On Paid iOS Apps

The market for paid iOS apps isn’t dead:

For these “Big Six” apps, price is almost irrelevant. If your app is useful enough for many of its customers to use it almost every day, they’ll pay a decent price for it. (Not allof them will — but you don’t need all of them.) The challenge is either making your appthat much better than the alternatives, or finding new app roles that are that useful to a lot of people.

Marco certainly knows of what he speaks.  Here’s my iOS main/home/first screen:

iOS Home Screen 2013-04-21Seven of those apps are iOS-bundled applications: Phone, Messages, Maps, Calendar, Clock, Mail, and Safari.  You can see that those last two are used enough that they’re in the omnipresent Dock; the other five are there out of convenience because I actually use them.  (Most of the rest of the bundled apps are on that fourth and final screen since they cannot be deleted.)

But everything else is third-party, and of the other 17 apps, seven are paid: Instapaper (articles saved for reading later); Letterpress (addictive game); ESV Bible (duh); 1Password (invaluable password storage — I know very few of my passwords because I don’t need to know); Flashometer (inexpensive weather forecast app that has a flashlight function embedded in it); OmniFocus (task management — I might let you chop off a finger before I let this go); and Twitterrific (manage multiple Twitter accounts from a fun interface; I’ve used it for years).

Of those seven, three — OmniFocus, Twitterrific, 1Password — are indispensable and get used multiple times per day, while the other four are opened at least once a day.  Marco has a Big Six; I have a Big Seven — and those dominate my home screen use, with the other nine + Folder getting more use than everything else.  (Of the 12 in my folder, only two — Federalist Papers and Terminology — were paid, and I’m pretty sure those two were $0.99 or $1.99 when I bought them.)

Marco’s point is quite valid: for the people who need a niche app, they’re going to really pay for it.  OF is $19.99, but I got it on an introductory/upgrade special; Twitterrific 5 is $2.99 and worth every penny; 1Password is $17.99 and worth every penny even if I did get it on an introductory price.  There is price elasticity for me in all three applications — far more than the other for four sure.

Your use cases are going to be different than mine, of course.  I use OmniFocus and 1Password on my iPhone because I’ve used the desktop applications for 2-1/2 and four years respectively.  I’ve used Twitterrifc on the Mac since it first came out for free — it was one of the first third-party Twitter applications.  I have brand loyalty because I have buy-in for these three, and this isn’t likely to be the case with you.

No matter your mobile OS, you’ll have must-have apps to fit how you handle things, and the chances are that you’ll be paying good money for those apps because you want them to live on.  For people that use their phone past free gaming and Facebook, you’re probably going to end up paying something north of $1.99 for at least a handful of apps.  This fact is what keeps the ecosystem running.



How I Rip Blu-Ray Discs to My Mac for Use on My Apple TV2

Let me first start with this: I presume that any work that you do with MakeMKV to make the data visible to your Mac and your Apple TV is done by you on discs that you own. I consider what I do with the method I describe here to be fair use. Don’t use these methods to share these files with others who have not paid for them. In short, don’t be a dick and pirate things.

I had my initial doubts about the second version of the Apple TV, given how lame the first one was. My bad experience kept me from getting one until the time that MLB.TV streaming came to the device. ((I paid for a year of MLB.TV with the idea that I’d watch. Even though I was unemployed and had free time to watch, I did not do so. That was when I knew that I was done watching baseball. RIP Geof’s love affair with the Reds, 1985-2011.)) The NBA and NHL have followed suit, and that combined with Netflix has made it an essential in my home theater use. In fact, my Apple TV gets more use now than my TiVo does. ((If I did not have steeply-discounted cable pricing, I would have gone OTA only using an Elgato device by now.))

The Apple TV is also a great device for using the content you already own. In 2009, I started pursuing a Mac mini-based home theater setup. I have a mini from that era slaved to an original Drobo with 6.5TB of raw storage in it. I am forever in the process of ripping CDs to it in Apple Lossless, moving from an MP3/AAC collection on my iMac. I also put DVDs through the wringer to have ready for the Apple TV’s use. I have an ever-growing iTunes catalog, store on that Drobo, all of which is available to the Apple TV via the Computers section.

The issue I’m tackling here, of course, is Blu-Ray. Steve Jobs famously called Blu-Ray “a bag of hurt” in explaining why it’s never made it into the Mac line. I think that it’s also safe to say that Steve believed that we would be in a post-physical-disc world very soon. ((This world, in a marketplace where his company sat between producers and consumers, was going to make him a shitpile of money. Compare that to the royalties he’d have to pay to put a Blu-Ray device in his computers, and clearly it wasn’t worth it.)) This brings us to third-party hardware and software that we can use to make it work.

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Without further introduction, here’s my setup:

Continue reading How I Rip Blu-Ray Discs to My Mac for Use on My Apple TV2

Further Machine Naming Foofiness

This time last year, I admitted to the goofy naming scheme related to my iMac. Two things have changed since then: I don’t have a Macbook anymore after buying an iPad, and I don’t have three volumes on my Drobo anymore. I was having issues with the Drobo getting ejected at random, so I dropped the number of volumes to two in the hopes of fixing it. It didn’t, but the issue was a bad FireWire device in the chain.

I had the iPad a while before I named it anything, and I gave it the name Europa. In mythology, Europa was a Phoenician woman abducted by Zeus. The continent is purportedly named after her. Given that the iPad encourages travel and freedom, this made sense.

I hadn’t named any iPhone I had since the original. I ended up naming the phone after Callisto, the last of the four Gallilean moons I hadn’t used. Callisto was a nymph turned into a bear and set among the stars. It’s only just now that I thought that it might be CALListo.

The newest named device is a 2nd-generation AppleTV. I owned the first, and it was very clunky. Enough people I trust had spoken well of it, so I used the Apple giftcard my TBE colleagues got me when I left and bought one. I’m so taken with it that I’m very close to canceling cable and going with streaming and downloaded media. As such, it deserved naming. It’s Amalthea, which would be AppleTV if you were drunk and squinting. Amalthea was also the most oft-mentioned foster mother of Zeus. If my entire data structure here in these two computers and the attached devices is Zeus, then Amalthea should be a good mother.

Speaking of the entire data store: I’ve had all this storage hardware since early 2009. I’ve had two drives fail, one in each Drobo. In both cases, I had audible warnings, and in one, I had a ready spare. I’m still very much growing into the data, and I don’t think I’ll need to think about bigger drives until mid-2012. It’s great to be able to have all this data. Still, back your shit up.

How I Backup My Macs: February 2011

I was listening to Hypercritical‘s second episode, where they discuss backups, and I realized that I’m overdue for writing about this, as the last update was January 2009. Back then, I asked:

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want: encrypted, incremental, offsite backups. Ideally, I want small boxes [Linux or minis, I don’t care] that I take and put in my friends’ houses. I want to have an encrypted baseline backup when I place those machines in the field, and then I want to send encrypted incremental backups over the Internet to them. In return, I’m willing to host similar boxes for them.

Well, I haven’t gotten that, but Bert pointed me to the solution that I’m currently using in the comments:

I haven’t had time to look into it for my own company (currently I have a RAID 1, an external firewire (every hour incremental) and weekly DVDs stored outside the premises), but CrashPlan Pro may well suit your future needs now.


Winner, winner, chicken dinner. I’ve been very, very happy with CrashPlan, and I’ve done proofs-of-concept with limited datasets. One of the things I like about CrashPlan is that you don’t have to use their centralized service, but you can. You can share peer-to-peer. This is perfect for family and friends, people who are inclined to let you into their house to back up directly or over their LAN. For me, I’ve used the Central service because I’m backing up >1TB of data and want to keep from overloading a friend’s machine, especially one where they have to keep the drive mounted, etc.

Other than that, not much has changed about the backups. My backup system did save my bacon back in May, and now I’m on a newer iMac with a bigger (1TB) internal HDD, so the 750GB that was my Time Machine drive is now my nightly clone, with a new 1.5TB drive as my Time Machine drive. My frustration with Time Machine is that I couldn’t somehow move the files over from the old drive to the new one. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s one of those, “Really, Apple?” things. ((It’s entirely possible that you can do this, but I haven’t figured out how. If you know, please tell me.)) My Drobo is still the same, although one of the drives did fail. I had a ready spare, and everything was copacetic within five minutes. Yay Drobo!

Is there something that you’re doing that I should consider? I’d love to know.

unShoehorning iTunes

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iTunes long ago lost its focus. With the release of first the iPhone and now the iPad onto the consumer electronics scene, iTunes has become a hub for the iDevices you slave to your machine. iTunes is how music, video, books, and apps are installed on your device. Apple’s choice is understandable, but it’s left the actual music playback as a secondary feature.

iTunes’s name reflects its heritage: it was a music player before it was anything else. SoundJam MP was acquired by Apple, with the refined application released as iTunes 1.0 on 9 Jan 2001. ((Yes, it’s so long ago that it precedes the public release of OS X.)) The release of iTunes for free from Apple killed the nascent audio player market, as wonderfully detailed by Panic’s Cabel Sasser in his telling of the True Story of Audion, Panic’s entry into that space.

Over the years, iTunes matured: multilingual support, burning CDs, equalizing and crossfading. iTunes 2.0 brought in iPod support, ushering in a new era for the company: pure-play consumer electronics. ((Simmer down, Newton nerds.)) iTunes 2.0.3 even supported the Rio One player, which indicated that Apple may have been hedging its bets slightly. ((Subfootnote a: Rio was actually a good play in the space, and it’s a shame that they never got the industrial design right. b: Apple would never do that these days. To wit: no smartphone save an iPhone can connect to iTunes.)) iTunes 3 brought about smart playlists and further worked on performance improvements.

iTunes 4 was where the magic really started happening: the Music Store was released, AAC was an encoding option, and DVDs could be burned. Music sharing could be done over the network. Then iTunes 4.1 drops, bringing iTunes to Windows. Apple knew it had to support Windows to make the iPod a true mass-market showstopper, and using MusicMatch Jukebox ((which I used for years)) for synchronization wasn’t really a good play in terms of providing an overall experience for the user. iTunes 4 brought further improvements: iMixes, party shuffle, conversion of WMA files, and Apple Lossless audio.

iTunes 4.7 is where things start to get wobbly. If you’re going to have an iPod Photo, you needed to have a way of getting those photos onto that iPod. As such, photos got shoehorned into iTunes. If you loved iTunes purely for its music-playing capability, you might think that this was Fonzie wearing bathing trunks with his signature leather jacket. iTunes 4.8 adds video support, which makes sense in some ways: music videos are related content. iTunes 4.9 brings podcast-consumption support, making it possible for the nerdy ramblings of your friends to be brought to your computer through the benevolence of Steve Jobs.

iTunes 5.0 was released on 7 Sep 2005, with inevitable .1 bug fix 13 days later, and iTunes 6 was released 22 days after that. After Indiana Jones emerged from the lead-lined refrigerator, he learned that:

Apple on Wednesday announced iTunes 6, the new version of its popular music software, with several dramatic new features including downloadable TV shows and music videos, and the ability to send music and videos as gifts. The announcement came at a special media-only event in San Jose, Calif., along with announcements of new iMacs and new iPods with video capabilities.

“We’re doing for video what we’ve done for music — we’re making it easy and affordable to purchase and download, play on your computer, and take with you on your iPod,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

This move was great for the consumer world as a whole ((Presuming that you think iTunes itself has been good for the consumer world. If not, okay.)), but it was bad for the purity of iTunes-as-music-player.

Music enthusiasts were thrown a frickin’ bone by support for gapless playback and Cover Flow in iTunes 7 in Sep 2006, but nothing interesting really happened until the iPhone dropped in Jun 2007 with iTunes 7.3. The next January, iTunes Store video rentals became available with iTunes 7.6, and folks who loved iTunes for music were looking for an icepick to jam into someplace to end the pain.

The power of “Genius” was brought to iTunes 8 (in playlists) and 9 (in mixes), but those improvements were focused around selling more songs in the iTunes Music Store as anything else. I can’t fault Apple for that, and iTMS has become very important in the world of digital downloads, exceeded only in my mind by the Amazon MP3 Store. iTunes 10 brought Ping, which … well, lolwut.

I can hear you: Fine, fine. People have decried everything being shoehorned into iTunes for quite some time. What’s different now than, say, four years ago, when iTunes 7 was feature mature save for Genius ((Let’s ignore Ping. Please.))? The Mac App Store.

iLife ’11 was unveiled on 20 Oct 2010, and there were some pretty great improvements, even if the presentation of them was a bit uneven. The suite was released for $49, and as per usual, Macs sold after that date came with iLife ’11 pre-installed. If you’re like me, you’re interested in some of the pieces (in my case, iPhoto and iMovie), but not others (GarageBand, iWeb, iDVD). I’d have to ask myself this: “Am I really going to spend $50 for five pieces of software when I really only want two of them?”

Apple now offers iLife apps a la carte. Want iPhoto ’11? Boom, $15. What about iMovie ’11? Again, $15. Apple has decoupled the suite, and should I have purchased the upgrades I was interested in ((I haven’t because I’m watching spending. I’d get iPhoto before iMovie.)), I’d save $20.

What does this have to do with iTunes? My hypothesis is that Apple is envisioning a future where Mac software is connected but not agglomerated. It’s appropriate here to quote Ian Bogost at length from his essay, “What is an App?“:

The days of the software office suite are giving way to a new era of individual units, each purpose-built for a specific function… or just as often, for no function at all. And there’s the rub of the new era of apps. The software suite may have been an authoritarian regime, a few large companies offering a few top-down visions of how to use computers productively. But like the LP record, it told a coherent story—or at least presented a complete aesthetic.

Bogost doesn’t seem happy with these developments, but I can see where it has value to the user. Very rarely do I need applications to interact with each other, even on my iMac. Aperture handles my photos. Mail handles my email. Safari and Firefox ((Chrome was in that list until their decision to dump H.264)) handle my browsing. NetNewsWire snags my feeds. TweetDeck keeps me pegged to Twitter. iTunes handles my music, my videos, my TV show downloads, my iOS apps, my podcasts, my iOS app purchases, my iTMS purchases, my … well, you get the point.

Where could this be headed? I’d do it like this:

  • The most important thing to Apple will be iOS device sync. iTunes already syncs data from external software—bookmarks from Safari, calendars from iCal, contacts from Address Book, photos from Aperture or iPhoto—so it can be done as long as Apple knows where the data is and how it’s structured. ((On Windows, iTunes pretty much runs this whole show now, but the Mac App Store isn’t a choice there, and Windows users are used to shitty software as it is. Apple needs to provide a first-class experience on the Mac to buttress the growth of its market share.)) If Apple took the iOS device sync functions of iTunes and put them into their own focused program, they could simplify the user interface for synchronizing as well as make the iOS App Store the #1 priority in that program. ((Fire up iTunes and hit Home on the iTunes Store. Where are you going to find apps?)) Let’s take the name iSync, currently used for synchronizing with non-Apple, largely non-smart phones, and make that the new sync-only app’s name.
  • There are two types of non-audio media left over: video and books. Apple’s got the iBooks name already, but it seems to me that the Books resource on the Mac is there to get books onto the iPhone or iPad. I don’t see many people reading on their iMacs or Macbooks, but I do see lots of eyes focused on Kindles and iPads. Perhaps this can be a chunk of iSync, especially as the only way I’ve seen to buy iBooks is on an iOS device. Update, 10 Apr 2012: You can buy books in the iTunes store and have them download on your device. I just hadn’t tried it when I wrote this. I apologize for being ignorant.

    As for video, I think there’s room for a top-flight video-management system. Video is going to come from three forms: purchased through the Apple store, imported locally ((Whether from a ripped DVD or pirated through torrents or similar.)), and created through iMovie or your iOS device. With OS X 10.7 Lion largely favoring a single-window approach, iVideo could be a storehouse not only for others’ video but for yours. Want to watch that vacation footage that your brother spliced down to seven minutes using iMovie ’11? Pop it into iVideo and watch it on your Macbook. If the whole family wants to watch, then Apple TV and AirPlay can know where your data is and stream it accordingly.

  • iTunes should return to its audio-only roots. ((Podcasts are audio and should be included, but it’s unlikely that they’d be emphasized in any way.)) Come up with a killer, full-screen interface for it. Take the obvious play that everyone has figured Apple would do since acquiring Lala ((Before Lala’s service was ended by Apple.)): give users cloud access to their music wherever they are. Give the iTunes Music Store full room to breathe. Go make a lot of money.

Apple has been steadily working towards the atomization of software packages. iOS apps are sandboxed, and can only share data in a defined, structured way. While this is a convention of a full-screen device that Apple has declared must have firm boundaries, Apple now appears to be extending this metaphor to the Mac, bringing iOS conventions like 1-click app purchase and download, full-screen apps, and focused apps to the Mac App Store. The Mac App Store is its own application on OS X 10.6.6, but interacts with the wider system. As such, Apple is eating its own dogfood, selling and distributing its applications through the Mac App Store. ((I am resisting the desire to acronymize that to MAS.)) If Apple will follow this path to the logical end I’ve discovered, it will de-clutter iTunes and make it a fantastic audio player—no more, no less.

iPad App/Folder Symmetry

Like any good Apple dork, I updated my iPad to iOS 4.2 today and started organizing my apps into folders. I knew I wanted some kind of symmetry in them, so I started with two rows of most-used apps: top and bottom row, because that’s where your hands are most likely to be. That works great in portrait layout, but not so much in landscape. What I came across was this: twelve most-used apps. In portrait, the top and bottom rows are just apps. In the ones just inside those, the outer spots have apps. All others are filled with folders. The result looks like the below:

As you can see, this gets you symmetry regardless of orientation, gets all your apps on one screen, and leaves you six app folders, which can each hold 20 apps. There are probably other combinations, but this is the one that I came to in playing around tonight.

[Sorry for the background image of the Shuttle being slightly offset to the left; it makes things look off.]

DIY Wedding Photobooth

Yesterday, two of my friends got married, and it was wonderful. Back a couple months ago, Brandon and I were into our second Whiskerino [known to some as the Colorado Bulldog] when one of us, I think Brandon, mentioned something about having a photobooth at the wedding. I said, “I know I can pull that off.” Predictably, I procrastinated on actually testing it until 10:45 Friday night. I figured out how to get the images onto the machine, but I hadn’t fully figured out how to project them in a dual-monitor setup. But hey, I’m improvisational. Here’s a little on the setup and how I pulled it off.

The Setup

Here’s my equipment list:

  • Canon EOS-5D Mk II for my camera. I ended up using an EF 28mm f/2.8 lens, given the location I had to shoot. If my EF 50mm f/1.4 wasn’t still busted, I would have used that; my EF 85mm f/1.8 was just a touch too long.
  • Mac mini (early 2009, I believe), hooked up to the 5DMkII with a simple USB cable.
  • 20″ widescreen LCD for the primary monitor. This was used to house the software windows for the image capture and review.
  • Mitsubishi HC5500 LCD projector for the secondary monitor. This is my home theater projector, and yes, I was willing to partially dismantle my home theater for this wedding.
  • EOS Utility and their Digital Photo Review or whatever it’s called software. EOS Utility is what lets you run the camera from the computer.

EOS Utility would do image capture, pulling data through USB to the local hard drive. This kept me from having to use cards to do this. Also, I could use Live View to make sure the shot that I was looking for was there without having to check the viewfinder. This worked great when I would rotate the camera around to take shots from the dance floor. I set EOS Utility to dump photos to a specific folder. All this work happened on the primary monitor.

Over on the secondary monitor, I used System Preferences to change the desktop background picture every five seconds, randomly, pulling from the directory in which EOS Utility was storing photos. This gave us an instant photobooth slideshow without having to use Automator or AppleScript to automagically move JPGs [I was shooting RAW+JPG] into iPhoto and then do the slideshow there. That was a potential option, but iPhoto frustratingly wants to push its slideshow on both monitors. Dumb. Come on, Apple.

The bridge and groom loved it. My only sadness with it was that more of the attendees didn’t come by to have candid photos taken.

The iTunes 10 Icon, Panic’s CandyBar, and Why I Was Up Until 2230 Yesterday Tweaking Icons

Hey, iTunes 10 is out! And hey, that icon looks like shit! If only there were a way to fix that …

Oh, hey, Cabel! Thanks! Awesome! I hadn’t thought about that.

I had resisted CandyBar for a while, for two reasons: 1) I’m a tweaker, so I didn’t want a reason to tweak and 2) I didn’t want to be that much of a Panic whore. But Steve, he drove me to it. Now I have a pretty icon for iTunes 10.

That said, there was no way I was stopping there. None at all. After all, I’m the guy who names his computers after Space Shuttle orbiters. I described the naming process back in March. I’ve since reformed the Drobo into a two-volume drive: Io for Input and Output , and Ganymede for social sharing. I’ve decided to not attempt any landings on Europa. As you can see to the right, I’ve taken the nerd bit even further: HAL 9000 has the iconic red lens, Discovery Two is a model of the ship, Ganymede and Io are images of the two moons, and the two TMAs are shown with how they’re represented in the two movies.

I’m actually kinda proud of this.

Public iCal calendars through MobileMe?

I like what Jon Udell is doing with public and private calendars, and I want to do the same. I use [and like] MobileMe, mainly for the tight iCal integration. Unfortunately, though Wikipedia says you can get public URLs for iCal calendars, my experience is that you can’t.

Anyone know how to do this with MobileMe and iCal? And please, do not use this as some excuse to try to sell me on Google Calendar.

Update, 1720 CDT: So what you have to do is this:

  1. Open iCal.
  2. Select the calendar you want published on MobileMe.
  3. Calendar -> Publish
  4. Follow obvious instructions.

Note: Apple’s help files on this subject are from iCal 3.0, and reference .Mac. Zounds!

Now I can use MobileMe syncing my Business iCalendar to feed … something else I want to feed. 😉

A Whole New Apple Tax

Kyle Conroy’s take on what kind of value users would have out of buying Apple stock rather than Apple products has me thinking of a whole new Apple tax for myself: every time I buy a product from Apple, I must invest an equal amount of money in Apple stock. I imagine this is something I would phase-in, but it seems like it would be worth doing—you know, as long as Apple doesn’t start to suck again.