iOS: Where the money is

February 23rd, 2011

Wow, it has been a while… if you’ve been breathlessly reloading this page for months waiting for a new post, well, your wait is over! Enjoy this… minor comment on a news item.

Amidst the recent hubbub over Apple’s decision to charge publishers 30% of revenue for in-app subscriptions, and to require that such subscriptions be the same price or cheaper as subscriptions outside the app, many online commentators are convinced developers will flock to Android instead. However, one need only look at the facts to get a different impression:

The App Store now controls 82.7% of the worldwide app market [with $1.8 billion in 2010], down from 92.8% the previous year, IHS notes. Research In Motion’s (Nasdaq: RIMM) BlackBerry App World is second with 2010 revenues of $165 million, translating to a 7.7% market share and year-over-year growth of 360.3%; Nokia’s (NYSE: NOK) Ovi Store is next at $105 million, corresponding with 4.9% market share (up 719.4% year over year), with the Android Market bringing up the rear at $102 million, accounting for 4.7% of the market but experiencing 861.5% annual growth (emphasis mine).

30% more of zero is still zero.

» Apple’s App Store Yields 83% of App Revenues in 2010 (via Apple Outsider and Daring Fireball)

Flash’s much-heralded, much-delayed appearance on Android with Froyo has received its share of attention, from both overly optimistic and relentlessly critical sources, and it’s difficult to give it a clear assessment at this point. A variety of videos have shown Flash running reasonably well, while others show it with its pants down around its ankles. The best verdict you can give it right now is, it depends on what you’re trying to do.

Apple’s argument has long been that Flash’s performance is not up to snuff on mobile devices, and there’s plenty of evidence to support that position. Even with the 10.1 update, many Flash-based sites run poorly, especially when playing video. Errors, choppy playback, failure to load and other problems are common. GigaOM’s Ryan Lawler, cutting to the chase as he presents a video by Kevin Tofel struggling with several different video sites on his Nexus One, concludes:

While in theory Flash video might be a competitive advantage for Android users, in practice it’s difficult to imagine anyone actually trying to watch non-optimized web video on an Android handset, all of which makes one believe that maybe Steve Jobs was right to eschew Flash in lieu of HTML5 on the iPhone and iPad.

However, I had another sort of experience with Flash on Android this weekend, which proves (at least to me) that there’s another side to the story.

I had recently shown my Web Foundation class the nifty Flash-based interactive video for “Sleepeater” by the New Zealand band Shihad. The song got stuck in my head, and I wanted to download it; and it happened, as these things often do these days, while I was in my car. (No, I wasn’t driving at the time.) However, the band’s latest album won’t be released for a few weeks, and a search on iTunes via my iPhone turned up nothing. (The song is actually available in the New Zealand iTunes store, but a kiwi I am not.)

So, I turned to the most logical source in a situation like this: MySpace. As luck would have it, Shihad’s MySpace page had the song in its music player, and it didn’t care what country I’m in. The MySpace music player, as you are probably aware, is Flash-based. I loaded their page on my Dolphin HD browser, scrolled over to the player, and tapped it to download the Flash piece, which went relatively smoothly. After it appeared, I tapped the song in the playlist, and after a bit more non-Flash-related fumbling to turn on the sound, my car filled with the song I would otherwise be unable to hear.

Now, the experience was not fantastic — the player is slow, it’s not very responsive, and of course the sound quality is fairly mediocre. But it worked. And the reason why that’s relevant should, I hope, be obvious: there’s an awful lot of content on the Web that’s locked up (or set free, depending on your point of view) in Flash, and many people will want to get to it, sooner or later, on a mobile device.

Apple’s approach is to try to convince the world it doesn’t need Flash content, because people can download an app to do the same thing; but that only works for the content someone has decided to put into an app. The same is true of HTML5 content. Howling reports of atrocious Flash video performance aside, there is a valid reason for wanting to use Flash on a phone, even if the experience is poor. Video and games may not be ideal candidates, admittedly. But the next time you just have to see or hear something on your phone and it happens to be in Flash, Android at least gives you a chance of success that is greater than zero.

That may be faint praise, it may not be a selling point for everyone, but it’s difficult to accept the idea that you should be glad your iPhone and iPad are absolutely, unequivocally unable to play Flash. Rocking out to “Sleepeater” in my car the past few days, I was certainly glad not to be stuck with Apple’s decision.

Concept: The HTC 1

July 12th, 2010

Not content with the current crop of versatile-yet-unrefined Android phones, designer Andrew Kim imagines an elegant brass-and-glass enclosure that, among other things, transforms into a desk clock. His thinking is spot-on — surely there must be a market for an Android phone with iPhone-level looks and polish — and though his conceptual evolution of the Sense UI is a bit lacking, his overall effort is a thing of (fake) beauty. My only question is why he chose to anchor himself to an existing brand like HTC instead of letting his imagination really run wild… who needs cease-and-desist orders mucking with their wonderful creations? At any rate… HTC, the gauntlet has been thrown.

Update: Did I mention Kim is an 18-year-old freshman at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies? Damn.

» Design Fabulous (via Engadget)

It seems Google has finally realized Android is a viable competitor to the iPhone — it did outsell the iPhone in the US in Q1 2010, after all — and it has awoken from its slumber looking for a bite of Apple. At their I/O conference today, Google unveiled the details of their upcoming 2.2 version of Android, codenamed Froyo, and there’s plenty to get excited about.

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It's hip to use Square

Sci-fi convention vendors, street mimes and hot dog cart owners, rejoice! Square, the mobile credit-card-swiping system announced late last year by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, is now open for business. The rare company whose name, logo and product are all the same thing, Square offers a slick and simple method for accepting credit cards through an iPhone, iPad or Android phone, no merchant account or confusing accounting scheme required. That’s right, you can now accept credit cards as a buy-in at your weekly poker game, and when someone says, “Dude, I’ll give you twenty bucks for that t-shirt,” you can say, “Visa or Mastercard?”

Everything about Square screams simplicity, from the cute little card reader you plug into the headphone jack, to the service itself, which sports a beautiful and incredibly straightforward user experience, to the fee system — 2.75% + 15¢ per transaction for swiped cards, period. It also does lots of things the traditional credit card process should do, like email receipts and show the merchant a photo of the card holder for verification. You’ll want to get one just to try it out, and there’s really no reason not to — the reader, app and setup are all free, and available today. Now you just have to come up with something worth buying.

» Square Web site (and Fast Company, via Gizmodo)

In a less-than-shocking turn of events, Adobe’s Mike Chambers announced in his blog Tuesday that Adobe will cease its efforts to bring Flash-powered apps to the iPhone, following the release of Flash CS5:

While it appears that Apple may selectively enforce the terms (of the iPhone SDK), it is our belief that Apple will enforce those terms as they apply to content created with Flash CS5. Developers should be prepared for Apple to remove existing content and applications (100+ on the store today) created with Flash CS5 from the iTunes store.

We will still be shipping the ability to target the iPhone and iPad in Flash CS5. However, we are not currently planning any additional investments in that feature.

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