Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Dove head-first into yet another discussion about HBO yesterday. You know, the one where everyone wants to pay for HBO without having to first subscribe to cable. Don't get me wrong, even though I want this to happen I do realize HBO probably won't be offered sans cable any time soon. The umbilical cord must be cut first, and ma cable is doing her best to hide the scissors.

Harry Marks was also in on this discussion, and it prompted him to write a short post on the subject. While I agree with most of his conclusions, I want to share a few thoughts of my own. The first has to do with price. Harry writes...
"The cable companies work with HBO to secure worthwhile deals for their subscribers so these premium channels don’t cost upwards of $20 per month - the starting price, Carmody states, that HBO would have to charge if one were to access the channel independently of the current cable structure."
True, HBO would need to charge more for cable-free access. $20 a month for HBO does sound like a lot, but I would certainly be willing to pay it—maybe even $25. Why? Look at it from a cord-cutter's perspective... Right now our only option is to sign up for a ~$40/month basic cable package, add HBO for ~$15, then pay at least $5 more to rent the required HD-DVR. That's $25 vs. $60+ a month—still sound expensive? "But you get 70+ extra channels too!" Sorry, not interested. I can subscribe to Netflix and Hulu+ and still pocket almost $20 a month.

If HBO needs $25 a month for a standalone subscription, then OFFER IT AT $25. Let consumers decide if that's too expensive! Unfortunately this isn't likely to happen. HBO is one of the few remaining trump cards the cable companies have left to play (live sports is another). About the only thing I see changing this is the collapse and/or reboot of the cable industry as we know it. Which brings me to...
"So, not only have we screwed the cable companies out of money (which will be reflected in a higher bill due to their needing to recoup costs), but fewer people will pay for HBO as a result of the higher prices. Fewer subscribers means less money to produce shows like Game of Thrones, which means less content and eventually no reason to pay for HBO at all."
This IS coming, and it will be painful. Painful for the cable companies fighting to stay out of the red, and painful for consumers who will no doubt be used as temporary flotation devices. While I have no faith in the current cable business model going forward, I do believe HBO can be salvaged if the shackles are removed before it's too late. Whether or not HBO goes down with the ship will be up to Time Warner. If HBO loses too many subscribers before it's set free, it may be game over.
"As much as we hate the current system, it’s the only reason we can watch shows like Game of Thrones at all."
This is one line I definitely disagree with. The secret sauce that allows multi-million dollar shows to be made is simply a large paying audience. I do agree that it's incredibly naive to think an upstart company could create a show like Game of Thrones. Any company that doesn't already have enough money to bankroll the project themselves would have a hard time finding investors. Movie studios might be able to pull it off since they already have the resources. Instead of "Direct to DVD" we could possibly see "Direct to Streaming" content, but a much likelier source would be companies like Netflix and Hulu. Actually "likelier" is being modest. Both Netflix and Hulu are already starting to produce their own original content. No, the budgets for the shows don't currently rival those of Game of Thrones, but as subscribers grow there is no reason why they can't and won't. Netflix already has almost as many subscribers as HBO (25 million vs 29 million). Being embedded in practically every TV and TV-related device shipping today should help them continue their growth. If HBO won't give people what they want, someone else most certainly will. That's the whole reason the cable industry is in their current predicament.

High quality television will find a way into existence as long as people care to watch. We won't be doomed to expensive bundles and poor customer service forever.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Don't bet on Gatekeeper making its way into iOS

The topic of side-loaded apps has been brought up a couple times this past week. Rene Ritchie gave it a mention in his article iOS 6: Higher hanging fruit, and John Gruber talked a little bit about it with John Moltz on episode three of The Talk Show (~40 min). I'm sure it's been mentioned other places as well, and now that Gatekeeper has been announced for OS X Mountain Lion I'm sure it will be brought up even more. Unfortunately, I've got bad news for those of you who are getting your hopes up.

Gruber seems a little more open to the idea than Rene—at least that's what I took away from his conversation on The Talk Show. But both of them definitely realize there would be downsides for Apple. I think Rene summed it up quite nicely in this paragraph…
Unfortunately, I don't think Apple would do this. It wouldn't really change the type of apps that are available -- for example, the system-level hacks of jailbreak -- and it would almost certainly lead to developers cutting Apple out of the 30% share of app sales Apple takes to maintain the App Store. Apple has shown they're not fond of end runs around the App Store for subscriptions, and they'd likely be even less so for paid apps.
While I believe this is reason enough for Apple to say no, I don't believe either is a true deal breaker. Yes, Apple makes a little bit of money from their 30% cut, but they are also providing a service for that fee. They host your app, provide a way for hundreds of millions of people to find it, and make it dead simple for people to buy it. They also subsidize the hosting of all the free iOS apps with that income. If developers really wanted to take all of that responsibility on themselves, I don't think Apple would mind. I also think the Gatekeeper system being developed for Mountain Lion would be a brilliant way to enable the side-loading of apps on iOS. So why exactly do I find it so hard to believe that Apple will open up the flood gates? One word …Amazon.

If Apple were to allow apps to be loaded from other sources, nothing would prevent Amazon from creating a rival store—one that provides many of the same benefits, and is even more developer-friendly. Imagine the delight if developers had practically no fear of their apps being rejected, no week-long update waiting periods, and only had to give up 20% of their earnings to be listed in the world's largest online retailer. Unless you give your app away, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a good reason NOT to dump the App Store, or at the very least support both. I can't imagine Apple EVER letting this happen unless some legal action forces it upon them. They will not let another company jump in and undermine their ecosystem, especially one as cut-throat and beloved as Amazon. The only sure way to keep this from happening is to remain the sole app provider, and that's exactly what I expect them to do.

Amazon already jumped in and created a store for Android apps. Imagine the motivation they would have to create a store for apps that people are actually willing to pay for.

Friday, May 4, 2012

This Bigger Better iPhone Screen

After yet another round of iPhone 4" screen rumors that I simply refuse to believe, I've decided to throw my thoughts into the wild-ass speculation machine. I am not going to predict whether or not the new iPhone will be taller than the old one, that could be the case, but it's not really relevant to my argument. The claim I take issue with is the idea that the new iPhone screen will have a new aspect ratio. 

The reason I don't buy the "It'll just be taller" argument is because it wouldn't really help with the biggest problem people face using tiny screens—making small text easier to read. Text in a website, PDF, or any other document that has content at a set width will appear no larger on a +height screen than on the current one. Kind-of defeats the purpose of giving people a larger screen. Not only that, but photos (4:3) would not display as well on a +height screen either. They would need to be letterboxed, or cropped even further. Pretty much the only thing that would benefit from a +height screen would be widescreen video in landscape mode. I can't believe Apple would be stupid enough to go that route. Hell, they had their chance to do that with the iPad (a much better video consumption device), but decided the squarer 4:3 aspect ratio made more sense overall.

I find it much more likely that Apple will just keep the phone the same width (as claimed in all the rumors), get rid of the dead space on both sides of the screen, and keep the aspect ratio 3:2. A 4" 3:2 screen would roughly measure 2.22" wide by 3.33" tall. (The current iPhone screen is 1.94" wide by 2.91" tall.) According to Apple's tech specs the iPhone 4S is 2.31" wide. This means they could keep the iPhone the exact same width as the iPhone 4S if they figured out a way to run the screen extremely close to the edge. I've illustrated this below…

The resulting screen would be approximately 0.4" taller than the one on the 4S (+1 for the rumor), and the phone would be the same width it is now (another +1 for the rumor). Not to mention it would make developers extremely happy by not requiring them to support a new screen resolution. Why would Apple unnecessarily complicate things? Makes no sense to me…

Thanks to Marshall Bock for the great iPhone template.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spotify's New Embedable Goodness

I've been a huge fan of Spotify ever since they debuted in the U.S., and today they released a really cool way to share music legally on your own websites. Instructions on how to embed a song, album, or playlist can be found here.

As an example, I have embedded one of my current favorite songs.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Re: 7-inch iPad (iPod Maxi vs iPad Mini)

The difference between 7″ and 7.85″ is everything by Odi Kosmatos describes a way in which Apple could create a 7" Retina-class "iPod maxi" tablet that would be able to run pretty much all current iPhone/iPod touch apps right out of the box via pixel-doubling. The current batch of rumors are all claiming that Apple is going to release a 7.85" "iPad mini" that will run original iPad apps at their native resolution, just squeezed into a smaller frame.
"A 7″ diagonal screen (7.08″ to be exact) just happens to be the exact size of two by two iPod touch retina displays. That’s a 4″ x 6″ display surface. An iPod touch screen has 326 PPI. The 7″ screen would also have 326 PPI just like iPhones and iPods. This would yield a resolution of 1920 x 1280. This resolution would be able to run current retina iPhone applications pixel perfect using the traditional 4:1 pixel scaling, like retina displays do with non-retina apps."
There is a lot of good logic to this article, and I think it's definitely the way to go about creating a Retina-caliber mini-tablet. I do see several potential problems with this argument, though. I don't think Apple would create a Retina-caliber device without the intention of fully utilizing those pixels. This means Apple would need to create a native 1920x1280 pixel development target. Unfortunately that would create several problems for developers and consumers. First, universal apps would need to include yet another batch of optimized graphics for the device. This will do nothing but take up extra space on every existing iOS device and cause developers extra work on top of it. Secondly, would developers even be motivated enough to create a native version of their app if the standard iPhone app runs flawlessly? I'm sure many wouldn't. Unlike the iPad, an iPhone's UI controls wouldn't appear as comically large on a 7" device. Also, for the developers that do not distribute universal binaries, would you sell this as a completely separate app? If you tried, people would likely just buy the iPhone version—especially if you aren't going to rethink the UI for a 7" screen. Finally, is there even any reason for a half-tablet to exist if it mostly runs the exact same apps as your phone?

None of these problems exist for the iPad mini. The only downsides that device has is smaller tap targets, and no retina screen. I'm not even convinced the screen resolution would be an issue. It wouldn't be a Retina screen, but it would have significantly higher PPI than the original iPad and iPad 2. If Apple released this product for $299 they could definitely get away with that.

If we find out that Apple is indeed going to be bringing a mini-tablet to market, my gut is telling me it'll be the iPad mini, not the iPod maxi.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Signing Up With Readability

After seeing several tweets about running into complications signing up with Readability, I decided I wanted to see just how difficult this feat was to accomplish. At first I had some doubts as to whether or not I could even sign up with the service since I post everything to a standard blogger account. I don't even have a registered domain name. Well, I'm pleased to report that neither of these things disqualified me from signing up. So just how complicated was the registration process? These are the steps…

  1. Provide your name, email, domain name, and a username/password
  2. Click on an emailed verification link
  3. Readability creates a verification meta tag that you copy/paste into the <head> block of the HTML of your blog/website
  4. There is no step four
Apparently I completed all of these tasks correctly, because I am indeed showing up as being registered. I personally do not expect to make any money from this little exercise as I have no real audience. I just wanted to see how difficult the registration process was. What's my conclusion?

Writing this post was harder than signing up with Readability.

If you have any traffic on your site at all, do yourself (and Readability subscribers) a favor by registering.


Saturday, March 31, 2012

How Readability Could Nullify The Naysay

Some people (notably John Gruber) believe Readability is overstepping their bounds by collecting money on a publisher's behalf. I disagree, but I can see the story from the other side as well (in the right context). However, I do believe Readability could do one simple thing to quell the critics—give publishers one more option.
Right now, publishers have three options...
  1. Do Nothing — This is obviously the simplest option, but if you don't want money collected in your name going to support Readability it's not an option for you.
  2. Opt Out — Fairly painless, and it will keep money from being collected in your name, but it will also stop readers from being able to view your content in their preferred format.
  3. Sign Up For Payments — This option will take a little extra effort on the publisher's part, and may not be worth the effort if your site isn't all that popular. It will, however, keep the money from going to Readability and will continue to allow readers to view your content in their preferred format.
What if Readability gave publishers a fourth option? The ability to donate the money collected in their name to the charity of their choice.
  • Publishers that have a beef with the service would then be sending the money collected in their name towards a cause they support.
  • It would be much faster/simpler than signing up for payment, and publishers shouldn't complain about being hassled because the time they spend setting things up will reflect positively on them.
  • It would encourage small publishers to get involved.
  • Readers wouldn't be punished because the publisher has a beef with Readability.
  • It would look extremely good to potential subscribers.
I couldn't imagine this simple suggestion being anything but a win-win solution to a pesky PR problem. Am I being naive?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Subtle Stripes

Had to create a new background image for the Retina display on my new iPad. Felt like stripes this time. Feel free to download if you like.

Download Full Size Here (2048x2048 pixels)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Readability vs Instapaper

First, I want to say that I have been an Instapaper user for several years. I think the service is wonderful, and I think Marco is a cool guy. If Readability hadn't come out with a native iOS app, I'd definitely still be using Instapaper today. The fact is, I didn't switch to Readability because I like the app better. I think both apps are great! This post isn't about which app you should use, it's a response to the negativity surrounding Readability's subscription service.

As soon as Readability hit the App Store there was a flurry of articles and blog posts condemning the service. Why? Well, supposedly people are upset with the way Readability collects money on behalf of publishers. This is the dumbest thing I've read in a long time. First off, it's an opt-in service. If you don't want money from them, you won't get money from them. Second, what exactly is the downside of offering publishers a little bit of money versus nothing? It's the equivalent of a tip jar, and in my opinion it's brilliant. It's the sole reason I switched to Readability and became a subscriber. I feel better knowing that I'm helping replace any ad revenue lost due to my scraping of a site's content.

Now, lets get to the real reason behind the negativity. It's not about Readability sending money to publishers. It's about Readability swooping in and kicking Instapaper in the nuts, and Marco's friends stepping in to help a brother out …nothing more. The problem I have with all these people isn't that they are backing Marco/Instapaper, it's the fact that they are trying to make it seem like subscribing to Readability is pointless and/or doesn't benefit anyone but the people behind Readability. Bullshit. I don't remember reading one negative story about Readability when their service required you to subscribe. It only became controversial when Readability plopped their fully-functional free iOS app into the mix and undercut Instapaper.

If you are going to hate on Readability, there is plenty real motive to go around. Tell people you are backing Marco. Tell them about all the nastiness that's gone on behind the scenes of these two competing products. Tell them you hate red god damn chairs. I don't care, just don't try and tell people Readability's collecting of money on a publishers behalf is shady or nefarious unless you can show us proof. And no, Readability taking $1.50 out of $5 to support their service doesn't count. That's called a business model.


After a short chat with @BenjaminBrooks on twitter I can see how Readability may upset some publishers. Readability earmarks money for publishers whether or not they have signed up to receive payments. This money will sit in a little jar with that publishers name on it for a year. If that publisher chooses not to register with Readability their jar of money goes somewhere else instead. (Back to supporting the Readability service, to a charity, or straight to a bookie …it's apparently a mystery.) Regardless, it's not benefiting the publisher even though the reader probably assumes it is. If I were a publisher that, for whatever reason, dislikes the Readability service (hates content scraping in general, thinks Readability takes too big of a cut, or just loves Instapaper) I would have to take action to make sure that my money jar wasn't used elsewhere. This means a) Begrudgingly registering with the service while trying not to vomit, or b) Contacting Readability and asking for your domain to be added to their black list. Either way, it's forcing me to act and that makes nasty feelings emerge.

As a reader, I see things differently. I subscribe as a peace offering to the sites whose content I scrape. If those particular publishers don't wish to accept my offering, I have no problem with it going back to improving Readability or being put towards a charity. Although, If I find out they are making illegal bets with it... >:(

Regardless, my original opinion still remains largely unchanged. I haven't read a negative story from anyone outside the Mac/5by5 blogosphere.