Friday, January 29, 2010

A Logical Fallacy

"Every product will have positive and negative criticism. It's fallacious to then leverage one [piece] of commentary to suggest a completely unrelated product 10 years later will be successful because people were saying negative things and that was wrong before."

Nicely put by Anthony Licari on Garry Tan's blog.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Will there be an iPad App Gold Rush?

In the iPad promo video, Apple VP Scott Forstall predicts a whole new gold rush for iPad apps.

For games, this is true. People will buy and enjoy games on the big screen. But what about other apps?

Excluding reMail, the apps I use most on my iPhone are the New York Times app, Foursquare, Facebook, Tweetie, Yelp, Kayak, Skype, Snow Report, and AT&T myWireless. Almost all of these are there to display content and do social networking.

But why do I use the New York Times app instead of the website?
  1. The NYT app lets me get to the news faster: On my iPhone 3G on Wifi, Safari loads nytimes.com in 55 seconds. The NYT starts up and shows me the latest news in 18 seconds.
  2. The NYT app is optimized for the small screen - the web version isn't.

The iPad loads nytimes.com instantly. Daring Fireball says the iPad is "fast, fast, fast". That makes it much more attractive to skip writing an app and just use HTML 5:

  1. Web apps are an order of magnitude easier to develop than iPad apps.
  2. Apps are substantially slower to update given the iPhone approval process and waiting for users to get the update. [*]
  3. It's easy to make a version of the page optimized for iPad's screen and the size of your finger.
  4. HTML 5 will let you offer offline functionality.

Sounds familiar? Yes, Google's Vic Gundotra has been saying that web apps are the way:

"We believe the web has won and over the next several years, the browser, for economic reasons almost, will become the platform that matters and certainly that’s where Google is investing."

For the iPhone, this hasn't come true yet. But the iPhone's browser are too slow. On the iPad this might change - instead of native apps, we might see a thousand web apps bloom.

[*] Thanks to commenter Tom Pickney for pointing this out.

More on iPad: What the iPad means for Developers

What the iPad means for developers: Spending quality time with UISplitViewController

"The last time there was this much excitement about a tablet, it had some commandments written on it." - Wall Street Journal.

In the days before the iPad release, a bunch of app developers will be rushing to make their apps iPad-compatible. In the iPad promo video, Scott Forstall predicts a whole new gold rush.

What do most non-game apps have in common? A main list view and a detail view. Whether it's the New York Times app, Facebook, Snow Report, they all follow the main view - detail view pattern.

This is the natural organization scheme for iPhone apps: UINavigationController and UITableViewController make this easy, and there is no shortage of documentation on how to build apps like this.



We've all seen the screenshots of the new iPad email app. List on side, main view on the other. Portrait mode switches the navigation view on the left to a button on the top left that pops over the content.



All those main view - detail view apps? They'll be redone in this style. It looks like we'll all be spending quality time with the new UISplitViewController, which manages the presentation of the side-by-side panes:



The NYT and Facebook apps should be available in this style on iPad launch day. But they might be separate from their respective iPhone apps: Apple has also announced support for "Universal Applications" that run on both iPhone and iPad, but this is not yet in the 3.2 SDK - I guess until then, there be a separate part of the App Store with "Made for iPad" applications.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

World of Warcraft has just 32 developers for 5.5M Lines of Code

I don't play it, but World of Warcraft is the world's most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game with more than 11.5 million users. It clocks in at 5.5 million lines of code. According to this blog post, there are only 32 developers working on this code, an impressive ratio of code to coders.

"Population [of development team]: 32. [...] Whole team maintains 5.5 million lines of code. [...] 20,000 computer systems, 1.3 petabytes, more than 4600 people. Operating an online game requires more than just game development!"

Discovered on Sanjeev's FriendFeed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"After a few pitches, entrepreneurs realize that the distant future is safer territory than the immediate."

Check out "How to raise money without lying to investors" on VentureHacks.

How Startup CEOs Need to Evolve over Time

Here's a great post by startup CEO Steve Blank on how entrepreneurs need to adapt to changed requirements over the course of a startup's life:



There's a great discussion about the perceived benefits of sticking with the founders or firing them from the board's / VCs perspective:

"Looking at the abrupt change in skills needed in the transition [from early stage to large company], it’s tempting for a board to say: Maybe it’s time to get more experienced executives. If the founders and early executives leave, that’s OK; we don’t need them anymore. The learning and discovery phase is over. Founders are too individualistic and cantankerous, and the company would be much easier to run and calmer without them. All of this is often true." [...]

"Time after time, startups that have grown into adolescence stumble and succumb to voracious competitors large and small because they have lost the corporate DNA for innovation and learning and discovery. The reason? The new management team brought in to build the company into a profitable business could not see the value of founders who kept talking about the next new thing and could not adapt to a process-driven organization. So they tossed them out and paid the price later."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why Cars in the US Should Come with Aspheric Rear View Mirrors

If you've ever driven a car in Europe, you've probably noticed that the rear view mirrors are curved to eliminate blind spots. This is called "aspheric". Meanwhile in the US, all cars are shipped with flat rear view mirrors. Even European-made cars like my 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit (assembled in Wolfsburg, Germany) are sold with flat rear view mirrors like this one:



I mentioned this to my brother in Germany. He walked into a VW dealership and found out that given your VIN, any dealer in Germany can track down the exact specs of your US-equipped VW. I found the global trackability of my car pretty surprising. As a Christmas present, I got this:



See how the curved glass lets you see my hand with the camera? Having aspheric rear view mirrors decreases the size of your blind spot, as illustrated here:



Someone mentioned to me aspheric rear view mirrors are illegal in the US, but I haven't been able to confirm this. It wouldn't make sense: The US must be the country with the highest number of lane changes per capita per year. I haven't been able to find a vendor of these mirrors in the US, but next time you fly to Europe remember to bring your car's VIN.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Simplicity Wins in the Top 25

Most of the Top 25 free apps on the App Store are games. But what kind of games are the winners?

You'd think that the Top 25 free Games would be high quality, high production value, immersive, made with love. Things like the airplane fighting game Skies of Glory:



Or how about Skater Nation, where you get to skateboard, grind, and jump like the pros?



You'd think these games would be the winners. But you'd be wrong. It turns out the games in the Top 25 is mostly simple, OK quality stuff. FallDown (at number 9), makes you move the ball down the screen faster than it scrolls the background. A great iPhone developer could write this game in a few days:



Another incredibly simple game in the Top 25 (at number 20) is Traffic Rush. All you need to do is keep cars from crashing on an intersection. Once again, super easy to write - a good programmer and a decent graphic designer could crank this out in half a week.



So why is it that these simple games win, and the high-dollar productions lose, at least in terms of number of downloads? I believe it's the iPhone audience and how these devices are used:

  1. iPhone users are casual gamers: this is no PSP Portable. They just want to waste some time on a subway ride, and don't care for learning the ins and outs of an airplane fighter game.
  2. Anything that takes more than 30 seconds to learn falls by the wayside.
  3. Each level should take no longer than a subway ride. Gameplay that develops over blocks of 10 minutes and longer is a non-starter.
  4. Startup time is a huge issue: It easily takes 20 seconds just to load Skies of Glory. Unacceptable to most users, since they know that their gameplay could be interrupted at any time by a call or text message.

The take-away? Simplicity wins. Dumb it down, make it load fast, gratify immediately, keep the gameplay fast-paced, keep each level short. And they will come, download, and play.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wow

I nearly fell out of my chair when I read about Google's new approach to China. It's hard to contain my excitement about what I feel is doing the right thing. Go Google!

I'm sure in the next days we'll see a lot of speculation. Google has already been accused of doing this for business reasons, not noble intentions. Yet, any way you slice it, this is as hard a stance on free speech as a company could possibly take. I'm happy to see that Google decided to put its foot down. Very proud of my former employer right now.

Monday, January 04, 2010

2009 in Review

It's a "Gabor hits Send" tradition to write New Year's wrapup post. Here's what I wrote about 2008 and 2007.

I feel like the last year was a lot of work, and very little fun, but my travel map proves otherwise: I went on trips to Tahoe, LA, Las Vegas, Utah, Alaska, Istanbul, and Rome, not to mention seeing my parents in Switzerland. Not quite like 2008's trip around the world, but certainly not the celibate life I remember living.



At reMail, we built reMail 1.0, which was a failure, but a taught me many lessons, including: (1) Users won't give a startup their email credentials, and (2) we should've launched even earlier. While waiting for the App Store approval, I built reBoxed, a project that was fun to build but wasn't ultimately useful enough. I then built reMail 2.0 with some contractors, and it was a success. I spent the rest of 2009 refining it, releasing a new version of the software every 2-3 weeks.

When Paul Graham asked me about surprises I encountered building a YC startup, I said that the biggest lesson learned was "Fast iteration is the key to success." I think that sentence was my theme for 2009.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Walt Disney


I visited the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio yesterday. The museum recounts Walt Disney's life and how he built the Disney empire.

One thing that really stood out is just how many failures he had to endure. Before the Disney Company, Walt had started another business, Laugh-O-Gram. It went bankrupt. In the late 1920s, Disney's hit character was Oswald the Rabbit. But the rights to the character were owned by Universal, not Disney, and they lost the rights to their money maker. After losing Oswald, Disney had to come up with something new and ended up creating a character called Mickey Mouse. Similarly, Disneyland's opening day was a huge disaster. Disney's story is a story of how persistence pays off.