ePubs and iBooks and whether we care about the EULA.

I took a couple of days to digest the iBooks Author news – to see what the fuss was about and form my own opinions in a timely fashion. I even took time to hoover in all of the opinion on the industry which, on the side of the creators, seems largely positive and on the side of the publishers, seems largely negative.

iBooks Author enables normal folk to create some amazing content. It enables the embedding of HTML widgets, the inclusion of presentation decks, 3D models, pictures, text – in fact – everything you’d want in a book or a magazine, and previously had to pay for an individual app. But one issue, these extra features won’t work in any competing ePub reader because they’re exclusive to iBooks.

From Nameless Horror: iBooks Author Rage

Apple claim no ownership of the product (there’s the standard “we reserve the right to reject and/or pull your book from the store” but that’s no different to any other e-store or bricks ‘n mortar outlet; you don’t have a right to be sold). Your copyright is unaffected. There is nothing whatsoever (so far as I can see) stopping you from taking the same content, assembling a different epub edition in a different program, of which there are plenty (though I’ve not found one that handles this level of designed-for-touch-device interaction and prettiness quite so easily

Obviously some folk are up in arms. Ed Bott, particularly, calls Apple “evil” and “greedy” but I’m failing to understand why he’s so incensed. Apple supports ePub formats, they continue to make the best reader of this cross-platform format on any platform.

All we’re waiting for is someone to create “ePub Author”.

So, two things.

  1. Why didn’t Apple create ePub Author? (and why are people upset about this?)
  2. Why hasn’t anyone created ePub Author? (and why are people not upset about this?)

The world hasn’t had much success in getting open standards out there. I mean, HTML is a standard and look at the mess we’ve had to endure for the last twenty years. And yes, the W3C can rail all they want about the proprietary extensions that make “iBooks” differ from “Epub” but do we have to think about why no-one has made an ePub Author app that doesn’t suck? You can get ePubs out of InDesign and out of Pages but if you want great results, you’re hand-coding the bits and pieces. And that’s not going to make anyone happy.

The big issue for some seems to be the EULA which demands a level of control over the output of the software. That is, they give you a tool for free to create great iBooks, which you can give away for free or sell for less the $15 on the store they’ll set up for you. This not only undercuts a shedload of publishers but also sets a precedent for the pricing. If $15 is the top price, eBooks just got a hell of a lot more affordable. That’s gotta be good for the market and, if Apple is only taking 30% of cover, it’s a lot better for the author as well. Speaking from experience here.

Some folk have compared this to, say, Microsoft demanding control of the output of Microsoft Word which would be a valid comparison if Apple had a monopoly share of the operating systems, a monopoly share of the word processing market, charged several hundred quid for iBooks Author and pushed the iBooks format as a standard across all devices, platforms and organisations. Which, of course, it doesn’t. On any level.

Some people pointed out that Apple has a monopoly share of the tablet market. Which, again, I’d have to say they don’t. They just have a large share of the profits and a pretty good share of shipments. But there were 87-odd tablets announced at CES in 2011 and I’m sure that some of them are selling, somewhere to someone.

Some folk are determined to blame Apple for breaking their expectations that the company would release an amazing ePub editor. Not only that – but that would allow folk to build sparkly ePubs on a Mac using a free tool, glittering with Apple Awesome Sauce and sell them for any price on Android. In any sane version of the world, this does not work. Apple has no interest in promoting Android – they’re much more likely to promote Windows Phone 7 than Android, truth be told. And they’ve no interest in promoting you and your product unless it coincides with their own aims: making the Mac, the iPad and the iPhone the world leaders in great products.

You want to make great ePubs and sell them anywhere? Apple still provides probably the best ePub reader on any platform, for free, to about 300 million customers on iOS. Customers who don’t mind paying for content. And you can deploy on Android and wherever else has an ePub reader. It’s a standard so there must be millions of them. All you have to do is hand-roll the ePubs yourself. Stop stop whinging and get stuck in.

But for the average punter? iBooks just works. And the iBooks available through iBooks Author (though there doesn’t seem to be a solution for iPhone) will be fine considering the number of iPads out there. As a consumer of eBook formats, iBooks delivers – as does Kindle. I don’t recall the outcry when Kindle didn’t support the ePub standard?

FaceTime for Mac and the Mac App Store

Apple released new iLife, new FaceTime Beta for Mac, new MacBook Air models in 13″ and 11.6″ and they gave tantalising glimpses of Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion”. The latter contained a lot of new features regarding app management and should please switchers to the Mac because it makes the ‘green’ pastille work ‘properly’.

But the things I want to talk about most are the FaceTime client and the Mac App Store.

FaceTime Beta for Mac
Simply put, it adds FaceTime to the Mac so you can easily video-conference with iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4 users (and presumably iPad 2 users in 2011). I use iChat AV on Mac a lot more than FaceTime on iPhone 4 but that’s likely because I know a lot more people with iChat. The FaceTime interface on Mac is startlingly minimal and consists of a very simple Mac client and a background daemon (which receives incoming calls so the application itself doesn’t need to be launched). It works. And that’s all there is to it. It means I can videoconference with my wife using FaceTime from my iPhone 4 to her Mac and that suits me very well.

FaceTime. Picture rifled from Apple without permission.

The Mac App Store
The first thing that developers did was scour through the terms and conditions to find everything unacceptable – though Steve said that the App Store would be the best way to find new apps, he added it would not be the only place. Some developers reckon it will only be a matter of time before the Mac App Store became the only place. And I think they’re wrong.

Macs are not iOS devices. The main and most important difference is that Macs are the multifunction, powerful devices used to create apps for iOS devices. As no proper programming languages are permitted on iOS devices, you have to use a Mac to create the apps which power the App Store. Therefore Macs will always be able to do more stuff.

Some developers are dismayed because their apps (which install kexts or input managers) will not be permitted on the Mac App Store. And yes, that’s going to be tough but then your applications are not ‘simple’ apps. But the Mac App Store is about applications. It’s about games, utilities, tools, productivity applications and it wants them to be able to install simply and easily “OTA”. Applications which require kexts and whatnot are not the same class of application at all.

I see this as an advantage. In my experience, Mac users spend more than Windows users on software. But a lot of Mac users never buy any software. Adding the Mac App store will mean there is a net increase in the amount of software purchased. This link will actually become useful.

As Mac users get more comfortable with buying software, they’ll be more interested in buying complex software. We all know that our needs for technology increase as time goes on.

The Third Generation of Personal Computers

Only a small percentage of people think of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace when they think of computers. Babbage conceived of a mechanical computer and Lovelace became the first programmer. Both were extraordinarily gifted mathematicians and their work underlies the modern world of computing. (In their time, a computer was actually the “operator of the computer”).

DifferenceEngine

Of course, the first difference engine was composed of around 25,000 parts, weighed fifteen tons (13,600 kg), and stood 8 ft (2.4 m) high. (Reference: Wikipedia). The march of progress would quickly change computers from being massive mechanical machines into massive electronic machines; they’d still fill rooms and no-one would really want one for the home.

Computers are not like this any more.
Computers are not like this any more.

A few decades later and computers were still heavy, complex, static machines and no-one would really want one in their home. It took a serendipitous meeting in an equally serendipitous place to create the first personal computers. This generation had screens, keyboards and it would be possible (and even desirable) to have one at home.

apple2c.big>

But computers were still complex, still businessy and still a little stuffy. There were limits to what could be achieved with that generation and no-one seemed to be up to the challenge of making computers even better. We were stuck in the Bronze Age of computing. It took another set of serendipitous circumstances. A decade later and there was another breakthrough, another generation was born.

macintosh-color-classic

Now computers were ‘friendlier’, a new paradigm had been invented and everyone copied it. The only problem was that as everyone copied they neglected to innovate and computers didn’t change. We were stuck again as the variations seemed to be more about adding different varieties of eye candy. One thing became certain – the newer graphic user interfaces made computers easier to understand, made it easier for non-technical individuals to grasp computing concepts. However – we were stuck in this Silver Age for twenty five years. Whether you used a Mac, the derivative Windows or Linux (which modelled almost all of it’s user interface elements on Windows or the Mac), you were using an interface which was first released to the public in 1984.

So, I’m obviously angling that the iPad is the third generation of Personal Computer, that it ushers in a new Golden Age of computing. And I really believe this. Apple tried it back in the 90s with the Newton – and if you don’t think the Newton was insanely great then you obviously never used one.

201001272309405_apple-ipad-1.gif

It’s true the iPad removes most of the OS from the end user. But is this a bad thing?

If you’re like me you spend a lot of time with the operating system of a computer. I can always find something to fiddle with, something to pay attention to with just the basic OS. With the iPhone (and by extension, the iPad), I can’t do too much other than flick between screens. This is not a bad thing. It’s going to be all about the software.

While there’s a lot of attention on the iPhone towards apps like WeightBot – apps which do one simple thing really well – we’re going to see a whole plethora of new apps which do one complex thing really well on the iPad. We have seen Pages, Numbers, Keynote on iPad and it’s only a matter of time before we see apps like Soulver, Coda, OmniGraffle and even iMovie.

We’ll only see one thing at a time on the screen and again, that’s no bad thing. We can concentrate on the task at hand. (Yes, I believe Apple is going to give us the ability to run certain AppStore-authorised third-party background processes soon so we can run location apps, Spotify and other ‘essentials’) but it will be a task oriented computer. And if Apple released a version of Xcode for iPad, would there be the same debate?

I can’t wait.

(Inspired by Mike Cane’s post regarding Jef Raskin being the father of the iPad)

And even back then in 1979, Raskin saw very far ahead:

The third generation personal computers will be self-contained, complete, and essentially un-expandable.

Legacy

The width of our modern cars, Hummers notwithstanding, is descended from the width of Roman chariots. Now while this has been debated as coincidence by some, the fact remains that rutted roads would have been very awkward to drive on if your car had a signficant width difference. Some people go so far as to claim this development was by edict – but it’s much easier to understand the mechanics of the situation. These things were more than coincidence – they were common sense. They didn’t happen by edict, they happened because their developers had a challenge and had real world problems to deal with.

In Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not A Gadget”, he treats us to another example. Victorian railroad tunnels were re-used for the modern London Underground system. Sadly the tunnels are sufficiently narrow that while they can accommodate the trains, they can’t accommodate an air-conditioning system without a serious amount of rework. Which means consumers end up with a hot and stuffy travel experience in one of the greatest cities in the world.

I’m told, but can’t find a reference, for the 20 kg (40 lb) weight limit on carry on items being due to stagecoach limits?

I see this in computing. In 1984, everyone thought that the Macintosh was a step too far. Computers had black and white (or green) interfaces. And twenty-six years later, we’re all using more or less the same interface. While it would be easy to blame the market leader for a lack of innovation (and even easier to point at them as a cause of stagnancy in the computing industry as a whole). We’ve not come a long way from 1984. We have files, we have a single mouse pointer. Yes, our computers are bigger, faster and more colourful but we still poke with a single finger at our files and and pictures. Our computers can do a lot more – but these things are tasks – we don’t see much of the operating system when we’re playing a game nor when we operate a word processor. The Operating System becomes simply a way to access these tasks and for the most part we only perform one task at a time. We don’t write a novel while we’re playing a game. We don’t tend to design elegant infographics while we’re also mixing a sequence of music to accompany that infographic. We do one thing at a time.

Where this breaks down is in the simple mechanics of tasks versus ‘apps’. I keep most of my music on my iPhone and play this while tapping out emails and tweets. However if I want to use a service like Spotify, then I have some problems. Spotify is an “app” on the iPhone and only one “app” can run at a time which means I can listen to music from Spotify or I can write email, but not both. For me, that’s not a pain but it is why I suggested ‘backgrounding‘. I’m not too worried about Spotify because I don’t use it – but I can see more of this in the future – where there is a need to hook into a service in the background and there will be a solution in place.

The resistance to task-based interfaces is perplexing though – especially from the crowd who lauded the appearance of Wizards – software designed to make certain tasks easier – not designed to help productivity itself but rather to overcome the increasing complexity of computer operating systems. So let’s envisage a product representing the next stage of computing, the removal of that complexity – not the obfuscation of complexity behind a Wizard, simply the removal of it.

What would that product look like?

Wake up, Mac, time to die.

From one point of view, Apple, with the Macintosh, won the computing industry. They revolutionised computing in the early 70s with the Apple II and did it again in the 80s with the Macintosh. Nowadays you can’t sell a personal computer that doesn’t, in some way, bear some homage to that tiny, slow, expensive machine. Apple turned cursor computing into pointer computing and for the last 25 years we’ve been interacting with computers the same way – inputting data with a keyboard and using a single finger to poke at the virtual world.

In the late 90s I wrote a website which theorised the future of computing and I included the idea that we could have two pointers. We would have new methods of interaction as we could hold objects with one pointer and ‘tear’ objects with the other. I hadn’t considered touchscreens because my HCI year at the University of Ulster told me that touchscreens had lots of issues – not least that your pointing device gets in the way of your display. Who could have known that the success there would be with smaller screens.

MG Siegler of Techcrunch writes:

And it’s potentially even bigger than that. Last week, I argued that the reason everyone is so excited about this tablet is because there is the very real possibility that it will alter the role of computing in our lives just as the iPhone has. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber took that concept further: “I think The Tablet is nothing short of Apple’s reconception of personal computing,” he wrote.

It’s my feeling that on the 26th anniversary of the Macintosh, Apple intends to bring multi-finger computing to everyone, not just those smart enough to already be using an iPod touch, iPhone or new Unibody Mac. The gestures available on a Mac right now are minimal, the screens on iPod and iPhone are too small to effectively use more than two fingers – so something is coming. I can taste it.

One of the most obvious things about the proposed Tablet is that Tablets are not new. They’ve been around for years in many forms and Apple even had their own foray into it in the 90s with the Newton. Tablets have never been terribly successful however and have been limited to semi-lucrative vertical market deals for education and medical. For this reason, some pundits tell us that we don’t need an Apple tablet and if all things were equal, they’d be right.

When Apple released the iPod, there was a lot of choice in the MP3 player market. But no-one seemed to be getting it right. The DRM controls were a nightmare, the storage capacities were tiny (or alternatively the player was immense), the user interfaces were arcane and battery life was rubbish. Pundits stood up to tell us how wrong it was, how it was doomed to failure (just as they had with the iMac, the iBook) and almost a decade later you’d be crazy (or ignorant) to buy any MP3 player other than an iPod.

It’s a dangerous life for a pundit, being expected to support one competitor over another and being influenced by the advertising dollars which flow through your web site. In many cases, I think they delight in being wrong as folk out there are more likely to link them, more likely to comment and therefore more likely provide statistics (nomatter how meaningless) on readership and market penetration.

Pundits have, so far, been completely wrong on the iPhone (it’s still selling well, still growing, still being improved and still better than pretty much anything else out there). And as it grows, people are buying apps and increasing the investment they have in the platform – this becomes an assurance, part of a war chest that Apple will leverage for future products, be they iPod touch, iPhone or new, unannounced products. This war chest, the Halo effect’, will help ensure that the next product you buy has an Apple logo.

So – yes – we’re being played by one of the Silicon Valley computing companies.

Steve Jobs said:

“If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it’s worth — and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago.”
— Fortune, Feb. 19, 1996

Pretty much a year later, he was running Apple. He killed off the old Mac, introduced his own operating system (skinned to look like a Mac) milked the name for a decade, reduced Apple’s reliance on the Mac (with the iPod), introduced a new killer OS platform (a next great thing, iPhone OSX-based) and is about to introduce another OSX-based platform, another next great thing, which will help to cement the company in the future and further reduce the reliance on the Mac which, in it’s essence, is based on a 25-year old interaction metaphor.

Wake up, Mac, time to die.

XCake Belfast November

XCake, the local developer group for folk who use XCode had an interesting meeting last night. It was held in the very impressive University of Ulster Belfast campus and was catered for with cake and traybakes by Digital Circle.

IMG_0649

The first presentation lasted about an hour and detailed the developments in the OneAPI, a GSMA Reference model for interoperability of network services for telecommunications operators. That’s the long way of saying it’s an easy way for developers to get access to call control, SMS and location services from cell networks. We had three clever folk (Seamus, Richard and Michael) from Aepona who very ably demonstrated the services and answered developer questions. More usefully, however, they were asking the developers about their opinions regarding the use of SOAP and JSON. This is all above me – but it was entertaining to hear the opinions (which were essentially: making XML for SOAP isn’t an issue for most developers but JSON is lighter and simpler).

After that we had a short discussion about our future meeting with Translink, the developments we’ve had with accessing their data and the renewed enthusiasm considering that the Ordnance Survey in Great Britain is opening up it’s 1:10000 map dataset to the public. I hope you’ll join me in encouraging the Ordnance Survey in Northern Ireland to do the same. For what it’s worth, we also have our baleful eye cast in the direction of the Postcodes held by the Royal Mail. At the end of the day if there was government money (our taxes) used to pay for datasets, then I’m determined not to pay for them again.

And we finished with a discussion of future events:

  • An Intro to InterfaceBuilder
  • NimbleKit, PhoneGap and Titanium: do they do what they say or is it all bollocks?
  • Developing for iPhone without InterfaceBuilder
  • Unit Testing for iPhone

We’re kinda unaware of other developer-related events in Belfast but we did mention that Monday night is Demo Night at MobileMondayBelfast.

Analysts and their fevered iTablet dreams

The hype mill is running overtime.

TheStreet’s Scott Moritz writes: Apple’s Tablet Can’t Prevent Sales Malaise

Like never before, Apple is at the top of its game. But like any champ, the focus has to be on the next big win.

For Apple, the stunning growth streak lives or dies with the upcoming Tablet.

So, Apple’s success is dependent on a device which may not appear, which may not exist and which Apple has never announced nor promised. Not only that, even if the unannounced Schrodinger’s Tablet does finally exist, apparently it’s not going to sell as well as it might? How does he know? Well – of course – he doesn’t. He just has to fill some column inches. (also see: Scott Moritz: always wrong but keeps trying )

And is this just a rehash of his previous article from March this year?

No question, the tablet will dazzle Apple fans who typically don’t think twice about paying upwards of $2,000 for the latest, greatest Mac. But beyond the core fan base, Apple will discover what other PC makers have known for a while: Consumers find big tablets hard to swallow.

Very droll.

This is why Apple’s stock always dips after their planned events. They might come out with the most revolutionary phone in the universe, but they didn’t produce a Tablet. They might produce the Tablet but they won’t have produced a 48″ screen that folds into a pocket. They might produce a giant folding screen but they won’t have produced a Moon Pony.

Things we know.

The iPod touch will be updated. It’s overdue.
The AppleTV will be updated. Shipping times are long.
Scott Moritz is probably wrong. He usually is.

That’s pretty much it. Anything else is fevered conjecture and link-bait.

Will the Tablet fail?

Frankly I’d rather not offer conjecture here but considering Apple’s turnaround with the iMac, the turnaround of the company into music, the success of the iPod, iTunes and the iPhone, the rise of interest in Mac OS X: I’d rather not bet against them.

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.

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?