A peek into the world of iPhone app development

Affirmations from NPC Unlimited
Affirmations from NPC Unlimited

Just about everyone I know who’s been around an iPhone flashes on a great idea for an iPhone app.

But only a few of those folks go on to actually create an app and get it sold on Apple’s App Store.

One of those folks is Hasan Edain of NPC Ulimited. A long-time game developer for the Mac platform (Germ Patrol), Hasan has started creating some affordable apps for the iPhone and iPod touch. While the Bouncy Ball app (now with soccer and basketball options) is a diversion, Confidence and Affirmations move into the growing field of “lifestyle” apps. AppCraver.com recently interviewed Hasan about his approach to iApp development.

As a new and rapidly growing field, iPhone apps present intriguing marketing opportunities. I’m currently working on some marketing projects with Hasan’s team and finding it fascinating.

Easy, elegant web publishing for the Mac

The latest version of Steve Sande’s ebook Take Control of iWeb ’09 is out!

The latest version of Steve Sande’s ebook Take Control of iWeb ’09 is out!


I’m excited about this for two reasons. One is that I was the editor of the book, and it’s wonderful to see a project completed and released to the world. The other is that Apple’s iWeb’09 (part of the iLife suite) is a great piece of software for anyone who wants to do a simple, attractive website without paying a fortune or having to learn web design. The Apple-designed iWeb templates include pages for blogs, movies, podcasts, photo albums, and more. Steve’s book provides all the guidance you need to put up your site, including some amazing tricks for photo special effects.

I’m currently using iWeb ’09 to publish my own online resume and for a website I run for a friend. My resume is hosted on Apple’s servers as part of the $99-a-year .Mac service. But my friend’s site is hosted on a third-party server — this is the first version of iWeb that makes it easy to publish to any host you want.

Here’s a free sample from the ebook in PDF form.

Speed, transparency, and the long tail

Tomorrow I’ll be talking about PR and social media to another communications class at the University of Washington. This time, it’s an undergraduate class. I’m going to hit many of the points I did in my earlier presentation to students already in the business world, but this time I’m going to attempt to give more context.

So much has changed in the PR world in the past 10 years, it’s hard to know where to begin!

The model of PR in which corporate communicators developed carefully reviewed press releases and distributed them to known contacts in print and broadcast media by mail or fax, is over. Five minutes after a company announces a new product, it’s been Twitter and blogged about. (Example — Amazon released Kindle software for the iPhone last night, and that rocketed to a top spot on Twitter in about two hours. Interestingly, it was being discussed on Twitter even before it had registered on Google News searches.)

Any hope PR folks once had of controlling public perception of the announcement — via their carefully chosen words, or via the sedate reviewing of a friendly news reporter — is a quaint delusion. People are raving and ranting about it on blogs — or pointedly ignoring it — within 24 hours. And good luck to the PR person who tries to spin or puff a product. Her or she risks being reviled right along with the product itself.

Clearly, old-school PR doesn’t work in the current online environment. As anyone who follows Twitter has seen, a new school of PR is emerging to meet the new challenges. It can be successful, if it’s mindful of three characteristics of the social media world:

Speed. If PR wants to be part of the discussion, it needs to get out there, fast. A good PR operation, representing an organization that genuinely has something to contribute to the conversation, can make a splash. That may mean twittering about the city’s inept response to the snowstorm at 4 a.m. (Does your PR person work at 4 a.m.? Let’s hope so.)

Transparency. Successful PR folks have to come to grips with the transparency created by online social media. Many companies tried to hop on the social media bandwagon by making community commenting, or video contests, a part of their marketing campaigns. Often they forgot that they could no longer control the distribution of the resulting comments or videos. In 2006, General Motors’ attempt to harness “viral marketing” for their Chevy Tahoe SUV inspired hundreds of people critical of SUVs to create and then post anti-Tahoe videos. To its credit, General Motors remained cool and the flap eventually died down.

The Long Tail. The days when nearly everyone read the newspaper and families gathered around the TV after dinner to watch the network news are long, long over. Instead, household members are more likely to be getting information individually, from a variety of sources (such as watching a NetFlix video, playing World of Warcraft, reading their favorite blogs, or talking to friends on Facebook). To be successful, PR campaigns will need to focus on these narrower audiences, often with savvier members.

The professor of the class asked me to emphasize the continuing need for strong writing skills in PR. That will be no problem. Sure, you see sloppy writing all over the web. But you don’t see it on highly ranked blogs. If PR people want to draw traffic to their blogs and followers to their Tweets, clear, polished writing is a must.

Remembering Photonica

Doug Plummer blogged recently about trends in stock photography, mentioning the distinctive images (“dreamy photographs of flowers and water”) available for license some years back from a company in New York called Photonica. (Some images from that collection still available through Getty).

Many of the images I purchased for Apple’s iCards program were from Photonica, and those were often the most popular cards. The dreamy quality of the images captured the imagination and inspire people to customize them with their own captions and messages.

One of the most popular images was of a glass heart wrapped in barbed wire. I was so entranced by it myself that I created a little sculpture along those lines which now hangs in my office.

Happy (well, at least thought-provoking) Valentine’s Day!

Two more things

A few final words (from me, at least) on Macworld 2009:

I missed Chris Pirillo’s talk on community (ironically, while having a wonderful lunch with a key member of my own community, a person who mentored me at Apple). But I watched the video of Chris’ talk on YouTube, and it was impressive.

“Putting something in front of people and expecting something to happen is asinine,” he warned. “So what is it that makes community happen? It’s all about what happens in your heart.”

This is a must-see for anyone who is attempting to create a community, online or off — or for anyone who works, as I do, with clients who aspire to create communities. Now I’m budgeting so I can attend the next Gnomedex, Chris’ annual tech conference.

Huge accolades go IDG, the company that organizes Macworld. This year’s conference seemed to delight presenters, vendors, and attendees. Everyone was crediting IDG’s vice-president Paul Kent for the success of the event. I am still trying to figure out how this guy orchestrated the conference and managed to play in rock bands at two late-night conference parties during the week!

Whither .Mac in the age of Twitter?

If the real estate mantra is “location, location, location” the tech mantra is surely “timing, timing, timing.”

For no company has timing been as bittersweet an issue as for Apple, which is so often early to the game.

Apple products like the initial, expensive, GUI desktops and the Newton handheld were simply so far before their time that the marketplace scratched its head in confusion while a few nerdy early adopters worked themselves into a froth.

And then, there’s .Mac (“DotMac”).

Launched just as the gel-colored iMacs were making Apple a true household name, .Mac internet services foreshadowed the Google/Yahoo suites of goodies we now find essential to our daily lives: Easy-to-use web-based email; easy-to-access online storage and backups, including simple file sharing; online photo albums; and web hosting of web page and photo album templates (and your own coded pages). In short, “your life, online.”

A .Mac subscription runs about $100 a year, which left Apple in a hard-to-defend position as soon as Google turned up with free gmail, Yahoo put real power behind its still-unsurpassed Yahoo Groups, and Flickr photo sharing appeared on the scene. None of these are as sleek and complete as .Mac, for sure, but they’re plenty powerful, dependable, easy to use — and cross-platform.

While Apple has continued to make enhancements to .Mac, most of them are closely tied to Mac OS X and iLife applications such as iPhoto and iWeb. Meanwhile, the rest of the online world has been getting deliciously loud and messy with wikis, MySpace, and blogging software, essentially offering people free online “performance space.” Amazon, Zazzle, and CafePress make possible the creation of “instant” online stores, complete with checkout systems.

Loud, messy, and commercial? That just isn’t the .Mac style.

Rumors have it that a major re-vamp of .Mac (including a new name) will be announced at WWDC Monday. I’m trying to imagine .Mac in the age of Twitter. Some are speculating that Apple will merely transfer the back end of the service to a company like Google. Others are hoping for a richer, trendier suite of services. Still others are recommending more competitive pricing, with a free year of .Mac service to be bundled with the purchase of a new Mac. The most tantalizing rumors have .Mac playing a big role for the next iPhones.

As a long-time .Mac user (and former .Mac employee), I’m ready for the new incarnation.

Drink different

If you think that Steve Jobs’ big contribution to American culture is the Mac or the iPhone, you didn’t see Howard Schultz’s performance at this morning’s Starbucks shareholders meeting.

In a clear, passionate two-hour presentation—remarkably familiar to anyone who has seen an Apple keynote—Schultz wooed a packed house of worried stockholders (Starbucks stock has drifted down from 32 a year ago to 17 as of this morning) with video clips, third-party endorsements, flashy new hardware (two coffee machines) and tasty wetware (Pike Market blend). He even led into his announcement of the acquisition of the Clover French-press technology with Jobs’ trademark keynote teaser “One more thing…” And, in contrast to last year’s kinda lame video chat with Sir Paul McCartney, Schultz brought his friend K. D. Lang onstage for a soulful and highly appropriate rendition of “In Cold Dark Places (I Think of Spring).”

In Jobs’ 1997 letter to shareholders, he asked rhetorically “how does a company manage to lose a BILLION dollars?”

Schultz was similarly blunt, and similarly disarming, announcing shortly after he took the stage that “performance has not met your expectations. Or mine.”

Will the Starbucks CEO pull off as amazing a turnaround as Jobs did in his legendary return to Apple? I came away convinced that he will. And that’s what the presentation game is all about, isn’t it?

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