Another week gone by, another Reading List collection of great articles we've found around the web in the past seven days. This week saw the release of Apple's Q1 2012 results, with an impressive 37 million iPhones sold and over $40 billion in revenue for the quarter. Interesting discussions, however, are still happening around iBooks Author, textbooks, and publishing tools. Not to mention The New York Times' articles detailing Apple's supply chain in China, and the experience of an Android user trying an iPhone for two weeks.
Even though I do most of news consumption in Instapaper, Twitter, and Zite these days, I still enjoy getting up to speed with "real news organizations" every once in a while. The majority of time that means getting to fire up some Italian website that delivers news (such as Ansa) or "big media" publications from the US, depending on what I'm looking for in that particular moment. Just as I was wondering why some sort of "Techmeme for Italy" doesn't exist yet, an email dropped in my inbox pointing me at NewsFlash, a new universal app by Sollico, the same guys behind CurrencyPad for iOS.
NewsFlash is basically an RSS aggregator for the major news sources in the world -- that is, some sort of "Techmeme for Italy only" for more countries, with "big media" websites aggregated by default and no relevance algorithm in the backend. In Italy, you can have news from the likes of Il Corriere Della Sera or Ansa; in the U.S. you'll both find Reuters and Msnbc alongside TechCrunch and MacRumors. The app, in fact, is organized in sections that range from News and Politics to Sports, Technology and Gossip, providing a way to quickly change the topic you're looking and get the facts, or at least what's been written, about the latest news. It's like Techmeme meets MacHash meets Tech News Tube meets Google Reader, only in a clean, intuitive app for iPhone and iPad.
The app obviously allows you to share stories via Facebook, Twitter (iOS 5 integration is supported), email and text message. NewsFlash doesn't always load a website's mobile view when jumping to stories (and that can actually be a good thing), but it offers font size controls and options to block ads and links to third-parties. News can be updated with the typical pull-to-refresh gesture, whilst a top toolbar is used to switch between countries and sections through a single swipe. Currently, NewsFlash comes with support for the following countries: Italy, UK, US, Germany (both in Deutsche and English), Japan, France (both French and English) and Israeli. The app's preferences allow you to hide certain sections and add custom feeds (you can add literally anything that supports RSS, turning NewsFlash into a simple RSS reader), adjust fonts and change the app's background. I like how the app automatically looks at your device's language and tries to load news from that country.
NewsFlash is free, but you can disable iAd with a $1.99 in-app purchase. Give it a try if you've been looking for a nice app that aggregates "general" news, whilst keeping your real RSS subscriptions in a standalone Google Reader app.
One of the next versions of Firefox, Firefox 12, may feature a series of new interface elements and functionalities that should both appeal to OS X Lion users and introduce new navigation options for those who dont' want to save their-most accessed websites in a bookmarks bar anymore. As first noted by ExtremeTech, an early version of a proposed new tab page design snuck into a nightly version of Firefox; per Mozilla's multiple channel releases, users of Firefox can test different versions of the browser, which range from Nightly to Aurora, Beta, Stable, and those uploaded directly to Mozilla's FTP servers.
ExtremeTech wrote about the new tab page:
The Firefox home tab is a lot more exciting. Basically there are two phases: The first phase will add “launchers” at the bottom — one-click links to your downloads, settings, apps, and so on (pictured right). Phase two is a complete reworking of the home page paradigm, weaving in favorite apps, recent websites, and even instant messaging (pictured below). Phase one is expected to roll out with Firefox 12, but at the time of writing the code still hasn’t been committed.
However, as also noted in an update to the original post, it appears Mozilla has pulled the functionality from the Nightly release of Firefox, leaving it in the "UX version" available for download on Mozilla's servers. Upon comparing the standard Nightly build to the UX one, I noticed the latter already contains the grid design for top websites pictured above, and full-screen support for Lion.
I wasn't able to activate ExtremeTech's home tab page design with search, Top Apps, Top Sites and Chat in a single window; the current Firefox UX Nightly build features shortcuts along the bottom of the window to open History, Settings, Add-ons, Apps, and Downloads. A new "Restore Previous Session" button is also provided in case you haven't set Firefox to automatically re-open previously open tabs on launch.
Changes that appear in Firefox Nightly builds typically carry over to the other stages of development and are further tweaked with refinements and bug fixes, but there could be changes in the features that Mozilla decides to implement once version 12 hits the beta channel. As for Lion support, Mozilla failed to deliver any significant optimization since the OS' release back in July, unlike competitor Chrome which added new scrolling, full-screen support and gesture navigation (among other things) fairly quickly. A designer at Mozilla mocked up some ideas that the company could deliver in a future version of Firefox for Lion, but as of version 12 nightly (Firefox stable is currently at version 9) it seems those ideas haven't been taken into consideration yet.
Three months after the public launch of iCloud, I thought it'd be interesting to check upon the App Store and see how many developers have decided to enable iCloud integration for documents & data storage in their apps.
iCloud went live alongside iOS 5 and OS X 10.7.2 on October 12th, two days ahead of the iPhone 4S' launch. In retrospect, iCloud's public debut wasn't without its issues and hiccups, but it was relatively smooth in the following days and Apple acted promptly to restore interrupted services for its users. Looking back, it's just weird how many times iCloud Mail has been down, and continues to be unstable, whereas iCloud sync (for apps and data) has been fairly responsive and, at least on my side, always up. This says a lot about priorities, I guess.
In 107 days since iCloud went live, and 235 since Apple's announcement at WWDC '11, it appears the majority of third-party developers are still considering whether or not iCloud is something worth investing their time -- and customers' money -- or not. Those who have successfully implemented iCloud have done so in ways that require minimal user interaction, most of the times enabling sync capabilities through a single setting switch. Others have tried more complex solutions, often having to come up with separate tools to enable iCloud. Especially on the Mac, the fact that only apps sold through the Mac App Store can be directly integrated with iCloud isn't helping developers who are still selling apps both on Apple's App Store and their own website. Overall, there seems to be a shared trend among developers choosing to wait for Apple to clarify specific aspects of iCloud sync, improve the platform and fix some bugs that may prevent certain applications from being iCloud-enabled without requiring a major restructuring of the codebase on their end. Turning an iOS or Mac app into an iCloud-enabled app hasn't turned out to be the 1-click process many, including me, wrongfully assumed when iCloud was previewed at WWDC last year.
Every app has its own way of storing local documents and user data. Some apps prefer keeping the original source of a document intact, say a .txt file, whilst others may apply their own file format to store documents and data internally in a proprietary database or multiple files, such as Evernote's take on XML. There are pros and cons: keeping a universal file format such as plain text gets you more benefits in data portability; writing your own database structure allows you, as a developer, to do things exactly the way you want. What does this mean for iCloud?
Without getting too technical (also because my knowledge on the subject can only get you so far before I suggest you go read the developer documentation), the developers I've talked to explained that in the way iCloud syncs file, there may be some incompatibilities with apps that are based on complex databases and libraries. Apps that simply want to sync .txt files across multiple devices might be easier to port to iCloud, but then again there are always some aspects to consider such as conflicts, renaming a file, or getting a timestamp for the modification date when multiple devices are accessing iCloud. That's not to say implementing iCloud is technically impossible for apps that are based on libraries, and not easily exportable files: below, I've collected some examples of apps that do just that, and quite cleverly too. However, getting to enable iCloud and make it reliable enough so that all kinds of apps can work with it without frustrating the user (who, in theory, never has access to the inner workings of iCloud) while at the same time providing the functionalities he or she expects.
Earlier this week Apple released its Q1 2012 financial results and it was a blockbuster quarter, Apple's best ever with $46.33 billion in revenue. One of the key factors that drove this sky-high figure was the sale of 37 million iPhones at an average selling price (ASP) of $660 — iPhone sales actually contributed to 53% of Apple's revenue for the quarter.
Significantly, this was the first full quarter where Apple offered a "free" iPhone in the US to customers going on contract — the iPhone 3GS. Previously Apple had offered the 3GS alongside the iPhone 4 at a reduced price, but with the 4S the iPhone 4 fell to $99 and the 3GS became free. One would have presumed that the iPhone ASP would thus fall with the addition of another lower-priced iPhone model but in fact the ASP increased from the previous quarter and at $660 the iPhone ASP is near the highest it has ever been.
How has the ASP risen despite the presence of the "free" 3GS?
There are a few reasons as to why the ASP has increased and a big reason is that in addition to the new lower-priced 3GS ($345), Apple also introduced the 64GB iPhone 4S that is at a higher price-point ($849) than the previously most-expensive iPhone. This new higher-priced model would seem to have offset any reduction in the ASP that the iPhone 3GS would have caused - particularly given Q1 2012 was the 4S launch quarter and demand was very high for the new iPhone model.
Whilst Apple didn't give out details on what the breakdown was of sales between the iPhone 4S, 4 and 3GS, an estimate from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners suggests that in the last quarter the iPhone 4S represented 89% of all iPhone purchases in the US. The report showed that only 4% of iPhone purchases last quarter were for the 3GS and 7% for the iPhone 4. This backs up the notion that the higher-priced iPhone 4S 64GB model (estimated to be 21% of iPhone 4S purchases) actually offset any decrease in the ASP and probably drove the increase in ASP to $660.
As Horace Dediu of Asymco points out, there is usually a slight uptick in the iPhone ASP during a launch and holiday season. This would suggest that in the following quarters the ASP may decrease a little as the high launch demand for the 4S subsides a little. It is unlikely to drop that much though, with the iPhone ASP typically hovering somewhere between $620 and $660. Dediu also investigated the historical ASPs for the iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac and found that "Apple does not change pricing but rather stakes out a specific price point as resonating with consumers given their positioning". The above chart demonstrates this point quite well.
A great piece by Craig Grannell at Revert To Saved about the current state of Nintendo:
For a long time, I considered Nintendo the Apple of gaming—a company that cared about the details and about the right things (fun, excitement, enjoyment). Nintendo’s problem these days is that Apple is now the Apple of gaming—and the Japanese veteran needs to fight back, perhaps borrowing some of the tricks used by the plucky American upstart.
Yours truly, two months ago:
It’s always about the games, ultimately, but the hardware matters, too. More importantly, integration of hardware and software matters, and with my iOS gaming background I think Nintendo still has to get this right. Using the 3DS after years of iPhones and iPads feels strange because I’m dealing with a device that’s pretty capable spec-wise, yet doesn’t show the same amount of attention to detail, integration and flexibility that my iPhone has. I can play Angry Birds on my iPad, quickly look up a webpage, send an iMessage to my friend real quick and then effortlessly come back to the game. I challenge you to do the same on the 3DS with that joke of Internet browser and “suspended” software on the Home screen.
The problem with Nintendo is that for the longest time they thought only geeks and iPhone nerds were paying attention to App Store games, replacing their handhelds with iPads and iPods. It turns out, previous Nintendo customers are actually moving to mobile platforms -- I'll throw Android in the mix as well -- for all their gaming needs. Blame changes in society, blame the recession, blame the advancements in graphics processing that made Infinity Blade II possible -- mobile gaming is very much real, albeit immature, and Nintendo failed to forecast just how much of an impact it would have on its business. Shame on them for being so stubborn. Now they are paying the consequences, and will likely continue to pay until the Wii U comes out. To get a visual representation of what Nintendo is exactly facing, check out this chart by ngmoco's Ben Cousins comparing Apple, Microsoft and Nintendo by revenue:
What's next for Nintendo? That's a question with no answer, really, as you can't just know what the company's up to without having some kind of inside knowledge of their secret plans. Rather, I'd start by proposing some ideas that might be worth considering at the light of iOS' popularity in mobile games and the changes in consumer behavior:
- Ship a moden interface for managing a device: users don't want to be treated like 3 years-old anymore. Make it accessible, flexible, elegant, fast. This is functional to the point below, which is:
- Make accessing, saving and managing digital content easier. Nintendo's current solution is a joke -- will Nintendo Network be any better? We shall see.
- Embrace social networking: let players link their Nintendo Network profiles to their Twitter, Facebook or Google+ identities, and allow them to interact with Nintendo content outside of Nintendo's online platform.
- Create an ecosystem: make Nintendo Network the single marketplace for all kinds of Nintendo content. Drop regional restrictions and adopt an App Store-like distribution model with worldwide releases, price tiers, promo codes, developer pages. Unlike the App Store, drop user reviews and allow free trials. Let users rely on their Nintendo ID for all kinds of possible future Nintendo services.
- Drop resistive touch-screens: the future is multi-touch. Delay the Wii U if necessary to make it absolutely right.
- Don't drop cartridges entirely, but embrace a digital distribution strategy that makes sense. Advise all developers to release digital versions of their games on Nintendo Network, and perhaps reward buyers of physical copies with free unlockable in-app extras. The goal is to achieve a win-win situation both if you're buying digital or physical.
- Ditch friend codes. Because, seriously, why are we still using friend codes in 2012?
- Create fresh, innovative, strong new IPs while emphasizing the importance and value of historical brands. Fortunately, that seems exactly what Miyamoto is doing.
- Use cutting-edge hardware: let's face it, people like to play Call of Duty and Uncharted these days. Whilst good graphics aren't synonym of good games, they sure help in nurturing an ecosystem of variegate games -- those who make presentation their selling point, and the ones that are more focused on gameplay with less impressive graphics. Angry Birds was possible in 2009, but that didn't stop Apple from leap-frogging itself year over year with the A4 and A5. Make consoles that can stand the onslaught of the Tegras and A6s released every year.
- Ultimately, stay true to gaming. Users don't want to read emails on their handheld or have Office on it. Internet-connected doesn't mean PC-like.
This morning I retweeted three tweets by Zac Cichy:
1) Delay the Wii U, drop all plans for physical discs, include an SSD instead.2) Next 3DS - SSD.3) iCloud-isize Your Game Sales
— Zac Cichy (@zcichy) January 26, 2012
4) Make it so that VC / ware purchases can be universal between Wii / DS5) Invite Any and All developers to make Anything, within reason.
— Zac Cichy (@zcichy) January 26, 2012
Nintendo needs to ape Apple in some key ways that matter, and continue to be Nintendo in the ways that they already know work.
— Zac Cichy (@zcichy) January 26, 2012
I don't know how Nintendo should implement these proposed changes in the next months, but I am sure these are ideas more than just a couple of bloggers agree with. The money just isn't there anymore, and Nintendo needs to evolve before it's too late.
[Nintendo Headquarters via David Offf]