inessential by Brent Simmons

April 2010



Most expensive platform to develop for?

Of the three platforms — Mac, iPad, and iPhone — which is most expensive to develop for?

I think the obvious response is to rank them just that way: Mac most expensive, with iPad and iPhone about the same (with iPad being just a little more since it’s bigger).

But I wonder — could it be that, speaking very generally, the most expensive is iPad, not Mac?

The iPad’s size means the apps may be close to desktop apps in terms of features. At the same time, there’s no doubt that user experience and graphic design are most critical on iPad.

Obviously there are all kinds of exceptions. But I think a compelling case could be made.

UIWebView fade animation tips

Say you want to fade between one UIWebView and another (as NetNewsWire/iPad does when switching articles, or going from article to web page or back). The first one fades to 0.0 alpha and then goes away. Two tips:

  1. The first one — the one going away — should be on top. (It should fade away, revealing the webview beneath.)

  2. It will look weird unless you set the background color of the first one (going-away-one) to UIColor clearColor.

Unofficial stuff around Voices That Matter this weekend

I’ve been getting questions about the unofficial side of things around the Voices that Matter conference. What’s going on at night?

Some answers:

Thursday April 22

Xcoders meeting followed by Cyclops for geek talk and food and/or drinks. Brad Ellis and I are doing an iPad UI Interactive Volcano Backup Plan Talk. Talking about NetNewsWire/iPad design plus other apps. (Fraser Speirs is volcano-locked, so we’re filling in as best we can. Wish Fraser could have made it.)

If you’ve never been to an Xcoders meeting — or you’re from out of town but are arriving in Seattle early — you’re totally encouraged to attend. There’s no official sign-up or anything like that: just show up.

Friday April 23

Lava Lounge starting at 7 pm. It’s entirely possible we could go MPU (Mobile Party Unit) after a couple hours — see the note about Twitter, below.

Saturday April 24

Shorty’s starting around 9 pm for pinball. (There’s a sponsored thing earlier for conference-goers.)

Bonus points

For late-breaking changes of venue or whatever, follow me on Twitter. I will not be offended if you follow me for the weekend and then unfollow.

All locations (except for Xcoders meeting) are in Belltown, which is convenient for conference-goers. (Xcoders meeting is downtown. Not much farther.)

Show business

I can’t remember when it first dawned on me that app development is a form of show business.

But I was thinking about it when I started NetNewsWire for iPad. I remember thinking that it could be years before I get the next chance to create a brand-new app. So I decided to save screen shots of the app as it was getting built — and also to save mockups for a from-the-cutting-room-floor set.

Think of it as the DVD Extras.

There’s more I want to do — commentary, especially, on the design and coding process. The iPad is still so new, and it’s a fascinating thing, so I definitely want to write more about it. But, for now, there are screen shots. (And I have to work on my software, not just write about it.)

Of the things that didn’t make it, this is the one I wish that had made it. We’d have added Nick Harris to the credits list, since he did a ton of great work. (Many of the animations, for instance, are his work.)

<img border=”0”src=””alt=”Dedication (needed to add Nick Harris)”width=”331”style=”display:block; margin-left:auto; margin-right:auto;”height=”189”title=”Dedication (needed to add Nick Harris)”/>

This dedication and credits was going to be tucked-away in a specific feature — but that feature got cut the night before we called it finished.

The other goal

Posting these screen shots is not just about having something more to look at — there’s a little bit of a teaching goal. For at least a decade I’ve been interested in teaching non-developers what it’s like to make software.

The average person probably knows a ton more about about making movies than about making software. As much as we totally love movies, we note that software plays a really important role in day-to-day life. And yet its creation is mysterious to millions (billions, prolly) of people who rely on software.

It shouldn’t be such a mystery. It’s not magic, it’s just work. But interesting and fun work.

And it’s the closest thing to show business we geeks have. It’s how we rock.

What NetNewsWire/iPad looked like as I was working on it

It’s a photoset on Flickr.

Tip for one of those slightly-awkward conference situations

Here’s a situation that came up at the 360 iDev conference: at the end of Colin Donnell’s presentation, other developers from the audience came up to talk about the design of their apps.

But it’s supposed to be informative and interesting, not a sales pitch, right? Absolutely. So everybody feels just a little awkward at that moment.

So here’s what to do: if you’re a developer showing off your app, start off by saying that everybody in the room who wants a promo code can have one. Just see you after and give you a card or scrawled-on-a-napkin email address or whatever.

That takes the sales-y thing out of the room. All good.

And it might not hurt that the people who then get free copies tell their friends about how it’s a cool app — which they’re more likely to do since they’ve heard you talk about it and explain it, and they’ve seen your passion for what you do.

All good, right?

Now if only promo codes could also bring world peace, we’d be set. :)

More 360, free ticket to VTM

There’s more 360 iDev coverage on the TapLynx weblog. Extreme sumo take-downs included.

Also — you can win a free ticket to the Voices that Matter conference in Seattle just by doing a re-tweet: see @taplynx on Twitter for details. (Not the topmost tweet by now, but you’ll find it.) Seriously. Free ticket.

Notes on being a nice person online who sells software

This originally started out as an internal memo about marketing, but I’m posting it here instead.

Marketing isn’t a bad word. But the word “marketing” can cheapen real experiences. This is really about being a nice person.

Here’s my theory: you are a nice person

If you’re not, then stop reading right here, you jerk, so I can be right.

The second part of my theory: you’re a nice person, but you wouldn’t mind some tips on how to express it.

Complainy people rarely achieve in this business. People hate “whiny developers” — as if they’re particularly prone compared to other people (they’re not; they’re less prone, I believe).

They also hate “arrogant developers” — again, as if it’s an epidemic (it’s so totally not). If anything, lots of developers under-value themselves and their work. (That’s the real, and sad, epidemic.)

So here goes, in random order, some human-to-human interface guidelines:

If someone reviews your software in a publication or weblog, thank them

As long as a reasonable person would consider it a fair review, that is. If it’s not fair, bring that up with them, but do it politely. Be cool. But unfair reviews on the web are rare, I’ve found.

Consider what they’re doing: taking the time engage with your software, thinking about it, figuring it out, doing stuff with it — and then writing it up for other people. It’s not nothing, and you appreciate it.

Consider other people when something’s going on

Say there’s a promotion of some kind you’re doing with other developers: think who else might be invited.

Or, in a simpler case, say you’re at a conference at some restaurant or bar — think of who’d like to be there but doesn’t know to be there. Text ’em, use Twitter, whatever.

Use people’s names!

Don’t skimp when typing or talking. Almost no word is as sweet to a person as their own name.

And be sure to get it right. I go a little crazy for two seconds every time I see my name written as Brett.

Worse… when I was in kindergarten, my teacher Mrs. Hitch told my parents I was hyper-active. I was certainly in trouble all the time. Getting mad and breaking stuff and punching other kids is bad, I guess.

It turned out that it was because she was calling me Peter (my first name), despite my insisting that I was Brent. Once my parents filled her in, I miraculously recovered from my hyper-activity.

(Recovered somewhat. I still got blamed for things I didn’t do. Bite me, Mrs. Hitch. I’ll remember you forever, and with a complete lack of affection.)

Don’t complain about other people and things

Stupid comments on a weblog or the App Store? Ignore them. (Or learn from them, even when all there is to learn is lessons about human behavior.)

Your competitors? Don’t denigrate them. You’re above that. (Winners are always above that. People who can get away with trash talk in this business are rare.)

Random big company that sucks? You can complain, yes. But don’t go overboard, because you end up looking like a bitch. I would recommend succinct over lengthy. Make your point, then stop.

Your platform vendor (if you have one)? Tread lightly. Constructive criticism, offers of help, etc. are good. You don’t want other people, especially people who work for your platform vendor, to go, “Oh, so-and-so, complaining again. Whiny bastard.” Then you’ve wasted your time — and you look ugly.

This calls for no drama, no hyperbole. It calls for intelligence, accuracy, insightfulness, compassion, and imagination. This is one of those rare occasions we have to pretend to be adults. Remember: this is business.

Okay, so you can complain, yes, yes you can, but take care in how you do it. I’m not suggesting a Pollyanna attitude: I’m saying the web is full of whining, but whining is powerless. Kvetch Better.

Give out serial numbers and promo codes to people you know

Remember that the percentage of people you know is very, very small (or should be) compared to the size of the market you’re after. Be generous.

The web is part gift economy. Generosity is repaid over and over.

Help the next person

Did somebody help you out once? I bet they did. Then help someone else out.

I don’t know if the Mac/iPhone/iPad community does this more than other developer communities. Maybe we just think we do. But I know we do it a bunch.

A recent example I noted was Dave Wiskus raising funds to get Mike Berg of We Heart Games to 360iDev. It worked! Will Mike Berg help someone else some time? I have no doubt.

(It doesn’t have to be about money. It’s rarely a money thing.)

There’s more

But I’m drawing a blank at the moment. So I’ll stop. Back to coding. (Just fixed the one known crashing bug in NetNewsWire/iPad, thanks to a patient and helpful user, so it’s a good night already.)

PS I’m far from perfect. Example: every day it bugs me that I’m months behind on thanking Lex Friedman for a review he did. I should fix that.

PPS This advice is for software developers, not mythical creatures like John Gruber or the Macalope.

Voices that Matter — there is still time, brother

I heard from our pals at Pearson that there’s still time to register for the Voices that Matter iPhone/iPad conference in Seattle.

Look — Seattle rocks. It’s going to be so much fun. Fraser Speirs is coming all the way from Scotland. Wolf is speaking. Aaron Hillegass is speaking. Kevin Avila. Plenty more coolness.

And everybody I’ve talked to wants to go play pinball.

Oh yeah, it’s on.

PS The title of this post is an On the Beach reference. By no means do I mean it is, or should be, men-only. It’s meant to impart a sense of urgency — like, register now to avert nuclear war. See? It’s hyperbole, which everybody enjoys all the time on the web.

Post 360 iDev

I had a great time at the 360 iDev iPhone/iPad conference earlier this week. My thanks to John, Nicole, and Tom — and to all the speakers and sponsors and attendees. It was easily the best one yet.

I don’t think the next one has been announced — but pay attention for it. Totally worth going.

Some random notes from the last few days:

  • Double Encore acquired Massively Overrated. A great fit. Very cool news. Congrats to all!

  • Zeni Restaurant is very, very yummy. Ethiopian food.

  • Trials is a good bar — except that last call is at 11:30. 11:30? My attorney advises me that that contravenes the Geneva Convention. We’re investigating our options under international law.

  • Fastmac has an impact-resistant iPad case coming out. (Maybe it’s out? Not sure.) They did a demo by putting M&M’s in there and smashing it with a hammer. Didn’t hurt the candy. Magic case for magic device.

  • Beards may be the key to winning at sumo wrestling. (Also, bare feet instead of socks, for better traction.) (And: sumo wrestling is high-larry-us.)

  • Collin Donnell is the world’s sexiest programmer. I know this because his Twitter bio says so. He hasn’t figured out if I’m teasing him — or flirting with him. So, yes, the poor fella has several months of deeply unsettling dreams to look forward to. (He’s a rocket man, by the way.)

  • I put up my Keynote slides on under-the-hood stuff for content apps.

  • I’m totally looking forward to Rana June Sobhany’s book.

  • At some point a video of me singing Under the Bridge (playing Rock Band) may appear — which will be proof absolute that I shouldn’t be allowed near microphones. Or cameras. Especially not video cameras. (In my defense, I’d had enough beers to be awful, but not enough to be good.)

  • Faisal Jawdat turned me on to Cat Paint, which may be the greatest iPhone app ever.

  • Brad Ellis (who designed Postage, SnoGlobe, NetNewsWire/iPad, etc.), has insane alien hands. Maybe that’s normal for designers, being from outer space?
    Brad talking