Interim: Charity 5K!

Hi Guys,

I don’t normally use this blog for personal announcements, but this one seemed important.  Next month, my church is doing a 5K race to raise money for orphans.  I’ve never really done anything like this before, but I decided to give it a go.  I’ve been training with the excellent RunKeeper app (keep an eye out for a review of that sometime soon?).

Here’s where you come in: I need sponsors.  I gave $20, and I encourage each of you do to the same.  $20 feeds an orphan for a MONTH (don’t you wish you could each for $20 a month here?).  My goal is $480, which would be two orphans for a YEAR.  How awesome would that be?

So please, head on over to this link and donate.  The race is October 24, so I assume you have until then to do so.  Thanks so much for your support!

-Nick

File Sep 28, 9 11 34 AM

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Why the iPod Touch Continues to Make Apple Money

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2015 ♦


Ah, the iPod Touch.  I remember how badly I wanted one in middle school, and how excited I was when I got one in 7th grade.  Back in those days, the iPod Touch was about the coolest gadget a kid could have.  Nowadays, though, it seems like every kid over 10 has an iPhone.  However, the iPod Touch continues to pay off in spades for Apple.  Why?  Indoctrination.

What does indoctrination have to do with the iPod Touch?  Easy.  Apple marketed the iPod Touch as something for kids, and parents bought it (literally).  Honestly, it was a good device for kids: it allowed them to do most things that an iPhone could do for around $200 flat.  Not super cheap up front, but there were no expensive monthly bills to deal with.  Kid friendly?  You bet.

After that, however, is when things got interesting: all those kids grew up.  They grew up and, like their parents, wanted smartphones.  And what kind of smartphones do you think these kids wanted?  iPhones of course!  Having already been indoctrinated into Apple’s ecosystem – the apps, iMessage, Game Center, and so on – they didn’t want to leave.  Apple continues to see these benefits to this day.  Most of my friends in high school and college used to have iPod Touches, but now they have iPhones.  The iPhone is well established as the gold standard; almost everyone agrees it’s simply the best you can get.  Sure, Android still has a substantial presence, but the iPhone remains in the lead.

What allowed Apple to completely take over this market?  I think it’s in part because of Apple’s previous dominance with the iPod in general.  And with the iTunes Store.  They had already set themselves up as the go-to for media players; it was only a natural jump to a touch screen.  More than anything though, Apple won this market because they tried.  It’s not like Android couldn’t have done anything about it.  Android phone manufacturers simply didn’t see the value in creating touch screen media players.  They did exist; I remember reading about a couple of them.  However, they never got off the ground the way the iPod Touch did, mostly because they were never pushed very hard.

Maybe Android didn’t see the long-term value in the market.  Actually, I don’t know for sure if Apple did either; maybe to them it was just a good product in the short-term.  But whatever the reason, Apple invested a lot into the iPod touch from around 2007-2012.  However, that has begun to change.

As I’ve said, I see fewer and fewer iPod Touches these days.  More and more I just see iPhones, being held in increasingly smaller hands.  And since we didn’t see an iPod revision last fall (which would have been on par with the previous two-year update cycle), it would seem that the iPod Touch has just about breathed its last.  But it had a good run.  In fact, it had a great run; one that put the next member of the relay team – the iPhone – a few extra strides further ahead of the competition.  ••

February App Review: Pocket Expense

App: Pocket Expense
Developer: Appxy
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

I want to start by saying that Pocket Expense is not as fully featured as, say, Mint.  It doesn’t link to your credit card or bank account to show you real time numbers, and it doesn’t show you your credit score or anything like that.  However, I didn’t really want these kind of features.  I just wanted a simple way to track money going in and out of my bank accounts.  I also wanted a way to keep track of my spending money verses the money I’m saving for college.


On the surface, Pocket Expense is a really simple app.  You add one or more accounts, then track deposits and spending (see image 2).  The multiple accounts is key here.  I have one account for my cash on hand, and several for my bank account.  Several?  I have one “account” for my spending money, another for college money, and a third for the tax money I have to withhold from summer job paychecks.  In the actual bank, these three are combined into one account, but the app allows me to separate them out to make sure I know exactly what’s going on.  I tried using the app’s budget feature for this, but it didn’t really work for what I was trying to do (since my divisions aren’t really a budget).

Although Pocket Expense can be simple, it actually has a lot of great features.  If you’re actually trying to keep a budget, Pocket Expense’s budget feature works really well.  You select which categories you want to track, and how much you’ve budgeted for each one.  After that, it’s pretty straightforward (see image 3).  The Report screen shows you a (really pretty) pie chart detailing your income and spending for the month (see image 4).  Finally, the Bills screen allows you to schedule reoccurring transactions (see image 5).  You set the date and how often it repeats, and you can even get push notifications.

I’m currently using the free version of Pocket Expense.  For $4.99, you can buy the pro version, which removes ads, enables syncing to multiple devices, and adds more robust export and backup features.  So far, the free version has worked fine for me.

As it turns out, Pocket Expense is actually a pretty powerful app.  It doesn’t link to your bank account, but honestly, I don’t want some random app to have access to my bank account.  I’m perfectly happy keeping track of my money manually; it gives me more control (in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a control freak).  If you’re looking for a straightforward but still robust expense tracking app, Pocket Expense just might be what you’re looking for.  ••

The Problem with App Store Pricing

After the Monument Valley pricing kerfuffle a month or two ago, there’s been a lot of talk about pricing on the iOS App Store.  Many people say that apps are undervalued, and that if an app isn’t $0.99 or even free, no one will download it.  To a large degree, I think this is true, but I have one more point to add: the Mac App Store isn’t any better.  Ironically, though, the Mac App Store has the opposite problem.

But let’s start with iOS.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like paying for apps.  Part of this comes from the fact that I’m just a student and I only work summers.  However, I think that my aversion to paid apps is a learned behavior.  I’ve owned an iOS device for about four and a half years now, and over that time frame, I’ve downloaded a lot of free apps.  Sure, some are awful, but many others are great.  This has resulted in an unrelenting mantra being drilled into my head: “Sure, this app costs $1.99, but I bet there’s a very similar one that’s free.”  (This doesn’t really apply to games, since most games are one of a kind.  However, most productivity apps have plenty of competitors.)  I’ve learned that a free alternative may not be quite as good, but at least it was free.  On the one hand, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this approach.  There’s definitely nothing wrong with being thrifty.  The problems arise when we entirely rule out an app for no reason other than the fact that it costs money.  Developers could spend thousands of dollars making an excellent app, only to find that no one will pay even a few dollars for it.  This doesn’t seem fair, but unfortunately, that’s where we are right now.

The Mac App Store also has a pricing problem, but not the same one as iOS.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post that the Mac App Store is pretty disappointing.  Not the least of the reasons for this is the fact that very, very simple apps are often kind of expensive.  There was one app I looked up the other day that was supposed to mute the startup chime that goes off when you first boot up your Mac.  As far as I could tell, that was all the program did, yet it cost $2-$3.  I just don’t see why such a simple app should cost money.  To be fair, it’s more difficult (and less accepted by users) to put ads in desktop software.  This is especially true of a background program like the startup chime one I just mentioned.  How are they going to make money on advertising if I only open the program once, configure it, and never open it again?  Aside from this point, however, I have a sneaking suspicion that Mac App Store developers know that Macs are more expensive, and so they assume that people who own Macs have more money, and are willing to spend more on apps.

So if I had to give only one suggestion on how to fix each platform’s problems, what would it be?  For iOS, I’d suggest app demo periods.  There are actually a lot of people calling for this right now.  I have been burned before by paid apps that don’t work – or don’t work as well as I would have liked them too.  Allowing a seven day (or even three day) trial of the full version of an app would allow people to determine whether the app actually works.  Developers can sort of achieve this now by making the app free, but limited in features – an in-app purchase unlocks the full version of the app.  This approach works OK, but it can be confusing to people who thought the app was free.  On the Mac side, what I think is lacking is simply competition.  The point of my previous post was that there really aren’t that many apps on the Mac App Store.  This is a problem in and of itself, and by solving it, I think the issues with overpricing would (to some extent) even out on their own.

Meanwhile, if you have found a paid app that you enjoy, I encourage you to recommend it to your friends (and me, I’ll be your friend too).  This helps others with the uncertainty of paying for something they haven’t used, and it also encourages developers to make great apps by letting them know that people are willing to pay for them.  ••

Snapcash: Not Sure I Understand

Last week, the smash hit photo messaging app Snapchat unveiled a new feature: Snapcash.  Snapchat has partnered with Square to add money sending features to Snapchat.  To use this feature, you must be 18 years old, and you must link your debit card to your Snapchat account.  If you’re already scratching your head, I don’t blame you; I was also confused when I first saw this.  In my opinion, there’s two main problems with this feature.

The first problem is Snapchat’s implementation.  I haven’t actually used Snapcash, but from what Snapchat said, it seems all you have to do to send money is type a dollar sign and then an amount, such as “$20,” in a message.  This must be done from the text-only messaging screen, photo captions don’t count.  To me, this seems to make it too easy to send money.  Imagine you’re talking to a friend, and you casually say something like, “Today I was at the store going to buy such and such, but it was $100, so I decided not to.”  As far as I can tell, you’ve just sent that person $100.  I think the send button changes color to indicate that you’re about to send money, but in my opinion there should be at least one other confirmation prompt.  What this actually reminds me of is Amazon.com’s one-click ordering.  It’s convenient, but you have to be very, very, careful.

The other problem I have with Snapcash is a more basic one: it just doesn’t make sense.  Messaging is great, and so is sending money, but I don’t see any overlap here.  I’ve never thought to myself, “You know, it’d be really great if I could send money over Snapchat!”  I commend Snapchat for trying to add features to their service, but I think they may be looking in the wrong place.  Then again, maybe I’m wrong.  Who knows?  This could be good after all.  For now, though, I’m just not sure I get it.  ••