In the first year of the Mac App Store, before sandboxing, I bought as much as I could from it. As a customer, the convenience was so great that I even repurchased a few apps that I already owned just to have the App Store updates and reinstallation convenience. And, most importantly, when an app was available both in and out of the Mac App Store, I always bought the App Store version, even if it was more expensive. But now, I’ve lost all confidence that the apps I buy in the App Store today will still be there next month or next year. The advantages of buying from the App Store are mostly gone now. My confidence in the App Store, as a customer, has evaporated. I agree whole-heartedly with Marco on this. When the Mac App Store first came out, I began buying everything on it, and why not? It was great! I could sit down at any of my 4 Macs and instantly have access (well, with download times maybe not quite instantly - but easily) to all of my OS X software. I began to snug apps who weren't on the Mac App Store unless I absolutely needed them, such as SuperDuper!. And then, Apple had to rain on its own parade with Sandboxing and Entitlements. Now, I've had to purchase newer versions of several apps off of the Mac App Store because they've pulled out due to Apple's onerous restrictions that break core functionality of their apps. Apps that have been hampered by the Mac App Store that I rely on or are very popular: Textexpander, Alfred (which you cannot get from the MAS if you want to add-on their 'Powerpack' functionality due to the inability for in-app purchases), Hazel, SuperDuper!, Reflection, all of Atlassian's apps, Postbox. Myself, Manton Reece, Daniel Jalkut and others have been keeping a running list of articles on Pinboard about apps that have pulled out or have had updates rejected due to Sanboxing shenanigans. Someone at Apple who has the power to step in and reverse this poor direction Apple is currently taking with the Mac App Store had better do so soon, otherwise they are going to either doom the Mac App Store from being a long term success or lose years of progress while they recover from this bad decision years from now.
This morning, Apple released OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) on the Mac App Store, for $19.95. I have been using Mountain Lion since Beta 3 as a part of the OS X Developer Program. While there were a few bugs during the betas, as to be expected, the ones I noticed were all fixed by Apple by the time they released the GM Seed to developers a few weeks ago. Since then, the OS has been rock solid. There are lots of new features, many of which I think you'll appreciate. Rather than attempt to explain them to you myself, I wanted to list a few places where you can go read reviews of Mountain Lion written by the veteran reviewers themselves. First and foremost, I want to point out, that John Siracusa has once again written one of his famous OS X reviews (Web or Kindle) . John's review, which weighs in at 25,935 words, is the most in-depth review of all reviews. John has famously written epicly detailed reviews of OS X going on for over a decade now. His reviews are a must-read by die hard Apple users, so much so that Marco Arment has wrote a review of his review (which is quite funny to read).
- John Siracusa - "OS X Mountain Lion" (Web or Kindle)
- John Gruber - "Mountain Lion"
- Jason Snell - "OS X Mountain Lion (10.8)"
- MG Siegler - "OS X Mountain Lion: Quick, Familiar, Cheap, And Drenched In iOS Goodness"
- Jim Dalrymple - "Apple Releases OS X Mountain Lion"
- Wayne Dixon - Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and ML Server via Web, Kindle
- Federico Viticci - "OS X Mountain Lion Review"
- Richard Gaywood - "OS X Mountain Lion: The TUAW Review"
- Shawn Blanc - "Mountain Lion and the Simplification of OS X"
- Harry McCracken - "Apple OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion Review: The Mac's Lion Adventure Continues" While a lot of these reviews, or probably all, talk about the same topics, like me you may wish to read them all as I respect the views of each author and each author will have a different take on these features. Also, some reviewers will catch details that the others miss. I like to have a thorough understanding of the tools I use, so knowing as much as possible about OS X is desirable to me. I find that reading all of these reviews each year when new OS X versions come out gives me that knowledge.
Dropbox just announced on their blog that all Pro account users are getting free storage upgrades. * 50GB $10 accounts now become 100GB accounts. * 100GB $20 accounts now become 200GB accounts. * a new 500GB account option will be available (pricing not announced) The changes go live tonight. This is great.
My Podcast Listening History
Going back many years, to early 2005, when I started listening to Podcasts, I've always used iTunes to do so. Apple added the Podcast Directory to iTunes on 28 June, 2005. I honestly don't remember how I listened to Podcasts from March/April until June - I think I downloaded them manually - but from June 2005 until about 2 months ago, I used iTunes exclusively. At first, I used my 3rd generation iPod, then my 4th, then my 5th. In 2008, when I got my first iPhone, the 3G, I abandoned my iPod and switched to using the podcasts section of the music app on the phone instead. When the iPad came out in 2010, I expanded my podcast listening habits to the podcasts portion of the music app on that device as well. Why am I telling you all of this? I wanted to make the point that I am a long-time user of Podcasts in iTunes, from the beginning, and am intimately familiar with how iTunes, iPods, iPhones and iPads have functioned with regards to podcasts. In the last couple years, I have not made the switch to any alternative podcasting apps (until recently). Now that we've established what I hope you will take as my qualifications to bitch about this subject, I shall now lodge my complaints.
Reasons For Wanting To Switch
Over the last couple of years, I have been slightly annoyed that, using the model I've outlined above, in order to receive new episodes of a podcast that come out when I'm not at home, I must go into the iTunes app on my iPhone or iPad, manually search for the podcast, and manually download it. There was not a way within the app to search for new episodes, especially if it is a podcast that I do not keep played versions on my device once listened to. Once an episode gets deleted, the podcast disappears from the Podcasts section of the Music app. This was incredibly frustrating. A month ago, I finally made the decision to stop using iTunes for podcasts and to research both Downcast and Instacast, two of the leading 3rd party iOS podcasting applications. Both are highly rated in the store and very popular. Without going into specifics, and based on Marco Arment's endorsement, I chose Downcast. Now, while Downcast still has its faults, I had been using it fairly well for 2-3 weeks. Then Apple released Podcasts. Because Podcasts was produced by Apple - I assumed it would have superior iCloud features, do everything the Music app did, and had been instilled with features that the Music app did not do previously. I was partially right, but mostly wrong...
The User Experience or The Beginning Of My Ranting
I will now list everything I've found that the application falls short on. When it was built into Music, I could partially understand, which is why I sought out Downcast. But now that Podcasts is separate - I no longer grade it on a curve but expect it to do at least 80% of what Downcast or Instacast do. Sadly, it does not. First of all - the application is limited to downloading files less than 50MB in size. As I understand it, this is a limitation across all iOS applications when on 3G - but as about 1/2 of all podcasts I listen to are greater than 50MB in size…well you can see why this is an issue. Next, whenever the user starts listening to an episode, the album artwork covers up the play/pause/forward/reverse controls for the episode. The user must swipe upward to reveal these controls. In the 7 years I have been listening to podcasts I do not think I have ever cared about the album artwork of a podcast while listening, however, I usually need to access the controls from 0-5 times during an episode. This extra swipe to access them each and every time is tedious, to say the least. Next…reel to reel tape? Are all of the designers that Apple assigned to work on this application over the age of 40? I'm 30 and the last time I recall seeing a reel to reel tape machine in was sometime in elementary school during the 80s when my poor, rural county was still using 20 year old equipment because they couldn't afford to purchase anything better. And yes Apple, I get it…in order to be a designer at Apple one must pass an extensive Dieter Rams fetish test, but enough with the god damned skeumorphism already. The tape deck is beautifully done! Kudos to you! But podcasts are 7 years old. I would wager than 75%+ of all podcast listeners are less than 35 years old. We don't need to be hand-held to explain the UI to us, no matter how cute you think it is. How about you give us controls that makes the forward and reverse buttons not be placed directly next to the play/stop button huh? That is the kind of user interface design I can get behind. While I'm on that subject - why is it that when I try to pause or unpause an episode from the button on my headphones it now works about 50% of the time? The old Music app worked almost 90-100% of the time. As of now, I hit the button and it's as if I am pulling a slot machine lever in order to be able to pause an episode without having to remove my iPhone from my pocket to do so. Lucky me! And when I receive a call or use Siri, the application almost never resumes playing (as the old Music app used to do). Furthermore, when I mark an episode as played….put the phone in my pocket, and then pull it out later - why is it marked as unplayed again? And why do you keep randomly re-downloading episodes I've deleted…and marking them as unplayed too? Also, why is it that I can make a bunch of changes (listen to episodes, delete episodes, download new ones) and then dock it with my computer to sync with iTunes - the application doesn't sync all of my changes back to the computer, but instead, the comptuer overwrites the application. Does your sync workflow not follow chronological order of changes? Do you understand how infuriating this is? And finally - iCloud sync. Or not. Because apparently, the ONLY thing Apple syncs over iCloud is an episode's play-state. To be more specific, if I am listening to Back To Work, and am on minute 35, pause it, pick up my iPad, it will also have Back To Work on minute 35. This is the only thing you sync. C'mon Apple. You're APPLE for pete's sake. Sync my entire list of podcast subscriptions. Sync their play/unplayed state. Sync whether I have the episode still (even though I've listened to it) or deleted it. Downcast does this. Instacast does this. That you do not do this is pathetic. I'll stop ranting here, but I warn you - if you've made the switch to Downcast or Instacast, and are tempted to switch back to using Apple's Podcast app - DON'T. Perhaps Apple will slowly iterate this application into an Apple-like level of quality in 2-3 years, but as of right now, this application behaves like an engineer with a Dieter Rams fetish who works at Google made it.
Horace Dediu, at Asymco:
Considering the near future, it’s safe to expect a “parity” of iOS+OS X vs. Windows within one or two years. The install base may remain larger for some time longer but the sales rate of alternatives will swamp it in due course. The consequences are dire for Microsoft. The wiping out of any platform advantage around Windows will render it vulnerable to direct competition. This is not something it had to worry about before. Windows will have to compete not only for users, but for developer talent, investment by enterprises and the implicit goodwill it has had for more than a decade. It will, most importantly, have a psychological effect. Realizing that Windows is not a hegemony will unleash market forces that nobody can predict. Horace outlines why all of these things will happen, based on years of data going back to the 80's and current trend-lines in this article. Great analysis.
Finding A Replacement For Reeder
By grouping iOS apps into niche markets, aside from the static categories that Apple defines in the App Store, at the top of any list has to include RSS, To-Do, and Twitter clients. There are many options for these three types of apps to choose from, and everyone has their favorites. To-Do apps in particular seem to be all over the map with no clear favorite (except maybe Clear? Pun intended). However, with Twitter or RSS reading apps - Tweetbot and Reeder seem to be the clear frontrunners.
Recently Reeder pushed out a major update for the iPhone version of its iOS application. Many things have changed about it, the biggest changes being the user interface, and supported services. I didn't like either of these changes, as well as how Reeder seems to be promoting Readability over other offline reading services such as Instapaper or Pocket. My offline reading application of choice is Instapaper, and I dislike Pocket…but I very much dislike Readability due to their ongoing lack of respect for their cusomters and publishers.
So far, I couldn't be happier. I'll start with the icon, which you can see a little higher up in this article. I like the design and it looks nice on my homescreen (and for my iPad, on my dock). The icon design is clean and is easy to pick out from the rest of my home screen apps. Also, it is not blue…don't get me wrong, I love blue, but so many apps tend to go with that color. The entire UI of the application uses custom artwork and while some of the icons are similar to the default UIKit artwork, the developer has done a good job of using the same elements users are familiar with, such as the refresh circle, while making custom icons for the 'mark as read' menu or the sharing menu. Within a folder or 'all feeds' sub-menu, the application displays articles in a nice reader-friendly view giving beautifully formatted excerpts of each feed item with a thumbnail image if the article has one. See the below screenshot for an example.
One of the features I liked about Reeder was the ability to pull-down on articles to move on to the next item. Mimicing Loren Brichter's pull-to-refresh idea, Reeder allowed a user o pull-down or pull-up on an article which would scroll down or back up to other feed items. Other Reeder competitors (Newsrack comes to mind) did not allow for this scroll motion, and instead, cramped up and down arrows into the top right corner of the user interface. In effect, this made reading items quite tedious when holding my iPad in portrait mode. I tend to hold my iPad from the bottom, especially when laying on the couch or in bed. Arrow controls in the top right corner caused me to have to constantly move a hand off the iPad to interact with those UI controls, while trying to continue holding the iPad with my other hand. This isn't horrible when reading longer articles but when skimming down a feeds list, it was very tedious. Newsify uses the same pull/push to progress gesture as Reeder, however, the animation that Newsify uses is very satisfying to use. It reminds me a lot of the original pull-to-refresh from Tweetie in its use. There is a suble arrow flip, from down to up or up to down as you pull or push, and beside this arrow, Newsify gives you a preview of the headline of the next or previous feed. It is very nicely done.
A point that may sometimes make or break an app (if there is a lack-thereof) are the settings. I am happy to report that Newsify offers a ton of custom settings for reading, fonts, sorting, refreshing, visual elements, home-screen options, and the ability to customize your sharing service options. Given that I want to eliminate seeing services I do not use, such as Readability, I greatly appreciate this. Another feature I appreciate is the ability to add, remove, and manage my feeds from within the application. Other competitors do not offer this feature, but instead force the user to log into reader.google.com to manage your subscriptions. Forcing me to log into a Google product never makes me happy.
I reached out to the developer, Ben Alexander, to ask him a few questions about his application. Ben made Newsify by himself, doing all development and design. He launched the application on April 22, 2012, and says that it has been very successful so far. Apple even recently featured it in the App Store. When I asked Ben why he decided to develop and release an RRS client in an already crowded market for this particular niche, he said:
"As a Google Reader user, I was looking for a more visually interesting way to read RSS feeds. I couldn't find anything that was satisfying to me and thought others might feel the same way." Ben was also kind enough to talk about some upcoming features for Newsify: The next update will bring night mode, mark read while scrolling, tap and hold to mark read and a few other improvements. As for the previous releases on Newsify, there have been several updates to the app since release. Ben is doing an excellent job staying on top of things as far as updates. It is also one of the top RSS reader clients on the App Store based on positive ratings. I feel fairly confident Ben will continue to activley develop this app for some time which makes me at ease with choosing this as my RSS reader.∗
Jason Kottke, at Kottke.org:
Set aside for now that Surface does look genuinely interesting, that the price hasn't been set, and the thing isn't even out yet. For a piece of portable networking technology like a smartphone or tablet to be successful on the scale at which Apple operates, you need to have an ecosystem, a network of interacting devices, software, products, and services that work together...hardware + software is not enough. Apple, Google (and partners), Amazon, and possibly Microsoft are the only companies with the expertise and pockets deep enough to build their own ecosystems. Ok, maybe Facebook in a couple years or if Nokia can dig themselves out of their current hole, but that's really about it. Jason Kottke lays out all of the things Microsoft needs to do to make the surface successful, if their goal is to directly compete with the iPad.