On Opinionated Software

In the Apple development community the term, “opinionated software” comes up often. It is applied to the design decisions we make while building our apps. Having an opinion and a direction is a good thing — it hones the final result to speak with one voice and be a whole unto itself.

At A&D Chris, Thomas and I are really dedicated to that idea. Napkin is a very opinionated app. Before Chris and Thomas came aboard I had one colour and it was hard to convince me otherwise. (It was the green you see in the toolbars) The case of Napkin is illustrative, not narrative. We’re all bathing in caviar and Champaign I can’t pronounce. (It’s not recommended. Between the bubbles, sugar and little caviar things it’s not comfortable.) That said, being opinionated isn’t the goal. Being useful is.

Being opinionated and shipping the truest form of your vision of software doesn’t assure success. I understand the amount of heart, soul, concentration and perseverance it takes to ship a piece of software that really makes you proud and hits all of the marks you’d set for yourself and your team. It can be a really great piece of software.

That doesn’t mean it deserves to be a hit.

More accurately it doesn’t mean you should expect it to be a hit. Hits are hard. Really hard. I’ve had a couple. And, to be honest if I’d had to pick … not the ones I’d have swung for.

This recent discussion of being able to make a living on the App Store has made me think about this a lot more. No, your odds of making a living on the App Store aren’t great. There was a gold rush. Some people made money. It’s more or less over now.

I do believe that if you continue to do good work, communicate with customers and partners well, then there’s a viable business to be in.

I’ve got 1015 unread emails so I’ll call this a post.

Mantia on Tinkering

Louie Mantia on Tinkering:

I started by tinkering, customizing. Just as an engineer might. You start with something that exists and you change it to understand it. You do things on your own. But now… companies like Apple have locked down things like theming. It’s so hard today that no one even bothers. Changing icons is hard too. With some apps you can’t even do it without an app breaking because of code signing.

It’s a good question and one that has come up often on Debug as it pertains to getting into writing software. I’d never really thought about how the landscape has changed for people in the design field. As Louie says, it used to be that you could customize pretty much anything. That’s not the case anymore.

There are good technical reasons for that and I think they’re in place for all the right reasons. It does, however, mark the end of the wild west era of software. No longer are brilliant kids like Mantia (don’t tell him I said that) going to come up redesigning the look of the system. Because they can’t. These are the people that literally (and I use that word with precision) go on to design some of the most recognized icons in the industry.

Like Louie I do wonder:

[...] will they be able to tinker like we could?

If I was a betting man, I’d bet against it. I’d also bet that something else will come up that nurtures young designers, programmers and people interested in the field. I don’t know what it’ll be but that’s part of the thrill. What used to work no longer does. The drive and the talent are still there though and I’m excited to see what the next wave comes up with.

Rinse & Repeat

Marco Arment was our guest on the latest episode of Debug. For the last hour of the show (after we’d run the ATP music) we got into a discussion about how best to get into the industry. I think it’s a good one and it’s worth listening to. Neither of us profess to have answers but I think we have a good discussion.

I do want to point out that we recorded this episode before the recent community conversation about running a sustainable independent Apple (iOS really) software business was. Marco has a good piece which links to a lot of the other great pieces that make up this conversation.

Since we recorded this episode before this discussion broke out we didn’t address it on the show. By now, it’s been pretty much done to death. You’ll find any number of testimonials out there about the state of independent software for iOS, or the Mac, as of the summer of 2014.

I don’t have much to add but I will say this.

Business is hard. If you’re following along with the independent software scene and are noting that a majority are failing then you’d be right. It’s an awful realization to come to but it’s not an uncommon experience for business owners.

If your eyes ever gloss over at the amount of money that Apple says it has paid out to developers; stop right now. If you think you’ll strike it rich with some odd ball idea; stop right now. If you’re starting a project with an API in mind rather than a problem to solve; stop right now. If you think you’ve got something great that might really please people? It won’t matter what I say. You’ll do it anyway.

Marco and I discussed breaking in to the business. It came down to doing good work and sticking to it. I sincerely believe that eventually that will get you noticed. That’s not to say it’ll come soon or won’t require a bit of luck. Some luck you can make for yourself. Introducing people to your work is invaluable.

This is where you’re thinking of writing a press release. Stop. Nobody like cold calls. Neither end of that conversation can be comfortable. There are plenty of pieces out there, written by people in the press, about how best to address them. Read them. (I’ve intentionally not linked any because, come on, this problem deserves doing a little bit of homework to get it right.)

Odds are you’ll fail. Frankly, those have been the odds for pretty much everything I’ve ever worked on. Many did but a few didn’t. Nobody remembers all the swings. They do remember the hits.

Put the work in. Get happy about what you’ve built. Then rip it apart and get better. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.