Monthly Archives: October 2015

Apps on the new Apple TV

We’ve had fun since Friday exploring the App Store on the Apple TV. There are a lot of expected apps but also some nice surprises. The only app that’s really missing for us is Sling TV. As soon as that ships, we’ll no longer need the Roku.

I love apps that use full-screen photos to take advantage of the big screen — obviously games and streaming video, but even apps like Airbnb. Conrad Stoll also released a new game called Picturesque, where you try to identify photos of national parks in a time limit that varies by difficulty:

“It’s always exciting when you can build a product that bridges different hobbies and interest. Picturesque combines my work as an iOS developer with my passions for Backpacking and Photography. I’m happy for the result to be both my first game and my first foray into this new platform.”

It’s also great to see Space Age make the jump to the Apple TV. We’ve been playing a few games that are free downloads because we had already purchased them on iOS, including Oceanhorn and Crossy Road.

The now page

Last week, Derek Sivers had a great idea. We’re constantly writing about the things we care about and whatever we’re working on, but the nature of blogs is that posts are always falling off the home page. There’s rarely a single place to get the tl;dr summary of what someone is working on.

This idea hit home for me last week at Release Notes when several people asked how to sign up on my microblog project announcement list. I’ve linked to it several times in blog posts, but I didn’t have an easy place to point people to without asking them to dig through the archives. A /now page is the perfect place for that kind of thing.

Shawn Blanc linked to his page too, which reminded me to put my own /now page together. You can read mine here: manton.org/now.

Pouring rain in Austin, and worse elsewhere in central Texas. Hope folks are staying safe on the roads. It’s a good morning to make a cup of coffee and work from home.

→ 2015/10/30 9:05 am

When working with someone, the difference between asking for something and telling them to do something means everything.

→ 2015/10/29 11:23 am

Medium.com updates

Ev Williams announced a batch of new Medium features recently:

“There’s always another level. Another level of polish and power in our product. Another level of breadth to our content. Another level of dialogue and discussion. And another level of progress. Today, we are announcing a slew of updates to bring Medium to the next level and in the process make it more powerful, more fun, more democratic, and more essential.”

Those updates include new mobile apps, @-mention support, a publishing API, and editor improvements. There’s also a new logo. (I know they put a lot of thought into this, and it’s a strong idea, but to me the logo’s design is so clever it’s actually kind of distracting. A little more subtlety in how they’re using depth could improve future iterations.)

Daniel Jalkut blogs about what’s included (and what’s left out) in Medium’s new API:

“One of the most unique aspects to Medium’s API is the provision for specifying a canonical URL and license on a post being submitted to the service. The canonical URL refers to another web location that should be considered the original, or most authoritative version of a post, while the license designates whether the post’s copyright terms stipulate a post is sharable as public domain or under a particular Creative Commons license. These attributes together indicate that Medium expects and encourages users of the API to contribute content that is not intended to be exclusive to Medium.”

While I generally think the trend to centralized writing platforms is bad for the web, I’m happy to see these changes from Medium, especially the API and expanding custom domain support. Medium has grown very slowly and carefully. I expect we’ll see quicker iteration on these new features now that they’re officially out.

In the process of experimenting with Medium posting, Dave Winer shared his take on post title support:

“It seems they have arrived at what I think is the correct answer: posts can have titles or not, and the content system has to be prepared for either case. That’s where this blog was in 1999, before other blogging tools and Google Reader pushed the world toward requiring titles. And then Twitter came along not having titles at all, and the intersection between all the kinds of blog-consuming environments became almost empty.”

I’m very interested in this because microblogging shouldn’t include titles. While Medium is mostly traditional essays, clearly comments don’t need titles, and Medium’s quick-posting UI encourages short posts. I hope this approach will get more RSS readers to gracefully handle title-less posts.

Gravity and the App Store

Dan Moren, writing at Six Colors about the rejected app Gravity:

“Really, what Apple needs is a small group within the App Store review team to flag apps that are pushing the envelope in smart, respectful ways; work with those apps’ developers; and present overall recommendations to App Store leadership—perhaps even reporting directly to Eddy Cue.”

I love this idea. It would both minimize unfair app rejections and help innovative apps bubble up to the featured sections in the App Store.

Release Notes 2015

The best blog posts we write are as much for ourselves as for our readers. That’s one of the traits that makes personal blogging so special.

I published my essay last week from the hotel at Release Notes, right before heading downstairs as the conference got underway. Almost no one had read it yet, but the essay still helped me because it made me even more aware of when I accidentally monopolized a conversation. I did end up talking a lot about my new project while at Release Notes, but I also caught myself many times, making sure to turn the conversation around and listen.

And there was plenty to hear at Release Notes. I got something out of every talk and from many conversations with developers who I had never met before. Congratulations to Charles and Joe for putting together a great conference.

Highlights for me included Myke Hurley’s opening talk on Wednesday night about quitting his job and the first full-time year of Relay FM; Rob Rhyne’s fantastic whirlwind tour of accounting, which scared me a little because of everything I still don’t know about being independent; Jean MacDonald’s talk about podcast sponsorships and the fundraiser for App Camp for Girls; Pieter Omvlee’s advice on aiming to build a bigger business; and David Smith’s talk, which I’ll get to later. I could pull out lessons from each of these talks as well as the others from Rachel Andrew, Georgia Dow, John Saddington, Chris Liscio, Daniel Pasco, and Jim Dalrymple.

Thursday night was the “dine around”, a clever idea to split attendees into groups of about a dozen people, each meeting for dinner at an assigned restaurant. It’s easy to fall into cliques at conferences. This was a great solution to mixing it up, all but guaranteeing that you’ll meet someone new.

It’s worth saying something about the venue. Converted from the Indianapolis Union Station, which was built in 1853, the conference center and hotel served as a beautiful backdrop to the conference. My hotel room was even made from an old train car. As we left the conference center late Friday afternoon, I took another look up at the vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows, making a mental note to read more about the history of the original train station.

On Saturday I checked out of the hotel, walked up to Bee Coffee Roasters (where I ran into a couple other attendees who were also still processing everything we learned at the conference), and then took an Uber to the airport. My driver was a musician; he had toured the country playing with bands, was working on a soundtrack which he played on CD for me, and had such an optimistic take on the world that it struck me in obvious contrast to the negativity we see online sometimes.

And he said something that stayed with me even longer while I waited at airport security and for my flight to board. He said that everything he had wanted to do in life, he had done. Sure, he’d love to tour with another band, he’d love to find success with his new music. But already he was content. He laughed when he said he could die happy, and he was not old.

David Smith mentioned in his talk at Release Notes that he used to want to do everything. Have a best selling app, win a design award, be admired by his peers, and other goals that many of us share. It was only when he set out with a more singular focus — judging every decision by whether it moved his business forward so he could continue to support his family — that all the other secondary goals started taking care of themselves as well. It was a great talk and something I needed to hear.

As a community we’re ambitious. We want to build something amazing and we want to make a positive impact on the world. But this week was also a reminder to me that it’s okay to be more focused, to tackle niche vertical apps, or make small boring decisions that will help our business. It’s okay, even as we want to do more, to slow down and be proud and content with the path that we’re on.

A great developer can come from anywhere

It’s March 2009, the height of SXSW in Austin before the conference gets too big for itself. I’m hanging out downtown with tech folks from a blogging startup, having dinner and beers before we head to the party they’re putting on. The CTO, one of the first employees at the company, is talking about Memcache servers and MySQL scaling, and I’m hanging on every word. I love this stuff.

I’m a Mac and iOS developer, but I often take a break from native app development to work on server software. So I’m asking him about MySQL replication and what it’s like to run a schema migration without the database falling over. The conversation sometimes shifts back to Apple platforms, and he says he’s been thinking about going to WWDC. I had been attending WWDC for a while, so I say sure, it’s expensive but you should consider it. If you’re doing more web stuff, though, maybe it’s not as important that you attend.

We walk over to the party venue. It’s bigger and more crowded than he thought it would be. Their company has really taken off, growing well beyond the early days when it was just him and the founder trying to build something new. And it’s at this point that he turns to me and asks a question that brings us back to iOS development:

“So what do you think of my app, Instapaper?”

In answer to Marco Arment, at that time the CTO of Tumblr, I mutter something about liking it, but I haven’t really gotten it into my workflow yet. Hopefully whatever I said was encouraging. In subsequent years, of course, Instapaper would be one of my favorite apps.

Later, replaying these conversations, I realized that I asked the wrong questions and gave the wrong advice. About WWDC, I should have said “Yes, absolutely!” with an exclamation point. Buy a ticket. If you can’t afford it, go anyway because you need to be there.

But I didn’t say that because I wasn’t listening closely enough. I was so busy asking questions about Tumblr, that I wasn’t listening to the excitement in his voice about Instapaper. I was so busy thinking about server scaling and databases and all this other stuff that I could’ve learned from a book, that I didn’t hear what he was really saying.

I should have asked about iOS pricing, free versions, sales, UI design, who did the icon, what does the private API look like. But I didn’t ask those things because I missed the big picture, how dominant the App Store would become for distribution, and so I missed what mattered. I’d like to think that since then I’ve gotten better at listening.

Daniel Jalkut and I had Marco as a special guest on Core Intuition 200 not just because he’s a friend but also because he so well represents the goal that many of us have and our listeners have — to start our own company, to find success not just one time but again and again, and to have as thoughtful an approach as possible in the craft of software development.

This week I’m in Indianapolis for the Release Notes conference. While I will have some stickers for anyone interested in my new microblogging platform, and I’ll probably ramble about it at some length if asked, I’ll also be listening. I’ll be listening because you never know which random developer you just met will end up doing their best work in the years ahead, and you want to be as encouraging as possible, offer the right kind of feedback, and also learn from their perspective.

There’s a great line in the Pixar movie Ratatouille:

“Not everyone can become a great artist. But a great artist can come from anywhere.”

I believe that’s equally true for developers. We often see someone go from nothing to a top app in the App Store. We often see someone start without an audience and then make friends on Twitter and blogs through the quality of their writing alone. And so we welcome new voices all the time if they’re respectful.

There’s been some debate about Overcast 2.0’s patronage model. Some of the discussion is healthy — how does a successful business model for one developer apply to other apps? — and some of the discussion is divisive. Instead of asking the right questions, it’s easy to jump straight to a conclusion with the dismissive statement: “that’s fine for Marco, but his approach would never work for other developers”.

The “that’s fine for Marco” attitude is poison for our community because it takes the opposite approach as that Ratatouille quote above. It implies that some developers have such an advantage that the rest of us shouldn’t even bother, because it’s not a level playing field. It’s true that some developers today have an advantage, whether through good timing or just a long history of shipping apps, but the lesson isn’t to give up; it’s to instead learn from it, and look at our own strengths. What small head start do we have that could grow into a great success tomorrow, too?

Rewind a handful of years, back to that day at SXSW when I could name plenty of developers who had more attention and success in our community than Marco Arment. You can be damn sure that didn’t discourage him from taking Instapaper from an “in my spare time” niche app to the top of the News section on the App Store.

I’ll never accept the implied negativity in the “that’s fine for Marco” argument. I’ll never accept that we should be jealous of another developer’s success instead of inspired by it to do our best work.

Core Intuition 202 and Thoroughly Considered (and stickers!)

We posted episode 202 of Core Intuition yesterday. This was a fun episode because we didn’t plan for it; we just started talking. From the show notes:

“Manton and Daniel discuss the paralysis of choosing what to work on as an indie, Manton’s mysterious Kickstarter campaign, and the allure of company stickers and other marketing stuff.”

Make sure to listen through the end for why I ordered stickers for my new app. If you want one, you can email me or send us podcast feedback.

As I said on the show, I highly recommend checking out Thoroughly Considered, the companion podcast for Studio Neat’s Kickstarter project. While you’re there, also consider backing the project, at the podcast level or the full Obi product if you have a pet that would love it. Even if it doesn’t successfully fund, I really enjoyed the first couple episodes of their podcast and hope it continues.

Monday morning. 1) Wake up and have breakfast. 2) Make coffee. 3) Delete __nullable from any auto-completed delegate code. Need to finish my essay about how Swift is getting better while making Obj-C worse.

→ 2015/10/12 8:38 am

Caught the first Spurs preseason game last night on NBA League Pass (via a VPN tunnel, because of region blackouts). Great to see Aldridge and the new guys on the court.

→ 2015/10/09 4:26 pm

Core Intuition 201

Today we published episode 201 of Core Intuition. From the show notes:

“Daniel and Manton discuss Manton’s search for indie development contracts, the market in general for iOS and Mac contracts, and the range of options for obtaining free and low-cost SSL certificates.”

And speaking of podcasts, congrats to Marco Arment on shipping Overcast 2.0. It’s a great update.

Scott Knaster visits the Steve Jobs movie office

Scott Knaster blogged about his day advising the crew of the new Steve Jobs movie:

“Every room had things taped up on the walls. Giant blown up pictures of the different events they were going to re-create. One entire wall was nothing but ancient Mac error messages. Another was photos of buildings where different Apple events happened. One wall had pictures from the Internet of random Apple employees from the ’80s.”

Apple seems intent on downplaying this movie as inaccurate and unfair to Steve, but it’s not supposed to be a documentary. It’s promising that they asked Scott Knaster for help getting some of the everyday details right. I’m really looking forward to it.

Finished reading The Martian. I had picked it up a couple months ago but didn’t get far, so started over at the beginning several days ago and read it straight through. Fantastic. Hoping to catch the movie this weekend.

→ 2015/10/07 8:04 am

Jack Dorsey to lead Twitter again

Three years ago today I posted my last personal tweet. That time and distance away from mainstream social networking has given me a new perspective on the importance of independent microblogging. It has shaped where I write and what tools I build.

But Twitter remains as fascinating as ever. Just a few weeks ago, the board seemed unsure about letting Jack Dorsey split his time between Twitter and Square:

“The responsibilities of running Square, which Dorsey reportedly refuses to give up, may now stand in the way of a Steve Jobs-esque return as Twitter’s full time chief executive. In June, its board took the unusual step of publicly declaring that it would only consider candidates ‘who are in a position to make a full-time commitment to Twitter’, a thinly-veiled reference to Dorsey’s preoccupations.”

Then they backed away from that:

“That declaration, as it seems to have turned out, has been a largely empty one. The idea that Dorsey might return gained steam among people both inside and outside the company over the past few months even though he had no intention of leaving Square. He even referred to the companies as his two children when discussing the dilemma, according to a source.”

Today they officially announced that Jack will return to lead Twitter. Of all the recent articles, my favorite is this one from Recode, a long profile on Jack’s role and changing attitude:

“He seems to be a completely different man than the one who returned to Twitter in March 2011 as executive chairman and product czar. Former colleagues recall a man looking for payback for his 2008 ouster; loyalty was key, and many who were loyal to Twitter’s other co-founder, Ev Williams, were booted from the company. Back then, Dorsey would routinely sit in on meetings without saying a word. When he did speak, his contributions were so abstract that few understood what he was talking about. In some cases, he’d simply write a single word or two up on the whiteboard.”

And it goes on, showing how Jack has matured as a leader. Everyone will be watching what he does, and how Twitter evolves. Every article written about an upcoming Twitter feature will mention Jack’s involvement, no matter how insignificant. He’s a big part of the story now.

Ev also wrote about the official announcement:

“Twitter is bigger and more important to the world than we ever dreamed when we started. And it still has incredible, unrealized potential. It will not be easy to unlock it. But we have thousands of smart, creative people working every day to make the company great. And Jack has already demonstrated the ability to inspire the team and think boldly about the next phase of Twitter.”

The greatest challenge for Jack will be figuring out how to take whatever those thousands of employees are working on and turn it into actual user-facing features that ship to customers. Federico Viticci, reviewing the new Tweetbot 4 release last week, wrote about how Tapbots has built something more ambitious than the official Twitter for iPad app, even though Twitter has a much bigger team:

“On the other hand, Twitter for iPad – long ignored by the company – has emerged again with a stretched-up iPhone layout presented in the name of ‘consistency’. It’s a grim landscape, devoid of the excitement and curiosity that surrounded Twitter clients five years ago.”

I still run Tweet Marker, which was created during that period of innovation that Federico refers to, but my focus now is on indie microblogging and the open web. I’m content to watch Twitter from the sidelines and wish Jack the best of luck.

Took my daughter to see The Iron Giant: Signature Edition in the movie theater yesterday. It includes a couple extra minutes of animation by Ken Duncan’s studio. So clear when seeing this on the big screen again that it’s a masterpiece.

→ 2015/10/05 10:26 am

The new iTunes Connect redesign really is quite a nice improvement. Good work, Apple.

→ 2015/10/02 2:02 pm

Core Int 200 with Marco

Last night we published our 200th episode of Core Intuition. To mark the milestone, Daniel and I welcomed special guest Marco Arment. We talked about the goals behind Overcast, his thoughts leading up to version 2.0, the podcast industry, and supporting our products, with a closing discussion about the new iPhones and proper use of 3D Touch.

Thanks everyone for your support of the show. I hope you enjoy this one.