Federico Viticci

7602 posts on MacStories since April 2009

Federico is the founder and editor-in-chief of MacStories, where he writes about Apple with a focus on apps, developers, and mobile software. He can also be found in the iBooks Store and on his two podcasts, Connected and Virtual.

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App Santa: Tweetbot, Drafts, Day One, and Other Great iOS & Mac Apps on Sale for Christmas

Back in 2006 and 2007, there was an initiative called MacSanta that allowed users to buy great Mac apps at discounted prices with a holiday sale. After last year’s debut (which wasn’t officially affiliated with MacSanta), AppSanta is back this year with over 40 award-winning iOS and Mac apps discounted up to 60% off the original price in a promotion that runs until December 26th.

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Discovery on the App Store

Gedeon Maheux writes about search on the App Store following a simple experiment: looking at search results for “Twitter”. The outcome is concerning:

The following list was generated by a manual App Store (iPhone) search on Nov 15th, 2014 for the term “Twitter”. To make the list easier to parse, I’ve called out all apps that allow a user to directly read AND post to Twitter in bold. Everything else is either a game, a utility, or some other social network enhancement. The official app from Twitter is naturally the first result, but the next actual Twitter client (Hootsuite) doesn’t appear on the list until #20 and the next one after that comes in at #62. Even the mega-popular Tweetbot isn’t returned in the results until position #81 and even then, the older v2 of Tweetbot (for iOS 6) comes first. Where’s Twitterrific? Although it contains the word “Twitter” in the app’s name, Twitterrific isn’t seen in the list until you scroll all the way down to #100.

App Store search has historically been a black box. The problem isn't necessarily that it's getting worse – rather, it's that it doesn't appear to be getting better. Every day I search for something on the App Store and, inevitably, I come across unrelated social games, apps to boost your Twitter followers or Instagram likes, and clones of other apps instead of more accurate results.

In spite of Apple's efforts to put curated lists of apps front and center, people still search for apps the old fashioned way. A mobile take on SEO has become quite popular, studies suggest this, and, anecdotally, the importance of search – inside and outside of the App Store – can be easily measured.

Apple has plenty of room for improvement in App Store search; in the meantime, the upcoming app analytics should hopefully help developers understand how customers are finding (or not finding) their apps through search.

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HelloTalk: Learn Languages, Meet the World [Sponsor]

HelloTalk is the first language exchange social networking app in the world, allowing you to find native speakers of the language you're learning locally or worldwide.

The best way to learn a foreign language is to practice with real people. If you are a native English speaker learning Chinese Mandarin, ideally you'd want to meet native Chinese speakers learning English. HelloTalk does just that: you can find native speakers and, through a unique text and talk exchange mode, write in one language and then switch to another one, or talk for 5 minutes in one language then switch again. HelloTalk is capable of counting time automatically, so you'll never lose your stats or progress.

HelloTalk supports dozens of languages including English, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian, Russian, and Arabic. In addition to text and talk modes, the app lets you share photos with your language partner about your life and home country culture.

For more information, visit hellotalk.com and start learning a new language with native speakers today.

Our thanks to HelloTalk for sponsoring MacStories this week.


Hacking the Tweet Stream

MG Siegler writes about one of the latest trends in changing the way longer messages are shared on Twitter:

More recently, there’s been a trend with a similar goal (to increase the 140-character limit), but immensely better execution and flow: appending screenshots of text to tweets.

In the age of Tweetstorms, I thought I would grow to hate this as well. But I actually quite like it. One big reason: it maintains the flow of the tweet stream. That is, it’s one tweet with a payload, so it both flows in and out of the stream just as quickly as a regular tweet. And, more importantly, it can be retweeted (another one of those early Twitter “hacks” that has since become part of the official canon) and replied to without breaking context.

I've seen this as well, and it's becoming more frequent each week. Since the beginning of mobile Twitter clients, there's always been a desire from some users to be able to share longer tweets. Twitter never caved in to the pressure and maintained the historic character limitation of tweets, but, as MG notes, screenshots and tweetstorms are clever in that they “hack” the Twitter stream natively through replies and inline previews. An interesting consequence of changing the timeline from a simple list of tweets to something different.

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“Can the App Store Be Full?”

David Smith, in an excellent episode of Developing Perspective about the hyper-competitive nature of the modern App Store:

It's hard to talk to those people sometimes, because I have the understanding that it's very unlikely that you're going to come up with something that is truly new, or something that will be adopted just on its own merits, on it being novel and it being interesting. If you do, it'll likely be copied very quickly. It's just the nature of the store. If you want to make it in the App Store, it's much more a question of patience, a question of savvy maybe, too. Of being really thoughtful about how you're doing things from a business perspective, on keeping your expenses and your costs really really low. That's one point that I know I've been able to make a living out of this, is that I keep my expenses very low on the development side.

The entire episode is worth listening to (or watching), as David makes some great points about facing the realities of the App Store, which is “full” of free apps and where the majority of customers don't fall in the power-user end of the iOS device owner spectrum.

I started MacStories in April 2009, less than a year after the App Store opened. Over the years, I've tried and written about thousands of apps, generally from indie developers who have an idea and want to make an app out of it. From my experience, it's pretty clear that the people who used to make apps in the early days of the App Store have been forced to adapt to a race to the bottom, increasingly harder ways to monetize productivity apps, and a general saturation of ideas. With so many developers making apps, it's almost inevitable that the same idea will happen in different parts of the world at different price points. By 2008-2010 definitions, the App Store can be seen as “full” and the market is tough and sometimes unfair (also because Apple has been slow in providing better tools for testing apps or measuring analytics).

But, it's important to stress the amount of opportunities that new developers starting out today have to make a meaningful impact on the App Store. New ways to monetize, new technologies, new types of customers that are more diversified than five or four years ago. Apps like Workflow, Overcast, Newsify, Elevate, Clips – these, I think, are good examples of the kinds of businesses that can be explored on the App Store today.

By certain metrics, the App Store is less fun because apps are harder to discover, free apps with inferior designs and feature sets tend to dominate, and many developers haven't been able to adapt to new trends, rules, or limitations. And I'm especially sad when I hear the stories of developers whose livelihoods have been complicated by rip-offs, questionable App Store rejections, or piracy. That, unfortunately, is the consequence of a vast and popular marketplace where anyone can make anything within a few guidelines. Everyone is fighting for customers and survival.

Realistically, though, the App Store isn't “full” if you can adapt to its nature in 2014. New ideas are still possible and new apps will be invented to solve new problems for new customers. The App Store is denser, noisier, and more unforgiving than before; developing successful apps – even only by the sheer amount of functionality in iOS – requires more patience and scrupulousness than four years ago. And creating novel apps that are also successful is incredibly challenging and time-consuming. There's no one-size-fits-all solution to this other than advising against relying on luck alone.

The App Store is full of opportunities, but it's a lot of hard work – more than ever.



Converting Multiple Currencies and Units with Soulver

I needed to convert a series of different currencies from a list to Euros tonight, and I thought that it would have been nice to have an app with natural language input for currency conversion. The problem was fairly trivial – a list of amounts to convert to EUR to get a total – but I didn't want to alter my PCalc layout or come up with a workflow for all those variables. To my surprise, I learned that Soulver can convert multiple currencies and units at once without much effort.

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A Safari View Controller

Bryan Irace writes about web views in iOS and offers a great idea for the future: a Safari view controller.

But in-app browsers have some pretty massive downsides as well. They can’t access cookies stored by other in-app browsers, nor Safari, requiring the user to repeatedly log in to websites that they should already be authenticated with. iCloud Keychain is great for syncing credentials across devices, but while Safari has access to its data, in-app browsers don’t. This isn’t merely Apple being punitive – it’d be horribly negligent to give third-party applications access to this kind of information.

Essentially, developers would be able to implement a web view based on Safari that offers Safari features to other apps while also isolating code from third-party access. This would be good for security, for example, but also for consistency with extensions and iCloud features.

As I noted earlier this week, implementations of web views can be massively different from app to app. A native Safari view could offer more options than standard web views and secure user data from third-party apps (case in point). It could also provide a solution to this:

You can find Bryan's suggestion on OpenRadar.

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Virtual: Weaponized Hashtags

This week Myke and Federico catch up with the current progress in the new Pokemon games, before discussing No Man's Sky, Zelda Wii U and a tonne of news and announcements from the Video Game awards and the PlayStation Experience Event.

News-packed show on Virtual this week. You can get the episode here.

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