AppStore Wars starting to heat up…

Today the Ovi App Store goes live. (at the time I’m writing this, the web site is down – was up earlier, but is down now…)

More than 50 Nokia devices are compatible with the service from day one, with stacks more slated to roll out over time – Nokia estimates that around 50 million people with Nokia devices will be able to benefit from Ovi Store right now.

Considering there’s around 35 million iTunes App Store-compatible devices out there, that’s not a terribly bold statement. I’m vaguely annoyed that OVI doesn’t work with my Nokia N800 (due to the Maemo platform) but that’s not the end of the world.

App Stores are pretty big in the news. It was only last week that Microsoft backtracked on their ‘sharing apps’ statement so there’s no “Welcome to the Social” in the Windows Mobile Skymarket and their plans to use the Live ID as the method of tracking installations on up to 5 mobile devices. This puts it on a par with Apple’s iTunes App Store terms – up to five devices – though on an iPhone, you can ‘loan’ someone an app by temporarily logging into your iTunes account on their iPhone.

I’ve now witnessed the Ovi Store, the iTunes AppStore and RIM’s AppWorld first hand and frankly I’m not impressed with the competition.

Tarmo Virki, of ITnews.com.au reckons there will be few victors in the ‘me too’ race to have an App Store for mobiles.

“There are too many people investing too much money into something they do not understand,” said John Strand, chief executive of Strand Consult. “They are all using the me-too strategy, not focusing on consumers – these guys don’t read numbers, they read media.”

“They are all desperately following but they are chasing it with all their own legacy issues,” Frank Meehan, chief executive of INQ Mobile, the maker of Facebook- and Skype phones, said at the Reuters Global Technology summit in Paris. “An App Store will get a customer to buy your phone only if it’s better than Apple’s,”

It’s going to be a big battle between equipment makers and operators,” said Alex Bloom, chief executive of mobile software distributor Handango. “It’s an interesting battle as carriers are equipment makers’ biggest customers.”

France Telecom Chief Financial Officer Gervais Pellissier said operators have an advantage in the race as they control the customer billing process and can make the application purchase procedure much smoother for customers.

Frankly I reckon there’s going to be a battlefield littered with corpses and adoption of these other stores is going to be an uphill battle. Apple has 40 000 apps in their AppStore – all of which work on the 35 million iPhones and iPod touch devices out there. RIM has around 1000 in AppWorld and OVI claims 666 items for the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and 1007 for the Nokia N95 8GB and nothing at all for the Nokia E65. Even looking at OVI on the web, you can see the icon and price and general rating for an app, but there’s no screenshots and certainly no video. Folk have criticised the iTunes App Store for not having a demo mode or hosting videos of the interaction – but OVI hasn’t learned from this.

The problem here is the lack of unified approach, lack of vision and far too much consideration of ‘me too’ and getting something out there and I think the Palm Pre, though enticing and very pretty, will suffer the same. Apps on the Pre are web-apps and it will, I predict, be harder to get people to pay for these apps especially when you’re limited to the sort of apps that a web app can manage.

“In a desktop app is I can add 100% of the web. But the web can only add like 10% of the desktop.” – Daniel Jalkut, Twitterer and Mac Dev

and this also goes for Mobile. Would you have been able to create Crash Bandicoot on the Pre? Or the Blackberry? Or play it on the disastrously specced Nokia N96?

The AppStore Wars are just beginning but there are some clear winners and losers from the outset.

Irish Game Dev 2.0

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the GameDevelopers.ie Shindig.

What completely surprised me was the dominance of iPhone developers – I knew there’d be a lot but the interest in iPhone as a gaming platform was tremendous and the games companies in Ireland were all focussed on it. Their attitude certainly was that time to market for iPhone was an order of magnitude quicker and cheaper than developing for other mobile platforms and the people out there were an order of magnitude more likely to buy. We have to temper a little of this with the fact that none of the other platforms have their act together yet when it comes to their app store offerings and that this may change (Google Marketplace being the most advanced).

Verizon fail.

When quizzed about the iPhone, Verizon’s CFO, John Killian said:

“..we don’t feel we’re going to be at a market disadvantage in the PDA space as we go through today or 2009.”

This needs a little translation.

a) No, we didn’t score the iPhone.
b) We’re not going to be at a market advantage with what we’ve got lined up.

Verizon was down during trading.

Not surprised.

Pre-WWDC Meetup, Wednesday 27th May, 4 pm

Jeff LaMarche writes a long article on how to survive and indeed thrive at WWDC.

My earlier WWDC First Timer’s Guide posting was so positively received that I’ve decided to re-post it now that we’re only a few weeks out from the conference. I’ve also made some corrections and additions based on comments and feedback I got. This posting really has been a community effort, so please feel free to ping me if you think there are additions or changes that should be made.

WWDC is Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference and runs from the 8th June to the 12th June.

In June this year, we’re bringing 30 Northern Irish developers to WWDC and having a Pre-WWDC meet-up of attendees in The President’s Club, Talbot Street, Belfast at 4 pm on Wednesday 27th May. If you’re attending WWDC and want to meet up to talk to experienced developers (some of whom are experienced at WWDC as well), then come along, attend a brief presentation and network with other folk who are travelling to San Francisco.

Android 2.0: Still ‘Linuxy’

I may have mentioned before that I’m really quite impressed by the new Android-powered phone available in the UK on Vodafone, the HTC Magic. The UI is still a little ‘Linuxy’, the touch response isn’t bad but without the sort of visual feedback you expect from something designed to rival the iPhone. The camera, although small and without flash, does have an optical zoom and photos taken look crisp and text is readable. It’s not a bad phone.

UnWiredBlog has an article on Android 2.0 and new devices from Samsung which will work with the new OS. They’re not unattractive and apart from the lack of onboard storage space for the most part, they’re not bad in the specifications department.

But. Here’s (two) screenshots from the device, unhelpfully stitched together.

samsung-spica-interface-touchwiz

It’s my opinion that somewhere between Android and Samsung, they need to hire some designers.

The Cocoa Cooking Class

This came out of two ideas I had.

The first was Code4Pizza – the idea that people, in order to learn, would be willing to spend their time coding for open source projects. I still think this idea is a winner for getting younger folk involved but as an evening class, it fills in many gaps present in the current market for young and really smart folk who want to use computers for more than FaceBook and MySpace.

The second was Tuesday Night Cocoa – something the lads up at Mac-Sys were doing – on a Tuesday evening when the Enterprise Park was open late, they would gang together and learn Cocoa from the books, helping each other through tough problems.

So, the Cocoa Cooking Class was born.

First off, I’m not even sure if Tuesday night is the best sort of time for something like this but it’s catchy, sosumi.

The Background:
Due to my organising of DevDays and generally being loud about the iPhone, I’m inundated with people wanting to learn how to do stuff on the iPhone. How to write applications and generally take part in the gold rush that is the iPhone. I’m working my way through the books but as my time is ‘expensive’ (in so far as as it’s really bloody hard to find ‘free’ time), I’m thinking I need to formalise something in this respect. My idea is that an experienced developer guides a workgroup on a weekly or biweekly basis through an application specification, design and build. The workgroup then owns that app and can do whatever they want with it. I’ve spoken to an experienced developer about it and he’s on board, details yet to be discussed. It’s unreasonable to expect him to dedicate this time for free so we have to take that into account and allow for him to help people ‘online’ in a forum or via email. Holding it on a Tuesday night might make sense but the idea is to get someone who knows what they’re talking about to come in and spend time instructing people and get paid to do it. If it’s not worth the money then we stop paying them and we hack it together on our own time. We even have the option of varying our instructors.

The Pitch:
Take one room with enough seating for 11 people.
Fill with 10 or so eager would-be application developers. Do not over-fill.
Add in one seasoned instructor. Mix for twenty minutes.
Establish base level of capability and break the people into 3-5 groups.
Distribute skills liberally through the groups to attempt to maintain consistency.
Start to build projects, one for each group for 90 minutes.
Break for 15 minutes to check consistency and share experiences.
Return to the room and continue to build knowledge for a further hour.
Stop activity and get each workgroup to show and tell for 5 minutes each.
Rinse and repeat weekly or bi-weekly.

To cover costs, everyone hands the instructor a £20 note. This covers room hire, instructor time and during the week support. That’s a reasonable night out.

Reasoning:
It’s my belief that this will create multiple opportunities for Mac and iPhone developers in the province. It will provide a collaborative approach to building applications with some real potential for IP creation and future revenue generation. Mix this with XCake and other initatives and we’ve got something to talk about. Would be even better if we could get some sort of funding for it (or even just a free room somewhere for the evenings).

What do you think?

Obama to attack offshore tax evaders

From Slashdot:

The administration says that more than a third of US foreign profits in 2003 came from Bermuda, the Netherlands and Ireland, and noted US companies paid an effective tax rate of just 2.3% on the $700bn they earned in foreign profits in 2004. Among tech companies affected by the crackdown, Microsoft joined 200 companies who signed a letter complaining that the proposed tax changes would put them at a disadvantage with their rivals, Cisco moaned that the measures ‘would adversely impact our ability to invest and grow our business in the US,’ and Google declined to comment for the time being.”

The use of Ireland as a tax haven for offshore companies has been the primary reason why the southern part of the island has such large installations from Microsoft, Google, Cisco, FaceBook and others. Funnel your corporate profits through there and you’re going to save a fortune in tax. This led to big companies setting up, larger salaries being paid and the beginning of the inflation of the cost of living (and housing). I’m not saying there’s a causal link but over the last 5 years, the only people I knew buying houses in Dublin were working for big tech companies.

This proposed change is going to affect the cost of doing business for companies which have settled in the republic and I’d predict this may forces some of them to homeshore their jobs back to the USA – which, of course, is the whole point of the exercise.

Guardian claims Apple about to FAIL.

Today the Guardian published an editorial called:

Sound familiar? Apple launches a revolution – and then gets overtaken

with the subtext

It happened when the Mac brought a mouse to every desktop. Now, with the iPhone, it’s happening again

They’re contending that Apple has reinvented the mobile phone (echoing Steve Jobs in 2007) but that they cannot hope to become dominant.

The writers, Bobbie Johnson and Richard Wray, are evidently new to technology writing despite their fabulous credentials. They throw out the factoid that Apple shipped 20 million phones and in the same time other vendors shipped 1.5 billion phones. But they ignore their own point that iPhone is a high end phone and when you consider the market for high end phones (smartphones) is only around 150 million per year, then 20 million becomes a good bit more respectable.

Apple is not going to compete for the low end chunky mobiles which make calls and text messages. They’ll happily leave that market to Nokia and other vendors who want to scrape around in the dirt for marketshare. You also have to consider that mobile phone penetration in the UK has already exceeded 100%. Adding or subtracting subscribers is not an important driver – finding apps or platforms which will drive revenue is however.

The article doesn’t actually give any real insight – it just tells us that Apple won’t become dominant in the market. Again – look at Apple – they’ve no intention of becoming dominant. They’re not out there to make the most phones any more than they are out to make the most personal computers. They’re not interested in making the cheapest phone or the most popular phone. They’re trying to make the best phone.

As a result we have the other companies out there scrabbling to create something competitive. They’ve fallen into the iPod trap – trying to beat the iPhone on features like FM radio, OLED, memory card slots and other gimmicks. Other companies tried to beat the iPod with this strategy and failed miserably and they’re going to fail miserably if they try to beat the iPhone this way. Here’s a tip: beat the iPhone by being better at the things they’re currently beating you at. Think Simple. Think Design. Think Less is More. Remove features until the product stops working, then put that one back. That’s the way to combat the iPhone – not by adding more buttons, a clunky slide-out keyboard, a bulky camera-add-on and advertising technologies that the end user simply does not care about. (e.g. I want OLED, I don’t really know why, I just want it. I’m a geek. Not the target market at all)

Their article also ignores the fact that, yes, the Mac launched a revolution and didn’t take over the world – but Apple is one of the few personal computer companies actually making money at the moment.

It also ignores the fact that in more recent years Apple has another arm to their business – that of the iPod and iTunes. While music sales may be a battleground, Apple has claimed repeatedly that there’s no money in selling the music (something that companies like Microsoft and Amazon might want to take on board). The money for Apple is in the iPod – and while the iPod may not have created the music revolution, it certainly defined it and continues to be dominant in the market.

Apple is also, like the rest of us, in the grip of a recession, yet posted that they made more money last quarter than they ever have made in a non-holiday quarter. While their competitors are battening down the hatches to ride out the storm, Apple is dancing in the rain.

So, here we are, two years after the introduction of the iPhone and there’s still not a compelling competitor to the iPhone and two journalists (yes, it took two people to write that article) are telling us that Apple is about to fail?

Legacy: The App Store meme

Back in the day, one of the biggest reasons given to me about “staying with Windows PCs” is the software. Some folk, even those who ripped off their software, didn’t want to switch to a Mac because of their legacy of software they’d collected on their PC. As if the months of trialware and cruft they’d deposited on the hard drive actually made it harder to switch.

In comparison, the quality of software on Windows is the prime reason for me to pursue the Mac. Look at Twitter clients for example – one of the most vibrant and competitive niches on the Mac is pretty much dead on Windows – the only concession being to AIR apps which, being cross platform, are not quite as good looking, not quite as integrated, not quite as well performing but at least there’s competition.

This meme has almost died due to the fact that people are realising that on the desktop the browser is the most important piece of software and the browser market has probably never been more competitive: Safari, Chrome, Opera, Firefox and Internet Explorer.

On Mobile however, there’s not been the same meme due to the disparity of platforms, the inability of moving software from mobile to mobile, the lack of a frontrunner in the market.

Well, guess what, there is now. I took this picture outside the Apple Store in San Francisco.

Look at the amount of window space given over to Apps and look at the space given to the iPhone. Apple knows that Apps are going to be the key to success, the key to attracting and retaining customers.

Apple recently posted that over a billion apps have been downloaded from the AppStore. Some folk are reporting 700 000 downloads in six weeks (Flight Control) and if you’re like me and you’ve recently downloaded more than 100 apps from the AppStore, then you’re looking at a heap of apps that won’t move to Android, that won’t move to the Pre and that won’t move to the Blackberry. Even with just free apps, it’s a significant investment and may prove difficult for some people to stomach. There are some people who don’t download apps on their iPhones – there are some people who have iPhones and just use them to call people and surf the web. These people don’t matter. The AppStore is now a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Take this morning – I downloaded Myst for iPhone. More than 700 MB of images and data for £3.49. That’s not going to transfer anywhere if I choose a different platform. Neither will Fieldrunners, LightBike, Galcon or any of the other apps I use to while away the time in long queues. It’s not going to replace iSSH, Byline which are daily use apps or oust Twitterfon or Tweetie because there’s nothing I can see on the other platforms which even comes close.

Is it a bad thing that I now have a legacy of software that I don’t want to let go? Is this the real strategy for the App Store?