opinion

The Problems You Don't Know

I’ve been running pretty hard the last few months between the day job and finishing up the Email Field Guide. In the process, I’ve fallen off the wagon a few times with my OmniFocus task management discipline. Everybody probably knows that feeling of seeing the red badge of “Overdue” show up on the icon and know that it has been several days since you opened up the application and sorted through things. You know there is ticking bomb under your kitchen table and part of you would rather pretend it’s not there and keep eating Cheeze-Its.

I’m here to tell you to put down the box of delicious cheese-flavored crackers and instead cut the red wire. If you are using some of the tricks I showed in my OmniFocus Screencasts, it will not take that long to quickly get through your task list. Even if that means pushing 95% of your tasks off until next Monday, that 5% left is manageable and just think how much more time and money it will cost to rebuild your kitchen if you let that bomb go off.

Here is how I did it under fire the last few weeks.

Screenshot 2013-11-21 14.02.13.png

1. Enable A Clear Perspective

I have a special perspective to help me sweep the decks. It removes all project distinctions and instead just gives me a long list of all active tasks. This makes it really easy to grab big fat chunks of them using the shift or command keys while selecting.

Screenshot 2013-11-21 14.02.28.png

2. Use the Inspector to Process Multiple Tasks

On the Mac version of OmniFocus, open up the inspector and move the start date to some safe date in the future for large swathes of your selected task backlog. Set a record for how many you move with one selection.

3. Defuse the Bombs

There will be a few important things left. Deal with those and get back to the big project that put you behind in the first place. Remember, this too shall pass.

The thing is there are the problems you know and the problems you don’t know. It is the ones you don’t know that will get you every damn time.

Trucks and Cars

In 2010, Steve Jobs made the analogy between PCs and mobile devices with the original trucks and cars. He explained that when we were an agrarian nation and automobiles were new, everybody wanted a truck. Automobiles were expensive things and you only bought one if you needed it to do heavy work. That, however, was temporary. Eventually, people began buying cars and before you knew it most people bought cars.

As the analogy goes, the desktop PCs are the trucks and the emerging classes of tablets and pocket computing devices, such as iPhones, are the cars. When he made the analogy, it made a lot of sense to me but I felt like it was still something pretty distant into the future. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Looking at my new iPhone, it has a 64 bit processor and is more powerful than anything I could’ve imagined just a few years ago. Moreover, software developers are getting smarter about ways to implement these touch devices in a way that’s quick, efficient, and just better than a traditional PC. (Don’t believe me? Check out Editorial.) I don’t think the desktop Mac is going away but I do feel the swing as more people decide their phones and tablets are “enough”.

This was brought home for me today with some reporting by Horac Dediu. Including iOS and Android devices with traditional computers, in Q3 2008, there were 92 million units shipped, 90% of which were running Windows. Jumping to Q3 2013, using the same devices, there were 269 million units shipped of which Windows was 32%. There were more traditional computer shipped in 2008 than in 2013. You don’t even need fancy statistics to verify this. Just look around you, and you’ll find several people that get by just fine with a mobile device alone.

I’m not saying that laptops and desktop computers are going to go away entirely. There’s a big group of people that are always going to want that kind of power, including me. However, the shift from trucks to cars is in full swing and as the mobile devices get even better hardware and smarter software, this is going to become even more obvious.

Scummy App Copycats

I cannot understate how repulsive I find the actions reported in this Ars Technica article. An App Developer made a successful photo app called "A Beautiful Mess". The app was successful and then a group of copycats began submitting confusingly similar apps with names like "A Beautiful Mess Free" and "A Beautiful Mess +". In some instances, the copycats used identical icons and screenshots. The article opines how some developers will even grab the code from the original app and reverse engineer it. How does Apple not see what is going on here? If I submitted an app called "Logic Pro X Free" do you think it would get approved?  When someone so blatantly rips off another developer, Apple shouldn't only reject the app, they should also ban the developer. There simply is no excuse.

The tragedy is that with the approval process Apple has the ability to stop this practice in its tracks. Indeed, Apple is the only app store that can do this since it is the only one requiring approval.  As a community we need to put as much light on this as possible so, in addition to looking for malicious code, Apple also starts looking for (and banning) scummy developers. 

 

Apple's Enemies

I'm 100% on board with Brent Simmons' post at Macworld yesterday.

"Instead, Apple’s enemy is Apple itself. It must attract and retain talent. It needs to get strong where it’s weak—particularly with syncing and online services.

It needs to retain that awesome balance between cautious incremental updates and the occasional, mind-blowing new.

It’s not easy. But nobody does it better than Apple."

I tried to make a similar point in my Macworld article about the culture of fear in the Apple community. We are not going back to a world where one platform gets 96% of the market share. We no longer need to be worried about our beloved fruit company shuttering its doors. It is now up to Apple to continue to deliver.

The RSS Apocalypse

Aldo Coresi explains:

"The truth is this: Google destroyed the RSS feed reader ecosystem with a subsidized product, stifling its competitors and killing innovation. It then neglected Google Reader itself for years, after it had effectively become the only player. Today it does further damage by buggering up the already beleaguered links between publishers and readers. It would have been better for the Internet if Reader had never been at all."

I spent most of today in meetings. As a result, I didn't have time to fiddle in Twitter or check in on the web. It was the kind of day where I knew I could catch up on the day's news the way I do most busy days, through RSS. So you can imagine my suprise as I drove home today chatting with Katie Floyd on the phone and she tells me Google is uplugging Reader.

I remember back when RSS was amazing and something you paid for. I also remember when Google Reader showed up and very quickly started taking over. It was free. It was Google (back before we were all scared of Google) and it wrecked the market for all of the paid RSS services. We all wondered how Google monetized its Reader expense but we wonder that about most Google services so we all cancelled our paid services and leapt.

Now Google is yanking the cord. Since Reader is the Google service I use the most, that made me a bit sad but I didn't see it as the end of the world. I'm sure some enterprising folks have already filled the whiteboard and are spitballing ideas for the next great RSS reader service. Within a month competitors will be on the market and I'll switch. It will probably cost a few bucks but they won't be collecting data on me or selling to advertisers. (At least not the RSS service I evenutally choose won't.) In other words, with Google exiting, the free market will take over. So my initial reaction was, "meh" and even a bit of enthusiasm that with paid RSS, people may start innovating again.

Then I got home and my wife was really upset about it. My wife is a bit of a nerd too but she travels in circles of electronically connected paper-crafters and they are absolutely up in arms about this. To them, Google Reader is RSS. They don't know of alternative services and as far as they know, new services will never again exist. They think RSS is going to die on July 1 and that's that. Now some of them will figure out they can go elsewhere but some won't. Those people will stop reading blogs via RSS and those blogs will lose readers.

That got me thinking. I've spent years building up MacSparky.com. There are thousands of RSS subscribers. How many will bother to sort out a new RSS system and subscribe again? The closing of Google Reader is going to result in the great RSS purge of 2013. Then Brett Terpstra tweeted this article by Aldo Cortesi which sums it all up in the above cited paragraph better than I ever could. This whole mess is just another example of why free is so often bad.

$329

I've been thinking about all the hullabaloo over the price of the new iPad mini. Everybody feels that Apple blew it by not getting the price down to something competitive with Google and Amazon. Upon reflection, this really doesn't surprise me. Both Google and Amazon have stated that they are selling their small plastic-based tablet products essentially at cost in order to get market share. They have a problem. Apple is beating their pants off in the tablet market and they need a toehold. Apple enthusiasts are eager for Apple to stifle the competition by making a superior iPad mini at roughly the same price. As they see it, Apple has its boot on Google and Amazon's neck and needs only to push to own all aspects of the tablet market for the foreseeable future.

Apple however does not play that game. Apple likes to make money. I can't really fault it for that. The iPad mini starts at $329. the Google Nexus device starts at $199. That Google device only has 8 GB of storage whereas the iPad mini has 16 GB. To get a Google Nexus tablet at 16 GB, you need to spend $250, $79 less than the iPad mini.

So a fair comparison is the $250 Google Nexus device versus the $329 iPad. What does that extra $79 get you? For starters, the iPad mini is better designed and built. I'll take aluminum over plastic any day of the week. Additionally, the iPad mini is an iPad in all senses of the word. It runs, natively, all of the excellent iPad software. The Android tablet software is not there yet. (That thing I wrote about Android apps nearly a year ago still stands.)

When I was on the Mac Roundtable this week, I made the comment that this device isn't necessarily aimed at us nerds. We all love our large-screen iPads with retina displays and a lot of us don't see a good reason to go to the smaller device. That's okay. Apple already has our money. I suspect that the market for the iPad mini is probably less nerd-inclined than that of the larger iPad. The iPad mini is aimed at people who want a quality smaller tablet device. Apple thinks there are a lot of people willing to shell out an extra few bucks for such a device and I suspect they are correct. All of this said, I agree that if they were able to hit $299 instead of $329, a lot more people would have gotten past the price barrier but Apple is a very successful company and I'm sure people much smarter than I already did that math and the iPad mini will do just fine at $329.

The real interesting part of all of this discussion is the collective concern of Apple enthusiasts over Apple blowing it. All of us remember the times when Apple was nearly on the chopping block and there's this sort of cultural fear that somehow our beloved company is to stop making our beloved products. As a result, we all wring our hands and rend our garments in fear every time Apple makes a big move. Moreover, when we see any other company being remotely successful in the same space as Apple, a small part of our brains think it is Microsoft Windows all over again. The good news, my brothers and sisters, is that those days are over. There is not going to be a single winner like there was for the Mac vs. Windows days this time. (Not even Apple.) Apple gets that and is more than happy to let others fight over the low margin end of the market and gobble up the high-end of the market where Apple can actually make a profit and, therefore, keep the lights on.

Jason Snell said it best in this week's Macworld podcast, "Is there a cheap tablet market or is there a small tablet market?" I think the latter and so does Apple. I'll also go out on a limb and say that, with the iPad mini's sales starting tonight at midnight, they'll be sold out before I wake tomorrow.

About this Apple Publishing Lawsuit ▻

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY)wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal about the US Department of Justice's lawsuit against Apple over book-selling practices. I'm sure there must be some explanation for this lawsuit but it eludes me.

As I understand things:

  1. Amazon had a chokehold on digital distribution and was gleefully ramming it down the publishers' throats.

  2. Apple, and others, entered the market and gave publishers more control over how they sold their books.

If anything, it seems that Amazon is the one being anti-competitive. It looks like Senator Schumer agrees with me.

Degrees of "Free"

In this week’s episode of Build & Analyze, Marco Arment explains the challenges of competing with free. At some point over the last few years I’ve migrated away from free services for anything I consider essential. I’d like to say this was calculated but this shift took place at a subconsious level. This shift has two reasons:

  1. No Monetization = Temporary
    I don’t want to waste my time in something temporary. I’ve been burned too many times over the years investing my time and effort learning a free service or app that disappears with little or no warning. If something is good, I want it to stick around and I understand that requires money.

  2. Free is Not Free
    While some apps are free downloads, they are rarely “free”. I end up paying with intrusive ads or information about myself. I’d much rather pay a few dollars to begin with. In my book, that is much cheaper.

Applying this to Instapaper, not only did I pay for the app on my iPhone and iPad, I also am a subscriber and pay $1 per month for this ridiculously useful service that I use every day.

Sandboxing and the Mac App Store

As I met with developer friends at Macworld this year, a common discussion point was Apple’s forthcoming implementation of sandboxing on the Mac. As part of the continuing effort to keep the Mac secure, Apple is preparing to require that all apps sold through the Mac App Store comply with Apple’s sandboxing rules. Sandboxing in Mac OS X is the process of requiring apps to obtain permission for access to different parts of your Mac’s memory and file system. For instance, if you are create a text editor app, you shouldn’t need access to the Mac’s Address Book database. Indeed, making an app that seems harmless but then grabs and uploads personal information and data is exactly the kind of behavior Apple seeks to prevent. In essence, sandboxing partitions the different areas of your Mac only giving software developers access to those particular assets their apps reasonably require. A photo editing app, for instance, will not get access to your admin files. A calculator will not get access to your documents folder. I’m simplifying, but you get the point.

As such, Apple is adding sandboxing to Mac OS X. Sandboxing makes a lot of sense. It worked out really well for iOS and now Apple wants the same level of security on the Mac. However, there still are a lot of questions. For instance, what about apps that necessarily need to work across your Mac? Macro applications and text expansion tools work within several apps and, by their very nature, need access throughout your system in order to serve you. Likewise, some of our favorite productivity apps use small menu bar apps to provide an ever-present gateway into their functionality. Another example are FTP clients that allow you to upload files from anywhere in your computer. All of these applications are incredibly useful. Unfortunately, it also appears that all of these applications would violate of Apple’s looming sandboxing rules.

Nothing is in stone yet. The policy hasn’t been made final or implemented. However, the writing is on the wall and longtime Mac app developers are concerned. Is Apple’s efforts to implement sandboxing going to kill their apps? Nobody knows: everyone is worried.

At some point, Apple is going to throw the switch and start vetting all apps submitted for sale in the Mac App Store. Apps that don’t meet the sandboxing standards, it appears, will not be sold through the Mac App Store. This is a serious problem for app developers as users become more and more accustomed to buying their applications exclusively through the Mac App Store. (I buy nearly all of my apps there.) Moreover, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that one day the only way you can buy an app will be through the Mac App Store.

Sandboxing was originally set to begin in November, 2011. As both Apple and developers struggled to understand exactly what this meant, the deadline was pushed back further. Frankly, having talked to several developers, it seems like there is still a lot of confusion over sandboxing and, in my opinion, this should get pushed back to the next major Mac OS X release, 10.8.

While I have no objection to the idea of sandboxing on the Mac, I hope that Apple doesn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. From the outside, it appears that the Apple steamroller is gassing up and a lot of our favorite apps are sitting in its path. I believe there is a middle path here. Sandboxing can work if Apple is willing to consider being reasonable with apps that necessarily require broad access to your Mac, particularly from established developers. Maybe the reason this keeps getting delayed is because Apple is internally figuring out how to make that happen. Regardless, I can report that many developers are agitated about the possibility of sandboxing rolling them over in the future. I can only hope Apple will use enough foresight to keep that from happening. It would be a shame if we lost some of our favorite apps in this effort to make the platform more secure.

So as users what does all of this mean for us right now? It is hard to say. We could be looking at a serious threat to some of our favorite software or we could be tilting at windmills. Hopefully it is the latter not the former. In the meantime, as a software purchaser, this causes me to pause with respect to purchasing applications in the Mac App Store. While generally I’m a big fan of the Mac App Store, when it comes to apps that could potentially tread on the sandboxing rules, I’m hesitant. My concern is that they will eventually be banned from the Mac App Store, and any licenses I purchased there will no longer be available to me. As a result, if it’s an app that may run afoul of these new rules, buy it from the developer directly for now. Maybe in six months this will work out and not be a problem, but why take the risk?

The Android App Store Problem

Eric Schmidt predicts that in six months, iOS developers will be flocking to Android, even if they don’t like it. Ummm, think again.

Android’s marketshare continues to climb and that is presumably a good thing for Android but mere numbers does not create a vibrant app market. There need to be two pieces for a successful platform app store: 1. a trustworthy store, and 2. customers. Android has neither of these.

The Theoretical Android App Store

While there are no shortage of issues with Apple’s own App Store, there are a few things it really nails. Apple provides a safe and easy environment to deliver apps and seperate customers from their money. This is where Android misses the boat. If Google wants to attract developers, they shouldn’t worry so much about marketshare and instead focus on getting a reliable payment system and an app purchase environment where customers aren’t constantly getting stiffed. Amazon seems to be making the best efforts to fix this but there are some truly legendary stories about what a spectacular job they are doing screwing it up. With so many different form factors, screen sizes, and system specs, it is going to be a lot harder for Google (or somebody) to deliver the iOS App Store experience on Android.

“Free is Better! Hooray!”

Android owners don’t buy apps. With very few exceptions, every Android owner I’ve talked to is only interested in free apps. To hell with the user interface. Put ads everywhere. Just don’t charge any money. (Perhaps all of the on-screen ads explains the arms race of larger screen sizes.) I don’t mean this as some sort of character attack against Android owners, many of whom are very nice people. I just think that, for whatever reason, Android users are not interested in paying for mobile apps. I’ve been talking to Android and iOS owners about this for years and the theme is consistent. iOS owners buy lots of apps: Android owners don’t.

I don’t know if it is a lack of trust in the payment system or simply a culture of “free” but ask your Android toting friends how many apps they’ve purchased and the answer will be few, if any. The short of it is that Android devices could multiply like locusts but if people don’t buy apps for them, developers will stay away.

Multi-Platform is a Feature

Maybe this is obvious but as iCloud rolls out, users are going to add a new criteria to their app buying calculus. “Is it multi-platform?”

Just like the way even us ‘power users’ are getting hooked on Lion’s versioning and auto-saves, even the most die-hard Dropbox supporters are going to find themselves expecting data to migrate between their Macs, iPads, iPhones, and even Windows PCs.

With iCloud, there is no secret incantation, retina scan, or hacking involved. Your data just is. No longer will you have to consider whether the right folder is synced to the right app. Work on one device. Turn it off. Work on another device and pick up where you left off.

There is a price to brain dead syncing. From everything I’ve seen, in order to work, you’ve got to be working on the same app on every platform.

For the first time since the iOS arrived in our lives, using the same app on multiple platforms comes with an added benefit, data bliss. When users look at apps for their Mac or iOS devices, they are going to actively seek those with support on other platforms. Automatic data-syncing is a huge benefit and multi-platform is going to be a big deal for enlightened Mac and iOS developers.

Already there are some text editors supporting both iOS and Mac OS X. I think this will spill over into most productivity apps: PDF apps, outliners, mind mappers, graphics apps, and any app with a user generated data file. Expect to see a lot of familiar apps on unfamiliar platforms soon.

Juggling

In episode 23 of Back to Work, my friend Dan Benjamin argued it is not possible to do two things really well at the same time. Specifically, Dan explained that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to seriously pursue two different big things. He used the example of starting an iOS app business while holding a day job. Dan made a good case that the attempt to do two things well results in you sucking at both.

Ouch.

I’m doing a lot of things at once. Am I torpedoing myself? Dan’s argument led to some soul searching about what I’ve been up to lately. I simultaneously agreed and disagreed with Dan throughout the show. At one point Merlin Mann used me as an example. I practice law by day and write technology by night. Dan explained that I didn’t count because I’m not a, “normal human.” That’s the one part that Dan got wrong. I’m very human and this stuff is really hard.

A Very Regular Human Indeed

I laugh when someone refers to me as a productivity guru. I am a mess. My mother chose well when she named me David. I spend my weekdays in the trenches with my clients against a seemingly endless stream of Goliaths. I spend my free time (the weeknights and weekends Dan was talking about) writing for MacSparky and podcasting with the Mac Power Users. Add to this my family, friends, and other social commitments and I quickly find I don’t have just two things. I have six or seven. That is my normal juggling routine. Now add to this the spinning chainsaw that is a 25 chapter book, due in just a little over a month, and you can see how I am well and truly screwed. Or at least it would seem. The thing is, right now I am having more fun than ever.

Saying No

Saying “no” is something I’ve only recently figured out but, like a religious convert, I’m exercising this particular muscle plenty. If you want to juggle, you have to learn to say no. Even jugglers have their limits. There are degrees of difficulty in saying no. Television and video games are the easy ones. The day I decided to stop responding to every MacSparky e-mail was a tough “no”. (I still read everything you send me.) It gets even harder when you turn down opportunities. In the past six months I’ve turned down some great opportunities including writing for some really smart people, sitting on an American Bar Association planning board, and expanding my career. I don’t have any regrets with any of those, but they weren’t easy. The real corker, however, is saying no to your family and friends. That is a fourth degree no. This stuff is hard.

The key to it all for me is balance. I try my very best to give the things and people I love attention and accept that it is not possible for me to be all things to all people at any one time. I’m also not too hard on myself. I do my best and try each day to get a little better.

Where Dan’s words ring true for me is this very month as I push to complete a book. It is this extra commitment with the obscene amounts of extra time it requires that I get Dan. Now things are nuts. The next month is going to requires me to say no to some things I’d rather not. It is a temporary thing and will pass soon enough. If every month was like this one, though, I’d fall apart, just as Dan predicts.

Big and Small Touches

Wouldn’t it be great though if I could constantly juggle all of this? If I could run a law practice, blog, podcast, speak, and write books and not go insane? That would make me awesome with my very own superpower. That, however, would also be bullshit.

Writing the book is my edge case. Normally I seem to get by just fine with the law practice and MacSparky. I think, for me at least, this juggling act isn’t a super power but instead a selfish thing. I really like everything I do right now and I’m addicted to the big and small touches.

Just looking at my law/MacSparky juggle, I see these two things scratching very different itches.

I became a lawyer because I enjoy helping people. Stop laughing. You’d be surprised how many lawyers find themselves in this profession for exactly the same reason. People come to me with some really big problems. My clients need help and I can make the difference between pulling out of a nose dive and making a big smoking hole in the ground. My work as a lawyer has a major impact on their lives. Those are my big touches

MacSparky, on the other hand, leads to many small touches. I get e-mails from people all over the world explaining how some little thing I posted or said made their lives better. I love those small touches. When the Mac at Work book shipped, I received an e-mail from a single mom who explained how she used a bunch of my workflows from the book to shorten her work day, saving her about 10 hours a week (500 hours a year) for more time with her daughter. When I wonder why I’m working so hard on this next book and saying “no” so often, that e-mail is why. Both the big and small touches that mean a lot for me.

Dan is Right

Despite all of the above yammering, Dan is right. You really can’t give two things everything. The trick in all of this is finding that tipping point when outside interests go from being simply a hobby or dabbling into the pedal-to-the-metal Next Big Thing. Recognizing that moment and having the guts to jump on it is key. That is what I think Dan was talking about and he is absolutely right. My only qualification is that this idea of just one thing shouldn’t prevent you from dabbling and hobbies. You never know where those things might lead. (I think Dan would agree with me on this.)

Since I’ve accepted Dan’s argument, I’m agreeing that if I did just law, or just wrote about technology, or just podcasted, I’d no doubt be able to commit more energy and be better at the one thing. However, I’m still not interested in picking just one. Maybe I’m too gutless to jump but I don’t think that is the case.

Emerging from this rabbit hole, I realize that at this point in my life, I couldn’t imagine myself giving up the big touches or the little touches. I’m not willing to jump on just one thing because I’m enjoying several things way too much. My life is more enriching now because of all the things I do. In other words, I intend to continue juggling.

The Lodsys Lawsuit and Apple's Opportunity

So Lodsys made good on its threat. This really isn’t surprising. They sent the demand letter and now they’ve filed suit.

Lawsuits are filed every day. Crooks sue homeowners for tripping over the sprinkler when breaking in. Crazy stuff happens. All you need to file a lawsuit is a few pieces of paper and the filing fee. The trick, as Lodsys will discover, is proving your case.

I view these lawsuits as a crossroads for Apple. They could parachute in and protect their developers or they could abandon them as they enter the meat grinder that is patent litigation.

It seems to me that there really is only one choice for Apple, to step in and defend. There are a lot of reasons for this starting with the most important, it is in Apple’s own best interest. If Apple lets developers get sued for using Apple’s API’s, developers are going to to go elsewhere. Gold rush or not, nobody wants to get sued. While I’m sure the developer agreement has some draconian terms that say Apple has no responsibility, I don’t think Apple is going to leave these developers hanging out this way.

While the cost of patent litigation is truly daunting, Apple has the money and is already well lawyered-up. None of these defendants are in a position to defend themselves as well as Apple could.

Finally, stepping in is a huge win for Apple on the public relations front. Developers will see that and the iOS will benefit. If Apple were to take the other route and and leave the developers on their own to deal with this litigation, the exact opposite would happen.

As I’ve said before, I don’t possess a lick of knowledge about how to run a patent case but I have seen first hand the way litigation kills small companies. I suspect that in the next 30 days, the lid will come off and we will find out how far Apple is willing to go for its developers. For everyone’s sake (including Apple) I hope it is a long way.

MacSparky.com is sponsored by Bee Docs Timeline 3D. Make a timeline presentation with your Mac.

About Lodsys

One of the cardinal rules of this website is that I will never provide any legal advice. Not only is this to keep me from getting sued for malpractice but also because this part of my life is separate from that part of my life. Nevertheless, people have asked and I think it is time to weigh in with my own thoughts.

First a little background

I don’t practice intellectual property law. I don't know anything about it. I have never represented a client concerning an intellectual property issue. I have no more knowledge about this stuff than any of the other Internet carnival barkers out there. If you read anything in this post and used it to make a legal decision in your own life, that would make you a moron. If you’ve got a legal problem, get a lawyer. The one thing I am sure about when an intellectual property issue arises for one of my clients is to run, not walk, to the nearest IP specialist and hand them off.

What I also know is that patent and trademark cases are one of the most efficient ways to kill a company. It is like terminal cancer, heart disease, and a hernia all rolled up into one ball of pain. I tell my clients that litigating in the patent court is the same as building a bonfire of $100 bills. Burn baby burn. Perhaps it's not clear, but I am not a fan of patent and trademark litigation.

What we know, now

It is undisputed that Apple entered a license agreement with Lodsys. Nobody on the outside, however, has seen it. I suspect somewhere in that agreement is a critical paragraph that talks about the extent and scope of the license. It either applies to independent app developers using the Apple produced API or doesn't. That is what a lot of very expensive lawyers are going to spend the next year arguing about and ultimately, barring settlement, a smart person in a black robe will decide.

Before Apple went public on this, one possible outcome was that this matter would just go away. Indeed, the first draft of this post included an extensive discussion of this possibility. I reasoned that if Apple’s own reading of the license agreement was that the license didn't extend to independent app developers, Apple would quietly enter negotiations with Lodsys to amend the agreement, write a check, and be done with it. This would be done quietly because Apple does not want to open the door for every other software license agreement and, frankly, because it is Apple.

That did not happen. To the contrary, Apple very publicly states that it has reviewed the license agreement and believes it applies to the app developers. I suspect Apple attorneys burned the midnight oil during the last week reaching that conclusion so such a definitive statement could be made.

I don't think Apple has the disdain for its developers that some imply. Nor do I believe they will leave developers in the lurch. The stakes are too high for Apple. If independent app developers can get sucked into intellectual-property litigation at the drop of a hat, a lot of them would leave the platform. I certainly would. I'm happy that Apple has stepped in. What started out looking like David versus Goliath now looks like Goliath versus the Imperial Death Star.

Although I've seen none of the underlying documents in this case and don't pretend to understand the patents at issue, I suspect this matter really boils down to a matter of contract. The Lodsys/Apple license is either broad enough to cover these app developers or not. In either case, I suspect Apple is going to do right and all future Apple software licenses just got about five pages longer to make sure this never happens again.

MacSparky.com is sponsored by Bee Docs Timeline 3D. Make a timeline presentation with your Mac.

iGlue

Over the past decade, Apple has turned the technology world on its head with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. All of these were transformative device to change the landscape of consumer electronics. It has also fueled legendary growth for the company with significant profits every year arriving on products that did not exist the year before.

At some level, however, none of these products were particularly surprising. Rumors of the iPhone swirled for years before it arrived. Likewise, all of us nerds were pining away for the iPad long before Apple bestowed it upon us.

So now that we have all of these devices the question arises, what is next? If Apple wants to continue to grow, it needs to continue to innovate and amaze us. So what is the next innovative product? There are several contenders:

The Apple Television

One popular source of speculation is the idea that Apple will build its own television set. I can see it in my mind’s eye: a monolithic slab of Ivesian industrial design with just the right amount of glass and aluminum and a remote controller with no buttons but a pulsing Apple icon. The trouble is, I’m not sure even I, a veteran of countless Apple launch day lines, would buy one. People don’t buy new TVs like they do iPods or iPhones. Moreover, the TV business is cutthroat and low margin, which is not Apple’s cup of tea. In order to make an Apple television work Apple would have to transform the experience and I’m not sure they can. This would rely on cooperation of networks and content providers, which is outside Apple’s control. In short, the Apple television sounds like small profits and big headaches. Perhaps Apple will prove me wrong but I don’t see that as the next big thing.

The iSomethingElse

Apple has experimented in the past with making printers, external hard drives, cameras, and other consumer electronics. The rub is, the company has done none of that since Steve came back. These again are small margin industries where Apple can’t change the world the same way it did with the iPhone and iPad.

I believe the Apple engineers are in iterate mode improving upon existing technologies for the iPhone and iPad (and to a lesser extent the Mac) so they can remain ahead of the competition. I do not believe they have cooked up some new device that none of us thought of to change the world, again. Put simply, the next Big Thing isn’t a thing at all. Instead, I think it is glue to pull the existing Apple products line together even tighter. It is time for iGlue.

iGlue

This is no revalation. The Internet is buzzing with talks of the mystereous Apple server farm and iCloud. Apple has built an amazing product family. Now it’s time to work on family relations. Apple needs to turn itself into the digital hub of our lives. We should be able to buy an Apple device, type in account credentials, and have immediate access to all of our digital bits. By this I don’t mean just songs we’ve bought from iTunes. I think it should be documents, pictures, media, and everything else in our home folders. The whole enchilada.

I have talked to Apple employees and they get this. There is no mystery that the world is turning cloud-based and those who ignore this will get left behind. I think this is a challenge for Apple. Clearly, synchronizing and cloud-based solutions are Google’s game, not Apple’s. Can Apple succeed outside of its comfort zone? I think so.

The very public failure that was the MobileMe launch has not faded from anyone’s memory, especially Apple’s. Common wisdom is that Apple can’t “do” the Internet. I think common wisdom is wrong. While Apple has tinkered with the Internet so far, I don’t think Apple has “done” the Internet yet. That is about to change.

With billions sitting in the bank, Apple can build the massive data centers and hire the required talent to make them humm. The only variable left is heart, and I suspect we’ll know just how much Apple’s heart is in the iCloud in the next few months.

So what if Apple brought its considerable resources to bear on the Internet problem? What would we see? I think it is a service that is not as aggressive as Google with new features but really nails those everyday features consumers need with a gorgeous interface and panache. Apple never overreaches with the first steps in a new venture. The MobileMe fiasco will make them even more conservative with a big cloud syncing rollout. So will I get my whole enchilada on day one? Probably not. Nevertheless, I believe the next big thing will be iGlue and when the dust settles, people will stop saying that Apple cannot “do” the Internet.

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Thoughts on The Post PC World

I watched the Apple Keynote tonight and was struck by how often I heard the term “Post PC.” When Steve Jobs and Apple start using these catch phrases, it is no accident. Apple has its own lexicon that starts internally but, at some point, often finds its way into Keynote speeches and product descriptions.

I believe “Post PC” is the newest of these phrases. We’ve all speculated about the future of technology in light of the explosive growth of iOS and the growing legions of mobile competitors. To the people at Apple, I don’t believe this dialogue is anything new. Internally, I think they’ve been planning this for years.

Looking back, I suspect Apple first started contemplating the Post PC world when iPods were selling like hotcakes. I’m certain that by the time the iPhone showed up, Apple’s Post PC plans were already in full swing. When the iPad appeared, the shoe dropped for the rest of us. Steve Jobs confirmed this last year at the AllThingsD conference when he talked of trucks and cars and how the PCs we all know and love are going to become the trucks of technology: still useful, but not necessary for most.

This all culminates today with Apple’s repeated mantra about the “Post PC” world. Why are we just hearing about this now? Because Apple is already sitting on top of the mountain in this new order.

I’ve written before about Mac user’s fear of returning to those dark days. I suspect there is a certain degree of that also ingrained in the Apple corporate culture. I’m not sure I’d call it fear so much as resolve with this second chance. Never again.

Never again will Apple blow its lead. Never again will Apple seize defeat from the jaws of victory. Never again in this new Post PC World.

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Data Liberation, MultiMarkdown, and OPML

Fletcher Penney has been hard at work on MultiMarkdown 3.0. Perhaps one of the most inspired new features is the ability to work with OPML files. (Don’t know what OPML is? Read this.) Fletcher let me in on the secret early and it is absolutely nerd-tastic.

The Revolution

We are on the verge of something remarkable with our data. Simple data portability is here and it is killing the stranglehold of any one software developer over our digital toolbelts. This option-rich environment is letting people build their own workflows. For a change, the machines are working for us. How did we get here? I see a few reasons:

The Mobile Explosion

With the iPhone, iPad, and App store, Apple has turned the world of mobile computing on its head. Every step of the way, competitors laughed, then feared, then copied. People are digging these new multiple devices and, as a result, there are a lot of operating systems to play in.

Multiple Operating Systems

The whole Mac vs. PC thing arises from one dimension, desktop computing. Those days are over. There are now more operating systems than ever and people are no longer working in just one. I currently use three daily (four if you count the Web). Once the Tablet-aganza gets in full swing there will be even more options. People need to move their data between these operating systems. The text, markdown, and OPML standards are the foot soldiers used by every app to make this happen.

Home-Brew Apps, Inc.

An App stores supporting these new platforms create historical opportunities for small developers . Size doesn’t matter if you have a good idea and execute on it. These little guys are competing where only multi-million dollar companies dared a few years ago. The result is a rich environment of options where ten people can have their favorite App in any category and they are all different.

Cloud Sync

We finally have a way to easily sync files between computers, operating systems, and platforms. There is a reason everyone gets misty eyed when we talk about Dropbox: we remember how hard it used to be to sync. Now that syncing is easy, the data needs to work everywhere.

Just the Beginning

Us nerds are just figuring this all out. Things are only going to get easier and this speaks well for our future computing experiences. No longer will we all need to bend our habits to the foibles of a few applications. Instead we are going to pick the apps that work the way we think and move our data between them without a second thought. I can’t wait.

Meetings vs. Electrons

Several posts have cropped up lately concerning using an iPad in meetings. Ben Brooks is for it. Randy Murray, not so much while Eddie Smith walks the middle path. This raises a bigger question about the role of technology in meetings and since it is hard for me to have a single unpublished thought, here I go.

I specifically recall the first time I confronted the issue of electrons and meetings. It was 1995 and I was talking to a group of clients about some pretty serious troubles. The clients (all three of them) had shiny new Apple Newtons and were making plenty of “bleep, blop, blorg” sounds while I was busy trying to keep them from getting sued into oblivion. I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. As a result of that single event, for a long time pen and paper was my only meeting technology and I skipped the Newton revolution.

A few years ago the Livescribe Pen showed up at Macworld. The Livescribe pen is great in a meeting. It records your pen strokes on its microdot paper letting you create a PDF of your notes. In addition to digital backup, it optionally records your conversation and indexes the recording to the pen strokes. Tap the pen on the page where you scribbled “fanny pack” and the pen plays the recording it took while your boss talked about his holiday.

My note taking skills were never that good. Using the Livescribe pen, I now jot down signposts and instead focus my attention on the other people in the room. Perhaps it is less efficient having to go back and listen (or at least index) later but my peanut-like brain usually gets something out of the review and I know I get more information out of the meeting attendees when I’m focused on them instead of scribble scrabble. So I was happy using the Livescribe pen. My nerdy nougat filling found a way to use a gadget in meetings. Then the iPad showed up.

iPad Notes

For the last month, I’ve been desperately trying to replace the Livescribe Pen with any of the legions of note taking apps for the iPad. We are recording a Mac Power Users episode on taking notes later today and I’m here to report that, after a month of research, none of them really worked for me.

Despite some very smart developers best intents, I didn’t find an app that could keep up with my Livescribe pen. There are a variety of iPad note taking apps. Some of them let you zoom in on the screen and later shrink it. Others will record and let you drop in graphics. When the bullets were flying in a busy meeting however, they all were more distracting than helpful. Drawing words with my fingers just didn’t work. Perhaps it was all that loud music I used to listen to or my inherent lack the fine motor control but, despite my best efforts, everything I wrote came out looking like the half drunken scrawlings of a semi-literate yak herder. I bought a stylus for the iPad, which is kind of nifty for diagraming but useless for words.

The closest I came to making the iPad work as a capture device in meetings was iThoughtsHD. iThoughts makes it really easy to build mind maps and it is wicked fast. When a meeting strays in to brain storming, iThoughts kept up with a pen and paper mind map just fine.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Great Meetings

Although I’m not sold on the iPad to take notes in meetings, I have found a role for it. The iPad serves as an all knowing, all seeing, source of information. Because I’ve incorporated so much of my world into the iPad, I find it really useful as a reference in meetings. If a question comes up about some document, chances are, I have an annotated version of it sitting in GoodReader. Want to talk about a complicated brief? I probably already have an iThoughts outline of it drawn up. Trying to figure out dates, open the calendar. I’ve also got OmniFocus task lists, Simplenote text files, and Safari to answer just about any question that comes up.

A quick war story

I was in one of those smoke filled rooms for an “important” meeting. One guy was doing most of the talking. To protect the guilty, I’ll call him “Blowhard.” Anyway, Blowhard starts going on and on about how the contract says X, not Y. Everyone in the room is raising their eyebrows thinking this Blowhard guy really has it together. Meanwhile I’m drilling into GoodReader and plugging it into the projector. Up comes the contract with my bookmark directly on the paragraph in question, with my highlights showing that, sadly, Blowhard has it wrong. The contract says Y, not X. I even had a little annotation commenting on it. Behold the power of iPad.

The iPad is invaluable as a reference in a meeting. It is so good at this role that using it to take notes gets in the way. I’d rather take notes somewhere else so the iPad is free to be my Hitchhiker’s guide to everything.

The Wall

The problem I’ve always had with laptops in meetings is that they inevitably feel like you are erecting a wall between yourself and the other person. As a result, I rarely use a laptop in a meeting. When I do use them, it is to display a Keynote presentation or an indexed set of PDF documents. Those roles, however, are quickly being usurped by the iPad. If you must use a laptop in a meeting, have other attendees sit next to you or project it so they don’t wonder if you are twittering.

Summarize, Please

To answer the question, I do see a use for the iPad in meetings, but not to take notes. Instead, I use it to make me look brilliant. I’m okay with that.

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The Next Big Thing

We’ve now had the iPad a few months and people are already asking, “What’s next?” While the rumors of a touchscreen iMac make me giggle, I don’t give them much stock. Apple is not in the habit of releasing products simply because they can. Everything is part of the big story. I was reminded of this when Steve introduced the iPad and spent so much time talking about exactly where it fits in the product line.

After the iPhone was released, we knew in our guts a tablet was coming and had our fun speculating when it would arrive and how it would work. There is no obvious next big thing now. Some may argue the next big thing is a fresh crack at the AppleTV. While that may be in the works, I don’t see it as the next big thing.

Indeed, I don’t think the next big thing is hardware related at all. Apple’s next big move needs to be the cloud. They have now loaded our bags and homes with Apple devices. They need to come up with a way to glue them together. That glue is cloud-based content.

While Apple has toyed with cloud storage and synchronization, they haven’t really taken the problem on. Times are changing though. Storage and bandwidth are increasingly available and inexpensive. The general population is becoming more comfortable with cloud based data storage. The corker is that Apple is now less willing to sit back and let Google control online data storage and synchronization.

Granted Google is ahead of Apple, it not as far ahead as some may think. The Google lifestyle is, currently, the domain of geeks. The Google online interfaces feel clunky and cryptic to mere mortals. Google has no experience delivering products to consumers and it shows.

In short, the time is right for Apple to step in. Apple’s genius is its ability to take an existing technology and make it stupid easy for everyone. Forget about anyone reading this blog. I’m talking about people who don’t even know what the term “cloud storage” means. The other 95%.

Apple’s next big thing needs to be a dead simple online storage solution. Something where all of your iTunes media, documents, pictures, and data exist in the cloud. A solution that allows you to go into the Apple store, buy an iPad, log into the Apple servers and have all of your data. Implementation will be so easy that typical users will not even realize exactly what is going on. They’ll just know it works.

Apple already has most of the pieces to make this work. They can build a user friendly interface. They can deliver it to the masses. The only missing piece is the ability to push the data. MobileMe certainly hasn’t proven this ability. There is a lot of talk about mystery server farms that may be the missing piece.

I have no idea what Steve will announce tomorrow but if Apple is going to stay in this game, the next big thing needs to be in the cloud.

iPad Changes the Game

The last few days have been exhilarating for all of us new iPad owners. Apple has unleashed a new device on the world that is no less paradigm shifting than the original Mac was 25 years ago. There are more positive reviews of the device than you can swing a dead cat at. If I were to read just two, I would make them Jason’s and Andy’s.

I’m not going to do a thorough review. Instead, I plan on sharing just a few observations and then returning in a month to write about how the iPad fits into my life.*

Game Changer

I suspected it before. Now that I’ve used one a few days, I’m convinced. I’ve written before about my experience with tablet computers. Apple finally got it right. Others will catch on. The answer is not trying to bolt a mouse based operating system on a tablet. You have to start from scratch.

I’m already getting real work done on the iPad. I wrote a brief today (and this post) using Pages and a bluetooth keyboard. I see myself in the not so distant future without a laptop. I won’t be alone.

The iPhone App Myth

While Apple certainly gets marketing traction saying how many apps will run on the iPad, you will want to get iPad native apps whenever possible. The iPhone apps look remarkably Atari 800 on the iPad. I’ve only kept those few that I can’t live without (SimpleNote and OmniFocus). While you are waiting for your favorite apps to get an iPad makeover, don’t forget about Safari. Mint and Dropbox, for example, work just fine in Safari and both experiences are better than a pixelated iPhone application.

Transparency

My most surprising observation of the iPad is how transparent it is. As transformative and revolutionary as this technology is, it gets out of the way extraordinarily fast. Flipping through RSS feeds, catching up on Instapaper (my own personal iPad killer app), or tweaking a Keynote presentation are so seamless that you forget about the iPad entirely. This isn’t just true for nerds like me. This was proven by my Mother.

My 80-year-old mother is amazing. She grew up in a small factory town in Massachusetts where they often caught dinner in a lake behind the house. During her lifetime she has seen the world go from buggy whips to the moon and from the radio to the internet. Nothing fazes her. I handed her my iPad and she started flipping through the pages of Winnie the Pooh. Even though she has never showed any interest in computers, she became absorbed with the content and forgot she was using something electronic. Then, as she was turning the page, she did something very natural. She licked her finger and turned the page. I grinned. This technology is so natural that you forget it exists. That is why the iPad is going to change everything.

  • There may also be a Mac Power Users episode very soon where Katie and I address the iPad in detail.