Posted on May 20, 2013
Gratifying to see that when the weather gets really nasty, millions of people across the country turn to WeatherSphere apps to ensure their loved ones’ safety. Today (May 20, 2013) has been a busy day, with massive tornadoes hitting the midwest that led to significant loss of life. Millions of existing users were using our apps simultaneously to track the storms in real-time, and thousands of new users were downloading the apps and trying them for the first time.
Today, our virtual “cloud” at RackSpace actually came of use to foil the real storm cloud! At peak, we were serving nearly a gigabit of traffic every second, something we couldn’t hope to do with our original fixed infrastructure.
There is no question about it; the cloud plays a huge role in leveling the playing field. Without it, there is no way we could have scaled up in time to serve today’s traffic.
Posted on May 13, 2013
There is a lot to say about Apple in general, but the evolution of its App Store is an important subject in itself. The App Store app is the single largest gateway to all of Apple’s revenue from apps. This app is the embodiment of so many design, technological, product and business aspects necessarily combined together, with each aspect conflicting with the other in some way or the other, yet it somehow works.
The App Store eco-system is also responsible for the livelihoods of many developers (including my company WeatherSphere). I would like to pay homage by highlighting some of the good things it does (before ripping it apart in a future post).
These are in no particular order, and some impact some more than others. I am basing this on my experience building apps full-time for the last several years, initially by myself, now with a small team.
This is probably the most under-appreciated service provided by Apple to all its developers, for no charge whatsoever no matter how much you use it. This is available to all apps regardless of whether being paid or free. This single service by itself is responsible for killing carriers revenue from text messages, or rather, forcing them to stop ridiculously overcharging for text messages.
I can attest that every single text blurb sent via the app store notification system reaches its target user’s device within a few seconds, even when we are sending hundreds of messages a minute. Multiply that by the tens of thousands of other developers doing the same thing at the same time, and with recipient users spread across the globe, you can imagine the scale. The very fact that it continues to work is mind boggling. Having built many of eBay’s high-volume backend services, I speak from experience.
In the very beginning, like many developers coming from the Linux/Emacs world, or the MS/Visual Studio world, or the C/C++ world, I was aghast at having to kowtow to Apple’s edict on having to learn the archaic “Objective-C” programming language as a pre-requisite to build iOS apps. On top of that, imagine the surprise many of us had after attempting to download the developer toolkit on our trusty old Dell laptop, only to find out that iPhone apps could only be developed on Macs!
But, over time, this was offset by the facts that the developer toolkit was free, that the documentation was excellent, and there were not too many bugs.
This is a boon. Until the iPhone 4 came along, there were only two screen sizes to design for, iPhone and iPad. The iPhone 4 came along with its retina display causing a disruption, but Apple wisely kept the “virtual” screen pixel size the same as before and allowed for automatic scaling. For us personally the biggest irritant was the iPhone 5 screen size change. But even then, there is broad stability to the number of screens we have to design for, and this is literally a huge time saver. And as we all know, time is money.
I love the intrinsic security built into the system where apps cannot be installed and run on random devices unless either explicitly authorized by the developer AND the device owner, or unless they are released via the App Store. For sure there is the jailbreak society and cracked versions of paid apps, but by and large the system works.
Did I say earlier how in-awe I am of how well Apple’s In-App purchases work? Yes they take 30%, but oh well. From a security standpoint, we are totally happy in not having to deal with building payment transaction systems or storing customer credit card data. Apple does all of that for paid apps, and it does all of that for in-app purchases within free or paid apps. As a developer, it is one less reinvent-the-wheel thing for us to build. Plus, it is so much less likely for average users to fork over their credit card number on a random developer’s website, than it is to simply authorize the payment onto their existing iTunes accounts.
There are definitely more good things Apple does, but these have affected us the most. Please feel free to remind me of any major ones I have missed. In my next post, I will take Apple to task for the abysmal decline in quality of the consumer App Store app.