Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Mac App Store vs. MacUpdate: FIGHT!

A recurring theme on the MacUpdate site is "if you're on the Mac App Store, I won't buy your software."

And most developers are okay with that, because the recurring theme among developers is : "fuck you, MacUpdate, you had your chance."

I'm sorry if that's offensive to MacUpdate's users, but that's reality. The fact is, a single day of promotion on Apple's now defunct 'downloads' page would yield 20x the sales as the same day on MacUpdate. And it looks like Mac App Store developers are experiencing the same thing. Additionally, most of the complaints that developers had about MacUpdate went (and continue to go) unanswered.

Angry Conjure Bunny is Not Amused

Some history...
MacUpdate (and VersionTracker before it) were started years ago. Actually, I gave both companies free ads when they were starting up on my site. (VersionTracker has since been absorbed by CNET's site and is largely ignored by Mac developers). Since Mac developers weren't able to get their software in stores ("who buys Mac software? No one"), we had to find more creative ways to get the word out to Mac users about our software. So by the time the PC world started to catch on, most Mac users were already used to buying Mac software online. Sites like MacUpdate helped make that a reality. Today, we have Apple's official Mac App Store, which combines services like MacUpdate and the tedious accounting side of things.

Since its inception, MacUpdate has been a tremendous help for a lot of developers, but it is very user-oriented. Developers who post there are often treated with great suspicion, and it's not uncommon to see a user really go off on an indie developer over a minor issue. Lately, MacUpdate has been ignoring developers' problems, and now its users are suffering for it.

As both a developer AND a user of both stores, I think I know why. So this is both an explanation of the problems they face, and an explanation of what both could do to help everyone. I still have high hopes for MacUpdate, but probably because I gravitate towards the underdog. That strategy doesn't usually work out for me, unfortunately.

Apple's Mac App Store Gooddish: 
Incredible exposure. Since they push this to every Mac user, developers are seeing the massive sales numbers they saw from leveraging the Downloads page on Apple's site (which was previously linked to from the Apple menu of every Mac). Also, Apple lets you report abusive criticisms comments, something MacUpdate seems to have done away with.

Apple's Mac App Store Baddish: 
Apple takes a 30% share of your profits, plus you don't get paid for almost (or over) a month. Plus, they don't let you distribute a 'demo' version, so the end user can't legitimately try an app before they buy it.

That's not exactly a bad thing though. It means the reviews for the app are from people who at least plunked money down for it. Shills for your competitors can't poison your well by leaving horrible reviews, as they often do on MacUpdate. Angry personal vendettas aren't taken out as easily if there's a price tag. Both have hit Conjure a number of times in the past, with non-paying customers angry that they couldn't find legitimate crack keys on the Internet, or they didn't like it when I refused to give them a free copy. I used to watch both MacUpdate and our YouTube channel for this, and I'd catch people doing this fairly often. They'd give Conjure a 1 star review and claim it destroyed everything on their computer. Or it would crash. Or it installed spyware. None of that was true. Also, on MacUpdate, my competitors would routinely post critical reviews, or link to their apps on my page. Not cool. Quite dickish, actually.

From talking to other developers, I don't have to worry about any of that with the Mac App Store. The price tag alone seems to dissuade users from doing this. And since the credit card you buy an app with is linked to your personal name, it's harder to fake an online persona. That's good for everyone. Unfortunately, they don't let you respond to criticism on the Mac App Store, without posting a review as well. It makes us look like we're just ignorant corporate pigs, hoping a gullible public will be suckered into buying our crap, while we ignore their cries for help. The reality is that most of us actually sit and watch reviews like they were the Royal Wedding (this is a contextual reference, and will make no sense a month from now).

MacUpdate gooddish: 
Anyone can sell there, via the Mac App Store or their own system. That's good for developers like me, who want to be paid *soon* for sales, not in 1-2 months. That's also good for end users, because I can offer demo versions. Also, I can respond to criticism there, though the layout for responses is somewhat odd. I hear they're working on that, though. Hey, at least I can respond.

MacUpdate baddish:
As I said, negative reviews really hurt sales. One angry asshole can sink a year's worth of work, by making stuff up. And the MacUpdate crew seems to particularly side with the *users* instead of the developers. In fact, they'll post updates to your apps without your consent, unless you notify them in advance not to do it. So if you updated the download link for the app late on Thursday night, in preparation for a launch on Friday morning, Friday morning you'll find your app announcement stuck deep down the list on yesterday's news. Also, they appear to have done away with the ability to report abuse, while Apple added that feature.

So here's my simple suggestions for both:
Apple: You would do well to let developers offer in-app unlocking, similar to how in-app purchases work on the iPhone app store. Then the ability to offer demo versions would be allowed.

Also, you need to create a way for the developer to provide responses to users, without having to post a review of their own (with stars). The current system makes us look like idiots. I know you don't want to host a 'forum' for every developer, but that's just part of what you're doing by letting people post they way they do now. Only that you're not letting the developers respond. It's a one-way forum. Not cool.

MacUpdate: You need to be more friendly towards developers. I'd say over 70% of the conversations I've had with your staff have been negative, or at least confrontational. That's not good. You need to put your foot down on obvious collusion, and let people report negative comments again. Additionally, you should let developers have a little more control over the announcements. You're not the only game in town anymore, so stop trying to boss developers around, and work with us.


Right now I'm weighing my options on the new version of Conjure. I might release a 4.3 version, based on the current codebase with a lot of the 4.5 features built in. In order to get into the App store, I need to shelf several of those features, since they violate the TOS agreement for Mac App Store sales. But with MacUpdate's less friendly atmosphere towards developers, plus the absolute difference in sales figures, they're pushing me towards a Mac App Store-only release.

I want to believe MacUpdate will step up to the challenge of the Mac App Store, and be a real competitor. Let me put this another way. See that 30 percent cut that the Mac App Store takes? I'd be paying that to you, if I could *justify* it. If your environment was more friendly to developers, and if you let us promote our software better.

MacUpdate, as it stands, even if your offering was absolutely free, it would still cost too much. Do you even know what you're doing? Have you ever even used a Macintosh computer before?

Oh, did that sound too harsh? That was an excerpt from a 'review' I received on your site, which sat there for two weeks, until I convinced the author to take it down. That was after several emails to your support staff. If you want to know why you're getting your ass kicked by the Mac App Store,  and why developers don't seem to care about you, maybe that kind of behavior has something to do with it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lies, Damned lies, and Weather predictions

I noticed last week that we were supposed to get rain *every day*. It never showed up. So yesterday, I started keeping screenshots of it.

Here's the predictions for the last two days. I'm not saying they're just making stuff up, but I'm curious--how accurate do you need to be, to be considered 'good'?

(For the record, no rain here yet...)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

iPhone app that lies about where you've been

So there's this guy who wrote an app that scrubs your iPhone backups and looks for bits about where it's been. Then he made a website about it, and made a big deal out of how this is a security problem, and that Apple is secretly keeping tabs on you or something.

Of course, it's mostly bullshit. But that's how you make a name for yourself in the 'security' field. It's just like a 'real' magic show. You tell the audience what to think, you show off some parlor trick that makes it look like you were right, then lie to the audience about what they just saw.

As a general rule, any time someone comes out of the blue with a 'HOOJ SEKURITEE HOLEZ!!' or something like that, it's to get attention. It's usually not something serious.

But let's look at the claims. He says his app will retrieve detailed information about where you've been, thanks to data stored in the backups of your iPhone. Then he has some movies that 'prove' it.

Unfortunately, he's making a number of assumptions that aren't quite accurate about the state and location of the user's files. That might explain why his app doesn't work on *ANY MAC I OWN*.

That said, it has worked on a number of my friends' Macs, so at least that claim is valid sometimes. There are still a few hurdles that make this a less than serious problem.

A Fully Compromised System

First, it relies on the backups of your iPhone. Do you know what it takes to get to the backup files for your iPhone? Full, unhindered access to your personal files, on your Mac.

The files this app uses are in a section of the Mac's file system that is effectively hidden from every user on a Mac except the owner of the files themselves. That has to be the same user who backed up the iPhone. In other words, had this app worked on my system, it would only work if the user had fully compromised the security on my Mac to begin with.

Plaintext Backups

Also, as stated on his page, if you're using encrypted backups, this isn't an issue at all. He's just trawling the backed-up files and looking for data. If you're not worried about someone gaining full access to your emails, address book, passwords, etc., but you are somehow worried about people finding out where you've been *after* they have all that other info, you should know that you can encrypt your backup files. Every time you plug in your iPhone, it will (normally) open iTunes. There's an option there. It's a checkbox that says, "Encrypt your backups" or something equally hard to figure out. Click it. Problem solved in one step.

Apple Is Not Collecting Anything, You Are

He says "Why is Apple collecting this information?" as if Apple is collecting the information. A backup of every document on your iPhone is a *backup*, it's not magical fairy wishes. It contains copies of the data. Apple isn't collecting it, your computer is collecting it. That's what a backup is. If someone were to steal the backup of my personal files, well, I'd wish them luck getting some of those images out of their head. But whether or not they knew where my iPhone had been would be the least of my worries. I have a hard drive that sits next to my computer, most of the time. I have backups of all kinds of things on there, including emails. I'd be more afraid of that kind of info getting into enemy hands, than my physical location.

Your other apps have to work

Okay, they're backups of files. But why back up this particular info? Well, it turns out that other apps on your iPhone rely on the GPS data, too. For example, if you've used the Maps app to chart your location through the mountains, you can still use that info while you're on the mountain, out of GPS range. It will just show your last location on the mountain. Why? Because it has to use some location. iPhone apps don't stay in memory all the time, so if you didn't launch your Maps app recently, it wouldn't know what your last location was, unless the iPhone was storing it. See how that works?

I'm working with a friend on an app that uses GPS locations also. We're kinda relying on it being able to tell us where we were last time it knew, every time the app runs. We don't store this information, because we know the iPhone is going to give it to us on demand, and that it will at least try to be accurate. In order for this type of app to work, the iPhone absolutely has to store the data somewhere.

Never Take Photos

Besides, all iPhone photos are geo tagged by default. So if they can just get ahold of your photos, that's enough to tell a lot about where you were. And why go to this much trouble? Do you use Foursquare? Do you use Facebook? Those also track (and publicly display) where you've been.

But most annoying to me, as a 100% total Mac Fanboi, is the fact that his shitty app doesn't fracking work on any of my Macs. He's clearly unfamiliar with the awesome that is the Macintosh User Experience™. He's wasted several minutes of my time today with an app that doesn't work, and he's talkin' trash about my favorite platform.

It is interesting, at least to me, that I can get a series of locations I've been from the iPhone. But the list is not complete, or accurate, unfortunately. This is an interesting side effect of how Apple's iPhone collects GPS data, but it is by no means a serious security issue, or even a reliable source of information.