Everpix’s Demise and Apple’s Photo Cloud Service
John Gruber on Daring Fireball:
One of the glib things a simple “I wish Apple had bought them” statement glosses over is that I have zero idea whatsoever whether Everpix, which worked great for me — a terrific, reliable, fast service and great apps — would work just as well, or even at all, going from tens of thousands of users to tens of millions. Could be that Apple took a look at Everpix and deemed it unfeasible for the massive scale they would need.
This implies Apple would in fact contemplate incorporating an Everpix type service into their own platforms and his only question is whether it would scale to Apple’s number of users. I don’t think they would for reasons I’ll discuss below. But Apple is already storing photos at scale with their photo stream and iCloud service. It’s just that they are limiting it to the past 30 days/1000 photos per user. The question in my mind is whether Apple will open photo stream up to include all of a user’s photos (and hopefully videos.) Is that something Apple would have trouble scaling totems of millions of users? Gruber mentioned no worries when he linked favorably to Bradley Chambers’ post:
… photo stream needs to be reversed. Apple should store all photos/video taken with your iPhone and just store the most recent 1000 (or 30 days) locally on the device.
Make iCloud free for the total size of all the active devices backing up to that account.
(via Daring Fireball)
I’d argue that Apple should be able to scale this because they are already doing this in a certain context right now. If you have enough iCloud storage and you have iCloud backup turned on, your photos and videos are already stored in iCloud — but only in the backup to iCloud feature. Unfortunately, you don’t have access to them except by restoring a device from the backup.
Apple seems so close to giving us what we want, if they could just change the way photo stream works to include access to all the photos and videos that are already residing in iCloud if you use iCloud backup. I would hope that they wouldn’t upload photos and videos twice, once for photo stream and once for iCloud backup. Instead I’d hope they would be uploaded once and used for both.
But What about the Rest of Everpix?
Everpix was designed to do something slightly different than what, at best, we can hope Apple will do with iCloud.
Everpix was meant to suck up photos from all possible 3rd party sources and applications and platforms seamlessly and store them on the web. It then organized them really well in a way intended for you to discover your own photos. Finally, it gave you access to all your photos from any device (either through a web browser or an app).
Apple is not going to try to solve the photos from everywhere problem. They will not design something that works with 3rd party products in order to get photos from, say, Adobe Lightroom and then store and organize them for us on the web.
At best, we can hope that they want to extend their current photo stream and iCloud offering to all your photos and videos from Apple products. That means iOS cameras and iPhoto/Aperture. Now, many agree that all photos (and videos) from your iPhone should go into the photo stream. But what about all the photos you took with your DSLR that are in iPhoto? Everpix said ‘yes, every photo from everywere.’ But I’m not sure Apple is interested in getting photos from anywhere but iOS devices into iCloud.
But unlike the primary web interface of Everpix, accessing photos would be done through the photos app on iOS and iPhoto/Aperture on the Mac. (I suppose they could add a photo web app to iCloud.com as they did with the iWork apps. But with photo/videos they don’t seem to be interested in that anymore since getting rid of Galleries and MobileMe.)
In terms of organizing your photos for you, Apple has done a somewhat similar thing as Everpix in their iOS 7 photo app with the “years, collection, moments” format. I think Everpix was even better at helping you view your entire library by showing a few representative photos from each grouping of your pics in a way that allowed you to scan through very large amounts of photos. (Apple and Adobe would do well to copy this approach in iPhoto/Aperture and Lightroom.)
Even in a best case scenario, I can’t imagine Apple solving all of users’ photo/video management problems. In a way, a third party like Everpix was best suited to help users sort all their photos from different venders. But Apple could makes things so much better for users of their own products if they seamlessly and effortlessly backed up and gave users access to all of their photos and videos on any device.
It seems they had the story before it happened
By the way…how did The Verge have a detailed story on the demise of Everpix — with a blow by blow of the past month complete with photos of the team over that time— on the very day that Everpix called it quits? Did Everpix call up and say, “Hey I think we’re going to go out of business, do you want to hang out and follow us for our last month and do a story?”
Everpix Shut Down
Everpix announced it was shutting down yesterday. What a bummer.
I’m really surprised that they couldn’t make it work. They had people like me so convinced that they were providing a needed service that not only was I paying them, I was convincing people I know to sign up left and right. Not only were they successfully organizing and giving me access to all my photos from many sources in a frictionless way, they were allowing me to discover those photos - tens of thousands going back to 2000. Each day they send me “flashback” pictures taken on that date from any previous year in my library. Often those pictures (from 2, 5, 7, or 9 years ago) are of old friends, and I would email the pic to those friends and say “this great service called Everpix just sent me this picture of us. Remember when…?”
And I’m pretty disheartened both that Everpix couldn’t convince investors it was a worthwhile project, nor could they interest a larger company in acquiring them in order to improve that company’s own services. I’m disheartened because they were solving something that no one else is solving well. And the fact that investors and companies weren’t interested shows that they don’t feel that solving the-pictures-and-video-management-problem is worth doing.
I think it’s the number one pain point with using all these “post PC” devices and regular PC’s. And Apple and Google and silicon valley investors just don’t get it. One investment team said:
…everyone here is hung up on the concern over being able to build a >$100M revenue subscription business in photos in this age of free photo tools.”
via The Verge
“Photo tools” are not the problem. Yes, we don’t necessarily need another paid photo tool app. What Everpix was solving was the problem of taking pictures on umpteen devise and trying to organize and have access to them everywhere in a simple and frictionless way. No one is solving that. Not Apple. Not Google. Not Adobe. Everpix was doing a pretty good job.
Complaint Dept. Podcast Apps
I like to listen to podcasts. I do not consider myself a power user, and have a limited set of wishes for features, yet I can’t find one app that satisfies those few. Perhaps Marco Arment’s new podcast app Overcast will fit the bill. (Although he says he won’t support streaming.)
Here’s my wish list:
- Custom audio controls show up on the lock screen. — Very convenient for being able to jump back 15 seconds or so without having to unlock and go to app. (Only Apple’s Podcast app does this, that I can find)
- Easy, one tap download of episode. — (I usually default my podcasts to stream so the app doesn’t fill up with hundreds of MB of files, but sometimes I want to quickly download one before going into the subway or on a drive to someplace with no cell coverage.) Many apps force you to open an episode, drill into menus and settings to download. Apple’s Podcast app has their standard “download from cloud” icon next to each episode in a list.
- Sync between devices. — Most apps claim to do this, but it doesn’t seem to work very well. I think the fault is with Apple’s API’s. It seems to me that when audio is playing in the background, your play position is not updated to other devices. So if you start playing a podcast, go to say, Messages to send a text, then lock the phone and put it in your pocket while you continue to listen for half an hour, your position won’t update to other devices. You would have to open the podcast app and let it be active for awhile in order for your position to update.
- Podcast notes page with links. — Many podcasts have a page of links and notes for the episode. Most apps show this page within the app and let you click on the links to load in a browser within the app. Apple’s Podcast app inexplicably shows the notes page without the links.
- Some basic playlist functionality. — Some way to throw some podcasts into a list that plays through.
So basically, the third party apps I’ve tried (Instacast, iCatcher, Downcast) have too many options that are hard to weed through to find the ones that I want and they don’t put the custom audio controls on the lock screen. And Apple’s app, which otherwise serves my needs fine, doesn’t have the links that I like to check out while listening to a podcast.
I don’t know what the moral to this story is. I can’t expect developers to satisfy only my desires. I guess the answer is I should have studied computer science, become a programer, and made the app I want myself.
Delighting Customers and Ticking Them Off On the Same Day
What am I to think of a company that exceeds my expectations and then makes my life more difficult all at once?
I ordered an AppleTV from Amazon on a Friday. I have Amazon Prime with it’s “free” (except for the $79 I paid for it) two day shipping. The days are business days, so when you order on a Friday it should arrive the next Tuesday. Sometimes I’ve noticed that Amazon will get an item to you the next day, especially if you live in a big city like New York. In this case that would be Monday. But lo and behold, the AppleTV came on Saturday. I was surprised and impressed. Because Saturday delivery is a whole different thing that they and the shipping companies charge quite a bit extra for.
So what’s not to like, right? Before I opened the AppleTV I checked the model number to make sure it was the latest one and it wasn’t. Despite the product description stating that it was the "NEWEST VERSION", Amazon is selling revision 1 of the 3rd generation AppleTV. There is a revision 2. Not a huge deal. It’s basically the same thing. But I didn’t want to pay full price for the one that went on sale March of 2012 when there is one released in March of 2013. Amazon does not sell the latest model.
Luckily Amazon allows me to return it, but I’ve got to generate the return, pack it up and ship it back (at their expense.) Not to mention having to go buy it again from someplace else and being without it in the meantime. (BTW, I’m not sure I’m going to buy it again. I was on the fence anyway. I already have one for one of our TV’s in the house, and I’m pretty convinced that Apple is going to do something with TV’s in the next year, and this will just be a waste of $99.)
The bigger problem is that now I feel I have to look up model numbers of anything I buy on Amazon because they can’t be trusted not to sell the previous model of something as the latest model. That’s not a good reputation to have.
NeXT and OSX
While I’m on the subject of Isaacson’s biography:
Not only did Isaacson miss the story of Jobs’ personal development during this time, he missed the importance of NeXT to the eventual resurrection of Apple. Because it is the core of the NeXT operating system that becomes OSX and ultimately iOS. Isaacson seems to dismiss this. John Gruber does an excellent job of detailing what Isaacson got wrong in understanding Jobs’ idea of design and on the importance of NeXT to Apple.
It is, in fact, completely and utterly wrong. NeXTStep was not “just warmed over UNIX”. Apple did get NeXT’s OS to run on Mac hardware. Mac OS X 10.0 was a hybrid of Mac and NeXT technology, but it was clearly the NeXT system with Mac technologies integrated, not the other way around. iOS — the system that powers both the iPhone and iPad — is a direct descendent of NeXTStep. Even the original iPod, which wasn’t based on NeXT technology, used the column-view concept for hierarchical navigation that NeXT pioneered.
via, Walter Isaacson’s ‘Steve Jobs’, by John Gruber
I hope Aaron Sorkin takes a close look at this Brent Schlender article in Fast Company.
To me, the dramatic crux of Jobs’ life story (and the least understood) is his transformation as a person and a leader during the decade he spent between being booted from Apple and coming back to save the company.
But that second act—The Wilderness Years—would be altogether different in tone and spirit. In fact, the soul of this act would undermine its title, a convenient phrase journalists and biographers use to describe his 1985 to 1996 hiatus from Apple, as if the only meaningful times in Jobs’s life were those spent in Cupertino. In fact, this middle period was the most pivotal of his life. And perhaps the happiest. He finally settled down, married, and had a family. He learned the value of patience and the ability to feign it when he lost it. Most important, his work with the two companies he led during that time, NeXT and Pixar, turned him into the kind of man, and leader, who would spur Apple to unimaginable heights upon his return.
(via The Lost Steve Jobs Tapes - Business + Innovation)
This is the part of the story that Walter Isaacson totally fumbled in his Steve Jobs biography, and I would hope that the filmmakers won’t make the same mistake. The biography goes into pretty good detail about Jobs’ early years at Apple, a time which is already well documented by others. But this all important middle period at NeXT and Pixar is very thin and anecdotal. A reader of Isaacson’s biography would be left with the impression that Jobs didn’t change much from the cruel, temperamental young man from his first stint at Apple. As John Gruber says on daringfireball,
Isaacson gives us the story of an asshole. But the world is full of assholes. What we need is the story of the one man who spearheaded so many remarkable products and who built an amazing and unique company.
I think Schlender’s piece goes some way toward explaining how Jobs developed during those “wilderness years.” And I think that transformation is key to any telling of Steve Jobs’ life.
iPhone 5 design loser
The metal aluminum band that surounds the iPhone 5 is the equivalent of putting fake air intakes onto the hood of a cheap car.
There is an inherent contradiction between the iPhone 5 design and the philosophy espoused by Apple’s head of design Sir Jony Ive and by the late Steve Jobs. In various forums Ive and Jobs have explained their philosophy that an object needs to be true to it’s essence and that the materials of an object should dictate it’s design. John Siracusa transcribes Ive in a video interview:
A lot of what we seem to be doing in a product like [the iPhone] is actually getting design out of the way. And I think when forms develop with that sort of reason, and they’re not just arbitrary shapes, it feels almost inevitable.
And he transcribes Jobs from a Macworld Keynote:
…why don’t we let each element be true to itself? If the screen is flat, let it be flat. If the computer wants to be horizontal, let it be horizontal.
The iPhone 4 and 4S lived up to this design aesthetic with its stainless steel frame which also served as its antenna. Rather than making a frame and stuffing all the components inside, Apple made the frame itself an important component. Using the frame in this way was revolutionary and innovative (and also became controversial). It was an elegant and efficient design, and I always felt it lived up to Jobs’s and Ive’s design ideals about materials informing design. Jobs speaks to this in the 2010 WWDC keynote announcing the device.
What are these lines in this beautiful stainless steel band? Well it turns out there’s not just one of them, there’s three of them. And they are part of the entire structure of this phone, that stainless steel band that runs around is the primary structural element of the phone. And there are these three slits in it. It turns out this is part of some brilliant engineering which actually uses the stainless steel band as part of the antenna system. And so one piece… And so it’s got these integrated antennas right in the structure of the phone. It’s never been done before and it’s really cool engineering.
And here is Ive in the promotional video on the release of the iPhone 4:
The steal frame functions as the antenna, but also the primary structure, giving us more internal volume.
The design has purpose. The design is functional. The stainless steel band is not a gaudy bauble. It is a working antenna.
The iPhone 5 violates all these principles. There is a similar looking metal band around the phone, but it is aluminum, and it is not an antenna. The antenna is stuffed into the case like most other phones. The band is not functional beyond being the case for the phone. But why does it look like the band on the iPhone 4 and 4s? It’s design is entirely arbitrary as opposed to the band on the iPhone 4 and 4s. And especially the “gaps” or lines in the band seem purely there to look like the functional gaps in the 4 and 4S. There is no inherent reason for a band shaped like that to be there. It’s the equivalent of putting fake air intakes onto the hood of a cheap car.
Working Offline With Dropbox Documents
Would you say there is a plethora of minimalist writing apps for iOS?
Yes, and many support syncing to Dropbox. But there is one key feature that is maddenly difficult to sus out from the many many reviews that exist and from the internet in general: offline workflow for documents that are synched using Dropbox.
The question: what happens if you use Dropbox to sync your documents in a text writing app, and you need to work offline? Perhaps you have a wifi only iPad and you will be working someplace without wifi. Or you will be working on a plane with no cellular service or wifi. Or you will be working in a cabin in the woods with no cellular service and no internet/wifi.
While some reviews say that a particular app works offline, it is unclear weather they are referring to files that are using Dropbox or simply using a local storage on the device. It is also unclear in app descriptions and developer websites what the offline behavior will be when they say the app works with Dropbox. But I have tested the issue with Byword, Writing Kit, Plain Text and iA Writer, and results vary.
Writing Kit , an amazingly full featured app that can do things my Mac apps can’t do, (and to be fair isn’t really a minimalist writing app) is only available on iPad. It can sync to Dropbox and it can navigate your entire Dropbox folder if configured that way in its settings. However, despite what some reviewers have said, there is no real offline support for documents that are stored in Dropbox. The document that is currently loaded can sometimes be worked on offline. But if you try to navigate to any other document in Dropbox you will get a loading error and lose the ability to open any other files. If you navigate back to the initial “storage” pane, there is a “recent documents” section where you can open recently opened files from Dropbox that I assume are cached locally. But it’s a bit hit or miss whether the document will open in my experience.
The developer told me via twitter that they use the Dropbox Core API as opposed to the newer Sync API. (The Sync API allows for offline caching and syncing.) He also pointed out that if they were to use the Sync API it “restricts the app access to only one sub folder.” That would be a real limitation that would be a deal breaker for many.
iA Writer has similar issues with documents stored in Dropbox. You basically have to be online to access documents stored in Dropbox using iA Writer. The developer says that this is because of limitations of the Dropbox API. It wasn’t explicitly stated, but he also implied that he used the Core API. Other posters pointed out that other apps did have the ability to work on documents offline.
One of these is Plain Text which appears to cache all the items of the folder you open in Dropbox. Put the iOS device in airplane mode and you still have access to all the documents. They are then synced to Dropbox the next time you are online. You have access to all of your Dropbox folder, so I don’t think they are using the Sync API which restricts you to one folder. I’m not sure how they accomplish this since the it doesn’t appear that the Core API allows for offline access to files.
The best offline Dropbox sync implementation of these is Byword. When you are online and you navigate to a folder in Dropbox within Byword, you see a little cloud icon next to each file. That means the document is in the cloud, but not locally cached on the device. However, if you open one of those documents, and then go to the file navigation pane again you will see a little iOS device icon (looks sort of like an iPhone). This means the file is cached to the device and available for offline use. (After I started writing this, Byword released an update to the app to version 2.0. One of the new features is improved offline mode for Dropbox. It appears that the entire folder you are working on will cache offline. The symbols are still there, so it is very clear if the file is cached locally or not.) The same question remains as to how they do this. I don’t think they are using the Sync API because you have access to all of your Dropbox folder, yet the Core API supposedly doesn’t allow for offline caching.
The ability to work offline using an iOS device with documents stored in Dropbox is uneven and depends how developers have implemented Dropbox sync in their apps. The much maligned iCloud is actually much more consistent and behaves the way a user would expect: the files in apps using iCloud are all available locally, and therefore available offline. Simple as that. Unfortunately, apps using iCloud make documents available only to the apps in which they stored, whereas any app can access files stored in Dropbox.
Apps like Plain Text and Byword have the best of both worlds: the ability to access files offline that are stored in Dropbox, and - since they are stored in Dropbox - the files are accessible to any app. It would be nice if offline behavior were explicitly stated in all app descriptions so users wouldn’t have to do all this research on their own.
And Apple should realize, that user want the offline and syncing behavior of iCloud, along with the ability to open documents in any app.
But I am glad there is a plethora of minimalist writing apps.
This article by Farhad Manjoo is incredibly naive. It states that what was shown by Microsoft in its Xbox One demo is reality. He makes emphatic statements like:
It has created a near-perfect living room machine, one that has the potential to finally make it simple for you to watch or play anything you want, from anywhere, very quickly.
Remember, this product doesn’t exist yet. How does he know how perfect it is?
And it does indeed have the simplest user interface imaginable, an eerily accurate voice recognition system that is far more intuitive than a remote control. Want to watch MTV? Want to see what’s on HBO? Want to switch between TV and a Blu-ray? Just tell it what to do, and it will respond instantly.
How would he know if it is “eerily accurate” or responds “instantly”? Again, no one has tried the actual product. I saw the demo too and don’t believe for a second that they showed a real working unit. I don’t think Microsoft even pretended that they were showing a real live working unit. The demo was totally scripted and even the video that was paying in the demo was coordinated with the script. Supposedly live basketball had events that tied in with the script moment by moment. Lebron James dunked in sync with his script and it changed the user’s fantasy score from second to 1st place right on cue. That was all set up. That game wasn’t playing right at that moment. It makes me believe that the rest of the demo was also arranged and not actually being driven by the host’s voice and gestures.
And as for “respond[ing] instantly”? Again, that will be a very big question for the actual shipping product. I hope it responds instantly. That would be cool. But I wouldn’t believe that from the demo we all saw.
The company showed a flawless live demo onstage—the One never misinterpreted a spoken command—but I didn’t get an up-close look at a working device.
Again, I’m surprised that a journalist thinks that what he saw was real. That he didn’t notice that the “live” TV wasn’t live. I’m not even sure the skype phone call wasn’t pre-recorded. They were both reading from a script, and I didn’t notice any actual interaction between them.
Say, “Watch CNN.” Your TV goes to the channel instantly.
Again with the instantly. There is also no explanation of how the Xbox is going to control and show live TV. Other articles mention it will have HDMI pass through but while that could explain how it could get the TV signal, it doesn’t explain how the Xbox will control the cable box. I guess there is some protocol (HDMI cec) designed to allow control of devices through HDMI, but you’d have to have a compatible cable box. Suffice it to say, I highly doubt most people will be able to successfully do what was demoed. And even if you happen to be able to set up exactly what Microsoft was showing, you still wouldn’t be able to access your DVR on your cable box. You can forget about the promise of “It switches between this stuff seamlessly—you can forget about the Input button.”
I hope for the best with the Xbox One. I really like my Xbox 360. But how about doing a little reporting or even just a little common sense thinking before regurgitating everything from Microsoft PR verbatim?