Can $20 apps survive in the iTunes App Store?

xcomRecently, I was looking at the new apps featured in the iTunes App Store and one got my immediate attention. It wasn’t for the name (I had never heard of it before) – it was for the price. The game was $19.99.

My immediate reaction was “Wow! That is never going to sell.” Then I looked at the company making it: 2K games, a reputable gaming company. I was intrigued. I used to buy their sports games for the Xbox. The game is XCOM:Enemy Unknown and the description describes it as a game that has come from the PC and console world. A search at Amazon.com shows the game costs about $30.

The app price brings an interesting situation to the App Store. Most apps are $4.99 and less, and many of those are just $0.99. Consumers are familiar with paying low prices for iOS apps, myself included.

Now there is a $19.99 app which is probably console quality available for the iPad. Will customers be willing to pay that much for an iOS game when other ported games are priced at much less? I bought LEGO Batman for $4.99 and it was just as good as any console game I have played. Would I have paid $19.99? Probably not. If apps start having a higher price tag, I (and probably many others) will start buying a lot fewer apps.

I am not saying every app should be $0.99. I’m just saying that higher prices will mean fewer sales in the long run. Developers should be able to charge what they feel is right for their apps. It is the consumer that will decide if the price is right in the long run.

XCOM already has over one thousand ratings in the App Store, and you cannot rate an app without buying it, so it is definitely selling. How much? I don’t know and probably never will.

This app could be the experiment that other companies have not been willing to take and it might be the app that changes app pricing of the future. If it sells well, other developers might start pricing their console quality apps at similar prices.

Screen Shot 92On a similar note, Knights of the Old Republic by Aspyr was recently released at $9.99. It is not $19.99, but $9.99 is a big jump in price from the $0.99 game. That is another game I have played (on the Xbox) and it is great. Is it worth $9.99 on the iPad? For me, the answer is no. This game was originally published in 2003 on the Xbox. That makes it ten years old. While it is a console quality game, and I game I would love for my iPad, I will not be paying $9.99 for a ten-year old game and a game I have already played. However, there are many people who will buy and have bought this game for the iPad already.

Could this be the end of the $0.99 app in App Store? Only time will tell, but this is an interesting experiment for the iTunes App Store and other mobile platforms too.

Review: Traktor DJ, a professional music mixing app for iPhone and iPad

I would never claim to be a bona fide DJ. At best, I am a hobby DJ who’s been given the occasional opportunity to do his thing at some bars and parties. Even so, I am passionate about playing and mixing music, and over the years I’ve invested in various software packages and items of equipment.

I started, as every DJ should, with vinyl decks, and then progressed via CDs to Virtual DJ software. I then added a cheap mixing console which, it’s fair to say, served me well for a few bar gigs.

Then, a couple of years ago, I found myself with a bit of spare cash and invested in a Traktor Kontrol S4, Native Instruments’ flagship hardware controller. I had a lot of fun with it, but lately I’ve became painfully aware of the expensive piece of equipment’s confinement in the cupboard in our spare room, getting (at best) a quarterly airing at an impromptu house party. I made the vague decision to sell it, especially when Native Instruments dropped the price of the Kontrol S4, which resulted in a corresponding drop in the value of my “asset.”

Meanwhile, things have yet again moved on for the digital DJ, and there’s been no development more exciting than the release of Traktor DJ for the iPad and iPhone. Recently, I decided to finally give the iPhone version a go, and I’ll be up-front from the start: I was extremely impressed.

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Usage

Traktor DJ for iPhoneTraktor DJ’s interface is clear and slick and the beat-matching engine is spot-on. What’s more, all the key features are present and correct, and all reimagined for touch control – which, as it turns out, is actually a really tactile and natural-feeling way to mix.

In terms of the basics, there are EQs, filters, hot cue points, loops, and a basic range of effects including delay, reverb, beatmash and gater.

Then, there are a couple of things unique to the iOS version of Traktor. One is “freeze mode,” which allows you to freeze a section of the track (usually a four beat loop), and manually trigger the beats by tapping the screen, effectively allowing you to remix “on the fly.”

There’s also a track recommendation engine that suggests your next track based on its key as well as its BPM. This kind of harmonic mixing isn’t even available in the Traktor Pro software at the time of writing, so to see it in an app that costs $19.99 on the iPad or just $4.99 on the iPhone is truly impressive.

Conclusion

Features aside, however, could Traktor DJ really replace my existing digital setup? Well, on the iPhone alone, probably not. There’s simply too much functionality to cram onto such a tiny screen. Even though the way that Native Instruments has designed the UI is very clever, with the ability to “slide” between decks, I still keep managing to accidentally stop a track when I’m intending to come out of a loop.

The difference in price between the iPhone and iPad versions (which are essentially identical in terms of functionality) seems to indicate that Native Instruments is aware that the iPhone version will be used more as a “toy.” But this brings us to the most important point: On the iPad, Traktor DJ is more than I could ever need for my occasional DJing. In fact, I am already coming close to hitting the “buy now” button on a new iPad Mini specifically for this purpose.

With the addition of Native Instruments’ new Kontrol Z1 mixer and soundcard, I can also have physical faders, headphone cueing and professional sound output – all in a setup that would fit in the glove compartment of the car.

While I’ve no doubt that plenty of DJ purists will object to the ease-of-use of Traktor DJ, for people like me who just want to mix some tunes and play the occasional bar set, it is absolutely perfect. My bulky old equipment just got one step closer to the eBay pile.

Looking for an iTunes store replacement? Check out Amazon MP3

If you use a Mac, iPod, or iPad did you know that the iTunes Store is not the only place you can buy digital music for your device? In fact, Amazon.com has a great MP3 store which will work with those devices in a couple of ways. Basically, if you can get a DRM free music file compatible with iTunes, you can buy your music almost anywhere. This article, however, will be focusing on Amazon.com.

The old way: Download music to iTunes

Until recently, Amazon only had one way to get music onto your devices, which required you to download the music on your computer, then transfer it to your device. To use this method, you can download songs or albums from Amazon.com and using the Amazon MP3 Downloader, which you install on your computer. After the music has been downloaded, it will be instantly sent to iTunes with the names, artwork, etc.

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The new way: Use the Cloud Player App

As I said, this used to be the only way to get these tracks onto your devices. “Used to be” is the key there. Amazon recently released their Cloud Player and a Cloud Player app. The app allows you to have access to all of your purchases for streaming and/or downloading on your device when you log into your Amazon account. The only problem with this is that you can not mix and match tracks from iTunes. If you want to do that you will have to download the tracks to your computer and into iTunes using the downloader tool mentioned above.

Bottom Line: Price

You might be wondering what is the benefit of using Amazon if you have to go through all of this trouble? For me, the benefit is price. There are many time when Amazon will have a cheaper price on an MP3 album than iTunes. In some cases it is a lot cheaper. For me, it is worth the money to buy from Amazon and download the music to iTunes. Once it is in iTunes I don’t notice the difference, or care.

iTunes is great, and I buy most of my music in iTunes. However, it is nice to know there is another option out there for users.

An introduction to mobile app testing

Testing Apps

By now, it should be evident that smartphones are the next big thing. The explosion of consumer apps can be seen in just about every industry. Location intelligent mobile commerce apps, magazine apps, real-time trading apps, and gaming and social networking apps are just a few of the industry verticals experiencing this shift.

Mobile adoption has been experiencing exponential growth in the last few years and the trend does not seem to be stopping. This means that mobile apps will continue to become ever more critical to the success of businesses and companies. As such, what steps are you taking to prepare yourself for this technological revolution that is already unfolding?

One way to do this is to make sure your mobile apps are optimized and ready to go when users need them.

Apps on Mobile

According to a recent study, 60 percent of mobile users will only give your website or app three seconds to load otherwise they will abandon you. If you thought this was tough, then consider that out of those users, 43 percent do not intend to ever return to your app or site – EVER.  How then can you ensure that your app works the way its supposed to on multiple OS platforms? Should you test in-house or outsource? Can testing increase app store ratings? What are the challenges of app testing?

Lets get some answers to these questions…

Functional Testing

This includes checking the screen real estate, finding device specific bugs, normal use test, and idle run test. Exploring the application in a number of devices will help in locating usability problems. Device specific bugs can be identified as such when they are not reproducible on a desktop browser.

It is also imperative that you test battery usage by running the application 6-12 hours using an automated testing tool.

Usability Testing

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This includes testing the functionality, layout & design, as well as the application interaction flow. This level of testing tries to make sure the user can complete tasks easily and without becoming frustrated.  Usability testing will also include ensure that apps are not crammed with so many features that they leave the users feeling overwhelmed. The goal should be to focus on immersive use that allows users to gain mastery of the content as opposed to quick hits that dilute app usability.

Load, Performance and Localization Testing

Performance issues such as crashes and hangs are common user complaints. These need to be addressed early before consumers divert to competitor apps and services. Your app should also support features unique to specific markets.

We can be sure that mobile apps are not going anywhere anytime soon, which means that when you spend time perfecting your app through testing, you are not losing anything but investing in the future of your company or business.

Apple is back with exciting new innovations at WWDC 2013

Apple’s giant annual developer conference, WWDC 2013, is currently in progress, but we have reached a point where I think we can officially say that Apple is back. Like keynotes from their glory days, this keynote was chock full of surprises and gasps that get you excited about what is coming in the Apple ecosystem.

Apple product updates announced at WWDC 2013

  1. Updated Mac OS called OS X Mavericks
  2. Updated MacBook Pro (with up to 12 hours battery life, that’s right, 12)
  3. Updated Mac Pro (that could probably power a space station)
  4. iWorks refresh (including browser-based versions that are compatible with IE, Chrome, on any computer)
  5. iOS 7 with an incredible new design
  6. iTunes Radio

Six might seem like a small number, but each of those updates (except for maybe the new base station) are huge updates that will completely change the Apple ecosystem going forward. I could write full articles about each of these updates, but in my excitement, I will keep it to posting the main front stage updates made in each case and just a brief sentence about what it is.

Mac OS X Mavericks

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While this update isn’t a huge jump, there are many small things that will make using this operating system better than the last. Skeuomorphism, the act of creating an app that resembles its physical counterpart (like the calendar looks like a physical leather-bound calendar), seems to be dead in the new software released today. This gives an overall smoother and sleeker look.

Here are the new features that were discussed for Mac OS X Mavericks:

  1. Tabs for Finder: Instead of having multiple windows open for Finder, you can have tabs within one window which will make it easier to manage a lot of windows in Finder and dragging and dropping content between tabs. 
  2. Tags: Able to tag documents throughout the whole system, which will then show up in your Finder menu bar. Looks very useful for organizing all sorts of things.
  3. Apple Maps app: Hopefully a better iteration of Apple Maps, but with cool features like send directions to iPhone, the integration is making it much more compelling.
  4. New Calendar app: A bit sleeker than the older version. A few very cool features: when you type something into location (example given was Pizza), the app will search for local pizza areas and will let you choose the one you want. It then displays the information on a map within your appointment, and most impressively will also give you a time estimate for getting there. Much like Google Now, you have the option of being alerted if you have to leave in order to make it to an appointment on time. Unfortunately, I believe Apple Maps weaknesses might make this feature just OK. The app also gives you a weather estimate for your appointment.
  5. Safari: The new Safari design is similar to the iOS 7 redesign, which I’ll talk about later in this article. The overall appearance is sleek and simple. It shows bookmarks/reading lists on the left where you can actually browse the sites within the same window by clicking on a bookmark or reading list item, and also has integrated social networking like Twitter.
  6. iCloud Keychain: Allows iCloud to save your passwords and credit cards and sync them across all of your devices. Very powerful, and even allows you to generate absurd passwords that will be saved. A cool idea, but I see generating a password like “sra-av34-refav-323e” will be a problem when you are anywhere else than an Apple device. I suppose it would work with logging into iCloud first in a browser, but still annoying.
  7. Power saving features: Without going into detail, there are a ton of power saving features that seem to really optimize how your system runs. I think this will have a profound effect on future laptops, and should give better performance for the system as a whole.

I think this is a great incremental update that keeps things fresh in the Mac OS world. I will be happy to get it this Fall, and see how well things work across the new system and the new iOS.

MacBook Air

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Although hardware looks the same, the new MacBook Air has been pushed a bit further while lowering the price. Both the 11 inch and 13 inch models see a significant jump in battery life with the 11 inch going from 5 hours to 9 hours, and the 13 inch going from 7 hours to 12 hours. That type of battery life is just incredible, and will certainly make owning a MacBook Air an even better experience.

In addition to battery life, both models are now based on the new Haswell chip from Intel which will give it more power while at the same time allowing that incredible battery life. The WiFi receiver also sees an update to 802.11ac which according to Apple, can increase WiFi connection speeds by up to 3x.

The price is reduced about $100 dollars per model.

Mac Pro

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The Mac Pro is completely redesigned with a lot of power beneath the hood, in a smaller form. A notable feature is that the Mac Pro will support up to three 4K displays. The design itself is very sleek and small, and completely changes the look of the Mac Pro. I think power users will be very grateful for this update, with many quotes claiming to increase various areas of performance by 2-3x.

iWork

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While we didn’t get to see the actual new iWork (it will be released later this year), we did get to see iWork on the web in iCloud. This worked very well, and looked to be almost desktop apps in the iCloud interface. What is incredible is that it works in Internet Explorer and Chrome, and will work on any system. This really broadens the scope for iWork, and makes sharing and displaying documents much easier.

Hopefully the redesigned apps themselves will also be nice, but for me it is just a huge relief that one is definitely on the way. It is way overdue, and sorely needed.

iOS 7

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This update is to be quite honest, positively gorgeous. The interface is flat, sleek, and beautiful.

Here is a look at the notable new features of iOS 7:

  1. Control Center: Get quick access toggles for: brightness, airplane mode, Bluetooth, WiFi, screen lock, music controls, camera, location services, and even a flashlight toggle. This was sorely needed.
  2. Multitasking: True, full multitasking that will allow apps to update in the background, and a multitasking screen that is similar to the Palm Cards system. This allows you to see each screen for each app, and “flick” away apps you aren’t using any longer.
  3. Safari: Gorgeous new tab views, and a beautiful new design
  4. Airdrop to other iOS devices: Transfer data and photos from one device to the other using a network.  It uses a secure connection, and there won’t be any need to physically “bump” devices like Android.
  5. Camera: Live photo filters and a new Photos app to organize pictures. Photos organizes pictures into moments intelligently by a variety of metadata such as location and time. Moments zooms out to collections zooms out to years. Truly impressive view that categorizes your photos. Allows you to scrub through small thumbnails that will enlarge as you put your finger over the photo.
  6. Backgrounds with depth: This is truly a “wow” factor feature that basically gives you a depth of field behind your icons. As you move your device around, the image seems to be 3D and keeps it aligned with your eye sight. Gorgeous.
  7. iCloud photo sharing: Share your photos directly to iCloud, and can share streams where others can add their own photos (and videos) with their comments. Makes it incredibly easy to share and comment among friends and family using iCloud.
  8. Siri: New interface somewhat similar to Google Now. Siri now has a new voice, either male or female that actually sound like humans instead of a robot. Siri has more access to your device, and can do things like turn off Bluetooth, control brightness, and play last voicemail. New integrated services into Siri: Twitter, Wikipedia, Bing search results.
  9. iOS in the Car: New car integration that includes iOS displayed on the actual screen of your car. A complete voice powered system with Siri to completely control your phone and navigation. It looks incredible, but probably will depend on all the car partners they have deals with putting it in.
  10. App store: Automatic updates, you can see apps nearby to see what others are using.
  11. Music app: Artist images, and all purchased music viewable in your library. All movies and TV shows are also accessible through the music app though stored on iCloud. It’s very pretty, but not too revolutionary.
  12. FaceTime Audio: We can finally do audio-only FaceTime calls!
  13. Notification sync: If you clear a notification in one area, it will sync to all your other devices.
  14. Phone, FaceTime, and Message blocking: This feature is pretty self-explanatory.
  15. Activation lock: If a thief takes your phone and attempts to deactivate Find My iPhone or erase the phone, it will not be able to be reactivated without your iCloud name and password.

iOS7 will be available immediately for Developers as a beta version, but not available for consumers until this Fall.

Overall, I think they did an incredible job on this one. It definitely looks like Windows Phone and Android had a baby, but in a good way. It is a huge change from the old iOS, and I think that is just what Apple needed.

iTunes Radio

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This new feature was much-anticipated, and is built right into the new Music app on iOS 7. What will this new feature do for you?

  1. Seems to have categories similar to Pandora (like “Summer Songs”)
  2. Create your own stations from various artists/genres/songs
  3. Can adapt your station by saying “Play more songs like this” or “Never play this song”
  4. Of course, the ability to buy a song directly from the iTunes Radio app

Revolutionary? Not so much. However, it is a cool feature that is built-in and integrated into Desktop/iOS and Apple TV. It is free with ads, and is ad-free with iTunes Match Subscriptions. Basically exactly like Pandora, with some better integration.

Overall impression of the keynote

I have seen lots of mixed comments on various articles and forums, but I think this was an absolute win for Apple. My reasons are this:

  • Apple released a bunch of new updates across a variety of platforms, and they clearly tried to innovate as best they could. Just showing that they are putting this much effort into this, and throwing what they can at it is encouraging, and I think it shows they won’t go down without a fight.
  • They really changed iOS. Sure, it may be a copy cat in a bunch of areas, but the biggest thing is that it is different. Apple haters have been complaining for a long time that iOS was old and not updated enough, and that things needed to change. Well, for better or worse, this is a change. Once we get our hands on it, we can really see how much it changes things.
  • Most everyone on the stage had a great presence, particularly Craig Federighi who is the Senior VP of Software. He was clearly very intelligent, had fun with the crowd, and really commanded attention and inspired confidence. I almost fell asleep when Tim Cook spoke, but other than that, it was great.

I think these updates put Apple back in the game. I don’t know at this point if they are back on top, but they have added some much wanted features, and completely redid their iOS system. At the very least, it shows that they are in for the rat race and they aren’t going to sit on the sides lines resting on their laurels.

Some people might think Tim Cook isn’t doing a good job, or that this isn’t the new direction Apple should take, or even that they’re copying other platforms… but who cares? They did what they had to do by changing something, and at the end of the day, they have the money and power to change things as they go along. This was the big first step, and hopefully the next ones will follow confidently.

How to use iOS folders to keep your apps organized

apple folderWhen there are apps, apps, and more apps, keeping all of those programs organized and clutter free becomes increasingly difficult. Angry Birds intermingles next to voice memos, while Sound Hound and Pinterest become next-door neighbors. The rhyme and reason to mobile apps often only make sense to the person who put them there.

For the make-the-bed-every-day types, the thought of a cluttered device may even keep you from holding onto certain apps. If it hasn’t been used in the past month, it just may be ditched for something more cohesive. Others let the apps fall where they may, throwing all caution to any sort of mobile organization.

Why Folders?

No matter your thoughts on clutter, iOS folders can be a great way to clear up a device. Whether on an iPhone or iPad, these folders allow users to group similar items without taking up pages on the home screen. Group games, business apps, rewards systems, or any other category of apps. It’s a task that can be done in only a few seconds, while providing endless amounts of saved time and frustration.

Folders are also great for family devices, using a different section for each person’s apps. Create a folder for the whole family, one for mom, dad, and each respective child. This will cut back on searching time and allow everyone management access to their own apps. The use of folder organization can be more efficient than Users (especially for young children), allowing parents to monitor kids’ mobile steps and cutting out log in/out time.

Added Bonuses

For the organizationally challenged, folders allow apps to be quickly and easily navigated, no matter how many programs are downloaded to a single device. Just tap the folder and gain access to an underground layer of apps. It’s also a great storage space for those icons Apple won’t let you delete, like Passbook or Stocks. Just file them under “Stuff I Never Use,” and hide all the icons you’ve yet to open in a single slot.

To folder or not to folder – it’s a question many Apple enthusiasts ask themselves daily. But whether you’re the proud owner of 5 apps or 50, iOS’s folders are a great way to keep them in easy access form, no matter your location. After all, you never know when Tweets need updated or when an impromptu game of Fruit Ninja may be a necessity. To be ready for anything, with any app, consider the use of folders for your Apple device.

Apple’s extreme secrecy: They’re shooting themselves in the foot

apple-glassApple has been well known in the last decade for being able to create an absolute frenzy leading up to a release of a new phone/iDevice. What began as a handful of excited rumors on tech blogs a month or so before a launch became internet wide speculation just a few weeks after the newest device was released. Their PR and marketing team is clearly top notch, and they have been largely successful at creating the demand before their products are ever released.

However, in this post-Jobs era, is their traditional model of tight lipped secrecy and slow drip release schedules really paying off?

Why the secrecy?

As anyone knows, a tech company can’t exactly go around describing what they are building piece by piece. Their R&D teams work very hard to develop new processes, new designs, and new hardware/software relationships that will “wow” the user. Apple is no different, but what is significantly different about them is their secrecy and their release schedule.

How secrecy played a role

One of the things that made this approach so unbelievably successful was the cult-like secrecy that Apple is known for. This created an atmosphere that the new iPhone would be so incredible that an employee would literally be fired on the spot for speaking just one word about it. It gave Apple products the air of being a “forbidden fruit” and that on the day Apple chose, we would all be exposed to this incredible new advancement of technology.

Is this secrecy still necessary?

We all know that most tech companies have a pipeline of new products for a year or two in advance. It would certainly be suicide for Apple to start describing it’s iPhone 6 before a 5S is even out, but is leaking absolutely nothing still working?

Steve Jobs was notorious for not saying a thing about an upcoming product, except that it will be incredible. For the years that Apple was experiencing a meteoric rise, this was acceptable and even played to create the hype around the phone.

These days, I’m not so sure that this is working. In other companies such as Google or Samsung, you see what they are working on, many of their top employees are excited to discuss it, and you want to share in that enthusiasm. The Apple secrecy has made them impersonal, makes them seem more shut off and like prodigy egoist that don’t want to speak of things the public won’t understand.

How release schedules have built Apple

Using regular releases to create anticipation

One of the best marketing tools Apple ever created was the regular yearly release schedule. With their iPods, iPhones, and iPads, they initially followed a predictable pattern of release dates that kept consumers on their toes. Always knowing that a new phone would be coming out in a year had consumers constantly looking for the “next big thing” and it also gave them confidence that they could wait a year for the next device and have a good phone to upgrade to. What this created was a feeling of newness and more importantly, a feeling of reliability.

Year in and year out, you could count on iPhone releases being in the middle of the year around June or July, and you could get yourself excited and feel months of anticipation building up. The new phone would come out, it would be an improvement over the last, you can use your upgrade and know when the next iPhone will come out for you to replace your current one. Life was good.

Why have these methods broken down?

It’s kind of strange to look back on the beginning success years of the iPhone and think that now, some of the ways that Apple made it so popular are what is actually causing them the biggest problems now. While secrecy and a release schedules kept customers excited and looking forward to their products, it doesn’t exactly have the same effects as it used to. Why is that?

Competitors

Probably the biggest reason why Apple can no longer afford to release one phone a year and hope people worship it is because there are too many other competitors that have finally caught up, and in some cases surpassed, the quality and experience that Apple provides.

If you remember the first days of the iPhone, or should I say the first years of the iPhone, competition was positively laughable. I remember the rumors while I worked at the Apple store, every other month was “XYZ phone company is coming out with a new touch screen phone to challenge the iPhone!” Every new one was supposed to be an “iPhone Killer.” I was always curious what the competition would bring, so I would go play with the phones when they were released… and I would walk out of Verizon or AT&T shaking my head. The touchscreen, the most basic thing about the phone that  needed to work flawlessly, was laggy, slow, and unusable. Regardless of software or a device/company ecosystem, if every time you tapped the screen it registered 50% of your taps and slowly at that, the phone was doomed from the beginning.

Obviously, this is not the case anymore. Plenty of companies have caught up technologically, and they are starting to out produce and more importantly, out-innovate Apple. Companies like Samsung have begun trying futuristic technology like motion control, IR Remote, and screens that quite frankly shame the “Retina Display.” Even from a design standpoint, the HTC One has challenged Apple in the area they have been known as the undisputed king. I want that phone, I want it because it’s gorgeous. Apple used to be the only company that could provide that.

Release schedules are now tearing them down

The past release schedule gimmick is unfortunately not cutting it anymore. I believe this happened for a few reasons, mainly:

  • Competitors are just releasing more phones at many price points and flooding the smartphone market
  • The release schedule creates anticipation and expectation, and it is only successful if you meet expectations
  • Apple has stopped being reliable with their release schedule. The last few years it was pushed back to the Fall

Let’s take a long at these things individually:

Quantity

With other companies releasing phone after phone, Apple just can’t stand to release one phone a year (let alone one every 1.5 years). This has been a long contested point about what Apple is as a company, and whether it’s model makes sense, but the pressure is much higher than it ever was.

What Apple created was a premium market, a high-end smartphone that delivered on everything that you can want, and it was way ahead of its time. However, now that there are so many other options, and the “smartphone” is the normal phone that people buy, Apple is just drowning in the offerings. It still has the power to bust through, but it needs….

Innovation

If anyone is looking forward to Apple’s products, it’s me. I worked there for two years, I am part of an Apple family that has had Macs since I was 10. However, the iPhone 5 release was immensely boring and disappointing to me, and it was the last straw to push me to look at all the alternatives and switch back to Android. That’s scary, because I want to like Apple products, I really do. It’s just that they haven’t been pushing the envelope. They released incremental updates 2 years in a row, and that is just too long in the tech world. While in and of itself, this isn’t necessary the problem, what really combines with it and creates a perfect storm is the…

Release Schedule

As a marketing tool, this has been incredibly successful and created demand and anticipation any other company would kill for. However, with that comes the pressure and responsibility of the company to meet that demand and excitementWhen I worked at Apple, one of the most common mantras was “under promise, over deliver.” Ironically, what their marketing and image has done in recent years is “over promise, under deliver.” To be fairs, rumors for iPhone generally range from better screen to cooks you breakfast in the morning, but until the 4s/5, they were able to meet or exceed expectations. Right now, they just aren’t producing the products that live up to the hype.

What really sapped me of hope was the break of their generally reliable model of: Major update -> Incremental update -> Major update. For example, iPhone 3G -> iPhone 3GS -> iPhone 4 -> iPhone 4S. It was a good model, two years to create incredible advances, and one year to incrementally improve on was was usually the best phone out there. However with the iPhone 5, it seems like a second incremental increase to the iPhone 4. There was nothing groundbreaking, nothing surprising, nothing unexpected. The “one more thing” died with the iPhone 5.

Additionally, they have been taking longer to release the phones. With the release schedule very uncertain at this point, people are genuinely trying to guess Summer or Fall. This injects uncertainty in an already frustrated fan base, and I believe it pushes customers to jump ship to competitors offerings. At this point, would you rather wait around for a potentially disappointing incremental upgrade that might make you wait until Fall anyway, or would you rather take advantage of the newest and most innovative smartphones coming from the Android market?

Final thoughts

The hazy cloud that surrounds controversies like this is the question of: is this all because Steve Jobs is no longer at the helm? I won’t discuss this here, but I do have to say, since he has left, that little extra something that Apple throws to its loyal fans seems to have disappeared with him. Whether the innovation and “over deliver” will return any time soon is up for debate. The problem with the model Apple has built is that it has become it’s own enemy. The slow release date created their image of “exclusive, premium, ground breaking” products. However, now they aren’t the only ones, and if they speed up releases they could anger customers and lose their special feel (see the 4th generation iPad).

Apple has to change something, and I would bet on tightening up their release schedule again, under promising while over delivering, and packing every piece of technology they can into a phone. Back to the basics, but without the cockiness and air that nobody else can come close. They can’t afford to smugly wait a year to release new technologies anymore, they have to attack because they are no longer in the position to just defend.

Image credit: Marco Paköeningrat

A parent’s wish list for iOS 7

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As a parent with a young child who uses my iPad, I am always monitoring what he is doing when he uses the device. He knows how to delete apps and has decided if he doesn’t like something he should delete it. I am also always watching to make sure he isn’t playing apps that are not intended for him. He knows there is a page of apps that are his and the rest are mine. However, I never know when he might open a news app and see something inappropriate, or open a game that is not for him.

Of course, there is always that risk of an in-app purchase. He doesn’t know my password, but there will be that one time that my password has not timed out and he hits a button that buys something and he doesn’t even know it.

Sure, I could by him his own iPad, but that is a lot of money – even for an iPad Mini. Instead, there are two features I would love to see Apple implement in iOS 7 that would help me as a parent.

Multiple users

People have been asking for the ability to have multiple users on an iPad for years. The ability to have different users with different apps enabled for each user, and only those apps, would be enough to make iOS 7 a hit. I would love to be able to set up an account for my son with only his apps and nothing else. For that matter, I would love to do the same for my wife. Multiple Users is a feature which is a long time coming and I hope it arrives sooner than later.

In-app purchase limitations

While there are parental controls that allow you to turn off In-App purchasing throughout the entire iPad, I would love to be able to specify which apps it should be allowed in. I don’t want to have to go into Parental Controls and turn on In-App purchasing if I want to make a purchase in an app and have to go back and remember to turn it off again.

This could be similar to the on/off switch for notification center or location services. You would have a list of purchase enabled apps and the ability to allow the feature or not by turning it on and off.

Like I said, my son doesn’t know the password to make purchases anyway. However, I would feel much better if I could just turn off that feature inside of his apps.

The ability to set default apps

If you use iOS on any device you know that Safari is the default web browser. Sure, there are others available like Chrome and Opera, but if you click a link in any other app it will open in Safari no matter how many browsers you have installed.

Recently, I noticed Net Nanny, a company the helps filter out inappropriate content on the Internet, has released an app that is basically a browser that is filtered for kids. (I have not used this app, but I am using it as an example. I do not know how well it works.) This concept is fantastic and I would think many parents would jump at using this type of browser for their kids. However, if the child clicks a link in another app, like a spam email, the links to inappropriate content that site will still open in Safari.

As with in-app purchases, Safari can be disabled. However, where would appropriate links open? They would be stuck in limbo, since there is no setting to allow the links to open in another app such as Net Nanny.

Conclusion

There are other features I would love to see added, like the ability to shutdown all running apps with one click, the ability to have the weather on my home screen, and more. However, if Apple just implemented the three features mentioned above I would be a happy parent, and I’m sure there would be many other happy parents out there too.

Google Now for iOS: A real reason to use location services

Google Now HomeI am a tech geek. I love technology, I constantly download the latest apps, I do my very best to have hands on experiences with the newest devices, and I am generally constantly reading about new advancements.

That being said, Google Now has completely blown me away.

Google Now: The future is here.

Coming from Apple’s iOS as my primary platform, I have been salivating over Google Now via YouTube videos and tech articles for a long time now. I initially stumbled on it while looking at comparison videos between Siri and Samsung’s S Voice. In the rabbit hole that is YouTube, I eventually ended up watching plenty of videos comparing Google Now to S Voice and Siri, and Google Now handily beat them both every time.

Needless to say, this bit of software was something I was excited about, but honestly was not fully confident that it would make it to iOS. However, as is the trend with Google, they always feel releasing their incredible software on iOS is more beneficial for them than it is detrimental for their Android platform. Lucky for iOS users!

Google Now is basically nested within the Google Search App which can be downloaded from the App Store.

First Impressions

I downloaded the app on April 29th, the day that it was released, and I was blown away right off of the bat. Once I installed it, I went into the Google Search app, and dragged the Google Now interface from the bottom into full view. I was curious what type of “Cards” I would be seeing since it was my first time on the app.

Important note about setting up Google Now

To use Google Now,  it is highly recommended to turn on your Location Services. Without that, Google Now literally does not function. It will just sit there and tell you there are no location services, and show you nothing else. Also, if you have a Gmail account, logging into it will greatly enhance your experience. As far as I can tell, virtually everything is taken from your Google relationship, and generally a Gmail account is the anchor point for that relationship.

2013-05-01 11.14.01Once I had my location services enabled and logged in with my Gmail, I scrolled through my cards. The first thing I noticed were two cards that had the information of two packages that I had ordered from Amazon. I immediately tapped on one, and it showed me all the information about when the order was made, who was shipping it, and gave me a button to “Track Package.” This was the first feature that truly surprised me because it required Google to sort through my email, understand the email from Amazon, take the data and reorganize it for the card, and present it to me with a link that goes directly to the USPS tracking site. That is just plain intelligent, and it’s the type of tech I have been waiting for for a long time!

To be fair, the tracking on the package was rather basic, and didn’t go to the USPS site the first times that I used it. It was still able to tell me the latest status and the delivery day, but wasn’t showing me step by step statuses as the package made its way to my house. However, I noticed that today, when I track a few additional packages that I recently ordered, the “Track Package” button goes directly to the USPS website, and shows me the exact up-to-date status which is even better than using the Amazon app to track things.

Location Awareness and Navigating

I have to admit, this is the category that excited me the most when I looked at all the Google Now videos. Sure, it is incredibly fast at understanding a question and giving you data immediately, but what was being shown for built-in navigation seemed like true predictive and future technology. In these YouTube videos I watched, they showed how Google Now would alert you when to leave for work in the morning based on the traffic situation, basically predicting what time you needed to be at work and alerting you if traffic was jeopardizing that. Since Google Maps navigation has always been the most reliable app on my phone, I was excited by this type of tight integration. So how did it work?

Once I set my Home location in Google Maps, the Google Now integration was absolutely fantastic. However, it relies heavily on having a place to go. While that might sound obvious, what I mean is that this data needs to be in a form Google Now recognizes. For my appointments over the last few days, I had to add them to my Google Calendar (including location)and then it would sync to Google Now.

The result was quite impressive. For example, I put in a doctor’s appointment for the next morning, and when I woke up and went into Google Now, the top card was how long it would take me to get there and a small map highlighting the traffic situation, and of course a button that links to immediate navigating in Google Maps. Pretty cool. Even more, when I was finished with an appointment (or out anywhere for that matter), it would always have a card suggesting the traffic back home. A few times, this made it seem like it was reading my mind, as I was actually heading home.

Again, this is all understandable, and a natural progression of technology, but here is what really surprised and excited me: I was at a doctor’s appointment, and it was my only appointment in my calendar for the day. Naturally, Google Now was suggesting Home as the next destination and that was all. However, I needed to get some blood drawn for a test my doctor wanted, so I started using Google Search to find lab locations around the area, identify their operating hours and perhaps make an appointment. As I was walking out of the doctor’s office, I casually glanced at Google Now to see if there were any interesting new articles it thought was relevant to me, and the top card was the traffic and time estimate to the lab I looked at! Talk about predictive technology.

Location based results that I have experienced:

  • Restaurants nearby that have Zagat ratings attached
  • The weather and forecast wherever I am
  • Traffic to my next destination (if it’s in the calendar), or back home

Some cool location features I have yet to test:

  • When traveling, it will display a translator for you based on the country you are in
  • It will show you the current time zone you are in, and occasionally flash back to your home time zone so you see the time there
  • Depending on the country you are in, it will offer up the current currency exchange in that area
  • It will suggest local venues and shows going on, including movies

Sports and News CardExperience with Google Search Integration

As the magical addition of my Lab location points out, Google Now is heavily integrated into Google Search. Here are some things I have searched for that Google now later assisted with:

  • Locations I have searched for (like the lab), especially when I am near them
  • Sports teams I have searched for future schedules or past scores (they start appearing in cards with results)
  • News articles featuring the type of tech articles I have been searching for and reading (not many, but they were on target)
  • Restaurants nearby

Aside from these types of integration, the Siri-like feature of being able to search with your voice is just plain spot on. Not only does it show you what you said in text so you can visually confirm the search, it does so as you type. The second you say a word, it is on the screen, and you can see it correct itself by the context of your sentence if it got a word wrong. The result is a flawless voice translation that always has gotten it right for me, and leads to a fast and easy search. It generally can find an answer to just about anything, and is way better than Siri (and much faster).

Is this an invasion of privacy?

I am very sure there will be two camps regarding the privacy issue, one saying that of course it isn’t, and one saying Google is an evil corporation and is trying to sell your soul for money. I have always been a part of the former, but with this increased integration, I can really understand the latter. Much of the impressive things Google Now has done has honestly been absolutely creepy. It seems to know what is going on in my life, before I even know I am looking for it. However, I suppose that I am technologically minded enough to find these advances awesome and necessary, and the sharing your information part of it is just a necessary evil for large jumps in life quality.

iOS Drawbacks

One of the largest differences between iOS Google Now and Android Google Now is simply the level of phone integration that you can attain. For example, when you tap on “Get Directions” on the traffic part of iOS Google Now, it will open Google Maps (thank god it’s not locked to Apple Maps for some silly reason). However, in the Android version, you also have choices like notify the person you are meeting that you will be a few minutes late.

Additionally, and one of the absolute worst limitations for iOS is that push notifications are not allowed. This severely limits the usability of the app because you must have the app open to get the benefits. For Android, your phone will alert you that it is time to leave for work (or whatever appointment) based on the traffic and the time. For iOS, it knows you have to leave, but it can’t say anything to you. It’s up to you to notice the time, and check the app for the traffic update. That is a huge downside, but given all the wonderful other features of the app, I found that I am in it regularly enough to notice things before it alerts me.

Final Thoughts

Google Now is still young on iOS, but it is clearly a winning product. Of all the apps to have ever come out on iOS (not counting Google Maps return to iOS), this is hands down the one that I am most excited about. True predictive technology is something that tech companies have been working on for ages, but nobody has been able to really nail. Google seems extraordinarily close, and if they can develop this to know virtually everything I want to do before I do it, then all the other companies will be scrambling as their market share absolutely tanks.

The best part is that I don’t think any other company really can do it the way that Google can, because they don’t have all these integrated services like Gmail that are constantly pulling in information from every aspect of your life. Time will tell if this is truly the future, but I am very certain that this is a large step in the right direction.

Without making some changes, Apple can’t stay on top forever

alternate apple logoWhen it comes to Apple, most people think they can do no wrong. Each time they come out with a new product, customers are lining up down the street to get their hands on it – regardless of price or how many previous Apple products they may have. So when, say, Apple decides to change their power cords or requires in the upwards of $20 for a single service call, the customers go along.

And why shouldn’t they? Apple is (arguably) the best option for durability and electronic safety, and their products are just so cute. When you buy an Apple, you know it’s going to work, you know there’s only a tiny chance you’ll get a virus, and you know you have purchased from the most recognizable, and perhaps most respected computer/mobile device creator.

But why all the hoops? Why must we buy adapters to charge our new devices with our old cords? Why won’t our old computer chargers work with our new computers – even when the hardware is the same shape? When wanting an unlocked phone, why must we pay hundreds? And even after our wireless contract is fulfilled, the phone is still attached to the service provider – does that seem fair? (Especially since a profit is still being made on the signing price.) But most of all, Apple, why is everything so secretive?

Consumers have proved loyal release after surprise release, yet every new piece of electronic is still kept under pinky-sworn secrecy until launch day. Surely you can imagine our disappointment when minimal changes are made – after all that to-do we wanted screen unlock with facial recognition, two-week battery life, or at least the option of a new color.

Even for the fans, it’s hard to get past some of these glaring issues, especially as the products remain massively expensive with few updates in between.

In an alternate, un-secretive universe, Apple could leak their own news to see the feedback before a product hits shelves. Then again, maybe they just don’t care. Because of all the loyal fan money coming in (even the money they earn from new adapters matters), the company is still making ends meet and then some. Maybe it’s time to get past the “Apple can do no wrong” phase and realize that, just like every company, without happy customers, there’s no business. Without making some changes, Apple can’t stay on top forever. Let’s just hope said changes come before the growing pains are too great.