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Interview With Delicious Monster's Wil Shipley

March 24, 2010

Delicious Monster's Wil Shipley has been a central figure in the Mac indie development community for over 20 years now, so we decided to put his vast Apple knowledge to the test during what turned out to be a rather entertaining and thorough Q&A that spanned all kinds of topics, including iPad, iPhone, and Mac development. I have read that you believe iPhone apps need a specific focus, they need to do one thing and do it well.  How do you feel about iPhone apps now since that statement was from some time ago? I don't use very many iPhone apps to be honest.  I have like four or five pages of them installed. One of the things I have noticed is that, even on a weekly basis I'll only use like four apps total and three are Apple's.  I'll use a Twitter client and I have a game or something that I will play whenever I have a spare moment.  That's it. Do you think anything will change with the iPad?  Do you think the apps will be more intuitive, easier to use, and allow you to be more productive? Yeah, I think the iPad is a lot less clumsy with a lot more room for input and so there will be much much richer apps. Part of the thing about the iPhone is that it is a tiny device physically and you don't want to clutter up your screen. It would be confusing to have seventeen buttons on the same tiny screen, and of course that won't be as big of a problem on the iPad. The other thing about the iPhone is that it just doesn't have a lot of memory, so you really want to keep your apps tight and small and you want them to be very responsive, and also because it has a full screen metaphor for everything and yet you still have screens. It would be very confusing if you had an app that had 23 different screens. I actually just used Facebook on the iPhone for the first time this week, and I know they have had like different apps.  When they first came out with an app about a year ago it was really shitty and didn't do much.  But I looked at the app recently and I was actually quite impressed with what they had done. It's very clear; you launch it and there is like 9 icons saying "Hey, what do you want to do on Facebook?" Add friends, send email, respond to invitations, look at pictures... They really did set a standard for ease of use. Yeah, I thought it was really super-clean and they did a good job of having like nine different things you could do and still not be confusing because you basically feel like you're sort of sub-launching; like there is an app and then it was launching a little sub-app that does allows you to go, say, explore a friend and that would be the sub-app.  That was an interesting twist on it that I thought was very clean. But you still don't want to use your iPhone to do massive data entry and it would be a mistake to do a really complicated app like OmniGraffle on the iPhone whereas on the iPad... You bring up a good point actually.  I recently read an article by Ken Case from the OmniGroup where he boldly said "iPad or Bust" and they basically put aside a lot of their Mac development to work on apps for the iPad.  How do you feel about that as a Mac developer? I think obviously the iPad is not going to succeed unless it has the software to support it.  Omni's mission since the beginning was, well, when I founded it the whole sort of idea behind it was that we were going to create the software that enabled the platform that we loved.  Before we even knew what software we were going to write, the idea was to just create software that was missing on the Cocoa platform. At the time it was NextStep, but we were going to get software that was needed on NextStep.  We wrote a web browser because without a web browser NextStep wouldn't have survived another couple of years to get bought by Apple.  We wrote a PDF reader because there wasn't a PDF reader and it was becoming a standard very quickly and we knew the platform needed one and luckily we just got paid to do that.  So we kept doing that, where we said "Hey, this platform needs this, this platform needs that."  It's always been our thing that we wanted Cocoa to succeed because we knew it was a better way, and so I think it is was the next evolution of that where now Cocoa is working on this other device. The thing about the iPhone and the iPad is that it is really kind of a false dichotomy to say they are competing with the Mac because about 99 percent of the frameworks are the same between Mac OS X and the iPhone.  There is a top layer that is different but very similar, and underneath it all it's exactly exactly the same.  That's great for developers, that's an awesome story for developers.  So they are not really in competition, but you do have to do the work to make a nice app.  I hope they make a streamlined version for the iPad. How do you feel about them putting a pause on Mac development? I think it is a fine thing to do.  Most of their apps are very mature and honestly, like OmniGraffle 5 versus OmniGraffle 6, there isn't a whole lot different.  For me, personally, OmniGraffle has done everything pretty much everything I wanted since OmniGraffle 3 so I am not too worried.  For them it is obviously going to hurt their sales because if you don't revise an app, the old app's sales go down even if it is perfectly great. That's such a weird thing about the market.  For them it is a risky business decision, but I am not going to be like "Oh damn, OminGraffle didn't get the pointy lines with the curly thing."  There's no feature that I am just dying for in OmniGraffle. I use it, I like it, but I am not champing at the bit for them to finally fix something or add something.  I think this is a more constructive evolution for OmniGraffle. Instead of adding a couple of features and calling it OmniGraffle 6 or 7, they are redoing the interface and coming to a new device and I think it is a much cooler way to go. So are you actually excited for the iPad?  Are you excited to see what developers can do with it? I am excited for the iPad.  I think it's a really neat device.  I am incredibly worried because all of the apps have to go through the App Store approval process and I don't believe there is a good, compelling reason for that.  I think it's Apple exerting just a little too much power, and that scares me because all of history has shown that if you concentrate power in one place it gets abused even if it is not initially abused. What we have with the iPad is if it is a big success we have this company Apple that controls the store that you put your software on and approves every single app and at the same time we third-party companies are competing with them.  They are writing consumer software and we know that iWork is going to sail through the approval process; nobody thinks there will be any issues with iWork being approved. While they have gotten better about the App Store, at the same time they have continued to invent new criteria every week.  The latest one is that Apple has now started banning apps that use location-based advertising, and they just invented that.  Now imagine that you have spent the last year at your company betting the farm and investing everything writing this app that you thought was going to be really great and then all of the sudden out of the blue Apple says, "Nope, banned" just one week and suddenly your whole company is screwed.  That's not a cool thing to do. Are you fine with the App Store ecosystem the way it is?  Do you just have a problem with the approval process or… ? Well, I mean, I believe that there needs to be a third rail for the iPad.  For the iPhone Apple has a very good argument about why they have to control everything, which is that phones need to always be functional as phones.  You need to dial 911, you need to always be able to make a call and receive a call, and so it is a very good argument for why you absolutely can't mess around with its security the slightest bit.  Something could mess up your data or you may have something that might take it over.  There's all of these security reasons that make sense. But on iPad it's just pad.  There's no reason for Apple to lock it down.  I believe the iPad should be able to run software that is digitally signed by any trusted signing ability instead of running just Apple's signing ability, which is to say that if a user can find my website and find my software they can buy it from me instead of Apple and I just know I won't be in the App Store, I won't be getting all the publicity but there is still a way for me to do it.  Apple has the right to say here is the Apple App Store, here is the apps that we have approved, but I believe there should be a rich second marketplace. I think a lot of cool ideas could come from that.  A lot of the apps that we are seeing today that we like on the iPhone actually came out of the hacker community first because they weren't allowed on the iPhone and then eventually Apple loosened up and let us do it. All of the augmented reality stuff, that stuff wasn't possible under the App Store rules until just months ago when Apple made a very specific exception because they realized how valuable augmented reality was going to be.  The barcode reader, the RedLaser stuff, that wasn't possible either.  That's why I didn't do one.  The RedLaser guys just said screw it, we are going to go ahead and break the rules and it worked.  In this case Apple said we are going to make an exception because it is such a cool app. I had called them (Apple) two years ago and said "Hey, can I do this?" and they said absolutely not, don't do it.  Again, it's one of these things where you have it locked down it's going to kill innovation. Do you think Apple is just doing it to control the platform as it still growing, or do you think it's always going to be this way no matter how popular the it becomes, no matter how mature it is? If they can get away with it they are going to do it forever because they get 30 percent of every sale, that's going to be billions of dollars and they are going to love it.  It's all gravy for them.  The problem is is that they are dipping out of every single stage.  They are like here we'll sell you software, and we'll sell you our software, and if you buy any third-party software we'll get 30 percent of that, and if the third-party sells you anything inside of their apps we get 30 percent of that.  And I'm thinking boy, you guys really have set up a monopoly here.  It's kind of crazy. People always say if you don't like the iPad just buy something else and I think that's bullshit.  We need to work with Apple and not treat them like some enemy, and that it's all or nothing.  It's like when people say if you don't like this law in the United States just leave and go to Canada.  Really?  It's not that simple. So how is Delicious Monster approaching any more iPhone or even iPad development? We have to be very careful because the one product that we have right now we're not allowed to put the data that we get from Amazon on any device that is considered handheld and we don't even know what that is.  Like, there is no real definition, so I don't know if the iPad is handheld as well or not. So you might try again with the iPad? I don't know, I don't want to spend too much time on it.  I am going to try and engage them ahead of time and just say, "Hey, is this cool or not"?  Hopefully just talk to them some more and find out how I can make it good for them, find out exactly what it is they are looking for because I would really like to bring back my iPhone app. There are also other iPhone apps that I could do that would be really cool add-ons, but I am not sure how to sell those.  There are other neat things to be done in the iPhone arena.  I think just using the iPhone as a scanner would be a really cool thing.  Having it so it's essentially tethered to your Mac, wirelessly tethered, where you wander around the house and pretend it is an external camera.  I haven't done that yet because of what was allowed under the APIs that Apple exposed, but I think it was like, two months ago, they just opened up that part of the API and said they would approve it. It's just when? Yeah, it's just a matter of actually doing the code and figuring out what the whole product is going to be. I am excited about the devices.  The iPad I think is a really neat device.  I am kind of thinking about a new product for Delicious Monster right now that would be absolutely perfect for the iPad.  It's a hybrid, I definitely want a Mac app, but I also know that it would be absolutely great for the iPad as well.  But again, I have to carve out some time to do that. You definitely have a lot on your plate.  Anything else iPad related in the pipeline?  Anything that's going to be a possible simultaneous iPad/Mac release in the near future? No, I don't really have anything.  I am not sure if I can get on it and they don't have a videocamera yet, so I can't do any really cool videocamera stuff.  I am a little bit left in the cold on the iPad, which is kind of sad, until I get a new app out which I have been thinking about for almost a year now, and I had been kind of banking on them coming out with the iPad.  So it's kind of great when it came out, it was like, "Yep, that's exactly what I want for this new thing. Thank you."  We're obviously still a ways away on that.  It won't be one of the first apps for the iPad, that's for sure. One exciting piece of news for us is we're actually finally getting in retail stores again.  I haven't done that since Omni because I didn't like the way the distribution of software works in North America. Would the price end up being the same?  I believe Delicious Library is, what, $40 online? Yeah, I think they are actually going to do $39.95 because it's still sort of old school.  So you will save 5 cents and get a box; what a deal.  We found a company called Dr. Bott that has been selling hardware for a long time and they are going to be selling us around to different stores.  Obviously we are talking to all of the major stores you might expect, but I don't think we are allowed to say which ones have accepted us yet because we don't have signed contracts.  As you can imagine we are talking to all of the "major" places you might buy software. Like Best Buy? Actually, I am probably going to initially stay the hell away from Best Buy. Well, they sell Macs… Yeah, they do, but I got really badly burnt by CompUSA in the old days because they were like "we sell Macs," though they are just not concentrated on selling software.  They did this thing where we put our software in their store and after two weeks they sent it all back because it wasn't selling at the rate the PC software was, so then we had spent a ton of money on boxes and shipping putting software in every single CompUSA in the United States, which was a huge network of stores back then.  Then they ship it all back and we are out of that cost too.  We ended up loosing a fortune.  You don't want to just expand into these thousand store places unless they are really serious about Mac software instead of just having it sit there on their shelves.  We're talking with everybody but we are going to be a little conservative about who we actually let put our software on the shelf. Also, another thing I have been working on is… All of Apple's new iMacs have a very different camera lens than the previous ones, so people are actually having trouble scanning barcodes.  It focuses out much farther, it has like a two foot focal length and the others had something like a foot.  I have been working for the last several months to cut my algorithm that does the barcode scanning because we obviously need it to work on iMacs.  We have it, as of right now, where it is literally 700 percent better than it was when I started.  The cool thing is that it also got better for all of the other computers that don't have this camera. A bit of a blessing in disguise I suppose? Yeah it is, it's kind of fun.  Now there are items when I start moving them towards the camera, they will scan before I even stop moving my hand.  It's really hilarious; before you think you start to center it it just picks it up.  It's kind of fun, it almost seems like it's reading your mind.  We were hoping to actually demo that at Macworld because it would show well. Is your technology different than something like RedLaser? I don't know what RedLaser's underlying technology is.  There is nothing preventing me from putting it on the iPhone, it's just that in the old days it was that I couldn't use the APIs I wanted.  I read they licensed it out and were doing rather well using it that way.  It kind of seems like a good idea for you guys since you have done such a good job on the Mac side. One of their models is that they are selling the framework, and yeah, hooray for them.  There is only a couple of us in the world that have figured out how to read barcodes from blurry pictures.  There is three that I know of, one of which is actually written in Flash.  He was the first guy to get it after me and then RedLaser was the second.  Actually, they may be the same group, I don't know.  I actually don't know that much about RedLaser.  I just downloaded the program and was like, "Yup, that works." It's definitely a neat app. Yeah, it's a pretty cool demo.  I wanted to be the first one but I tried to play by the rules.  Oops. I guess we will end on how you feel about the iBooks interface.  Anything else you want to add to that conversation? I actually haven't seen much of it.  The interesting thing is that they day they announced it my sales went up.  Two days later they were doubled. Yeah, you're name was all over the place at that time. Exactly.  My company's biggest problem is that customers just don't know about us.  Most people, most, when they see our app, they want it.  If I demo the app to somebody, I have never had someone say they didn't want it.  Not everybody wants it for $40, but it's amazing.  I have never had an app in my life where when I showed it to people, they were just excited.  I can show it anybody, everybody has something to put in there. The thing about the iBooks app is that it is an app for buying and reading eBooks.  Our customers have asked us, but we won't do it.  Over the years we have intentionally stayed away from anything electronic.  We don't catalogue your electronic music, we don't catalogue the movies you have ripped, or your eBooks.  That was very intentionally because we believe that's Apple's domain.  iTunes and iBooks.  Buying and curating the electronic versions.  We draw a very bright line where Delicious Library is for your physical stuff.  iBooks isn't even the slightest competition for us, it just so happens they use our same metaphor. Once we did it it's obviously, this is obviously the right metaphor, right?  And now everybody is like, "it's not like you invented the bookshelf."  You know what?  We really did, in the computer sense, invent the photorealistic bookshelf, straight on view with the book turned outward.  There really is no example of that anywhere before 2004. It's cool.  It's really great validation for Apple to come along and say it is the correct metaphor, everyone should use it, we're gonna use it.  It's actually funny, I think I still have mail from the guy who did coverflow.  You know coverflow was originally a hack from a kid somewhere, right?  Then he got bought out by Apple.  He actually wrote me and said coverflow was inspired by Delicious Library too.  In terms of Apple copying me, to be honest, it happened a long time ago when they did coverflow. Again, that's incredibly flattering.  That's awesome, that's great.  I am so glad it could be an inspiration for something so amazing. It's just that your name isn't on the product, so you are kind of missing out on the recognition for it. Yeah, obviously it would be nice to get recognized for it, but there are so many guys at Apple that have done so many amazing things like the UI team.  When they show it off, all of the credit goes to Steve, right?  It's like, "Steve Jobs invented the iPad."  Well, Steve does a lot and he is a genius, but he doesn't actually do the design and he doesn't actually do the coding.  The guys that do are largely unknown. I actually had the privilege of seeing the original motion mock-ups of the iPad recently, and they are amazing.  These did not make it into production.  They didn't get the full range of motion that was originally mocked up.  It was just stunning.  It was just amazing the artwork that was done, it was like cinematography. Such as life I suppose.  Being a developer you just don't get the recognition sometimes. Yeah, I have always been very lucky.  I am the last person in the world to complain about not getting enough recognition.  I have gotten way more recognition than is my do considering what I have done.  I can not complain. Thanks for your time Wil, we can't wait to see what you guys come up with in the future. Thank you.

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