Two tactics that will ensure I won’t buy your app

The more I’ve been accumulating apps on my iPhone and iPad over the years, and the more I had to perform periodical cleaning up to avoid filling up my devices, the less I’ve been prone to impulse purchases. It’s really not a matter of price: I have insta-bought relatively ‘expensive’ apps, such as Paper by Fifty-Three (with all its in-app purchases), without a problem. It’s simply a matter of clutter and value: looking back on past impulse purchases, I noticed that in many cases, after the initial novelty rush, I stopped using or caring about an app altogether, and in some cases the app’s ‘screen life’ in my iPad or iPhone’s springboard has been quite short.

Yet I monitor the App Store constantly, and I’ve been doing it for a long time using AppShopper (the older, non-social version). Again, it’s not (entirely) a matter of price. Sure, AppShopper is great to keep tabs on an app wishlist and to be alerted when apps of interest drop in price. The truth is that I find AppShopper’s interface a better option than using the built-in Wishlist feature in Apple’s App Store app.

Over time, I’ve noticed certain marketing tactics on iOS developers’ part, and there are two cases in particular that I, as a customer, just can’t tolerate.

  1. Apps requiring their In-app purchases because they’re plain useless in their basic version — There are apps that, on paper, come with an impressive set of features. Too bad that you have to buy every — single — little — one of them, even very basic ones, otherwise you won’t do much with the app. I won’t make specific examples, but imagine a photography app that features single editing tools, like Crop or the Saturation slider, as In-app purchases. Dear developer, you may have tricked me into downloading your ‘free’ app, but rest assured that once I discover your questionable In-app purchase tactics, I will delete your app right away.
  2. Maddening, bewilderingly frequent app price fluctuations — This is the most baffling and infuriating practice I’ve ever seen in the iOS App Store, something I noticed thanks again to AppShopper’s App Activity section. It works like this:

    • App is released — Launch price! $0.99
    • Two days later — Price increase: $2.99
    • One day later — Price drop: back to $0.99.

    It doesn’t matter how beautiful or useful your app can be. You change your prices like this and I guarantee you that — on principle — I’ll never buy your app or apps. Ever.

Jonathon Duerig on App.net said it best:

The biggest aggravation to customers is the feeling of being a sucker. And lower launch prices both discourage later purchase because it will seem overpriced, and loses revenue from your biggest sales spike.

As a customer who doesn’t mind paying higher prices for well-designed, useful and thoughtful apps, my suggestions are simple:

  • First, if you offer in-app purchases, find a reasonable balance between the basic functionality of your app, and what the various in-app purchases will provide. I find ‘packs’ to be a very nice in-app purchase format: additions that come in sets (like filters, themes, instruments, sound effects, etc.). In this case, the app should work with a ‘base set’ well enough, and additional sets soon become great ‘really nice to have’ building blocks. But if your app is just an empty container for in-app purchases, then I’m sorry but I’ll look elsewhere.
  • By all means, do promotional launch price discounts, then increase the price and have the courage to stick to what you think your app is worth. From then on, the occasional price drop is welcome, but make it meaningful (it’s a special anniversary, or you’re about to launch the all-new and improved separate Version 2 of your app, or you don’t plan to support the app anymore, that sort of thing). Avoid giving customers the impression that it’s something completely arbitrary. That’s disrespectful.
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Why I deleted an article I had prepared about the iPhone 6

A week ago or so, I was finally able to enter my local Apple Store and spend 10–15 minutes in peace with the 4.7-inch iPhone 6. I had already handled an iPhone 6 Plus because my brother-in-law purchased one for himself and let me play with it a while. After trying out the iPhone 6 at the store, I left with a bunch of impressions and feelings I wanted to write down. And the evening of the day after, a 1,000-word piece titled After handling the iPhone 6 was ready to be published here.

After the usual proofreading and final editing, I decided to read the piece one more time. Then I deleted it.

This is the second time I’ve done that in thirteen years of online writing. Mind you, it doesn’t mean that this is the second time I’ve decided not to publish an article — I actually have accumulated dozens of drafts in MarsEdit over the years. I’m a packrat even with the things I write. I tend to keep all my notes and observations and unfinished or unpolished articles because who knows, maybe there’s some brilliant insight I can recover later and put in a new context, and things like that. But to obliterate something that took me almost two hours to elaborate the way I wanted — that’s kind of unexpected and unusual for me.

The first time I did that was back in 2006, if I remember well; it was something about Apple’s migration to Intel architecture. I deleted that piece simply because soon after the article was ready to be published, I read something online that drove me to dig deeper with the fact-checking. I discovered that my initial assumption was plainly wrong, and that made all the following observations and insights fall down like a house of cards.

What happened this time? What was wrong with the never-published After handling the iPhone 6 piece?

I realised, upon reading it one more time, that I was about to break a promise I made to my readers in Why you should read me. I was about to serve you a plate of hot steaming bullshit.

The article was a collection of ‘first impressions’ after handling the 4.7-inch iPhone 6, and mentioned — among other things — the very different feeling the iPhone 6 gives me as opposed to handsets like the iPhone 5 and 5s, the iPhone 5c, and even the iPhone 4. I wrote about how the combination of the increased thinness of the iPhone 6 and the materials chosen made the phone feel somehow less precious, less sumptuous than the iPhone 5 and 5s. Not that it feels poorly built, because it’s definitely not the case. But its particular lightness makes it feel almost as if you were handling a demo unit and not the ‘real deal.’ I went on, elaborating on things like this, quoting articles of other people reflecting on the iPhone 6’s design, and so on and so forth.

Still, when I was reading my piece before deciding to delete it, I couldn’t help but ask myself How is this useful? What’s the point? And in addition to this, I realised that I had forgotten one very important fact — that my very first reaction when holding the iPhone 6, after carefully disconnecting the Lightning cable from the stand where it was placed, was: This thing is beautiful, well-built, and I want it — bad. And this kind of first reaction is the typical gravitational pull of the best Apple products. I felt it with the colourful iMacs back in 1998. I felt it with the Power Mac G4 Cube, with the iMac G4, with the first MacBook Air, with the first MacBook Pro Retina, with the iPad…

I realised that my piece was becoming a waterfall of rationalisations that was literally submerging the device. I realised it was starting to ring untrue somehow. Not because I was portraying the iPhone 6 in an unfavourable light and I decided to remove the article to avoid speaking ill of Apple — this would have been even more untrue and dishonest on my part. No, I simply challenged my own observations and asked myself: How are these ramblings useful to my readers? They’re just personal impressions and rationalisations based on 15 minutes of interaction with the device I’m talking about. This is not the same as my criticism regarding the decision of switching to Helvetica as a system font in OS X Yosemite, for example, because in that case it’s rather easy to demonstrate how Helvetica is worse than Lucida Grande on the legibility front. With the iPhone 6 my impressions and potential criticism all stemmed from a very subjective point of view, and again, from too short a session with the device itself. The result couldn’t have been of much value — in fact I realised the article just wasn’t serious and thorough enough. I’ve criticised other tech writers in the past because I thought their reviews were too superficial. I was making the very same mistake.

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iOS 8 on iPad 2/iPad 3: first impressions

If you have an iPad 2 and read this article on Ars Technica, you’ll find that — although the piece is rather balanced — it may leave you wondering whether upgrading to iOS 8 is a bad idea overall. Some people in the comments appear to be more adamant: don’t upgrade, or you’ll run into issue x or y.

In our household we have an iPad 2 (32 GB, 3G + Wi-Fi), belonging to my wife, and an iPad 3 (32 GB, Wi-Fi only) that belongs to me. Currently, both devices have been upgraded to iOS 8 and, along the lines of what I said last year regarding iOS 7 and the iPhone 4, my very first impression is — it’s not bad at all. Both devices are quite usable and neither my wife nor myself are regretting the upgrade.

I haven’t run any scientific test or particular benchmark. What I’m reporting here is almost exclusively based on the general feel of using our iPads for doing the typical things we were doing before upgrading.

On the iPad 2

Navigating the interface, going in and out of apps, performing common tasks like browsing the Web, doing email, reading news with apps like the New York Times or Flipboard, using social apps like Twitter or Pinterest, and so on, feels pretty much the same as it felt with iOS 7. There doesn’t appear to be any noticeable decrease in performance and iOS 8 doesn’t feel ‘slower’ than iOS 7. Every now and then — I repeat, every now and then — the transition from exiting an app and returning to the Springboard may not be butter smooth and there may be a slight delay. But that sometimes happened under iOS 7 as well, and I guess it has more to do with how busy is the device at the moment in terms of open processes and whatnot. It doesn’t feel like an issue introduced by upgrading to iOS 8, if you get my drift.

Since it’s my wife’s device, I didn’t want to keep it too long to perform all kinds of tests, but I made sure to try one thing, since it was mentioned in the comments of the Ars Technica article: the Multitasking interface. User ‘anurodhp’ writes:

I am a developer and have been using iOs8 for a while now on my iPad 2. My verdict is different: do not upgrade.

You missed the worst thing about the update, multi tasking. double tapping on the home button takes about 3–4 seconds for the cards to stutter in. it takes so long with no response that i initially thought the double tap didn’t register and tried again causing things to pop in and out as the buffered key presses are registers. often hitting home causes a stuttered animation.

I repeatedly tried this on my wife’s iPad 2 and I never encountered these issues. Double-clicking the Home button triggered the Multitasking interface practically instantly and there wasn’t any stuttering in Multitasking-related animations.

Also, no annoying delays when using the iPad’s virtual keyboard.

As for the rest, I asked my wife whether she noticed anything peculiar after upgrading in day-to-day use — unusual delays, worse performance, worse battery life, etc. — and she told me that everything was fine.

Again, this is not a detailed overview of iOS 8 on an iPad 2 — this piece is titled First impressions, after all — but I guess that the gist of it is: if you have an iPad 2 and can’t decide whether to upgrade or not, my experience is that the device remains as usable as it was under iOS 7; that there aren’t any particular improvements or optimisations, but that there doesn’t appear to be any noticeable performance deterioration, either. I have to say I’m always amazed at how varying every mileage can be, so to speak. I don’t know why certain people find the iPad 2 ‘unusable’ under iOS 8 or what causes the sluggishness experienced by the afore-quoted Ars Technica commenter, but the iPad 2 in this household looks fine with iOS 8.

(Final note: the iPad 2 was simply upgraded over-the-air; no backup and restore-from-backup involved.)

On the iPad 3

My first impressions after upgrading my iPad 3 to iOS 8 aren’t much different from what I’ve already stated above. In a way, I was slightly more concerned about iOS 8’s performance on the iPad 3 than the iPad 2, because of the Retina display and the related GPU performance. But I haven’t found any particular sluggishness or general performance deterioration on my iPad 3, either.

Animations and transitions are fine. After two days of normal-to-heavy use, only once did I notice some stuttering when exiting an app. The virtual keyboard has the same good responsiveness it had under iOS 7. I’m quite satisfied with the traditional iOS keyboard and the way I type on it, so I haven’t felt the need to install third-party keyboards; maybe I’ll try a few of them to see how’s their responsiveness compared with the built-in keyboard.

(Funny thing about iOS 8’s predictive keyboard — it already knows me well. When I start typing “Q…” the first suggestion is “Quadra,” the second is “Quillink.”)

With regard to performance and general user experience, having iOS 8 on the iPad 3 doesn’t feel any different than when there was iOS 7 installed. So far, I haven’t encountered bugs or crashes — except with a few older apps that hadn’t been updated in a long time, so the fact they stopped working under iOS 8 didn’t exactly come as a surprise.

One weird thing I noticed after upgrading: the per-app Notifications preferences were a bit mixed up. That is, some apps for which I had previously disabled notifications, now had their notifications activated. And some apps I’d allowed to send me notifications, now stopped doing so.

Another thing I’ve noticed — and please take this with a considerable grain of salt — is that since upgrading to iOS 8, my iPad’s battery life looks improved. Throughout the day, I use my iPad a lot. Usage is typically heavy in the morning, light in the afternoon, and moderate in the evening. Battery-wise, this means that if I start the day with a fully charged iPad, at the end of the day the battery left is around 30–35%. Considering that after upgrading to iOS 8 I’ve been using the iPad more because I wanted to explore all the new features and do some informal tests to then write this very article, both yesterday and today the battery hasn’t gone under 40%. Nothing conclusive, but interesting nonetheless.

Brief aside on the Photos app in iOS 8

It’s not related to iOS 8’s performance on the iPad 3, but let me take a moment to mention one personal peeve about iOS 8’s Photos app: why oh why take away the Camera Roll? It was a very practical way to have a complete overview of all the photos taken on the iPad, plus all the screenshots captured and other imported photos. Another album that has disappeared (and was very useful to me) is All imported. What I have now is a very fragmented photo experience — and an arbitrarily fragmented experience at that. If I switch to the Photos tab in the app, I see images arranged chronologically, which isn’t useful at all, at least to me. Since I don’t take with the iPad as many photos I usually take with an iPhone, all I find is a long list of orphaned images to scroll through, because the arrangement looks like this:

13 March

[two thumbnails]

30 March

[one thumbnail]

12 April

[one thumbnail]

28 April

[two thumbnails]

…and so on. And I have 400+ photos and images on my iPad.

With the Camera Roll, finding a specific photo or image to examine, edit, and share, was significantly quicker. Now, everything feels more scattered and counter-intuitive.

Final note

I upgraded my iPad by downloading iOS via iTunes instead of doing it over the air. If you haven’t upgraded yet, whatever iPad model you have, I strongly suggest you do so via iTunes. The process is faster (once iTunes downloaded the package, the installation took 18–20 minutes), and you don’t have to free several gigabytes on your device as you’re forced to when performing an over-the-air upgrade. On my wife’s iPad 2, in fact, upgrading to iOS 8 over the air took almost an hour.

Again, these are first impressions, and if I notice something significant (good or bad) worth mentioning in the next days, I will update this article. If you own an iPad 2 or 3 and have specific questions, write me an email or contact me via Twitter or App.net (I’m @morrick on both networks.)

Category Software Tags , ,

iCloud Drive: not yet

Today Apple releases iOS 8. As Macworld warns, you should wait before upgrading to iCloud Drive. To fully take advantage of iCloud Drive, in fact, you’ll also need OS X Yosemite. And Yosemite ships next month.

I don’t know how many people are in the same situation as I am, but here’s my current Apple device breakdown:

  • iPhone 4 — Cannot be upgraded to iOS 8. Will remain on iOS 7.
  • iPad with Retina display (third generation) — Can be upgraded to iOS 8.
  • Mid-2009 15-inch MacBook Pro — Can be upgraded to OS X Yosemite.

When OS X Yosemite ships, I’ll be able to use iCloud Drive only between the iPad and the Mac. The iPhone will be left out. This is of course an inconvenience, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll probably end up waiting to enable iCloud Drive until I have an iOS 8-capable iPhone, and if that doesn’t happen in a reasonable time frame, I guess I’ll upgrade to iCloud Drive so that at least I’ll be able to sync stuff between the iPad and the Mac.

Pay attention to the following screen after installing iOS 8 (the image is taken from the Day One app Support Page and the developers’ annotations are really helpful):

#alttext#

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Apple Watch: additional observations

The Apple Watch is part of an ecosystem in progress. Some think that Apple’s presentation of the Watch has been vague about the purpose of this new device. My impression is different. What Apple has come up with is a device that cannot be easily labelled, because it’s not just a digital watch, and even calling it a smartwatch may be reductive. Giving an ‘explanation’ like You’ll want this device because it does ‘this’ or it does ‘that’ would have been patronising on Apple’s part (in the “We’ll tell you why it’s perfect for you” attitude that I haven’t always liked), or merely simplistic and I daresay self-defeating. And if you think about it, if you try to sell the Apple Watch by focusing on this or that particular feature, it’s going to be a hard sell. A cool watch with customisable faces? Yeah, no thanks, I’ll keep my Swatch (or whatever watch you own). A fitness device? There are cheaper ones, thanks, and I’m also not really interested in all that ‘quantified self’ stuff, so I’ll pass. A cool gadget to listen to music while out and about? My iPod shuffle does the trick, and it’s as wearable as the Watch. And so on and so forth.

The fact is, the Apple Watch is all that, and more, and a lot of this ‘more’ is out of Apple’s hands because who knows what kinds of apps and uses developers will come up with over time. How do you convey this level of versatility? By giving hints, by giving a feeling — and the presentation actually did a nice job in giving the audience a feeling instead of an explanation. Apple offered an extended overview of the design process (the video narrated by Ive), and an extended overview of some of the things the Watch is capable of (the demo by Kevin Lynch, and the health & fitness video). All this combined, to me, felt like a big preview of the ‘shape of things to come’; it was like a giant trailer of a much anticipated movie that will come in early 2015.

The shape of things to come is, in my opinion, an extension of the concept of personal computing. An evolution of the Apple ecosystem that (literally) has come to surround the user. If you let Apple’s ecosystem into your life, you spend a lot of your waking hours surrounded by Apple devices: you work on your Mac, you have an iPhone in your pocket practically all the time, and you may also use an iPad to play, read books, watch movies, or maybe catch up with the news & feeds while having your morning coffee or tea… At the WWDC 2014 we’ve seen one important thing Apple is seriously working on: integration. OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 are going to be collaborative, interconnected operating systems. Apple is aiming for a seamless experience, so that users can follow their workflows across devices. With the Apple Watch and its symbiotic relation to the iPhone, that interconnectedness is going to increase.

How intrusive the Apple Watch is going to be, as I mentioned in my previous article, depends entirely on the user[1]. Apple has planted the seed for a possible shift in mobile communication and app experience that isn’t exclusive to the smartphone, but the company isn’t forcing anybody to jump on the bandwagon. Apple seems to be fine with people reacting along the lines of “Why should I buy that thing?”. This is just the beginning of the roadmap, and the vibe I got towards the end of the presentation was, Just wait when we ship this product, and when new third-party apps are available, then we’ll see.

When the iPhone was a novelty, for the first year or so, the only apps you could use where those built by Apple. Developers were initially encouraged to build Web apps and when finally Apple opened the iPhone to third-party development with native apps, that was the moment the iPhone really started to take off. With the Apple Watch, Apple is giving WatchKit in the hands of third-party developers months before the actual launch of the product. This is, at least theoretically, a win-win situation: Apple gets to offer a device that’s potentially much more capable and versatile than it is now; developers get a new playing ground with which they can add a layer of depth to their existing iOS apps and/or create new way to use the Apple Watch by taking advantage of the sensor technology it provides; customers, finally, can end up with a device that makes more sense and is more useful to them than it seems now.

With the Watch, Apple wants to use the lesson learnt from the success of the iPhone and how crucial a factor third-party developers were in ensuring that success, to jump-start things when the Apple Watch will officially debut in 2015.

The single aspect of the Apple Watch I’m possibly most curious about at the moment is its future iterations and refresh cycle. Instinctively, I’d say it’s going to be a bit slower than, say, the iPhone’s or the iPad’s. I don’t see the Apple Watch as a device people change as often as they change iPhones. 350 dollars is going to be the entry price, I believe, and it will be the price of the Sport line. The Apple Watch and Watch Edition lines are going to be more expensive. With such pricing, I don’t know how many customers are willing to upgrade to a new-generation Apple Watch every year, while it’s obvious that Apple will update the device at regular intervals to include hardware advancements (e.g. a more efficient battery, more radios to make it less dependent on the iPhone, etc.).

However I also believe that Apple is also aiming to offer a device which, like more traditional watches, is meant to stay with the user for a longer time than the typical upgrade cycle of smartphones. I don’t think that, say, a second-generation Apple Watch will render the first-generation Watch outright obsolete — it’ll have nicer additions or perhaps a slimmer design, things that can entice new customers. But the previous-generation Apple Watch will continue to work just fine, a bit like what happened with Amazon and the Kindle family of products, if you like. Or, of course, with the Macs, where a 5-year-old Mac like my MacBook Pro can support the latest version of OS X and still be put to good use.

The Apple Watch is going to be a whole new category of product for Apple, and at this point I’m not entirely sure we can measure it using existing product lines with different refresh cycles, involving different hardware technologies and manufacturing processes, and driven by different market strategies. If Apple wants to offer a product with the same ‘built to last’ feel that high-end watches have, then perhaps it won’t roll out product refreshes as often as the iPhone and iPad. (Though Apple might introduce new collections/editions to address an even wider audience, for example.)

I ultimately think that, to have a better understanding of the Apple Watch’s nature, we should really see it in the context of the Apple ecosystem, and not only as a standalone device. The more you isolate it, the less sense it makes because the use cases become limited. Instead, think about what it can do by talking to other Apple devices. For now, we know that it’s going to interface with the iPhone. But what about the Mac? It could be used as a proximity device to lock/unlock the Mac screen, for example. What about the ‘connected home’ environment? A lot of use cases brought up by Craig Federighi when talking about HomeKit during the WWDC 2014 keynote can be applied to the Apple Watch as well (you could use the Watch to control locks, lights, cameras, doors, thermostats, plugs, switches, etc.). Also, imagine what the Apple Watch could do together with an updated Apple TV: I’m not only thinking of using the watch as a remote, but also as a possible game controller, Wii-style. Sure, it’s all in the realm of the ‘maybe,’ for now, but these few examples don’t look that much far-fetched to me.

I’m sure I’ll have other considerations to make further down the road. For now, here are a few links to articles on the Apple Watch I’ve enjoyed most so far:

 


  • 1. Some people have already started to worry that the Apple Watch is going to be even more distracting than the iPhone, what with all those notifications and taptic feedback. But it’s my understanding that you can specify which apps and services should send you notifications, so you can tailor how much or how little nagging you want to receive on your wrist.

 

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