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Pilch

Year-in-Review 2016, or The Last Thing Anyone Wants To Read Right Now

3 min read

What a year it has been. Personally, 2016 was pretty good. Our child is now walking and talking constantly, mostly about Thomas the Tank Engine1. Some of my brothers got married (one literal, two figurative). I developed a fairly consistent note-taking habit, first with Workflowy and then with some Field Notes. Probably worth its own post at a later date.

Having a toddler means I don’t get out as much as I used to, so my Official Dad Best-Of–2016 awards go to Deadpool, the new Ghostbusters, and the newest season of The Venture Brothers. Rogue One was also pretty good.

The Rest Of The World

Professionally, and for the world in general, it has been a goddamn nightmare.

Here’s my list of (mostly terrible) things that happened, month by month, with some good tweets for flavor. I’ll try to avoid the elephant in the room.2

And I’m pretty sure nothing else happened. May we all take these lessons into the next year, lest history repeats.


  1. There is no fairer tyrannical ruler than Sir Topham Hatt. Also, how is the Man In The Yellow Hat not broke? Ten seasons and 4 movies later, Curious George should have put him in the poor house.  ↩

  2. via GIPHY

     ↩

Pilch

Makes sense, like how they force safe manufacturers to build a skeleton key hole into their products http://www.theverge.com/2016/2/16/11027732/apple-iphone-encryption-fbi-san-bernardino-shooters

Pilch

Open source cars

2 min read

(This was meant to be a brief reply to this post, but it ballooned into a post all its own.)

 

Open source automotive software makes sense on paper. I am all for it, even though it would obviate my employment as a test engineer for an automotive supplier. So let me tell you why it won’t happen.

  1. Automotive manufacturers do not understand open source. They only see the liability, not the potential. If anything happens in the field requiring a recall, they are on the hook anyway. So they assume they should control the whole process and develop everything themselves from scratch. I’m not entirely sure some of them understand software itself, as evidenced by John Deere presuming ownership over the software in their tractors.

  2. Who would test this open source software (besides the manufacturer)? With web software, you can spin up a remote server on a cheap laptop and you are off and running, in relatively little time, at low cost. With automotive software, the platform costs are at least 5 figures, not to mention the specialized tools to upgrade the software of the various components. It is a much larger barrier to entry for third-party testing.

Again, I agree in principle that it would be a good idea. But it will never happen unless lawmakers force it to, and they do not have a great sense of open source software either. Of course, it will be interesting to see if traditional software companies (Google and Apple) will bring this mentality whey they enter the space in a few years time.

Pilch

Apple releases Shutters, my favorite Android launcher feature @chrismlacy

Pilch

*navigates to The Verge front page, ctrl+F "apple"* More than 100 matches. Must be a Tuesday.

Pilch

The Elusive Private Cloud

3 min read

It is the DMZ week between the two major developer conferences of the year, I/O and Appple's WWDC. Shots were fired by Google in the form of free and unlimited photo storage and an omnipresent search assistant for its upcoming OS update. fans have already begun reflexively asserting that "Google ain't no thing":

Everything has a price. With Apple, you typically pay them money, and they sell you premium products and services in return. That type of cost and relationship is easy to understand.
With Google, you typically pay them attention and data, and they give you free or cheap products and services in return. That cost and relationship is harder to understand.

First of all, no, it is not hard to understand. For decades if not longer, services have used advertising to mitigate cost to the user. Ever listened to a radio, or read a newspaper, or received junk mail?

Second (and more nitpicky), you would be hard pressed to find anyone else making the argument for Apple offering users more choice. I am running a custom launcher, a third-party SMS client, and readily switch between three different browsers depending on my use cases. Ever tried that on iOS? */android-troll*

Apple CEO Tim Cook even joined in:

“We believe the customer should be in control of their own information. You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god knows what advertising purpose. And we think some day, customers will see this for what it is.”

The first takeaway from this is that the Apple camp is placing a priority on while at the same time knocking "so-called free services" down a peg. This implies that privacy is only available to those who can afford it. This sentiment is much larger moral hazard than allowing tailored advertising to subsidize service.

The most important takeaway, however, is that this sentiment could turn into Apple's Waterloo if they don't make some major improvements to their services. Google Photos has long been superior to iPhoto, only to be hamstrung by its dependence on Google's misunderstood social network. Google solved that problem this year by separating them. Apple needs to give people a reason to pay out the nose for their competing product besides "hey, we won't check out your pictures."

Google offers value in exchange for information, which is why they are seen as a pinnacle of innovation. Apple offers value in exchange for cold hard cash, which is why they are seen as a walled garden surrounding a mountain of cash. Hopefully Apple's private will open up and rain some new ideas on WWDC this year, instead of nude photos of celebrities. */terrible-apple-troll-pun*

Pilch

The Tech Singularity is Upon Us

1 min read

Here is a clickbait-y headline for you: "The 15 most important announcements from the Apple Watch, iPhone 6 event." Here are all the items from the article, and how not new they are.

 

Awesome Apple Thing Already Been Done By...
Bigger Phones! 4.7 and 5.5 inches! Moto X (2013) and Galaxy Note (2011)
Optical Image Stabilization! LG G2 (2013), and likely before that
Landscape Mode! Power button on the side! Practically every Samsung phone
NFC Payments! Secure element! Galaxy Nexus (2011) (although NFC on top makes more sense - call this a draw)
Watch "crown" wheel! iPod click wheel (2001)
Watch "communication button"! Nextel push-to-talk (mid-00's)
You can long press the watch screen! Android 2.0, if not before that
Screen widgets! Custom keyboards! Android 1.0, Swiftkey/Swype (2011)
Here's U2 to play at the end! ...

/sarcasm

These things are all kind of cool, but it is dumb to assume that Apple will "bowl over" its competition by, essentially, osmosis. All the things will soon be 5.15-inch metal-rimmed slabs. I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

Pilch

'Virtuous' circles of software

8 min read

I started a list several months ago of iOS-first applications that had everything to gain from launching on  but seemingly just decided not to. Far from complete, and probably like the third post I had ever written on anything, but it was a start. Anyways, this morning on All About Android I heard about this guy who tried to elucidate the point in probably the most smug way possible. The tone makes me feel like he would carry hand sanitizer around just in case he accidentally touched an HTC One. So here is my attempt to FJM this whole thing.

photo: Andy Ihnatko via Compfight

1. "In the US, iOS market share is still extremely strong (even pre-iPhone 5s launch data showed Android having peaked, so Q4 data will be interesting with Apple’s refresh)

Well, since you aren’t going to bother with data, I guess I will: Android covers 52% of the US market to iOS’s 40%. But, if you want to go anecdotally too, I know someone who is dropping iOS entirely because of a gamebreaking iOS7 bug that neither AT&T nor Apple has remedied. This makes me doubt that will make up that 12% gap in Q4.

 Since the vast majority of innovative mobile startups come out of the US, Apple’s stronghold domestically has an absolutely massive impact on developer mindshare

Yes, there are a lot of US startups, because there are a lot of US VCs with a lot of disposable income. Apple’s “stronghold” doesn’t impact developer mindshare, it impacts VC mindshare, because they fall into iOS’s affluent demographic. It is a status symbol to them. That doesn’t make it better or easier to develop for.

2. All of my conversations over the past year with Android developers…  building and releasing on Android costs 2-3x more than iOS.

Ok, anecdotal again. Here’s an anecdote: Any.DO (just featured on The Verge for inspiring the design of iOS7 you love so much) started… on Android! DUN DUN DUN! It built up the hype there before hitting iOS, and I would say it worked out well for them.

3. The effort required to build and release an app is severely gated by capital-raising…

4. These structural limitations around capital raising for venture-backed companies…

*yawn* First world problems. You don’t even use the word ‘mobile’ (let alone ‘iOS’) until #5.

5. To build a mobile app with $1M in capital, a startup can roughly afford to hire one designer, one client developer (iOS or Android) and one back end engineer

Here is the bias. You know who had more than one of each of these (and definitely more capital)? Twitter, after buying Vine. They had nearly 3 months to at least add viewing capability for their Android client before its public release, which was already iOS-only anyway. But maybe that is a bad example. Again, Any.DO shows that you can do Android just as well with the same ‘constraints’.

6. Almost zero startups are going Android-first under these constraints. Why? Because founders know they have an extremely high bar to prove traction on the primary platform, before they can raise additional financing and accelerate into two platforms

Again, this is a fallacy - see my answer to #2 again. Unless you think the “extremely high bar” is somehow lower on iOS. And it might be, when you have (generally) affluent guys paying (generally) affluent guys to create an app for a platform used by (generally) affluent people. It would be hard to get that kind of ‘vision’ to sync across stages of development on platforms with a more diverse base of users.

7. So it’s well known in tech circles today that seed round sizes constrain app development to a single primary platform.

Ok, that may be a point. My broken-record answer of Any.DO did start on only one platform, and most others start on the other platform. But in general, I would ignore any sentence featuring the phrase ‘it’s well known in tech circles’, much like ‘quantum mechanics.’

image

And startups are choosing to go iOS first not only because development is cheaper and easier, but also because money for in-app purchases and advertising is overwhelmingly skewed toward iOS 

This may be true. Once again, I will do your research for you, instead of relying on ‘tech circles’ - Play Store revenue is up to 35% of global app revenue market share, leaving Apple with a huge advantage. It may never be on par with Apple here, but it is hard to compete with an install base of (generally) affluent (generally) white users.

In fact, a recent study of Facebook ads shows ads were 1,790% more profitable on iOS. This is extremely incriminating for Android and is the worst kind of news for Google.

What do Facebook ads have to do with anything? I see Facebook ads on my Galaxy Note 2, and they suck because they are not relevant to me, so I don’t click on them. I only see them in the Facebook app, which is not made by a startup, and probably launched on both platforms as quickly as humanly possible. It is not bad news for Google, it is bad news for Facebook on Android.

You want incriminating? Ad revenue generated on iOS has fallen 11% in market share since last year, while Android has remained steady. I didn’t even have to use a ridiculously large number from a third party that has nothing to do with my overall point.

8. Since iOS better supports startups’ ability to prove metrics requisite for raising Series A rounds from institutional investors, the earliest most innovative services are almost always available first on iOS.

The metrics you gave in #3 were: significant traction, repeatable user acquisition strategy, early ideas toward monetization, etc. What do those have to do with platform at all? Download counts and active users are easily found in the Play Store and its developer console. User acquisition is definitely platform agnostic, and if anything, Android users can get the word out about a new app they are using with the built-in share menu that is light years ahead of iOS. And - repeat - see #2 to show it can be done.

9. … often these startups become acquihires for the top mobile acquirers (FB, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Dropbox, etc). Because they are almost always shutdown at acquihire, big companies often have some of the most talented iOS engineers and product people in residence for a 1 to 2 year earn-out period. Without a doubt, these employees skew toward iOS when they join internal projects or think up new ideas. And when they eventually leave, there is a good chance they’ll stick with iOS again. There is no doubt this forms a sort of virtuous circle of iOS-first talent in the startup community.

This is a symptom, not a cause. You can substitute Android for iOS in that paragraph, and it would be a symptom of Android-first, not the cause of it. And why is this ‘virtuous’? Did you mean to type ‘vicious,’ but your iPhone keyboard autocorrected it? A little Freudian if you ask me.

While in theory Android provides a very modern platform for mobile development,

Gravity is also a theory.

Startups simply cannot afford to bypass iOS and go Android out of the gate. One could even argue the gap is widening.

The gap is widening only in the minds of people like you. You perpetuate this stereotype, and this is the reason companies that are not startups, like Nike, completely skip over half the mobile market in favor of the first choice among the (generally) affluent ‘tech circles.’

The reality is that software innovation at the app layer is accelerating, and converged hardware / software development costs a lot of money.

It is accelerating because there is competition. And starting on a certain platform before moving to another does cost money, but that is not a reason to start on the same platform every time. The startup issue is a chicken and egg scenario, and nothing is going to change until VCs start laying their eggs on the other side of the proverbial fence.

Pilch

Driving (and) Innovation

3 min read

I am getting sick of driving. I have to commute for an hour at the beginning and end of each work day. That means, if you don't live on the eastern seaboard or in a major metropolis, a lot of time behind the wheel. I realize there are ways to avoid this. Carpooling is always an option, or I could move or switch jobs. But, because I am lazy and introverted, I tried to imagine other ways to get to work, like public transportation. Northern Indiana is not quite a bastion of public anything, which makes this strictly imaginary. But why is this still imaginary?

Countries in Europe and Asia benefit greatly from high speed rail. According to the NYT (via Gawker), "in many countries with good public transportation, driving is a pleasure rather than a necessity." The cynic in me thinks it hasn't caught on here because of our automotive industry (which there is plenty of in north central Indiana). How can they sell cars if there are other viable transport options? Competition should force these car companies to produce better cars, in theory. Of course, it also means change, which is scary.

I was a little bewildered to find out that the idea had been proposed and soundly rejected. This rejection was probably for all the wrong reasons, but I don't want to try to sort out the politics of it. California has recently decided to fund its own high speed rail, after several rejections of its own. So it is catching on somewhere, but it is not catching on fast enough, for all the wrong reasons (as mentioned above).

Monopolies, from the automobile in America (it's a stretch, but not much) down to local cable companies, have a horrible effect on innovation. From a consumer standpoint, they are like an economic cancer to the development of new ideas. However, from a business standpoint (which is pretty much its own religion in this country), profit is your endgame. Building a monopoly should bring on a zen-like state of enlightenment. It is a place where the goals of capitalism fall out of sync with those of the common person, and having the free market try to overthrow a monopoly is a task of Herculean proportions.

The inspiration for this line of thought was this Verge piece about wireless carriers. I didn't want to write another post about phones, but it makes a fantastic point. Apple completely reinvented the concept of a phone, and it still was not enough to disrupt the amount of sway US carriers have over device manufacturers.  This would be like, instead of purchasing an SUV to drive on steep mountain roads, the road saying it only accepts Jeep™ vehicles.

In the meantime, I will keep paying exorbitant prices for fuel, and keep passing the SUVs with a single passenger on my 2-lane-highway commute, and think about moving to California.