28
Oct 12

iOS is showing its age

My iPhone and my iPad are almost always running the latest version of iOS. When the App Store icon lights up with app updates, I click it like a Pavlovian parlor trick. Sometimes to regret, but not always…

My wife on the other hand? Her iPhone is running iOS 5 – she’s terrified of the new maps app. Her App Store icon read “48″ last night when I went in to try and unwind the me.com/Mac.com/iCloud.com bedlam she has accidentally created for herself. 48. 48 app updates. My OCD makes my neck itch just thinking about that. Not to even think about the chaos of the accounts that cannot be merged that I still have to try and repair.

The original vision of iOS was that of a thin client. Fat OS, but with Web-based apps that could have been patched relatively easily, when treated as a service. But when the App Store arrived, it broke all that. From that point on, every user became their own admin. As a result, iOS devices became the new Windows. Patched only by force, or when the IT-savvy relative freaks out about how out of date the OS or apps are. Conversely, because core apps like Maps are updated with the OS (or removed, as in the case of the YouTube app), some users – even technical ones – will elect to play this update through, and not update. While innumerable people have updated to iOS 6, lots haven’t.

People don’t like to get their tires rotated. They don’t like to get their oil changed, or teeth cleaned. Call it laziness… Call it a desire for ruthless efficiency… People rarely perform proactive maintenance. iOS should have an option, on by default to update in the background. More importantly, in an ecosystem where too many app authors do the bare minimum in terms of security, apps should have that same option.

The original iPhone succeeded not because of apps. No, it succeeded because it was a better, more usable phone than almost anything else on the market. It just worked. It had voicemails we could see before listening, contacts we could easily edit on the phone, and a Web browser that was better than any mobile browser we’d ever seen before.

But the OS is showing its age. Little nuances like the somewhat functional search screen, Favorites in Contacts, and VIPs in Mail show that iOS is under structural pressure to deal with the volume of data it tries to display in a viable way. Notifications and the Settings app seem fragmented and are starting to become as disorganized as the Windows Control Panel (that’s bad!). Photo Stream sharing is a joke. It’s unusable. The edges are showing.

Of all the things I could wish for in the next version of iOS – if there was one guiding mantra I could tell Tim Cook I want in the next iOS… I would say, “Please give me less of more, and more of less.” The OS may need to be expanded where the OS can do more with the modern hardware of the phone after the iPhone 5 and the 5th generation iPad, but in so many more ways, it needs to be cautiously, carefully reorganized – cleaned up, with the spirit that the original iPhone and iPhone OS used to establish their role – that of simplicity, a mantra of “It just works”. OS and application updates that self-apply for all consumers except those who opt out of it…

I’ve been a fan of the iPhone from the beginning. But I really think the platform is showing its age, and isn’t nearly as usable as it once was. All too often lately, I look at something in the OS and have to shake my head that it works that way. It’s time to clean up the house.


26
Oct 12

Windows Store: The Turn

The Prestige is one of my favorite movies. Every time I watch it, I notice a nuanced plot twist that I missed before. Since I started counting, the second most frequent question I get after, “how many apps are there?” is, “how are you doing this?”

“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”

Back in August, I had an idea. I pondered… “What if there was a way I could count the number of apps in the store?” I had my reasons, as I’ve discussed before.

I bandied the idea around a bit, ran it by a few friends, and we were all stumped about how to come up with the best way to tally the number of apps in the store in any automated, robust way. While we could fire up the Windows Store app on Windows 8 and do a simple * query and get a dynamic result back of how many apps are there, it:

  1. Can’t be automated
  2. Isn’t categorized
  3. Includes only one locale at a a time
  4. It includes desktop applications that can’t be bought in the store and more importantly, don’t make Windows RT viable – that’s up to Windows Store (WinRT/Metro/Modern) apps.

So… what to do…

“Are you watching closely?”

I often say that everything in my career happened for a reason – and without a doubt, skills I’ve picked up in each job snowballed to be useful in the next one… As I tried to figure out how to peruse the store, I thought to myself - I know how to do this!

“Many of you may be familiar with this technique, but for those of you who aren’t, do not be alarmed. What you’re about to see is considered safe. “

I started poking around on Microsoft’s public facing Windows Store site (apps.microsoft.com). In a previous job, we focused on creating product videos – an innately unsearchable binary format. But you see – there are standard tools to make video indexed. The big giant heads of search all agreed several years ago on the concept of sitemaps. A very simple XML format, sitemaps indicate the content of a Website as the Webmaster wants it indexed. While sitemaps can be manually submitted by a site to each search engine if the Website wants to avoid random crawls, most sites simply post their sitemap publicly (see the NY Times’ sitemap as an example). I found that searching Bing and Google for Windows Store apps most definitely let me find very freshly added apps – indicating that there must be a sitemap in place on the Windows Store. Indeed, there was.

“Exact science, Mr Angier, is not an exact science.”

Through a process of <ahem> programmatic duct tape, I was able to create a system that iterated through the sitemap and indexed the content in the store. Through some futzing with XML, a few rough Regular Expressions, my existing experience with sitemaps, and some Excel automation (yes – really), I built a roughed-in prototype that worked – and took off. Bear in mind this is also why I only get results once per day. While Microsoft may be pushing new apps out to the Windows Store, the sitemap is not updated that dynamically. Someday it likely will. But my process of daily queries carried through the RTM and GA just fine.

“A real magician tries to invent something new, that other magicians are gonna scratch their heads over.”

So that’s it. It’s not really magic. I haven’t shared the source, nor do I intend to (you wouldn’t want it). I have been talking with a friend about possibly creating an app that helps provide better insight into what’s going on in the store – to help users find apps that they’ll love. Regardless, what I do intend to do from this point on is seriously constrain posts on statistics (at least sheer number statistics) related to the store. From this day on, regardless of what this site posts, the Windows Store will win or lose its role in the world not through the sheer count of apps… But instead through the caliber of apps that are there. The apps that users clamor for and say, “I need a Windows 8 or Windows RT device so I can run <insert title>”.

I may have been/still be a bit bearish on Windows RT and Windows 8 – and the WinRT platform as a whole. I don’t think that it as easy to ignite a platform -> app -> developer virtuous cycle as Microsoft thinks. But I also may be underestimating how important the typical consumer finds Windows (even the more constrained world of Windows RT) or Office to their life. We’ll see in time.


26
Oct 12

Windows Store: Taking Inventory at Launch

The last 48 hours have been very significant for the Windows Store. More than the count – which is up significantly just in the last 2 days – apps from many mainstream news and entertainment sources have begun to arrive, and some new apps have shown up that take advantage of the WinRT platform on Windows 8 and Windows RT. I’ve posted quite a few updates in the last 2 days about what’s new and relevant on the store on my Twitter account, so start there if you’re looking for individual apps.

The big question is, where is the store at on 10/26? Well, the store didn’t quite bust the 10,000 app mark worldwide by launch. But it did come close – 9,029 applications available worldwide. In each of the last two days, more than 500 apps have shown up daily – and again, quite a few of these have been high-quality apps from mainstream content providers around the world that can help lift the platform.

Below, you can see the total growth of the Windows Store since I started a daily tally beginning on 9/9:

Recall that when I started counting in mid-August, the Windows Store had 530 apps in it. When I say 9,029 Windows Store apps worldwide – it’s important to understand a few things:

  1. This excludes desktop apps, which will not work with Windows RT.
  2. This is across ALL locales that the Windows Store supports. There is no locale that supports every single app, so all stores have a count of less than 9,029 in their own inventory.
  3. This is polled once per day, so the actual count can increase through the day.
  4. These apps are usually not available to pre-release versions of Windows 8. It’s time to update to the final release!

Out of the global count, 88% (still) of apps, a total of 7,940, are free:

Amazingly, while the store has grown dramatically, the worldwide percentage of free apps has remained almost constant for just under one month (hovering between 87 and 89% free). The number of free apps in the US Windows Store (until recently, the locale with the largest inventory) has generally been lower than that percentage.

The Chinese Windows Store continues to have the largest inventory, with 5,553 apps as of today. The second largest inventory is the US store, with 5,179 Windows Store apps. Yes, these two locales now feature over 5,000 apps – the only two that broke the 5,000 mark by today. That said, every locale supported by the Windows Store now features over 4,000 apps. This does not, however, take into account how well these apps are localized for each locale (if they indeed are), or how useful the apps are. There’s still too many apps barely above “hello world”, simply sugar-coating the templates provided by Visual Studio, and many that are failing at fundamentals such as inserting their own application icon, leaving the “todo” icon inserted by Visual Studio!

As before, about 6% of Windows Store apps available worldwide do not support Windows RT. We will see over the next few weeks if this changes as more developers obtain Windows RT systems and can test for, and properly support, Windows RT.

In terms of developers, there are 3,751 distinct entities with apps on the Windows Store worldwide. Regrettably, there are quite a few developers who are doing exactly what Microsoft had said they would discourage developers from doing, and submitting multiple apps that all had the same or nearly similar functionality (IMHO, “quote apps” seem to be one of the worst offenders in almost every ecosystem’s store). The top 11 developers all have more than 50 apps each – I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. That said, the mode of developers on the store have only 1 app each.

Looking just at the Windows Store in the US for a moment, then, we can see it holding at the same percentage of free apps as earlier, 83% (4,278), 5% lower than the worldwide average for the last month. The mode of app prices in the US is US$1.49, with a mean (average) of US$5.23. The most expensive app on the store is one at US$999.99 (BrainControl) – the previous most expensive app, EMR Surface continues to be available at US$499.99. These two financial standouts are, interestingly enough, both in the Health & Fitness category, one of the smallest on the US Windows Store (~2%).

Speaking of categories, we’ve had some good settling as the store wrapped up for GA. See the chart below:

 

I was happy to see that the Productivity category has doubled from 6% from the last time I inventoried the US categories. Games have declined 3% to 17%, but still make up the largest single category. In general, I think the spread of the top 6 categories is now in a reasonably healthy place, and as I noted, we’re starting to see some good keystone apps arrive in the store, and the next several weeks and months will likely bring more.

All in all, more than 9,000 apps worldwide, more than 5,000 in two key global markets, and more than 4,000 in all others? Not a bad way to start Windows 8 and Windows RT. Congratulations to Microsoft, their hardware partners, and the Windows Store developers.


24
Oct 12

Windows Store: The (almost) Final Countdown

Quick post today, working to have a comprehensive rundown of Windows Store stats about mid-day Friday (pending any sort of explosion in either the number of apps or my system that counts them). But today, wanted to run through the basic set of numbers most people are interested in.

Worldwide:

As of today, there are 7,873 Windows Store apps available worldwide. Of these, 88% (6,964) are free – mirroring the percentages first seen much earlier this month. The number of apps added per day has been rather significant, and includes 459 apps worldwide that have been added since I polled yesterday.

Almost all applications are available in both x86 and x64 architectures. Only two apps appear to solely target Windows RT (ARM), 31 target only Windows 8 x64 and don’t have Windows 8 x86 or Windows RT  support. The gap I first noticed some time ago is still there, however. While almost all apps support Windows 8 on x86 and x64, 6% of apps do not support Windows RT on ARM at this time. This may change after GA when developers can test on Windows RT systems – but it may always stay lower, reflecting the challenges of developing WinRT apps on Windows RT that I have heard from several developers.

Speaking of developers, there are now 3,367 distinct developers who have apps available on the store at the current time.

Of the total number of apps added since I polled yesterday, 219 were added to the US Windows Store (likely added to others as well). Something interesting happened this week, though. More apps have been added to the Chinese Windows Store than US English. As a result, the US Windows Store is now the second largest, at 4,516 Windows Store apps – while the Chinese Windows Store features 4,795 Windows Store apps.

US Store:

As I noted, the US Windows Store now features 4,516 apps. Of those, 83% (3,749) are free – indicating more willingness to try selling paid apps in the US store than across the average of all other markets. I haven’t analyzed what other markets may be featuring a higher percentage of paid apps – I may try to calculate that later this week or early next.

More important the count, the past two weeks have seen several significant applications come on line, including NetflixHulu PlusFood Network (what can I say, I’m a foodie), and of course Skype coming on line Friday with the GA of Windows 8 and Windows RT – when we can also (hopefully) expect many more apps. Next update – including pretty pictures and category breakdowns, will be available on Friday.


18
Oct 12

Windows Store: Top Markets

A reader earlier today asked if the overall growth of the global count of apps while US English stayed at a lower count generally meant that non-English markets were growing well. The answer is yes – in fact I pointed out that the locale with the second largest app count is the Chinese/China locale, at 3,456 – which interestingly has a much higher app count than any other Chinese markets (Chinese/Singapore: 3,104, Hong Kong: 3099, or Taiwan: 2953) – indicating that – in this case – app developers aren’t blanketing apps across locales that may not be appropriate for them.

In general, I’m still seeing some app developers squeeze apps that aren’t locale appropriate outside of the locale where they do belong – but in general, I think this is getting better.

I thought I’d take a quick moment to examine the commenter’s idea of which locales were at the top of the charts. So here we go – the top 10 Windows Store locales (actually 5, since there are multiple ties):

Rank Locale Number of apps
1 US English (en-us) 3,660
2 China/Chinese (zh-cn) 3,456
3 (tie) Mexico/Spanish (es-mx) 3,384
3 (tie) Japan/Japanese (ja-jp) 3,384
4 (tie) Basque (eu-es) 3,378
4 (tie) Catalan (ca-es) 3,378
4 (tie) Galician (gl-es) 3,378
4 (tie) Spain/Spanish (es-es) 3,378
5 (tie) UK/English (cy-gb) 3,289
5 (tie) UK/Welsh (cy-gb) 3,289

Interesting notes – all of the *-es locales are tied other than Mexico. This likely means that apps are being offered across all of the locales even when they may not really be localized. Same in the two UK locales listed – I sincerely doubt (m)any apps have been properly localized to Welsh.

I also thought it was strange that by the time I hit 10, I hadn’t run into the German (de-de) locale. Amusingly, it was next, with 3,252 apps.

Disclaimer: These counts were tabulated using information available last night, and do not include desktop applications. As a result, when you perform a search from your Windows 8 (or Window RT, if you have one) device, the count will be higher than the above. That’s expected. I never include desktop applications in my counts, and only retrieve my dataset once per day.


18
Oct 12

Bill Hill – the authentic type

Looking through my old email – it was apparently 13 years ago this week that I first exchanged email with Bill Hill. We had been working on making all of our content on Slate into a neutral format so we could output it into multiple types of content (Word, Word two-column, text-to-speech) – and when I first read Bill Hill’s writing on reading, he captured my imagination about it – when few around him really believed that eBooks could happen, Bill beat that drum with a passion. A man more passionate about reading and typography than anyone else you’re likely to ever know, Bill was one of the inventors behind ClearType, and was working on the team creating what would become Microsoft Reader.

I described to Bill what we had to work with, told him I didn’t have the blessing of management yet, and asked if he could help see if we could get our content in Reader format. He never hesitated to help throughout the process, and we did get Slate to eventually output into the Microsoft Reader format  - and though Slate’s output to Microsoft Reader format came and went, Bill answered every email I sent… about fonts, displays, Reader’s struggle to take a hold in the young, turbulent work of eBooks in the early 2000′s – and ultimately in Reader’s discontinuation last year.

I have a fond memory of the first time that Jack Shafer, myself, our graphic designer, and several other Slate staffers went over to meet him for the first time. You knew he was the real deal. His wonderful Scottish accent became something that I never forgot – to this day when I read his writing I hear it in his voice, though I hadn’t worked with him in over a decade. When he first walked us through the Microsoft Reader software running on Pocket PC 2000 (Rapier), he enthusiastically described how the black text on white pages of Windows CE and Pocket PC devices was so much easier to read than the “green on green” of Palm at that time.

Bill, to me, represents what I loved most about working at Microsoft. Working with someone who simply loved what he did, spoke his mind, and did amazing things with the unique opportunities he had in order to try and make the world a better place.

Recently, Bill and I had exchanged messages more and more about Apple – how they had done with the iPad what Microsoft had failed to do with Microsoft Reader or Tablet PC, and how Apple had truly changed how we interact with technology. I know in the last several years Bill had done some work for Apple – and you could see his passion there as he would talk about it. He didn’t care what the technology was – as long as the user experience kept getting better.

I’ll miss Bill. He was authentic. He was passionate. He dented the universe.

Goodbye, my friend. My sincerest condolences go out to his family.


17
Oct 12

VDI? OMG.

For two days last week, I was at the annual Chicago installment of our Microsoft Licensing Boot Camp. I’ve been to several of our camps to help present a couple of the topics. I’ve also noticed something unusual (and somewhat frightening) occurring.

What I’ve seen is the growth of – or at least growth of the interest of – Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). In VDI, the desktop operating system that a user interacts with is virtualized (and often remotely located) rather than being a desktop PC or even a laptop with Windows that the user runs locally. The theory is that by virtualizing, you can centralize deployment, management and servicing, spin VMs up or down as you need them, and sometimes use layering technologies to make this management more efficient. In an environment where you task users with buying/bringing their own work PC, VDI also gives you a way to secure the user’s work environment by providing a common image to all users, secured through RDP.

I say theory because, barring dramatic improvements in how Windows handles state separation (user/app/OS), layering technologies are fraught with some peril. Perhaps some of Citrix’s offerings, or other companies I haven’t seen have unwound the Windows state problem and really enabled efficient virtualization that isn’t just N VM’s for N users. As I’ve never seen otherwise, though, I’m inclined to believe that VDI – and virtualization as a whole, save you money on hardware but do not save you nearly as much in terms of deployment, management and servicing as you might think. With client VDI in particular, you had 8 physical systems horizontally – now you have 8 virtual systems stacked vertically. Hope you’ve chosen a good hypervisor and clustered server to run it on so those virtual desktops have high availability.

VDI has this certain ring to it. If you’ve been in IT, you know the sound. It’s the sound of a technology your CIO asked you to investigate because he heard from another CIO on the golf course, “Wait. You haven’t deployed VDI yet?” Yes, it’s a bright shiny object (BSO) with untold perils if you don’t license it properly.

In NYC when we asked who was looking at doing VDI, two – maybe three – people raised their hands. In Chicago, it was easily 85% of the room either looking at it or doing it now. In NYC, an attendee quietly asked me, “Why would someone ever do VDI instead of Remote Desktop?” Logical question, given RDP’s easily understood – and enforced – licensing, highly scalable architecture (far more users in far less space, RAM, and processor utilization), fault tolerance, etc. I quietly replied back, “I have no idea.” In Chicago, when we had wrapped, an attendee walked up and basically asked me the same thing. He wanted me to help him understand why people are so in love with VDI. I told him, much like NYC, “I don’t understand it either.

VDI isn’t cheap. It’s definitely not free. While you can theoretically remove Windows desktops as the client endpoint and use an RDP dumb terminal (or an iPad), you face licensing complexities as a direct result of doing so.

Microsoft is a better chess player than you are when it comes to licensing. Depending on what you access a Windows VDI system from (using RDP from a user-owned Windows laptop, for example), sometimes you may have, or may not have, properly licensed the client system to ever connect. There’s no magical licensing to prevent you from doing the wrong thing – only the potential penalty of an audit for not having done so correctly. What I’m saying is, there are some huge licensing qualifications that you have to work through in order to implement VDI with the Windows desktop, and not understanding them before you ever look into implementing VDI is kind of like asking Felix Baumgartner to jump from his capsule without ever doing any sort of testing. You could very easily wind up hurting yourself.

As to using an iPad as a VDI client, I’m really confused as to who (if anyone, actually) does this. Accessing Win32 applications from an iPad is akin to torture. It’s a sub 10″ screen, with touch only, no mouse, and a soft keyboard. What kind of tasks are you asking users to perform with this? Either move the task to a proper task-optimized  Web app or iOS app, or give them a proper desktop or laptop system on which to perform their task. I may well dive into this topic in a future post. Sure to generate some conversation.

Are you using VDI? Do you understand the licensing of Windows, Office, and every other software component you’re using? Do you disagree with me that VDI is just a BSO (and believe that you’re saving tons of money with it)? Let me know what you think.


10
Oct 12

Windows Store: Wednesday Number Time

Apologies for the brevity of today’s post – didn’t time my travel to Chicago well.

This week has been a rather slow week, as I think next week may be as well. I’m anticipating things really picking up as we go in to the week of 10/22 and on after the launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT. There should be well over 5,000 apps on launch day – perhaps more – depends on the bumps on the way.

For now, here’s where we are.

Globally, the store was at 4,326 Windows Store apps when I ran inventory last night, of which 3,783 were free.

Most days only added 100 or less apps, with one exceptional day that added 351 apps. Here’s what the chart of all apps looks like currently:

The percentage of free apps has been holding steady at 87-88%, globally:

As of last night, there were 2,854 total apps available in the US English Windows Store.

The category breakdown in terms of apps is holding relatively close, though the total percentage of the store that is comprised of games appears to be down (18%, was 20%), which frankly I’d like to see continue. We need some strong productivity apps in the store. While I’ve seen a few good mind mapping tools, more is needed, so I hope to see apps in the productivity category in particular grow between here and launch.


07
Oct 12

Windows Store: What’s interesting today?

I thought for something different, I’d take a look through one day’s apps to see what showed up that actually looked interesting to me. Easier said than done, since I decided to do this with yesterday’s apps (356 new apps yesterday). As I noted last week, there are a lot of apps showing up that are simply Web portals. I’m not really considering those in this list. I wanted to try and highlight a few apps and games that looked interesting, unique, or important, to me. Here goes:

Education:

Entertainment:

  • Sky TV NZ (Free) by SKY Network Television Limited

Finance:

Food & Dining:

  • In Season (Free) by Long Hair Software, LLC

Games:

Health & Fitness:

Lifestyle:

Photo:

Productivity:


03
Oct 12

Windows Store: Show me the numbers.

If you haven’t yet read my post from yesterday, please do. It’s very relevant to this conversation. As I stated – The Windows Store doesn’t need a large number of apps to be successful. It needs a number of great apps that drive people to the platform.

Sermon aside, I know many people are visiting this site to find out where the store is at, and where it may be by 10/26. So let’s have a look.

As of today, the Windows Store has 3,610 Windows Store apps available for purchase or free download. This is a non-trivial increase, and I’ve been seeing an average of 118 apps per day, but it ebbs and flows. Nothing so far matches the huge increase seen on 9/13, but during three days of the last week, over 240 apps hit the store each day. Charted with the earlier data, here is the result:

Pretty strong growth. If you trend that out, the Windows Store will indeed be at over 5,000 apps by launch day.

There was a rush of paid apps that became available, but generally a much higher percentage of apps coming in the store have been free. As of today, 88% of the store’s global inventory consists of free apps. Here’s how that has been trending:

There are a total of 1,837 developers (both individuals and organizations) represented in the store, with the majority having one application available each, though a large number have submitted 2 or more up to about 5. Above that, the spread gets thinner, with the top 10 developers all having 20 or more applications in the store. The top development organization has 96 applications, and the second most is the individual who previously had the most – who now has 51 applications available. There are quite a few larger organizations represented in the Windows Store, such as Asus, AT&T, Amazon (of course),  BMW, eBay, NBCUniversal, Toshiba, and Viacom among others – but I’m also seeing a lot of apps written by individual developers, and a fair amount from Microsoft IT consulting organizations as well.

Many apps on the store are smaller, unitasking apps – the kind I’d frankly like to see less of, since it makes the store harder to navigate. In some ways, these small tchotchke apps are like the Windows command-line tools of yore – power toys for power users. Nice to have, but I’m hoping we start to see some truly unique, well-designed apps that reflect the tenets I mentioned yesterday.

From here on out, all stats are for the US English store (which still has the largest app inventory, at 2,420 apps).

Here’s how the categories break down:

The top two categories are the same, but games have declined 2% in the overall inventory (down from 20%), Entertainment is up 1%, and Tools is up dramatically, from 5% to 10%. Education is up dramatically, from 4% previously. Unfortunately, all of this took a toll on productivity, which is down 2% to 6% of overall inventory today. The Music and Video and Lifestyle categories were unchanged.

94% of the titles that are on x86 or x64 are available on ARM at the current time – though it remains to be seen if that changes after developers can obtain Windows RT systems to test their applications on.

Microsoft’s Mail, Calendar, and Contacts suite of applications has the largest number of ratings submissions by users, at 1,511 – with a rating of 3.2. A rating I expect to improve over time as Microsoft enhances and improves the somewhat constrained applications. The app with the second most ratings is Fruit Ninja, with a rating of 4.0. Aside from that, the apps with the most ratings so far are generally those from Microsoft, landing most in high 3 to 4.x territory.