Developing Perspective

#184: The Middle Path?


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective. Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing

00:00:04   news of note, iOS development, Apple, and the like. I'm your host, David Smith. I'm

00:00:09   an independent iOS developer based in Herne, Virginia. This is show number 184, and today

00:00:14   is Friday, May 16th. Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's

00:00:19   get started.

00:00:20   Okay, so we're going to have a bit more of a conversational ranty type of an episode

00:00:25   today. It's almost didn't actually happen in some ways. I've been really, really busy.

00:00:31   And you may have noticed I didn't even have an episode last week, mostly due to being

00:00:35   in Canada for NS North, which was excellent. And if you were someone I met there, it was

00:00:40   great to meet you. So this, I said, I've been really busy this last week. And it's been

00:00:46   something that a lot of a lot of things sort of swimming around in my head. And it's this

00:00:51   time, but this time of year, I think just tends to always do that. It's, you know, it's

00:00:56   a couple of weeks before WWDC. As I'm recording, it's basically two weeks out from when I'll

00:01:01   be traveling to go to San Francisco. And it's, so there's a lot of kind of just rumbles around

00:01:07   around the industry. And I think it's also, it's interesting as a developer, because it's

00:01:11   the time that you think I start to think about new opportunities, about the future about

00:01:16   what's going to happen because and this isn't really one of those like rumors or what I

00:01:20   I hope for shows, I'll probably have one of those next week or the week after.

00:01:23   But this is, it's a time of year that I tend to be thinking about what comes next.

00:01:29   And probably about, because it's a little bit of old news now, but about two weeks ago

00:01:34   there were two things that happened in one week that really got me thinking.

00:01:39   And I figured I'd kind of expand upon those today and maybe help you think about some

00:01:45   things that are kind of interesting.

00:01:47   So a couple weeks ago, app.net announced that it was essentially shutting down.

00:01:53   It wasn't really shutting down.

00:01:55   It's just firing everybody and leaving the lights on as long as the electric bill is

00:01:59   paid essentially.

00:02:01   And that's great.

00:02:02   I suppose I never really used the service after it launched, but it got me thinking.

00:02:10   You know, like, okay, so that's one path, right?

00:02:13   Like you start the service, you put something out there, you build it, you put it out, it

00:02:19   gets a little bit of traction, it kind of gets going, and then it kind of peters out,

00:02:23   right?

00:02:24   And that's one path.

00:02:28   The same roughly the same time, you may have heard there was an app called Moves, which

00:02:32   was acquired by Facebook.

00:02:34   Moves is an app that is essentially some activity motion tracking software.

00:02:40   It's a bit more complicated than my Appidometer++ in the sense

00:02:44   that it tries to track everything about you

00:02:46   and what you're doing, which is perhaps why it was so valuable

00:02:49   to a company like Facebook, who loves knowing everything they

00:02:52   can about you.

00:02:54   So it was acquired by Facebook for presumably

00:02:58   a sizable, principally some.

00:03:00   And so that's another path.

00:03:03   So here we have two services, two products,

00:03:05   two whatever you want to call them.

00:03:07   And one of them ultimately ended with a fairly

00:03:10   short-lived life's lifespan and then you know met its demise and the other one

00:03:15   had you know sort of was going well and got to a point that it was ultimately

00:03:19   acquired it was ultimately kind of bought by somewhere else and that that's

00:03:22   another path I've been thinking about a lot more recently is is that is there a

00:03:29   middle path and what does that look like and by that I mean you know so all these

00:03:34   products that I've been building I'm doing this for five and a half years now

00:03:37   whatever. And I start to think, what, what is the end game that I'm doing? Because at some level,

00:03:45   I'm just kind of doing this because this is what I do. You know, I, this is what I know best. This

00:03:51   is the thing that I'm most qualified to do. So I just kind of make iOS apps, and I launch products,

00:03:55   and I put them in the App Store. That's just kind of what I do. But at the same time, that also seems

00:04:02   a little bit silly if I'm just doing it, you know, without some sort of end in mind, I want to be

00:04:07   doing this for a reason or for a purpose beyond just like, it's a nice way to make a living

00:04:11   that I kind of enjoy. And that's probably enough in some ways, but it felt a little

00:04:16   simplistic. And so I was trying to think, which path do I expect myself and my products

00:04:22   and my services to walk down? And it obviously depends from product to product. On the one

00:04:28   hand, I look at a service like Feed Wrangler, so my RSS syncing platform and Pod Wrangler,

00:04:33   associated podcast client. And in many ways, there are aspects of it that are similar to

00:04:39   App.net. I think we have much better financials, apparently. But there's this, you know, it's

00:04:44   a service which requires a sustained commitment bought from its customer base in order to

00:04:49   really continue to be a business. You know, it has that type of a model where it has a

00:04:53   relatively high set of fixed costs. And it just needs a certain number of people to be

00:04:58   continuing on using the service in order for it to be sustainable. And, you know, at this

00:05:04   point it's fine and that's where it is. But it makes me wonder, in five years will that

00:05:11   still be a thing? In ten years will that still be a thing? Will I still have the user base

00:05:15   sufficient to support it? Will RSS even be a thing? Will it have ultimately kind of been

00:05:20   merged or sucked into or acquired by something else? In some ways that seems to be a bit

00:05:25   more likely, sort of a consolidation phase after the explosion of RSS platforms. Maybe

00:05:31   that will happen down there. Or with any of my apps. I have a recipe app, or an audiobook

00:05:36   app, or a podcast client, a fitness tracker. I mean, all these kind of things. On the one

00:05:41   hand, the App Store seems to lend itself to a very slow death in the sense that, like

00:05:48   I think I mentioned, what was it, two episodes ago or last episode? I can't quite remember.

00:05:53   But I was talking about how things tend to diminish very slowly over time.

00:05:58   It's rare that you have kind of very abrupt fall-offs in things like the App Store because

00:06:04   your sales just kind of peter out very gradually over a long period.

00:06:08   And so for a lot of my apps, it's like on the one hand, if they go down the, I guess,

00:06:13   the -- I mean, their own demise, maybe is the right way to think about it.

00:06:18   It'll have this very long runway, a very gradual falloff.

00:06:23   It could be acquired, I suppose.

00:06:24   I mean, if Mark Zuckerberg gave me a call and said,

00:06:29   hey, I'd like to come after some of your software,

00:06:33   I would have to give it some pretty serious thought,

00:06:39   for obvious reasons.

00:06:40   But is there a middle path?

00:06:43   Is this something that I could be doing forever, essentially?

00:06:46   I mean, and I'm reminded of a couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of spending some time

00:06:51   with Rich Segal, who, if you're not familiar, is one of the, I think, the founder, if not

00:06:55   one of the founders of barebone software.

00:06:57   He's been making BB edit forever.

00:07:01   And I mean, in some ways, it's even more remarkable for a company like that who have been doing

00:07:07   the core business, I think, is built around a single product.

00:07:10   And it's been built around that single product for years, for a decade, if not more.

00:07:16   And so it's certainly possible, right?

00:07:19   And if there's a certain amount of reassurance in that,

00:07:25   as I've been thinking about this,

00:07:26   as I've been thinking about what's happening next

00:07:28   in the App Store, this time of year,

00:07:31   we always start to think about what Apple is going to do,

00:07:33   what they're going to change.

00:07:35   Are they going to make functional changes

00:07:36   to the store itself?

00:07:37   Are they going to change the terms of the deal?

00:07:39   And we hope they do not change them any further.

00:07:43   There's lots of things that could be happening.

00:07:46   And it's funny, I'm coming into this year,

00:07:49   and with all honesty, I usually try and put on a good face

00:07:52   for the show, but in all honesty, this year,

00:07:55   I feel like there's more, just more pessimism in general,

00:08:00   generally in our community than I've seen in previous years.

00:08:05   And that's very anecdotal, and it's just kind of like

00:08:07   from talking to people generally.

00:08:09   But I hear a lot more of,

00:08:10   I really hope they fix such and such.

00:08:14   I really hope this gets fixed.

00:08:16   There's a lot more of that than, well, hey, man,

00:08:19   I really can't wait to see what they're

00:08:21   going to wow me with at WWDC.

00:08:24   And some of that's just a question of maturity

00:08:26   in the platform.

00:08:27   A lot of the low-hanging fruit's already been done.

00:08:30   And a lot of things at this point,

00:08:32   the value is, in some ways, the stability.

00:08:34   If Apple radically rewrote everything every year,

00:08:37   that'd be really frustrating.

00:08:38   So that's sort of to be expected in some ways.

00:08:42   But it's something that I've been thinking about.

00:08:44   And it's something I've been wondering,

00:08:46   if there is going to be something next, what that would be.

00:08:50   If Apple came out, for example, with a new device category

00:08:54   or whatever Tim Cook's been talking about for the last couple of years,

00:08:57   was like, oh, we're going to get into new market categories

00:08:59   or something like that.

00:09:01   If, say, it's a new fitness widget or something,

00:09:04   is there going to be a developer side to that?

00:09:08   I expect there'll be something there.

00:09:10   But I'm not sure how much, especially when

00:09:14   I've been thinking recently about things like CarPlay.

00:09:16   So this is a whole new hardware platform, essentially,

00:09:18   that they're getting into, a way of presenting information

00:09:22   from your phone onto a car.

00:09:24   And at least initially, it's fairly limited

00:09:26   in terms of what developers can do with that.

00:09:28   And so I wonder if in some ways that's

00:09:30   what we might end up happening with the app.

00:09:32   They go down the fitness path.

00:09:33   There'll be some things you can do as a developer,

00:09:36   but it's not really a whole new app store.

00:09:39   And perhaps neither, nor should it be.

00:09:41   In some ways, the App Store was to the last five years,

00:09:47   what the .com bubble was to the decade before.

00:09:52   There's these periods of time when

00:09:54   you have this tremendous opportunity

00:09:56   and tremendous growth, and then things settle down.

00:09:59   And then things kind of are normal,

00:10:01   in a much more plain vanilla, but yet perhaps more enjoyable

00:10:08   way.

00:10:08   I knew a lot of people who rode the craziness that was the dot com bubble.

00:10:14   And it can be exciting if you came out on the good side of that, but more often than

00:10:18   not, not a lot of people did.

00:10:20   A lot of people, it was just this crazy ride and this roller coaster that you got off with

00:10:24   and you ended up just kind of feeling a little queasy.

00:10:28   And I'm not saying that's necessarily the same thing with the App Store, but there are

00:10:31   certainly parts of it that I think about and that I wonder if that's sort of where we are

00:10:36   now, the roller coaster's over and now things are settling down. And that's different. That's

00:10:45   changed. And change is always worrying. You know, some of the things that I used to be

00:10:50   able to do in the App Store just don't really work anymore. You know, marketing tactics

00:10:55   or ways to get noticed or the size and the impact of particular things, of being featured,

00:11:01   of being written up on key blogs and these types of things. You know, the effect is much

00:11:06   much more muted than it was before. And so it gets harder. And that's not to say that

00:11:12   I'm lazy in the sense that, oh, I don't want to do things that are hard now. But it makes

00:11:17   me wonder, you know, if it took all of the sum total of all the tips and tricks that

00:11:22   I used to learn, and I've learned and done to, you know, to make a good business of it,

00:11:27   there a point at which that won't be the case? Well, ultimately, you know, any developers

00:11:34   have to start kind of banding together and making sort of more conglomerated companies

00:11:37   in order to kind of pool resources and cross-promote and these types of things to be sustainable.

00:11:44   Maybe. One thing that I do think about is that the advantage of the App Store, as it

00:11:51   it always has been in many ways, that the expenses associated with it are very low.

00:11:57   And so when I think about the future, when I think about a period of stability in the

00:12:02   App Store in terms of revenue, not really growing in a way that it had been, I start

00:12:07   to think about maybe that's not such a bad thing.

00:12:09   If you can keep your expenses down and you can just sort of keep cruising along as you

00:12:13   have been.

00:12:14   But I don't know.

00:12:15   It's been a bit of a rant and I apologize for the rantiness of it, but at the same time,

00:12:21   I said, it's just what I've been thinking about.

00:12:23   And it's something that I just wanted to share.

00:12:26   These are the challenges of being an independent developer.

00:12:29   And I know, in some ways, there are

00:12:32   times I do episodes of developing perspectives that

00:12:35   aren't perhaps completely honest, in the sense of I'm

00:12:39   talking about things in the way that I hope

00:12:41   and the way that I wish they were,

00:12:44   to try and be encouraging or to talk about things in a way that

00:12:49   It has some appearance of certainty.

00:12:52   That there's-- it's like, oh, here's what happened,

00:12:54   and here's why it happened.

00:12:56   And you have a bit of a--

00:12:57   it's a logical progression.

00:12:59   You have if A, then B. But more often than not,

00:13:03   I find that this industry has a lot of uncertainty around it.

00:13:07   And for a long--

00:13:09   I guess rather than just kind of ignoring it or glossing

00:13:12   over it, it seemed like it might be constructive to just kind

00:13:14   of meander through a little bit of all

00:13:17   that different uncertainty and all the things

00:13:19   it can make you think about.

00:13:20   Because if you're someone who is starting out or young--

00:13:24   and I hear from so many people who are in this position, who

00:13:27   listen to this show, who are thinking about being

00:13:30   an independent developer, who have heard all about it

00:13:34   and think it would be awesome-- it's, I think, important

00:13:37   and perhaps an appropriate thing and have some responsibility

00:13:40   to make sure that it also show and talk about a little bit

00:13:44   the ambiguities that can come with it and the challenges

00:13:46   and the things that can kind of keep you up at night,

00:13:49   they go along with it.

00:13:50   So that's kind of where I am.

00:13:52   That's where I am right now, you know?

00:13:53   Like I said, it's still in some ways kind of beside the point,

00:13:57   because obviously I'm still full steam ahead on my apps.

00:14:00   I'm working on a big update to audiobooks

00:14:01   to celebrate its fifth year-- its fifth anniversary, which

00:14:05   is quite something.

00:14:06   It's been around for about five years now,

00:14:08   and I'm doing this big update to just kind of celebrate that.

00:14:12   that's been keeping me busy to quite a high degree.

00:14:19   But you just kind of keep going full steam ahead, but in the back of your mind you're

00:14:23   thinking "huh, which road am I on?

00:14:27   Am I on App.net?

00:14:28   Am I on moves?

00:14:30   Or maybe is there a middle road?

00:14:32   I guess I'll see."

00:14:33   Alright, that's it for today's show.

00:14:36   And as always, if you have questions, comments, concerns, or complaints, I'm on Twitter

00:14:39   @_davidsmith.

00:14:41   You can email me, david@developingperspective.com.

00:14:43   And otherwise, I hope you have a great week, weekend.

00:14:46   Happy coding, and I will talk to you soon.

00:14:49   Bye.

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