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?

iPhone vs Android: software lock-in and halo effect

From CNNMoney.com

77% of iPhone owners say they’ll buy another iPhone, compared to 20% of Android customers who say they’ll buy another Android phone.

I’ll address these as the result of two separate things.

Software lock-in on the iPhone is high for most people. Once you’re in there with Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies and any of the other paid-for iPhone apps, you’re going to suffer from an unconscious lock-in. This hasn’t really occurred on Android initially because of it’s slow adoption but more recently because it’s still not possible to actually be paid in many countries if you’re a developer which is slowing adoption as well. And because the good paid apps aren’t there, normal people aren’t buying them which is again reducing the lock-in.

Software lock-in (essentially meaning the ability to transfer your software to other similar devices but not other platforms) is working well for iPhone but is currently worthless on Android. Software lock-in is not a bad thing in itself – it can’t be used as an argument for or against any mobile platforms because all of them practise lock-in – but it has an effect.

For example, this is my page of folders on iOS:


Every one of those folders is an incentive to stay with iPhone. Primarily because there’s some good fun in there but also because my kids are really happy to be distracted by lots of different colourful games when we’re waiting in the car or during a long journey. Therefore I get additional lock-in pressure from my kids.

In the office where I’m based there are six people. When I started there, one had an iPhone (me!). The others had a variety of Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices. Now, two years later there are five iPhones and one Android device in use. (One of the individuals went to HTC Magic running Android from Blackberry and since then has had a iPhone 3GS and is now on an iPhone 4.) The one Android device left here in the office is a HTC Hero still running Android 1.5. I would describe this as a Halo effect. Different to the common Halo effect (easily described as the effect of buying one device with an Apple logo meaning you buy a lot more), this is showing that experiences with the device are leading to others buying the device. This is partially related to software lock-in; people are interested in getting the same software as you.

For the record, the one Android device will apparently disappear from this office when the contract ends. This is not a good trend for Android.

I, myself, have bought each iPhone as it has been released (I’m still waiting for my iPhone 4 to arrive) but despite my interest in Android, I’ve yet to buy any hardware. This is entirely because the hardware churn in Android is extremely rapid which means there never seems to be a good time to buy. With the iPhone, you know there’ll be a new model every June but with Android, there’s a new model with slightly tweaked specifications coming out every month or so. And some of them have Android 2.1 and some have earlier versions of the OS but I’m expecting Android 2.2 – hence my reticence to buy now. The minimum specifications for Android seem to be rising and some features (such as the ballyhooed Flash) do not run on sub 1 GHz devices so this is again putting me off – 1 GHz has become the new minimum and currently shipping devices don’t seem to be exceeding this. Where’s the high end device?

All of this contributes to a ecology where Android is selling briskly (helped by Buy One, Get One Free tricks – also used by RIM but never by Apple) but that people are not returning to Android as a whole. It’s something that Google needs to resolve. And Nokia needs to respond as well – though they may have sold 10x the number of handsets as Apple, Apple is making more than 10x the amount of profit (creating a factor of nearly 100 difference between the companies). iPhone with it’s singular presentations (ignoring the current ‘legacy’ iPhone 3GS still being sold) is a clear marketing position. Nokia still produces dozens and dozens of different models. This is why iPhones in cafés are so recognisable but it’s so hard to identify the market share for any other individual model of phone. This contributes to the Halo effect I mention above. You can easily spot people using iPhones (and due to the dearth of ringtones, hear them). How about the frequency of spotting any other model or brand of phone?

Nokia: the plan before 2012

Mikael Ricknäs of Infoworld has an opinion on what Nokia must do to remain relevant in mobile.

Nokia was getting complacent and its first mistake was not taking the iPhone and Android seriously early on, says Nick Jones, a vice president at Gartner.

Two years later, the move to open source has proved to be a miscalculation that is slowing down Symbian’s development.

To attract more developers Nokia will also have to fix its application store, Ovi Store. The launch of Ovi Store — criticized for having poor search capabilities, slow provisioning of new applications, and a cumbersome interface — will go down in history as one of Nokia’s biggest missteps.

And he’s right that they only have two years to get it right or they will have to be content with owning only the low end of the market.

Now…that’s not saying you can’t make a lot of money in the low end – and the developing countries may provide a lot of that profit as ‘mobile’ is more capable than ‘internet’ in many of these nations.

But will Nokia be happy with that, will they be happy with the position of being the company that was the mobile giant?

I don’t think so.

Apple is not the dominant player in any market that matters

How significant is Apple to the mobile market?

Mobile Review writes:

Before the Digital Agenda anti-competitive investigations centred on companies with dominant market positions, this initiative would change that to companies with a significant market position e.g. Apple. It may result in Apple being forced to allow Flash on their iOS platform amongst other things like allowing 3rd party devices to sync with iTunes e.g. the way Palm tried to do with the Pre. Apple has built a closed eco-sysem for itself that delivers a first rate user experience in terms of interoperability, a situation not totally dissimilar to what Microsoft was trying to do with bundling its own products with its Windows OS, a move that ran foul of the EU’s competition commissioner.

As much as I would like to say that Apple is dominant in the smartphone market, it’s simply not true. Apple is behind Nokia, Samsung, RIM and others in their share of the overall mobile market – and they’re not even dominant in smart phones. Apple does, however, have significant mindshare – which isn’t the same thing. The comparison with Microsofts EU ruling regarding anticompetitive practises with their monopoly is unwarranted – Microsoft had a 95%+ market share at the time. Apple is not even out of single figures in their share of the mobile market.

Adobe has been crowing about being present on 97% of Internet devices and yet they’re bleating to the DoJ and the EU to allow them to increase this market share? It’s plain who has a dominant or significant market share here and who is trying to force their will upon the market.

What is it about Apple doing well which sends competitors into unreasoning panic? Why do we have Microsoft fumbling with Windows Phone 7 and then undermining their own efforts with the Microsoft KIN and then undoing all that work after selling just over 500 devices? Why do we have Adobe tripping over themselves to get Flash onto a couple of devices when they themselves lay claim to 97% of the content framework market? Why is Nokia stumbling with half-baked attempts like the N97 and their own hubris regarding signal/antenna issues when they should be working to make something truly great. Why is Google lying and rewriting history to suit their new paradigm where they are the only freedom option against Apples alleged iron grip of the market? You have to remember that in each of these respective markets it is these companies, not Apple, who is the dominant player. Apple is, in every case here, a distant minor player. So why are they so worried?

It’s plain to see that not only have these companies lost their cool but they’re also out of ideas. Apple is a niche player. Their own dominance, in digital downloaded music, is what they consider to be a break-even business. It enabled the rise of the iPod but in itself it doesn’t make a huge benefit to Apple’s bottom line. When companies have to lie, cheat, plead with the authorities – then you have to acknowledge that something is rotten.

And it is blindness that motivates them. Microsoft has a successful OS launch with Windows 7 and some neat new innovations with Windows Phone 7. Notable because they haven’t copied the iPhone. So why are they pissing about with Courier and KIN and all the rest? Why squander that advantage? And what the fuck is Ray Ozzie doing?

Adobe used to be a great company with great product. Now all I see is posturing about Flash on iPhone. Flash, a recently acquired technology, is being pursued at the expense of their own self-regard. Give it up, make Photoshop, Acrobat, Illustrator even more kick-ass! (and make them as good on the Mac as you do for the PC and see if Apples attitude softens) Stop making me roll my eyes at every douche move you make.

Nokia. Stop fucking about. The last good phone you brought out was the N95. Move the fuck on. Stop whining. Stop over promising and under delivering. And stop wasting effort on Symbian. No-one likes working with it. And anyone who says they do just doesn’t want to lose a dominant position on a dying platform. They’re stupid and you need to ditch them.

Google should know better that the Internet stores truth better than any other medium before it. We know you didn’t buy Droid to save us from Apple. We know your OS is a ‘little bit open’ but getting access to it requires signing away your first born. Stick to what you’re good at. You’re a shit liar.

These mega-corporations will gut themselves rather than see Apple win – even when Apple isn’t trying to win. They’re being distracted from making good products. They’re declaring Apple to be a winner when it ain’t true and they’re suffering because of it. And it needs to stop.

Here Be Morons

Kevin Tofel at GigaOm reports on a curious trend.

U.S. owners of Symbian-based handsets click 2.7 times more mobile ads than those with iPhones, according to April data due to be released by mobile ad company Smaato on Monday. And this is in a country where, relatively speaking, Symbian phones have very little presence.


You can interpret these results in several ways. My own recollection of using Symbian was that every aspect of it, from specially optimised mobile sites to expensive apps was that there were ads everywhere. It was an advertisers dream – companies would let you put ads on every screen, cluttering an already ugly interface and squeezing out the actual content.

The Symbian Foundation didn’t really encourage anything better and it is really confusing that a company like Nokia would bet the farm on something so primitive and evidently so unsuited to modern markets.

But I guess the reality is much simpler. When you’ve got iPhones, Android, Palm and Blackberry out there, staying on Symbian just indicates a lack of awareness. People still on Symbian in 2010 are morons.

Coolest Brand: iPhone. And soon on Orange and Voda.

Hot on the tail of Orange announcing they have secured the iPhone onto their network, Vodafone have also announced they’ll be joining the Apple tsunami.

Vittorio Colao, Vodafone’s chief executive, has said that not having the iPhone was a key reason why the operator lost 159,000 customers in its latest quarter.

O2 dropped the ball by keeping the iPhone pricing high and seems to have hinged it’s hopes on the Palm Pre which it unleashes on the network on October 16th. The Pre has awareness in probably 1% of the UK and their App Catalog policy seems to be as bad, if not worse, than Apple’s.

It’s going to be a tough battle for the Pre in the UK, of course, with Apple holding 3 of the top 5 brands (according to CoolBrands) and iPhone being currently the #1 brand in the UK. Certainly the iPhone has penetrated suburbia – at a house party at the weekend, nearly half the attendees had iPhones and the rest were a mix of Nokia and Blackberry devices (and a smattering of lesser manufacturer fashionphones). And this was not a geek party – it was a party of bankers, firemen, teachers, HR personnel and homemakers (and I was the only geek there).

The investment that people put into their apps is an anchor to a platform. This worked well for Windows back in the day as people couldn’t do without certain apps and it was hard to convince them to re-buy their apps on the Mac (or just do without on Linux or BSD). The same goes for the iPhone. Some people have hundreds (or even thousands) of pounds worth of apps on their iPod touch and iPhone devices – it’s going to be hard to convince them to move to another platform and their loyalty to iPhone will now start to convince hold-outs who resisted the iPhone due to the networks it was available on. After that – once they’ve bought one Apple device, it won’t be long until they buy another. That’s the halo effect in operation.

Open Data

After not travelling long-distance for around 15 years, I found myself in San Francisco twice this year. San Francisco has many similarities to Belfast – a plethora of neighbourhoods, a strong history of civil rights activity and the majority of economic activity being firmly in the ‘S’ part of SME.

San Francisco also has an initiative to open City data such as crime statistics, restaurant health codes and municipal recycling information. This will be stored at DataSF.org. Northern Ireland’s equivalent is the recently launched OpenDataNI initiaitve.

These efforts are aimed at the citizen as well as the entrepreneur. There’s nothing stopping a smart developer/designer from building and marketing a service that uses open data in a new and interesting way. Whether that’s directing individuals to recycling spots around the city or mixing school and crime data together with a property rental service (something I’m guessing we’ll see coming out of Propertypal judging by some of their recent tweets – smart guys!)

We already have some innovators in this arena and Momentum / Digital Circle is working to foster additional development. I’ve been working to develop the already exciting iPhone development community in Northern Ireland. DevDays in April attracted 155 people and Refresh Belfast last Monday got 90 people through the door focusing on iPhone Design despite a literally last minute venue mishap due to double-booking.

Momentum / Digital Circle are launching a Mobile Application Challenge in the coming weeks. The premise is to get folk out there displaying some of the work they are doing in Mobile Applications (featuring but not limited to iPhone development) and getting them in front of potential investors and also a potential audience. By focusing on the areas of Consumer, Health & Wellbeing, Public Service Value and Enterprise, we’re showing off some of the excellent work that goes on behind closed doors or under license to other companies in other countries. We’re putting together a series of workshops – highlighting design, Connected Health, applications which use the Cellular network and assistance in protection and exploitation of intellectual property.

For open data the possibilities are still yet to be realised and the OpenDataNI staff would love to hear more suggestions on data sources which would benefit the general public. What have we, the public, paid for and yet we don’t have access to?

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.

Nokia to launch Ovi Store. Bored Now.

Robin Wauters of Techcrunch writes:

At the Mobile Word Congress in Barcelona, Nokia has unveiled its initiative to try and repeat the runaway succes of Apple’s App Store with its own mobile storefront dubbed Ovi Store. This was an expected move…

…because we can’t expect Nokia to innovate, only copy. Developers of the apps will retain 70% of revenues (which might be enough to help people put up with developing on Symbian S40 and S60

The Ovi Store does include this feature:

Ovi Store is unique in its ability to target content based on where you are, when you’re there, why you are where you are and who else has downloaded similar content.

Nokia estimates that this will reach 300 million users by 2012 which essentially means that we’ll be inundated with tat because everyone around us will be downloading it. Depending on where you live it’s going to be classical music or something tremendously chavtastic. It’s a bit like the Welcome to the Social feature of the Zune. I frankly don’t care what my neighbours are downloading, I want to know what’s good and I feel this feature will not build upon the wisdom of crowds but mob stupidity. I won’t even go into the privacy concerns of an online store front having your location and using that information to inform your neighbours what to buy.

Of course this will be a success. The model has already been proved (though whether the UI sucks will be another thing)