Over 70% of App Store purchases are for games; some explanation why

Buster Hein, Cult of Mac (via. Michael Rockwell) : App marketing firm Sensor Tower estimates that Apple had 110 million active iPhones in the U.S. by the end of 2015. The fact that games were the top app category isn’t a shocker, but the difference between how much users spend on the top category and second category is pretty surprising. Of the $35 users spend annually on apps, approximately $25 goes to games, while the second-place category, Music, receives only $3.40, which is less one sixth the amount spent on games. Assuming this data is accurate and correct, the U.S. demography is probably an ideal state of app sales in populous markets. Other countries probably have it worse when seen through the indie developer’s eye. According to the study, the top 5 categories where money is being spent are, in order: Games, Music, Social Networking, Entertainment and Lifestyle. It’s hard for anyone to argue with that order. But the astute among you may see a trend: users pay for experiences and feelings. One may even argue that these categories roughly (ignoring how each category is monetised and also ignoring the actual sum of money or the relative price differences) represent how much a user values this experience. I, like Michael, would love for indie developers (at least the ones who make productivity apps and the like) to see their apps climb the charts too. But an excellently designed calendar app just doesn’t make enough users feel the same way as winning a game against a friend. So when it comes time to choose between spending $5 on a better calendaring system or spending those five dollars in beating a friend at a game, which developer you think is buying themselves a coffee that evening? The App Store is broken in a lot of ways. There are systems Apple can construct to reduce the gap between categories and give indie developers a helping hand. But the chances of this order being changed (again, ignoring monetisation concerns) are few and far between. Lastly, I’d like to touch upon a topic Marco Arment talks about with Overcast — his podcasting app. To paraphrase, Marco suggests in-app purchases should be placed at a point that unlocks an app’s ‘full functionality’ (eg. Overcast used to provide Smart Speed as an in-app purchase). This point – let’s refer to it as a sore point – should be lucrative enough to cause a user to trigger the in-app purchase but not so bad that the user gets frustrated without it. And this makes perfect sense. But the drawback here is that the user is aware of this deal — ‘There is a feature that this app offers and you don’t have and won’t have until you pay up’. (It feels as if there’s a negative connotation hiding behind a haze to that narrative.) Games – specially the Clash of Clans types –  however, implement this ‘sore point’ (and therefore the deal) as a guise, inherent to the structure. Say a game lets you build a town-hall faster by buying 100,00 gems 1. Building it faster is the difference between losing or winning a match against an opponent. In this case, the deal becomes : ‘Do what you do now but faster, if you pay up’. This narrative doesn’t have a similar negative connotation to it since there is nothing you’re deprived of if you don’t pay up. The trick the game pulls off – and the reason why I alluded to it being a ‘guise, inherent to the structure’ – is that it encourages impatience. Worse, it habituates you to it. You can upgrade your town hall from level 1 to level 2 in one minute. A user’s subconscious gets used to this. Then, when it comes time to upgrade your town hall from level 29 to level 30, you’re waiting days and the habit of impatience sets in. At a coffee shop nearby, the coffee brews…   UPDATE: I’ve a little more to add. As mentioned above, music is second among the top scorers. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say ‘Music makes me feel [an emotion]’ at some point. Games are better still; games are interactive. You’re a part of the game. Connect was supposed to bring interactivity to music with Apple Music but it’s pretty much botched for now. It’s well documented that people treat tokens that represent money, differently, from real money. So, a dollar’s worth of gems are spent way more generously than an actual, physical dollar. This article talks more about this phenomenon. ↩︎

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Safari Technolgy Preview

Ricky Mondello for Webkit: Starting today, there’s a new, convenient way to see what features and improvements are coming to Safari and other applications that use WebKit. Safari Technology Preview is a version of Safari for OS X, distributed by Apple, that includes a cutting-edge, in-development version of the WebKit browser engine. It’s a great way to test upcoming WebKit features and give feedback to the people building them when it’s most useful — early on in development.

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Neil Cybart’s thoughts on Apple’s iPhone SE strategy

Neil, Above Avalon: However, instead of this change being a transformational shift in Apple pricing strategy, the move is actually based on Apple’s screen size differentiation strategy kicked off in 2014 with the iPhone Plus […] the iPhone SE is positioned within the iPhone line as Apple’s less expensive 4-inch iPhone 5s successor. Come September, the iPhone SE will have year-old technology and be in line with year-old $549 4.7-inch and $649 5.5-inch models. I’ve been struggling with Apple’s current lineup when compared against its price. I wasn’t expecting the SE to be priced lower than the iPhone 6 pre-launch. My gripes can be summarised thus: Is an iPhone 6 user, switching to an SE, upgrading or downgrading? In going from the SE to the 6, you’re actually paying more for less in almost every significant spec apart from the screen (size and quality). So it seems the iPhones 6 are to blame for the incoherence. (I’m not alone in thinking so.) Neil voiced a similar conclusion I was musing over — the current lineup would make a lot more sense come September. Presumably the lineup would be: iPhones SE (free), 6S/6S+ ($99/$199), 7/7+ ($199/$299). Assuming Apple keeps the SE around for at least about 1.5 years (September, 2017 when the 6S lineup is either discontinued or offered free-on-contract), the iPhone lineup is ‘complicated’ only for the first 6 months until the 6/6+ are discontinued. The tradeoff (if you consider the current state as a problem) seems worthwhile. Neil continues: In addition, the iPhone SE is still priced at a premium internationally, similar to other iPhone models, suggesting Apple is not looking at the iPhone SE as its “cheap iPhone” emerging markets trojan horse. Instead, the iPhone SE is a special edition 4-inch model geared toward existing iPhone users that crave small iPhones. Apple isn’t targeting the SE as a ‘cheap iPhone’. It certainly doesn’t have the ‘cheap’ connotation the 5C had. But the SE is still the cheapest iPhone. In China, the SE is priced at $505. Here, in India, it’s $580. I can assure you Apple would like to bring that price down to a similar figure as in China. (I previously thought $450 to be a closer number but I’ve thought better of it.) The extra $80-ish is due, in part, to the Indian government’s mandate that a certain portion of manufacturing is sourced locally. Since Apple manufactures in China (Foxconn), heavier taxes are levied against imported Apple products. Foxconn’s plan to manufacture in India may help reduce prices but that’ll take a while. Let’s assume $500 is roughly the price Apple wants to sell the SE in China and India. That still targets the iPhone as the cheapest iPhone. Apple, India no longer has the 5S on sale, defaulting the SE as the cheapest option if you’re getting into the iPhone line. The SE also presents an opportunity for more Android switchers since, at the time of this writing, no Android flagship exists in a 4-inch form factor. The closest is a Sony Xperia Z5 Compact with a 4.6-inch screen and it retails for around $425 in the US. Not only is the SE the best choice for people who like small phones, it’s probably the only feasible choice. Neil concludes:  It would seem likely that the iPhone SE will continue to be sold beyond September when Apple introduces new iPhones. There is no indication that Apple will begin selling another 4-inch iPhone at that time. This would serve as another piece of evidence that the iPhone SE is not a shift in iPhone strategy, but rather a targeted bet. If Apple continues to sell the iPhone SE well into 2017, it is not unfathomable that we would eventually see a $50 or $100 price drop as the device would then be based on a five-year-old design and year-and-a-half old technology. […]

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Workings of the Apple Watch heart rate sensor

Apple published a page on its website detailing how the Watch monitors your heart rate, what its shortcomings are and what wearers can do to fix those issues. It’s an interesting read. Here’s an excerpt: Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment. When your heart beats, the blood flow in your wrist — and the green light absorption — is greater. Between beats, it’s less. By flashing its LED lights hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute — your heart rate. In addition, the heart rate sensor is designed to compensate for low signal levels by increasing both LED brightness and sampling rate. The heart rate sensor can also use infrared light. This mode is what Apple Watch uses when it measures your heart rate in the background. Presently, it’s a great way to solve the problem but reading it over makes it sound antiquated already. Sure it’s easy to envision a future when one looks back at this solution thinking, ‘That was archaic…’, but I suspect that future isn’t as far as it would seem.

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iPads Pro

Ben Brooks: None of this is to call the 9.7″ iPad Pro a bad machine — on the contrary it is a great machine for many people. My argument against the 9.7″ model is predicated on the it being your only computer and the fact is: people who only use iPads for their computing are rare, to say the least. Which means the 9.7″ iPad Pro is perfect for everyone who doesn’t want the iPad Pro to be their main computer — in that sense it is the perfect second computer. I look at the iPad Pro as a bit of a Trojan horse for Apple. Whereas the MacBook Air is a great tool for getting people into a Mac, the iPad Pro 9.7″ is a fantastic tool for getting people used to working on iOS as a primary computing operating system. It gives people a great way to get started with an iPad as a computer. This is an excellent way to look at the Pro lineup. Get the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and try using it as your primary (not only) computer and see if you can get by. I say ‘get by’ because there are trade-offs and/or learning curves in using iOS as your primary computer; specially if you’re used to a traditional, ‘desktop’ OS. The payoff is tangible and rewarding1. If it doesn’t work for you, you can always use the Pro as a consumption device. If it does, you should, ideally, end up using the 13-inch Pro. Ben concludes: I personally will not be buying one — I have no idea when I would prefer it over the 12.9″ model. I am, though, holding out all hope for an iPad mini with Apple Pencil support — that I would line up to buy. I’m holding my breath. I sit here writing this article on my iPad Air 2 at Starbucks. My girlfriend is seated across me with her 15″ laptop. The table at our disposal is circular with a diameter just short of ‘right’. I’ve been gliding away with at work, bringing the iPad in my field of view whichever way I want to. Her laptop, inherently, keeps her glued in one position — I can feel the exasperation. ↩︎

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Ten principles of good design

I am obsessed with design, I want to learn and know more about it. A few days ago, and through an unusual source, I hit gold. Dieter Rams (for those who don’t know) is a German industrial designer, associated with the design of products for Braun and Vitsœ. Dieter states the ten most important principles of good design: Good design is innovative Good design makes a product useful Good design is aesthetic Good design makes a product understandable Good design is unobtrusive Good design is honest Good design is long-lasting Good design is thorough down to the last detail Good design is environmentally-friendly Good design is as little design as possible Have a look at the original page. Look at how these principles have morphed into elegant products. Each principle has also been elaborated in detail.

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The iPhone SE design through Daniel Jalkut’s eyes

Daniel Jalkut for his blog (via. Michael Rockwell): What’s great about the iPhone SE isn’t just its smaller size. It’s great because it also lacks many of the design shortcomings, petty as they may be, that its grander siblings possess. The so-called “camera bump” that breaks the perfectly smooth surface of the iPhone 6? Not there on the SE. The reviled movement of the lock button to the side of the phone, where it’s easier to press accidentally? Not an issue. Even the fact that the SE allegedly has a slower touch ID processor will not be viewed as a flaw by people who are tired of accidentally unlocking their phones when they wake them to view their lock screens. I recognise that I’m an odd bird but I have never been bothered because of any of those traits of the larger iPhones. My biggest gripe is that I am somehow just not as fluent in typing on my 6S’s keyboard as I was on my 5C, even with two hands. It’s worse — I don’t know why. I used to use a Nexus 5 some time back. It had a 5-inch screen and smaller bezels than the 6S and I could type comfortably on it. So I have a feeling it’s the bezels that somehow play a part in my decreased typing speed. (Honestly, it drives me nuts not knowing why I’m a slow typer on the 6S and it’s funny because not knowing why the problem exists drives me crazier than the problem itself.)  

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The internet turned teen-mimicking bot into a racist

Alex Kantrowitz, Buzzfeed News (via. John Gruber): In a matter of hours this week, Microsoft’s AI-powered chatbot, Tay, went from a jovial teen to a Holocaust-denying menace openly calling for a race war in ALL CAPS. The bot’s sudden dark turn shocked many people, who rightfully wondered how Tay, imbued with the personality of a 19-year-old girl, could undergo such a transformation so quickly, and why Microsoft would release it into the wild without filters for hate speech. […] The internet fed Tay poisonous language and ideas until she began to regurgitate them on her own. A key flaw, incredibly, was a simple “repeat after me” game, a call and response exercise that internet trolls used to manipulate Tay into learning hate speech. […] It’s worth noting that the company released similar bots in China and Japan and never saw anything like this. This definitely puts Microsoft in a bad light. The problem seems quite simple in retrospect. Also, we’re corrupting AI now?

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The Apple Pencil and iPad Pro changed 15 year old’s career

15 year old Zoe Olson details her experiences with the Apple Pencil and her iPad Pro (via. John Gruber). It’s a terrific 4-minute read. Save it for reading later but have a read as soon as time permits (and don’t miss out on the photos). If you get the chance, have a look at the comments too.

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Walt Mossberg’s Spectacular iPhone 7

Walt Mossberg, The Verge: I expect [the iPhone SE and iPad Pro 9.7-inch] will make significant minorities of users happy. Plus, the $399 base price on the iPhone SE (compared to $650 or so for the 6s) may help Apple in overseas markets where cheaper and smaller phones are popular. I wouldn’t use the word ‘minority’. Together with the price, I think the SE is going to be very popular; probably second only to the 6/6S. Walt then goes on to list his wishes for the iPhone 7. It includes a thicker phone accommodating a larger battery, thinner bezels, wireless charging, 32 GB base storage (unequivocally agreeable), better software and a Google Now-like Siri. Here’s John Gruber’s take on the matter: Let’s say Apple ships an iPhone this fall that checks off every single item on his list. (Don’t hold your breath waiting for a thicker phone so as to provide longer battery life, but for the sake of argument, let’s just say they do.) Would Mossberg deem such an iPhone “spectacular”? I doubt it. Walt wants, essentially, for Apple to take the best aspects from every OEM’s phone and package it into the iPhone 7. That seems highly unlikely. Apple generally waits for a technology to mature enough to meet their standards before encorporating it into one of their products. So, for example, wireless charging in its current form isn’t good enough for the batteries in the iPhones 6S so they aren’t present on the 6Ss. Wireless charging is feasible for the Watch and it’s present there. (Wild theory – Apple’s obsesssed with shrinking batteries because, among other reasons, it makes wireless charging faster?) Additionally, Apple’s list of ‘Here’s how to become spectacular’ usually includes things people aren’t asking for and in some cases aren’t even expecting – 3D Touch, Swift, True Tone display on the new 9.7-inch Pro etc. Gruber summed it up well when he said Walt wouldn’t deem said iPhone ‘spectacular’. ‘An iPhone that has nothing wrong and listens to people’s demands’ is as far as you can go.

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The Kiss

In its recent ad titled ‘The Kiss‘, Apple advertises the Apple TV. It’s an excellent ad; it had me laughing. Have a look.

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Thoughts on ‘Let us loop you in’

A lot of people think Apple’s briefing yesterday was too short. It was; it’s one of the shortest at around an hour. Understandably a lot of people shared a sentiment in wanting more from Apple. Subjectively, I was disappointed. But that’s because I watch Apple events as a fan — I want to be entertained, I want Apple to pull a rabbit out of their hat every time. I watch Apple events irrationally. Objectively, I too think Apple shouldnt’ve done anything differently. But allow me, for a bit, to explain the public disappointment towards the event a little further: I think, because the leaks spilled almost everything to be announced, that people thought  ‘surely there’s more than just that…maybe new Macs?’. When Apple announced, essentially, what was leaked and nothing more, the reaction was ‘That’s it?’. In summary, it wasn’t that Apple didn’t announce great products (or enough products) that caused the ‘That’s it?’ sentiment to set in. The fault was that Apple’s plans leaked. The Environment, ResearchKit and Liam A lot of people give Apple flak for the lack of women and people of colour present at Apple’s keynotes. Lisa Jackson spoke about Apple’s initiatives towards the environment but they aren’t given equal credit? (Divya Nag from Apple featured in Apple’s ResearchKit video too.) Apple’s investments into ResearchKit are respectable. I also see their continued importance to people’s health as a possible pointer to more (and better) Apple Watch sensors in the next Watch iteration. Lastly, Liam is great! It’s Apple making the best of a win-win situation: They generate less waste and shave off costs by recycling spares. Brace yourself, though, for the ‘iPhones suck so bad, Apple made a robot to take them apart’ jokes across the Internet. Apple Watch The 38mm Apple Watch Sport (ie. the entry model only) had its price slashed by $50 and new watch bands were announced (I’m a sucker for the space black Millanese Loop). As this tweet pointed out, Apple was smart in slashing the price of the Watch Sport  and keeping the bands priced as-is. The price-drop makes the Watch tempting but I’d rather wait for the Watch 2; I also prefer the 42mm Watch. Also, I’m not too sure whether this price drop implies Apple is more or less likely to introduce the Watch 2 this year. iPhone SE Let me start by saying that the SE isn’t being given the credit it deserves. I think it’s a remarkable product and people would’ve been way more excited about it if it weren’t the leaks. Think about: It’s almost exactly the iPhone 6S in a body that’s smaller, arguably better designed than the 6S (the 5S–and now the SE–are my favourite phones, design wise), without the camera hump, at just $399. I see that as a killer deal. I speculated the SE to retail for $99 on a two year contract. I was wrong. I argued that this complicates the lineup and I think that virtue holds. As an example, if someone sells their iPhone 6 and buys an SE, are they upgrading or downgrading? At this point, the only reason anyone would choose and iPhone 6 over an SE is if they really like a bigger screen and a better front camera enough to overlook the fact that the SE has the 6 beat in almost every other spec. At first, when I saw the SE priced at $399, I truly was taken aback — ‘How is Apple maintaining their profit margins at such a low price?’. Apple says the SE owes it’s existence to two reasons: 1) It’s a budget phone and 2) some people just prefer the smaller screen-size. Let’s focus on the first. Even though I feel the lineup is complicated with said pricing, I realise how well Apple is playing its cards. They might have, indeed, forgone their margins with the SE but not as much. Here’s why: The SE carries the exact design of the 5S before it. Not only does it save Apple investments towards the SE’s design, it also means Apple will incur minuscule (comparatively) costs to upgrade their production line. And I have a feeling the SE won’t be as heavily advertised as the 6S — more savings. So why cut down on profit margins? Because this implies Apple gets more customers switching from Android (Apple mentioned in the keynote that a sizeable margin of 5S buyers were getting their first taste of iOS). Further, more customers implies more opportunities for Apple to sell their services (Apple Music, iTunes Store, Apps etc.). I think the SE is going to be an excellent phone and absolutely crucial to Apple. China is a huge focus for Apple with the SE and I’m sure its price at $580 in India is a tough pill for them to swallow; they must be scrambling to get it down to around $5001. I’m spoiled by 3D Touch on my 6S, it’s second nature to me. But if I were in the market for an iPhone today, and I had no experience using 3D Touch, I’d call myself crazy to look anywhere beyond the SE. iPad Pro 9.7-inch That name’s a mouthful and it means you no longer get to call the iPad Pro 13-inch, the ‘iPad Pro’. I conjectured Apple wouldn’t pack the A9X from the 13-inch iPad Pro as-is in this iPad and I was–sort of–right. The Pro 9.7-inch does have an A9X albeit at a slightly lower clock speed, accompanied by half the RAM. You can clearly see that Apple is still going all-in on the iPad by marketing it as the ultimate PC replacement and the ultimate upgrade for any iPad Air owner. I was concerned about the Pro wobbling due to the camera hump but it’s not a problem. It looks ugly to me but I’m all for better cameras on iPads — the hump is a necessary evil. Lastly, I’m curious to know how well the shrunken Smart-Keyboard fares when the reviews are out. Miscellany Is it just me or did someone else also notice the …

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iPhone ‘SE’ — Elements of interest

Apple’s event at Town Hall has less than 24 hours to go and among other announcements, the iPhone ‘SE'(name assumed as such for the rest of the article) is almost certain to be announced. I wanted to list the things about this new 4-inch phone that I’m most looking forward to. The story As John Gruber puts it in recent episodes of The Talk Show, ‘How does Apple plan to sell this phone?’. Apple’s ideal form factor for a smartphone was the 4-inch iPhone before they realised they needed to make phones of bigger sizes. The 4-inch iPhone 5 was ideal for grip-ability and one-handed use; it was a problem with the iPhones 6 and hence the introduction of Reachability. Introducing another 4-inch phone may imply – to the public – that Apple is ‘reverting’ back to the form they originally believed in. Apple always has a story, a reason as to why they introduce a ‘new’ product and I’m looking forward to see what the story of the SE is. Additionally, I’m curious to see whether the iPhone SE is sold as ‘an entirely new iPhone’ or ‘all the power of the bigger iPhone, now smaller'(the introduction of the iPad mini is comparable). If it’s the former, the SE has to be a new design (even if that means combining elements of previous designs). Design: Thinness and the draw If Apple does decide to pitch the SE as an ‘entirely new iPhone’, thereby introducing a new design, they have one key advantage: the SE has the opportunity to be a thicker phone giving Apple a chance to adjust battery capacity1. Since it’s starting fresh and it won’t hold solid ground in comparisons with previous iPhones. (The iPhone 5C was thicker than the 5 it replaced but I don’t think Apple got any flak since it was ‘new’ and had no basis of comparison.) As for the design itself, I’m curious to know which iPhone the SE draws it’s industrial design cues from. The iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, iPhone 5C (the curved edges on the back might make a comeback, although I have no inclination towards the SE being made of polycarbonate), something completely new, or, as Marco points out in the latest ATP episode, the iPhone 7. (A reminder: the iPad Mini was a redesign and all iPads since have followed suit). Price This aspect of the SE is of special interest to me since I’ve speculated about it previously. Since then, I’ve gotten in touch with people – both smarter and better informed – than me, and my curiosity for how the SE would be priced is still unsatisfied. My initial guess stands: If the SE is going to be offered under a carrier subsidy, it’ll most probably be priced at $99 for a standard two-year contract. Screen I haven’t seen any outlet talk about this aspect of the SE. Sure the size will be 4-inches but iPhone screens have advanced quite visibly since the launch of the iPhone 5S. Does the iPhone 6/6S make its way to the SE adjusted to size, is it custom built for the SE or do they finally embrace AMOLED?   I’ve watched Apple events similar to a sports fan watching their favourite team play — everything on my schedule cleared and pizzas delivered to the house. I’m just as excited to be looped in as I’ve been in the past. Ideal battery life according to Apple, today, is one day. If your usage doesn’t get you through the day, you’re a 4.7-inch iPhone user and you can buy the Apple Battery Case.The SE has a chance to be slightly thicker and reach iPhone 6+ (or, iPhone 6-in-an-Apple-Battery-Case) battery life without necessitating the use of a battery case. ↩︎

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