Tag - apps

Wonderful Colorful House iPad app: launched!

It’s with a great deal of pride and satisfaction that I’m able to announce that my iPad app, The Wonderful Colorful House, is now live on the Apple app store.

It’s been a long and winding journey.

The trip started about 15 years ago when I made up a bed-time story for my daughter, Gabrielle. It was about a kid in the great white North, Tullik, who hated cold and hated white, and who was looking for a better — more wonderful — home.  She loved the story, and asked me for it repeatedly, and suggested that I write it down.

Which I did.

And then, more than a decade later, I met Bas Waijers, an amazing New York artist who was the creative director for the project and painstakingly illustrated the entire app. And Nick Dalton, an accomplished technologist who has built many apps, and built the actual app. And we brought on Mark Greenberg, a Chicago-based musician and sound engineer, who created an amazing soundscape, along with many special effect sounds.

Together, we created an app more than 15 years in the making. And we offer it up to you, today.


Highlight: Must must MUST enable Twitter

We are never going to run out of apps to find and connect with new people. They’re a dollar a dozen right now.

But one that’s getting quite a bit of attention is Highlight. Scoble has highlighted it (haha) as the connect with people around you app to beat at SXSW.

The app is cool, well-conceived, and narrowly focused. And it’s got great buzz. But, but, but.

Only Facebook
You can only connect to Highlight via Facebook. Highlight uses your Facebook info and friends to try to understand you, see who your friends are, and make educated guesses about people who are nearby that you might like to know or meet. IMHO, only using Facebook is a serious limitation.

A lot of people (and I’m one of them) use Facebook for actual – in other words, IRL – friends and family. It is, after all, your friend graph.

What about Twitter?
Twitter is a little different. For many of us (maybe most of us) Twitter is mostly for people that we have NOT met in real life … but find interesting nevertheless. Twitter is the interest graph.

Combining the two
Adding Twitter would create a much more powerful serendipity component to Highlight. Now not only would it find friends, and friends of friends, but also people that maybe you don’t know, but would find interesting and rewarding to meet, if you happen to be physically proximate to them.

This could be creepy for some – location-based social apps tend to have that tinge – but which social networks you link up would be totally optional … and who you meet is also totally optional.

Coming soon?
I’m sure it’s coming at some point, maybe even soon. I just wish it was there from the start.

. . .
. . .

BTW, Highlight’s logo breaks my brain:

Google and the future of local search

I just spent the last 18 months of my life wrestling with better ways to do local search.

How to find the local events that matter to you, the local businesses that you need services or products from, the local experiences and places that are the most awesome, the local experts and professionals that can help you … in short: everything local that matters to you, served on a platter.

In most cases, you would think, Google would rock at that. It’s always somewhat surprising to find that sometimes, Google’s results totally suck. Like for instance when you want to find a local movie, on your iPad. Since I’m in the Fraser valley in BC, Canada, how can it think that “mission” refers to a city in Texas? That’s just one example, but there are others.

It turns that knowing search intent is tremendously important. For example, the famous beach query: it is about a local beach, some vacation beach, a name of a business, the essence of beachy-ness, people named beach, or what? Google uses a lot of hints and clues based on what it knows about you and your location and your interests in trying to answer, but it’s a thorny problem.

The huge advantage of an intentionally local search engine or app is that it knows you are looking for something local … because you chose to use a local search service. That’s a major simplifier, and the key reason why purpose-built search is often better today than Google.

The question, of course, is how good Google will get, over time, at using and marrying location data and inferred search intent to provide prescient-seeming results. Sometimes they hit it bang on already.

A better question is how good, given all the location and personal data it has built-in native access to, a technology like Apple’s Siri can get over time.

The Wonderful Colorful House

I’m working with some friends on a really cool iPad app for kids, The Wonderful Colorful House.

We’re getting a little closer to reality – publishing to the app store – so I thought I’d share a little bit more about it. Here’s the spec doc, which will give you a sense of what we’re doing …

I’m doing this with a few friends, particularly Bas Waijers, the illustrator and designer for the project.

The site is under construction – it will live at wonderfulcolorful.com.

iOS app store approvals: doing something right

Wow. Just submitted the latest Canpages iPhone app for local search in Canada yesterday afternoon … and was blown away by the approval speed.

From submission to review to approval: 8 minutes.

Wow, wow, wow.

The app store approval process has been an issue for a long time. Early on, a couple of years ago, some apps took weeks for approval. And if you were treading on Apple’s toes … sometimes months or longer, as backroom negotiations took place. I talked about the first issue in 09, and the second issue – forcing app makers who are in some way competitive with Apple – just recently.

But this is amazing.

Fortunately, we don’t compete with Apple. Or, we don’t compete with Apple yet, I might say. When Siri is totally localized to Canada … we might.

In any case, for now, count me impressed.

Apple, being strategic with app store approvals is not strategic

On June 28, Google+ launched. Immediately, there was a Google+ app for Android.

For iPhone? Not quite as fast.

In fact, it was not until today, July 19, that the Google+ iPhone app finally hit the Apple app store. That’s closing in on a month later … and it’s not because the app was unavailable, either. It had been submitted prior to July 5 as multiple accounts attest. But it only became available today.

This is not new. Google Voice spent 17 months in the app store approval process. 17 months! And it’s not just a Google-Apple problem either … Opera Mini, an alternative web browser, took the better part of a month to approve, while many speculated whether Apple would allow competition for one of its core iPhone apps. Podcaster was rejected, because iTunes can handle podcasts. My App Sales will never be allowed because it accesses iTunes Connect in an unauthorized way. The list goes on.

While Apple will never come out and say so … some apps are rejected because they threaten Apple’s strategic interests.

My point here is to say that iOS and the Apple app store’s position as the primary and first choice of mobile platforms for developers is a very, very significant strategic interest of Apple. And playing god with the platform … choosing who you’ll let in and when and why … is not good for PR, not good for partner relations, and not good for developer relations. In fact, it’s so bad that it outweighs any possible advantage gained by rejecting apps that might in some ways vary from Apple’s wishes.

A better and longer-term strategic mindset would be: we will do whatever we can to ensure the app store is the best place and first place for developers to publish. Even if it sometimes hurts us.

What other apps have been rejected or delayed by Apple?

Facebook apps impossible to find? Blame adaptive user interfaces

You don’t have to be a developer to need to find apps on Facebook. Almost all Facebook users end up adding some kind of app to their account – even if it’s just to super-poke a friend.

The problem isn’t in adding apps. The problem is after you add them – they can be so hard to find (and edit or turn off) that one developer has created an app to help you find your apps.

Seriously. This is not a joke

My Facebook apps are so hard to find in the Facebook menus that I just end up typing in the address: https://www.facebook.com/developers/. But those are developer apps. What about apps that general users add to their Facebook account?

Blame the usability features
Thanks to Facebook’s quasi-adaptive user interface, things you don’t use often don’t show up as often. So if you don’t use a lot of apps, you’ll never easily see the link to them … they’ll be hidden from view by default, and you’ll only see them if you click to reveal them.

For example, in the image to the right, you’ll see that I have used apps recently enough that Facebook has put the link above the More/Less line, making it easily discoverable, clickable, and accessible.

However, if you don’t use apps very often, Facebook will put the link below the More/Less line … see here for example with all my links expanded.

Adaptive interfaces
Adaptive interfaces are just what they say: they adapt to the user. So for instance, as on BlackBerry, most-often used tools graduate to screens where they are more accessible.

Here’s the problem:

Since the adaption is not user-nitiated, it is not remembered (or even known), and it is therefore often not even used. Adaptive interfaces sound great in theory. Unfortunately, in this case, like so many others, while in theory theory there is no difference between theory and reality, in reality there is.

In the real world, when you move a cup, it stays where you put it. Adaptive interfaces break that connection with reality and therefore can violate a basic law of the universe we learned as infants: object permanence.

So unless it’s done in a super-smart and super-useful way … most adaptive user interfaces are less friendly, less usable, and less adapted to a user’s needs than a standard static interface.

Facebook links remind me of Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm … the one that shows you the status updates from your friends that it thinks you might be interested in, not all the status updates that exist.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

BlackBerry: Mac users not wanted

Does BlackBerry hate Mac users this much?

I can understand not loving Apple, who dethroned RIM as the smartphone leader. And I can understand not promoting BlackBerries to Mac users, who are much more likely to use iPhone.

But actively discouraging Mac users from even exploring App World? It’s passive aggressive nonsense that does nothing to evangelize their platform or their product. And … did RIM not notice that Microsoft now has their own phone platform out? Will App World block Windows next?

Who are you going to sell to then, RIM?

Yes, Virginia, consumer software is better than corporate software

This is completely, desperately, and viciously true. I’ve experienced it myself.

A few months ago the CIO was asked by the chief marketing officer to provide a way for marketing employees around the world to share and build documents together, and perform other collaborative tasks.

The CIO discussed the project with his application development group, then went back to the CMO and said “we can do this, in nine months at a cost of $14 million,” according to Whitehurst.

“The CMO says “what are you talking about? I was describing my daughter’s high school science project.” And they were on Google Documents, sharing information, jointly editing documents, and they’re doing it for free. This is a true story. I may have been slightly off on the numbers, but a true story.”

via Google Docs creates expectations CIOs can’t meet, Red Hat CEO says.

The problem, however, is not that this is possible, or that this is competition. The problem is that this is seen as a problem.

Because there’s a very easy solution here: Google Apps for the enterprise. Or Microsoft Office Live. Or a number of different readily available and fairly cheap solutions.

CIOs must, however, get over their NIH (not invented here) mentality, and be open to using distributed tools that don’t necessarily live on their servers and are not necessarily controlled by the organization.

Security is an issue, control is an issue, coordination is an issue, searching and archiving and knowledge management is an issue … true.

But the biggest issue is LETTING PEOPLE DO THEIR WORK EFFICIENTLY AND EFFECTIVELY. That’s the first requirement.

After that … you figure out the rest.

iPad use case #3: watch the big game, in 6 minutes

Like most Canadians, I’m mad about hockey (both in the British sense of being crazy about it, and the American sense of being ticked off that there are not enough Canadian teams).

So when I can’t watch the game … iPad helps.

Just download the official NHL app. All of the day’s games are listed on the home screen. Pick one, and click watch.

Instantly (almost) you’ve got a 6-8 minute highlight reel of that game – in the comfort of your chair, sofa, or bed.

Now that’s not bad.

Is This Really The Future of Magazines?

Why, why, why, Wired? 400 MBs of images in your 500 MB iPad app. Extremely uncool.

From the story on Interface Lab:

With the Wired app weighing in at a whopping 500 megabytes – just 100 shy of a full CD-ROM – how do they intend to maintain new editions of the magazine?  500 MB is too large for a 3G download (no help from AT&T’s less than spectacular network performance) and for those with iPad’s with the smaller storage, each issue will take a significant chunk of space on the device.  With no apparent means for managing which issues you keep on your device, this will become huge issue for a lot of people.  Obviously they will fix this with updates to the application, but I’m still wondering what they were thinking to begin with.  I’m hoping there were voices of dissent that pointed out the end product was not worth it’s weight in megabytes.  A PDF version would have been a tenth of the size, though without the interactivity.  But is the interactivity worth the 500MB price?  I personally don’t think so.

Why is the magazine so large?  Being the intrepid hacker that I am (*wink*) I mounted my jail broken iPad via AppleTalk and quickly tore into the app itself to see how it was constructed.  Similar to the PopSci+ magazine application, each Wired issue is actually a bunch of XML files that lay out a bunch of images.  And by “a bunch of images” I mean 4,109 images weighing in at 397MB.

via Is This Really The Future of Magazines or Why Didn’t They Just Use HTML 5?.

Eric Schmidt on Google’s “mobile first” attitude

Speaking at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., where the Atmosphere conference takes place, Schmidt said:

“What’s really important right now is to get the mobile architecture right. Mobile will ultimately be the way you provision most of your services. The way I like to put it is, the answer should always be mobile first. You should always put your best team and your best app on your mobile app.”

via Eric Schmidt on Google’s “mobile first” attitude, weaknesses | VentureBeat.

10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps

Everyone who builds or designs for the web should read Fred Wilson’s 10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps. Fred is a venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures in New York, and writes the not-very-creatively-named A VC blog.

Check the full article for all the details … but here are the main points:

  • Speed
  • Instant utility
  • Software is media
  • Less is more
  • Make it programmable
  • Make it personal
  • RESTful (this one is geeky … superficially: everything has a home, and anything/anyone can see it)
  • Discoverability
  • Clean
  • Playful

Big question: Microsoft on the iPad

I’ve been wondering lately what Microsoft will do for the iPad.

As everyone knows, Microsoft is one of the major software developers for Mac … Office being the most obvious example. They’ve also dabbled in iPhone applications.

But now we have the iPad. And now mobile apps have an opportunity to be more and do more than ever before. And … Apple has thrown down the gauntlet by developing special (and cheap!) versions of its own office applications for iPad – the iWork suite.

iWork includes Keynote (PowerPoint), Pages (Word), and Numbers (Excel). How is Microsoft going to respond?

Putting their own apps on iPad is a big, big move, from a lot of perspectives:

  • It would require huge redesign (lots of work)
  • It would implicitly be blessing Apple’s new semi-mobile platform (both annoying and strategically dangerous)
  • It would be at a much lower price point than desktop office … iWork is about $15 on iPad, versus about $100 on a Mac (also strategically dangerous and very financially risky)

And yet, to not do it risks being left in the starting gate as the race for mobile software really starts taking off. Above all else, after all, Microsoft is a software company.

What will they do? My guess: not get in until it’s too late, then jump in with both feet.

By then, Microsoft risks becoming irrelevant.

For The Future Of The Media Industry, Look In The App Store

How to make money in media when copying is easy and digital transmission is essentially free:

If you are a media exec and you look at your product and at the end of the day it’s a digital file that can be copied, then you have a serious problem with your format. Think of your product like a pie chart of the value you are giving the consumer. If 100% of the value is in that file, it is not a sound approach for defending the future of your business. However, if a portion of the experience is derived thorough an integration with a Web component that will yield additional value in functionality or social elements, then it will be more sustainable. There are many such examples emerging in the app store (I am T-Pain, TapTap and many more). Applications that let consumers interact with the media. Create things and share them with their friends. These will not only make the consumer the one who markets your product, but also create an unprecedented level of engagement. That level of engagement will directly map to reduction in piracy as consumers will pay for this experience and wont be able to copy it. Sell access and experiences, not media files.

via For The Future Of The Media Industry, Look In The App Store.

Apple Must Improve iPhone App Approval

Imagine this: you spend $50K developing an iPhone app. You submit it to Apple for approval and posting on the app store. Then you wait for 4 months … with no word whether or not your app will be approved and place on the store.

That’s precisely the situation that Newber finds itself in with its location-aware business phone number application for iPhone. And it’s exactly the kind of situation that companies who are thinking of investing in iPhone application development have nightmares about.

Newber is an innovative app that doesn’t obviously contravene any of Apple’s
app acceptance standards. As Cult of Mac reports:

If you’re in the office at your desk, Newber will send calls to your work phone. At home it can ring the house phone. On the road Newber will ring your iPhone, the phone extension in your hotel room, even the payphone at the gas station in the middle of nowhere where you’re getting a flat fixed – if that’s where you want it to ring. Your callers have one number for you and you can receive their calls anywhere.

The problem is obvious: how willing are companies and developers going to be to develop innovative, cutting-edge applications if they can’t tell in advance whether or not they’ll be accepted to the App Store?

There have been 6 publicly announced reasons for app rejection:

  1. porn
  2. malicious apps
  3. apps that invade your privacy
  4. illegal content
  5. unforeseen issues
  6. bandwidth hogs

Porn is obvious. Malicious apps would presumably include viruses, malware, adware, and so forth. Privacy – again fairly obvious, as are illegal content and bandwidth hogs. Unforseen issues, however, is a little vague.

You would assume it means software and hardware compatibility, but what else might fit into this nebulous category?

Answering that question simply, quickly, and publicly would give more developers confidence to invest time and money in building innovative new iPhone apps.

Please, no: the iFart invasion

The walls are coming down, the barbarians are storming the gates, civilization as we know it is coming to an end.

Yes, you guessed correctly: iFart is now the top paid application for Apple’s iPhone. It’s just as the slogan says: thousands of reasons to love your iPhone:


This is a sad day for highbrows … but maybe not quite so bad if you have a sense of humor!

Reverse productivity

If someone could please explain to me why this application is in the “Productivity” category of iPhone applications, I would really like to know.

The entire application consists of a “game” of holding a button on your iPhone (or iPod touch) for as long as possible. Unshockingly, “Hold On” is the name of the application, and also the entire instruction manual.

The “app” is by IMAK Creations, and I can only assume it was their first attempt.


At the very least, they’ve got people talking and linking, and that can’t be bad.

Everyone, everywhere, wants to go offline

Just saw this article on Webware about Prism, which is technology for extending applications beyond the browser. Yes, there are times when the cloud is just not available.

Very, very cool.

We already have Google Gears, of course, and Adobe AIR (on which some amazing apps are being built), and Microsoft’s Silverlight. And I’m sure there’s many I haven’t heard of yet …

The question is: are all of these frameworks for seamless online/offline development going to survive, or will one or two take the lion’s share of the market?

Whatever happens, these are good times to be a web developer, as with a little effort you’re now able to make your application run close to desktop-quality, even when there’s no internet connection.