How The Mac App Store Messes With The App Economy

The Mac App Store has three major issues which Apple needs to address. The first is search. It sucks. Search on MAS is helpful for developers, not for Mac users trying to find the best apps.

The second major issue is free trial versions or a way to try an app and pay later if you like it. App developers get around that limitation by creating an additional free trial version with limited functionality. Or, they limit the free app, but put add-on, in-store purchase options with extra features, but for an extra charge.

That’s messed up.

The third major issue is the inability to upgrade an app to a new version. Updates, yes? Upgrades, no. So an app on MAS can be updated from, say, version 1.5.1 to 1.6, but not the typical upgrade route to a full-on version 2.0 with substantially new features.

That’s messed up, too.

Apple’s convoluted method requires developers to create entirely new versions to go the upgrade route, and that spawns a number of other issues. A good example of that is Flare, a terrific photo and image enhancement app from a few years ago. Instead of being upgraded to version 2.0, existing MAS customers are forced to pay the full retail amount for the new version. To their credit, Flare’s developers, the highly acclaimed folks at The Iconfactory, put the new version ‘on sale,’ discounted for a limited time.

The new version isn’t just the old version with a few tacked on features and a new user interface, though anyone having to pay a non-upgrade price might think so. After all, the ‘on sale’ discounted price is available to all Mac customers, not just those who purchased the first version.

Flare 2 comes with a host of new photographic filters not available in the original. These include the increasingly popular tilt-shift, Bokeh rings, plus paper, highlights and shadows, and more standard options like saturation and vibrance.

Flare for Mac

Those new filters work well with the existing filters– exposure, tint, duotone, gradients, blurs, grains, glows, halftone, pixelate, sharpen and many, many others.

Flare 2.0 looks more like a Yosemite app than Mavericks, and that’s by design, so the user interface is lighter, friendlier, simpler than the original. Still, it contains the basics– advanced edit, batch processing options, a dark interface to match Yosemite, and Flare even handle RAW photo formats but still exports JPEG, PNG, and TIFF images.

If you don’t want to spend much money on a very good photo and image enhancement app, Flare is a good choice. There’s even a free iOS version of Flare filter extensions for iPhone and iPad which work in concert with the Mac app. It’s called Flare Effects.

Maybe Apple has great plans for the the iTunes and Mac App Stores, but for now, search, trial versions, and app upgrades are anything but beneficial for the customer, and that messes with the app store economy.

Time To Grovel

Is it time for Amazon to admit defeat, shutter the failed Fire Phone, and crawl to Apple and beg for the rights to sell the iPhone?

Phil Moore:

First, it needs be pointed out all the reasons why Apple and Amazon might not want to work together. Amazon was the prime witness, and arguably the instigator, of the federal government’s crackdown on Apple’s eBook pricing. Despite the straightforwardness of selling the no-contract iPad, Amazon refuses to officially carry it, instead steering customers toward its own Kindle Fire tablet while only offering various older-model iPads at oddball pricing. These two companies don’t get along – and yet they are partners when it comes to reselling Mac computers and other product lines.

I don’t see this happening anytime soon, but if Amazon gets to sell the iPhone it will be a classic case of groveling at the lowest possible level. Snails and slime would be looking down on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ position at the feet of Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The Forgotten Corvette Collection

Great find, great story. Alex Lloyd on a collection of 36 Corvettes gathering dust for 25 years.

Corvette Collection

‘Do The Right Thing’

Apple has a problem with the 2011 MacBook Pro and won’t fix it. Now they’re getting sued by customers.

Apple’s MacBook Pro laptop family has long stood at the very head of the premium portable computing market, offering great performance coupled with a powerful and attractive operating system to those willing to pay. Models sold in 2011, however, are claimed to have a flaw: a lead-free solder used to attach the graphics processor to the logic board, which becomes brittle due to the frequent rapid heating and cooling cycles typical of such devices. Over time, this is claimed to result in throttling of the graphics processor, graphical corruption and eventually complete failure of the laptop itself.

Sometimes it costs money to do the right thing, but sometimes the cost of not doing the right thing is much higher.

Why Quicksilver Never Caught On With Most Mac Users

One of my favorite Mac utilities is also the most difficult app I’ve ever tried (and failed often) to master. This power app is called Quicksilver and billed as a productivity app though you’re likely to lose some productivity while trying to improve your productivity.

Using the word ‘productivity’ three times in a single sentence should at least tie the record.

Quicksilver is a free launcher app for the Mac which gives you quick, keyboard-based options to handle basic tasks or customized tasks without using mouse or trackpad. Think of it as Command-Tab app switching gone wild, or OS X Yosemite’s version of Spotlight but with tricks and a touch of artificial intelligence.

As a launcher, Quicksilver gets you to apps, contacts, music, documents, files, and more with just a few keyboard clicks. That’s the claim to fame, and the problem. Keep your hands on the keyboard and away from mouse or trackpad and, ostensibly, you’re more productive.

Enter specific keywords on your Mac and Quicksilver responds with appropriately matched options, but also learns as you go. It also comes with dozens of add-on options so the app can be customized, almost automatically, for your Mac workflow.

Quicksilver Screenshots

That’s the problem. Workflow. And that may explain why the app isn’t commercial, and you’ll be hard pressed to find many Quicksilver users among the Mac clan. Quicksilver, though simple enough to setup and begin using, requires an adjustment in our workflow procedures and methods. It’s keyboard driven, and though you can still use mouse or trackpad, doing so defeats the purpose.

Because Quicksilver comes with many add-ons in the way of plugins, it’s highly customizable, but that requires a Mac user to think through their usage workflow, adjust to new tools or ways to access tools, and, well, simply put, make changes.

Some of what makes up Spotlight in OS X Yosemite takes inspiration from Quicksilver, so Apple layers in functionality slowly, so as to increase adoption. But even Spotlight forces a Mac user to think about what’s going on during the search, while Quicksilver lets you type what you want and then figures it out over time.

I’ve been using a Mac about as long as anyone on the planet not associated with Apple in 1984, and getting true productivity from Quicksilver has been a long running challenge. Some of that may be attributed to a learning disorder whereby shortcuts are not retained, or perhaps because using only the keyboard takes me back to the early days of learning CP/M on an Osborn 1.

Regardless, using Quicksilver is easy at first but requires effort to become truly productive (which often means simply avoiding the trackpad and mouse as much as possible), and the reward may not come quickly.

Here’s the key.

Quicksilver gives you quick access to all your important things. With only a few keystrokes, you can get to your applications, files, contacts, bookmarks, music, etc. Don’t get distracted though; although Quicksilver finds and launches things quickly and extremely well, it’s more about doing, not finding.

Install Quicksilver, and begin using it by typing instead of pointing and clicking to launch apps or find files. Quicksilver learns your habits as you go, and you learn how Quicksilver functions. I love it and hate it at the same time.

‘Invite Only’ Ferrari

CNBC:

Ferrari just got even more exclusive. The Italian luxury automaker is gearing up to start production on its invite-only supercar known as the Ferrari Sergio, and only six people will be able to get their hands on one.

Price tag? If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

Ferrari

Let The Boycotts Begin

Over the weekend drug store behemoths CVS and Rite Aid began blocking Apple Pay. Now customers are blocking CVS and Rite Aid. What’s going on? Ben Lovejoy:

Rite Aid has joined CVS in disabling Apple Pay as a payment method in its stores. Like CVS, Rite Aid is a member of the Merchant Customer eXchange (MCX) consortium promoting a rival mobile payment service, CurrentC.

CurrentC is clunky, tracks user information, and is less secure than Apple Pay. So, why push that instead? It’s not about the user experience. MCX makes more money for the stores.

How Your Mac Can Make And Receive Phone Calls On Your iPhone

One of the much ballyhooed features of iOS 8.x and OS X Yosemite is the ‘Continuity‘ option which lets Mac or iPad make and answer phone calls through your iPhone. That’s a handy new feature. While working on your Mac or viewing the iPad, instead of digging through purse, pocket, or backpack to make or receive a call, the calls can be handled by whatever Apple device you’re using at the time. Leave the iPhone where it is.

It’s a great idea whose time has come but there are a few caveats. First, all the devices need to be running iOS 8.x, and OS X 10.10 respectively, all need to be on the same Wi-Fi network, and for Mac users, you need one that supports Bluetooth low energy mode. If your Mac is too old then you’re out of luck. No calls for you.

Unless you add HandsFree to your Mac.

This clever Mac utility works much the way Bluetooth in your car works with your iPhone (or Android smartphone). It gives you an option to make and receive phone calls– from your Mac– through your iPhone, so it works much like Continuity on newer Macs.

Here’s what happens. A phone call comes in to your iPhone, which alerts your Mac with a pop up window. One click declines or accepts on the device you want.

HandsFree

Your Mac becomes a handsfree phone, and works about the same way as Continuity on newer Macs, and similar to Bluetooth in a car.

There’s a built-in menu to search Contacts to make a call, or you can use the dial pad. Calls will use your Mac’s built-in microphone and speakers (but you can use earbuds or a headset, too).

Preferences are many but not overbearing; mostly easy to setup, and configuration is self explanatory.

HandsFree Setup

As an added bonus you’ll also be able to see notifications for low battery on your iPhone, and any missed calls.

Once setup and installed you’ll be able to use your Mac to receive and make phone calls through your iPhone (or other Bluetooth-equipped smartphone), pretty much exactly the way it works in a Bluetooth-enabled car.

Mostly.

Bluetooth connectivity can be finicky sometimes. When it works, it works great. When it doesn’t, troubleshooting to find a solution could become a full time job. For me, on my older iMac with a new iPhone, it works fine, and couldn’t be easier to use.

HandsFree on a Mac

Not bad, priced right, and there’s a trial version to make sure it works on your Mac and smartphone.

Apple Cheapens The Mac mini

Hot on the heels of a record breaking financial quarter, customers now have a chance to examine Apple’s newest Mac mini. It’s not good news. Robin Harris:

  • Soldered-on RAM replaces the SODIMMs that have been used for years, doubling the cost of add-on memory.
  • The barely useable thumb indents on the removable bottom plate have been removed.
  • Unusual T6 Torx security screws now make it difficult to open the door to the interior.
  • The two former SATA ports — which allowed two-drive configurations — are now a single SATA port and a new socket that may support a PCIe flash drive.

Apple went cheap.

Puppy-sized Spider

It’s called the the ‘birdeater.’ It’s a spider the size and weight of puppy and far bigger than the average adult hand. The video is scary.

Known as South American Goliath birdeater, the humongous eight-legged creepy crawly creature has a body the size of a fist and a leg span the size of a small child. Harvard entomologist Piotr Naskrecki recently encountered one while taking a nighttime stroll through a rain forest in Guyana.

Zombie-proof Log Cabin

I’m not sure why modern society has such an attraction to vampires and zombies, but if you fear a zombie apocalypse, here’s what you need. A zombie-proof home with a guarantee.

You hear the horrifying groans. Decaying hands scrabble at the door, trying to find a way in. They want to eat you. You sit down on the sofa, kick your feet up and open a can of Spam. No worries. You’re inside a Zombie Fortification Cabin from Tiger Log Cabins. All you have to do now is wait in safety and comfort for the zombie apocalypse to blow over.

As if.

The ZFC-1 is a log cabin kit designed with the walking dead in mind. The structure consists of three connected buildings. It comes stocked with reinforced slit windows, walls and doors; a barbed-wire surround; an escape hatch on top; and a living room with Xbox, TV and sound system. It comes with an arsenal storage unit to secure your anti-zombie weaponry. There’s also a toilet system, garage, kitchen area with microwave and an upper deck with a full view all around so you can keep an eye out for the oncoming horde. A garden section means you won’t have to take over an abandoned prison to start a small produce farm.

Price? More than $150,000 with installation, security cameras, solar panels.

A Few Words About Mac Text Editors And CSS

As a long time web developer I have a growing collection of Mac-based tools of the trade, including the aging but oh-so-useful BBEdit text editor, the must-have MAMP for local Mac development, and a whole list of add on utility apps which accompany the trade; Coda, Transmit, Yummy FTP, TextMate, CSSEdit, the usual graphic and media culprits from Adobe, and a few apps that work well cross platform– Textastic and Transmit for iOS, and others.

The only problem with using developer tools for the Mac is CSS, which seems to be the ugly stepchild of development tools. Every notable text editor for the Mac incorporates CSS, but few do so as elegantly as the discontinued CSSEdit, a Mac-only CSS editor of great renown. I’ve often said the only thing missing from CSSEdit was a decent text editor. The developer introduced Espresso, a text editor for the Mac with some of CSSEdit thrown in, bolted on, but otherwise less than the original.

Most text editors come with features, functions, syntax, and a range of tools which are programmer specific, as opposed to website development specific. It’s as if HTML, XML, JavaScript– and especially CSS– are second class citizens in the tool trade. The best CSS editor for the Mac was– and remains– CSSEdit, despite the advances of little brother Espresso.

What made CSSEdit such an advancement over text editors with CSS syntax and tools as an afterthought was the ability to edit CSS in a live preview instant updating mode using the CSS from a website. A few Mac text editors can do something similar, but none have the ease-of-use inherent in CSSEdit.

CSSEdit for Mac

Though the aging CSSEdit does not handle CSS3 very well, here’s an example of a CSS-specific issue not addressed by newer versions of Mac text editors. Minify; compressing text to reduce file size. Doing so often requires yet another utility app. CSSEdit, though, could expand minified CSS properly to make for easier editing from within the app. I can’t find a similar function in Espresso or most other major text editors with CSS editing functionality.

An older version of Panic’s popular Coda text editor paid homage to CSS with menus of CSSEdit-like features, and the multi-pane windows made it easier than most editors to view changes to code in preview mode, but CSS in the latest version is handle inline instead, rather than from a suggestive menu of CSS options.

Looking back, my original desire was to have a modest text editor built-in to CSSEdit for the Mac with an upgrade to handle CSS3 (instead of the Espresso solution, which is a comprehensive text editor with CSSEdit-like functions seemingly bolted on). In the more than four years since that great app was discontinued I’ve tried a few dozen text editors, some CSS specific, but none have captured the capability and ease-of-use that came with CSSEdit.

I’m a firm believer than nothing improves without change, but there are times when change does not improve the status quo.

Thinner, Lighter, Faster

That pretty much sums up Apple’s new line if iPhones and iPads. James Kendrick noticed that Apple didn’t give much love to the new iPad mini 3:

While it was evident Apple believes the iPad Air 2 is a big play for the company, the new iPad mini 3 didn’t have much of a launch.

The new little iPad only got a few minutes of discussion at the event, and wasn’t demonstrated at all. This was probably due to how little has changed from the iPad mini 2. Apple added Touch ID — the secure fingerprint reader —and a gold option. Everything else in the iPad mini 3 is exactly the same as the iPad mini 2.

That new Touch ID sensor results in the iPad mini 3 starting at a cost of $399, which is $100 higher than the iPad mini 2. Adding the same Touch ID sensor that’s on the iPhone is a good feature, but not at that price.

It’s a no-brainer. Apple makes more money on the iPhone 6 than on the iPad, but it does say that Apple is interested in making more money than making iPad mini customers happy.

Long Cars That Don’t Fit

A look at 23 long cars that won’t fit in the compact spot in the parking lot.

With the consumer in mind, automakers are constantly striving to make bigger, better, and more efficient vehicles. When legroom is a must, car buyers look for cars with a little extra length. At 16 feet or longer, each of these cars are as long as a two-story building is tall: without the roof of course. These cars don’t have a chance of fitting in the compact spots

Save the Ford Taurus and Chevy Impala, they’re all luxury cars of the Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes, Jaguar, Maserati, Lexus class.

Robot Overlords

Dilbert on what to expect when machines oust people in the workplace.

Dilbert

A Few Words On Shopping At The Mac App Store

There seem to be two schools of thought about using the Mac App Store to buy apps. On one hand, many Mac users have no problem with the store because the selection is broad, prices are decent, plus, purchase, installation, and updates are mostly painless. On the other hand, Apple places restrictions on app capabilities (which drives away experienced Mac users), and does not provide a try-before-you-buy option.

The question I have is simple. Why does Apple run the Mac App Store for app developers instead of for Mac customers?

The basics are there for a good shopping experience, but the detail, polish, follow-through, and experience are not. The Store is good for developers but less so for users. Here’s why.

First, search. It’s abysmal on the iTunes App Store and just as quirky on the Mac App Store. Click on the Photography category. Select See All. What you get are apps displayed by Name or by Release Date.

What customers truly want and need are search options for popularity (most downloads), ratings (stars), and multiple search criteria (ratings, date, price, etc.). Apple doesn’t provide such category search options. Type the word ‘photography’ into the Mac App Store search field and more sort options are available, including Relevance, Most Popular, Release Date, and Customer Rating. But search criteria cannot be mixed.

This type of search display favors exposure to new apps vs. popular or highest rated apps. Why? Obviously, Apple wants Mac users to explore the Mac App Store and not buy or download only those apps with the highest ratings.

Second, standards. The information displayed on the Mac App Store about an app is convoluted at best. Screenshots often are cluttered with boxes, arrows, and advertising text. Many Mac apps which are priced at more than $3.99 do not have a trial version (smart developers provide a free but limited feature version to try; most do not). Who wants to plunk down $49.99 for an app without a trial option? Links to app developer’s websites often are nothing more than a Facebook or Twitter page or an expired domain.

For all the curated apps in the Mac App Store, quality control over the customer’s actual shopping experience appear to be overlooked as Apple prefers to court developers vs. customers.

Finally, I understand Apple’s desire to curate and ‘sandbox‘ Mac applications for security, but sandboxing also reduces higher functionality for more experienced Mac users. What I want to see in the Mac App Store are better search capability with multiple search criteria, a mandatory trial version functionality (one week should be sufficient for any app), improved curation of screenshots and app developer support links.

Why doesn’t Apple implement those three right away? Because the Mac App Store isn’t there for the shopper and customer as much as it is for the developers to help Apple grow the Mac brand.

Step 1: Ala Carte TV from HBO

What’s the next step toward television on demand vs. paying the cable company for TV shows that are not viewed? HBO CEO Richard Plepler:

It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO. So, in 2015, we will launch a stand-alone, over-the-top HBO service in the United States

The first crack in the ancient system cable TV uses to control content.

Falling Oil Prices A ‘Catastrophe’

So says Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud who remains richer than rich thanks to high oil prices.

Unlike those in the oil business, my plan is not to complain as oil prices drop.

Can’t Find Airport In Hawaii

AP:

Mokulele Airlines is the first commercial airline to offer service out of a west Oahu airport that’s at a former naval air station. On July 1, the airline began offering three roundtrip flights a day to Kahului, Maui, out of the Kalaeloa Airport.

The problem is that visitors cannot find Kalaeloa Airport. Why not?

There’s no airport sign on the freeway, and the road to the airport has a series of merges and turns through some unpopulated areas.

Hawaii isn’t known for the clarity of road signs.

This Mac Graphic App Is Not Illustrator Or Photoshop, But, Man, What An Absolute Bargain

Every now and again a Mac app comes along that fills a void; either a gap where no comparable app exists, or a gap where the established industry leaders dare not go. Mac using graphic designers know the value of Pixelmator vs. Adobe’s flagship Photoshop. What about those who use Illustrator? Is there a comparable vector-based bargain tool?

Take a look at Affinity Designer. You’ll pay more in a few months to rent Illustrator than it costs to buy Affinity Designer outright. What you get is a bargain-priced tool, with professional level capabilities, worth of a few hundred five star reviews.

This new app uses an artful blend of vector tools delivered in a Photoshop-like presentation. Sure, it imports PSD files, but also handles PDFs, SVGs, AIs, EPS files, and even Freehand (remember that blast from the past?).

Unlike Pixelmator, Affinity Designer handles CMYK as well as RGB, LAB and other color models with full ICC color management at 16-bits per channel. And, yes, the tools are completely familiar to anyone who’s used Adobe’s flagship monthly rental suite.

Affinity Designer Screenshot 1

Affinity Designer has tools which blend both vector and rester in editable layers, complete with pen tools, curve editing, geometric operations, smart shapes, textures, masking, and customizable brushes.

All the OS X basics are built-in, too, including OpenGL support, Core Graphics, Grand Central, and 64-bit power with multiple core processor capability.

Yet, for anyone who’s ever used any app from Adobe, Affinity Designer is instantly familiar.

Affinity Designer Screenshot 2

Let me be clear about one thing. Affinity Designer is not Illustrator, and not some funky blend of Photoshop with vector tools tossed in. It’s more like the Pixelmator of vector-based graphic design apps; bargain priced, but with enough tools to get plenty of professional use.

It doesn’t have the rich set of tools and add-ons you’ll find with Adobe’s far more expensive apps, but it is surprisingly robust considering the nominal price tag. If you’re a graphic designer wannabe and balk at Adobe’s monthly rental fees, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and impressed with Affinity Designer’s capabilities; especially the price-performance ratio.

High recommended, but with one caveat. Affinity Designer is Mac App Store only, so there’s no try-before-you-buy option. That is sorely needed.