The Minigrooves Project and Volume 2

Minigrooves V1+V2

 

Volume 2 now available

After three years since the publication of Volume 1, Minigrooves Volume 2 is finally available on the iBooks Store, and will be available for the Kindle platform as well before the end of July. (Update, 26 July — Both Volume 1 and 2 are available on the Kindle Store, check the Relevant Links at the end of the post.)

Here’s a direct iTunes link: Minigrooves — Volume 2

Volume 2 of Minigrooves includes the 23 short stories of the Project’s second cycle that first ‘aired’ online from June 2013 to March 2015, plus a story I added later during the editing process. As for the Extras, you’ll find:

  • Annotations: trivia and minutiæ about many of the stories.
  • Alternate takes: different endings of some of the featured stories.
  • An interview about Minigrooves: In March 2015, Alex Roddie interviewed me about the Minigrooves Project and the stories included in Volume 1.

You can download a free sample with 2 full short stories.

Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

A new layout

Minigrooves layout differences

 

Volume 2 has been published with considerable delay. The second cycle of the short stories ended in March 2015, and I originally planned to publish the book around May 2015. Of course, for consistency’s sake, Volume 2 had to inherit the layout of Volume 1, but to be honest I wasn’t exactly satisfied with that. After two years, that original layout started to feel dated, and the book’s interface and user interaction were in need of an improvement.

Due to my inexperience — and in part to iBooks Author’s quirks — when I assembled the first edition of Volume 1, I created an ebook whose format, in Apple’s parlance, is a ‘Multi-touch iBook’. This format is more appropriate when you want to produce ebooks with interactive features, not a traditional book with just formatted text. As a consequence, the original Volume 1 of Minigrooves offered a decent reading experience on the iPad and the Mac, but not on the iPhone or iPod touch; and even on an iPad or a Mac the navigation was admittedly a bit awkward. On top of that, when I tried converting the book for the Kindle platform, the task turned out to be unnecessarily daunting and frustrating. After a few months I just gave up.

So, when I started working on Volume 2 in iBooks Author, I decided to create a more compatible ePub publication, with a cleaner, simpler layout that could be more easily ported to the Kindle. But again, for consistency’s sake, that meant publishing a new edition of Volume 1 as well, with the same layout, and new covers that would better display how these books belong to the same series.

That’s the reason for Volume 2’s delay — I was essentially putting together two books.

Lessons learnt

The first volume of short stories was an ambitious first step. I poured a lot of work into it, and offered a fair amount of extras. The feedback has been disappointing overall — meaning there has been very little feedback to begin with. It’s hard to interpret silence. However, what little feedback I did receive was quite important in making me understand a few things, and the changes and course corrections I’ve set for Volume 2 and the Minigrooves Project in general all take into account the constructive criticism I have received over time.

Essentially, from what people implied in comments or told me explicitly, the main issues to be addressed were these:

  • The ebook’s interface was nice, but could have been better.
  • At $9.99/€8.99, Volume 1 was perceived to be too expensive for an ebook.
  • Some perceived 42 stories to be too many, and the book a bit overwhelming overall.[1]
  • The lack of a Kindle version was seen by many prospective readers as a deal-breaker.

The new Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Minigrooves:

  • Have an improved, more reader-friendly layout.
  • Feature a much reduced price — they cost $1.99/€1.99 each.
  • Will be available for the Kindle very soon.
  • Volume 2 includes ‘only’ 24 short stories (but they’re on average a bit longer than the stories included in Volume 1) and feels less overwhelming a book.

An important detail about the updated Volume 1

I originally planned to push the update of Minigrooves Volume 1 through the iBooks Store, so that people who purchased the first edition could automatically receive the update on their devices, just like it happens with regular iOS apps. Unfortunately, iTunes Producer returned a series of errors, basically telling me that the update was too extensive to be processed as a simple, minor update. Also, apparently it’s not possible to update an ebook originally published in the ‘Multi-touch iBook’ format with a new ePub file.

What I had to do at that point — and believe me, I’m not happy with it — was to remove the old version of Volume 1 from sale, and upload the updated files and metadata as a new ebook. This means that if you purchased the first edition of Volume 1 and want to take advantage of the new, more readable layout of the updated edition, you’ll have to purchase the ebook again. In other words, if this were an iOS app, it would be a paid update. On the one hand, the new version only costs $1.99; on the other hand, if you really truly feel I’m ripping you off, get in touch with me and I should be able to offer you a promo code. But only if you purchased the first edition of the ebook and don’t want to purchase the updated edition.

A few relevant links

Thank you!

Thank you to all those who have encouraged me ever since the Minigrooves Project started, gave feedback and linked to it via Twitter.

Thank you to all those who showed interest towards my stories, and who have helped spread the word over time.

Thank you to those who have purchased the books or genuinely plan to. If you want to support my writing, this is a great way to do so.

If you purchased Minigrooves and liked the stories, please tell other people about the project, recommend the books, write a brief review, give feedback. This is highly appreciated.

And as always, thanks for reading!

 


  • 1. Despite my repeatedly saying that one can read Minigrooves in a non-sequential manner, that you can just open the book and read one story when you want and when you have time, I have the feeling that the overall impression has been, Whoa, that’s a lot. I’ll never finish this. ↩︎

 

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Primary OS and unfair comparisons

In The Primary OS Ben Brooks once again extols the virtues of going iOS-only. And I, once again, reiterate my stance on the matter: if it works for you, if adapting your workflows to it is manageable and not burdensome, go for it and more power to you. But I really believe it’s not necessary to put the other OS, the Mac, in a bad light just to reinforce how great a decision you made in leaving it behind.

With regard to Brooks’ specific article I’m liking to, I notice an unfair comparison between a neglected Mac with the first beta of Mac OS Sierra installed on it, and an iOS system that is up-to-date and used all the time every day.

I can manage everything from my iPad, but sometimes it’s just faster with my MacBook, so I grabbed that after a few minutes troubleshooting on my iPad Pro. But I failed to type my password twice, Terminal then crashed out on me. Then Safari froze. Then I had to just give up on the Mac and restart it. It could be macOS Sierra which is on the Mac, or it could be that I never use my Mac and so the system was in a state of “oh shit, anyone remember how do this stuff?”

Or it can be both things, and more. Failing to type your password is hardly the Mac’s fault. The Terminal crashing and Safari freezing really sounds like a typical issue with beta software (Terminal never crashed on me in 15 years of using Mac OS X, and the last time Safari froze on my Mac was under Mavericks — and it was one website’s fault). So yes, you can’t expect a neglected machine running a beta version of Mac OS to be instantly ready when an emergency occurs.

I lost 30 minutes to just managing my Mac that morning.

It’s okay. Once I lost about 45 minutes in iOS just trying to figure out a way to edit a bunch of RTF files I had put in the cloud. It also cost me some money, as I purchased apps that seemed to do the job but weren’t satisfactorily up to the task.

Yet my iPad was just there, did it’s [sic] job and stayed the hell out of my way, and never once demanded I do housekeeping on it. The apps update in the background. The devices backs up each night automatically. It’s just always ready to go. That’s simply not the case with my Mac.

Technically, certain ‘housekeeping’ can be disregarded on the Mac if you’re in a hurry or there’s an emergency. There’s no need to follow an app’s prompt to update to the latest version. The one currently installed is likely to do its job all the same. Update requests can be dismissed. Clearing up Notification Centre can be postponed, since it’s out of the way by default. And apps can update in the background on the Mac too — at least those purchased in the Mac App Store. Using Time Machine, the Mac can be backed up every hour. Using services like CrashPlan or BackBlaze you can schedule backups at night. Sure, in the catastrophic case you have to restore from a remote backup, since Macs have bigger storage, the process is going to be long and tedious. But restoring a 128 GB iOS device from an iCloud backup isn’t exactly lightning fast either.

My Mac is always ready to go. When I wake it from sleep I can resume work exactly where I left it in more than one application. Everything’s there, in the apps and documents I left open before grabbing the Mac to continue my work elsewhere.

My primary OS is Mac OS X, and for my work and the way I work, I don’t expect to leave the Mac anytime soon. But I certainly enjoy doing lighter, simpler tasks on iOS as well, and I’ve been using my iPad every day since I purchased it four years ago. I’ve been trying to use both Mac OS X and iOS in synergy and take advantage of the best of both worlds, because I think they’re quite complementary. However, by choosing the Mac as my primary system, I’m not implying iOS is a shitty environment, nor do I feel the need to draw certain comparisons which, to be honest, appear to be a little contrived and unfair.

 


 

Related: The Mac is just as compelling

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After the WWDC 2016 keynote — A few thoughts

WWDC 2016 header s

 

After major Apple events such as the 2-hour keynote that took place on 13 June, it’s always hard for me to write an article with my observations; first because — especially in the case of this WWDC 2016 keynote — the event is packed with announcements and news to digest, and secondly because many other good writers are quicker at sharing their thoughts; so when I finally sit down and start writing my contribution, I feel there’s nothing much to add.

Of all the many articles I read this past week, It’s Tim Cook’s Apple Now: What WWDC 2016 Teaches Us About His Vision for the Company by Rick Tetzeli is probably the closest to the kind of piece I was planning to write myself. The following passage in particular:

Perhaps more notably, the keynote made clear that Cook is determined to fix whatever Apple products seem less than stellar, including the Watch, Apple Music, the App Store, and many services dependent on wireless connectivity. That’s a continuation of the company’s longtime focus on spending time and money to continually improve existing products. But the keynote was even more notable because it made clear that Apple’s business concerns and goals are different — and more ambitious and complicated — than the ones Cook inherited from Jobs. Once upon a time, Jobs defined the “Apple experience” as the merging of hardware and software in a single device in a way that no other company could match. Over time, that definition grew to encompass an iPad, a Mac, and an iPhone, and all that a user could accomplish because these were wirelessly connected. Cook is expanding that universe significantly.

While some commentators believe that the company is still focused on individual devices, the keynote was full of improvements devoted to two concepts: continuity and artificial intelligence. The continuity part made clear that Apple wants you to be able to do whatever you need on whichever of its devices you are using. Start a document on a Mac, you can wrap it up on your iPhone. Start editing a slide show on your iPad, finish it up on a Mac or an iPhone. Track your physical activity on a Watch, check it out later on your iPad.

The word that sums up all of this is ecosystem. Apple’s focus is its ecosystem as a whole, a seamless ‘environment’ surrounding the users and offering them a coherent, cohesive experience. This isn’t exactly a new goal, but never before has it been so apparent how Apple wants to have a whole functioning organism rather than just improve each different platform to offer better hardware products. The ‘Apple software quality is declining’ debate of the past months made a lot of people hope that Apple would concentrate on fixing what doesn’t work rather than introduce fancy new features for novelty’s sake. During the WWDC keynote, as Apple executives were outlining some of the key new features of the upcoming versions of watchOS, tvOS, Mac OS and iOS, I easily noticed a common denominator — Apple is introducing new features whose main purpose is to fix some user interface or user interaction annoyances for each of those platforms. And such improvements will not only affect a single platform, but — as Tetzeli points out — they’ll improve and solidify the interconnection between all four of them. For the first time, while watching the keynote, I found myself thinking It’d really be nice to also have an Apple TV and an Apple Watch now, the two Apple devices I usually had a very limited interest in.

The glue of Apple’s ecosystem are cloud services that work behind the scenes to hopefully guarantee that seamless continuity and experience mentioned before. And the impression I had during the keynote is that Apple is showing an increasing confidence in iCloud.

  • Siri on the Mac means additional work for the underlying services. Some have wondered why Siri didn’t come before on the Mac — I think that perhaps it’s because Apple didn’t feel the underlying infrastructure ready or robust enough.
  • The new Universal Clipboard feature relies on iCloud. (Interestingly this is billed as an iCloud feature rather than a Continuity feature, in which case this would mean that copying data won’t necessary be limited to devices in close proximity, writes Ryan Smith at AnandTech.)
  • Ryan Smith, again, notes that Apple has also expanded iCloud Drive’s functionality a bit, pushing it to a more generic cloud storage solution. For macOS Sierra, iCloud Drive will now be able to sync up the Desktop and Documents folders, moving away from the more application-centric approach it’s best known for. Apple is pitching this as a convenience feature; Mac users who are accustomed to saving files in those locations can now just access them remotely via iCloud as opposed to having to change their workflow to better mesh with how iCloud has traditionally worked.
  • The new Optimised Storage feature in Mac OS Sierra also relies on iCloud for the most part.

All improvements announced at the keynote are welcome. I’m not an Apple Watch user, but the increased speed, UI tweaks, and new apps coming with watchOS 3 are certainly making the watch a more compelling device. Same goes with the AppleTV. I was mainly interested in seeing what’s coming for Mac OS and iOS, and Apple didn’t disappoint in the least.

That said, there are a few things that, for now, I’m filing under the I’m not sure I like category.

In iOS:

  • I’m ambivalent about the new design of Control Centre. On the one hand, it has improved visually; on the other hand, I don’t like the additional swipe to reach the audio controls. For panels and UI elements that work as overlays, I like things to be quick and simple. Yet iOS 10 seems to be going in the opposite direction.
  • On a similar note, Apple has doubled down on Notification Centre as a centre of activity that’s getting a little too busy for my tastes. I know there are people who are thrilled by being able to do more stuff directly from Notification Centre, but I don’t see the appeal of, for instance, engaging in an iMessage conversation right from the lock screen (while I admit it’s convenient for quick yes/no replies). Sure, the 3D Touch enhancements let you interact with notifications in a powerful way, but things aren’t going to be equally handy for those with an iPhone lacking 3D Touch. It’s a personal preference, of course. I just like notifications to be ‘passive’ and just a shortcut to launch the relevant app and do stuff inside the app. Today’s iPhones are incredibly fast devices — I don’t see how doing everything in Notification Centre is this huge time-saver. It’s a matter of habits, I guess.
  • I understand the disappearance of the historical Slide to Unlock gesture. Rise to Wake and pressing the Home button to unlock the device are both gestures that make a lot of sense and, in a way, unify the unlocking behaviour for everyone — whether one’s iPhone has Touch ID or not. Still I’m in full agreement with Michael Rockwell when he writes: Two changes that I just know will annoy me for a few months after iOS 10’s release is that they’ve moved Today View and the quick access camera gesture on the lock screen. Today View has been moved, spatially, to the left of the lock screen while the camera is to the right of it — swiping from either direction slides the corresponding feature into view. I can already see myself unintentionally accessing Notification Center or Control Center instead of Today View or the camera. Those gestures have become a huge part of the way I interact with my device and it’ll take some time to retrain that muscle memory.
  • For all the talk about the iPad being the future of personal computing, I would have really loved for Apple to showcase at least one iOS feature specially tailored for the iPad, instead of hearing a lot of sentences ending with …And it’s great on the iPad as well.
  •  

    In Mac OS:

  • I know it’s a bit silly, but as a long-time Mac user, I just can’t stomach the macOS spelling. First Apple drops the ‘Mac’ in ‘Mac OS X’ in 2012 because— actually I don’t remember the reason; it probably suited some narrative. Now Apple puts the ‘Mac’ back and drops the ‘X’ because it suits another narrative. I’ll just write Mac OS and to hell with it all.
  • Optimised Storage sounds like an interesting feature on paper, but I really hope it’s not entirely automatic and active by default. That there’s going to be some clear ON/OFF switch like with Time Machine. I don’t know you but, whether it’s new or older files, I’d like to decide where they go and when to move them. Ryan Smith at AnandTech observes that Given the capacities of modern Macs, it goes without saying that to free up any significant amount of space you’d have to move multiple gigabytes’ worth of files to the cloud, so the cloud-hosting aspects of Optimized Storage seem to rely pretty heavily on buying up to a larger storage tier on iCloud. This makes me hopeful about the optional nature of the Optimised Storage feature, and that you can choose not to use it if you don’t want to.
  • The question of Mac OS Sierra’s system requirements is a bit puzzling. If I read the information correctly, Sierra requires processors with the SSE4.1 instruction set, so the minimum requirement becomes the Core 2 Duo ‘Penryn’ CPU. Now the official list of supported Macs states: All late-2009 (and newer) iMac and MacBook computers, and all 2010 (and newer) MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Mini and Mac Pro computers. But the list of Macs with a Core 2 Duo ‘Penryn’ processor is longer, and includes Mac models that go as far back as early 2008. In my case, for example, my 15-inch MacBook Pro is a 2.66 GHz mid-2009 machine which officially is not supported by Mac OS Sierra, but apart from the graphics card, it has identical specs as the 13-inch mid-2010 MacBook Pro, which is included in the list of supported Macs. My guess is that it’s just a matter of the 7-year support period Apple guarantees for its machines. When Sierra is released this Autumn, all Macs introduced before late 2009 will be more than 7 years old, and their status will change to ‘Vintage’ for Apple Support. I have to update my MacBook Pro anyway, so I’m not really bummed, but I suspect there will be a few machines which technically can run Sierra even if they’re not officially supported. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Mac OS Sierra Installer will let users proceed anyway or just display a warning like Mac OS Sierra cannot be installed on this Mac. (There will be hacks, I’m sure.)

Overall, I enjoyed the WWDC keynote, and I can’t wait to see the new Mac OS and iOS in action. All these new features in software are also making me anxious to see the new hardware Apple will introduce in the next months. I own aging devices by now (mid-2009 Mac, an iPad 3, an iPhone 5), and while I can’t complain about their continued dependability and usefulness, I really wish I could upgrade all of them in one fell swoop. But for how I work, the Mac always has precedence, and the hardware design and connections of the next MacBook Pros will largely influence my choices for the upgrade. If they end up being too similar to the 12-inch retina MacBook, I may even consider switching to a desktop machine or to the more affordable MacBook Air (provided Apple will maintain the Air’s current keyboard design, which I clearly prefer over the ultra-flat keyboard design of the retina MacBook).

To conclude, I believe we’re entering a phase where Apple is building a truly compelling ecosystem — not just from a hardware/software integration standpoint, but also considering Apple’s privacy-first approach. When I look at the alternatives, I think Apple’s a great platform to be locked in today.

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A few initial thoughts on the new subscription model for apps

(These are early observations and first impressions. I may update this post in the next days as the ongoing debate develops.)


 

I assume you’ve all heard the big news, otherwise The New App Store: Subscription Pricing, Faster Approvals, and Search Ads by John Gruber, and Pre-WWDC App Store Changes by Michael Tsai are two good starting points. In short, the various Apple’s App Stores (iOS, OS X, tvOS) will soon undergo a few significant changes. Gruber:

These changes fundamentally change the App Store, for users and especially for developers.

A quick summary:

  • App Store review times are now much shorter. These changes are already in place, and have been widely noted in recent weeks. Apple is today confirming they’re not a fluke — they’re the result of systemic changes to how App Store review works.
  • Subscription-based pricing was heretofore limited to specific app categories. Now, subscription-based pricing will be an option for any sort of app, including productivity apps and games. This is an entirely new business model for app developers — one that I think will make indie app development far more sustainable.
  • Changes to app discovery, including a smarter “Featured” tab, the return of the “Categories” tab, and, yes, as rumored, paid search ads.

In this post, I want to focus only on the new subscription model for apps. It’s the change that is going to have the biggest impact on me as a user/customer.

I know it’s probably too early to comment on a landscape that hasn’t changed yet, but I believe that in this case the debate might help shape how such landscape changes down the road.

As soon as I learnt about subscription-based pricing, my first thought was I just hope not each and every app developer will merrily jump on the subscription bandwagon, because it’s not going to be sustainable for the users. Michael Tsai writes:

From the developer side, recurring revenue is key, but will customers be reluctant to sign up? Even as someone who likes to pay for apps, I think twice about subscriptions. In a competitive marketplace, will customers find a subscription product attractive next to a competing one that is a one-time purchase? How can a developer figure out a fair ongoing price up front, when it’s not known how the app’s launch will go or what path its future development will take?

Like Tsai, I’m not a cheapskate and I like to pay for software — but I like to pay a fair amount upfront and ‘own’ the software, as opposed to ‘rent’ it for an indeterminate time interval. I was never a fan of the freemium model, but in a few cases it has worked very well for me — the typical example is the free photo app with in-app purchases for filter packs and/or additional features. I’ve happily obliged in more than one occasion, because I felt it was a fair contribution to the app’s development and a thank-you to the developer for delivering a nice product. If the same app shifted to a subscription model, I don’t know if I would completely be okay with it. Another scenario where the freemium model has worked for me — the typical ‘free with ads’ app where you make an in-app purchase to remove the (usually annoying) ads. If the app is worth it, I usually oblige. If an app proposed me to start a subscription to remove the ads, it’s far more likely I would either keep using the app free with ads, or look elsewhere.

Tsai again:

I think the best thing that can be said for subscriptions is that they’re honest and mostly align everyone’s incentives properly. Customers will essentially vote with their wallets, on an ongoing basis. Developers who maintain and improve their apps will get recurring revenue. Apple will get more revenue when it steers customers to good apps. Over time, more of the money will flow to the apps that people actually like and use. My guess is that the average customer will end up spending more money on fewer paid apps. Some apps will become more sustainable, but others will be culled.

I hope developers won’t start abusing this new subscription model. This was another of my first concerns as soon as the news broke. I have 147 apps on my iPhone. I have 178 apps on my iPad. Even considering the overlap of universal apps I use on both devices, I probably have 25-30 apps that are unique to the iPad. If even a small subset of these apps — let’s say 35 — turned to a subscription-based pricing, I just wouldn’t be able to afford it. As James Thomson succinctly put it on Twitter, App subscriptions sound great until users realise they have 100s of apps. I don’t know how well it scales. Devs can’t all make more money.

I’m inclined to agree with what Tsai says above, but there’s something I want to add to that observation he and others have made, that “more of the money will flow to the apps that people actually like and use” and that “people won’t have hundreds of apps anymore, just the ones they actually love and care to support” (I’m paraphrasing in this second instance; it’s something I’ve read in passing on my Twitter timeline and I don’t remember the exact words).

Here’s the thing — Among the apps I’ve bought over the years, a lot of them are quality apps I love and enjoy using, but I don’t necessarily use them all the time. A classic example: photo apps and image editing apps. I have a lot of them, and I don’t really have a preference. I decide which to use mostly following the mood of the moment (in case of photo apps) or the specific function/effect I’m after (in case of editing apps and even photo apps as well).

With these kinds of apps, I like to have lots of options available, and I haven’t minded paying upfront for each of these apps; I haven’t minded paying the occasional extra for a paid update or for the in-app purchase that unlocked more photo filters or editing features. But in the extreme case that all app developers behind these apps moved to a subscription-based pricing, without offering alternatives, I would be forced into a position I really don’t like: having to decide which app stays on my devices and which one has to go. Will the App Store’s infamous ‘race to the bottom’ become the ‘race to stay in your device’s (home) screen’?

Same goes for text editors and drawing apps on the iPad. I would hate to be forced to choose between supporting 1Writer or IA Writer, between supporting Procreate or 53’s Paper or Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro (in case all these embraced the subscription model, of course).

Let’s put this another way: personally, I very much prefer a scenario where I purchase two different apps each priced at $3.99 rather than investing $7.98 for sustaining a single app with a $0.99/month subscription for approximately 8 months.

But back to the point I was making above: there are a lot of good apps I love to use, but some of these I use less frequently than others. If all of them switched to a subscription model, this would cause a ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario on my iOS devices (and on the Mac as well), something I consider a bit unfair for all parties involved.

You see, I very much prefer having 25 different photo apps with maybe a couple of favourites and the other 23 available as alternatives — or as a complementary solutions — or as backup solutions when I don’t like the results I got from the two favourites — rather than a scenario where I end up whittling down my ‘Photography’ folder to three apps because that’s all the subscriptions I can afford. (Again, in the extreme case where most of the developers were to move to a subscription model.)

 

Then there’s the elephant in the room.

Nick Heer writes:

I’m not sure there’s an easy or ideal way to pull the App Store out of its nosedive into unsustainably low pricing, but subscriptions seem like a good option. They’re clearly imperfect, but they might be a key factor in keeping prices generally low for users as they amortize the cost of development over months-to-years and incentivize regular updates.

One of the main factors causing the App Store’s nosedive into unsustainably low pricing is people who don’t want to pay more than a ridiculously low sum for apps, or who don’t want to pay for apps at all.

As Michael Anderson observed in a tweet, how can people who currently refuse to pay $2.99 for an app suddenly be convinced to pay $12 a year? In this perspective, a subscription model for apps doesn’t exactly solve the App Store’s ‘race to the bottom’ systemic issue. It’s just another option, an option that may facilitate the sustainability of certain apps; an option which will probably facilitate the sustainability of apps made by certain prominent indie developers over other, lesser-known developers. And my early guess is that — if abused — it’s going to be an option that has the potential of driving customers away. Not necessarily cheapskates or people who don’t understand the costs of app development, but also people who (like me) usually pay for apps but are on a budget and can’t afford supporting every app they like. And people who simply can’t justify a recurring subscription for apps they love to use, but don’t use frequently enough.

I hope the spectre of unsustainability in case of a mass-migration towards a subscription-based pricing will be enough of a deterrent for developers so that they choose carefully what to do with their apps and what to offer from now on.

Category Software Tags ,

Let me dream of a MacBook Pro SE

Before the end of the week, my current mid-2009 MacBook Pro will finally undergo a minor surgery: I’ll install the Data Doubler and 240 GB SSD I’ve recently purchased from Other World Computing. The internal optical drive started acting up about three years ago, so thanks to this kit, I’ll put the SSD in place of my current 500 GB hard drive, and keep the hard drive internally by installing it where the optical drive used to be. This will hopefully extend the life and usefulness of this trusty machine long enough to help me figure out which Mac to purchase later this year (or early next year), because frankly I can’t seem to make up my mind on the matter.

I’m less mobile than I once was, so I’d probably be fine with having a modest iMac or a maxed-out Mac mini as main machine, and keeping this MacBook Pro as a secondary, portable solution if need be. At the same time, a laptop can still offer the best of both worlds: when I need to be on the go, I just disconnect everything and take the Mac with me. When I’m back at the home office, I set it up as desktop machine, connecting it to my external display, keyboard, mouse, and external hard drives. So I’m still keeping an eye on MacBooks, especially the Air and the Pro, since the regular MacBook will never appeal to me given that deal-breaker of a keyboard. I’m looking at the Air family to see how long it’s going to last and, in case Apple decides to keep it around as an entry-level option, whether it can offer me enough spec-wise to choose it as my next machine. (I’m more interested in CPU performance, battery life, and ports rather than having a retina display, as incredible as that may sound for some).

A recent rumour, based on leaked photos, hints at a redesigned MacBook Pro which

  • will have a thinner and lighter form factor
  • will be equipped with four USB-C ports
  • will probably feature an OLED touch panel replacing the top row of function keys on the keyboard

Assuming of course the leaked images are legitimate, my first reaction was that this is not a direction for the MacBook Pro I’m particularly interested in. Having just USB-C ports might be a step towards versatility for Apple and for some users. For me, it simply means ‘Adapters Everywhere’ which, considering how much Apple charges for adapters, in turn means an unwelcome additional expense. I’m also concerned by the terrible precedent set by the 12-inch retina MacBook keyboard, and of course this is where Apple is going with all Mac laptops if they want to make them thinner. In short, if this is where the MacBook Pro is headed, then no, thanks, I’ll pass.

I’ve grown tired of this kind of hardware anorexia. It’s not that I don’t appreciate thinness and lightness in a portable device. It’s that ‘thinner’ can’t possibly be a design answer for everything. What’s worse is that thinness has become the defining feature, the one that drives everything else, the one that dictates all subsequent decisions and compromises. Why can’t thinness be put aside for once with a supposedly ‘pro’ machine, while performance, connections, and expandability are given the priority they deserve?

With the iPhone SE, Apple has shown that they can revisit an ‘old’ design while delivering a powerful device with up-to-date technology. My current dream is to see something of the kind happen with the Mac as well.

The ‘Special Edition’ MacBook Pro I’m dreaming about isn’t something technically unfeasible; it simply goes in a direction Apple doesn’t seem interested in keeping anymore.

The look — My dream MacBook Pro SE is based on the current 15-inch retina MacBook Pro. Same size, same retina display, same thickness, same Force Touch trackpad (or incorporating any Taptic Engine improvement Apple may introduce in the next months), same keyboard with the awesome and usable ‘inverted T’ arrow key placement:
MacBook Pro arrow keys and trackpad

As for the colour, what I think a Special Edition deserves is black — something like the Razer Blade:

New Razer Blade

 

Connections — Current MacBook Pro laptops are equipped with a MagSafe 2 power port, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, two USB 3 ports, an HDMI port, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and an SDXC card slot.

MacBook Pro ports

My dream MacBook Pro SE would have more or less the same connections, but two Thunderbolt 3 ports (instead of Thunderbolt 2), and an additional USB port. It could be a third USB 3 port or, if Apple is really considering phasing out the MagSafe connector in favour of USB-C (another questionable decision, if you ask me), it could be a USB-C port placed where you would currently find the MagSafe 2 power port.

The brains — The dream MacBook Pro SE would obviously feature a next-generation Intel processor, and a capable graphics card.

Memory and Storage — A minimum of 16 GB of RAM, upgradeable to 32. And since I’m dreaming, let’s say user-upgradeable. Storage: a big SSD. It’s a Special Edition, so let’s say 1 TB.

Battery and a final trick — I’ve reserved the ‘daring and outrageous’ design idea for last. The dream MacBook Pro SE doesn’t have to have this feature at all costs, but I’m sure it would make a lot of people happy. Remember the late-2008 aluminium unibody MacBook? Remember how easy it was to access the battery and the hard drive?

MacBook A1278 access door 1

 

MacBook A1278 access door 2

 

MacBook A1278 access door 3

All 3 photos © iFixit

Imagine something like this in my dream MacBook Pro SE. An easy-to-access panel that lets the user replace battery and solid-state drive without having to use a screwdriver. The access door mechanism and the separation from the rest of the chassis could be made more subtle and tighter, so that they would be barely noticeable when closed. In my dream configuration, this can be a totally optional feature, but again, I believe a lot of Mac users would love it.

I don’t see any particular technical hurdle that would prevent Apple from building such a machine. This ‘MacBook Pro SE’ would also probably have a better battery life because it would contain state-of-the-art Apple battery technology in a case that’s as thick as the current retina MacBook Pro.

But Apple won’t make such a machine because by their standards it’s not sleek enough, not forward-looking enough, not thin enough, and so on and so forth. But I think that, as a final testament to a classic MacBook Pro form factor before the next anorexic models come up, it would be one hell of a performer, making a lot of pro users really happy, yours truly included.

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