Patent Obsolescence

The Lodsys debacle over the past 2 weeks as really shaken up our little (or not so little) community of iOS developers. The patent itself is now obvious to anyone who has ever done any kind of programming over the past 10 years. The concept of an “Upgrade” button after all is pretty simple. Especially in 2011 where we now have app stores and complex frameworks abstracting the work for us.

Beyond the validity of the patent and wether or not Apple has the right to sub-licence their rights, this case for me is the perfect example of why software patents as they exist today are ridiculous. Now we could argue that software patents should not be possible at all, a position I’m more than willing to agree with, but at the very least, the current 20 years period of protection in the US for a patent makes no sense in the insanely-rapidely evolving world of technology.

When the patent law was drafted in the US, those kinds of periods made sense. It works beautifully for example with the pharmaceutical industry where developing a new drug can take billions of dollars in research. Where it doesn’t work however is when a software developer thinks of a new algorithm to fix his problem. Regardless of how imaginative the solution is, protecting it for 20 years makes no sense on the Web.

This particular case affects me and my clients greatly so I’m obviously eager to see what will happen, but beyond that, I hope this example will be the drop that overflows the bucket and will convince the US congress to re-examine the law. It’s much needed. In fact it was much needed 2 years ago.

WWDC Sold Out in 10 Hours

Apple today announced the date for this year’s WWDC, their WorldWide Developers Conference and offered tickets to would-be attendees for 1499$ US. Last year, it took 8 days before it sold out. This year? 10 hours. Erica Sadun on TUAW summed it up best:

Listen, Apple, if your event sells out in 10 hours, you’re oversubscribed and under-serving your community

While the popularity of the event is great news to Apple and no doubt reflects the insane momentum both iOS and OS X are enjoying right now, selling out in less than 12 hours is crazy. If you were in a meeting all day, you’re done.

It’s too bad too because this is the best Mac & iOS developer event of the year. I knew I couldn’t attend anyway this year so this doesn’t impact me, but it’ll be interested to see what happens next year. I certainly plan on being there but I wonder how quick you’ll have to be next year to snatch a ticket.

My prediction? Apple at some point will split the conference in two, one for iOS and one for Mac OS X but that’s not an ideal solution at all. My guess is that more and more developers are interested in both, but with so many people interested in the platform these days, there’s no convention center big enough to welcome everyone.

First Launch Experience

The Color debacle continues. This weekend I tweeted that their homepage was badly written, a post that prompted a reply from the founder. Hopefully they will be able to fix that soon since it’s not exactly a good first impression. Today though, I want to talk about another aspect of the app that didn’t quite work out : the experience you get the first time you launch the app.

The problem Color has is that the first time you launch it you get an empty page. The app presents you with photos taken by people around you and chances are there will be none when you first launch it unless the app becomes very popular. This is clearly a flaw in their product and the UX designer or the interaction designer should have thought of that.

When you design an app it’s important to think not only of the best-case scenario (for Color it’s when there’s a ton of interesting content around you) but also what happens in the worst case scenario. By not thinking about this, the team made a critical error. It meant very negative press by tech enthusiasts and pundits who used it on day one, it gave early adopters a bad experience and the end result is terrible ratings in iTunes and the product became the joke on Twitter.

It also doesn’t help that you can’t use or do anything before you give the app your name and take your photo, but the kicker is when their founder gave an interview saying:

Photo sharing is not our mission. We think it’s cool and we think it’s fun, but we’re a data mining company

So not only is the first-time use of your app terrible, but you don’t even care. Well, I guess that make it Ok.

What Users Care About

Robert Scoble on the terrible launch of the 41M$ “Color” app yesterday

Users care about great experiences, they don’t care how much money you collected on Sand Hill Road.

That just about sums it up. This is another Google Buzz situation where the product was tested internally with a group of friends & co-workers all sitting next to each other and meeting each others every day. Once the product was released in the wild, the first time experience in the real world is terrible. It just doesn’t work.

I’ll write more about first-time experience this weekend.

Can a Business Really Do No Evil?

I took a week off last week and a lot happened while I was away (literally) shooting the stars. I want to talk about two of those events today, the Oracle / Java debacle and the Google / Verizon debacle.

First, let’s recap. Google and Verizon partnered early last week on a proposal sent to the law makers in the US on their vision of net neutrality … on mobile devices. As anyone could have predicted, that was not a great way to make friends on the Internet. The proposal itself is interesting, but what makes it really interesting for me is that Google’s own philosophy and motto over the years as always been “Do no evil”. Not sure many people still agree with this one.

This was followed earlier this week by Oracle’s move with regards to Java. When Oracle bought Sun, it acquired amongst other things Java, a piece of technology that’s kinda-but-not-100% open source. Actually, a big part of it is, but it ends up the tech is certainly not free of patent issues. In a move best described as a great way to kill off any good will you might have had with the open source community, Oracle decided to go after the money and sued Google for its use of Java in Android.

And in a move that proves that Oracle is not afraid of completely destroying it’s open source credibility in just one week, the company announced the end of Open Solaris.

If I was a MySQL developer, I might be nervous right now. Remember when Sun bought MySQL and we were all nervous about what they would do? Well, the shark has been eaten by an even bigger shark and this one’s not afraid to shake things up.

All of this and more importantly yet, the reaction to all this online reminded me of something I’ve been saying for years : a public company is neither your friend nor your enemy. It’s a company whose primary goal is to make its investors richer by making the action trade higher. Good / bad products, open source good will, good reputation, etc. are all just by products of this goal. It’s true for Oracle and it’s true for every other business out there.

I’m a big fan of Apple’s products lately, but I’m under no illusion that the goal of Steve Jobs is really to make the company more profitable. Often I don’t mind their decisions, but sometime I do (as with the ipad being unable to share the iPhone’s data plan).

Being a fan of a company is fine, but we need to keep in mind that these entities are not our friends.

It’s Not About The Rendering Engine Anymore

Today, RIM launched their new 6.0 OS (and the new BlackBerry Torch) and by doing so, added its name to the ever growing list of products using WebKit as the basis for their Web browser. RIM’s move isn’t really all that interesting: they had no good browser anyway and it’s not as if they are first to do this.

The interesting discussion in my opinion is what Microsoft should do. Back in the Netscape / IE war, Microsoft was convinced that Web browsers would ultimately replace desktops apps (they weren’t wrong) and they invested a lot of money in creating Internet Explorer. That war is still on, although nowadays the players have changed. With IE, we’re now talking about Firefox and Chrome as the main competitors.

But what really changed however, is that the HTML/CSS rendering engine shouldn’t matter that much. We went from a 1 browser = 1 engine model to a model where we now have a couple of really good open engines powering many browsers.

Controlling the world’s browser market is one thing, but as Google is proving, that doesn’t mean you need to have your own engine. Chrome is built on top of Web kit, just like Safari is and countless mobile web browsers are. These products are still competing with each others and are still different from each other yet they are built on the same foundation.

What that means of course, is easier Web development and less browser-specific bugs. This is why I think Microsoft needs to stop developing its own engine and start using either WebKit or Gecko. Both of these are well done, support many web standards and are fairly easy to integrate in a product.

Of course, such a change can’t happen overnight and it’s a difficult thing for Microsoft to do, but I do believe that in the long term, it’d make the Web a lot better. Trident, Microsoft’s rendering engine since IE 4 isn’t exactly renowned for its spectacular support for standards. And really, I’d much rather see Microsoft invest 18 months developing Internet Explorer proper rather than waste 80% of that time coding the engine.

The Sad State of The Tech Journalism

I’ve been insanely busy for the past 2 months (gotta love moving), but I should be back on track for regular posting now. Since my last post the iPhone 4 has been released to the world and has been selling very, very well. 3M units in 22 days is nothing to scoff at.

Of course, the release was covered by just about every tech outlets in excruciating details, but before the iPhone had become old news, these sites got a gift : the AntennaGate. I don’t plan on spending too much time on the problem itself, although I have to say that as someone who has an iPhone 4 and who has a friend who has one (in Canada, the phone isn’t out yet so it’s not common), I have had no problem with the signal. The proximity sensor issue is much more prevalent in my opinion.

That doesn’t really interest me though, I don’t care about the issue enough to spend a lot of time discussing wether or not there’s a problem. As I said, I have no problem and it seems there’s a lot of people that are quite happy with their phone. Then again, the signal degradation does exist under certain conditions (if your signal is weak in the first place).

My biggest issue is the coverage of the problem. The problem with tech journalism is that it’s all on the Web and everything on the Web these days is driven by the number of clicks you can get. Because of this, Techcrunch, Mashable, Endgaget, Gizmodo, and all the others decided they needed trashy headlines and incendiary content. Thus was born the “AntennaGate”. It’s not enough anymore to just report the news, you have to drive clicks. You have to create a problem where there is none or make a small issue a big one. After all, who would read a story titled “iPhone 4 antenna can be attenuated under certain condition. Might affect some users.”.

And I’m not just saying this because it was bad coverage against Apple. It’s true for every tech businesses out there, from Microsoft to Google to Apple to others. I really wish there was a respectable tech news site out there, one that isn’t about getting the most clicks. It’s sad that we’re to the point where tech journalism is at the same level of professionalism than tabloids in Hollywood.