From a developer POV

Clearly Ben is on a roll. I don’t agree with all his monologues and tweets but I think this one is pretty good ::

People tend to get too religious about their phones, OS’s and all things associated with them. The fanboy thing starts to take over, Xiaomi as an example, but this stuff boils down to pure business. There are ONLY two mobile ecosystems right now. 2. Apple and Google. The China thing is another topic in that the rules are very different. However Apple seems to be doing better with their model in China than Google is. Enter Xiaomi though to see what can happen when one combines some of the essence of both players to make a go. It’s magic and it is working. However it remains to be seen if this is only going to be big in China. For the record it is only happening in China right now. I think Xiaomi will struggle outside of China.

Let’s talk about the impact more once they make bigger waves outside of China.

Microsoft is trying their hardest. Still doesn’t seem to be working. This still applies ::

So Ben gets to the essence of all of this. Apple had a vision and Google had another. Take away the marketing, the religious arguments, the open versus closed jargon and what you are left with is two very similar platforms:

One way to look at this is that iOS and Android have been converging – they arrived with more or less the same capabilities despite starting from opposite ends. Apple has given up control where Google has taken it. And of course Google has had to add lots to Android just as Apple had to add lots to iOS (and they’ve generally ‘inspired’ each other on the way), and just as Apple has added cloud services Google has redesigned the user interface (twice, so far). 

I am not purporting that the environments are the same or that they arrived at the same point using the same methods. It is just that if one looks closely at the model. Google started open and is starting to lock it down now. Apple started very locked down and is slowly opening. Both stances created some benefits and negatives in the early days and now the resultant evolution has created some benefits and negatives. Google is better at the old fragmentation issues and overall quality has improved. Tool wise I think Apple has a better product for developers though. Apple is making it easier to do some things but their software quality has slipped. That cannot be disputed.

One could also discuss that Apple makes better hardware since they actually sell their own stuff. Google is still not really in the hardware business. However let’s not get into this.

The part I still find that NO ONE writes about is the difference in the view from the folks grinding out apps everyday and shipping them. How do we ship these apps? Via the App Store and the Play Store. This is where the huge differences are but there is also some evolution there. I would safely say, much to my dismay, that Google has evolved way more than Apple. Where Apple has made great strides for opening up iOS, there is literally no progress in the App Store when it comes to search, discovery or the App Store developer view. We still wait too long for app reviews, there are too many reviewer mistakes and too many features are tied to actually releases. We cannot modify pricing without releases or even update things like images or text without releases. So 3 years in with a stable app I still wait like everyone else to change some copy or update an image. Comical.

With Google a developer can update copy, bits, images and pricing at any point. Or just ship a new app whenever we want. Granted Google has issues with not policing apps enough or letting any app release (pirate or copy app) but they actually have improved some. I still think both Apple and Google should converge stances. Google needs approvals or review for first apps and Apple needs to let people update apps without approvals.

Where I think the big divide is though is around emerging markets. Apple is somewhat behind in that everything one must do around purchases is tied to Apple payments which need credit cards. I can’t use gift cards for subscriptions since everyone always mentions gift cards. I focus on India a lot and the big reason Apple is not as big as Android is about device cost but more importantly the payment problem. Google implements telco billing or at least does not stop us from putting in our own telco billing. With Apple I am stuck with Apple. This has to change for Apple to succeed. I personally think this is the biggest headwind Apple has in some regions – it just can’t function without a credit card backing. If Apple had some sort of regional telco billing I think the flood gates would open around the iOS ecosystem.

All that being said I think Ben ends on an interesting note that is also where emerging and non-emerging markets differ. Messaging:

But the underlying philosophies remain very different – for Apple the device is smart and the cloud is dumb storage, while for Google the cloud is smart and the device is dumb glass. Those assumptions and trade-offs remain very strongly entrenched.  Meanwhile, the next phases of smartphones (messaging apps as platforms and watches as a dominant interface?) will test all the assumptions again.

The canary in the coal mine

Following up from my post yesterday ::

Some people are acting like none of us can complain about Apple or that there is nothing wrong. So rather than harp on the sensationalist side of things I thought I would highlight where there is real commentary about the state of Apple from a real developer.

Gruber’s take on the Panic post ::

Look no further than Panic. I have been using their software for years and they are very open about the state of things.

Read their latest blog post first ::

If we could offer traditional discounted upgrades via the App Store, this paragraph wouldn’t exist. This is one area where the App Store feels like one of those novelty peanut cans with the snake inside.

This is so spot on. Hard to have the marketing and sales flexibility one desires when things like upgrades are not easily doable.

Coda was removed from the Mac App Store in mid-October, at the same time version 2.5 was released. Since new releases always generate a short-term sales spike and we wanted the numbers to be fairly representative of “typical sales”, we looked at one month on either side  — September and November.

The results were interesting. We sold a couple hundred fewer units of Coda post-App Store removal, but revenue from it went up by about 44%.

I am guessing they are only leaving the Mac App Store due to technical and pricing flexibility but of course not having to share 30% must be nice. All in all there are still too many issues with the Mac App Store – it is definitely not working out the way Apple intended.

The last couple of months of 2014 got classically “exciting” as Transmit iOS was suddenly flagged by the App Review team for a violation — a well-documented situation, both on our blog, and sites like Daring Fireball and MacStories. Thanks almost exclusively to these articles, we very quickly got a very nice call from a contact at Apple, and the situation reversed almost immediately. Everything ended up just fine.

But I can’t comfortably say “the system worked”. It’s still an awful and nerve-wracking feeling to know that, at any minute, we could get thrown into a quagmire of e-mails, phone calls, code removal, and sadness, just by trying to ship something cool.

I have written about the issue with the review process more than a few times. It really is horribly broken. Reviewers don’t read review notes, they make a lot of mistakes and there is too much time in getting through the issue for each cycle. I really don’t understand why Apple can’t apply some code and thinking to the way the process works. Panic is huge and well known so they have it easy. Folks like us, the mere mortals, have to sit and endure shitty reviewing for each appeal and subsequent follow up reviews. This is why I actually like the Play Store better.

Low iOS Revenue

This is the biggest problem we’ve been grappling with all year: we simply don’t make enough money from our iOS apps. We’re building apps that are, if I may say so, world-class and desktop-quality. They are packed with features, they look stunning, we offer excellent support for them, and development is constant. I’m deeply proud of our iOS apps. But… they’re hard to justify working on.

This one is tough, I don’t blame Apple but it is sad that apps can’t make enough money. People just don’t want to pay. What Panic doesn’t talk about is that the situation on Android is far, far worse. Unfortunately it means one has to come up with other models to make money. I am always stunned when I get customer emails from people who use Spuul complaining about using our free product and having to endure ads. They think there should be no ads but they don’t make any connection to the fact that the ads are how we support a free service. Then you tell them they can upgrade to remove all the ads and they reply that they simply don’t want to pay anything. Okay. Not much I can even say to that. This mentality is all over the app ecosystem.

Panic is just a reminder though that Apple cannot succeed with out developers and their fans but increasingly with the draconian and outdated App Store and the slippage in software quality – Apple risks losing some momentum. It won’t be instant or even easily spotted but these are the canaries – like it or not.

Other thoughts about Singapore As the Startup Hub

Added tweet conversations as they come ::

From here on out I am calling this SASH – yes. SASH. Saves me some keyboard time since I do a lot of posting from my phone one handed.

I will even add a blog category for it. So it’s real folks.

One of my most recent Singapore posts in reply to TIA (penn olson if you look at their social media account) ::

I am all in on Singapore – just FYI.

I wrote this today – mostly out of frustration ::

But it made me think about it more deeply – something I conversed with Andy on twitter ::

Btw this is the easiest way to get a twitter conversation link – easier than using Storify directly. Use tweetbot to see a conversation and the tweet it to get the link. I am sure other nerds have an easier way – please share.

In many ways Singapore is rocking when it comes to support or in the list of companies who support Singapore that sell picks and shovels to people building startups. I won’t go through the list here but I will point out a glaring omission – the payment infrastructure options suck huge ASS in Singapore. Please someone from banking or the government read this. Let me repeat the payment infrastructure options available to startups in Singapore is horrendous.

Yes I know some companies work around it. They become a merchant, then get some gateway provider to help smooth over the shitty API options from the bank or merchant accounts but it is a serious amount of work and costly. The bill is normally out of reach for most early stage startups. Even if you can afford it you have to set aside capital for it but you may also find you can’t get approved. At Spuul a lot of the banks could not deal with subscriptions for digital goods. Yes – something like that they were hung up on. Pathetic.

Before any of you slam me to say their are options please note that I write this stuff to learn as much as to complain. If you know of better options please spell them out since the purpose of the blog is to learn as much as to share, but I know from talking to real companies, real devs and our own experiences – that this is a hard road to ride on. Very experienced devs and startups are flummoxed daily.

What I don’t get is with Singapore being such a banking center, the government throwing money at SASH, and with all the “accelerators” here – why is no one working on the problem? Could it be that everyone is just waiting for Stripe, PayPal or someone to solve it but no one willing to risk it? Stripe says they are coming but been hearing that for a while. All the braintree stuff from PayPal is really for just US accounts so none of that is helping. So we all wait but sometimes I wonder if it will get fixed.

Anyone with deeper knowledge on the subject please chime in.

iCarsclub :: Review

I have been quite vocal about my experience with because I was looking forward to taking advantage of it in Singapore. People outside of Singapore may not know that owning a car in Singapore is for rich folks or people who don’t mind 1/3 of everything they make going to towards their car. I see in my own condo building, not high end, very expensive cars that look to be rarely driven. I am sure these folks are car poor cause if I had that kind of money I would probably be living in a bigger pad. In Singapore some locals choose to live cheap but own a car – I guess some sort of status symbol of sorts. All that being said though, it is nice to be able to get in a car once in a while, especially when one has a family. Sometimes the public transit thing is just a lot of work if one wants to roam around town on errands or go somewhere slightly further than normal – like the Kranji countryside for example. Taxis are okay in Singapore but if you were to use one all day it would be cheaper to rent a car – even UberX is awesome (prices in Singapore are the same as a taxi right now) but yet using Uber all day would still be more than renting a car.

So the idea that I can share someone else’s car for a day at reasonable rates without the hassle of dealing with a rental car company is appealing. Enter iCarsclub. Find a car near you, rent it online, go drive it and return it. Sounds great but what I discovered is the promise is so much better than the execution. I will add I successfully rented a car yesterday and all in all was a great experience but the issue is dealing with the service and the company – not the driving experience.

The way it works with iCarsclub is to go online to their site and submit the docs you need to get verified to rent cars. No biggie – it says it takes 3 days. Right. It actually took 3 weeks to get approved which I assume is just cause there is either a backlog or no one working on it. The frustrating part is when I used their support to check in on things – there was never any reply. To this day actually not one support email has been answered. Then I took to twitter – no replies. Left a message on their Facebook page – no replies. Again – to this day there has never been any replies to any of my social media messages. None.

Approved and ready to rock I started to find a car. The selection is actually pretty good and I was surprised to find some pretty cool cars but I was looking for cheap and no too far away from me. This is where I found the service to be badly implemented in that it looks like pretty much all cars are always available but what happens is that the owners of the cars are not blocking their own usage. It only shows when someone else has rented the car. For the first car I rented, which means you have to pay all the fees associated with it – will discuss the payment stuff more later, everything appeared to work fine. Yet moments after reserving the car and paying for it the system would sms tell me the owner rejected my request. Of course being the ass that I am I would sms the owner back to ask why – first owner said his car was in use every Sunday and I asked him why he didn’t block it as so. He said he wasn’t aware of needing to do that. So the owners are just accepting or rejecting based on their schedule versus updating the system to say the car is blocked. Lame. What’s lamer is I as the user can’t leave a review on that car since one can only leave reviews when you have rented the car already. This is silly.

So minutes later I found another car, I got the refund from the last attempt which is not a refund but a credit to the rental account. This is not a huge deal but when you get rejected a lot this could be frustrating but it seems there is a way to force a refund but I didn’t try it. The next rental went the same way – the user rejected it mins later. I again sms’d them and the owner said they were using the car for personal use. Again I asked why they didn’t block it and they didn’t reply. It seems the owners are not at all aware of how to use the system properly.

Finally I rented a car and everything was confirmed for Sunday at 2pm. Around Sunday at 12 I sms’d the owner to confirm pickup spot. Owner replied that he had canceled the rental due to car trouble. Did I get a cancellation message – no. Owner said to call iCarsclub but I didn’t have a number. No where in all the emails and sms’s did I see a number. While this was happening someone called me from iCarsclub. A no caller ID call that I almost didn’t pick up – I don’t get why they can’t use caller ID so that one can at least see a number and call back. I answered and they said they were canceling the car and the money would be back in my account and that I would need to find another car.

Since I finally had someone on the line I decide to go all in and ask what the fuck was wrong with them.

Let me summarize some of this:

Q/A –

Why is no one responding to FB or twitter :: They don’t think they need to reply to social media. Plus they are busy opening China.

Why does no one respond to the online help system (powered by Zopim) :: They never got any emails from me. (I sent 4).

Why do the owners constantly cancel versus blocking their cars :: They probably don’t know how or are lazy.

Why can’t we complain in same way about these owners :: They don’t want any bad feedback about owners since they may leave the system.

Isn’t the users renting just as important as the owners when it comes to service :: No comment.

I tried to dig in more but the guy obviously didn’t know much and said he would try to find another car and sms where it was. I still needed to go online and book it.

Which I did and the request was confirmed by the owner. He sms’d me to say where is was, same as what the system was saying, and that it would be unlocked with the keys in the glove box. Now this is where it is weird in that with a country like Singapore this might work but in most countries I would want that car locked until it unlocked for me. How else would you know you are safe or that someone did not tamper with the car resulting in some damage that I might have to pay for. For this transaction it was on a nice street and in broad daylight but who would want to rent a car at night that was unlocked for example? Not me. This is where I am not sure if they don’t have the tech to remote unlock and lock stuff or if this is just how the owner does it. It worked in this situation but I don’t think this is scalable or would work outside of ultra safe countries like Singapore.

I grabbed the car and settled in. One thing I forgot was to get my own cash card for ERP and parking – I don’t remember this being in the tutorial but is pretty important in Singapore since pretty hard to get around without it. Fortunately I could stop into any gas station and buy one. Small Singapore formality that cannot be forgotten. I used the car almost all day and even extended it by 30 mins cause we were late getting home.

The return consisted of parking it back on the street in that same place and putting the keys back where I found them. Of course the car was unlocked since that is how I found it. I did use the system to end the time and stop the insurance but this did not involve remote locking it. Once again I see where this could be problematic – what if someone stole it right after me or took something from it. My time would be marked as over but would it come back on me in any way? The system should do remote lock and unlock or something more secure.

It cost me bout 85 SGD for everything. I don’t know how that compares to a car rental – I need to check but my experience with any car rental is this was less hassle. All of our trips on public transit would obviously be much less but I don’t think we could have covered the same ground by bus and train in the same time period. Taxi’s or uber covering all the same ground would be much more. A combo of transit and uber would be much less and doable but still the hassle factor is much higher.

So this worked for me. I got to use a car for a part of the day. We will most likely do it again and I don’t think there is another option besides iCarsclub but this product could use a lot of help. On the payments since this service suffers from what a lot of services in Singapore suffer from – they only accept PayPal for credit cards via PayPal. No drama since credit cards are the norm here but the process is so cumbersome and web only. Payments in Singapore for online services need some competition from the likes of Strip and others ASAP.

ICarsclub needs to hire some real product folks to make this work.

Glimpses of a new, more open Apple

One of these days I will make it to the WWDC conference but so far the gods of always conspired against me. I got a ticket last year and gave it up so our iOS dev could go but this year I did not win the lottery and apple refused my request to go as media guy with a huge blog. 😉

Since I didn’t make it I have been watching the videos, reading and talking to our iOS dev who did go. The haters can hate but let’s face it – whether you like Apple or not, one cannot ignore them. For the moment the future of everything mobile is a two horse race with Apple and Google and MSFT doing their best to stay in a distant third position. I for one hope MSFT can even things up a bit which would be good for all of us.

I have written before that there are areas that Google is making Apple look silly and fortunately some of my issues, but not all, were addressed at WWDC.

– App Store to have more data and information about how people go to the apps and better selling details. Awesome news and looking forward to seeing how this beats the info we get from the Google Play.

– Apple is finally opening up in app purchases to a broader set of items. Specifically one can now use consumable purchases for rentals or PPV type media models. This was a glaring omission for years and was frankly just a move to protect iTunes but Apple has changed. Literally post WWDC one can use IAP for creating PPV movie rental apps where prior to WWDC one could not. This has been okay on both the MSFT and Google stores for some time. Apple is playing catchup and I wonder if this point to something new around Apple TV or an entertainment device since now the economics for building PPV like experiences are possible.

– I think the new Swift language is showing that Apple is still a thought leading company that knows the future is in make sure they have good tools to build apps. This is a forward thinking move that I think will pay off for years to come in the iOS development community.

– extensions, continuity and metal – just show that apple is opening up the broad base to developers that can use these frameworks to build things that previously would be impossible on iOS/OS X. This is just killer news and I think no one even knows what new types of apps can be built yet. The future is hard to define now.

I still have some niggles and one of the main ones is payments. Apple is far too draconian in limiting their payments to Apple only in light of the fact that they are doing nothing, absolutely nothing around carrier payments. This is a huge problem for folks like us doing development for apps in emerging markets where we want to charge for things in the app but users don’t have credit cards. Apple could easily fix this by partnering with some on carrier payments or by working with telcos that they are already married that could provide telco payments. Google is slowly doing this but at the same time Google is mostly allowing developers to add their own in the app anyway. Maybe Apple just doesn’t care about the emerging markets yet but I sure wish they did.

Google is up next – and I am sure they are going to answer back on a few of things and push some new stuff of their own.

At the moment – when it comes to mobile ecosystems – these are the only two worth watching when it comes to production apps that want to make money.

have fun