (webdav?). Fast-forward to October 2007 when Leopard was released, and what do we get? You can backup over the network to a Mac running OS X Leopard Server, and that’s it.

So now you have all these NAS devices on the market, and none of them work with Time Machine, without the use of an unsupported hack. Supposedly, Time Machine requires backup to an HFS+ formatted device for it’s hard-link support. Well, my NAS is formatted ext3, which also supports hard-links. And why can’t Time Machine fall back to using a device without hard-link support and just take more disk space by writing more than one copy of the files? Or perhaps it would even be useful for users to have just a single backup copy of their files to a device that doesn’t fully support incremental backups with hard-links. It begs the question, was Time Machine built to truly bring backup to Mac OS X users at large, or was it designed into OS X to sell the upcoming Time Capsules? Chink.

Of the Coat of Arms

So our new Apple coat of arms is a little more battered than when it started. These are definitely areas that need improvement. Am I optimistic we’ll see these issues resolved? I try to be, but when the frequency of these events is increasing, it’s difficult to look at it with a positive note. Maybe it doesn’t matter… Apple still designs a lot of cool products, maybe that’s enough. This is true to some extent, as long as Apple continues to sell it’s products, it will continue to survive as a corporation, and we’ll still be Mac users. The drawback I think comes to customer loyalty. Apple is known as one of the strongest brands worldwide, simply because of their customer loyalty. Practices such as the above that step on their customers are sure to lessen their brand loyalty though. I won’t purchase or design products that use .Mac simply because I see it as a way Apple locks users into that service. I had no interest in purchasing the iPhone/iPod touch until it was announced I could write apps for it, and the verdict of whether that was a waste of my money is still out on that one. Steve Jobs noted 2007 as a great year in Apple history (indeed), and how much has happened in 2008 already. I sincerely hope I don’t have any more chinks to add to this list next January…

Indie Marketing @ Macworld

Macworld Expo San Francisco is one of the largest, if not the largest, Mac user event of the year. For an indie Mac developer, if there is one conference (other than WWDC) that should be attended, this is it. So why haven’t I attended in previous years? I asked myself that same question last year after hearing about all the indie get-togethers and bar nights.

The Good Ol’ Days

The last time I attended Macworld Expo was back in 2001, just after I graduated from UCSB and before starting a job in Tucson, AZ. A lot has changed in my career in these past 7 years. For one, 7 years ago I hadn’t yet developed any software for the Mac platform. Though I was an avid Mac user, at that time I was programming mostly for Unix, and occasionally on Windows (against my will).

But that was years ago…I started programming for Mac OS X in 2002, so the question remains, why haven’t I been attending Macworld? I think it may have something to do with the conditions of which I have attended Macworld in the past. You see, the first year I attended Macworld Expo was back in 1990. The Mac IIfx was the big new machine at the time, and with the costs of such a machine nearing $10,000, only a few companies had that kind of hardware at their booth. Mac IIcx and IIci’s were more common, as was the Mac Portable—which was new at the time. I attended Macworld every year after that until 1997, when it didn’t make sense to take time off from classes at UCSB to do so. To me, attending the expo was a fun event; almost like going to an amusement park. Yeah…I was most definitely a Mac geek.


The thing is, I never saw Macworld as a business event…it was strictly for fun. And now that I’m living in Michigan, it didn’t make sense to spend the money to attend a “fun” event. It wasn’t until I started talking to other developers who had attended the conference that I realized just how much I was missing by not attending.

Will I have a booth? No. How about one of those ADC developer kiosks? Nope. Why not? Well, this year I just want to re-learn the ropes of the conference. Paul Kafasis has written a nice series of articles on exhibiting at Macworld, but it’s been such a long time, I really want to get a recent perspective on what the conference is like before plunking down $10k to become an exhibitor. So this year, Gaucho Software will be at Macworld as a Quasi-Exhibitor.

What does this mean? Well, it means that I’ll have a lot of similar materials as a company exhibiting would, except for the actual 10×10 foot real-estate on the show floor. First, I designed a different Seasonality t-shirt for each day on the show floor and had Zazzle print them up. Second, I designed a flyer and ordered 1000 copies from SharpDots. Finally, I put in an order through PensXpress for 200 Seasonality pens to give away at the show. Let me elaborate a bit to explain my reasoning for each of these…

1. T-Shirts

I started designing and ordering the first Gaucho Software T-Shirts about 18 months ago for WWDC 2006. Thanks to outfits like Zazzle and CafePress, it’s now easy to print a custom design on a t-shirt of pretty much any color and style. At the time, I just threw the words Gaucho Software across the front and a big logo across the back. It was beneficial to wear at developer conferences like WWDC and C4, because it would give people a better idea of who I was before actually meeting them. Did it increase sales? No…but that’s okay, it was cool to have the shirts all the same.

For WWDC 2007, I designed a t-shirt highlighting Seasonality and I wore it on a day when there was an event at the SF Apple Store in the evening. Surprisingly enough, I found a nice little spike in sales during the day or two after wearing that shirt. Hey, if that one t-shirt helped sales, wearing a different Seasonality shirt each day of Macworld should help too…

2. Flyers

The decision to design a flyer to hand out at the show was easy, but going through the details of actually designing it was much more difficult. First, I had to choose a size. I decided to go with a half-sheet, or 8.5×5.5 inches. I chose this size because I didn’t want the flyer to get lost in the shuffle. I remember getting tens, even hundreds, of flyers every day I attended in previous years. A full page flyer would require a lot of content, and would be more difficult to hand out to people. Going with a size that is as wide as normal page but not as tall, will keep it from getting lost, but still make it easier to hand out.

The design was a bit tricky. I’m used to designing interfaces on-screen using the RGB colorspace. Designing for print is different. First, you have to deal with color limitation in the CMYK colorspace. Seasonality uses a lot of blues…which CMYK wreaked havoc upon. I had to choose a screenshot carefully to make sure it still looked good. Next, I had to deal with the print design being a fixed entity. Application (and to some extent, web) interfaces are dynamic. I needed to find a good way to portray information in a non-changing medium. Finally, I needed to make sure all the necessary information was on the flyer somewhere. I was pretty close to printing a design without any kind of URL to note where to purchase Seasonality. Incredible, yes… That would have made the flyers next to useless. I spent hours designing the flyer, and it took a second viewer only a few minutes to notice the lack of any kind of link. Moral of the story is, have someone check your work before shipping it off to print.

3. Pens

The pens I ordered was a last-minute idea that I think will be pretty cool. Macworld exhibitors usually give away some kind of trinket, and I thought it would be cool to do the same. Most trinkets aren’t often used after the conference ends, and I didn’t want to give someone a trinket they would just end up throwing out afterwards. A pen will hopefully remain useful for most attendees after the conference ends.

Another thing I didn’t want to do was skimp out, so I decided to go for a metal casing instead of plastic. Of course, some plastic pens are very nice, but you can’t tell that by looking at a picture on a website. I figured with a metal pen, it would at least have a decent weight and feel to it. At the same time, I didn’t want a pen that was too expensive either. There’s no way I would get enough sales to cover the costs of handing out pens at $10+ a piece. I ended up finding a nice metallic pen with laser engraving for $1 each at PensXpress. Their turn-around time was pretty quick, and I’m pleased with the results.

4. Profit?

After all this work, I’m not exactly sure what to expect at this point. Obviously, I hope I make enough in sales to pay for all of these materials and my trip costs, but it’s not so much the money I’m looking for here. What I would really like is increased mind-share. Thus far, all of my marketing has been directed towards Mac users who frequent news and download websites. There are certainly a lot of users who fit into this category, but what about users who don’t spend their free time online? I’m hoping to meet a lot of these other users at Macworld, and hopefully it will give me a chance to widen Seasonality’s audience.

If you’re planning to attend Macworld, be sure to look for the guy in the Seasonality shirt and stop to say hello… 🙂

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