Wednesday, March 31, 2010

iPad apps to cost more say developers ahead of launch

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Applications for the iPad will generally cost more than ones for the iPhone or iPod touch developers have said.

They blame the extra work involved in designing for the iPad and the risk factor of not yet knowing how many customers will buy the device.

The iPad goes on sale on Saturday 3 April in the US.

"We are really testing the waters on pricing," developer Igor Pusenjack of Lima Sky told BBC News.

"For a lot of us it is an early experiment to see how people will react but I wouldn't be surprised to see prices go down to 99 cents really early as happened on the iPhone," he said.

Mr Pusenjack is the creator of an iPhone game called bubble wrap where you have to pop the bubbles in a set time. His two-man developer shop has sold 3m units at 99 cents (67p) and will price it at $1.99 (£1.35) on the iPad.

Likewise another game called Animoto, where users have to match the heads of cute animals, will be pitched at $1.99 instead of 99 cents.

"The pricing is really crucial and developers are looking at this as a more expensive device with a wider screen and that means the apps have to be more feature rich," said Jeff Scott, founder of the review site

"So what you have is developers thinking the app prices should be more expensive but the consumers thinking the other way around, that because this is seen as a larger iPod touch, we want 99 cents games or we are not going to be happy."

Return on investment

Depending on functionality and the number of features, the cost of designing an app can be anywhere between $200-$20,000 said developers.

For the iPad with its bigger screen and the opportunity to offer more bells and whistles, the stakes and development costs rise.

The actual size of the market is also seen as concerning with sales estimates varying wildly from 2m to more bullish figures from Morgan Stanley of between 6-8m in the first year.

"Everything is so up in the air with developers in the dark about the number of pre-ordered iPads that have sold," said Mr Scott.

"There are so many more questions now than in 2008 when the App store launched and today no-one knows if they are going to make any real money."

Mr Pusenjak agreed it is all a bit of a gamble, but probably a calculated one given Apple's track record with the iPhone and iPod touch.

"The hot stories in the early days of the App Store launch were about individuals making $250,000 in a month or two but that was because the number of apps was much smaller and the number of devices was 10 or 20 times what we will see with the iPad.

"I just don't expect the iPad to make anyone rich quick," said Mr Pusenjak.

'Betting big'

Back in January when Apple unveiled the device to press and analysts, the company said that the iPad "will run almost all of the over 140,000 apps in the App Store".

One of the most successful developers designing for the iPhone and the iPod Touch is Dave Castelnuovo of Bolt Creative. He is the co-creator of Pocket God which is centred around a tropical island peopled by characters called The Pygmies.

Since launching 14 months ago, it has sold 2.4m units at 99 cents (67p) each.

Mr Castelnuovo will bring the game to the iPad for the higher price of $2.99 (£2).

"The simple fact is that even if the iPad is a tremendous success, it is not going to have the same install user market from day one that the iPhone and iPod Touch had."

ike many developers he is also not rushing to get his game out on day one, instead bringing it to market at the end of April or beginning of May.

"Even though everything on the iPhone and iPod Touch is compatible with the iPad, it probably won't look very good on the bigger screen so we want to give it more detail, make the islands big and lush and really do it justice.

"Also we don't have an iPad yet, which is a disadvantage, and we want to test the game and put it through its paces so we know there are no bugs and it works well and takes advantage of the screen, the tilt sensors and improved graphics," said Mr Castelnuovo.

Rohit Singal is the chief executive officer of SourceBits, an app factory that develops for a number of clients from Coca Cola to General Electric.

While nearly half of the 200 strong company is working on iPhone and iPad apps, Mr Singal agreed not having the device to try things out on was a concern.

"We are betting big on the iPad but there is a real worry in rushing out applications until you test them on the real device. There are bound to be some bugs until you can really try them out."

It is expected that as many as 1,000 new apps will be available on launch day.

Winners and losers

Despite some of the grumblings and caution, most developers seem to be embracing the iPad as another development opportunity.

A recent comScore survey suggested that browsing the internet will be the most popular activity on the device followed by checking email and then listening to music. Reading books and playing games came fourth and fifth in the activity list.

"The winners and losers will be just as varied on the iPad as they are on the iPhone," said Jeff Scott of 148apps .

"Stuff that is internet enabled like Facebook and Twitter apps will do really well, as will productivity apps and books and obviously games which will take advantage of the increased screen size."

Developers like Mr Singal of SourceBits believe the iPad will sound the death knell for one-off, gimmicky apps.

"Quality will shine more on the iPad than on the iPhone but with consumers looking for more functionality in their apps, those single function apps will fail and it will be the end of the iFart app that has done so well on the iPhone," said Mr Singal.

Amazon's e-book reader the Kindle could also face its greatest challenge yet with the iPad and its new iBookstore.

The website said the iPad will include all 30,000 free ebooks from online library the Gutenberg Project.

A number of online publishing houses have also done deals to have their libraries available on the new device on launch day.

The iPad will be on sale in parts of Europe, Canada and Australia by the end of April.


Monday, March 29, 2010

MacBook feedback on iPad's shadow, PC rivalry

As the world waits for new MacBooks, readers have chimed in with comments ranging from Apple losing its technological edge to the iPad overshadowing the venerable laptop line.

Last week, I offered a combination of both realistic--albeit tame--predictions (e.g., new Intel processors) and more fanciful hopes (built-in 3G) about upcoming MacBooks. In response, readers offered some thoughtful insights and suggestions.

PC rivalry: One reader suggested that Apple is falling too far behind its PC rivals. "While the PC world is already enjoying the fruits of (new Intel) processors (and) Blu-ray...we are still living in the dark ages in the world of computing according to Apple."

Along these lines, another reader asserted that selling aging hardware at relatively high prices amounts to "just calling your customers stupid."

Not surprisingly, some readers disagreed. One person said that because Apple is more prudent about upgrades, there is more stability on the Mac platform. "(Apple) is simply not going to put anything out there unless they can feel confident the consumer will have minimal issues. So far, for me at least, it has been nice not having any of the old PC issues of the past."

iPad overshadowing MacBooks: Some possibly prescient comments were made about the iPad ultimately overshadowing the MacBook. "For some people, the iPad with the basic productivity suites will be all the computing they will ever need, and therefore the low end MacBooks may be affected," said one reader.

Another chimed in: "I can see the iPad and future versions of the concept taking over home computing. Yes, there probably will still be professionals that will continue to need a 'full' laptop but for everyone else I am convinced that the simplicity of the iPad will see it replace the normal MacBook."

Not so fast, according to this reader. "The iPad is not designed to usurp notebooks. (Steve Jobs') iPad announcement speech clearly indicated that he sees the iPad as a product positioned between an iPhone and a Macbook. And, as the other poster says, unless iPad 2.0 runs full-blown OSX, it can't compete with an actual Macbook."

Lack of 3G: Finally, addressing one my pet MacBook peeves--no option for built-in 3G--the pros and cons seemed fairly evenly divided. This reader suggested adding 4G now, since it's available in the form of WiMax. "Sprint, Verizon and AT&T all offer pay as you go data packages with no contract. It would be nice to know that in a pinch I could pay $10 and get 24 hours of 4G."

But others would rather that Apple stay away from these connection technologies. "I don't agree with the 3G/4G connections. WAN (wide area network) connections should be really be centralized through tethered (mobile devices) or mobile Wi-Fi hot spot, otherwise it's just yet another mobile data contract you have to pay for."


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Firefox Mobile: Where it stands now

Just to get it out of the way, Mozilla had no official news to share at CTIA 2010 in Las Vegas. That didn't stop us from catching up with Jay Sullivan, Mozilla's vice president of mobile, to lay a finger on the pulse of Firefox's browser for mobile phones. (After all, why should Opera have all the fun?)

Mozilla continues to actively develop for Nokia's Maemo/MeeGo platform, the host of the first-ever Firefox for Mobile 1.0. The problem is that Firefox is far from being widely available in its cell phone-friendly form, extensions and all. The Nokia platform's short reach makes up just a fraction of the mobile market, and Firefox is only available on two devices--the Nokia N900 and the N810 Internet Tablet.

There's even more bad news: Mozilla has put the skids on developing Firefox for Windows phones (it reached its fourth alpha stage) as a result of some decisions Microsoft made in supporting code going forward (Silverlight and XNA, to be specific) that Mozilla does not use to write its browser--essentially creating a coding impasse. Unless or until Microsoft can provide a native development kit (NDK), work on Firefox mobile for Windows phones has flat-out stopped.

The good news, if you're patient (and not a Windows phone user), is that Mozilla is also actively working on a version of Firefox for Android phones. Mozilla powers all its various Firefox versions from the same Gecko engine, which means that Firefox for Windows, Mac, and mobile are all created with the same ingredients (specifically, Mozilla's XUL and Web standards like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS programming languages.) The takeaway message here is that once Mozilla can get the Gecko platform running smoothly for Android, porting an Android version of Firefox is a fairly simple next step. Sullivan stressed that his goal is to ship at least a beta version of Firefox for Android by late 2010, but no promises to the browser-hungry Android mob.

What about video?
When asked about how Firefox will handle video playback on mobile going forward, Sullivan's answer was consistent with Mozilla's one-for-all programming philosophy. Firefox will support HTML 5 video tags on all its browsers, leaving it up to producers to encode their videos with the new standards, so said videos can play back in Firefox mobile as they would from the desktop.

On mobile handsets that harbor Adobe's Flash plug-in, it's possible to enable support for that video technology, too. However, Mozilla disabled Flash by default at the n'th moment before the browser's final release, citing that the video playback quality in Firefox just wasn't up to snuff. A YouTube extension for Firefox mobile provided the workaround users needed to get YouTube videos to play.

While Mozilla's Sullivan made no promises, we're keeping those fingers crossed that production on Android will include a public alpha in the next few months. A spate of mobile-ready add-ons will be sure to join the few dozen that already exist.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kindle for iPad Could Heat Up E-Book Business

Amazon has posted a preview of the future of e-books, its Kindle e-reader app for Apple's forthcoming iPad. Amazon, the top e-book reseller, is teaming its e-book format with the most anticipated tablet device we've seen so far. Altogether, that will almost certainly make the iPad the world's top e-reader when deliveries begin April 3.

If this all works out--and where Apple and mobile apps are concerned, you can never be too sure--this could make the iPad attractive to everyone who owns and Kindle but wishes they could do more with it. It also makes Apple interesting to people, like me, who want an e-reader but never seriously considered an iPad.

Sadly, I am already wondering whether this marriage of convenience can be saved.

First, it's not clear Apple whether has even approved Amazon's Kindle app for iPad and its associated e-bookstore. It is not beyond possibility that Amazon has not received approval and is, essentially, playing chicken with Apple. Or maybe all is peaceful, the deal has been done, and Apple has suddenly learned how to play well with others.

Apple's strong preference to have tight control over applications and content on its mobile devices is what makes the idea of a Kindle app and competing iPad bookstores seem so strange. Barnes & Noble has said it plans a Nook iPad app and store, too.

At some point, Amazon and B&N are almost certain to chafe under Apple's reins. It's not clear whether either bookseller really wants to be in the hardware business, but it would not be wise either to get out of it anytime soon.

Today, it makes sense, especially for Apple, to make the iPad compatible with the Kindle and Nook, but should Amazon and/or B&N get out of the hardware business, I can imagine compatibility could disappear fairly quickly, leaving Apple's own iBooks store as the only option for the iPad.

I don't think Apple sees a reason why Amazon or B&N should be allowed to live as e-book reseller, when Apple does so well with other content all by itself.

But there is a good reason for Apple to allow competition, and it presents itself in the form of the U.S. Dept. of Justice, which might step-in on the side of Amazon and B&N should Apple behave too aggressively.

E-book users should hope that Apple will understand the differences between its music and apps stores and selling e-Books online, as well as accept that a separate category of e-reader hardware will exist, mostly at lower price points than the iPad.

We can hope all that, but Apple getting along with sometime competitors is an uncommon thing.

Today, this cooperation looks like a shotgun wedding. Apple and the booksellers each have something the other needs. Apple needs content and e-book customers, while Amazon and B&N benefit from Apple's hot new platform.

We'll have to wait and see how long this lasts.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Windows Phone 7: Microsoft's exercise in self restraint

Thank God for Apple

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Mix10 The key difference between Windows Phone 7 and Windows Mobile is not Silverlight, the Windows Marketplace lock-in, or the disallowing of native-code applications.

Rather, Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft's best effort at creating a user-centric device, something that is actually a pleasure to use. Its existence has everything to do with Apple and the way it has stolen Microsoft's market - in music downloads, in high-end laptops, soon in tablet computers, and of course in smartphones themselves.

And why has Apple succeeded? As Microsoft Research principal researcher Bill Buxton told The Reg three years ago, two words: industrial design. His mission in joining the company was to reform it into one that understood the importance of user experience.

Buxton: Microsoft changed the water it drinks on mobile

It does not come easy. Intellectually, Microsoft gets this message, but its culture and legacy is against it. The company's annual Mix conference, held last week in Las Vegas, Nevada, is meant to be design-focused, but there was just as much developer content, such as detailed sessions on the OData protocol. Some attendees complained that it was too much like the Professional Developers Conference held four months earlier. Adobe has a design community, Microsoft has a developer community - and a transition is hard to pull off.

Further, Microsoft has a problem with its core software products such as Office. There is no more hope of Outlook becoming user-centric than there was for the old Windows Mobile. It does not need a dollop of Office Ribbon, it needs complete reconstruction.

Microsoft's dependency on OEM partners, the engine of its growth, also works against its design efforts. I was reminded of this recently when starting a Windows 7 Toshiba Netbook for the first time, fresh out of its box. Windows 7 is meant to be quieter, but the screen soon filled with ugly dialogs competing for attention, mostly from third-parties. It's this kind of thing that drives users to the Mac.

Lip service to innovation

Here's what Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said during the February press launch for Windows Phone 7: "We want to lead and take complete accountability for the end user experience ... have more consistency in the hardware platform, more consistency in the user experience, but still enable [partner] innovation."

'Partnering innovation' is generally a disaster for Microsoft.

Ballmer makes a nod towards it as a matter of good public relations, but by locking down both hardware and software, the company is trying to minimize the extent to which OEMs can spoil the design effort.

During Mix10 last week I asked Buxton what influence he had on the design of Windows Phone 7. He said it was mostly the work of others, but it does show the ascendancy of design at Microsoft. "We kinda changed the water that we drink, in the sense that all through the design community within the company we talk, and we have a common goal in terms of trying to bring a certain change of sensibility," he said.

Dialog hell with Windows 7 Netbook - the future of Windows Phone 7?

"For me it's not even about the phone, but what's interesting is that it's the first product in the company with critical mass that's embraced this ... it will have an impact on other parts of the company."

Whether or not he was directly involved, Windows Phone 7 does seem to embody many of Buxton's principles, such as the attention given to transitions between states, with attractive flowing animations. "If you don't have as much detail in the transition as you do in the state, you're going to get it wrong," Buxton said at Mix09.

The priority of design is one reason for the limited features in this release, and for that Microsoft is taking heat from developers. No native code, no multi-tasking, no socket support, no local SQL, no communication between applications - the list goes on. Such features may be opened up gradually in future versions, but only if resource usage and user control are protected.

If users love the phone, these limitations will be forgiven. Microsoft is coming from behind though, and rivals including Apple and makers of Android phones will not be standing still while the company tries to catch up. ®


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Apple Patent Creates iPhone Social Networking

Apple (NSDQ:AAPL) may be next to hop on board the social networking bandwagon after the company filed a patent for an application that would unite iPhone and Mobile Me users in ad hoc groups based on their geographic location.

The patent, titled "Group Formation Using Anonymous Broadcast Information," which was filed with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, outlines details of a proposed location-aware mobile application delivered via token-based system that would enable iPhone and other mobile device users to discover each other and ultimately congregate when in the same physical space, such as a business meeting, tradeshow, wedding or concert.

"During private or public events, a typical individual may have many brief contacts with individuals for which they would like to have further correspondence post event," Apple said in its patent.

The Tokens would be received and stored locally on the users' iPhone or mobile device with corresponding timestamps, which would enable a service to match or correlate the tokens with other tokens of users in the same geographic location. The service would then perform an analysis on the tokens and timestamps to hone in on the locations of other iPhone/mobile device users.

"Modern wireless devices can operate in an ad hoc mode, which allows wireless devices within range of each other to discover and communicate in peer-to-peer fashion without involving central access points," Apple said in its patent. "A group can be created based on results of the analysis. Users can be identified as members of the group and invited to join the group."

In its patent, Apple uses the example of users at a rock concert, in which various attendees set their Bluetooth-enabled devices to Token Exchange mode. The devices within transmission range begin exchanging and storing tokens. Then during or after the concert, the device holders upload their tokens to a trusted service that maintains a database of device data secured by authentication and encryption technologies. Device holders can then set up accounts through the service's Website portal in order to post or relay personal information and secret data, including physical location, to other device holders with the aim of forming live groups.

However, the tentative ad hoc networks only exists while the users' devices are within close proximity, as in a concert hall, hotel, or convention center. "There is no facility for regenerating the network at a later time to allow users to continue discussions or exchange content," Apple said.

With its tentative foray into location-aware mobile applications, Apple is attempting to play catch-up in the social networking arena, while putting itself on a competitive playing field with Facebook and microblogging site Twitter, the latter of which already enables users to specify exact geographic locations for their "tweets," which appear on the Twitter site or through other third party applications.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Windows Phone 7 Series: Everything You Need to Know

Devices running Windows Phone 7 Series software won't hit store shelves until later this year, but Microsoft recently offered a peek into the upcoming OS at its MIX10 conference for developers and Web designers. The latest version of Microsoft's mobile platform promises to deliver a radical shift, with a new focus on features like social networking, the Web, and gaming.

The new mobile platform comes not a moment too soon, as Microsoft looks to shed its image as an also-ran in the mobile space. Metrics firm comScore recently reported that, of the 42.7 million smartphone users in the United States, Windows Mobile user adoption had dropped by four points from 19.7 percent to 15.7 percent between October 2009 and January 2010. During that same period, Apple gained just 0.3 percent to maintain its 25 percent marketshare, while Google's Android grew by 4.3 percent to take 7.1 percent of the U.S. market. Research In Motion's Blackberry devices are still the most popular mobile devices in the U.S., claiming 43 percent of smartphone users.

The new mobile OS has several features designed to combat those shrinking numbers. For example, the Windows Phone 7 experience will be tightly integrated with popular Microsoft products including Xbox, the company's highly popular gaming platform; a new version of Microsoft Office for mobile devices that includes OneNote and SharePoint Workspaces; and Windows Live Web-based services like Hotmail and Windows Live.

Microsoft will also place a greater focus on hardware by forcing manufacturers to ship Windows Phone 7 devices with just three physical buttons: Home, Search and Back. Device makers will also be prevented from changing the Windows Phone 7 user interface, and all handsets must have capacitive touch and multitouch capabilities.

Microsoft's announcements during MIX10 were targeted at third-party application developers, but the company's talks revealed even more about how Windows Phone 7 users will interact with their phones. So without further ado, here's what's going on with Windows Phone 7.

Windows Mobile Apps now with Apple-y goodness

Applications for Windows Phone 7 will be able to take advantage of some of the same frameworks that iPhone Apps can, including an accelerometer for motion control, location-based services, multitouch, camera and microphone, and push notification.

Push Notification? Uh-oh...

You guessed it multitasking fans, Microsoft has taken a few ideas from the iPhone playbook with Windows Phone 7, and lack of multitasking is one of them. Just like the iPhone, Microsoft's OS will only allow third-party applications to run one at a time (with the exception of Microsoft's core Windows Phone 7 apps, called hubs). Instead, it will offer push notification, which lets a server send information to a mobile application, like an instant messenger or e-mail program, as opposed to having the app run in the background and then regularly call the server for updates.

Microsoft has left the door open for multitasking to come to Windows Phone 7 Series in the future, according to Wired, but right now the company is too concerned about extending Windows Phone 7 battery life to allow it. Likewise, there are rumors that the iPhone may get multitasking with the next iteration of the iPhone OS.


Windows Phone 7 owners, unsurprisingly, will get their Windows Phone applications from a brand new Windows Phone Marketplace. The new store will be the only channel to get apps onto your Windows Phone, and Microsoft, just like Apple, will have to approve all applications before they become available in the Marketplace, according to Information Week.

One interesting addition, however, is that Microsoft's Marketplace will feature a 'try before you buy' option. There aren't many details on how that will work, but Phone Arena is reporting the length of the trial will be left up to the developer.

Software Development Kit

Microsoft isn't calling it an SDK, but (just like the iPhone) Windows Phone 7 developers will be able to download a suite of "comprehensive tools" to help them develop mobile applications. Developers will have to pay $99 a year to be part of the Windows Phone 7 development program, and for the moment developers will be limited to offering a maximum of 5 applications in the Marketplace.

Windows Phone 7 third-party applications also won't be able to run as native applications on the new mobile devices. Instead, developers will use the Silverlight runtime environment and games will use the XNA Game Studio.

Apps, apps, and more apps

Just like any other mobile platform, the success of Windows Phone 7 may come down to the apps. Microsoft says many familiar mobile applications will be coming, including the Associated Press, Foursquare, Seesmic, Sling Media, Shazam and more.