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August 15 2013

Four short links: 16 August 2013

  1. fraktransforms collections of strings into regular expressions for matching those strings. The primary goal of this library is to generate regular expressions from a known set of inputs which avoid backtracking as much as possible.
  2. The Boolean Trap — crappy APIs where true/false don’t mean what they seem. None of this is new, but every generation has to learn it anew. (via Pete Warden)
  3. Gumbo — open source pure C HTML5 parser.
  4. All Those People With Cheap Android Phones Have Started Buying Apps (Quartz) — revenue generated by the Google Play Store, from which many Android users get their apps, has grown 67% over the past half-year. By contrast, Apple’s App Store revenue grew 15%, according to Distimo estimates, which cover the top 18 countries. That sounds less impressive if you consider that the App Store brought in twice as much revenue in absolute terms. But the numbers are shifting fast. In February, the App Store was generating three times as much revenue, and last November it out-earned Google Play by a factor of four. Google is gaining.

January 10 2013

Four short links: 10 January 2013

  1. How To Make That One Thing Go Viral (Slideshare) — excellent points about headline writing (takes 25 to find the one that works), shareability (your audience has to click and share, then it’s whether THEIR audience clicks on it), and A/B testing (they talk about what they learned doing it ruthlessly).
  2. A More Complete Picture of the iTunes Economy — $12B/yr gross revenue through it, costs about $3.5B/yr to operate, revenue has grown at a ~35% compounded rate over last four years, non-app media 2/3 sales but growing slower than app sales. Lots of graphs!
  3. Visualizing the iOS App Store — interactive exploration of app store sales data.
  4. BORPHan Operating System designed for FPGA-based reconfigurable computers. It is an extended version of the Linux kernel that handles FPGAs as if they were CPUs. BORPH introduces the concept of a ‘hardware process’, which is a hardware design that runs on an FPGA but behaves just like a normal user program. The BORPH kernel provides standard system services, such as file system access to hardware processes, allowing them to communicate with the rest of the system easily and systematically. The name is an acronym for “Berkeley Operating system for ReProgrammable Hardware”.

Four short links: 10 January 2013

  1. How To Make That One Thing Go Viral (Slideshare) — excellent points about headline writing (takes 25 to find the one that works), shareability (your audience has to click and share, then it’s whether THEIR audience clicks on it), and A/B testing (they talk about what they learned doing it ruthlessly).
  2. A More Complete Picture of the iTunes Economy — $12B/yr gross revenue through it, costs about $3.5B/yr to operate, revenue has grown at a ~35% compounded rate over last four years, non-app media 2/3 sales but growing slower than app sales. Lots of graphs!
  3. Visualizing the iOS App Store — interactive exploration of app store sales data.
  4. BORPHan Operating System designed for FPGA-based reconfigurable computers. It is an extended version of the Linux kernel that handles FPGAs as if they were CPUs. BORPH introduces the concept of a ‘hardware process’, which is a hardware design that runs on an FPGA but behaves just like a normal user program. The BORPH kernel provides standard system services, such as file system access to hardware processes, allowing them to communicate with the rest of the system easily and systematically. The name is an acronym for “Berkeley Operating system for ReProgrammable Hardware”.

September 27 2012

Four short links: 27 September 2012

  1. Paying for Developers is a Bad Idea (Charlie Kindel) — The companies that make the most profit are those who build virtuous platform cycles. There are no proof points in history of virtuous platform cycles being created when the platform provider incents developers to target the platform by paying them. Paying developers to target your platform is a sign of desperation. Doing so means developers have no skin in the game. A platform where developers do not have skin in the game is artificially propped up and will not succeed in the long run. A thesis illustrated with his experience at Microsoft.
  2. Learnable Programming (Bret Victor) — deconstructs Khan Academy’s coding learning environment, and explains Victor’s take on learning to program. A good system is designed to encourage particular ways of thinking, with all features carefully and cohesively designed around that purpose. This essay will present many features! The trick is to see through them — to see the underlying design principles that they represent, and understand how these principles enable the programmer to think. (via Layton Duncan)
  3. Tablet as External Display for Android Smartphones — new app, in beta, letting you remote-control via a tablet. (via Tab Times)
  4. Clay Shirky: How The Internet Will (One Day) Transform Government (TED Talk) — There’s no democracy worth the name that doesn’t have a transparency move, but transparency is openness in only one direction, and being given a dashboard without a steering wheel has never been the core promise a democracy makes to its citizens.

September 17 2012

Mobile developers, integration, and discovery are what count now

The iPhone 5 may or may not be the most beautiful handheld device, but it barely matters anymore. Competitors have rendered its beauty and craftsmanship irrelevant. Amazon has received the message and responded with its latest set of tablets, and Google has responded with the Motorola Droids and the Nexus 7. These devices now have sufficient quality in their materials, specs, and base operating systems so that they can make any consumer happy. So if hardware is a toss up, where will the next battles be fought?

The answer: developers, integration, and discovery.

First, the very best developers will build apps that tap key trends: improved camera quality is making real-world text and face recognition more possible, geofencing data stores are making proximity–based apps more possible, and despite Steve Jobs’ assertion that God gave us 10 styli, there’s clearly a host of applications that are benefiting from pressure-sensitivity and pens. The level to which Apple and Google embrace these new technologies and extend the current state of the art in voice and gesture recognition will factor heavily into the quality and emergence of new applications. In addition, the extent to which Apple and Google can expose these new technologies — like NFC or always-on Glass cameras in Google’s case — will provide an advantage to developers.

Second, since many new applications will undoubtedly emerge for both Android and iOS at the same time, the way that the device and its applications fit into the users’ life will matter most. And it’s in this arena that Google is starting to respond with some of Apple’s own medicine. According to stats shared during Apple’s iPhone 5 announcement, the company has 435 million iTunes accounts and those users have downloaded 20 billion songs. Tim Cook acknowledged how powerful this integration is, saying “what sets us so far ahead of the competition … is how [apps, iCloud, and devices] work together.”

The alternatives Google has for managing a rich, high-quality media collection are lousy. But on the flip side, the number of people I know who are leaving their iPads at home in favor of their Nexus 7 tablets is remarkable. They’re switching because they use Gmail, Google Calendar, Maps and other Google services. The integration of these applications is deep and seamless in Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) — just like media is seamlessly integrated on Apple. Google’s offering isn’t directly better than Apple’s. Rather, it’s a step beyond because the Google services started in the cloud, not on the desktop, and the services are critical to your daily life.

Developers, therefore, can profit from this integration by deeply integrating with native services from Google and Apple. And while the XCode/iOS development environment is easier and more accessible to developers than the current Android environment, the services available to developers are far more limited. Google has an edge here, and developers are smart enough that they’ll push through the limitations of the Android SDK.

Third, it’s downright impossible to discover great new apps. Amazon realized long ago that if they were going to have a massive bookstore, they needed to make discovery work, so they built the personalization and community teams, delivering innovative recommendations and a great reviews system. Neither Google nor Apple has these tools yet. In fact, one VC commented to me that until you are featured on the App Store, your downloads will be very few. And even Amazon hasn’t solved the casual browsing problem particularly well. While “Listmania!” lists were an attempt to create a curated list of things you might like, they can’t begin to approach the experience of going to an independent, well-curated bookstore.

The third battle, therefore, is for discovery. It’s not about the devices, the OS, or even the apps themselves. And I would argue that it’s not about search, either, though a great search experience is part of the solution. A great discovery experience will require great curators, high-quality inventory, and painless trial. Apple leads in this space today, if only because of its higher quality inventory that is at least partially a result of a more homogenous platform. But there’s tremendous room for growth, as startups like Xyologic and others take on the challenge.

It’s a great time to be mobile. We have access to beautiful devices with near “classic Leica” quality, and we have increasingly integrated experiences across our maps, email, calendar, and contacts. But the next major changes won’t come in our devices: they’ll come from developers building apps that make your device even more useful, and you’ll discover these apps in new ways.

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