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What could convince me to develop for Android

I’m an iOS developer, but I don’t have a religious affinity towards Apple. I do like Apple products. I really enjoy coding in Objective-C. Yes, really. Mainly, though, I’m an iOS developer because Apple presents the most profitable platform for developers at the moment. With the iOS SDK I can create apps that people will use, and I can earn a living from that creativity. Yeah, I like that. With the iPhone and iPad Apple is an exciting platform for a developer.

But that may not always be the case. I’m keeping a close eye on what’s emerging at Google (no pun intended). If an SDK is released for Project Glass then I’ll want to use it. I have no idea whether Project Glass is powered by Android. Presumably, that is the case.

I also would be very interested in developing for Kindle Fire if Amazon had a more robust SDK. I’m not interested in developing e-books (though as a former librarian I have a tremendous love for books and e-books). I’m more interested in visual alternatives to long-form narratives and, sadly, the Kindle platform doesn’t seem to support that very well in comparison to the iPad.

We’ll see what happens with Project Glass, but I’m sensing it’s time to brush up on my Java skills.

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“Software development: the middle class job of the next generation”

I’ve never been entirely comfortable self identifying myself as a software developer. My degrees are in English and Library & Information Science. But I make a good living developing software. It’s rewarding, not just financially, but creatively as well. Indeed, it’s the creativity that keeps me developing with software.

There are various degrees of software development & just as many skill levels. In a way, software development is like writing. Anyone can do it with a bit of learning. But, like good writing, good software development takes a lot of practice and learning to do extremely well.

For most people software development is a mystery filled with odd incantations performed by pudgy bearded men in dark rooms.

The more we understand about software the more we grasp the limitations and possibilities of technology. After all, technology simply does what it’s programmed to do. There’s no real mystery behind these logical machines.

Unlike the 1980s when I attended college it’s now cool to aspire to a career in software development or entrepreneurship.  I’m still not sure if those skills should be emphasized in college curriculums. Analytical and critical thinking are the most important skills that anyone can learn in formal education. Obviously with the right teachers those skills can be incorporated into computer science coursework. Technology changes so fast that anyone wanting to achieve proficiency in software development must have the ability to learn on one’s own.

In episode 65 of This Week in Venture Capital Mark Suster talks with Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. Around the 1:05 mark Suster makes the comment that software development is the the “middle class job of the next generation”.  Suster briefly mentioned the routine aspect of software work that needs to be done. While I lust after the creativity of software development, every developer knows that so much of this work is in fixing bugs, updating code prepared by others, and simply maintaining code. Systems change constantly and manpower is needed to keep the code updated. That’s where a lot of the jobs exist. And for those positions you don’t need an extensive engineering background.

Ries concurs with the addition that computer programming and entrepreneurship are part of a new literacy for the next generation.

Suster makes what some may see as a controversial statement,  “I think we need to get to a place, and this is going to sound backwards, not every child in America is expected to go to a four-year university.” I would go further and say that perhaps the most intelligent children do not need a four-year college or university, provided that they already had learned how to learn.

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Headset as disrupting factor in mobile

We all know that Google is working on a headset that will make computing hands-free. No one knows if Apple has anything like that under development. I suspect there is something happening in a locked-room behind a veil of secrecy in Cupertino. (If not, maybe Jony Ive could release a line of designer eyewear after he retires from Apple! May not be wearable computing but sure would be trendy.)

As one thinks more about Google’s Project Glass it becomes obvious that a headset of some sort is going to be a huge disrupting factor in mobile computing. I will go as far as to say that it is the future of mobile computing. Not putting a date to that but in a few years we all will have forgotten about how companies attempted to broaden their mobile advantage by increasing the screen size of the smartphones we pulled from our pockets.  The future mobile computer will be resting on our head and visual display will take on an entirely new dynamic.

A key question is whether Apple has the determination to create a product that kills the iPhone. Today that sounds crazy but we’ve all read The Innovator’s Dilemma. Google is clearly betting on a wearable headset and it might very well propel Google past Apple at some point down the road in a way that Android on smartphones never accomplished.

In the latter part of episode 56 of The Critical Path (starting around the 57 minute mark), Horace Didiu discusses this topic with guest James Allworth of Harvard Business School Forum for Growth and Innovation. Horace advises “nurture the disruptor…the opposite to whatever sustains you.”

Allworth brings up Google’s Project Glass as potential for disrupting mobile computing (1.03 mark): “I think wearable computing. There’s definitely something there…a lot of value in getting the information on a passive basis rather than the active basis of sticking your hand in your pocket when you need to find something out.”

“We have to do a jobs to be done analysis”, according to Horace, “to understand what people hire these products for, even if they’re not able to tell you… I use the term mobile computing as the overall theme of what’s happening as versus a phone…something that helps you get things done in your life…it’s the apps taking on the job, not the phone itself…Still opportunity above where we are. That we may have reached the ultimate communicator product but we haven’t achieved the ultimate personal assistant product.”

Allworth went on to examine the functionality of icons and how data is accessed by function based on icons. He doesn’t think that approach is going to last that much longer because it does not scale. “I think there’s something about the Google Glasses. It’s going to force them to really, really crack the interface. Because if you got this thing up in your field of vision 24 hours a day , seven days a week, you’re not going to want to scroll through applications. It’s going to have to get more intelligent in thinking about what’s the bit of information you need to know right now?” That ties in directly with the context functionality that Scoble is talking about as next challenges for iOS and Android.

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Getting familiar with Google Glass

I mentioned that Google’s Field Trip app hints at the future of Google and its Project Glass. I wanted to learn more about Google Glasses. First thing I learned: don’t call them glasses…there’s not a lens…just a tiny display at the upper-right. Puzzling how that’s going to work…until you think more about it.

David Pogue in in an article titled Google Glass and the Future of Technology calls it an entirely new gadget category…”like a smartphone that you never have to take out of your pocket”. He also has one of the few first-person accounts of it’s like to wear Google Glass:

…the tiny screen is completely invisible when you’re talking or driving or reading. You just forget about it completely. There’s nothing at all between your eyes and whatever, or whomever, you’re looking at.

And yet when you do focus on the screen, shifting your gaze up and to the right, that tiny half-inch display is surprisingly immersive. It’s as though you’re looking at a big laptop screen or something.

If you wear glasses you can try a little experiment. Shift the lens of your glasses up a bit above your eye. Then glance up at the lens: it’s remarkably clear. Hmmm, I wonder if that’s the effect of Google Glass. Having worn glasses for my nearsighted vision since the age of ten, I’ve long been used to that bit of blurred vision outside of the frame. (It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to see how Google Glass could be adapted to also include lens for corrective vision.)

Beyond the hardware innovation the real advantage to users is that Google Glass presents the possibility of a hands-free approach to interacting with a computing device. While a touchpad is integrated in the earpiece it’s certain that voice control offers more advantages.

Earlier in the year Google released a video that gives a point-of-view perspective as to how Google Glass might work. Of course, that video is clearly just a concept rendering with a lot of help from motion graphic designers and not an actual recording of what it’s like to actually use the product.

At the Google I/O 2012 conference Sergey Brin shows the video capture capabilities of Google Glass (“being able to share what you’re seeing live”) by having a group of skydivers stream real-time video from their Google Glass to the auditorium.

Will people actually wear these things? That’s an obvious question, but we already do wear odd things on our bodies. Farhad Manjoo, writing for Technology Review, places Google Glass in a long line of “functional wearable objects—think of glasses, monocles, wristwatches”. Bluetooth headsets being among the latest in that line. And there’s those earplugs with thin cables that trail down into our pockets connecting to our smartphones.

Another first-person account with Google Glass

Spencer E. Ante writes of his experiences with Google Glass, “…long-term potential. The device fit well. It was easy to snap a picture or video without taking my smartphone out of my pocket. It was cool to see the information there in front of my right eye, though a little disorienting.”

Google Glass holds the potential for seamless access to the digital world without managing a gadget.

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“leisure travelers don’t scale”

The quote “leisure travelers don’t scale” is from an interview with Rafat Ali (founder of paidcontent) at the Next Big Thing. (At the 6:35 mark in the video if you want to skip over him talking about his new venture Skift, though if you’re interested in the travel industry then you should become familiar with Skift.)

Skift also aims at informing the business traveler rather than the leisure traveler. The business person might travel several times a month. Anyone involved in a travel startup knows that it’s difficult to scale a business around consumers traveling to specific destinations. How many times does a person travel for leisure. Ali says “once, twice, thrice a year”. How many times does a person travel internationally? Only a few people do so even once a year.

Even if you build a loyal customer with your superb guide to the basket weaving of the Peruvian highlands, it’s going to be another year or more (if ever) before that fan buys your insightful, one-of-a-kind guide to the public sculpture of Odessa. Okay, that example is an extreme niche but it’s hard to grow a business by selling content to leisure travelers. You need content to dozens, if not a hundred or more, destinations if your travel content business is to sustain a staff of more than one based on revenue alone.

A core requirement in forming a startup is to spend time reflecting on the product you’re developing and, particularly, what problems are people buying that product to solve? Are there enough customers to actually build a business that can grow, or is the business so narrowly defined that it’s potential is little more than a supplementary income for one person? The latter is not a startup.

In the interview with Ali the moderator Scott Kurnit (found of about.com) asked a wonderful question, “Twenty years into the Internet, why do we get to do something new…why hasn’t it all been done…why wasn’t this done 5 years ago?”

As Kurnit suggests, it’s often because technology has changed (particularly with regards to mobile) or consumers have changed. Ali goes a step further and reveals the forumla behind his successful strategy, “I love businesses that are a layer on top of existing businesses.”

For those of us who lovel travel, Ali offers a vision at the 8.33 mark in the video as to why travel is important:  “travel is a lens that can bring understanding to the world”.

The challenge is creating a livelihood through a travel startup.

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Field Trip app hints at Google’s future

Aimed at travelers & locals curious to learn more about their city, Google’s Field Trip app (Android only for now) serves up content based on your specific location within that city. The app launches today in six cities.

The app, oddly for a Google product, presents a very nice visual design. There’s  even a sleek made-for-tv commercial. What is Google up to with this app?

An insightful post on the New York Times Bit blog predicts that the app “reveals a lot about the big directions Google wants to go.”

Note the binocular/field glasses motif that also forms the icon for the Field Trip app.

Are those field glasses just ornamentation, clever use of graphics,  or a hint towards Google’s future attempt to disrupt mobile computing with Google Glass & wearable computing?

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Where are the Apps for the Armchair Traveler?

Mobile developers & entrepreneurs occasionally forget that smartphones and tablets are often used in the home. The iPad makes an excellent lean-back device. We mostly recognize that tablets excel as devices for reading, watching, shopping, & other “passive” activities. Obviously I’m leaving out a wide range of tablet uses but for the sake of this particular analysis let’s focus on that passive behavior of consuming content.

People create startups based around ideas where they understand the possibilities. Are their untapped possibilities to provide valued products to users sitting at home in a cozy chair?

The Armchair Traveler

I continued to be astonished at the absence of apps aimed at the armchair traveler: the person sitting at home who is planning a trip or, very likely, just curious to learn about the world.

The Fotopedia apps are among the best examples of current apps that serve the armchair traveler by offering spectacular images by professional photographers.

A couple of print publishers that have surprised me by not doing more with apps are DK and Insight Guides.

DK’s Eyewitness Travel books are beautifully designed for appealing specifically the person who is not at that destination.  Those are great books for planning a trip & figuring out the sights you want to see. But they’re even better for getting a sense of a place without ever going there.

More than 10 years ago I was browsing in a bookstore with a friend when I brought the  DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Japan

My friend, rather curiously, asked, “When are you going to Japan?”

I answered, “I don’t know. I just want to learn about it.” A decade later I’ve still not been to Japan, but I have purchased many DK guidebooks. Yet, as someone who has traveled a lot, I would never take one of those books on a trip. That’s not because I can get all sorts of information online these days. It’s because the books are simply not that useful at a destination. Better to have a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.

Since DK truly understands the visual I was excited when they released an app for iPad. Sigh, as a long-time DK customer how disappointed I was at their iPad offering. It was okay but didn’t inspire me in the same way as the printed edition. That’s not because print has any intrinsic quality over digital in this case. I ended up deleting the app after not much use and am really hesitant to ever buy another app from DK. Hmmm, but I would still buy their books and will give an app by DK another chance at some point.

I mentioned Insight Guides, which is a very different type of publisher from DK. Whereas DK publishes visually rich, but content thin, volumes. Insight Guides produces in-depth, mostly historical accounts of destinations. Great opportunity for repurposing these products onto a new platform, but the publisher has taken the rather bland approach of converting to e-books. Well, that’s a step and the title offering should certainly exist as -ebooks. I’m not doubting that.

The holdback

What’s keeping publishers from creating more exciting apps for armchair travelers? Certainly the cost & complexity of app development is the major factor. Then there’s the issue of multiple platforms. Not only does technical expertise need acquiring, but also the platform requires a new way of conceptualizing the product. And that’s the really hard part.

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Reading in Print Again

Last night as I climbed into bed I discovered that the battery on the iPad was empty. Urgh. No bedtime video watching or reading. Well, I could have used the iPhone but I prefer the larger screen iPad. So I went over to the bookshelf where I still maintain a fairly good collection of print books. It had been well over a year since I’ve read a print book. All my reading this last year has been on the iPad, using either the iBooks or Kindle apps.

My reading choice:

Great book!

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Notes on setting up in-app purchase on iOS: iTunes Connect

A series of posts focused on different aspects of setting up in-app purchases for iPhone & iPad apps. This is not a detailed walkthrough but just notes that outline the process. Be sure to read the in-app programming guide for a thorough overview, though be warned that the official guide doesn’t clearly cover every aspect of the process.

This post covers only the iTunes Connect part of the process.

In iTunes Connect you will need to setup the product you want to provide for in-app purchase (IAP). Basically, this is a process of registering your IAP product with Apple.

  • Login to iTunes Connect
  • Click Manage Your Applications
  • Select your app
    • This could be problematic if you’re setting up for a brand new app that is not yet in the app store. Go ahead and create the iTunes listing for the base app but do not submit the app. You’ll see some contradictory, outdated info on the Web that says you need to submit an app and then reject the binary in order to proceed with testing an in-app purchase. That is not true based on my own experiences.
  • Click Manage In-App Purchases
  • Click Create New
  • Select the type of IAP. Most of what I do are non-consumable IAPs.
  • Enter a Reference Name. This is for internal use only & can be named whatever you like. I usually enter something descriptive, e.g, Av de Mayo walking tour.
  • Enter Product ID. ****extremely important**** This is the unique identifier for your IAP. It can be anything but you should make it unique not only to your IAPs but also to any other IAPs in the iTunes store. The best thing is to base it on your bundle ID, though it’s important to note that it has absolutely no technical relationship to the bundle ID of your app. You can use a reverse domain name and that works very well. e.g., com.endlesshybrids.avdemayo. Note that you will use the product ID in your code, so get this right.
  • Cleared for Sale: select YES. If not, you will not be able to test your IAP.
  • Select Price Tier.
  • In-App Purchase Details. Select Add Language.
    • Select Language of your IAP.
    • Enter Display Name. This is the name people will see in the App Store for the in-app purchase listing. It may also be displayed in your app. Think carefully about this from a marketing perspective.
    • Enter Description.
  • Enter optional Review Notes. I’m not sure if the app review team really needs test user accounts and password, though the IAP programming guide indicates to add that here.
  • Screenshot for Review.

Once all that information is entered then you can put the IAP into Ready to Submit status.

Adding an IAP to an app 

****very important****

I missed this the first time I tried submitting an IAP and my app got rejected. So save yourself a couple of weeks of app review time and pay attention. When your app version, either a new app or an update, is in Prepare for Upload an option appears on the app details screen: In-App Purchases. Select Edit and select the IAPs you want to submit with this version. Note that this option does not appear in every state of an app version.

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