Dear dad, don’t listen to my cheapskate brothers about iPad apps

This letter is to my dad, we got him an iPad for Christmas.

Dear dad,

Alex told me he counseled you against buying any apps that cost money. Sounds like Ben also is of that bent. Sounds great to be a cheapskate, right? After all, you’ll save money. I’d question my brother’s motives, though. Maybe they want more inheritance?

Anyway, to me the best apps cost money and you should expect to spend $200 to $400 in the first year on apps. Here’s some reasons why.

1. Paid apps are better games. Look at Angry Birds. They have free versions on Android, but on iPad and iPhone their versions cost five bucks. The thing is, on the free version you have interruptive advertising. Do you really want to live in a world where every few minutes an ad gets displayed? I don’t. So I invest in apps that cost money and apps that have a real business model behind them (IE, where I’m at least a customer that turned over some cash). Plus, I know that Scrabble is one of your favorite games. That costs $4.99. What a deal.

2. Paid apps help teach science. I know you do lots of tutoring at local high schools. One of the most expensive apps, The Elements, costs $14. This app is magical, though, and will open science up to kids in a new way. I wish I had this back when I was in Chemistry class.

3. Paid apps reward the arts. There’s a photographer, Quang-Tuan Luong. He took 10 years to photograph all the US National Parks. 3,000 photos. And you can own them all for $4.99. If enough people do that? Well, then, it’ll encourge more photographers and artists to share their work in apps.

4. Paid apps help you travel. The best apps, like TripIt, have “pro” versions that cost money. In this case TripIt costs me $49 per year. What do I get? Information. I often know my flight is delayed before the pilot tells everyone else. And it helps me get alternate flights and helps me with finding the best seat, and more.

5. Paid apps help you get better news. The Wall Street Journal costs $17+ a month. I know you buy lots of magazines and newspapers, why would it be any different on an iPad?

6. Paid apps help you read longer items. I paid $4.99 for Instapaper, which helps save web pages for later offline reading, optimized for readability. Invaluable.

7. Paid apps help you find better restaurants. Yeah, you can use the free Yelp app (I do that too) but Zagat’s app is better for finding the best restaurants. It costs $10. What’s a meal at a high-end restaurant cost? $50? Some, like at French Laundry, cost $330 and up. Having one extraordinary experience is worth the app’s price. Why? Because they can afford to have moderators that clean up the content, plus they have hooks into other systems, like Foodspotting and Foursquare, which give them better data.

Anyway, there’s some selfish reasons to pay for apps, too.

1. App developers are watching what platforms make the most money. So, if you want better apps, support the developers and they’ll work on more stuff for you. Otherwise they’ll go work on other platforms that have more customers that’ll pay for apps.

2. It gives you leverage. If they start selling all your private information, you’ll be able to scream about it. People who only use free apps should expect there’s some other business model in play behind the scenes.

3. The quality of the apps is higher when you pay for them. Do you work for free? I don’t. Neither do my cheapskate brothers. Yet they want everything for free. But, who do you think developers will do their best work for? A group of people who spends $5 to $15 on them? Or a group of people who forces them to do unnatural acts like put ads into their apps (which encourages them to sell your privacy down the street)?

Me? I’m a selfish baaassstttarrrrddd. I want the best experiences, and I’ve found the best way to get those is to pay for some apps.

–Your son, Robert


Mobile Fanboy! Good or bad?

Welcome to the Future

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David Bisset said it: “Fanboys out in force today.”

It’s interesting, whenever I write about mobile, no matter what side of the fence I come down on, people try to use “fanboy” as a pejorative.

It always makes me question whether I’m doing my best to serve my audience.

Here’s my thinking.

First, people who claim to not be fans can be written off completely as non-participants. It’s like going to a Giants vs. Dodgers game and finding someone who says “I don’t care who wins.” People like that bug me. Why are you even at the ballpark then?

In this case, why are you commenting on Louis Gray’s blog? (The first comment was from someone like this “I try to not be someone who roots for either one.”) Bah humbug.

Even Louis’ headline “the iPhone Fanboys can’t handle the truth on Android” makes this go down further. Unlike Louis, who has totally bought into the Google ecosystem, I can be seen carrying both devices. Of course, Louis’ fanboyisms gets him invited into Google events and even gets him free gear from Google. Translation: more free gear than I get. (Louis got a Google CR-48 laptop that I didn’t get) 🙂

I’m certain Louis is right. But I’ve learned with Louis to have a certain skepticism of what he’s telling me. After all, he’s the guy who got me to invest so much in FriendFeed. Yeah, now I have a friend with Facebook’s CTO (Facebook bought FriendFeed and then promptly took all the engineers off of that and put them on other projects), but it also got me kept off of Twitter’s suggested user list. There are consequences to your fanboyisms.

Me? The only consequences to me personally will be my $300 investment in apps. I already have a Verizon account I’m paying for and already have an Android device I pay for. Along with the iPhone and iPad I paid for and continue to pay for.

I’ve spent thousands of hours on my various mobile devices. So excuse me if I’m a bit passionate about where I see things going. I’ve also interviewed hundreds of mobile developers to understand where they are going and what bets they are making or even which are their favorites. Including Starbucks CIO (iOS), Sephora’s mobile developer (iOS) OpenTable’s mobile guy (iOS), eBay’s mobile guy (iOS), FoodSpotting’s founder (iOS) and on and on and on.

Is that fanboyism or journalism? Louis seems to say it’s all about being a fanboy and tries to justify his own singular choices. That’s cool. When the water on that side of the pool gets warmer I’ll swim on over.

For now, though, I’m sticking with the developers. The coolest apps are — overwhelmingly — on iOS today (and in my experience, when the same app is on both platforms the iPhone version is usually better designed and crashes less). Not many people argued with that. Not even the Google fanboys.

By the way, gotta correct Louis Gray on something. He says: “Android led the way in true multitasking on the phone, offers a superior GPS experience with top-notch places and maps, and is years ahead of Apple on voice search, it seems.”

OK, the old “my platform has more features than yours does.”

If features mattered Apple wouldn’t exist. After all, Nokia had better screens, better cameras, and better battery life long before the iPhone came along.

Heck, imagine for one moment that I had marched into Steve Ballmer’s office and said “Steve, our tablet PC sucks, we need to get rid of the camera, get rid of multitasking, get rid of printing, get rid of all those extra buttons on the front except for one, get rid of the ability to run Microsoft Office, oh, and make sure all those .NET apps don’t run either. Only then should we ship it.” Well, I would have gotten thrown out of his door so fast I wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye to his assistant. Google fans consistently don’t understand that fact.

But, look at my iPad. I used it all the way from SFO to CDG (Paris) and listened to music the ENTIRE time. It only used 9% of my battery life. Why? BECAUSE it didn’t have multitasking (actually, not quite true, it has some multitasking features now).

Funny enough, when Louis and I had dinner last week he showed me a way to kill tasks that were running in the background. I tried the same trick on my Nexus S and it didn’t work. Damn consistency let’s just ship! Grrr. Funny that every Android user has a Task Killer that they loaded as one of their apps. Try explaining THAT to a normal user “oh, you gotta kill tasks otherwise your phone sometimes won’t run right.”

Grrr. Yeah, I’m a fanboy.

But, these problems are gradually going away. It was far worse a year ago. Today at least the Nexus S is fast, has decent battery life, and feels well designed, if not a bit plasticky (if I didn’t have an iPhone I wouldn’t have noticed that, since most other phones are going that route to keep down costs).

Louis also writes “The truth is that Android can go feature by feature against iPhone now.”

Really? We compared panoramic photo apps. His sucked compared to the one from Occipital. His photos sucked too, and so did the display of same, when put side-by-side at dinner. I guess he forgot that. Not to mention that there’s nothing like the magical Word Lens app. Not to mention all the iPad apps that are out there like Flipboard, Aweditorium, NPR’s app, etc etc etc.

Oh, and GPS? That’s laughable. The GPS isn’t nearly as accurate in most Android devices as in the iPhone. Compare the two phones when checking in on Foursquare.

Louis, regarding voice navigation, just open the Google app on iPhone and you can do the same thing, plus, look at Voice DJ which is more accurate than anything on Google’s system (the developer of that told me he’ll bring it to Android next year too). Not to mention Siri, which I’m sure we’ll hear more about next year (Apple didn’t buy it for $200+ million to let it die).

Anyway, Louis ends with “But don’t get blinded by the Apple fans trying to define Android as a cheaper, inferior solution. It’s not.”

Really? Give me a break. I’ll go step-by-step how the ecosystem on Google is behind Apple today. Again, if you want. But I’m tired and my kids need some love.

Keep in mind, those are the words of a fanboy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

The facts in the mirror might be different than they appear on your favorite tech blog, though.

The truth is probably inbetween the fanboy positions. But that’s why I think Fanboys are good, just like Dodgers fans are good for the game of baseball, even though they are on the wrong side of the force. 🙂

If I’m serving my audience well, no one will be able to say “he didn’t do his homework.” That’s what I aim for, but some fanboy attitude is definitely good for the industry. Why? We’re spending our entire waking lives carrying these damn things around and betting our careers on the outcome. If you bet against Microsoft in the 1990s you know how bad that decision is.

How did I do on Hot Startups to Watch of 2010?

So, back in January I wrote about the hot startups to watch of 2010 in two blogs (part I, part II). Here’s the list, and how I did.

First, I missed some of the biggest new startups.

What big wins did I miss?

1. GroupOn. Now valued at $6 billion after being in business just 18 months.
2. Flipboard. Came out in July and was named Apple’s favorite iPad app. (I did have first video of them though).
3. Soluto. Came out in May and won Techcrunch Disrupt. (I did have first video with them, though).
4. Instagram (and competitors Path, PicPlz). Tore it up in December.
5. Siri (which I named as hot in another post, a week after it shipped Apple bought it for about $200 million).
6. A slew of mobile startups like Rovio, who makes Angry Birds.

I’m sure I missed lots of other hot startups, too. Got any?

ReadWriteWeb named their top 10 as (in no particular order, they said, except they published them in this order):

1. Instagram.
2. Quora.
3. Flipboard.
4. Chatroulette (I don’t see how a company that has failed the way this one has should be on such a list, other than they got lots of people to use it for a short time).
5. Rapportive. (I picked Gist which shipped earlier and now does same as Rapportive).
6. Diaspora. Give me a break.
7. Hipmunk. Yup, love this company.
8. LearnBoost.
9. Square.
10. InDinero.

I don’t really agree with RWW’s list, but it’s out there.

So, how did I do?

1. Boxee. Finally shipped Boxee Box, but is largely perceived as struggling against Apple and Google. Tie.
2. Aardvark. Bought by Google. Win. (Google hasn’t done much with it since, which is why I didn’t count it as a big win).
3. Foursquare. Has stayed on a tear. Win.
4. Nextstop. Bought by Facebook and shut down. Tie (if something has deep value it doesn’t get shut down).
5. Rippol. Hasn’t done much. Fail.
6. Waze. Just closed a huge funding round and saw significant gains this year. Big win.
7. Gist. Closed a decent funding round and has gotten lots of kudos. Win.
8. Kynetx. Haven’t heard much about their platform. Fail.
9. Tapulous. Sold to Disney. Big win.
10. Posterous. Continued to see traffic go up and closed good funding round. Win.
11. PointAbout/AppMakr. Right category, but not right company. Fail. (UPDATE: “The AppMakr guys contacted me and let me know about some great traction they’ve gotten this year that I wasn’t aware of (including a $1MM raise). You can find it on their Crunchbase profile: I’m withdrawing the ‘fail’ to see how they do in 2011.”)
12. Payvment. Closed funding and hot space. Win.
13. CloudKick. Rackspace bought them. Big win.
14. Blippy. Closed funding round, and interesting company. I’ll count this as a tie, though, because I haven’t seen much mainstream pickup yet.
15. Expensify. Closed funding round, just shipped new version. Love this company. Win.
16. RedBeacon. Closed funding round, well regarded in marketplace. Win.
17. CitySourced. Has won a lot of city deals, seems to be doing well. Win.
18. Spotify. Roaring across Europe, still hasn’t come to US yet. Win.
19. Plancast. Has become the calendar for geeks, not sure it’s moving into mainstream yet. Win.
20. Evri. Bought Radar Networks, got some more funding. Win.
21. Square. I’m seeing them more and more places. The wine show I was at this year had them everywhere. Win.
22. Aloqa. Acquired by Motorola. Win.
23. Nimsoft. Named to hottest Silicon Valley Companies list, acquired by CA for $350 million. Big win.
24. OneRiot. Shut down its real time search portal. Fail.
25. Wildfire Interactive. Got $4 million in funding. Win.

So, that’s:

Four big wins.
14 wins.
Three ties.
Four fails. Not too shabby. Especially since some of those could turn into wins, like Kinetyx.

Who’ll be on my list next year? I bet that some of those on this Quora list will be considered.