Let’s have both Reach Navigation and the navbar

I read with interest Brad Ellis’s article on Medium, All Thumbs, Why Reach Navigation Should Replace the Navbar in iOS Design, and I wanted to add a few observations on the matter.

He writes:

As devices change, our visual language changes with them. It’s time to move away from the navbar in favor of navigation within thumb-reach. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call that Reach Navigation.

This introduction is also the core of Ellis’s thesis. And I both agree and disagree. I agree that, instead of stretching a thumb or readjusting the device in one’s hand to tap out-of-reach UI elements, a navigation within thumb reach would be ideal. It would be better from a usability standpoint. At the same time, I think that doing away with the navbar is a mistake, again from a usability standpoint.

The navbar is important for all the reasons Ellis himself lists, and I’d emphasise its importance in navigating apps with lots of hierarchically-arranged screens, such as iOS’s Settings app. The navbar helps users find where they are in a series of nested screens; it’s like the Path Bar in Mac OS’s Finder.

Of the solutions Ellis proposes, I find the best to be suggesting developers to design their apps in a way that renders the navbar unnecessary. But here I want to stress another point: discoverability. Don’t make apps that are obscure to navigate. I like the navbar as a core UI element because it’s generally transparent in telling you where you are, and also because, as a personal preference, I’d rather tap on self-explanatory labels than start to ‘guess-swipe’ on different areas of the screen to see what happens. Will I uncover a hidden drawer/sheet/panel the UI design never hinted at, for example? 

I’m not a fan of swiping as a navigational gesture, or better, as the only navigational gesture. My main peeve with swiping is that with some apps it’s very easy to inadvertently tap on a UI element on the current screen that triggers some other action, like dropping a pin on a map, highlighting a text field (which in turn triggers the virtual keyboard), or opening another screen entirely. This is something I’ve noticed happening (to me, at least) the bigger the iOS device screen gets — i.e. on the Plus-sized iPhones and on iPads. Tapping on the navbar, in this regard, feels safer.

The navbar is also a better solution with regard to accessibility. Tapping may require more precision than swiping, but I think it also requires less effort.

And here’s a good piece of advice from Ellis:

Prioritize placing buttons at the bottom of the screen.

[…]

Move the most-used items to the bottom.

Which inspired my humble proposal: Just move the navbar to the bottom of the screen.

Now, I haven’t tested my idea with all the apps, but as far as iOS’s built-in apps which feature a navbar, my proposal seems to work. Here are two examples in the Settings app. On the left, the screen as it is now in iOS 10.3.2. On the right, a quick mockup of my bottom navbar proposal:

navbar comparison 1

 

navbar comparison 2

In this second example, I find that moving the navbar to the bottom (and maintaining the screen’s Title at the top) also makes for a less cluttered and more legible top area, especially on the 4-inch display of the iPhone 5/5c/5s/SE. Long labels like Display & Brightness here can finally be centred on the screen, and feel less condensed.

Another example, with iOS’s Photos app:

navbar comparison 3

I chose this app because here we see that the navbar would be placed above a bottom-row of buttons. In this instance, a possible criticism may be that placing the navbar there could create a bit of interference with the Photos, Shared, and Albums buttons. But I think that with the navbar within easy reach, accidentally hitting an element of the bottom row instead of one of the labels in the navbar is also less likely, unless you have really big fingers.

These are quick and rough mockups, I’ll admit. The navbar at the bottom could be made visually more prominent, for example. I also realise it might take a while before getting accustomed to the new placement, but the added convenience of having more reachable navigational tappable labels could facilitate the process. Again, this is just an idea I haven’t fully explored in all possible instances system-wide, but I think it could be a ‘best of both worlds’ solution: make navigation easier with more reachable controls, without losing the navbar and creating a potentially opaque navigation interface.

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The disappearing computer and what it disappears

Walt Mossberg’s last column, The Disappearing Computer, is well worth reading and has certainly given me much to mull over these past few days. 

I think his analysis and predictions regarding the direction technology is going to take in the short-to-medium term are rather spot-on. Much of what’s going to happen feels inevitable. That doesn’t mean I have to like it or be okay with it. And for the most part I don’t and am not.

All of the major tech players, companies from other industries, and startups whose names we don’t know yet are working away on some or all of the new major building blocks of the future. They are: artificial intelligence / machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics and drones, smart homes, self-driving cars, and digital health / wearables.

The first thing that struck me upon reading this list was how little I’m interested in those things (save, perhaps, for wearable health monitors). Apart from personal preferences and interest, though, I can see how some of those fields can provide some degree of usefulness to people. What worries me, generally speaking, is the price we’ll have to pay in the process of bringing such technologies into the mainstream. Another thing that worries me is the state of our planet, and none of those technologies strikes me as an Earth-saving technology. There are days in which I feel particularly bitter, and the world looks like the Titanic, and technology like the orchestra that keeps playing sweet music in our ears while we all sink.

Whenever I voice my concerns about where technology is driving us, I am mistaken for a Luddite, or for a technophobe. I’m not. I simply refuse to drink the Silicon Valley Kool-Aid. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are great concepts that can have a lot of useful implementations, but to generate meaningful output, to produce a response that mimics intelligence, a machine needs a huge amount of data. A machine isn’t intelligent, it’s just erudite. A lot of data is collected without enough transparency. A lot of data about us is collected without our explicit consent. A certain amount of personal data is tacitly given away by ourselves in exchange for some flavour of convenience. My biggest concern is that a lot of data is being collected by a few entities, a few ‘tech giants’, which are private corporations with little to no external oversight. And despite their public narratives, I seriously doubt their goal is to advance humanity and make our lives better in a disinterested fashion. 

I expect that one end result of all this work will be that the technology, the computer inside all these things, will fade into the background. In some cases, it may entirely disappear, waiting to be activated by a voice command, a person entering the room, a change in blood chemistry, a shift in temperature, a motion. Maybe even just a thought.

Your whole home, office and car will be packed with these waiting computers and sensors. But they won’t be in your way, or perhaps even distinguishable as tech devices.

This is ambient computing, the transformation of the environment all around us with intelligence and capabilities that don’t seem to be there at all.

On the surface, this is all great and exciting. On the other hand, I don’t want technology to be too much out of the way. Or, in other words, while I think it’s cool that tech becomes more ‘invisible’, I don’t want it to also become more opaque. I don’t want devices I can’t configure. I don’t want impenetrable black boxes in my daily life, no matter how much convenience they promise in return.

Google has changed its entire corporate mission to be “AI first” and, with Google Home and Google Assistant, to perform tasks via voice commands and eventually hold real, unstructured conversations.

Not long ago, I humorously remarked on Twitter: “Remember, it’s Google’s Assistant. Not yours.” Well, I wasn’t really joking. I’m utterly astonished at the amount of people who don’t mind giving Google a great deal of personal information, only for the convenience of having a device they can ask in natural language, e.g. How long is it going to take me to get to my office if I leave by car in 15 minutes? and receive a meaningful response. To receive precise trivia for answers, people are willing to put devices in their homes which basically monitor them 24/7 and send data to a big, powerful private corporation.

The problem is that a lot of non-tech-savvy people don’t care and don’t react until they see or feel the damage. In conversations, I often hear the implicit equivalent of this position: “Yeah, I’ve been giving Google/Facebook/etc. all kind of personal information over the years, but none of them harmed me in return; what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that someone else now owns and controls personal information about you, and you don’t know exactly how much data they have, and how they’re using it. Just because they’re not harming you directly or in ways that immediately, visibly affect you, it doesn’t make the whole process excusable. A company may very well collect a huge amount of personal information and just sit on it for years until they figure what to do with it; one day the company gets hacked, all the data is exposed, your accounts and information are compromised, and oh, at this point people are finally angry and upset, and blame the hackers — when the hackers are just an effect, and not the cause.

I urge you to read Maciej Cegłowski’s transcript of Notes from an Emergency, a talk he recently gave at the re:publica conference in Berlin. It’s difficult to extract quotes from it, exactly because it is entirely quotable. If you want to understand my general position on Silicon Valley, just read how he talks about it. This passage in particular has stuck with me ever since I read it, because it perfectly expresses something I think as well, but with a clarity and briefness I couldn’t find:

But real problems are messy. Tech culture prefers to solve harder, more abstract problems that haven’t been sullied by contact with reality. So they worry about how to give Mars an earth-like climate, rather than how to give Earth an earth-like climate. They debate how to make a morally benevolent God-like AI, rather than figuring out how to put ethical guard rails around the more pedestrian AI they are introducing into every area of people’s lives.

Back to Mossberg:

Some of you who’ve gotten this far are already recoiling at the idea of ambient computing. You’re focused on the prospects for invasion of privacy, for monetizing even more of your life, for government snooping and for even worse hacking than exists today. If the FBI can threaten a huge company like Apple over an iPhone passcode, what are your odds of protecting your future tech-dependent environment from government intrusion? If British hospitals have to shut down due to a ransomware attack, can online crooks lock you out of your house, office or car?

Good questions.

My best answer is that, if we are really going to turn over our homes, our cars, our health and more to private tech companies, on a scale never imagined, we need much, much stronger standards for security and privacy than now exist. Especially in the U.S., it’s time to stop dancing around the privacy and security issues and pass real, binding laws.

From what I’ve seen so far, legal systems everywhere haven’t been able to keep up with the pace technology is moving. It’s extremely unlikely that technology’s pace is going to slow down, and while I hope laws and regulations will be passed and enforced more swiftly, I’m not sure governments will be completely impartial about it, as knowing more about people seems to be a shared agenda between governments and tech giants. 

I still hope people themselves can fight back to regain control of their data, but this era of technological progress is also characterised by so much regress in other human behaviours: intolerance, racism, xenophobia, a rise in superstition and distrust of science, the tendency of believing whatever it’s on the Internet without displaying a sliver of critical thought… 

And in our tech lives, I witness more and more frequently just how blinded by convenience we’re becoming. Never before have I seen so much aversion towards friction in our daily lives. And convenience is the siren song tech giants are constantly singing in our ears: “Put everything in the cloud, give us your data, your documents, your photos, it all gets out of the way, it’s all synced conveniently to all your connected devices; it’s all so much easier, and so inexpensive!” I agree that certain friction is unnecessary, but there’s also a kind of friction that prevents our brains from working on auto-pilot all the time, that contributes to keeping our minds nimble, that keeps laziness and apathy at bay. Judging from the increasing number of people I see completely engrossed in their smartphones every time I’m out and about, the siren song of convenience is getting more and more intoxicating. Cegłowski is right, The danger facing us is not Orwell, but Huxley. The combo of data collection and machine learning is too good at catering to human nature, seducing us and appealing to our worst instincts. We have to put controls on it. The algorithms are amoral; to make them behave morally will require active intervention.

Perhaps my cynicism and lack of starry-eyed Silicon Valley visions of progress stem from the current bleak picture painted by what’s happening in the world on a daily basis. What is technological evolution without a corresponding human evolution? The first thing that comes to mind is something Lenny tells David Haller in the pilot of the TV series Legion: “Don’t give a newbie a bazooka and be surprised when [they] blow shit up.”

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Trust the lion: the Brave browser

It’s been a while since I talked about browsers. Those who have known me for a long time will remember how I’ve always liked to try new browsers and never limited myself to using just one. Given how I usually keep a fair amount of browser tabs open all the time — to access frequently-used resources, and as a buffer for stuff I plan to read later — it’s just unfeasible to use just one browser. For the past several years my multiple browser setup has involved a main browser (Safari, unquestionably), and usually two, sometimes even three, secondary ones. 

My preferences for these secondary browsers have changed with time. When I used PowerPC Macs as main machines, Camino and Stainless would be my choices other than Safari. When I decided to remove Flash from my system, the secondary browser would become Chrome because it incorporates a Flash plug-in, and I would resort to Chrome to access those websites requiring Flash to work. Then in recent years, when 99% of the sites I visit either don’t use Flash anymore, or serve HTML5 content, I’ve basically stopped using Chrome. Meanwhile, Firefox and Opera have been getting better and better: faster, leaner, less resource-hungry, less memory-leaky, less bloated, generally way more pleasant to use than in the past. And so, for a relatively long period of time, my browser trinity has been Safari, Firefox and Opera. Another browser I tried for a while was Sleipnir, but, while I appreciate the software, its user interface never really clicked for me. I left Opera behind when Vivaldi came out. And just when I started getting accustomed to Vivaldi, I discovered Brave.

In this age of invasive Web advertising and tracking, I find Brave to be a great resource to browse faster, safer, and better. I know it sounds like a slogan, but it’s true. Ads and trackers get automatically blocked when you browse with Brave, and as you imagine this has a very positive impact on performance (and energy consumption if you’re using a laptop). But Brave also wants to help publishers and content providers with Brave Payments, a micropayment system where 

Readers may choose a monthly contribution amount which is divided among the publisher sites they visit most. […] Once a user enables Brave Payments, the Brave browser automatically and anonymously keeps track of the publisher sites each user visits. The more times that a user visits a site, the larger the proportion of the user’s monthly contribution is “ear-marked” for that publisher. These funds grow as new micropayments are added.

Check out the above-linked Brave Payments page for more information on how to become an official partner of Brave. I think it’s a great idea, and I’m considering becoming one myself. In my case the problem is that I don’t update my blog really frequently; it’s what one would call a ‘slow feed’, so it’s unlikely that it would make the top list of a visitor’s ‘most frequented’ sites… Oh well, never say never, right?

Brave is open source, and available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android. (See the Downloads page).

Really, just take a tour of the Brave website for all the information about what Brave does and why it’s faster and safer to use it for browsing. Everything you need to know is explained clearly and to the point. My experience so far on the Mac has been great. The interface and application chrome are minimal and let you concentrate on the content. Very occasionally I’ve noticed some intermittent spikes in CPU usage, but most of the times it was the website’s fault. Lots of ad-ridden tech sites load noticeably faster. To achieve a similar performance on Safari, I had to install specific blockers like AdBlock, Ghostery, and more importantly Better by Ind.ie, which I truly recommend.

Brave on iOS

I saved what I consider the best bit for last, though. If you, like me, still own and use older iOS devices with 32-bit CPU architecture, you’ll know that unfortunately they don’t support the Safari content blocking feature Apple introduced in iOS 9. As I wrote previously:

I’ve always found this limitation quite irritating because — as I often stated — this is the kind of feature that would be especially helpful on older devices. A lot of today’s websites are so littered with ads and all kinds of unrelated, superfluous content that loading them becomes unnecessarily cumbersome and resource- and battery-draining. On older devices the issue is exacerbated: my iPad 3, which is still a good performer overall, becomes very sluggish on certain ad-heavy websites. 

Well, rejoice, because the ad- and tracker-blocking features in Brave for iOS do indeed work with older devices — well, relatively older, as its minimum requirement is iOS 9.0. I still haven’t tried it on my wife’s iPad 2, but on my iPad 3 Brave appears to achieve the best browser performance so far. Ads and trackers are effectively blocked, and with an iOS device of that vintage, you really notice the difference in loading speeds and responsiveness. On my iPhone 5 it’s even better. 

In the first empty tab when you launch Brave, and whenever you open a new tab, the browser shows a few default shortcuts for sites people frequently visit; as you keep using Brave, the shortcuts of the sites you visit more often will start appearing next to those. Above the shortcuts, Brave displays a few statistics: 

Brave iOS

This is Brave five minutes after using it for the first time and visiting just three pages of The A.V. Club website: 47 ads blocked, 91 trackers blocked. Macworld’s home page on the Mac loads in 3.43 seconds, while on my iPad 3 it takes a bit longer, about 6 seconds — which is still great, considering that on Safari it takes no less than 18–20 seconds before the site fully loads and can be navigated.

When you visit a site, tapping the Brave logo in the toolbar shows you the Site shield settings, where you can fine-tune what you want to block:

Brave iOS shield

To sum up, Brave appears to be a very promising browser and project; it’s been around for a couple of years now, but I’ve found it to be more mature and reliable since late 2016. For the past seven months I’ve been using only Safari and Brave on my Mac, and it has become my go-to browser on my older iOS devices because, as far as I know, it seems to be the only browser with effective ad-blocking and tracker-blocking capabilities for 32-bit iOS devices. Check it out if you haven’t already, or if you did when it was still in a very beta stage and disappointed you. You may be surprised.

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iPad mini and uncertain differentiation

Yesterday I learnt — via this post on Michael Tsai’s blog — that the iPad mini has basically reached the end of the line. 

My first reactions are in line with Tsai and Nick Heer’s. Tsai writes:

That’s a shame. Maybe the iPad mini hasn’t been selling well because it’s been neglected. The full-size iPad is too big and heavy for my liking. I’ve actually been hoping for a smaller and lighter iPad mini, more like a Kindle. As a fan of the iPhone SE, the fact that Apple sells a 5.5-inch phone does nothing to help my tablet needs. I don’t want a big phone, or a second phone. If they had a 5.5–6.5-inch iPod touch, that could be interesting, though it wouldn’t be able to run true iPad apps.

Heer writes:

I’ll miss the Mini, though. Quite apart from size, the weight difference between the Mini and the 9.7-inch iPad makes the smaller model so much nicer to hold with one hand. The Mini also has the highest-density display that ships in any iPad which, combined with the weight and size, makes it perfect for reading.

(Emphasis mine in both quotes)

I’ve never been the target audience for a small-size iPad, not because I’m one of those people who prefer to have just one big iPhone for everything; rather, I’m among those who greatly prefer the combination of a small iPhone and a regular 9.7-inch iPad. I also believe this combination — although being more expensive to maintain — is the one that delivers the best phone and tablet experience. The phone (with the iPhone 5/5s/SE form factor) has a big-enough screen, is easily pocketable, and can still be used comfortably with one hand. Using a tablet instead of an oversized phone has the advantage of apps with optimised UI, apps and games that are way more convenient and enjoyable on a tablet’s bigger screen, and why not, better battery life among other things.

But this doesn’t mean a device like the iPad mini doesn’t make sense. Not everybody likes the ‘one big iPhone fits all’ solution, and not everybody necessarily likes big iPads to use along with their smaller iPhones either. The current iPad mini 4 is a powerful device in a small package, and I think it’s perfect for people who, like Tsai and Heer, like a lightweight tablet that can be easily held one-handed, and like using it especially for reading, as if it were a kind of Kindle on steroids. Perhaps if Apple had taken the opportunity to better highlight what a great combination the iBooks Store and the iPad mini make, that could have driven more iPad mini sales. Perhaps if Apple had introduced the first iPad mini with a retina display already, more people would have found it a more attractive proposition from the start. There was a moment where I did believe the iPad mini could be a serious competitor to Amazon’s Kindle. It’s a pity Apple didn’t share the same belief.

In general, I think the iPad mini is a victim of a process I like to call uncertain differentiation. To speak plainly, I believe that when Apple started introducing different sizes in the iPad product line, they created a bit of a mess, bewildering customers and possibly diluting the success of the iPad. I call it uncertain differentiation because it’s not that introducing iPads in different sizes was a bad idea per se; it wasn’t. The bad idea has been not creating compelling-enough cases for the various iPad formats. The iPad mini: smaller and lighter than a regular iPad and… that’s it. That was the pitch. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro: bigger screen, more powerful hardware than a regular iPad… Okay, and it also supports the Pencil and can do some ‘pro’ things. That’s basically it. Not differentiated enough (software-wise) to justify the creation of a ‘pro’ line. 

Over the years, from what I have observed, customers have responded rather clearly, despite Apple’s involuntary attempts at bewildering them — the original 9.7-inch is still the preferred size. The iPad mini and the big iPad Pro haven’t been compelling enough, for different reasons. And since customers love the 9.7-inch size, let’s create a bit of interference by having a 9.7-inch ‘pro’ and ‘non-pro’ iPads, another example of bland, uncertain differentiation. And since the 5th-generation iPad is proving to be a success, let’s see if we can differentiate a bit more by (according to rumours) planning to introduce “a redesigned iPad Pro to be launched this summer that should offer everything the current 9.7-inch iPad features, but in a smaller footprint with a larger 10.5-inch display.”

Perhaps I’m speaking out of cynicism, but to me this whole post-Jobs iPad strategy feels too much like a “let’s throw different ideas and see what sticks” approach. Nick Heer observes: 

Geller also mentions that the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is being replaced this summer with a 10.5-inch model, a rumour which has been corroborated by multiple websites. However, no report I’ve seen yet mentions the 12.9-inch Pro, and that doesn’t make any sense to me: the 9.7-inch Pro was introduced more recently than its larger sibling and has features that the bigger model still doesn’t, like a True Tone display and higher-quality cameras. It would surprise me if Apple updated the 9.7-inch Pro first, or didn’t make a meaningful upgrade to the 12.9-inch model at the same time — yet, I haven’t seen a single rumour about the big iPad Pro. Very peculiar.

My thoughts exactly. I happen to love the 12.9-inch form factor, and if I could afford it, I’d upgrade from my old iPad 3 in a heartbeat. I really hope Apple is planning to revitalise the big iPad Pro through the addition of specific features and differentiating capabilities in iOS 11. I’d hate to see the 12.9-inch iPad Pro ending up like the mini — a withered branch of the iPad tree — just because Apple wasn’t able to convincingly push it, thus squandering its potential. I know, it’s a trite exercise, but sometimes I wonder how would Jobs have handled the iPad evolution. My guess is that the iPad lineup would be simpler, with less differentiation in nomenclature, and more differentiation in actual features and capabilities.

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Damage: other factors

These past few days, I’ve seen many sources point to Damage, an article written by Matt Gemmell analysing the causes that have brought most damage “to the perceived value of software and the sustainability of being an independent developer”.

The subject of Gemmell’s main focus is, unsurprisingly, Apple. The gist of his criticism, if I got that right, is that Apple has structured the (iOS) App Store in a way that has facilitated the so-called ‘race to the bottom’ in app pricing, and that, in turn, has made things difficult for indie developers who want to make a living by selling their software on the (iOS) App Store. I find Gemmell’s analysis to be compelling, but I think the picture he paints isn’t complete; that there are other factors to be considered as well.

When the App Store debuted in 2008, a lot of the apps that were made available at the time came from two types of developers:

  1. Big companies that could afford to provide apps for free or for very low prices. Examples include eBay, Amazon, AOL, Facebook, Google, Yelp, PopCap Games (developer of Bejeweled, and a subsidiary of Electronic Arts), Griffin Technologies (remember iTalk Recorder?), etc. Most news apps (USA Today, ABC News, NYTimes, AP Mobile News, NPR Mobile, et al.) were provided free because in most cases the provider made money from readers’ subscriptions.
  2. Amateur developers/hobbyists, offering average-to-low-quality apps (and/or poor copies of more popular apps), usually at very low prices. For these people, developing apps has never been their main or sole source of income, therefore they could afford to publish throwaway 99-cent apps and games because they basically had very little to lose.

The first iPhone OS interface and visuals were a clear derivation of Mac OS X Dashboard’s widgets. The idea behind such widgets was to offer very simple single-purpose quick-access utilities to extend the functionality of the Mac operating system. In the classic Mac OS days we had desk accessories, which are the ancestors of Dashboard widgets. Desk accessories before, and widgets afterwards, were always considered simpler, lesser versions of regular software applications. When the iPhone was introduced, most of the accompanying first-party apps looked quite similar to many of the default Dashboard widgets Apple provided for Mac OS X. The public was quick to view iPhone apps as widgets, i.e. simpler, lesser versions of regular software applications. The brief pre-App Store period when Apple promoted the creation of Web apps for the iPhone, and later the early offering of so many low-cost and free apps from third parties, strongly reinforced this idea in the eyes of most consumers; that these apps were simply low-value additions designed to extend their iPhone’s functionality. ‘Mobile apps’ were not viewed as regular software packages, but something smaller, lighter, etc. This, in turn, didn’t justify having to pay for these little apps more than one or two dollars.

With this kind of prejudiced perspective, educating consumers on the true value of software, especially iOS software, has been a road uphill since the beginning of the App Store. Gemmell is right in pointing out the aspects of the App Store structure and design that have, directly or indirectly, contributed to affect the perceived value of software and the sustainability of being an indie developer. But his analysis (in my eyes, at least) reads as if it was Apple’s intrinsic design of the App Store to drive the pricing race to the bottom and in turn ruin indie developer’s lives. I concede it may have been one of the main factors, but I also posit that most consumers considered iPhone apps as little more than throwaway widgets right from the start, and the early availability of so many apps for free or very low prices, mostly produced by entities with little or nothing to lose, helped cement that assumption.

Apple didn’t prevent developers from pricing their iOS apps in the $10–30 range (the most popular for indie Mac software); Apple didn’t prevent a developer from releasing a paid update by pulling the previous version and releasing a paid 2.0 version as separate app. The biggest obstacle was the consumers’ early preconception that phone apps are worth less than traditional computer apps. By contrast, the Mac App Store may be “nigh-abandoned” by Apple, but its structure isn’t that much different from the iOS App Store. And while today the Mac App Store is full of small, single-purpose utilities that are sold at very low prices, you’ll also find a lot of more sophisticated apps (and games) that command much higher prices, and you’ll find them with more frequency than in the iOS App Store. This is the Mac App Store main page I’m seeing right now (click to enlarge):

Mac App Store 2017 05 08

There are 16 apps featured in the ‘New Apps’ category. Only 5 are free. Of the remaining 11 paid apps, the only ‘cheap’ one is Tomates, at €3.49 (which would be considered ‘expensive’ in the iOS App Store). As for the others, we see medium-range pricing for two apps (€7.99 and €10.99), one that is priced at more than €15, and seven that cost more than €25, with games like F1 2016 and Total War: Warhammer costing more than €49.

Apple may have concentrated more on the iOS App Store, but I don’t see a direct correlation between Apple’s involvement and app pricing. I don’t think that, if Apple had given the same amount of attention to the Mac App Store as they did to the iOS App Store, we would have witnessed a similar pricing race to the bottom for Mac software and games.

True, there is now a part of the consumer base that has grown so accustomed to the low price of so many iOS and Android apps as to expect lower prices for traditional computer software as well, but for the most part, from what I can see, a lot of regular people still tend to give more value to computer applications than to apps made for mobile devices. As I said before, this is a tough preconception to dismantle; and as I wrote previously, I believe tech writers and reviewers should do their best to educate people on the real value of those many ‘little’ apps that enrich their experience with smartphones and tablets. But is Apple the main offender in creating this toxic culture of undervalued software that’s becoming more and more unsustainable to develop and maintain for indie developers? Perhaps it is. Perhaps Apple should have been more proactive in creating certain safeguards and more developer-friendly features. But the damage is old, the consumers’ bad habits are ingrained, and the whole picture is more nuanced and complicated than that.

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