The 90 Percenters

Matthew Baxter-Reynolds writing for The Guardian:

The danger you have as a savvy, professional, 90-percenter software developer looking to build a cottage industry business in the world of app development is that if you come home after a busy day and you have a wife, three kids, a box-set of Battlestar Gallactica and/or The Wire to enjoy, you’re likely to run out of puff pretty quickly trying to get up to speed with iOS.

The real danger you have as a savvy, professional, 90-percenter software developer looking to build a cottage industry business in the world of app development is believing you’ll find success without skipping a lot of TV shows.

I don’t think Baxter-Reynolds is mis-prioritizing at all, in fact spending time with your loved ones and relaxing after a long day with some good entertainment sounds like a wise way to live one’s life. It’s just at odds with building a successful cottage industry business of any kind, mobile software development included.

Of the successful smaller developers I know, and I know many, I can’t think of one that hasn’t at one point or another completely overextended themselves in order to put the time into their product or business that it required. And I mean overextended by stretching themselves to learn new technologies, new ways of marketing, the fundamentals of running a business but also by just simply spending far too many hours working at it. To do that you’ve got to love what you’re doing, there’s no two ways about it.

If you follow the calculus of Baxter-Reynolds’ piece you’ll find yourself working at home, late into the night, with technologies and toolchains you work with at the office. I doubt you’ll love that but I suppose it’s possible. If your goal is to churn out some interesting smaller application ideas and throw them into an online store then maybe a minimum investment is what you’re after. If you’ve got a burning to make something remarkable then dipping your toe in the water won’t get you across the alligator filled moat of hard work that’s between your day job and something self sustaining.

I won’t rush to defend the iOS toolchain against his complaints, I think Gruber largely nailed it with The Unfamilliar. I will call out Baxter-Reynolds’ argument that only 6.1% of programmers are using Objective-C compared to 60% who are using “other languages typically used for building internal-use business applications” is “a good barometer of where the industry is in the terms of platforms that are being developed for”. In terms of sheer man hours? Perhaps he’s right. If we scaled those numbers by which language was used in the most admired pieces of user software we’d see a drastically different picture. The truth of the matter is that currently the most admired client side user facing software is written in Objective-C. When that changes or when one and two man shops working in some other language out maneuver Cocoa developers (as Cocoa developers did to others) then I’ll be happy to have a talk about effectiveness. Until that’s happening I’ll continue using Cocoa, Objective-C and C to write software that has been enjoyed by tens of millions.


If You See a Stylus, They Blew It. is a common refrain at Daring Fireball. And it’s true that Jobs did say exactly that, but that’s not important right now. I’ll go out on limb and bet that an iOS device will support some sort of stylus input within three to five years.

The stylus will never be the primary input device and the interface will never be designed around the precision that it affords but, in a few years, I believe that the sensors embedded into the iPad, and possibly the iPhone, will enable a greater input fidelity through the support of stylus style devices. Touch events will expose the touch radius they already track but they’ll also expose the pressure, angle and device identifier. For a finger the device identifier will be nil, the pressure will be a constant, the angle will be a constant and the touch radius may be exposed in device specific units. For a stylus device the device identifier will represent a unique nib for the pen tip or eraser of each stylus pen, pressure and angle will be determined just as they are now when using a Wacom tablet on a Mac. I know for a fact that major enterprise customers in the graphics field already rely upon the touch radius that isn’t yet exposed publicly. To expand the use cases of iOS Apple will need to support higher-fidelity input.

That’s not to say that iOS will ever require a stylus type device. I’m simply arguing that within a few years iOS devices are likely to support input mechanisms that afford a far greater fidelity than simple touch input.

I’ll go on the record as betting John Gruber that within five years we’ll see an iOS device that supports a stylus natively, but not as a necessity. I see the stylus starting as a thirty dollar accessory targeted at markets that require the additional fidelity.

The brush has been around since the earliest cave paintings; fidelity of input will become a killer feature.

Not About Steve

As you know, Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple and Tim Cook has taken his place. That’s all there is to say about that.

One of the first things I remember reading in the news when Jobs first returned to Apple was that he had the Icon Garden mothballed. At the time, around 1997, Apple had pixelated sculptures of Mac OS icons on the campus grounds. Once Steve returned they had to go — appreciating history is one thing, enshrining it is something else.

Starting in the early mid-nineties and lasting a little over a decade the pace of change in our industry was effectively linear. During the earlier years of the personal computer there was far more variety in platforms. The Amiga, with its dedicated processors for computation, graphics and audio, not to mention its early multitasking, garnered a serious fan base. Atari claimed a portion of the market too. The Mac was iconic when it was introduced, and MS DOS and the Windows Shell were incredibly popular. We had GEOS and BeOS, OS/2 and NeXT. Linux would be on the desktop next year and FreeBSD ran Hotmail. As time has marched on the choices have died out and we were left with a relatively stable set of options, in decreasing order of popularity: the Windows PC, the Macintosh and a home brew running a flavour of Linux. We’d narrowed down our vision of the future to a very small field of view.

And then the iPhone shipped. And then iPod Touch. And eventually iPad. And Android. And webOS. And Kindle. And the PlayBook. And Windows Phone 7. And we’re seeing a new front-facing experience in Windows 8. And Mac OS X 10.7 Lion borrows concepts from iOS and takes the traditional PC into new territory. And it’s clear we’re seeing something new again, something reinvigorated.

The cancelling of the TouchPad and the way HP has handled webOS is saddening. The way RIM botched its shot with QNX is maddening. That they choose the name “Windows Phone 7” is stupefying. What’s great is that all these mighty companies tried to do something new, something unique, and go out on a limb we’d not seen ventured upon for about a decade. I wish they’d worked out better and I hope we continue to see this kind of risk taking in the years to come.

There is no doubt about Mr. Jobs’ contribution to Apple and how it has affected the company and how its products have impacted our lives. Perhaps overlooked in the myopia of our new Apple centric world is just how drastically they’ve bent the entire reality of the industry. The success of his vision for Apple has forced some of the biggest and most established players in their fields to either abdicate entirely or take risks on something drastically different.

Over the past year or so we’ve seen a renaissance in personal computing. We’ve seen different approaches, different aesthetics, and a whole lot of stealing from others. Over the past few months it looks like everyone is packing that in and I think that’s a shame. From a business perspective I understand: Apple clearly has the upper hand so don’t throw good money after bad. From an enthusiast perspective, I sort of feel like we might all end up missing out.

There’s been a lot written about Steve leaving Apple. I’m more concerned about Steve leaving the industry. Apple being the best player on the field is different than Apple being the player every other player wants to be. Steve inspired his competitors.