Assuming that any app could use subscriptions without restrictions, what would that mean? Subscriptions are definitely controversial. Customers generally don't like them, though they may end up being the least bad option. One issue is the loss of control. It feels better to look at what's in a new version and decide whether it's worth it, rather than keep paying just to keep using what you already have. However, the trend is clearly toward everyone running the latest version, rather than supporting old versions. Simply maintaining an app takes work, and it makes sense for payments to reflect that. The other main issue is the overall cost. Subscriptions can really add up, and people will need to think more carefully about budgeting and saving in order to maintain access to key apps if their circumstances change.
I agree with his point about customers not liking to pay for what they already have. Paul Haddad, of Tapbots, makes a great point:
I'd probably be fine with a subscription model, if they degraded nicely. Stop paying, app still works but no more upgrades. That seems fair.
Glenn Fleishman, in Macworld regarding the use of this new system for free trials:
Does this change allow apps to offer a free trial?
Sort of. Apple lets developers optionally offer a free trial for in-app purchase subscriptions, which range from 7 days for a one-month recurring subscription to one month for a one-year term. If an app requires a subscription to use at all, then a free trial of the subscription effectively translates to a free trial of the app. An app that has some features and sells the rest with subscription can also offer a free trial just of those added options.
However, most apps will remain free or sold for a fee with or without IAPs, and work under the old rules, which don't allow trials and demo versions.
David Sparks posts a great argument against the ubiquity of subscription-based software models from the customer perspective:
I understand why developers want to move in this direction. However, in order for this to work there has to be participation from consumers. Frankly, I'm not so convinced that will happen.
I think, in general, it's easier to pay $12 once then the thought of paying one dollar every month going forward. Now multiply that times the 20 or 30 apps that you really love and things just get crazy. I've already received several emails from readers and Mac Power Users listeners complaining about the idea of subscriptions for all of their favorite apps. Put simply, I'm not sure consumers will cooperate with this new model. I would like to be proven wrong but developers may find that subscribers are a lot harder to come by than they think.
The updates to the App Store have definitely touched a nerve. I still think the changes are overwhelmingly positive, and mean very good things for app developers. I'm excited to see things begin to evolve this fall and hopeful for where this takes us.
Yesterday, a few days before its annual WWDC keynote and conference, Apple released the welcome news of some very interesting updates to the App Store.
From Daring Fireball:
Until now, subscription pricing was reserved for apps that served media content: streaming audio and video, news, etc. Apple is now opening it to apps from any category, which effectively solves the problems of recurring revenue and free trials. Even better, Apple is changing the revenue split for all subscriptions: for the first year of any subscription, the revenue split remains 70/30; after the first year, the revenue split changes to 85/15.
These subscription changes are great news. One of the main struggles with the App Store has been the ability for very well-crafted apps and services to be sustainable in the long term. The "purchase once, free updates forever" model of the App Store isn't conducive to most small businesses. The additional option of recurring revenue via subscriptions should open up some new opportunities.
The revenue split after year one is also a nice nod to developers. Although, waiting a year for more revenue after an initial customer purchase probably isn't going to fix any developer's revenue issues in the short-term. Still, it is great to see some flexibility in the 70/30 revenue split that has been in place since day one of the store.
Unsurprisingly, it also sounds like Apple is trying to do things properly when it comes to the customer's perspective of subscriptions too. From Jim Dalrymple at The Loop:
Developers will be able to choose one of over 200 subscription price points, and they can create territory specific prices, making subscriptions even more flexible. If a developer chooses to increase the subscription price, customers will be notified and they will have to authorize that increase. No customer will ever be charged a higher rate without first authorizing it, explained [Apple's Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, Phil] Schiller.
Customers will also be able to upgrade, downgrade or even side grade subscriptions, if those options are available to them. Developers can also keep current subscriptions at one price, but charge new subscribers a different price.
The options for the new subscription model seem very well thought out.
Paid Search Ads
The current state of App Store search isn't great. Even if your app title is the exact words that someone searches for, often times your app isn't the first result. Or worse, a competitor has stuffed their keywords with your app's name to rank higher than you. This has mostly been solved in traditional web search, but for some reason the App Store hasn't caught up.
Apple is now introducing the ability to bid on placements at the top of search results to promote their apps for relevant search terms. Back to The Loop:
There will only be one ad on the search results page and it will be clearly marked as an ad, according to Schiller. What's more, the content of the ad will be exactly the same as the content of the app on the App Store. In other words, no spammy ads. Apple will only accept ads from developers in the App Store--they won't have any third-party product ads in the store.
Schiller said the ads are done through an auction system for the developers. There are no minimums, and there will be no exclusives, so small developers can get in on the action as well. The ad system will roll out as a beta this summer and Apple will be watching to make sure the system is fair for all developers.
In keeping with its focus on privacy, Apple will not track users and will not share data about users ad clicks with developers. Developers will get reports, but no user data. Apple will also not serve ads to people 13 years old or under, if it can determine that from the device.
Developers will be able to sign-up for the search ad beta and there will be no charge to them during the beta period. When it does go live, after the beta period, it will launch in the U.S. first.
Sounds on the surface like a great addition to the store.
Faster Review Times
Lastly, but most importantly for those of us submitting app updates often, the time it takes for Apple to review an app has been dramatically reduced from over a week average review time to now less than 2 days. This has been happening over the past few months, and it is great to hear from Apple that it is not an accident.
If these great updates were the ones that didn't make the cut for the WWDC keynote next week, I'm looking forward to it even more now.
Ben Thompson in this week's excellent Stratechery article:
[...] culture is not something that begets success, rather, it is a product of it. All companies start with the espoused beliefs and values of their founder(s), but until those beliefs and values are proven correct and successful they are open to debate and change. If, though, they lead to real sustained success, then those values and beliefs slip from the conscious to the unconscious, and it is this transformation that allows companies to maintain the "secret sauce" that drove their initial success even as they scale. The founder no longer needs to espouse his or her beliefs and values to the 10,000th employee; every single person already in the company will do just that, in every decision they make, big or small.
As with most such things, culture is one of a company's most powerful assets right until it isn't: the same underlying assumptions that permit an organization to scale massively constrain the ability of that same organization to change direction. More distressingly, culture prevents organizations from even knowing they need to do so.
During its annual IO keynote last week, Google only really touched on one major new user-facing feature of Android: Instant Apps. The basic premise is that instead of leaving your current context to download an app that you may only use once, a piece of the app is "installed" behind-the-scenes and you can use native features right away. This is a great solution to the problem of not wanting to install native apps for single use. If done properly, it could also be huge for mobile commerce.
I'm very excited to see where this goes.
Also, XKCD nailed it.
Michael Lopp on Medium:
In the late 1800s, the Brooklyn Bridge was built with no power tools, no heavy machinery, and only a basic, evolving understanding of how to make steel. It's not these facts, but the stories surrounding the facts that inspire me when I take a good, long stare at a suspension bridge. But first...
Glenn Fleishman in The Atlantic:
Hi.co, a website that allows its users to post "moments" with a photo and annotation, plans a similar trip to the distant future. The operators, Craig Mod [...] and Chris Palmieri, announced today that the site will freeze service in September 2016. However, all posts present in the site's database at that time will be microprinted onto a two-by-two-inch nickel plate. The entire site-2,000,000 words and 14,000 photos-should fit on a single disk. Several copies will be made and distributed across the globe; the Library of Congress has already been secured as a repository. The plates have a lifespan as long as 10,000 years, and they may be viewed with a 1,000-power optical microscope.
Mike Davidson wrote about his recent career move to Twitter in San Francisco. I could quote the whole thing, but you should probably just go read it.
Here's one of my favorite bits about managing vs being an individual contributor:
One of my favorite rules at Twitter - at least within Engineering, Product, and Design - is that there is no such thing as a "promotion into management". If you want to become a manager of people, it is always a lateral move. For example, if you are a senior designer and you decide you want to manage people instead of pixels, and leadership deems you ready for it, you can become a Design Manager. That move, however, does not "level you up" in the system, nor come with a pay increase, nor put you on any sort faster career track. You've simply moved from concentrating directly on product problems/opportunities to concentrating on people problems/opportunities. I believe some other companies have this rule as well, but it's really fantastic for what it encourages: people should do the type of work that is most fulfilling to them and most valuable to the company. A fantastic I.C. (Individual Contributor) is just as valuable as a fantastic manager, and the system should reward and encourage both career branches equally.
On the Slack API Blog:
We know that being a developer is hard, and building on a platform is not a decision to be made lightly. Many platforms have burned developers and we frequently see that risk highlighted. This is our response.
This kind of transparency from a platform provider is fantastic. Refreshing compared to a few recent events.
Lately, I've been hearing something that disturbs me. A lot of entrepreneurs onstage have been bragging about not sleeping, telling their audiences about their 16-hour days, and making it sound like hustle-at-all-costs is the way ahead. Rest be damned, they say - there's an endless amount of work to do.
I think this message is one of the most harmful in all of business. Sustained exhaustion is not a rite of passage. It's a mark of stupidity.
Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.
The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by "brute force," trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.
The implications of the government's demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone's device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone's microphone or camera without your knowledge.
Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.
Along with a much-needed re-branding of Rails, David Heinemeier Hansson published a very thorough doctrine covering the major tenets of the framework.
I love Rails and have used it almost exclusively for the past 8 years, so there is a lot I agree with here. There's also a few things I strongly disagree with, but that's ok. A framework doesn't have to be everything to everyone. But, if you're going to use a framework, you should understand why it exists.
One of my favorite points is the ability for everyone to disagree and yet still move the framework forward:
We need disagreement. We need dialects. We need diversity of thought and people. It's in this melting pot of ideas we'll get the best commons for all to share. Lots of people chipping in their two cents, in code or considered argument.
So while this doctrine has described an idealized form, the everyday reality is much more nuanced (and interesting). Rails is capable of supporting such a large community under one tent exactly because there are so few if any litmus tests.
The continued success of RSpec, a DSL for testing I've often expressed grave discontent with, is perfect proof. I can rant until I'm blue in the face of why I don't think it's the way to go, and it can still blossom and prosper. That point is the far more important one!
Emily Kaplan in the MMQB:
After 14 years together, Buck and Aikman communicate almost entirely non-verbally. Between plays, Aikman scrolls back to plays on his monitor, sometimes zoning out of Buck's play-by-play, or listening to Zyontz, the producer, in his ear.
Before Buck tees up Aikman, he'll often tug at his arm to make sure he's ready.
When Aikman speaks, he has a tendency to shift the weight from his left foot to his right foot. He clears his throat nearly a dozen times a quarter, each time pressing a "cough" button that mutes his microphone.
Buck rarely stands still, leaning against the table in front of him, nursing a cup of tea and grabbing for more Halls.
During timeouts, both men often grab their phones and text their daughters (they each have two) about schoolwork and what time they'll land back home. "It's incredible to me," says Mike Pereira, the former NFL VP of Officiating and FOX rules expert, who joins them in the booth through the playoffs. "The ease in which they operate, their calmness. I would be freaking out."
It's incredible how much work goes into each NFL broadcast, and they make it look easy on TV.
Most professionals ought to charge by the project, because it's a project the customer wants, not an hour.
Surgery, for example. I don't want it to last a long time, I just want it to work. Same with a logo or website design.
Charging by the hour protects the professional. Charging by the project sets expectations up front and is a much better way to align both parties.
In this morning's paper, The New York Times is running an editorial on its front page for the first time since 1920.
Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens.
What better time than during a presidential election to show, at long last, that our nation has retained its sense of decency?
Today Apple kept its promise to open source Swift:
Swift is now open source!
We are excited by this new chapter in the story of Swift. After Apple unveiled the Swift programming language, it quickly became one of the fastest growing languages in history. Swift makes it easy to write software that is incredibly fast and safe by design. Now that Swift is open source, you can help make the best general purpose programming language available everywhere.
It includes an in-progress complete rewrite of Foundation in Swift. Incredible.
'Rubber Soul' was released 50 years ago today.
Happy 50th birthday to Rubber Soul, the album where the Beatles became the Beatles. It was the most out-there music they'd ever made, but also their warmest, friendliest and most emotionally direct. As soon as it dropped in December, 1965, Rubber Soul cut the story of pop music in half -- we're all living in the future this album invented. Now as then, every pop artist wants to make a Rubber Soul of their own. "Finally we took over the studio," John Lennon told Rolling Stone's Jann S. Wenner in 1970. "In the early days, we had to take what we were given, we didn't know how you could get more bass. We were learning the technique on Rubber Soul. We were more precise about making the album, that's all, and we took over the cover and everything."
One of my all-time favorites.
Matt Mullenweg with some exciting news about the future of WordPress.com:
So we asked ourselves a big question. What would we build if we were starting from scratch today, knowing all we've learned over the past 13 years of building WordPress? At the beginning of last year, we decided to start experimenting and see.
Today we're announcing something brand new, a new approach to WordPress, and open sourcing the code behind it. The project, codenamed Calypso, is the culmination of more than 20 months of work by dozens of the most talented engineers and designers I've had the pleasure of working with (127 contributors with over 26,000 commits!).
The new wordpress.com is based on Node, React, and other cool open source toys. Looking forward to seeing how this progresses.
Sad news this week from Rdio:
Pandora (NYSE: P), the world's most powerful music discovery platform, today announced an agreement to acquire several key assets from Rdio, a pioneer in streaming music technology. This will accelerate the company's plan to offer fans greater control over the music they love, strengthening Pandora's position as the definitive source of music.
Rdio has been my go-to music streaming service for over 4 years now. It'll be weird not to have it as a part of my daily life. Sad news, yes, but it wasn't entirely a surprise. The service and once beautiful user-interface have been obviously neglected over the past year and it has struggled to evolve compared to Spotify and Apple Music.
Rdio, you'll be missed.
DHH on Signal v. Noise:
What's good for platform makers is often not good for those who build upon it. That's where the whole picking up pennies in front of a steamroller comes from. Yes, a few may be quick enough to pickup enough pennies to fill a jar, but for most, it's not a wise trade of risk vs reward.
Forget the paid app.
There are a few examples of companies breaking the mold and creating great app-based businesses on mobile, but unfortunately they are the exception, not the rule.
Ryan Nystrom on the Instagram Engineering Blog:
We had the opportunity to integrate this new technology into Instagram early on and were excited by how natural the shortcuts and peeking on photos and videos felt. The API for adding 3D interactions was seamless to use, and along the way we collected pointers for how to add them to your apps.
Cool writeup. This is one of my favorite new hardware features.
Mike Isaac and David Gelles in the New York Times:
Many technology start-ups aim to become "unicorns," the companies that get valued at $1 billion or more on their way to probable vast riches. Yancey Strickler and Perry Chen have no interest in that.
As co-founders of Kickstarter, the popular online crowdfunding website that lets people raise money to help fund all manner of projects, including cooking gadgets and movies, Mr. Strickler and Mr. Chen could have tried to take their company public or sell it, earning millions of dollars for themselves and other shareholders.
Instead, they announced on Sunday that Kickstarter was reincorporating as a "public benefit corporation," a legal change they said would ensure that money -- or the promise of it -- would not corrupt their company's mission of enabling creative projects to be funded.
"We don't ever want to sell or go public," said Mr. Strickler, Kickstarter's chief executive. "That would push the company to make choices that we don't think are in the best interest of the company."
Paul Ford, on his new company:
Over the last few months I've learned a lot about what it means to be a partner in a business. In practice, partnership means that we talk. Rich and I talk to the Postlight team, in small meetings and all-hands meetings, and over drinks or coffee. We talk to lawyers. We talk, over breakfast, about signage, recruiting, bookkeeping, taxation, legal fees, cashflow, and lead generation.
We ask ourselves, "What are the most important things we can do as an agency, as a company that ships big things?" We think the most important thing we can do is: Build a self-sufficient team and do absolutely everything we can to keep it together. Which sounds incredibly obvious in theory but is not obvious in practice. So we talk even more: About loyalty, and how to build loyalty, how to create trust, and how trust can help you ship good software fast. There's a lot that is new. It takes time. We'll get there.
Sounds like a familiar story.
Jocelyn Goldfein on First Round Review:
In a profession where we carry out decade-spanning holy wars over tab widths and capitalization, it's no surprise that people get attached to their development and release habits. But if shipping so much software has taught me one thing, it's to be an agnostic. Different methodologies optimize for different goals, and all of them have downsides. If you maximize for schedule predictability, you'll lose on engineer productivity (as this turns out to be a classic time/space tradeoff). Even when you aren't dealing with textbook tradeoffs, all investments of effort trade against something else you could be spending the time on, whether it's building an automated test suite or triaging bugs.
Goldfein's perspective is refreshingly honest. Most successful engineers will tell you they've found the 'one true way' to ship great work. But in reality, it seems that there are many different ways to attack these problems depending on your situation.
To determine "the right way to develop software," you've got to understand what matters for your product and how to optimize for that. This isn't based on personal preference. Ultimately it stems from your company's mission, and the way you make money is a reasonable proxy for that.
Such a great look at how to approach shipping software.
Ever since Susan Kare's 8-bit designs graced the first Macintosh screens in 1984, icon design, like digital typography, has been an important if unglamorous niche in the software business.
Via Daring Fireball
Marco Arment, on Wednesday:
Today, I'm launching my own iOS 9 content blocker, called Peace, to bring peace, quiet, privacy, and -- as a nice side benefit -- ludicrous speed to iOS web browsing.
There are a lot of content blockers being released today, but Peace strikes the best balance I've seen between effectiveness, compatibility, simplicity, and speed, powered by what I've found to be the best database in the business after months of testing.
Marco Arment, on Friday:
I've pulled Peace from the App Store. I'm sorry to all of my fans and customers who bought this on my name, expecting it to be supported for longer than two days. It'll keep working for a long time if you already have it, but with no updates.
As I write this, Peace has been the number one paid app in the U.S. App Store for about 36 hours. It's a massive achievement that should be the highlight of my professional career. If Overcast even broke the top 100, I'd be over the moon.
Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn't feel good, which I didn't anticipate, but probably should have. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don't deserve the hit.
The App business is really hard. It's easy for people on the outside to judge Marco for his decision, and criticize the week he's just had. Good on him for sticking to his morals and doing what he feels is right.
For what it's worth, the app is great and I'll be keeping it installed.