Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lesson from the School of Hard Knocks

If you've got an App in the App Store, or are planning to sell an app there, it might be a good idea to learn from somebody else's mistake.



SmartPhone Comparison

I found this comparison of the current generation of smart phones to be interesting. Droid is shaping up to be a heck of a phone. I don't think it's going to pull a lot of people away from the iPhone, but I think it will do well and will probably be the biggest boost for the Android platform to date.

Are there really 10,000 applications on the Android Market now? I'm somewhat surprised that it's that high. I think even if that number's true (Googling finds me a lot of people regurgitating this same estimate from an unofficial source, but I can't find an authoritative source for the actual number of apps in the store), that comparison doesn't really represent the true differential between the App Store and the Android Market. Not even 1% of the applications in the Android Market have been downloaded over 250,000 times (including free ones!), and less than a quarter of them have even been downloaded even 5,000 times. By App Store standards, almost every app in the Android Market is a failure, including the best selling paid apps. That will change, but it hasn't yet and it's definitely a factor in comparing the phones. The App Store is, to put it simply, far more than 10x better than the Android Market.

My concerns about Droid's battery life don't appear to be true if the numbers in this comparison chart are accurate. Although the standby time for the Droid is noticeably shorter than the iPhone, the talk time is greater by a comparable margin. I'm also wondering if these are manufacturer's claims, or real world results. I'm especially curious to see how the Android's battery holds up when playing games or video on that big, beautiful screen. I really wish I could get my hands on one of these for a few weeks. Actually, at some point, I may buy a developer phone just to try and do a real comparison of the platforms from a developer's perspective and also to see if there are any good procedures for developing apps for both platforms simultaneously. I probably won't do that until I'm sure Android has secured the #2 spot, though, and the Android Market starts showing more commercial potential.

One thing I've heard from a few people, and the videos I've seen seem to support it, is that Droid's use of hardware acceleration is really inconsistent. Certain things like video must be leveraging the GPU to work as well as they do, but many other aspect of the UI don't seem to use it at all, which means things like scrolling or zooming often seem sluggish, at least compared to the experience on the iPhone. It's a subtle thing, but the iPhone's ubiquitous ability to leverage hardware acceleration really is a big deal, and one that's not often mentioned in phone comparisons.

Also, I'm hearing mixed things about multitouch on the Droid. The best I can figure is that it does support multitouch, but doesn't make very extensive use of it. It seems to be at least the case that the default browser doesn't support multi-touch gestures like pinch-zoom, which I would find annoying. If anyone can clarify this for me, I'll be happy to correct the post with the right information.

Other than the bigger screen, the iPhone and Droid are surprisingly comparable. In a way, that's bad, though. I'm not sure that having a higher-resolution screen (which I've heard looks nice, but isn't really noticeable unless you put the screens next to each other) and a higher-megapixel camera is enough. I was kind of hoping that Android would kick the iPhone's ass in a few more categories, because that would be a great motivator for Apple. If the Droid is really trying to be an "iPhone Killer", it won't be enough to be as good as the iPhone. But, the smartphone space is big and growing, and the Droid doesn't have to be an iPhone Killer to succeed. It certainly looks to be better than what Palm is offering, or any of the Windows Mobile devices that are available.

I will admit that Droid does look to be a pretty darn nice piece of hardware. If Motorola were willing to invest some time and resources into making Android's interface more intuitive and less designed-by-committee and also was willing to throw some resources at implementing system-wide use of that big GPU they've got in the phone, they could have a real winner on their hands. They've got the hardware in place to challenge the iPhone, but it looks like they're still falling short on software. Even though they are falling less short than others, Software is still king, and until they get that right, they're going to continue to be bridesmaids, and never the bride.

One row in this chart that I want to niggle with a bit with is the multitasking row. First of all, the iPhone does have muli-tasking. It has a very good preemptive multitasking kernel very similar to the one in our Macs. The ability to use it just isn't exposed to third-party developers through the SDK. And, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

In the early days of the iPhone SDK, I was one of the loudest proponents of adding multitasking and background tasks to the iPhone SDK. There are whole classes of applications that would become possible if Apple did, and that's all I was concerned about as a developer. But, you know what? Now that I've spent twenty months with the SDK and know more about the current state of embedded hardware, I've come to realize Apple was right on this call. The time isn't quite right yet. The tradeoff is such that you are doing most of your customers a disservice if you allow multiple applications to run. I've seen multitasking on the HTC Hero, the Palm Pre, and on a few models of Windows Mobile phones, and having multiple background apps running can really kill your performance and your battery life.

Sure, you can just quit those apps if performance suffers, right. Yeah, if you're reading this blog, sure. But the iPhone isn't a device targeted only or even primarily at tech-savvy people like developer. I'm reminded of when I would sit down at a certain family member's computer and he would have every application he had opened since he last booted his computer. It never occurred to him to quit programs he wasn't using. I suspect that there are more people like this family member than like you and me in the pool of potential customers. On a modern computer with virtual memory, who cares if there's a bunch of unused applications open, since they don't really have much of an impact. But on a phone? It still matters.

At some point in the near future, it will make sense on phones, too. But for now, given the hardware limitations, more people will have a better experience if they don't let developers write background processes or let users have more than one app running at a time. Battery life will be longer in real world use, performance will be better, and there are relatively few applications that can't get by without this ability.

Frankly, I'll be honest. I hope Droid fails for a completely selfish reason. I want to see Verizon get the iPhone. Of all the cell phone companies I've used, they were the least obnoxious and had the best service. If they got the iPhone, I'd go back to them in a heartbeat, even if I had to pay a termination fee to cancel my AT&T contract. At present, I just don't see the Droid betting better by enough to lure me away from the iPhone as either a consumer or a developer.

Ah, enough Saturday night rambling. I've got to go finish Chapter 10 which needs to be finished by the end of the day tomorrow.



iPhone Tech Talk Hamburg

I've heard from a handful of people that the Hamburg Tech Talk acceptance e-mails have started. Good luck to everyone who applied.



Friday, October 30, 2009

More iPhone 3 Development Mini-Update

Our original belief that a chapter on supporting online play with GameKit would be long turned out to be accurate. The first draft of the online play chapter just knocked the last Core Data chapter off of its pedestal. Clocking in at 56 pages, this chapter goes through the process of creating re-usable objects to listen for network connections and to exchange information with other devices using streams. We also show you how to use Bonjour to find and connect to peers on your local network.

It's been a bear to write, but I think it's good addition to the book. I could be wrong, but I think this will be the most comprehensive step-by-step guide to adding online play to a GameKit application that's available and, frankly, most of the hard work was in writing the two reusable classes that you'll be able to just copy into other projects and use.



Tech Talk London

Sounds like the London Tech Talk World Tour acceptances have started to seep out of Cupertino. That's almost a month before NYC, so it may be a few weeks before the NYC ones start escaping from One Infinite Loop. That's a long time to keep fingers crossed.



Thursday, October 29, 2009

On Private APIs

I'm hearing from a couple of different sources that Apple's App Store reviewers now have some way to scan submitted applications to detect the use of private APIs. I've never been an advocate of using Private APIs, and Dave and I strictly avoid them for the book examples, but I always thought it strange that Apple left to the honor system any use of private APIs that couldn't be easily discerned.

Looks like you need to step more carefully now if you have used any private framework APIs.

I know this step will annoy some developers, but in the long run, it's for the best. Private APIs add fragility to an application, and they also discourage people from submitting enhancement requests, which are how Apple gauges whether a currently private API should be made public.



Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Unity Indie Now Free

The 3D game-making toolset called Unity is now available for free to independent developers who gross less than $100k on products made with the tools. This is an interesting move on the part of Unity3D. I haven't used the tool myself, but I've heard mostly good things about it. Now that it's free for indie use, there's no excuse for not checking it out.



DevDays

If you want to see some interesting chatter, take a look at the Dev Days backchannel on Twitter. It's very amusing. There's lots of ignorant hyperbole, including claims that Apple is the most evil thing on the planet because they chose to use Objective-C along with the typical complaints that it's not what they're used to, so it's bad, or ugly.

There's also a fair amount of positive chatter as well. It's interesting to see just how different people's opinions can be.

Most of the negative comments are just people expressing their honest (though sometimes ignorant or ill-informed) opinions, but some are just downright snarky as well as being ignorant.

I know most of my readers know this, but Objective-C has a garbage collector. A really, really good garbage collector. Apple chose not to use it for the iPhone SDK (yet) because the iPhone is an embedded device with processor and memory constraints. It was felt that the benefit to the programmer of not having to do some basic memory management was simply not worth the overhead cost. Unlike languages like Java or C#, we have the flexibility to do memory management manually when there's a performance reason to do so.

There's a reason why GC didn't become popular earlier than it did. On slower, single-core machines (especially ones with limited memory or without virtual memory), the overhead of GC is non-trivial. Discarding a technique because it's no longer popular is idiotic. Discarding it because it's no longer valuable makes sense, but understanding memory management always has value, and in this case, using it very much has value.



Droid Looks Nice

Here's a breif article on Droid with some nice pictures. The keyboard doesn't appeal to me, but to people who want a physical keyboard, this should have a lot of appeal, since they've put a decent-size keyboard on a phone that's almost as thin as the iPhone. I'd really like to check one of these out. I honestly do not think it's an iPhone Killer. To be that, the Android 2.0 OS would have to take a quantum leap forward in usability. It wouldn't be enough to become as-good or even a little better than the iPhone. To become an iPhone killer, a phone has to be significantly better than the iPhone. On the hardware side, though, there's some stuff that looks great on paper.

The screen has a much higher resolution than existing iPhones at 854x480 pixels. I'm curious about this item, though. It's one of those things that we geeks like to salivate over. Look at all those extra pixels! But, I wonder how much of a difference that will make to the end user and what the tradeoff will be. That's a very high PPI. It might be one of those things where they've pumped up the resolution to have a better spec for advertising purposes, but that having the extra resolution doesn't offer much real benefit to the user.

Plus, it seems like it would have to be more of a drain on the battery than a lower-resolution screen. That's an awful lot more pixels to push (roughly 300% of the iPhone), which means much more work for the GPU, which also means a drain on the battery. The iPhone's 320x480 screen already has a higher PPI than most computer screens, so I'm curious if the higher-resolution screen is really a good idea in practice, or if it's just geek-pr0n for people who get off on having better specs than their neighbor, sort of like the MHz processor wars a few years back when Intel started increasing clock speed by reducing the amount of work done per cycle because the clock speed had become the main marketing point for processors.

I'm not saying that's the case. I don't have access to a Droid so don't have the ability to form an opinion of the Droid. This is all just conjecture at this point. I'm curious, though: Do most people's eyes need significantly more than 150 points per inch, when each point is capable of displaying a range of millions of colors.

If I had to predict, I'd guess that the difference as far as the end-user is concerned will be very little. Fonts and images will be drawn a tiny bit smoother. But, I also predict that it will have an impact on battery life and game performance because there are so many more pixels to push.

But I could definitely be wrong. I would actually love to be wrong this time. If they've really managed to make a significantly better screen without sacrificing battery life or performance, it would be a truly awesome thing, especially if they can combine it with a version of Android that, to the end-user, is nearly as good as the iPhone. I can't think of anything that would push Apple more than having someone nipping at their heels with something that is truly better than the iPhone in some respects and as good (or nearly so) in all others. My fear, however, is that this resolution touting is just another case of trying to compete with the iPhone based on a feature list or spec sheets. If you try to compete on either of those, it shows that you completely fail to grasp what it is that makes the iPhone so popular and indicates that you aren't yet capable of producing an iPhone competitor, let alone an iPhone killer.

I have my fingers crossed that the Droid will live up to the hype, but I'm not betting any money on it.



More iPhone 3 Development Update

The writing of More iPhone 3 Development is starting to move faster now, at least in terms of the number of pages we're churning out. It's not going as fast as we'd like, and nowhere near as fast as Apress would like, unfortunately, but it is going faster. The good news is that we're really happy with what we've written so far. More iPhone 3 Development is not just more of what was in Beginning iPhone 3 Development. We have a much greater focus in this book on application design and on writing code for maximum reuse. Many of the objects we write can be used unmodified in your own applications. We assume that the reader has done some development and is ready to take things to another level.

We're just finishing up the networked applications chapters. Our original plan was to just cover GameKit networking over Bluetooth, which is relatively straightforward since Apple provides high-level objects that handle all the gnarley aspects for you. We were originally not going to cover online play over regular network connections. Our original thinking was that because there's no high-level objects yet for sending and receiving over the network that are suitable to network play, that to do an online play chapter well would require a really long chapter. Long both in terms of number of pages, and in terms of how long it would take us to write, and we didn't feel like we could afford another long chapter in light of our schedule.

To be perfectly honest, I had hoped that GameKit would add support for online play and then the whole thing would become a moot point since the GameKit chapter would be all you needed. Apple may still add that functionality to GameKit at some point (there are certainly hints in GameKit), but they haven't yet, and frankly, there just isn't a good place to go and find out how to do online play. All the information is out there, but nobody's put all the steps together in a single, easy, comprehensive place, at least as far as I've been able to find.

So, after some back and forth discussions with Dave, we came to the conclusion that we needed to cover online play in addition to the straight GameKit chapter in our original Table of Contents. We decided to do it as a follow-on chapter to the GameKit chapter. We take the game that we created in the GameKit chapter and add online play to it. We show how to use Bonjour to let the user find other peers (pretty much the same way GameKit does over Bluetooth) and show how to connect to them and exchange data in a similar manner to GameKit so we don't have to substantially rewrite the application's logic. The use of Bonjour limits play to opponents on the same network subnet (basically, phones connected to the same router or WiFi base station), but the techniques are the same for play over the internet, and we're going to have a sidebar that shows how to connect to remote machines based on a DNS name or IP number and port. The other thing this offers over GameKit is that the code can be used on a Mac, so you can write code that lets an application on a Mac talk to one on an iPhone, which opens up a whole slew of possibilities.

As with the Core Data chapters, our focus has been on writing code generically to maximize reuse, and I think we've done a good job as far as the online play stuff is concerned. We've created a class that works very similarly to GameKit's GKSession class. You pass it NSData instances to send, and it takes care of sending and receiving the data, re-assembling the packets, and making sure its delegate receives the data in the same order it was sent in. You should be able to just drop this class (along with another supporting class) into your other projects and use them as-is, making it relatively easy to implement network play. To add online play to an existing GameKit app with this should also be relatively trivial since that's what we do in the chapter.

For those who have asked what fruit will be on the new book, it'll be a blood orange.

I don't know if the cover to the left is final, but it's what is on Amazon right now, so I figure it's okay to share. Until it's approved, it definitely could change, but this is the cover image you'll see if you pull it up on Amazon. Note that the description on Amazon definitely isn't final, either.



Monday, October 26, 2009

Two More iPhone Boot Camp Workshops

I'll be teaching the iPhone Boot Camp in New York City again on December 5-7. Like last time, I'll be teaching one half of a six-day workshop, with Steve Kochan doing the other half, so the full dates are December 2-7, and it's downtown, about two blocks from Penn Station, so it's easy to get there. Steve will be doing three days in Objective-C, and I'll follow with three days of iPhone development, and you can choose to take either class separately or both together.

We're also going to do the same format in Chicago on December 11-16, with the iPhone portion of the workshop that I'll be teaching happening on December 14, 15, and 16.

I'll post links to the signup page once I've received them from the iPhone Boot Camp folks.



Friday, October 23, 2009

NYC Tech Talk Update

If, like me, you've signed up for the New York City Tech Talk, do not fret if you haven't received confirmation yet. According to Apple's Graphics Technologies Evangelist, Allan Schaffer, they haven't processed the NYC ones yet.



Meet Me, NYC, Nov. 5th

On November 5th, I'll be speaking at the Apple Store SoHo in New York City. I'll be speaking at the MetroMac meeting. The meeting is from 6:00 to 9:00, but I won't be speaking for the entire meeting. I believe I've been given roughly between ninety minutes and two hours, though, which is probably longer than anyone should have to listen to me.

I've been given fairly free reign in terms of what I speak about, as long as it's relevant to the audience (iPhone, Mac, etc), however be aware that MetroMac is not a developer group and the audience will run the gamut from consumer to total gearhead. As a result, the talk will not be particularly technical (at least not hardcore developer-type technical). I'll be leaving about twenty minutes to a half hour for questions, and will be happy to answer questions and chat even after the meeting is done.

Although I've been to the Flagship 5th Avenue store a few times, I've never been to the SoHo store, so I'm really looking forward to the talk, though it'll be the first time I'll have given a non-technical presentation in… well, years, so if I make a fool of myself, pretend I didn't, 'kay?

Because of how far away I live and how late the talk is, I'm also in the city for the night, so I could probably be talked into having a beer or three after the meeting with any City Geeks who are allowed to stay out after curfew.

Live in or near NYC? Stop by and say hi.



Marble Madness?

The developer of Stone Loops, a marble game that used to be available in the App Store, has a very discouraging tale to tell in his blog today. Obviously, this is only one side of the story, but it does seem very suspicious to me that MumboJumbo only made these hefty claims of improper and illegal activity to Apple and not in any other forum (like, say, legal proceedings) nor have they leveled the same complaint about the multitude of previously existing platform version of Stone Loops. If Code Minions had really stolen code (among the things alleged from MumboJumbo), it seems like they would be taking more serious action than just complaining to Apple, that is, unless they don't have sufficient evidence to meet the standard of proof anywhere else, but if that's the case, then Apple shouldn't have removed a competitor's application without being shown proof.

I'll refrain from judgment until I hear the other side of the story, but if things are as laid out in Maciej's blog, then Stone Loops should be restored to the App Store immediately. On top of that, Luxor should be pulled from the store just as immediately, as punishment for making unfounded allegations about a competitor. I'd even go so far as to consider pulling MumboJumbo's developer privileges if this is true, and it were my call to make. I have no tolerance for underhanded tactics, especially when resorted to by companies failing to compete on their merits (I'm looking at you, Nokia).

Again, we don't know the whole story now, because neither Luxor nor Apple has addressed Maciej's allegations yet, so let's not pull out the torches and pitch forks just yet. You might want to sharpen the pitch forks, though, just in case. Apple is unlikely to make a public statement about this; it's just not their style, but MumboJumbo, at very least, should respond.

Personally, I think Apple should impose a new policy. When someone makes an allegation of impropriety about a competitor, they should pull both apps until it's resolved. After resolution, the prevailing party's app goes back on the store, the other does not. This may seem harsh, but it would make people think twice about leveling accusations unless they have substantial proof to back up their claims. Of course, this only works if Apple also puts in a mechanism to expedite resolution of conflicts and they may just not want to get into that business. But, as sole gatekeeper of the sole way to sell iPhone applications, they should have expected conflicts of this nature to arise and should be willing to deal with them in a fair and expeditious manner.



SQLitePersistentObjects Lives. It LIVES!

I know that some people were understandably upset and annoyed when I decided to stop new development on SQLitePersistentObjects. Although it's a project that I really enjoyed working on, I just couldn't justify spending more time on it in light of Apple's release of the far more mature Core Data in the iPhone SDK 3.0.

Although I like certain things about the approach I took in SQLitePersistentObjects better than Core Data (like not having a data model file separate from the data model classes), it would have taken literally hundreds of hours (at least, maybe thousands) to get it to the point where the performance and feature set were comparable to what Core Data already has. Even if we got the performance and features to a comparable point, there's just not enough compelling advantages over Core Data to justify spending more time on it. At least, that's the case for me.

But, I must say, that I'm happy to hear that development on SQLitePersistentObjects continues! You can read more here. I wish Andrew the best of luck with this project. It's nice to see the code I abandoned was adopted by new loving parent. So, if you're using SQLitePersistentObjects and have been dreading the move to Core Data, check the new version out.



Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tech Talk World Tour

I didn't blog about this year's iPhone Tech Talk World Tour when it was announced. Many of the locations filled up so fast, it seemed like it would be just a tease to tell people about it when it was too late to actually do anything about it.

If you did sign up, I've gotten word from a handful of people that acceptance e-mails have started to trickle out of Cupertino. I signed up for the NYC Tech Talk, but haven't received word either way yet. Fingers crossed.



Nice One, Microsoft

Microsoft opened their first Apple Store today. Wait, no. What I mean to say is that Microsoft opened their first Microsoft Store. That's the ticket. And it's very unique. I can't even imagine where they got the idea for the layout, decor, uniforms or grand opening welcome line. I also can't fathom where they got their inspiration for opening a boutique-style retail store in the first place.

Hey, Redmond? Need a new tagline? How about?

If it's blatant, it's Microsoft.

or, maybe

We do shameless better.

I think either of those would work well, and both would be accurate and honest. Although, in Microsoft's defense, Apple grand openings never have guys in suits at the end of the welcome line golf clapping. That's original.





Patent Lawsuits: the Last Resort of the Mediocre

Nokia today announced they are suing Apple . Right in the press release, Nokia states that they are suing over patents that cover implementations of standards (GSM, WCDMA, WLAN, UMTS).

WTF? That kind of misses the point of having an open standard in the first place. There's only so much difference between different implementations of the same protocol or standard. Jeebus! The problem with these cases, though, is that the judges are experts in law, but not in technology, so they rarely have the knowledge and/or cojones to issue summary judgment even in cases with no merits. Like this one. So, Nokia will, at very least, cause Apple to spend millions of dollars to defend themselve.

Apple's release of the iPhone pretty much meant I'd never buy another Nokia phone again for myself, but now I will actively avoid their products. I won't recommend them to others and I won't buy them for family members. If this is how they hope to succeed in the future, I hope Nokia dies a quick and painful corporate death.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wil Shipley on Internationalization and Localization

Words of wisdom and free code from the Godfather of Cocoa, Wil Shipley. Go read now. Nuff said.



Good Day for Android, Bad Day for Pre

The Palm Pre lost a high profile developer today (Jamie Zawinski, a notable contributor to many open source projects include Mozilla and XEmacs). He took some pretty harsh parting shots on his way out the door.

Having an App Store that's more open than Apple's is one way to compete, but it's not enough. If consumers don't have a good experience with your phone, developers are not going to want to develop for it.



The Nook

For whatever reason, Amazon's Kindle has never really appealed to me. Though I read a fair amount, and am not opposed to the idea of an e-reader, I've just never had any techno-lust for it. It's not because of the DRM, though I'd rather they didn't have it. It's just that it's not that exciting. It's basically a one-trick pony. No matter how thin they make it, or how many books it can hold, it will only every serve the very limited purposes of reading books and doing some light web browsing. Boring. I can do both of those things on my phone, albeit on less than an ideal screen size, or on my laptop.

Today, Barnes & Noble announced their competitor, the Nook. The Nook is based on Android. Now, people who read this blog know that my opinion of Android is that it's not as good as the iPhone in most respects, both from the point of view of a consumer and from the point of view of a developer. Obviously, that's subjective, but it's my honest opinion of where things stand right now.

However, I see the Nook as possibly a game changer for Android, much more so than the much-touted Verizon Droid, which might be a good phone, but it doesn't strike me as a game changer as much as being a not-totally-horrible-like-the-Voyager ersatz iPhone for people unwilling to switch to AT&T. I'm not quite ready to say it IS a game changer, but it definitely could be. It's a book reader that can be more. It's a tablet device that can be programmed. It's bigger than a phone, but still portable. This device, in my opinion, is every so much more techno-lustworthy than the Kindle. It also raises the bar for Android. Here's a whole new audience of devices that will be able to buy Android apps.

Of course, we'll have to see how it actually performs and how people like it. But assuming it delivers on its promises, then I'd say that Android just pulled out a tiny bit from the pack and its odds are looking better. There's a long ways to go in the race, but this could be a turning point. This could be the thing Android needs to achieve critical mass for their App Store, which is the one thing that they absolutely must have if they're ever going to challenge the iPhone's dominance.

I can't wait to see where this goes from here, and I can't wait for Apple to introduce some kind of new iPhone OS device, whether it's a tablet, or something completely new. I don't have any idea what Apple is going to do, but I'm sure they are not going to stand still.



Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh, My. Fiscal Results.

Today, Apple announced their Fiscal 2009 Q4 and boy, what a quarter it was. Funny, it's been a while since I heard someone predict the death of Apple. It's hard to believe just how common a practice that was among pundits only a decade ago.

Apple sold more iPhones and more Macs last quarter than in any previous quarter in history, and they have the largest percentage of the market share they've had since 1994. That's true whether you take the lower Gartner number of 8.8% market share, or the higher IDC number of 9.4%.



Friday, October 16, 2009

Accessorizer 1.5

I've posted about Accessorizer before. It's just been updated to version 1.5, incorporating a new feature that sprang out of a feature request that was made by yours truly. Actually, it was more of an off-hand comment then a feature request, but Kevin Callahan, the brains behind Accessorizer liked the request and jumped on it with gusto.

The new feature? Accessorizer now has the ability to auto-detect classes that are commonly used as outlets and, if you want it to, will add the IBOutlet keyword automatically to the generated property statements. I've been beta testing this new functionality, and works pretty darn well.

If you do any significant amount of Objective-C programming and haven't tried Accessorizer, I'd really suggest giving it a try. In the application I wrote today for More iPhone 3 Development, I'd estimate that Accessorizer saved me at least five minutes of typing (not to mention greatly reduced the chances of mistakes and typos). I typed in only my instance variables, then a few short keystrokes and about twenty seconds later, I had my property declarations complete with IBOutlet keyword where needed, @synthesize declarations, and both NSCoding methods. You don't have to write too many classes for it to pay for itself if you do this for a living. If you're a hobbyist then, in a way, your time is even more valuable.

And if you're not sure how to use it, or why you would use it, check out the Accessorizer videos in the lower right of the home page.



Device Detection Redux

A while back, I posted some code by Max HorĂ¡th to detect the device your program was running on. That script dates from the pre-3Gs days, so won't identify that model. I'm not sure if Max has updated his script, but I found this class on Stack Overflow by Jason Goldberg. In addition to adding the more recent hardware, it uses a really efficient approach implemented in relatively few lines of code. I like that a lot.

The one thing I don't like is the way the class is implemented. There's no reason to use instance methods like this and incur the overhead of object creation to. The object has no state, just behavior, so either of these methods could have been written either as C functions or as class methods, thus avoiding the need to create an object and manage its memory. At very least, this class should have been implemented as a singleton.

Anyone who's been reading my blog probably knows where I'm going here. In my ever-so-humble opinion, the best approach for this functionality have been to write it as a category on UIDevice, like so:

UIDevice-Platform.h
#import <Foundation/Foundation.h>

@interface UIDevice (platform)

- (NSString *) platform;
- (NSString *) platformString;

@end

UIDevice-Platform.m
#import "UIDevice-Platform.h"
#include <sys/types.h>
#include <sys/sysctl.h>

@implementation UIDevice (platform)

- (NSString *) platform{
size_t size;
sysctlbyname("hw.machine", NULL, &size, NULL, 0);
char *machine = malloc(size);
sysctlbyname("hw.machine", machine, &size, NULL, 0);
NSString *platform = [NSString stringWithCString:machine];
free(machine);
return platform;
}

- (NSString *) platformString{
NSString *platform = [self platform];
if ([platform isEqualToString:@"iPhone1,1"]) return @"iPhone 1G";
if ([platform isEqualToString:@"iPhone1,2"]) return @"iPhone 3G";
if ([platform isEqualToString:@"iPhone2,1"]) return @"iPhone 3GS";
if ([platform isEqualToString:@"iPod1,1"]) return @"iPod Touch 1G";
if ([platform isEqualToString:@"iPod2,1"]) return @"iPod Touch 2G";
if ([platform isEqualToString:@"i386"]) return @"iPhone Simulator";
return platform;
}

- (BOOL)supportsBluetoothNetworking {
NSString *platform = [self platform];
return !([platform isEqualToString:@"iPhone1,1"] || platform isEqualToString:@"iPod1,1"]);
}

@end




360|iDev Conference San Jose 2010

The dates for the 2010 360|iDev Conference in San Jose have been set for April 11-14 at the eBay Conference Center in San Jose, the same location as last year.


I really enjoyed last year's conference. Tom and John do a great job organizing things (and seem to like me despite my opinion on Flash), and it's one of the best groups of attendees you could imagine. I was bummed to have to skip out on the 360|iDev Denver last month due to being behind on my writing obligations.

Registration for the early-bird pricing is already open. Call for speakers will go out next week.



Thursday, October 15, 2009

In App Purchase Can Now Be Used for Free App

Yep, just got notified by Apple. Free apps. In-app purchase. Say good-bye to "Lite" apps.



The Little Things

I love when Apple's engineers quietly slip little things into the developer tools to make my life better. I commandeered my daughter's iPod Touch to do some peer to peer testing. Her iPod doesn't have my development provisioning profile on it, so when I went to run the app on it, I got this:



I have no idea when they added this, but I know it didn't always give me the option to install and run. It's a little thing, but it saved me from having to go find the right provisioning profile and install it on her iPod.

I'm often quick to note when something doesn't work right or as well as we'd like. I thought it was only fair to take a second to say kudos to Apple for quietly making my life just a little bit easier.



Don't Fear the Interface Builder Redux

Last week, when I advised readers not to fear Interface Builder, I left out one very important piece of information. I am far from the only one who says that using Interface Builder isn't really optional. Apple's documentation says exactly the same thing, in no uncertain terms. The relevant portion is as follows:
Note: Although you can create an Objective-C application without using nib files, doing so is very rare and not recommended. Depending on your application, avoiding the use of nib files can involve overriding large amounts of framework behavior to achieve the same results you would get using a nib file.
I don't think Apple could be much clearer on this point. Apple and NeXT developers have been using Interface Builder for twenty-one years, longer than many programmers have been programming. I think, at this point, they've got a pretty good handle on how it works and when it should be used. It boggles my mind that there's even a debate on this issue. There's really no excuse for creating your user interface in code in the vast majority of situations. Using Interface Builder is faster and much easier to maintain.

Don't fight the design, work with it.

Thanks to Saurabh Garg for pointing this out.



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gamasutra on Android Game Development

Gamasutra, a great website devoted to "the art and business of making games", has an article today on developing games for Android. Of course, about half of the article is spent discussing the success of the App Store and making comparisons to it.

Although I like the article, there are a few things in it that I take exception to. On the first page, for example, the article says that Android uses the "more developer friendly Java". What the hell does that mean? I've done both Java and Objective-C for a living, and neither one has ever waved to me or gotten me a cup of coffee. They're programming languages. Sure, there are more people who already know Java than Objective-C, but if that's what he meant, there were far more accurate ways of saying it.

It's also just plain wrong in terms of game programming. Objective-C is a superset of C and you can write entire games in C or C++ with the exception of a small amount of code to set up and configure your OpenGL ES view. Please don't even try to tell me that, from the perspective of a game programmer, Java is more "user friendly" than writing OpenGL code in C or C++.

Overall, the tone of the article is very optimistic, almost like a recruitment article hoping get people interested in Android development. They point to statistics to show that Android is gaining momentum and the iPhone is losing it. Well, you know what Disraeli said about statistics1.

If you follow the link in the last paragraph, the iPhone chart clearly does not show a decline in anything except in an artificial comparison to Android in terms of "percentage of projects started" (a dubious metric, at best). The iPhone is showing a slowdown in growth when looking at new projects being started, but there is still growth, and considering just how big and successful the store has been, that's kind of amazing. On the other hand, look at the Y-axis label on both charts. They are using completely different scales. If they were charted together on the same graph, the Android "flurry" of project starts would barely get over the first line, and it would do that in only one of the months charted. Also, while the iPhone may be experiencing a slowdown in new project starts, that's more than being offset by an increase in interest from the large gaming interests like EA and the fact that many more big, long-term projects are being started.

I don't want to come across as too down on Android. I think right now, of all the smart phones in the race, it's in the best position to be a real competitor to the iPhone, and a strong competitor is definitely something the iPhone needs. If I had to bet on which platform might overtake the iPhone someday, it would be Android, but I would not be betting a lot of money. There's still an open field for second place and a long distance between the pack and the current leader. Nobody currently jockeying for second place has begun to move substantially away from the pack toward the leader. At some point, somebody undoubtedly will break away and gain ground on the iPhone, but nobody - including Android - has started the kick yet. They might have a little better odds on placing, but they're still a long shot for winning.

Androids greatest advantage in that field also be its Achille's heel in terms of game development, which is the fact that Android is hardware agnostic. It will run on a variety of devices from different manufacturers with different CPUs and different GPUs. It will run on phones with touch screens and phones with keyboards. That's going to introduce a lot of complexity and make it hard to write apps that work perfectly on all Android devices that ever have been made or ever will be made, or even to identify how well it will run on any potential customer's phone. The only way for a developer to know if their game will perform well on any particular phone is to buy them all and test. That just isn't a possibility for the stereotypical garage game developer. This hardware agnosticism also means that optimizing game code for performance might result in improvements on one platform and then unexpectedly cause degradation on another. Those are issues that big game companies have the resources and experience to deal with, but are not so easy for smaller independent game developers.

Despite the issues, despite the difficulty competing in an increasingly large App Store that's beginning to get populated with big-budget games, I feel strongly that the iPhone is still the best game in town for the small, independent game developer, and it will continue to be well into the foreseeable future. Yes, you will still have to market your game. Yes, there is a chance of failure. The App Store is not magic, it's just a great opportunity.

Now, this equation will change over time, and this what I'm saying not be true a few years from now, but it's going to take time for Android to build momentum and gain ground. Right now, the games in the top ten on the Android Store are averaging well less than $100 a day income, and that's just not enough potential money for most people - big companies and independent developers alike - to see it as a viable opportunity proposition yet.



1: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." It was originally said by British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Sometimes it's wrongly attributed to Mark Twain. Though he certainly popularized it in America, the quote does not originate from him.



Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Objective-C Survives

Matt Gallagher, who maintains the excellent Cocoa with Love blog, has an interesting post today on the differences between the Simula and Smalltalk object models including a short discussion of the history of the two models. Objective-C uses the Smalltalk object model, most other compiled OO languages today (C++, Java, C#) follow the Simula model.



Friday, October 9, 2009

A Neat KVC Trick

Uli Kusterer has a neat little hint today on his blog with a safer way of specifying keys in KVC and KVO.



Mobile Photoshop

Adobe just released a mobile version of Photoshop for the iPhone. Let me just surprise a few people here by saying that Adobe did a pretty awesome job with this. It's a really nice little application, and it's free. Sweet. Although it doesn't appear to be available in all of the international versions of the App Store yet.

I can't help but think that this would have been a good showcase application to show off what Flash-generated iPhone applications can do. Alas, it appears to be a bog-standard Objective-C application, complete with nibs and byte-swapped PNG images.



Adobe's Ace in the Hole?

There's one thing I'm having trouble figuring out about this whole Flash CS5 thing. Adobe invested a lot of time and money to get Flash on the iPhone, seemingly against Apple's wishes. To sink that much time and money into trying to get software onto a closed, proprietary platform without the consent or help of the gatekeeper seems odd. From an outsider's perspective, Apple seems to hold all the cards. They have any number of technical means to prevent Flash-generated apps from going on to the App Store if they decide to. It seems to me that there's only two possible explanations for Adobe's actions.
  1. Their management is desperate and completely incompetent. Possible, but doesn't seem that likely. While Adobe has made a lot of decisions in the last few years that I consider poor, I haven't seen any evidence of this level of gross ineptitude

  2. They have leverage to use against Apple, or some reason to think Apple will allow them to do this. Perhaps, some kind of "ace in the hole" that Apple really wants? Perhaps a 64-bit version of their main CS5 apps, like Photoshop and Illustrator?
I don't know. Obviously, Adobe's not going to tell me anything, but one has to wonder if there isn't more to this than meets the eye.



Thursday, October 8, 2009

Louis Gerbarg on Flash for iPhone

The day that Adobe announced Flash CS5 with iPhone support, I took apart several of the Flash-generated iPhone applications and tweeted my findings. Louis Gerbarg has done a more detailed dissection of the Flash-generated iPhone ipa files (the actual file that gets downloaded from the App Store) than I did. He found the use of multiple (about a dozen) private API calls being used after doing what he calls a "cursory examination". His opinion of the size of the applications jived with mine as well (unnecessarily bloated), and he throws in some more concrete evidence showing that these apps do, in fact, perform poorly on iPhones prior to the 3Gs.

Louis' findings would cast some doubt on Adobe's claim that they didn't do any reverse engineering. Of course, in my mind, there already was a fair amount of doubt on that point.



Two Finger Rotate

Here is an Xcode project that shows how to do the two-finger rotate gesture. It's pretty straightforward, it just uses a CGAffineTransform to rotate the text on the screen to the same angle as the angle between the user's two fingers.

This project does not deal with the fact that touches come into the responder methods unordered, so you may notice some minor glitches if you try and do more than a 180° rotation. That's a subject for a future blog posting.



Wednesday, October 7, 2009

More Flash Thoughts

There's been a lot of interesting discussion around the whole Flash CS 5 generating iPhone Apps thing. None of it has changed my opinion that it's in Apple's best interests and ultimately the best interests of iPhone users for them to take steps to stop Adobe from moving forward with this, or at least for Apple to set some boundaries with Adobe and phase the program in over time to avoid overwhelming the App Store infrastructure. The problem is multi-faceted, which can be confusing. To me, it seems to break out into a couple of related, but distinct issues:


  1. Technical: Are the applications generated by Flash 5 as good, or at least "close enough" to being as good as those created using Xcode? It's not a simple question, because even the best tools can be used to generated sloppy, bloated executables, but it's still important to get a sense of whether the typical Flash-generated application is going to be comparable to the typical applications created using Xcode. It's an unanswered question. I'm sure Adobe is going to argue that their applications are just as good. I, and many other developers who have been working with the platform since it came out are going to be somewhat skeptical of that claim. How likely is it that they've been able to add an extra layer of complexity, including a garbage collector, and not incur any additional overhead? Probably nots possible, but the question then becomes: just how much overhead does it add? Is it enough to really matter?

    This is just an educated guess, but with first and second generation iPhones, I'm going to bet it will matter, and the simplistic nature of the Flash apps already on the App Store does little to dispel that notion. If the apps were really "just as good", they would have put a sample up that really showcased what they could do rather than just showcasing the fact that they could do something. If they were just-as-good, Adobe would have wowed us with a 3D game or something else that really pushed the limits of the iPhone's hardware. Even on my 3Gs, I thought the Flash iPhone apps all felt a little sluggish compared to what I'm accustomed to.

    Unfortunately, we have no objective data on this point right now. We have no way to take an app generated by Flash CS 5 and the same or similar app ported to Objective-C and compare them in meaningful ways. If someone would be willing to compile a version of a iPhone apps with debug symbols on, I might be able to get some hard data using the performance tools. As things stand, though, we have no objective data, and without that, it's all conjecture. We could argue forever, and neither side will concede anything.

    In my mind, there's enough reason to believe the apps won't be "as good" technically speaking, that it's fair to put the burden of proof on Adobe. They should prove that these Flash-generated apps are capable of being just as good or at least identify how close they are and support that claim with verifiable data. We already know the file size of the Flash-generated apps are considerably larger than comparable Objective-C apps created with Xcode. Subjective evidence seems to point to the apps also being slower. I'd like to see some hard evidence so we can judge them more fairly, but until some exists, I think it's a fair assumption that these Flash-generated apps are not as good and the differential is enough to matter. If somebody wants to prove me wrong, I'd be thrilled to see some hard evidence so we can discuss this intelligently. If I am wrong, believe me, I will be suitably impressed by the engineering that went into it.


  2. Logistical: There is a very large installed based of Flash developers and a large amount of existing content. The popularity of the App Store has already caused significant growing pains. The team responsible for doing App Reviews is overworked as it is and are doing a thankless job. Allowing existing Flash developers and existing Flash content to flood into the App Store almost overnight is bound to cause significant issues for the App Store infrastructure and the people responsible for maintaining it. That, in turn, will cause problems for customers and developers alike.


  3. Equitable: Related to the previous point, this flood of new content literally overnight is going to have a significant and detrimental impact on existing developers. You know, the ones who invested the time and effort to learn the platform and native tools? Those developers who will be penalized for that effort by having longer wait times and a lot more apps to compete with for attention. It's unlikely that the size of the App Store pie is going to increase measurably as a result of the influx, so an influx of new apps is inevitably going to dilute the chances for any single application to make a profit. It hardly seems very fair that the people who actually put effort into learning the platform and who have dedicated themselves to the platform won't be able to reap the benefits of that hard work without putting in addition effort to figure out how to get noticed above a sea of quickly-ported Flash games. Contrariwise, it hardly seems equitable to reward those who couldn't be bothered to learn the native tools.


  4. Political: Adobe and Apple long ago stopped being BFFs and have been in a somewhat contentious coopetition situation for quite some time. Apple made it very clear to Adobe on a number of occasions that Flash was unwelcome on the iPhone, and yet Adobe has continued to push ahead with an amazing disregard for that, fueled by what seems like a tremendous sense of entitlement: a feeling that they have a right to benefit from Apple's success with the iPhone even though they did not contribute to it in any way. The part that really doesn't sit right with me is that Adobe isn't being up front with their developers about how risky the situation is for them as a result of the politics of their relationship with Apple. Adobe didn't create Flash CS5's iPhone functionality with Apple's consent or knowledge. In fact, they did it despite being specifically told Flash wasn't welcome. That's pretty fucking rude. It's like inviting a million people over to somebody else's already-jam-packed party. Throw your own fucking party, man. Seriously. And the whole sneaky way Adobe went about putting their apps into the App Store just reeks of dishonesty. It's ends-justify-the-means thinking and it really does not endear me to Adobe at all.


  5. Legal: Despite Adobe's claims, I'm incredibly skeptical that they could have created the tools needed to generate iPhone apps without using Apple's toolchain at all given the amount of time it took them, unless they had access to the SDK and violated the legal agreement that they had to agree to to get access to it. Apparently, Adobe management is reassuring their employees internally that they respected the SDK agreement to "the best of their understanding" and are claiming that they didn't reverse engineer anything. I suppose it's possible, but it's improbable to the point of ridiculousness and I don't buy it.

    That Adobe could have figured out how to link to and use objects and functions from Apple's frameworks and figured out what to link to without some amount of reverse engineering just stretches credulity given how much of the iPhone's internals are not documented officially. Adobe's trying to make it sound like it was just a matter of compiling down to ARM assembly code and they didn't need to reverse engineer anything to do that. But it's not as simple as that. These generated applications have hooks into many of the existing Apple frameworks, including UIKit, OpenGL ES, Quartz, Core Animation, and Audio Queue Services. They are leveraging Apple functionality to do a fair chunk of the work, which means Adobe did more than just compile ActionScript to execute on the iPhone's ARM processor. A lot more.

    Even if they didn't reverse engineer anything, I would put forth that Flash 5's iPhone application generating ability IS a derivative work under section 2.5 of the iPhone SDK agreement. This would seem to be precisely the type of thing that Apple was trying to prohibit when they put that clause in the contract, so even if Adobe was completely above-board and did no reverse engineering, I think there's still grounds to allege they are in violation of the SDK agreement.

    At very least, I would say that there's sufficient grounds for Apple to bring legal proceedings if they choose to. They could very likely get an injunction to prevent Adobe from releasing the iPhone portion of Flash CS 5 if they wanted. I have no idea if Apple will go this route. I honestly doubt it's their first choice for dealing with the situation, but it's an option that's available to them and, therefore, is an added risk for Adobe and any Flash Devs who choose to use it.


It will be interesting to see how things unfold. The technical questions will eventually be known. At some point, we will be able to compare Objective-C and Flash-generated apps and get some concrete data about their size, efficiency, and performance. For the rest of it, the ball is really in Apple's court. Until Apple makes their next play, we don't really have an inkling of how this will all play out. Everything from Apple embracing Flash IPhone apps to an all-out war with Adobe is within the realm of possibility.



Code Consequences

I think we're all aware that our actions have consequences for ourselves and, often, for others. I'm going to talk about such a situation that is relevant to iPhone developers.

I've had to turn down some development work while writing More iPhone 3 Development. This isn't a big deal, as I expected that to happen when I agreed to do the book, and I like to see it, because it tells me that our platform is still doing well. However, a surprising number of the projects that I've turned down have been to fix iPhone applications written by other contract developers, something I don't consider to be such a good sign.

Even if I were available to take the work, there's something inherently uncomfortable about these situations. Some developer whose identity is unknown to me wrote this code. That developer has no chance to respond to my criticisms and I, in turn, have absolutely no idea of the situation under which the code was written. I feel like there's no right way to point out flaws in code like this. Yet, to fix the problem or even give an accurate estimate, those problems have to be identified.

In one such recent instance, the potential (and very trusting) client actually sent me their code along with the description of the problem. I knew that I couldn't take on a hefty project until the book is finished, but the description of the problem sounded like something that I might be able to be fix quickly and easily, so I looked at the code that evening.

The problem was exactly what I thought it was going to be based on the description, and I thought I'd be able to fix it with a few dozen lines of code over not more than a couple of hours, which would be a win for the prospective client and the client's users who were experiencing significant performance problems with relatively low volumes of data. In a well-designed application, fixing this specific problem wouldn't have impacted anything outside of a single class or, at worst, a handful of classes. It was a bottleneck in pure "Model" code in the MVC sense. In theory, as long as I didn't change the way the object's data was accessed and updated by other classes, I could change the implementation details, such as how the data was persisted, without impacting anything.

You know what they say about theories, right? They work great, in theory. But in practice…

So, yeah, that theory didn't pan out. I started looking at the rest of the project looking for potential cross-depenencies and I found that my assumption was totally and completely wrong. The underlying data store wasn't only vended through the data class, it was accessed directly by literally dozens of classes. In fact, all the actual persistence code - both loading and saving - (with the exception of encodeWithCoder: and decodeWithCoder:) was contained in controller classes. And there were dozens of these controller classes, many of which were nearly identical except for a handful of lines, which seemed to indicate a general lack of design or forethought. The core problem was thus made significantly harder to fix by a desperate and unrequited need for refactoring. There were, literally, several dozen classes that could have been written as a single-class or, at worst, a couple of subclasses with a common parent. The entire project looked like one thrown together by a tragically inexperienced developer, or one who didn't have any use for "this new fangled OO shit". Seriously, there should be a link to this project on the Wikipedia's spaghetti code entry, in the section on "Spaghetti with meatballs". Reading the project made me feel like I was in some weird programming equivalent of Poe's Law; I don't think I could intentionally create code this convoluted.

Now, I wish I could say that I'd never seen nor written bad code, but that wouldn't be true. I've seen lots of bad code over the years and have written more than I'd care to admit. Despite that, though, this code was worse than most of what I've seen, and that's saying something, given that my job for several years was fixing problems in other people's code.

After a couple of hours, I came to the inescapable conclusion that this job was beyond my ability to take on right now. I'm almost positive that it would be more work to try and fix the multitude of problems in this code than it would be to just rewrite the application from scratch. Even if not, the end result would certainly be better. Out of fairness to the prospective client, I had to explain why I had to turn down the project, something that seems likely to cause problems for the previous developer. I couldn't, in good conscious, not tell him, however. I did put it in far more diplomatic terms than I am doing here in my blog, at least, where I sometimes personify the fact that 'tact' is a four letter word.

The high demand for iPhone developers has made it a profitable livelihood and, I think, has caused many people to offer their services as iPhone developers without truly adequate experience. Hell, I've been working with the SDK as long as anybody outside of Apple, and I sometimes feel like I don't have "truly adequate experience" with it - that's the peril of a new technology I guess. Regardless, when you're developing for a client or employer rather than yourself, you really need to be aware that there will be downstream developers affected by the decision you make or fail to realize are there in the first place. When you cut a corner to save time or fail to use good design because you don't know any better or don't care, that decision may very well have significant consequences for your client and for other developers who inherit your code.

Good application architecture and writing good code takes a little longer in the short run, but in the long run, it requires much less of a time investment to maintain. Yes, I know most of us bill by the hour and writing bad code is far more profitable than writing good code, but don't do that. Seriously. That's worse than just being ignorant of how to write good code. Despite the economy, there's no shortage of iPhone development work right now, and even if that weren't the case, you owe it to your clients to give them the best code you are capable of writing.

Addendum: Based on some of the comments, I fear that this post has come across as rather more judgmental than intended. Contract software development, especially for clients who are not familiar with the process, is extraordinarily hard. No contract developer has ever, ever created a perfectly designed, bug-free application. In the real world, you have to deal with deadlines, unreasonable demands, and tons of other factors that work against you delivering a perfect application. I am not unsympathetic to this at all, as I have experienced it myself on countless occasions.

I intended this only as a cautionary tale to give you something to think about when deciding whether to cut a corner or to skip doing that rewrite you know you need to do, not as an indictment of anybody. Believe me, looking at some of my early contract work, I've got some pretty harsh words for myself.

One of the most important traits in a developer is the willingness to accept that no matter how good you are, you do make mistakes. You will never stop making mistakes and you will never stop being able to learn from those mistakes. Sometimes, you can even learn from others' mistakes and save yourself some pain.



Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What an Apple Offer Looks Like

No, I don't have an offer from Apple, but someone else does, and it's pretty damn cool to see what it looks like.

via CocoaGeek on Twitter



This Made Me Laugh

Sometimes 140 characters is just enough to make a point. If you don't get the reference, AOT is the term Adobe is using to describe what they're doing to avoid JIT compilation, which the iPhone SDK doesn't permit.



Sue Me, I Think Developers Should Care

James Higgs has a different take on MonoTouch and Flash for iPhone. You should read it. It's good to see other points of view.

That being said, I can't say that I agree with most of it. Indeed, I feel like James is missing the point and misrepresenting the point of view of well-respected members of the Objective-C community by cherrypicking individual tweets. The fact is, I agree with both tweets referenced in his blog post, even though they come off as a little crass and even elitist without context and given that the authors had only 140 characters to make a point.

To highlight my main difference with James' opinion, let me respond to his concluding paragraph that he seems to think no reasonable person could have a problem with, and tell you my problem with it:
It boils down to this: if MonoTouch and Adobe’s Applications for iPhone platform are no good, they will die. Developers who use them will sell fewer apps in the App Store. Objective-C developers will carry on developing apps in their preferred style and creating apps that sell well. But if the rival techniques are sound, everyone gets to write great iPhone apps, and the result is happy users, and an even wider adoption of the iPhone platform.
Here's the key point missed. It doesn't boil down to that. If MonoTouch and Flash for iPhone are no good, they won't die for a reason James himself pointed out earlier in the same posting: the users don't know or care how the application was created. If MonoTouch and Flash applications are slow and crash or use gobs of memory or break under future versions of the iPhone OS, the end users aren't going to take away a negative impression of Adobe or Novell, they're going to think "Apple Sucks". They're going to blame the iPhone. It will affect the users' opinion of the individual developer, sure, but first and foremost it's going to affect the users' opinions of the iPhone as a platform.

I'm pretty sure Apple will have a problem with that. If one app sucks, it's no big deal. If there are hundreds or thousands of apps that all break or perform poorly, that's going to impact the overall perception of the iPhone.

I, personally, have a problem with a developer who feels entitled to be able to develop for a platform without investing the time to learn the language or frameworks that platform was built around. Languages affect design. Objective-C has greatly affected the design of the iPhone application frameworks and, indirectly, the experience of iPhone users. If you can't be bothered to learn that, to understand the iPhone experience completely, that tells me that you just want a piece of the pie. You see something that's been phenomenally successful, and you want to be able to take advantage of Apple's success to make some fast money, but you're not willing to understand at even a superficial level the engineering that underlies that success.

This is vitally important on an embedded device. On a desktop computer, we can tolerate Flash because we have crazy fast processors, gobs of physical RAM, and full virtual memory. On the iPhone, the processors speeds are about ten years behind the desktop, we have a fraction of the RAM, and volatile memory won't get paged out to swap, so memory use and processor use are vitally important. Yet I should be "okay" with someone who wants to develop for the platform and is either ignorant or cavalier about these things? I don't think so.

A few paragraphs earlier, James says
Like me, many developers will welcome the chance to learn a new language and a new platform But many will just want to write an app and get it into the hands of their users as quickly as they can. (emphasis mine)
Exactly. That's exactly what I have a problem with. Getting an app into a users hands as quickly as possible is not a virtue. Getting an app to the user when it's done, and good, and well-tested, and performing well is. I don't want this mentality. I want developers like Snappy Touch, who obsess over the user experience. I want developers like Imangi, Flipside 5, Tim Haines, and the countless others who cared enough to dive in and learn the platform, learn the language and tools, and deliver great user experiences on the iPhone despite having to learn to do it. I want developers who care. Developers who care, care enough to use the right tools and invest time learning about their platform and about the users of that platform.

Part of the iPhone's success is exactly because there is an obstacle to entry for developers. It's not insurmountable, in fact it's pretty darn low, but it has tended to keep out the worst of the opportunists and hammer developers, and that's been a good thing. It's not a perfect environment, but it is pretty awesome, and it's a darn sight better than it would be if flooded with people who can't be bothered to learn a bit about the platform that they want to milk for all it's worth.

Here's another thought. Even with just Xcode and Objective-C available for building iPhone apps, the app review team at Apple is completely swamped and overrun and has a very difficult job. Do you think flooding the app store with iPhone ports of every crap Flash game in existence is going to help that situation? Hell no. It's going to make the situation so much worse. Now, try and tell me with a straight face that that isn't going to happen the second Flash 5 is released to the public. Of course it is. Every Flash developer is going to raid his or her portfolio for stuff they can quickly throw up on the App Store to try and make a quick buck.

Yeah, gosh, how could anybody not want that? That will make things so much better for iPhone users.

I don't know what Apple's going to do, but if it were me, I would let Adobe know, in no uncertain terms, that Flash apps are not welcome on the App Store and that Flash developers are more than welcome to come learn Objective-C and Cocoa Touch. If I were Apple, I'd be pretty darn annoyed at Adobe's insistence and willingness to resort to borderline unethical behavior to steal a piece of the iPhone and App Store pie, and I would take steps to protect the quality of the user experience on the iPhone, even drastic steps if necessary.

But, I'm not Apple, so only time will tell.