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What the AppleTV should have been

September 1, 2010 48 comments

tl;dr: The new AppleTV is a huge disappointment. Welcome to AppleTV 2007.

SmugMug is full of Apple fanboys. (And our customer list suggests Apple is full of SmugMug fanboys) We watch live blogs or streams of every product announcement as a company, debating and discussing as it unfolds. Everyone was especially hyped up about this one because of the iTV rumors. When Steve put up this slide (courtesy of gdgt’s excellent live blog), there was actual cheering at SmugMug HQ:

What people want from AppleTV

Steve’s absolutely right. We really want all of those things. Apple described the problem perfectly. Woo! Credit cards were literally out and people were ready to buy. But after the product was demo’d, the cheers had turned to jeers. There was an elephant in the room that squashed almost all of these lofty goals:

There were no Apps.

APPS MATTER

Why does the lack of Apps matter? Because we’re left with only ABC & Fox for TV shows. Where’s everyone else? I thought we wanted ‘professional content’ but we get two networks? Customers are dying for some disruption to the cable business, and instead we get a tiny fraction of cable’s content?

Then we’re left with Flickr for photos. Flickr, really? When Facebook has 5-6X the photo sharing usage of all other photo sharing sites combined? And heaven forbid you want to watch your HD videos or photos from SmugMug – we’re only the 4th largest photo sharing site in the world, clearly not big enough if Facebook isn’t.

WHAT APPLETV SHOULD HAVE BEEN

If only there were a way to seriously monetize the platform *and* open it up to all services at the same time. Oh, wait, that’s how Apple completely disrupted the mobile business. It’s called the App Store. Imagine that the AppleTV ran iOS and had it’s own App Store. Let’s see what would happen:

  • Every network could distribute their own content in whichever way they wished. HBO could limit it to their subscribers, and ABC could stream to everyone. Some would charge, some would show ads, and everyone would get all the content they wanted. Hulu, Netflix, and everyone else living in perfect harmony. Let the best content & pricepoint win.
  • We’d get sports. Every geek blogger misses this, and it’s one of the biggest strangleholds that cable and satellite providers have over their customers. You can already watch live, streaming golf on your iPhone in amazing quality. Now imagine NFL Sunday Ticket on your AppleTV.
  • You could watch your Facebook slideshows and SmugMug videos alongside your Flickr stream. Imagine that!
  • The AppleTV might become the best selling video game console, just like iPhone and iPod have done for mobile gaming. Plants vs Zombies and Angry Birds on my TV with a click? Yes please.
  • Apple makes crazy amounts of money. Way more than they do now with their 4 year old hobby.

Apple has a go-to-market strategy. Something like 250,000 strategies, actually. They’re called Apps.

WORLDS BEST TV USER INTERFACE

The new AppleTV runs on the same chip that’s in the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. This should be a no-brainer. What’s the hold up? What’s that you say? The UI? Come on. It’s easy. And it could be the best UI to control a TV ever.

Just require the use of an iPod, iPhone, or iPad to control it. Put the whole UI on the iOS device in your hand, with full multi-touch. Pinching, rotating, zooming, panning – the whole nine yards. No more remotes, no more infrared, no more mess or fuss. I’m not talking about looking at the TV while your fingers are using an iPod. I’m talking about a fully realized UI on the iPod itself – you’re looking and interacting with it on the iPod.

There are 120M devices capable of this awesome UI out there already. So the $99 price point is still doable. Don’t have an iPod/iPad/iPhone? The bundle is just $299 for both.

That’s what the AppleTV should have been. That would have had lines around the block at launch. This new one?

It’s like an AppleTV from 2007.

I owe Apple an apology

July 9, 2010 3 comments

In my last post, I wrote that Apple wasn’t giving App developers access to the high quality 720p video recordings from your Library on iPhone 4.

I was wrong.

The documentation wasn’t clear and we made a bad assumption. And talking to other developers, they all concurred that they couldn’t get access to the high-quality Library videos, either. For years, Apple didn’t let developers get access to the full resolution photos from your Library, which they now permit, so we assumed that’s what was going on here, too. Thank goodness we were wrong.

Sorry Apple!

Go grab the latest SmugShot and enjoy blur-free videos. :)

Upload iPhone 4 HD Video over the air!

July 1, 2010 7 comments

Seems to be quite a bit of noise online about how you can’t upload HD video from your awesome new iPhone 4 over the air.  Even Steve Jobs has weighed in.

I have good news – you can do it today.  Easily.  Just install SmugShot, sign up for a free trial of SmugMug (you’ll get a nice discount if you signup through SmugShot), and upload HD video to your heart’s content.  You’ll need a Power or Pro account, but can use either free for 14 days.

Go wild!

One caveat:  Apple doesn’t let us get access to the high res videos from your Library.  So you’ll need to film your HD movies using SmugShot.  We’re hoping this gets fixed – all versions of iOS prior to 4 didn’t let you get access to high-res photos via your Library either, but they fixed that in iOS 4.  I’m assuming they’ll do the same for video at some point (and Steve seems to imply it, too). This is fixed in the latest version, and was our fault, not Apple’s!

(For existing SmugMug family members, yes, this means Power Users can now upload 1080p HD video to their accounts.  As always, we’re listening.)

Apple’s new policy is good for you, me, and the web

April 14, 2010 57 comments

I like both Adobe (Lightroom rocks!) and Apple (iPad rocks!), but I’ve been asked over and over again what I think about Apple’s new 3.3.1 policy. You know, the one that basically bans cross-platform development frameworks. And, in particular, basically nails the Flash coffin shut on iPhone/iPod/iPad. So, what do I think?

I love it.

And I’m surprised more developers, end users, business leaders, and general web standards lovers everywhere aren’t posting about how great this is.

It’s good for end users.

The App Store already has a signal-to-noise problem. With hundreds of thousands of apps, finding the good stuff is tough. Bear in mind that every single one of those Apps was built by someone intentionally designing for these devices – and we’ve still got plenty of junk in amongst the gems. Now imagine a bunch of developers just cross-publishing to lots of devices – ignoring all of the strengths of each of those devices. The signal to noise ratio gets worse, fast. Ugh.

It’s good for the web.

For me, this one is the biggie. These devices are a dual-platform: iPhone SDK and HTML. Don’t like the iPhone SDK? Build for HTML. And finally, finally, someone has stepped up and done something about the de-facto Flash monopoly. Flash has helped the web and HTML standards to stagnate. It’s sorta like a drug. It’s whizzy and slick, granted. But it’s a nightmare, too. Flash crashes constantly. Its performance is terrible (when a 1Ghz mobile processor in the iPad plays video more smoothly than Flash on a 16-core Mac Pro with a hefty GPU, that’s a problem). And it smashes through web paradigms left and right. Why? Because there’s no competition.

Look at the browser world, on the other hand. With Microsoft, Mozilla, Google, and Apple duking it out, we’re seeing a breathtaking pace of innovation. Browser stability and performance is improving at an astonishing rate. There’s no reason Flash shouldn’t be super-stable and fast by now – but it isn’t. It’s like the Internet Explorer doldrums all over again – Flash is holding us back, just like IE used to. I’d rather be building for something with a scary fast pace of innovation than something stale.

The iPad is already spurring HTML5 adoption even faster than before. Witness all the video and games sites that are already scrambling to announce and ship their HTML5 interfaces. Bring it on!

I want to build for the web, not for Flash.

It’s good for developers.

And by that, I mean “good developers.”

Good developers are language agnostic. They’ll write in whatever language is worth the effort.

Good developers love great toolsets and great platforms. The iPhone SDK is amazing.

Good developers want their creations to be perfectly tuned to their purpose. The iPhone/iPod/iPad interfaces demand and deserve lots of individual attention, not to be marginalized by some middleware cross-platform publisher.

Good developers want their products found and used. The App Store signal-to-noise issue is a daunting one – more shovelware won’t help.

Good developers want a stable community, with lots of advice, sample code, libraries, etc. A fragmented development landscape prohibits that – a unified one encourages it.

I could go on – you get the point. Best of all? It weeds out poor developers. And if the iPhone SDK and HTML5 aren’t your thing – go build somewhere else. I’m sure there’ll be another computing revolution in a decade or two that you can ignore yet again. :)

(and if you’re a good developer – we’re hiring and we’re having more fun than you can possibly imagine)

It’s good for Apple.

They get better apps. Happier end users. More productive good developers. Fewer bad developers. And, of course, they make more money. They did invent the software, devices, and App Store, afterall. Why should they marginalize themselves out of their own business?

It’s even good for Adobe

Granted, not quite as good for Adobe as having Flash on these devices. :) But lets not forget that Adobe has a stable of great applications, like Illustrator and Photoshop, which aid iPhone development. Their sales will still boom.

Finally, Adobe is incentivized, finally, to actually improve Flash. I’ll bet if Adobe actually made Flash stable, fast, and power efficient, it could get added to the iPhone for use in-browser. It’s not like Apple enjoys seeing half rendered web pages in their browser – they just enjoy customer complaints about crashing and poor performance less. Believe me – I know all about customer complaints due to poor Flash behavior.

But that window of opportunity is closing – the owners of those web pages don’t enjoy their stuff being half-rendered either. They’ll rush to fix that problem – without Flash – if Adobe doesn’t fix it for them.

So there you have it. Thanks, Apple, for doing what’s best for the web, your customers, and developers like me. The future is bright. Long live web standards!

(this post written on an iPad in WordPress’ excellent app)

UPDATE #1:

I understand many disagree, and have their own reasons. Go write for Android, another great platform that’s more open.  Maybe if you do, Android will ‘win’.  I think you’re confusing platform choice and development choice here.  Personally, I’d love to have more platform choice.  Who wouldn’t?  But Apple did invent this thing.  They certainly deserve to make whatever decisions they want about it.  If you’re right, and I’m wrong, those decisions will kill the platform.    I happen to think I’m right, and I happen to think Flash needs to seriously improve – and the Apple’s the only way that’s gonna happen.

Note that I don’t have an opinion on things like MonoTouch, which I know nothing about.  It could very well be that Apple painted with too wide of a brush here and excluded some things that should really be included.  I just don’t know.  I do know, though, that history has shown that cross-platform languages and frameworks have an abysmal success rate.  The last thing we need is watered down apps built for the lowest common denominator.

Finally, yes, SmugMug uses Flash.  I’m sure we’ll continue to use it.  Like I said, it’s slick and whizzy and like a drug.  We used it because it was the only tool for the job.  Adobe did a great thing with their h.264 support, and we love our Flash apps – when they work.  But it’s been awfully frustrating to watch Flash continue to crash and perform poorly for our customers, especially because Adobe doesn’t seem to care.  They certainly don’t respond to us when we ask for help, and they certainly haven’t fixed their issues with multiple releases.  I’m hopeful that this sudden pressure and increased competition will cause them to bring Flash up to the level of their other superb products like Lightroom.  If not, you’ll certainly see us move away from Flash as HTML5 support and performance continues to improve, just like everyone else on the web.  We can play Quake II in HTML5, for heaven’s sake!

UPDATE #2:

Steve Jobs on Adobe.  Amen, brother.

Categories: apple, iphone Tags: , , , , , ,

Nasty Safari bug not fixed since December :(

March 26, 2009 33 comments
A rotten little apple

A rotten little apple by Ashley Harding

Apple has had a nasty Safari bug since December which breaks SmugMug, Facebook, Gmail, and lots of US banks.

3 months later, it’s still not fixed. Your only option is to use Firefox if you’re affected.

Apple’s known about the problem since December, and has lots of internal bugs on the issue (30+ I last heard). (For my Apple readers, here’s our bug on the subject and the one it was marked as a duplicate of).

I’ve done everything I know how to get this resolved – Apple employees have been internally working on our behalf, we have an AppleCare Enterprise Support case open (#332101), I tried to open an ADC Premier case (it was denied because they don’t “provide code-level support for content creation issues” whatever that means). Still no luck.

Apparently this is fixed in Mac OS X 10.5.7. We have the latest seed, so we’re going to find out, but 10.5.7 is likely a month or more away from shipping, so expect this stuff to be be broken at least until then. Use Firefox.

Safari happens to be my favorite browser, so this is especially disheartening. The good news is you may not be affected. Not everyone running 10.5.6 with Safari is, for some reason, but lots of you are. You’ll know you are if you see SmugMug galleries which appear to be empty (but aren’t) or see ugly white pages with undecipherable error messages. For that, I apologize – I really wish we could help but we can’t. You can help yourself, though – use Firefox.

Put another way, Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, sits on Apple’s board of directors. Gmail has also been broken for 3 months. Apparently he’s powerless too. :(

SmugShot for iPhone – Shoot, geotag, and upload.

July 10, 2008 24 comments
SmugVault

Man, to say I’m excited about this would be a major understatement. We’re huge Apple fanboys over here, so when we got accepted to the first wave of SDK developers at Apple, we were stoked. Shizam went to town almost immediately and after a few months of hard work, SmugShot was born. (And as I’m writing this, we’re #1 in “What’s Hot” on both iTunes and the iPhone interface!)

So what is it? Well, we knew early on we wanted something very simple and elegant that did only one thing – but did it extremely well. We didn’t want a kitchen-sink photo-sharing / -browsing / -taking application. We already have a fantastic iPhone application on Safari, so the obvious thing to tackle first was actually taking the photos on your iPhone and getting them up to SmugMug.

SmugVault

SmugShot makes it incredibly simple to simply whip your phone out at a moment’s notice and take as many snapshots as you’d like. The photos will be automagically geotagged with your location, should you wish it, and you can quickly and easily enter a caption and some keywords – or not. Your call. We’ll queue them up and send them along to the SmugMug gallery of your choice – over EDGE, WiFi, or 3G.

And that’s basically it. Simple, elegant, clean – just the way we like it. If you’re new to SmugMug, you can create a free trial account right from SmugShot. You can set up a default Caption and some default Keywords to make entering them a breeze. And you can even upload photos that are already in your Photo Library, rather than from your camera (and you iPod Touch users can do this, too). One big Apple bug with that, though – the SDK only give us access to 640×480 versions of photos in your Library. I’m hoping they’ll fix that soon.

SmugVault

The really wild thing is how much I actually use the app. I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to things like cameras and lenses, and lets face it – the iPhone’s lens can’t compare to some fabulous Canon glass. But as the app has spread throughout the office, everyone’s learned the same lesson I have: There’s an awful lot of value in convenience.

SmugShot is so shockingly convenient and easy to use, it trumps the limited image quality for almost all of my normal everyday shots.

So go grab it from iTunes, read more about it, or even get some answers. Definitely let us know if you like it and what we can improve on – we already have our own list but would love to hear yours!

Available on the iPhone App Store

iPhone SDK, NDA, and SmugMug

June 9, 2008 8 comments
SmugMug on iPhone

Getting lots of requests about an iPhone app for SmugMug. As you no-doubt know, we’re enormous Apple fans over here, and iPhone fans in particular. Most of the company camped out in line at the Palo Alto store (see stories here and here), we were the first photo sharing app with an iPhone optimized interface (and one of the first web apps anywhere), and we designed our awesome new video sharing service with iPhone in mind. So I think it’s no secret that we’d love to have rich, intuitive native iPhone applications for ourselves and our customers.

However, the iPhone SDK NDA is still in effect, so I can neither confirm nor deny that we have an iPhone app in the works, or even whether we’ve been accepted into the iPhone SDK program. I have no idea why so many companies have chosen to break the NDA and talk about their apps today, but that’s just not the way we roll around here – we like to maintain a great relationship with any partner companies, and Apple is a company we’re especially fond of. (Ok, ok, so I’m a fanboy :) )

If / when we get to build an iPhone app or two, we’ll do our absolute best to make sure they’re intuitive to use and takes advantage of all the power the iPhone provides. As you can imagine, we’re especially excited about iPhone 3G. :)

(Thank goodness Michael Arrington stole the wrong iPhone from me this morning. Whew! :) )

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