Mobile Developer News Roundup for Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

A Mobile Privacy Policy You Can Use and Customize

Here’s a set of open source mobile privacy policies that you can copy, modify and use for your own mobile apps. Created by Docracy, an online store of open legal documents, you can use them as-is, or use them as a starting point for your app’s privacy policy. Most users consider the mobile device to be more personal than their desktops or laptops (even though they’re called personal computers), and it’s expected that privacy policies will eventually be required for apps; grab these and get a head start! Best of all, Docracy lets you fork their documents GitHub-style.


ManiacDev’s Catalog of Open Source iPhone and iPad Apps

ManiacDev has updated their list of iOS apps for which the source code is available — there are now 85! 67 are currently available in the App Store, and while the remainder aren’t, they were at one time and you can still get the source for all of them. There’s nothing like learning from source code for complete, released applications, and I haven’t seen a bigger collection of such for iOS. If you’re interested in the source for games only, ManiacDev has a “just the games” list.

Links’s 200-Episode Android Tutorial Video Series has a video series made up of 200 videos covering Android development. The series starts with downloading and installing the JDK, Eclipse and the Android SDK, covers a lot of ground on writing Android apps, and ends with putting an app on the market and updating it. The presentation style is extremely casual and even made me chuckle a couple of times. I think it’s a pretty good launching point: use these videos as your launching point, back them up with the Android docs, and you’ll be on your way.


Making Money in the App Store in “The Next 19%”

Dave Addey does some back-of-the-envelope calculations and says that while it’s increasingly unlikely for you to get your app in the top 1% of Apple’s App Store, you’ve got decent odds for getting your app into the sweet spot of what he calls “The Next 19%”.  He says that if the numbers he’s using are representative, the iOS App Store breaks down this way:

Tier How many apps? %age of Revenue Average income per app
Top 1% 6,500 36%, or $1.75 billion $269,230
The “Next 19%” 123,500 61%, or $3.05 billion $24,696
Bottom 80% 520,000 3%, or $150 million $288


He writes:

With the App Store maturing, hitting that top 1% increasingly requires sizeable investment and marketing in addition to app development skills. Successfully launching a 1% app (even with sizeable investment) isn’t something you’d bet your mortgage on, and I’d go as far as to say that this top end of the store is no longer a market that’s available to small independent developers.

The next 19%, however, is definitely a viable aspiration. Most of the paid apps we’ve released have fitted comfortably within the upper bounds of this part of the graph (beating the 19% average mentioned above), and these kinds of apps are definitely within reach of small development teams or sole developers.



Thoughts on “Microsoft’s Lost Decade” and Its Windows 8 Challenges

The Vanity Fair Article

Kurt Eichenwald’s Vanity Fair article Microsoft’s Lost Decade is finally out, both in print and online. It’s a fascinating read, and as a former Microsoftie, there were moments while reading it where I winced.

Two Things That Stood Out for Me

Since mobile is one of my primary interests, these two facts from the article stand out for me:

The iPhone alone outsells everything Microsoft sells, all put together. For the quarter ending March 31, 2012 — the 2nd quarter of Apple’s fiscal 2012, the 3rd for Microsoft — the iPhone had sales of $22.7 billion, while the sum total of Microsoft’s sales was $17.4 billion.

54 days after Microsoft introduced the Zune, Apple introduced the iPhone. They had very different fates: the Zune had some nice features that set it apart, but failed to make a dent in the MP3 player world, while the iPhone redefined mobile phones in so many ways.

The IBMing of Microsoft

Creative Commons image taken by Ville Miettinen for
Click the image to see the source.

The three companies whose names get mentioned the most in the article are Apple, Google and IBM (16 times). You’re likely to have an Apple or Google product in your home (or pocket), but probably not an IBM one (and the ThinkPad doesn’t count; Lenovo’s been making them since 2005).

The article points out that what Apple and Google are doing to Microsoft, Microsoft did to IBM years ago. The Microsofties saw desktop computers as the next big thing, while IBM didn’t. They thought so little of desktops that the original PC was originally produced by their “Entry Level Systems” division, which suggests that they thought of the PC as a toy that you’d use until you were ready to graduate to a big-boy, real computer — one of their mainframes. Just as IBM half-hearted its way out of the PC revolution despite having an early lead and a lot of resources, Eichenwald paints a picture where Microsoft did the same, missing out on things like instant messaging, ebook readers and tablets and phones. IBM had tunnel vision about mainframes, and Microsoft had tunnel vision about Windows.

The Vision Thing

A problem that the Vanity Fair article doesn’t directly bring up is Microsoft’s lack of a lead technical visionary, someone whose role would be to predict the future by inventing it. This was Steve Jobs’ role at Apple, and Bill Gates’ at Microsoft. After Bill came, Ray Ozziewhose title was Chief Software Architect. Ozzie left in late 2010 and there are no plans to fill his position. The departures of two other “vision guys”, Robbie Bach and J Allard, both from the Entertainment and Devices division (who brought forth the Xbox) are only contributing to the vision vacuum. I think that this leaves them stuck in their current mode, best described as “Winning business [is] more important than making great products” by Steve Jobs or lacking “technical rigor” near the top, as Mini-Microsoft put it.

Where Microsoft is Doing Well

The article doesn’t cast Microsoft in a particularly good light, which means that Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Corporate Communications (that’s no typo; the word corporate appears in his title twice) has his work cut out for him. Back in November, he gave a pretty impressive “5 Minutes on The Verge” interview in which he left me with the impression of being more than just a suit, but also a guy with some half-decent tech cred. He also recently fired back at a TechCrunch piece that cites the Vanity Fair article, where he points out that Microsoft has done pretty well financially under Ballmer’s run. In his response, which appears on his Facebook timeline, he writes:

…let’s look at some numbers while Steve B has been CEO. How about:

  • tripled revenue from $23 billion in 2000 to $70 billion in 2011.
  • increased profits from $9 billion in 2000 to $23 billion in 2011.
  • returned $194 billion to shareholders via dividends and stock buyback.

Hmm, those look pretty good. And what about products that sell, you know, like windows 7 and Office of all stripes, and oh yeah, hmm, I’m forgetting something…let me think… oh, got it! During the same period, Microsoft also created entirely new businesses, such as Xbox, the #1 gaming console in the world last year and Kinect, a pretty darn hot consumer electronic device. And, the company’s enterprise Server & Tools business grew significantly in the same time period, reaching $17 billion in 2011. Gee, lost has NEVER looked so good.

He’s right: Microsoft’s revenue and income figures for their 2011 and 2012 fiscal years (their 2012 fiscal year ended June 30) are pretty solid, and they’re even more impressive when you consider the current economic climate. They have grown steadily since Ballmer took over in 2000. The two “big dogs” are doing fine: Windows is still the most-used desktop OS and Office is still the biggest productivity suite in town. SQL Server has grown in leaps and bounds and become a true competitor to Oracle and DB2. C#, .NET, SharePoint and Xbox were launched at or near the start of the Ballmer era, and they’ve all found their places: C# and .NET are popular (C# is at the #5 position on the TIOBE Programming Community Index this month), SharePoint is a $2 billion business, and the Xbox 360 is currently the most popular console on the market. Microsoft tech drives a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff. The money in your bank, the trucks that keep the store shelves stocked, that airline ticket you booked, your local, state/provincial and federal governments — a lot of that is powered by stuff from Redmond.

When you look at it from a non-mobile perspective, Microsoft is doing well. This is even more impressive if you consider how far giants like RIM and Nokia have fallen in less time than Ballmer’s tenure.

Still, it’s a far cry from the days when Microsoft dominated, when you had to worry about them was moving onto your turf and when the final line of startup business plans was often “And then we’ll get acquired by Microsoft”. It’s also not as impressive as the growth of companies like Google and especially Apple, the company they once gave $150 million from “pity cash”.

Executing Like it’s 1999

Simply put, if it’s something that could’ve been easily extrapolated from the state of desktop technology in 1999 — their stock in trade, at the time when they were on top — Microsoft is doing well with it now. Windows and Office were already around and in the number one spot. SQL Server was coming into its own: they released SQL Server 7, the first version that wasn’t based on the Sybase database they bought, that year. Java was being touted as a Microsoft killer, and one of Microsoft’s responses was to announce a new programming language called COOL (C++ Object-Oriented Language), which would eventually become C#. Content management systems were becoming popular, so it’s not a leap to imagine Microsoft making their own: SharePoint. PC gaming was being threatened by the Playstation, the most popular console ever at that time (in the end, over 100 million original Playstations were shipped; the Xbox 360 has shipped just shy of 70 million), so it’s also easy to see Microsoft responding by coming up with their own.

It’s also worth nothing that in 1998, the IT department had enormous specified the machines and software you used at work, and this would influence the sort of computer you’d use at home. Microsoft simply schmoozed the IT departments, which they’re pretty good at.

If it’s a technology that went in a direction that someone in the desktop-centric world of 1998 would’ve found surprising, then Microsoft isn’t doing well at it. When I was at OpenCola during the peer-to-peer era, the word from Microsoft was that IE6 was supposed to be their last browser (this explains the 5-year gap between IE6 and IE7). The future was supposed to be client-server or peer-to-peer applications, with users running a desktop application that would be pushed to them over the internet. They did hedge their bets and create ASP.NET, but they worked hard to make the development model as desktop-like as they could, right down to making it stateful. They were early to market with tablets, pocket computers and smartphones, but their approach was to simply shrink Windows and swap the mouse for a stylus. Their “like the desktop, but lamer” philosophy of mobile computing isn’t all that different from IBM’s “like mainframes, but lamer” approach to desktop computers.

The IT department has also been disrupted by what’s called “the consumerization of IT”. Nowadays, you tell the IT department which devices and computers you use, and that it’s their job to figure out how to support it. Now Microsoft has to schmooze consumers, and Xbox aside, that’s not their strong suit.

Windows 8’s Challenges

Microsoft’s big challenge with the impending release of Windows 8 across desktop, tablet, phone and console as rehabilitating the image of Windows as being the OS you have to use, as opposed to the OS you want to use. “I use a Mac/iOS at home, but they make me use Windows at work” as an increasingly common refrain, and with information technology increasingly appearing in the consumer market first and the business market second, they have to win the consumer market if they intend to keep winning the enterprise market.

Part of the goal of Metro, the tile-based, NUI-ready interface that appears across their desktop, tablet, phone and console operating systems is to rehabilitate its image with consumers, the ultimate end user of their systems, whether at home or in the enterprise. Microsoft wants it to be the OS that you tell the IT department it has to support. Metro takes a lot of its inspiration from airport and train station signage, and like that signage, it’s meant to get out of the way and give you the information you need as quickly as possible. It’s also a bit of a departure from the graphical “language” that iOS and Android have defined, which is a bit of risk-taking that’s uncharacteristic of Microsoft.

While good-looking and pleasant to use, there’s a chance that it might be too much of a departure and turn off users. For a great example of how people can see “good but different” as bad, read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit; there’s a chapter in which he tells the story of how Outkast’s hit Hey Ya was initially a flop because it was too different from other hit songs of the time. With its many single-flat-colour tiles that eschew 3D or gloss effects and its use of motion to convey meaning, it looks rather plain in static photos. It looks much better in video and even more so in actual use. Microsoft will have to get as many people as they can in front of touchscreens, tablets and phones if they intend to get buy-in from the public.

Microsoft is also worried about backwards compatibility in a couple of ways. There’s the more obvious backwards compatibility with software built for previous versions of Windows, and they’ve taken care of this by giving Metro for Intel-based machines a mode that looks more like the Windows of today. There’s also the less obvious backwards compatibility with Microsoft’s long-standing philosophy that the PC is king and everything else is just an extension of it, an observation that gets hinted at in this joke that recently made the internet rounds:

Microsoft’s biggest challenge may also be its most ironic one: FUD. It was once a tool in their PR arsenal (it’s even referred to by name in the Halloween Documents), but as the existence of the Vanity Fair article and others like this recent one from CNet show, it’s now something they have to contend with. For them to succeed, they’re going to have to be willing to give up the old ways of fear, uncertainty and doubt for engage, evolve and execute. We’ll see how that works out for them over the coming months.


Whyday is Coming!

Photo by Jon Pratt. Click to see the source.

“Why the Lucky Stiff”, the enigmatic programmer who created all sorts of interesting, useful and oddball goodies and code-baubles in Ruby as well as many of its code phrases (“Chunky bacon!”), dissolved his online presence on August 19, 2009. In his honour, Glenn Vandenburg declared the first Whyday on August 19, 2010, and I reminded everyone to celebrate the second one on the Shopify Technology Blog.

We’re closing in on the third anniversary of Whyday, and I thought I’d give you some advance notice. The best way to celebrate it is to start a project or make something. Suggestions from the Whyday site include:

  • See how far you can push some weird corner of Ruby (or some other language).
  • Choose a tight constraint (for example, 4 kilobytes of source code) and see what you can do with it.
  • Try that wild idea you’ve been sitting on because it’s too crazy.
  • You can work to maintain some of the software Why left us (although Why is more about creating beautiful new things than polishing old things).
  • On the other hand, Why is passionate about teaching programming to children. So improvements to Hackety Hack would be welcome.
  • Or take direct action along those lines, and teach Ruby to a child.

Get excited and make things, as they say, and don’t forget to share!


Newly Added to My GitHub: “inPulse Magic 8-Ball: A Beginner’s Tutorial for Programming inPulse Smartwatch Apps”

I’ve just added inPulse Magic 8-Ball: A Beginner’s Tutorial for Programming inPulse Smartwatch Apps to my GitHub. If you’ve been meaning to get into “smart devices” programming but didn’t know where to start, this is a good place. You don’t even need an inPulse smartwatch to get started; in the tutorial, I show you how to set up a virtual machine with an inPulse simulator. Then, I walk you through “Hello, World!”, a couple of API functions, and finally, a “Magic 8-Ball” app. If you’ve done at least a little programming and aren’t afraid to do a little coding in C, I think you’ll find this a fun exercise.

In case you were wondering, the inPulse smartwatch is the predecessor to the new hotness and Kickstarter darling, the Pebble smartwatch.

While this project is ready for the general public and pretty complete, I still consider it a work in progress. I’ll keep adding to it over the next few weeks, so check it often!


Hero: Lenovo’s CEO Distributes $3 Million of His Bonus Among Junior-Level Employees

Lenovo’s CEO Yang Yuanqing could’ve kept $5.2 million bonus for his company’s very good year, but instead he distributed $3 million of it among 10,000 employees in the “lower decks”: production line workers, secretaries and assistants. The bonus average out to about $314 each, which according to the the Fair Labor Association works out to about a month’s wages for the company’s employees in China.

In case this sort of neo-Bolshevik employee-coddling redistribution-of-wealth class-warfare hoo-hah gets your Rand hackles a-twitchin’, keep in mind that Yang kept over $2 million of his bonus, and his total earnings for last fiscal year, salaries, incentives and other goodies totalled about $14 million. He’s not hurtin’.

For actually living the principle of profit-sharing, we at Global Nerdy (well, it’s just me, but hey) salute you, Mr. Yang, with a filet mignon on a flaming sword!



Judge Grounds Apple, Forces It to Wear Sign Admitting It Said Nasty Stuff About Samsung

Image from ForkParty. Click to see the original.

Apple has been ordered by Judge Colin Birss, who oversaw the UK Apple/Samsung design infringement case, to publish notices stating that Samsung didn’t copy the iPad for its tablet designs. The notices must appear on Apple’s UK site as well as UK newspapers and magazines for a six-month period. This requirement is a meant to counter any loss of “face” from Apple’s claims that Samsung is a copycat and may also be intended to discourage future lawsuits of a similar nature.

(The ruling reminds me of those kids who’ve been made to wear signs in public as punishment for their misdeeds.)

The ruling means that Apple will have to provide six months of free advertising for their biggest rival, which certainly won’t sit well with them. There are no publicized reports on the specific requirements for these notices, so it remains to be seen what Apple can or can’t say in their notices. At the very least, they should be able to reference Judge Birss’ official remarks, which state that Samsung’s designs “do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool.” They can say something to the effect of “Our stuff is cooler than Samsung’s…so says the law!

Apple has one advantage that Samsung doesn’t: loyal and very vocal customer evangelists. They’re probably their best tool to turn the effect of this ruling around and change the court-ordered postings from an embarrassment into a PR coup. It’s already started — take a look at these recent tweets:


The Red Blotchy Arm of Death

Found via BuzzFeed. Click the photo to see the source.

Of all the things to get tattooed on your arm, why would you want to get the text of Windows’ Blue Screen of Death?