Tag Archives: iOS

Comixology removes in-app purchasing from iOS apps

ComixologyYesterday, with zero advance notice, came some big comic news: Amazon stated that Comixology will drop in-app purchases for iOS users, to avoid Apple’s 30% cut of all in-app sales on any iOS app. The Android version will still allow in-app purchases, but not through Google Play’s system; Google also takes a 30% cut of sales from Android in-app sales. Android users will have to go through Paypal or Comixology’s own credit card system, which is what Comixology’s website uses. The new versions of Comixology’s iOS app will require buying comics through a web browser, which can then be synced with the now-reader-only Comixology app.

Needless to say, this seems to be a much bigger deal for comics folk than anything I heard at C2E2 this weekend. My Twitter feed shows a lot of people annoyed about the change, and how it’ll make things “needlessly complicated.” I thought I’d list my own pros and cons for this change below…

Pros

More money will go to comics creators

Under the previous system, the average comic sales split was 30% to Google/Apple, 35% to Comixology (which took half of all sales left), and the remaining 35% to be divided up between the publisher and creators. For a $4 comic, this would be $1.20 to Google/Apple, $1.40 to Comixology, and $1.40 to the publisher/creators. Seeing two-thirds of all sales gone to various middlemen before even getting to the publisher/creators (and however that remaining split goes) sounds like a ripoff to me. Amazon probably realized it’d hurt them as well, thus their taking the same path they’ve taken with their Kindle app.

Under the new system (which is how buying books through Comixology’s website has always worked), 50% of sales will go to Comixology, and the remaining 50% will go to the publisher/creators. For a $4 comic, that’s $2 to Comixology, and $2 to the publisher/creators. Granted, this could change in the future (say, if Comixology decides keeping two-thirds of sales for itself isn’t a bad idea), but assuming similar ratios, it works out to an extra 60 cents a book for Comixology/Amazon and an extra 60 cents a book for the publishers/creators (and however further down that’s split up, again). While from the creators’ end that still seems a bit lopsided to me, it’s one less middleman, and thus works out much better for everyone involved. Unless you’re Google or Apple, I suppose.

Slight lessening of Comixology’s monopoly could result

Some people that dislike Comixology’s in-app purchase change could realize that as long as they’re going through a website to buy their comics, they could just as well go through what alternate sites exist to buy comics. As I wrote in my post on Comixology alternatives, it’s possible to buy some of one’s comics from various alternate sources, though Marvel/some smaller publishers are exclusive to Comixology.

Again, having just one excessively dominant source for digital comics isn’t a good thing, especially if (as we’ve seen here) things change and one grows dissatisfied with said dominant company. Of course, DRM locking in one’s purchases to one store, making it harder to switch, is a reason why Comixology seems big on DRM (besides the publishers’ insistence on such). Webcomic xkcd summed this up in one strip.

Still, it’ll be nice if this does make people reconsider whether DRM, etc. is worth the now-lesser convenience of Comixology. It’ll also be nice if it lets people possibly consider sources with less harsh or no DRM, like Image Comics’ website. Some publishers also seem aware of the downside of overreliance on just one store, and have diversified their digital comics sellers (DC and Archie in particular).

We’re already used to buying some media through websites

Amazon’s Kindle app for iOS is designed to work similarly to the Comixology change—no in-app purchasing, etc.—but what few extra steps that might be required haven’t hurt Amazon’s current dominance of the ebook marketplace. Amazon also seems to be doing OK with selling digital music against the one-click iTunes, though they’ve also made it easy to transfer one’s purchases into iTunes on your PC/Mac.

Less censorship of Comixology books

Since one’s buying books through Comixology’s website, Comixology will be free to sell their entire inventory without worrying about Apple banning certain books from its app. This includes books that ran afoul of Apple’s iOS standards in recent months, particularly “Sex Criminals.”

Comics manufacturers’ individual apps still allow in-app purchasing

The individual apps for DC, Marvel, etc. will still offer in-app purchasing, even if Comixology’s app is what they’re based on. This might appeal to some, assuming they don’t mind having multiple individual apps on their mobile device. Though that might be the case already—Dark Horse Comics books are only available digitally through their own app.

Cons

Buying comics from an app might require a few extra steps

Setting up and buying new comics might take a few extra steps over before. But again, it shouldn’t work much differently from Kindle’s ebook store.

Creators might see sales decline if fewer people use Comixology, negating the benefits of removing in-app purchasing

Some have expressed the belief that people switching away from Comixology (for other sites, paper comics, piracy, etc.) might result in Comixology losing profitability, or even fewer people reading comics, as Gerry Conway notes in an article. While I suppose it’s possible sales could drop, as I noted above, I still feel people moving to a diverse choice of other (legal) digital comics venues will be a good thing in the long run. Comixology can still be a major digital comics choice (they do make a nice app); it just shouldn’t be the only digital comics choice.

Conclusion

Overall, while it’ll be a bit less convenient, I have to conclude the benefits outweigh whatever downsides will happen from Amazon’s removal of in-app purchasing from Comixology. If it results in an increased range of alternative choices to Comixology, more awareness of the downsides of DRM/near-monopolies, more money to the creators of the comics, and less self-censorship of what Comixology can sell, it’s hard for me to argue “a few less buttons to push” should trump those factors.

Blu-ray vs. digital media stores: which option’s better for multiple mixed-OS devices?

Wreck-It Ralph on Blu-rayLately, I’ve been considering going to high definition for future movie and TV show purchases. Between the direction things are moving, my owning an HDTV set, and that the HD version of “Wreck-It Ralph” I’ve seen looks a lot better than my DVD version does, I figure it’s time to make the move.

But what kind of HD videos? The current choices are Blu-ray and the various digital media stores, the latter dominated by iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. I’ve written about Blu-ray in the past, and why I’ve mostly ignored it until now, given my dislike of its downsides: it’s another rapidly-spinning-disc media format (when I feel the future for video is in digital files, just as we’ve seen in the shift from CDs in music); it’s laden with more annoying DRM than DVDs ever had (a major reason Blu-ray was likely created in the first place); its attempts to make DVDs obsolete feels rather aggressive, despite that it’s only been about a decade since DVDs largely displaced VHS; and they still have the nerve to charge more for high definition over standard definition, despite no clear reason for the extra cost at this point other than a cash grab.

Still, when I went to compare Blu-ray to the digital video services of iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play, I concluded that ultimately, Blu-ray has the advantage over those stores, despite its flaws. The biggest problem of the stores is that they’re designed and geared toward working with their parent companies’ own device ecosystems, with cross-platform compatibility often iffy to nonexistent. Even DRMed ebooks aren’t as bad as the current state of digital video—at least Comixology allows one to read their books in a web browser, Android tablet or iPad.

Meanwhile, since its earlier days, Blu-ray’s DRM aspects have been sidestepped or defeated, and they’ve become easier to rip: the program MakeMKV is a popular means of ripping BR discs to an MKV file, and can be followed up by the use of programs like Handbrake or MP4tools to convert the MKV file to a smaller/more device-friendly file size and format. Said files would also be DRM-free, allowing one to put them on any device, unencumbered by one daring to actually buy a device based on desired features, not by whether they’re tied to a specific company/operating system. There’s also being able to back up the files to a hard drive, as well as still owning the original disc.

In my case, I have a mix of devices: a 2012 Mac Mini; an Xbox 360; a Nexus 4 smartphone; and a first-generation Nexus 7 tablet. This CNET article has a table summarizing which service is compatible with which device (updated 3/20/14: the article dates from over a year ago at this point; there’s been a few changes since it was written, but it’s still useful):

http://news.cnet.com/8301-33620_3-57566817-278/how-trapped-are-your-digital-movies-and-tv-shows/

As for my own devices, I’ve summarized their media store compatibility below (updated 3/20/14):

  • Mac Mini: iTunes; Google Play (via web browser; SD and HD); Amazon (via web browser; SD video only)
  • Xbox 360: Amazon; its own Xbox media services; Google Play videos (via the YouTube app, under “purchases”)
  • Nexus 4/Nexus 7: Google Play

As you can see, Amazon’s determined to push the Kindle, and thus won’t make their service available for straight Android devices; Google’s focused on Android, and thus their non-Android services are mediocre; and Apple’s definitely not offering much for non-iOS/OS X devices. The Xbox has support for its own services, Amazon and (technically) Google Play (via the YouTube app).

Since I don’t feel one should be punished for daring to buy tablets/smartphones/computers from a mix of operating systems/manufacturers, converting Blu-ray video to digital files seems the best course to take. At least until DRM is (hopefully) finally killed off for videos sold through iTunes, etc., though given VHS/DVD’s history (Macrovision, etc.), it’s debatable if or when that day will arrive.

Finally, yes, technically there’s also pirating videos from torrents, etc., which would have all of the same advantages as ripping Blu-rays/DVDs save the obvious one: no compensation for those that created the movies/TV shows. There’s also piracy’s other downsides (MPAA lawsuit threats, hit-and-miss availability of certain things, sketchy websites, etc.).

Apple’s big tech news: revamps for the Mac Pro and iOS 7, announcement of OS X “Maverick”

Mac Mini (late 2012 version)This week, Apple announced a slew of new product information. While multiple tech sites have covered everything in detail, I thought I’d give my reactions toward the bigger news points announced, though more thorough reactions won’t come until I can see the products in person.

iOS 7

iOS is getting a big revamp for version 7. The icons have been simplified, for starters. Meanwhile, the interfaces for various software on iOS (and OS X) lose the skeuomorphism, which seems to have bothered some (though not myself). Siri is also gaining some new voices (French, German, and male versions). There’s even a flashlight app now built-in; as others have noted, I suppose it does undermine some of the market for third-party flashlight apps.

I think the iOS revamp is long overdue. iOS 7 seems to have taken some cues from Android (the notifications, lock screen features, etc.) and even the late, lamented WebOS (the displaying of multiple running apps). Contrary to some critics, I don’t see anything wrong with Apple taking some cues from the competition…or in WebOS’ case, a nice but defunct mobile OS.

Hardware

While the MacBook Air got some incremental upgrades, the biggest hardware news was the completely revamped Mac Pro, Apple’s professional-model desktop computer that’s been largely ignored over the past few years. The new one looks quite different from the old Pro, but still has lots of expansion options, though largely external ones on this model.

I’ve already seen some make comparisons to the ill-fated Mac Cube from over a decade ago. Presumably, Apple’s resolved the Cube’s problems quite awhile ago, given the ongoing success of their small-form desktop computer, the Mac Mini.

Software

Safari’s being given some revisions, though the bigger story might be OS X’s newest version, 10.9/”Maverick.” Yes, Apple’s finally run out of “big cat” names after all these years. It’s now naming operating system versions after California locales. I’m hoping “Needles” gets chosen, since it’s where Snoopy’s brother Spike lived in “Peanuts.” If interested, Apple’s also released the default wallpaper for Maverick.

Apple’s introducing a new feature: iTunes Radio, its own competitor to Pandora, Spotify, etc., with similar features. Hopefully it’ll work out better than “Ping” did. (You don’t remember Ping? Exactly.)

The new versions of OS X and iOS 7 will run on most recent versions of iPhones/iPads/computer hardware.

As I noted earlier, I’d want to see the revised iOS in action for myself at an Apple Store. I’ll likely be upgrading to Maverick at some point, as well.

GoComics app now available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone devices

GoComics app
The GoComics app, on Android.

As reported by Engadget, Universal Uclick’s released a comics viewing app for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone based devices. Universal Uclick is a national syndicate formed by a merger a few years ago of online site Uclick and traditional newspaper comic strip syndicate Universal Press Syndicate. While Universal’s comics have been available for years for viewing through their website (www.gocomics.com), one can now view them through this app, as well. Strips I enjoy reading via Uclick include “FoxTrot,” “Doonesbury,” “Luann,” “Baldo,” “La Cucaracha,” and “Pearls Before Swine.” Other classic strips carried as reruns include “Peanuts,” “For Better or For Worse,” and “Calvin and Hobbes.”

My brief look at the app (on my Nexus 7 tablet) shows it seems nice enough, with the same functionality as the website: the ability to forward to others links to favorite strips, as well as bookmark favorites. Unfortunately (as of this writing), the app wouldn’t let me log in to my Uclick account. However, the Google Play store description has a response stating they plan to fix this in an update very soon.

Since I usually read newspaper comics on my desktop each morning, I probably won’t make heavy use of this app. However, it might be useful for trips away from home, when I’ll be more reliant on my tablet, and don’t feel like firing up my laptop. Of course, I’d still have to read the non-Uclick strips I enjoy (“Mutts,” “Edge City,” etc.) via other means.

TweetDeck gets decked: Twitter ends support for iOS, Android, and AIR versions

TweetDeckTwitter, owners (since 2011) of the long-standing TweetDeck Twitter client software, has announced it’s shutting down the iOS, Android, and Adobe AIR versions of its client. The mass purge in support platforms is being done so TweetDeck can shift to primarily being a web-based (and Chrome-browser-based) service, though the Mac and Windows clients will continue to be supported (for now…). However, the remaining future versions will no longer have Facebook integration.

Coupled with the recent heavy cutback in support for non-Twitter-approved software tying into Twitter, it all feels rather provincial for such a hugely popular online service. As for the future of web-based TweetDeck, one of its few remaining competitors will probably be HootSuite.

On my Android devices, I switched some time ago to using Twitter’s main app, as it supports in-line photo and conversation thread displaying much better than TweetDeck did. On my Mac Mini, I use the TweetDeck app. As for my Linux Mint laptop, I use Twitter’s website, bookmarked as a pinned tab in Firefox and Chromium.

Five years of the iPhone (and the modern smartphone era)

iPhone 5-year anniversary infographic
Infographic created by Mashable.com, used under a Creative Commons license (BY-ND).

This week marked the fifth anniversary of the original iPhone coming onto the market.

Yes, there’s much being written about this anniversary, and how much it’s changed both Apple and our lives overall. For Apple, the iPhone quickly became their top-selling device, pushed Apple into becoming one of the US’ most valuable companies, lessened the iPod’s importance, and ushered in the modern smartphone era, “apps” and all. The iPhone’s operating system (now called iOS) has also changed Apple’s computing hardware, as Apple’s folded some iOS features into OS X (granted, the Classic Mac OS had “desk accessories,” of which modern apps are the “2.0″ version of desktop accessories).

Competitors of course have come along, most prominently Google with rival smartphone OS Android. The quality of smartphones, plus their versatility as devices, have also greatly improved since 2007, with a myriad of affordable options to choose from.  Of course, this has had the side effect of reducing in prominence other devices, particularly the stand-alone casual point-and-shoot camera and video camera. And finally, the smartphone’s helped to make the Internet a much more portable and ubiquitous presence, for better (such as smartphones’ role in the recent “Arab Spring”) or for worse (for some, yet another device to distract us).

Smartphones have come a long way since my first post in 2007 about the original iPhone announcement, plus my initial impressions of seeing the iPhone in person. iPhone prices have come way down (from $500), there’re several models available, and they’ve become ubiquitous (even my mother has one). Of course, given my Linux usage, I opted for an alternative to the iPhone once things reached the point that I decided a smartphone might be useful after all, first going with the Palm Pre (which ultimately was a disaster), then moving to a prepaid Android smartphone. As for smartphones being useful, they have been for me—easily the most useful gadget I’ve purchased. I suppose I’ve come a long way from dismissing smartphones as “[my] not needing to use everything but the kitchen sink in an on-the-go device.”

Mashable.com has an article about the iPhone’s fifth anniversary. They’ve also offered (under a Creative Commons license) the above infographic about the iPhone’s rise to prominence.

 

Tech thoughts, early edition: Apple’s iPhone 4S/iOS 5 news (and other tidbits)

Apple logo
Flickr Creative Commons photo by markhillary.

On Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave Apple’s first post-Steve Jobs keynote address, announcing the new updates for Apple’s portable media/mobile phone products. However, the announcements were less than exciting, being mostly incremental upgrades and some emphasis on the new cloud-based features. A full summary of today’s announcements are on Engadget.

My observations:

  • The iPhone 4S (the newest iPhone model’s name) mostly features a general spec bump, a price drop on its predecessor models (with contracts, the 3GS is now free, while the 4 is US$99; both only in 8GB models), a nicer 8 megapixel camera, and being built with CDMA and GSM compatibility (instead of separate models). There’s also integration with a voice activation/command phone-wide system, Siri. Unless one’s phone contract is up, this isn’t worth paying an early termination fee to buy.
  • The iPod line has gotten similar spec bumps, but is largely  unchanged. The Touch now starts at 16GB for US$199, and goes up to 64GB at US$399. The Touch, like the iPhone, is now also available in white. Meanwhile, the Nano’s main makeover is gaining better touchscreen controls, with larger sliding icons and various watch skins (per its popular use as a wristwatch), including a Mickey Mouse one. Unlike the rumors, the Shuffle and the Classic have been given stays of execution, which should thrill large capacity iPod fans, though they’re both being de-emphasized by Apple (no price or spec changes; the Classic is still 160GB for US$249).
  • The newest version of iOS, iOS 5, will be available as a free upgrade for iPhone 3GS and 4 owners.
  • Sprint is gaining the iPhone, which completes all of the major national US carriers. T-Mobile won’t have the iPhone, but I assume they’re counting on their ill-considered merger with AT&T going through.

And that’s about it. Guess Apple will have everyone’s attention in January for their revised hardware announcements…

DC’s new digital comics store and the state of digital comics

DC Comics logoMuch like the current eBook trend, there’s also a trend toward offering digital versions of comic books. On the heels of Marvel’s similar service, DC Comics has opened a new digital comics store via digital comics service Comixology (who also run similar stores for most of the other major comic companies—Dark Horse, Archie, etc.):

http://www.newsarama.com/comics/dc-digital-comics-store-101110.html

Yesterday I tried out one of the free titles on the service, an amusing comic strip called “The Night Owls,” a black-and-white comic about a trio of paranormalist investigators in 1920s New York City. One of the first things I noticed was that it’s still being branded under DC’s Zuda webcomic label, which DC recently shuttered.

That brings me to my second observation, the limited range of content available. There’s only several dozen titles available, mostly very recent (but not the newest) issues available, mixed with a hodgepodge of older issues. The mainstream DC superheroes are the main ones represented, of course, with some Vertigo and Wildstorm titles thrown in also. Of course, Wildstorm’s also been recently shut down. “Tiny Titans” is offered, but not much else that’s kid-friendly (i.e. not a current DCU-set title). The article notes DC’s intentionally avoiding offering digital and print versions at the same time, considering the online service as “additive,” which reads “half-hearted at best” to me.

Most comics are being offered for $2 each (a handful for 99 cents), and can be read either via an iOS app (Android support is being considered) or online at Comixology’s site with a Flash-enabled browser. Since it’s in a proprietary format, the comics can’t be read by any other means. $2 is a bit pricey for a comic that cost $3 or $4 as a print version. There’s also the proprietary/DRM aspects as well—you can’t loan the comic to anyone, and your collection’s reliant on Comixology staying in business/keeping up its reader software.

While there’s plenty of advantages to digital comics over physical versions (no physical storage space needed, the potential for being easier to buy or find than physical comic shops, the vast range of choices possible, etc.), at this stage I’m not sure DC’s online store is what I’d call “ready for primetime.” Taking some cues from the digital music industry regarding ease of use, pricing, selection, and avoiding DRM would be advisable, especially given that downloading .cbr/.cbz formatted comics files from some unauthorized website/Usenet/etc. would be easier, more convenient, versatile and cheaper than what I’ve seen of DC (or other digital comics) services.

The new iPhone is announced: video calling (wi-fi only) and a sharper screen

Yesterday, the new iPhone (version 4) was announced; among the various changes made:

  • Changing the name of the iPhone OS to “iOS”, which I suppose makes sense in light of the OS being used on the iPad as well as the iPhone.
  • The new iPhone has a square-ish shape to it, thanks to a design change making the antenna part of the outer body.
  • A sharper screen.
  • Available in black or white colors.
  • Video calling is available, but only via wi-fi (thanks to AT&T’s sorry network quality, I’m sure).

For more on the new iPhone:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100607/ap_on_hi_te/us_tec_apple_iphone

Overall, a lot of the changes sound incremental than earth-shaking, though I’m sure 2G iPhone owners (whose renewals will be coming up soon) will appreciate it. Otherwise, same carrier (AT&T), same (new) data rates, same lock-down (and probably new lock-down stuff), etc. Will have a look at it in person when it’s out in several weeks, but I’ll be sticking to my first-gen Palm Pre, of course.