Illusory Follies Andrew Flanagan's Blog

11Dec/084

Pricing?

I was annoyed by a recent post to Slashdot. It references an article that makes the claim that the iTunes App Store (which sells applications for the iPhone and iPod touch) is hurting developers because of the pricing model that's allowed. Basically, the pricing model is open. Applications must be approved before Apple will list them but you can price them between $.99 and $999.99 (or they can be free). Developer's are apparently whining that with the availability of cheap (usually $.99 applications) it's hard to support serious development.

Stack of Money by Dani SimmondsThe request is that Apple "do something" to fix this.

This is bizarre. The claim is that because so many free or cheap applications have flooded the market, no one can compete. The analysis looks at cost to bring an iPhone application to market and the expected sales depending on its price.

Maybe the problem is simply that iPhone users aren't willing to drop as much money as developers would like. Maybe the current glut of free and cheap apps is a poor anticipation of actual demand by the developers. Some developers made free apps, sold the idea and hooked users and then migrated to $1 or $5 applications. These developers are making SOME money. Maybe not a lot, and maybe the iTunes App Store will never be a lucrative business for developers (although Apple seems to be doing quite well).

The success that small programming outfits have had is that they can leverage a nice API to work with that users can use in novel ways. At $1, many users are willing to buy without recognizing a brand name or being suspicious of a poorly made product. For independent software developers, this is probably enough to pay the bills. For larger products, the source of income is likely to be in the form of some integrated service (free iPhone application that interfaces with a $40 desktop application).

I don't see the dilemma. Isn't this what the free market is all about? If customers aren't willing to pay $20 for most applications for the iPhone, maybe developers shouldn't make them. On the other hand, if developers really can make a much more complex product with almost universal appeal, then even pricing it at $1 or $5, it will almost surely pay for the higher development costs. This is the way the world works.

13Feb/082

A Useful Widget At Last!

I like the idea of widgets in OS X and the way Dashboard works. However, other than the calculator I don't find myself using them very much. But I finally found a Dashboard widget that really is handy. It's a tool that lets you track packages from a variety of places (Amazon, UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc.). You enter the tracking tag a nice little widget is created. It will change status and will also integrate with Growl to give you notifications (so you don't have to always look at Dashboard to notice a change).

Here's a screenshot.

picture-4.png

And a link to the author's (very nice) website. Any widgets that any of my readers use and find useful?

10Feb/080

Multi-Function Printers that Work

I've been looking for a multi-function (print, scan, copy, fax) printer for the last few months. I've been really disappointed with what I've found.

What I want to be able to do is the following:

  • Print documents from any modern operating system across the network
  • Scan documents/pictures from an auto-document feeder or a flatbed and in some way have this data end up on whatever system on the network I want
  • Copy documents/pictures by standing at the printer unit itself
  • Receive faxes and send faxes from anywhere on the network

I know that there are problems with some of these -- specifically Scanning and Faxing. I see multiple issues with these:

  1. Storage (where does the scanned or faxed document get stored physically?)
  2. Notification (even if a fax is stored, how does a user know when it arrives?)
  3. Configuration (the above should ideally be accomplished without configuring anything on the end-systems)

I see a solution but I've not found a sub $1000 printer that accomplishes it. Some of the high-end "counter-top"-sized systems (that run $10,000 and above) have something similar but are usually way overblown.

  • Storage would be provided by flash memory (something as simple as 1-16GB Compact Flash card).
    • Sharing of this storage would be accomplished by using a Samba server running on an embedded Linux kernel (similar to the sort of functionality that currently exists on home routers).
    • Samba shares would be exposed to Linux, Mac, and Windows systems by using something like Avahi (or whatever the Linux version of ZeroConf is that works best at the time). Bonjour could be used on the client end if you're running Apple to easily see these auto-configured shares but it would have to be installed specially on Windows clients.
  • Notification could be accomplished via email. If a simple SMTP setup is configured once on the printer unit itself, it could automatically route emails to a specific user, multiple users, or different groups depending on the fax number used or other variables. There are many other alternatives using things like the XMPP or even SMS for notification.
  • Configuration -- as mentioned this would work like magic on a Mac and slightly less magically (and unfortunately much less beautifully) on a Windows PC. Any system on the network could access recently scanned or faxed documents or perhaps be only restricted by a username/password (heck -- even tie it into an LDAP server if you've get centralized directory services). Basically, this largely gets rid of the need for client software other than just the printer driver itself. In reality, I'm not clear why we even need a specialized print driver when a web interface (again, hosted on the device) could likely provide any custom features (software-based maintenance, looking at the queue, etc.)

So why isn't it out there?