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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.

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: , , , , , ,

I demand video to be awesome.

April 25, 2008 66 comments

 

Sam “Shizam” Nichols, creator of the video player, donning his SmugMug Hero persona. See it in HD.

The state of video codecs online has been a mess and there’s been no clear choice, making it very difficult to do awesome video sharing. Luckily, all of that changed when Adobe finally added H.264 support to Flash.

Thanks to Adobe, we finally have a video codec that we can get behind and that’ll be great for our customers. And so back in December, we released a major new update to our video offering that’s 100% based on H.264. And it supports resolutions all the way up to 1280x720p. That’s right – SmugMug has truly awesome hi-def video sharing.

Today, I’m thrilled to announce that our Flash player is out (we used QuickTime for a few months while we polished up our player), so it’s easier than ever to embed on your blogs and share with your friends:

Here’s all the gory details:

  • Upload almost any video format you like. We’ll do our best to convert to H.264 in an extremely high quality way. (Thanks EC2!)
  • We’ll generate multiple sizes for you, so you’ll have a version that’s perfect for sharing on the web (YouTube size), perfect for using on your iPod/iPhone (DVD size), and even your Hi-Def TV in your living room.
  • We’ll automagically display just the right sized video for whichever browser and monitor you happen to be using. Ditto for your friends. Example from my friends in Dallas hard at work on Duke Nukem.
  • You can embed the videos in your blog, website, or wherever else you like online. And you can do so at DVD quality resolution – 640×480 – more than 4X the pixels and quality of YouTube.
  • You (and your friends and family, if you let them) can easily download all the different sized versions of your videos so you can do whatever else you’d like with them, like add them to YouTube or burn to a DVD.
  • H.264 means it’ll play on a huge, wide variety of computers and devices, not just SmugMug. iPods, AppleTV, Playstation 3, and the list goes on…
  • Speaking of Apple devices, we provide a complete podcast RSS feed for your account that you and your friends can subscribe to with a single click in iTunes. All your iPods, iPhones, and AppleTVs will then magically stay up-to-date. All your online videos in your pocket, and your living room, all the time. Neat, eh?
  • I’m thrilled we’re making good use of the OpenShareIcon project, too. Rather than use some trademark-encumbered, company-owned, non-open ShareIcon, we’ve chosen to use the real deal. Viva open web standards!
  • One gotcha: Flash takes 200% more CPU to play video on the Mac than QuickTime does, so in-gallery, Mac users will still see QuickTime. We can’t wait until that’s not true – but that’s up to Adobe, not us. 😦

So there you have it. I’ll probably post again soon with lots more detail about how great the integration is with Apple devices: iPod, iPhone, iTunes, and AppleTV. We love us some Apple over here at SmugMug. 🙂

Oh, and you can count on our video player to continue to rapidly evolve. This is definitely just a 1.0 product – it may have some warts and it’ll get even better over time.

So go wild – share your crystal clear video with the world!

Oh, and demand your video to be awesome (sorry about the quality – that’s the best I could find from Verizon. SmugMug *did not* make it all blocky and ugly):

iPhone, SDK, SmugMug

April 2, 2008 19 comments
SmugMug on iPhone

Been getting lots of questions about the iPhone SDK in general, and a SmugMug app in specific. Unfortunately, I think we’re covered by all kinds of NDAs so I can’t say much, but here are some of my thoughts:

  • The iPhone SDK is a monster, huge, awesome thing. It once again leapfrogs Apple’s phone way way ahead of all of the competition. Just watch – the scope and breadth of the apps that’ll be available is going to take your breath away. And they can’t run anywhere else, because all the other phone companies have been ignoring us developers for years. They’re all scrambling around, now, though.
  • The iPhone Apps Store is a bigger deal even than the SDK. Yes, you heard me right. Currently all the buzz is coming from developers, but since I wear both developer and CEO hats, I can tell you the deployment and business side is at least as critical. Being able to easily and rapidly get software and updates to your customers is a nasty problem, and the fact that Apple’s solved it for all of us is a huge, huge win.
  • The combination of the two is where the real magic happens, obviously. I can’t imagine anyone else doing something quite as integrated anytime soon.
  • We are building a SmugMug app. It’s already in the works. Of course, it’ll be free. And of course, it’ll be awesome. I don’t think we can say anything else, though.
  • No, this doesn’t mean the end of our iPhone interface for on-phone Safari web browsing. We’ll keep developing it, and we’ll keep integrating your feature suggestions.

If you have any suggestions as to what you’d like to see in a SmugMug native iPhone app, here’s your chance. Leave me a comment. 🙂

Categories: iphone, smugmug Tags: , , , ,
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