Category Archives: iphone

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Apple, Spotify, Google and iPhone: how to get into App Store

I was mildly surprised to see that Apple has approved Spotify for iPhone. Reason: if someone buys into the Spotify subscription model, why would they ever want to purchase music from iTunes, whether for iPhone or elsewhere? The iPhone version lets you listen to selected tracks offline, so that is not a problem.

Here’s a bit of speculation. Maybe Spotify benefited from the fallout over Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application – though Apple says it “continues to study it”. The Google Voice move drew articles like Apple is growing rotten to the core from TechCrunch. The question for Apple: did it want another high-profile, self-interested app rejection while still fighting Google Voice?

A further consideration is that Spotify is a tiny company compared to Google; music download/streaming enterprises come and go, and Spotify has a tricky task ahead making its business model work, as Mark Mulligan observes. Further, there’s nothing to stop Apple launching its own streaming, subscription service if it chooses to do so.

If Apple felt it had to choose between the threat of Google Voice, and the threat of Spotify, it is easy to see why it would pick the latter.

It follows that if you want to get your difficult, might-compete-with-Apple app into App Store, you should:

1. Build a decent-sized community around your service first.

2. Make a lot of noise when you submit your app.

3. Make even more noise should Apple reject it (this did not apply to Spotify, but it has worked for others).

4. Choose a moment when Apple is already embroiled in App Store battles that are more important than yours.

Publicity makes all the difference.

With all this, will Spotify succeed? The service is fantastic, but I’m not sure about people’s willingness to add £10 per month to their already-expensive iPhone contracts. However, I still think what I have argued for years: that in the digital age, music subscription makes more sense than paid-for permanent downloads.

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Spotify for iPhone looks great – if Apple allows it

I’m fascinated by the announcement of Spotify for iPhone.

Spotify lets you stream music from the company’s servers using a particularly fast and elegant user interface. The choice is huge, and of course shareable playlists are supported – I’ve had a lot of fun with these, using the desktop version.

Now here it comes for iPhone, with two big differences:

  1. You can synch playlists to the device for playing offline – essential on a mobile device.
  2. It’s not free; you have to be a premium user at £9.99 per month in the UK.

Although that is somewhat expensive, you get a lot for your money, including high quality 320kbs streaming on the desktop.

I noted a few further details from the comments to the above post:

  • An Android version is under development.
  • The iPhone app also works on the iPod Touch.
  • Offline works whether or not a connection is live. So if you pay for your data transfer, you could synch over wi-fi at home, then enjoy offline while travelling.

One thing that is not officially discussed is whether the company has verified with Apple that the application is acceptable. The post merely says:

… we’ve finally completed work on the Spotify app for the iPhone and sent it over to the nice people at Apple.

Now imagine you are Apple. The iPhone is in part built on the iPod, which was designed as a closed system using iTunes server and client to deliver music and apps to the device. Accepting an app that is an alternative to iTunes for music, and which to my mind represents the next generation of music delivery after downloading, is a threat to part of its business. It is not just that users might purchase less through iTunes. If users use Spotify rather than iTunes for their music, there are fewer barriers to moving from iPhone to Android or some other device (if Spotify chooses to support it). Reject the app then?

On the other hand, iPhone Spotify is for premium users only – not that many iPhone users will sign up. And if Apple rejects Spotify, there will be a very public cry of “monopoly” – whereas accepting it would be great PR.

Watching with interest – update soon.

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Adobe “Committed to bringing Flash Player to the iPhone”

Adobe CEO commented during yesterday’s earnings call:

We are also equally committed to bringing the Flash Player to the iPhone, so now we do have a Flash Player 10 version for smartphones. We continue to work with Apple. We need more APIs and cooperation to bring the capabilities of Flash to the iPhone and we think it’s in both of our best interests to make sure that 85% of the top 100 websites that use Flash, that that experience is available to the Apple customers.

The real question is not whether Adobe is committed to this, but whether Apple will allow it. I think the stake are high for Adobe, which is why I have such keen interest. The longer the iPhone remains Flash-free, the more those “85% of the top 100 websites” will question their use of Flash and wonder if they should try to migrate towards more universal HTML and JavaScript technology. On the other hand, if Adobe gets its stuff on iPhone it will give it a further advantage over rival plug-ins like Microsoft’s Silverlight.

I mean, if you build your entire cloud platform around the Flash client, what do you do if the key mobile device out there refuses to support it?

Transcript from Seeking Alpha.

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Apple censors iPhone application, threatens developer livelihood

There is an alarming report here from James Montgomerie, who has developed an application for the iPhone called Eucalyptus. It displays public domain texts hosted at Project Gutenberg.

Apple has refused to allow his application to be placed into the App Store, which in effect means nobody can buy it or use it. The reason: one of the texts on Project Gutenberg is the Kama Sutra, which Apple’s assessors consider pornographic.

It’s doubtful reasoning. Eucalyptus is a client and does not contain the contentious text directly; it is no different in this respect from Safari, the iPhone’s web browser, which can also also display the Kama Sutra, or indeed many far more objectionable web pages.

Still, it’s the wider issues that are more interesting here. Montgomerie writes:

I suspect that no-one at Apple knows how genuinely torturous the app store approval process is for developers personally after a rejection. When they hold the key to the only distribution pipe for something you’ve spent a lot of your time on – in my case a year – something you’re hoping could provide you with a livelihood – and polite email enquiries are not replied to – not even with an autoresponder, it is extremely frustrating. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as powerless in my life (and I’ve had to deal with US immigration authorities…). I think anyone that knows me would confirm that I’m a very level-headed person, but this is the only thing in my adult life I can recall losing sleep over (although perhaps that’s also a consequence of being otherwise lucky in life so far).

Let’s do a bit of what-if. What if Microsoft exerted equal control over what applications were allowed on Windows? What if Apple extended its iPhone control to any Mac computers? Unacceptable, could never happen, you might think. Sure, but it if is unacceptable in that wider context, is it not unacceptable on the iPhone as well?

Apple is not the first company to lock down a platform. Locked mobile phones have done this to some extent for years. Games consoles like Xbox and Playstation do it. Apple is taking heat because of its success in creating a device that users want to use as a platform for all kinds of applications; potentially, in some future version, it may be able to do most of the things for which we currently use laptops. Therefore we should be concerned both about the way Apple is using its control over iPhone distribution, and more fundamentally that it has that level of control at all.

Fortunately Apple does not control the Internet; and Montgomerie has done the right thing by appealing to public opinion. Apple’s PR machine will take note and no doubt resolve the immediate case.*

Nevertheless, this story and others like it are a real concern. Perhaps your next phone should run Android?

*UPDATE this is exactly what happened:

Earlier today I received a phone call from an Apple representative. He was very complimentary about Eucalyptus. We talked about the confusion surrounding its App Store rejections, which I am happy to say is now fully resolved. He invited me to re-build and submit a version of Eucalyptus with no filters for immediate approval, and that full version is now available on the iPhone App Store.

See also: Friendly to users, hostile to competition: get ready for more app stores

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BT brings Ribbit to the UK via Salesforce.com

Ribbit is an internet service for integrating voice communications into web applications. It is a US start-up that was acquired by BT in July 2008, but until now has not been available to UK customers. Today at Cloudforce BT announced Ribbit for Salesforce.com, an extension to the Salesforce CRM application and platform. In essence it adds a voice mailbox to your Salesforce.com account, enhanced with voice to text transcription. You can receive voice messages and have them sent to you as SMS or email; you can also use it as a voice memo utility where you dial in yourself to record the message.

A typical use case is for recording voice notes immediately after a meeting, perhaps when you get back to your car. These notes can then be attached to contacts or prospects for later reference.

The feature also adds a Flash-based VOIP phone to Saleforce.com, so you can make calls from your computer (not that this is anything new).

The cost will be around £35 per month.

I asked at the press briefing whether the voice-to-text really works. It’s good enough, I was told; the interesting part is how it done. First the message is processed using third-party technology. The automatic transcription assigns a confidence level to each word or phrase, and where confidence is low a human corrects it. Despite human involvement it is still only 80% – 90% accurate. I would like to know more about how many messages end up needing human intervention and how that impacts the time it takes – overall we were told 5-10 minutes for transcription on average. It would also be interesting to know who is doing this, where they are and how much they are paid – it sounds like an ideal use for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

Ribbit is also an example of Enterprise Flash. Its API is Flash/Flex. This works out well for Salesforce.com integration, as Salesforce.com also has a Flex API. It’s not so good for mobile devices, partly because Flash is not always available (hello iPhone), and partly because Flash Lite does not give access to a microphone, making it useless for voice communication. Apparently a REST API is also under development, though that won’t solve the client piece.

BT says there is more to come, both in terms of other Ribbit applications, and integration with other BT services.

My reaction: Ribbit/Salesforce.com integration looks convenient but is it really worth £35.00 per month, when you could just record notes on a portable device instead? Well, the big feature turns out to be the automatic transcription. One BT guy at the meeting says he uses the service to have his voicemail emailed to him, and as a result rarely needs to dial-in to listen to the message. That has real value – text is better than voice for lots of reasons. That said, is the transcription service really good enough? I sensed some hesitancy about this, though with human involvement it certainly could be.

Programming language trends: Flash up, AJAX down?

I’m fascinated by the O’Reilly reports on the state of the computer book market in 2008, particularly the one relating to programming languages.

Notable facts and speculations:

C# is the number one language, overtaking Java (which is down 12%), and was consistently so throughout 2008. Although the .NET platform is no longer new and exciting, I’m guessing this reflects Microsoft’s success in corporate development, plus the fact that the language is changing fast enough to stimulate book purchases. Absolute growth is small though: just 1%.

Objective-C is growing massively (965%). That’s probably stimulated by iPhone app development more than anything else. It’s a perfect topic for a programming book, since the platform is important and popular, and attracting developers who were previously ignorant of Objective-C.

ActionScript is growing (33%). That’s Adobe’s success in establishing Flex and the Flash platform.

PHP is up 3%. I’m not surprised; it’s usually the P in LAMP, everyone’s favourite free and open source web platform. That said, the online documentation and community support for PHP is so good that a book is less necessary than for some other languages.

JavaScript is down 24%. I’m a little surprised, as JavaScript is still a language everyone has to grapple with to some degree. It may be a stretch; but I wonder if this is a symptom of AJAX losing developer mindshare to Flash/Flex (ActionScript) and maybe Silverlight (C#)? Another factor is that JavaScript is not changing much; last year’s JavaScript book is still good enough.

Visual Basic is down 15%. Exactly what I would expect; slow-ish decline but still popular.

Ruby is down 51%. This is a surprise; though it was well up in 2007 so you could be kind and describe this as settling. The problem with Ruby though is lack of a major sponsor; plus the migration from PHP to Ruby that seemed possible a couple of years ago just has not happened. It may be intimidating to casual developers who find PHP more approachable; plus of course, Ruby probably is not installed on your low-cost shared web hosting package.

Python is down 14%. Google sponsors Python, in that it is the language of App Engine, but apparently this has not been enough to stimulate grown in book sales. I guess App Engine is still not mainstream; or maybe there just aren’t enough good Python books out there.*

It will be interesting to see the 2009 report in a year or so. Meanwhile, I’m off to write an Objective C tutorial (joke!).

*Update: I was reading the charts too quickly; it looks as if the percentages above are only for the last quarter; the annual figures are similar except that Python actually grew over the year as a whole.

What’s the deal with Flash and the iPhone?

An brief comment from Adobe’s CEO Shantanu Narayen quoted by Bloomberg suggests that Apple and Adobe are actually working on putting Flash on the iPhone:

It’s a hard technical challenge, and that’s part of the reason Apple and Adobe are collaborating. The ball is in our court. The onus is on us to deliver.

Deliver what? I’d have thought it would be straightforward for Adobe to implement some level of Flash on the iPhone. There are at least two reasons though why Apple might be blocking it:

1. Flash is a client runtime. Apple may feel that allowing applications to run within Flash could threaten its App Store lock-in and market.

2. One of the frustrations of Flash on devices is that it lags behind the version of Flash available on desktops, and is often hard to update. That’s frustrating for users. Apple may want to address that by giving iPhone users an experience that comes close to that on the desktop.

So what is Apple waiting for Adobe to deliver? Better mobile performance and usability? Or some other piece that might address the first of the above concerns?

The outcome of this has a significance that goes beyond the iPhone. Although iPhone and iTouch users form only a small proportion of those browsing the web, it is an influential group and one that will grow. The lack of Flash support makes pure HTML and JavaScript solutions more attractive to web developers.

If anyone from Adobe can give us more insight into what it is working on with Apple, I’m keen to know.

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Why it’s hard to compete with Apple in mobile app development and deployment

One OS – one device – one AppStore – easy over-the-air purchase for end users. Apple’s development and deployment model delivers results, despite mutters about lock-in and Apple helping itself to a generous slice of the revenue.

Here at Adobe MAX Europe we’ve been hearing about the future of Flash on mobile devices and even seen a demo of what many would like to be able to do: simple over-the-air download of both the Flash runtime and Flash applications. Flash is a great runtime for a mobile device. A while back I reviewed the LG Viewty phone, which has a Flash UI, and despite some imperfections it convinced me of the potential of Flash for mobile devices.

Even so, it will be difficult for Adobe to create an application platform that works as well as Apple’s AppStore. Here are some of the problems.

  • Device-specific APIs. I spoke to the folk on the Sony Ericsson stand here at MAX. If you want your Flash application to do things like talking to the GPS, or integrating with the PIM (Personal Information Manager) on the phone, then you have to write a device-specific version of your Flash application. This adds to the development effort and creates friction in the deployment process. Will Adobe wrap device functions in Flash APIs? I asked about this at the press briefing today. The answer from Senior Principal Scientist Mark Anders was yes … maybe. He mentioned that API bloat became a negative for Java. It really is a difficult thing to get right.
  • Operator interference. Apple has bullied the operators it works with into doing things its way, and gets away with it because the device is so desirable. The operators though are reluctant to be no more than data carriers. They lock down devices, run their own application stores or music services, and make it difficult to mount a convincing challenge to Apple’s single store.
  • Diversity of devices. Diversity is good, sure. It’s tough for developers though. Maybe there’s a keyboard, maybe there is a touch screen, maybe there is a joypad, maybe the screen is big or small. Your app has to work well in every scenario, or else limit the number of devices it supports. Much easier with Apple, just one device to target. That will change somewhat as Apple bring out new iPhone variants, but there will always be more consistency from a single vendor.

It was similar factors that caused Microsoft to abandon its third-party vendors and create Zune, in an effort to compete with the iPod. Microsoft was too late. I am sure we will see increasing use of Flash and Flash-based applications on mobile devices; but it will be hard to displace Apple’s iPhone as the foremost mobile platform for downloaded applications.

Flash in the mobile browser is another matter, of course. If Apple continues to exclude Adobe’s runtime – which I guess it does to protect its application business – then it makes a nice selling point for competitors which do support Flash.

Actual Android device spotted at Google Developer Day London

During the keynote at Google Developer Day London, Android evangelist Mike Jennings gave us what he says is the first showing of an actual device – prototype, of course – in Europe. I took a few blurry pics.

Perhaps inevitably, it seems reminiscent of Apple’s iPhone. It even has an accelerometer so you can code it to respond to tilts and turns.

The web browser is based on WebKit, of course.

We were shown a spinning cube created in Java using an OpenGL library. The Android SDK is based on JDK 1.5.

Another thing that was mentions is Gears for Mobile. Now that Gears has a geolocation API it will be particularly useful in this context.

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Defining cloud computing

I liked this post by Larry Dignan on the cloud computing buzzword and how meaningless it has become.

Writing on the subject recently, I was struck by the gulf between what some people mean – online apps like Google Apps and Gmail – and what others mean, on-demand utility computing such as that delivered by Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud or Flexiscale. These things have little in common.

Dignan has even more examples.

Should we abandon the term? Maybe, but I find it useful if only as shorthand for describing how the centre of gravity is shifting to the Internet.

Some services are more cloudy than others. Dignan refers to this Forrester report (though you’ll have to look at the blog post for the extracts, unless you want to buy it) which has a table of “six key characteristics.” I don’t agree with all of them; the business model, for example, is not an inherent part of cloud computing. I am interested in number two:

Accessible via Internet protocols from any computer

Any computer? OK, probably not the Atari ST which I have in the loft. Any computer with a web browser? What about requiring a “modern” web browser, is that OK? Java? Flash? Silverlight? A specific version of Java or Flash? What about when we need a runtime like Adobe AIR or Microsoft Live Mesh? What if it doesn’t run on Linux? Or on an Apple iPhone? What about when there is an offline component such as Google Gears? All these things narrow what is meant by “any computer”.

This is the old “rich versus reach” debate; it is still being played out. My point: cloud computing isn’t a boolean characteristic, but a continuum from very cloudy (NTP) to not cloudy at all (Microsoft Office).