Under the Radar

140: The Mad Rush


00:00:00   Welcome to Under the Radar, a show about independent iOS app development.

00:00:04   I'm Marco Arment.

00:00:05   And I'm David Smith.

00:00:06   Under the Radar is never longer than 30 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:10   So it is the day after the fall, I guess it turned out to be iPhone and Apple Watch event,

00:00:17   which is always a bit of a highlight for me.

00:00:19   It's I think one of the more, like WWDC is exciting in the sense that it's the underlying

00:00:24   part of our developer season.

00:00:27   It's exciting in that there's lots of really low-level, very technical kind of feature-oriented

00:00:32   things.

00:00:33   Whereas the fall event is kind of fun in just so far as it's in some ways a window into

00:00:39   what our customers are actually interested in and the devices that they're going to buy,

00:00:43   and in a weird way, like thoughts about the viability of a platform.

00:00:46   You know, obviously I want people to want to buy more iPhones because the more customers

00:00:51   there are who own iPhones, the more the broader my customer base is.

00:00:55   So in that sense, it's really encouraging.

00:00:58   Then we have the, right after the event, we have the period we are in right now, which

00:01:03   is the perhaps most frantic part of the developer season, where you, especially this year, they

00:01:11   really didn't do us any favors, where the event, so we're recording this on Thursday,

00:01:16   so the event was yesterday, and typically the iOS and watchOS and all the other OSes

00:01:24   release, as far as I remember, the following Wednesday was a pretty common pattern.

00:01:28   - Yeah, usually you had either a week or a week plus or minus one day.

00:01:34   - Yeah, and instead it's Monday.

00:01:36   - And the event was on a Wednesday instead of its usual Tuesday because of calendar stuff,

00:01:40   so we have like three days less time than we usually have, and a lot of those days are

00:01:47   the weekend, which I don't know how much AppReview's gonna be working on the weekend.

00:01:51   - Yeah, so at least on that score, in my experience, I imagine AppReview will be pulling all hands

00:01:59   on deck, working all hours of the day over the weekend, et cetera, so kudos to AppReview.

00:02:04   In general, my experiences I've had in this period, lots of approvals at very strange

00:02:10   hours at all hours of the day, but still, it's like, okay, so we have four days, I guess,

00:02:16   to work today, it's like Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, essentially, because even if

00:02:23   you submit it on Saturday, you would need to hopefully give AppReview at least a day

00:02:27   to look at your app before it was approved, so suffice to say, it's a bit frantic, and

00:02:33   for me right now, it's funny, before we were recording, I was deep in the throes of the

00:02:38   part of this process that is so frustrating sometimes, where I'm hitting a weird layout

00:02:43   bug, and it's one of those, it's on one of the new devices, it's on a Series 4 Apple

00:02:48   Watch, and of course, all I have to go with is what's in the simulator, and it's like,

00:02:55   in Interface Builder, it looks fine, on the simulator, it looks broken, which one do I

00:02:59   trust?

00:03:00   I have no idea, and this time of year is just so maddening, it's like, I don't know, I

00:03:07   guess I just take the conservative path and hope that on next Friday, when Apple Watches

00:03:12   appear in the world, I'll find out if I made the right guess, but anyway, that's just a

00:03:17   slight rant.

00:03:18   Well, and I think also, one of the reasons that makes this a more stressful and a higher

00:03:23   workload year than previous years, not only do we have less time, we also have four new

00:03:28   screen sizes all at once, two of which have more rounded corners than they ever have before,

00:03:34   the two watch sizes, and so that makes layout difficult.

00:03:38   Layout in WatchKit is already a little bit difficult to begin with, and it's kind of

00:03:42   cramped, so at least we don't have a smaller size than we had before, which makes it a

00:03:47   little bit better, but it is kind of cramped, and those big rounded corners are a little

00:03:51   bit hard to do, or to deal with in certain interfaces, so you have two new watch sizes

00:03:56   that are slightly different from what we had before, from a size perspective, but layout

00:04:03   pretty differently, and then you have two new phone sizes.

00:04:06   Fortunately, it doesn't seem like the phone sizes are that much work to adopt to, so we

00:04:12   got off a little bit easy on the phone, but still, four new devices to test with, potentially

00:04:17   four new devices worth of screenshots if you screenshot every size, which I stopped doing.

00:04:22   Now I just do the screenshots for the biggest device of each class, and that's it, because

00:04:27   I can't keep up, but otherwise, there's a lot to do in a very short time, and you mentioned

00:04:35   we don't have the hardware yet.

00:04:37   A lot of this stuff, I think on the phones, we're pretty lucky.

00:04:41   The phone simulators are really good, and there are very few things, unless you're working

00:04:45   with certain APIs that need the phone, there are very few things that the phone simulator

00:04:52   can't do for you in pretty much the same way the hardware does.

00:04:55   The watch though, as you know probably better than I do, there's a lot more differences

00:04:59   in the watch between the simulator and the hardware, and so you really need to run watch

00:05:03   stuff on devices to really know, not to mention the fact that you need to run it on devices

00:05:07   to just know the feel of it, the spacing, when you're dealing with such a small interface,

00:05:12   you can't design an interface on the simulator alone, because you have to know, is this easy

00:05:16   to hit?

00:05:17   Is it too small to read?

00:05:18   You need to know things like that on the watch that are just hard to tell in the simulator.

00:05:21   And of course, it's made all the more complicated when you do have the hardware by how incredibly

00:05:25   unreliable the build and run cycle on the watch actually is.

00:05:30   I'm not sure I've gotten it to run on the watch more than two times in a row ever, and

00:05:35   of all the times that I say build and run on my watch, I think it succeeds maybe one

00:05:41   out of eight, and takes a very long time to fail on all the other ones.

00:05:46   So it's really hard whenever there's new watch interface work to be done, or in this case

00:05:53   when there's new watch screen sizes that have rounded corners now also, it's a lot of work

00:05:58   for developers, and to add to that that we don't have the hardware yet, and that it's

00:06:02   a shorter time than usual, that kind of hurts.

00:06:05   Yeah, and it's an interesting thing to think that...

00:06:09   I should probably take a step back.

00:06:12   It's probably fair to say, we're assuming that everyone has seen the event and knows

00:06:15   everything about it.

00:06:16   Let's back up one second.

00:06:17   Yesterday, they announced the Series 4 watch, which is similar to the Series 3 watch in

00:06:26   a variety of ways, but the biggest difference is that it has a new screen layout that is

00:06:32   kind of wider, and both of them are bigger.

00:06:37   There's no longer a 38 and a 42mm size.

00:06:40   They are now 40 and 44mm instead, and the screen is wider and slightly taller.

00:06:51   You just have to see it, but it's a different ratio now, and additionally, it is different

00:07:02   than the 30.

00:07:03   At first, I was wondering if it was, "Oh, we're going to end up with the new big one

00:07:06   is going to be the same as the old small one," or something like that, or, "The new small

00:07:11   one will be the same as the old big one."

00:07:12   No, it's not that.

00:07:14   We have four resolutions that we need to manage now.

00:07:17   And then on the iPhone, we now have the iPhone XS Max, which is a very big 3x resolution

00:07:28   screen to navigate, but otherwise, it seems like that one I'm less worried about, because

00:07:34   that seems mostly, if you've done the work for the iPhone X with the safe layouts and

00:07:40   dealing with the notch, you should probably be fine.

00:07:42   And then the iPhone XR is a 2x, but iPhone X-like device, but has a different resolution

00:07:54   than the iPhone X, because it's an LCD screen that's 2x.

00:07:59   So there's a whole bunch of different screen sizes and devices just to account for now

00:08:05   that appeared yesterday.

00:08:07   So I probably just realized before I get too far down this rabbit hole, I'll make sure

00:08:10   everyone's on the same page about exactly what has changed.

00:08:14   But yeah, I mean, I wish there was—I feel like it's one of these things that I feel

00:08:18   like every year this happens, every year I'm kind of surprised, but it's kind of frustrated

00:08:22   by the fact that this time is so tricky, and it's so hard to—because really, my goal

00:08:28   is that next Friday, when somebody very excitedly unwraps their brand new Apple Watch that they're

00:08:36   super excited about, they stood in line to get it or they ordered it online and they're

00:08:40   sitting there waiting all day by the front door for the UPS guy to come and deliver it,

00:08:45   which is what I always do.

00:08:48   I actually physically take my iMac upstairs to the dining room because it's next to the

00:08:54   door because otherwise, inevitably, I won't hear the doorbell and then he'll run off with

00:08:59   my devices and I have to chase them.

00:09:00   Yeah, because your regular office is in the basement, so I can see how that can happen.

00:09:05   Your office is in the front of your house, but for me, I actually just move my office

00:09:08   upstairs.

00:09:10   Take my iMac, the portable computer it is, put it on my dining room table, and just work

00:09:15   from there for the day.

00:09:17   That works fine, but what I want is that person who's excited to get that device on day one,

00:09:22   they download, they get their watch, they get it paired, they open the app, and it works

00:09:26   great.

00:09:27   I would love for them—in my case, you love pedometer plus plus, you love counting your

00:09:33   steps with it, you're super excited that you can finally do it on your watch as well.

00:09:37   I want that day one experience to be good, and the situation we always seem to find ourselves

00:09:42   in is like, "I don't know if I can.

00:09:44   I can do my best and I can try and make that experience reasonably good, but I have to

00:09:51   make so many guesses and so many assumptions and just hope for the best."

00:09:57   And this doesn't say nothing of the fact that tonight I'll be getting up at three

00:10:02   in the morning to place all my orders to try and make sure that I can get a device for

00:10:06   myself on day one so that I can be actually testing it.

00:10:10   Because at least once we have hardware, a lot of these problems go away.

00:10:13   A lot of these issues get a lot smaller once we have access to hardware, because then at

00:10:17   that point at least it's a question of, "I just try it, and if it works, great.

00:10:24   And if it doesn't, then I know what I need to change to make it work."

00:10:29   But until I have a device, I'm just guessing, and it just never feels well.

00:10:34   I think it's this funny tension where maybe it's because I come from the original background

00:10:42   on developing for the old-school iPhone, where it was very much pixel-perfect was your goal.

00:10:48   You really would want to maximize taking advantage of every pixel on the screen, make sure your

00:10:53   layouts and everything was just right.

00:10:56   And in some ways I just need to let go of that and say it's going to be good-ish,

00:11:01   as long as things aren't overlapping or falling off the top or bottom of the screen,

00:11:06   as long as it looks reasonable, it's fine.

00:11:09   But it doesn't feel great either.

00:11:11   So a lot of this work is somewhat self-imposed.

00:11:15   A lot of this is, as you mentioned, we want that first-day experience of our customers

00:11:22   with either the new OS and/or the new phones and watches.

00:11:26   We want those day-one experiences to be perfect.

00:11:29   We want to already be there.

00:11:31   Some customers actually really do care about that and will actually leave you negative

00:11:36   reviews and stuff and complain about it if you aren't ready yet on day one.

00:11:42   But most won't.

00:11:43   Most of them, I think, will give you a bit of leeway on that and kind of expect, like,

00:11:47   "Okay, well, if your app has black bars around it or something on my brand-new screen

00:11:52   device, I can live with that for a week."

00:11:55   Most people aren't super hardcore angry about that.

00:11:58   But it still just is part of the craft of doing good work, making good apps, the craftsmanship

00:12:06   that we try to practice and that we take pride in.

00:12:11   It's part of that to be there on day one, to be ready, to have a layout on things that

00:12:16   can resize, that can work, or if you're going to show black bars, to try to get your

00:12:21   app done as soon as absolutely possible, day one if possible, so that no customer ever

00:12:26   sees that or very few customers ever see that.

00:12:28   That is something we try to do.

00:12:31   But it is worth pointing out, again, it is kind of self-imposed.

00:12:34   We actually have leeway if we want it on a lot of this stuff.

00:12:38   But if we do it well and we please people like that and we do good work like that, I

00:12:45   think over time that does add up.

00:12:49   I think it's hard to quantify what it does for the bottom line in short term.

00:12:55   But if you look over the long term, if you build a reputation among customers for making

00:13:00   high quality apps and always being ready for all the new stuff, I think that does help

00:13:04   you in things like marketing and long term customer retention.

00:13:08   And I think too, it's that sense that, A, there's the part of it that I'm just excited.

00:13:14   I look forward to this as a customer.

00:13:16   I want to take advantage of the new stuff because that's the kind of person that I am.

00:13:20   And so maybe I'm just playing to that part of my customer base.

00:13:23   And I think there's that funny tension of all these problems go away if we just wait.

00:13:35   I put in my orders for my phones whenever I wake up on Friday morning.

00:13:40   My watches and phones get here when they get here, or I go to an Apple store whenever they're

00:13:44   in stock.

00:13:45   I buy it, I work on it then, I submit it whenever that is.

00:13:48   And say it's a week from now or two weeks from now when I actually get those updates

00:13:53   in or get those things working.

00:13:57   In the broad scope, it won't matter in the big picture most likely.

00:14:03   I think the big things you potentially might miss out on, maybe you'll miss out on a feature

00:14:08   potentially, but I'm not sure how valuable that is in terms of the features around OS

00:14:15   releases are so often.

00:14:16   There's so many apps that get featured and it's a very more crowded time that I think

00:14:22   specifically, this is my experience from recently, less impactful than it has been in the past.

00:14:26   But it's still lovely.

00:14:27   It's still something that I certainly work towards.

00:14:31   And certainly there's the press angle of people who are looking for apps that are taking advantage

00:14:35   of the new stuff.

00:14:37   Or even, the best case scenario is reviewers who have review units of the new devices who

00:14:45   would like to install your apps and use them as part of their review, and then you're

00:14:51   being even more strongly put forward.

00:14:53   So there's these advantages.

00:14:54   But yeah, I go back and forth and if I'm just a glutton for punishment, I shouldn't

00:15:02   worry so much and I should just let it go and be more patient and actually not rush

00:15:08   these things out.

00:15:09   Is it worse to release something early that has a few bugs versus just waiting?

00:15:16   In Apple's supporting their developers, they do a great job of the backwards compatibility

00:15:22   modes exist for everything.

00:15:24   Where if you run an app that was built for watchOS 4 on watchOS 5 on one of these new

00:15:30   watches, they just run it as though it was on the old watch and it's just inset slightly

00:15:39   incentered and a lot of customers probably won't even notice.

00:15:42   They do the work to make sure that that actually works, that it doesn't just completely fall

00:15:48   apart on the new stuff.

00:15:49   But yeah, like I said, it's a really tricky tension to not want to have the app be there

00:15:57   and be ready at this exciting time and to not feel like you're going to miss out on

00:16:01   some opportunities that may come up as a result.

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00:17:42   Something else that I did want to mention around the new event that I think this was

00:17:47   on the more positive, like I was relieved side.

00:17:49   It's always interesting that going into these events, I always imagine all the ways in which

00:17:57   they could go poorly for me.

00:17:59   And I create these devices that have these features that, as an example for this one,

00:18:04   I've always been thinking recently, "Oh, when is the Apple Watch going to have native sleep

00:18:09   tracking?"

00:18:10   And I built up in my mind, "Oh, maybe this year, one of the emphasis will be battery

00:18:17   life."

00:18:18   And so battery life will get bigger, and then rather than being 18-hour battery life, they're

00:18:22   going to go to two-day battery life, and they'll say, "Now you can do sleep tracking."

00:18:26   And I build those up in my mind, and thankfully, that didn't happen.

00:18:31   It's still a thing that's just out there as a developer opportunity that exists.

00:18:36   And there's a variety of things like that that I think now exist that I always worry

00:18:45   that they're going to happen.

00:18:46   I mean, obviously, this year, you have...

00:18:48   I'm trying to think in terms of you're adding a podcast player, or a watch-based podcast

00:18:54   player to Overcast, but you already knew that Apple was doing that.

00:18:58   Well, but that could have gone very wrong.

00:18:59   It could have been that they did it, and they didn't make the APIs needed for me to do it.

00:19:03   Sure.

00:19:04   And so then you would be in the position where it's like, "Oh, great.

00:19:06   Now you can do a worse version, or they can do the awesome version."

00:19:09   Right, exactly.

00:19:10   It is always just such a funny thing to go into these events that I don't know if I've

00:19:14   just been...

00:19:15   It's like I'm optimistic about the fun side of things, but then I'm also, in the back

00:19:20   of my mind, pessimistic about all the ways that this could go horribly for me.

00:19:23   And I think it speaks to something that I think is a slightly interesting topic, just

00:19:27   to touch on briefly, that I find it so interesting how to be in a position...

00:19:32   And this is just, I think, just the fundamental aspect of being an independent developer,

00:19:37   especially on a focused platform like UNIR, where so much of my fortunes feel like they're

00:19:42   tied to choices that are outside of my control.

00:19:47   And even things to the point where...

00:19:51   It's an interesting filter that I have now, when I hear that Apple named their new phone

00:19:56   the iPhone XS Max.

00:19:59   And I'm like, "That is a really weird name."

00:20:01   Like, "Is..." versus the XS in a box, and the XR, which...

00:20:06   Sorry, that's a XR, even though everyone's gonna say XR, because that's how you see it.

00:20:10   It's like all this confusion.

00:20:11   And then I'm like, "Oh, no.

00:20:12   Is this confusion going to reduce iPhone sales and make it reduce the market for my applications?"

00:20:21   And I think I'm trying hard to train myself out of those kinds of thoughts, where somehow

00:20:28   in my mind, if Apple sells 10% less iPhones, which would...

00:20:33   I'm not saying that's gonna happen.

00:20:35   Who knows?

00:20:36   That's way above my pay grade in terms of the reasons why iPhones succeed or fail, or

00:20:42   thrive, and thrive-ish.

00:20:45   But it's just an interesting thing that I wanted to bring up that it's something that

00:20:52   I think is easy for me to fall into, but I think is probably would be more productive

00:20:56   to pull away from, and to just be like, "It's fine.

00:20:59   I can control the things I can control.

00:21:01   I can just focus on making good quality apps for the platform, and just hope that people

00:21:06   who have way more vested interest in it than I do, to the tunes of billions of dollars,

00:21:12   are going to be doing everything they can to make sure that the platform is a success,

00:21:17   and to just put my head down and not worry about it.

00:21:19   All right, so let's close up by talking about what are we working on right now?

00:21:23   What is top of mind, or what are you trying to do today and yesterday, and hopefully not

00:21:30   too far into the next few days?

00:21:33   What is on your plate right now?

00:21:34   Sure.

00:21:35   For me, like we talked about last week, I took a lot of time off this summer and didn't

00:21:40   do as much work as I may have in a typical summer.

00:21:44   For me, my focus has been almost entirely on Pedometer++, because that's my main app.

00:21:50   That's where the majority of my income comes from.

00:21:51   I think it makes sense for that to be my focus.

00:21:54   Honestly, the changes I make there just have a bigger impact on more customers, because

00:21:59   there's more of them.

00:22:00   For me, what I've been mostly working on is making the watch app for Pedometer++ a first

00:22:09   class workout app, in a way that essentially I'm taking the lessons that I learned from

00:22:15   Workouts++, which was the super complicated but powerful workout app that I made, and

00:22:22   I'm taking all the best parts and lessons from that and moving them into Pedometer++'s

00:22:29   workout app and just focus on making that workout app really good.

00:22:36   That's what I'm in the process of wrapping up.

00:22:38   It's going pretty well, and I think I should be able to submit hopefully in the next day

00:22:44   or so this kind of cool update for that, and then I will expect to continue to branch out

00:22:51   from there.

00:22:55   That's primarily what I've been working on, and it's just kind of a fun thing.

00:22:58   I think it's cool to have the watch be my focus when the watch is the thing that got

00:23:06   the really cool update this year, and so that's doubly exciting and kind of fun.

00:23:11   I expect to continue to be emphasizing that in the way that the watch continues to be

00:23:17   this really compelling growth opportunity platform, both for Apple and I think also

00:23:22   for developers more generally.

00:23:24   I'm looking forward to seeing how much faster these watches are, and how they have more

00:23:41   of a

00:24:00   focus

00:24:24   on

00:24:39   you

00:24:57   for

00:25:12   Apple

00:25:34   and

00:25:50   to

00:26:05   see

00:26:26   how

00:26:45   it

00:27:05   will

00:27:26   be

00:27:47   that

00:28:06   is

00:28:27   a

00:28:49   very

00:29:07   good

00:29:30   one.

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