Interesting Links, January 14, 2014

Here are links I found interesting on January 14, 2014:

An(other) Apple Maps Fail

This example was so outrageous, I had to share it.

I spent last weekend in California with friends. (Blog post to come, eventually.) On Friday, they needed to take care of business in the Folsom area. We decided to have lunch while we were out.

My friends are not smartphone people, although one of them does have an iPod Touch that she uses with various apps on WiFi. In an effort to show how useful a smartphone could be, I used Apple Maps and my preferred navigation app, MapQuest, to navigate to their primary destination. It worked like a charm.

Google AppAfterwards, I used the Google Search app to perform a voice search (on my iPhone 4; no Siri) for “restaurants serving breakfast in Folsom California.” The app understood me perfectly and displayed a list of results. We decided on the Sutter Street Grill. The entry for the restaurant included its address as a link, as you can see in the screenshot. I tapped the link to view the location in Apple Maps.

Apple Maps ExampleAnd that’s where things got weird. It showed me the location on the map, but no matter how far I zoomed out, I could not see the dot representing our current location. And then I realized that the body of water on the map was a lot bigger than the lake we’d driven by.

Apple Maps ExampleI tapped the arrow beside the location on the map. And that’s when I discovered that the map was showing us a location in New Zealand.

Here’s where I see a problem. I’m in California. The phone knows I’m in California. Yet when I tapped the address, it displayed a location on the other side of the planet.

And no, the location wasn’t incorrect in the link — although the street name does not include the word “historic.” For some reason that I can’t understand, Apple Maps decided to display 811 Sutter Street in Canterbury Seaview, New Zealand, 7,111 miles away, instead of the 811 Sutter Street that was less than 5 miles away.

Come on, Apple. Firing people isn’t going to fix the problem. Let’s get down to business and make this app work right.

By the way…the restaurant was great!

Retina Display Updates for Computers that Don’t Support Retina Displays?

Really, Apple?

Fellow author Jeff Carlson recently commented on Twitter:

The Retina Display is a new feature of certain Macintosh computers announced the other day at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). While it’s nice to know that my next Macs will have a better display, there’s really nothing wrong with the displays on my current Macs: a 27″ iMac, a 11″ MacBook Air, and a 13″ MacBook Pro. The oldest of these computers (the MacBook Pro) is only about two years old and I have no plans to buy a new Mac for at least a year. Indeed, my desktop Mac, which is less than a year old, probably won’t be replaced for at least 2 years.

Unfortunately, in order for the folks who buy these new Macs to take advantage of their hot new displays, Mac OS applications have to be rewritten to support them. Apple, of course, is leading the pack by updating its apps. Jeff, who writes about iMovie, was pointing out the size difference between the old and new versions of that app.

Wow is a pretty good way to sum up the 179% increase in the app’s size.

Software Update Woes
Great! Now I can use iMovie in Thai!

I wondered whether the update would be pushed through to all Macs, regardless of whether they supported the new Retina Display. My answer came this morning, when I ran Software Update. If I wanted to update the Mac OS apps on my iMac with the software announced at WWDC, I’d need to download almost 2 GB of updates — most of which would not benefit me in the least.

Really, Apple?

This is the best way you can come up with to roll out updates for new hardware features? You can’t create an “HD” version of your apps and let the folks with new machines upgrade to that version? You can’t have Software Update distinguish between computer models and roll out the updates specific to that model?

Really?

I’m on the road this summer. I get all my Internet access for my desktop Mac through a hotspot connection to my New iPad. It’s 3G here and I pay roughly $10 per gigabyte of data. That means these “free” updates — which will not benefit me at all — will cost me $20.

Ouch.

And if I don’t update, I won’t be able to take advantage of new features in those apps as they’re rolled out.

I’m fortunate that I can take my two laptops to a nearby coffee shop for updates. At least the $20 I’ll spend there will buy me lunch. Still, a portion of the limited disk space on my MacBook Air will be gobbled up with assets I don’t need.

Thanks, Apple. You might not have as many updates as Microsoft does for Windows, but yours certainly hurt more.

The $49 Kindle

This should be free.

KindleTwo days ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a status update that linked to a CNET article titled “Get a Kindle with Special Offers for $49 Shipped.” The article detailed the hoops you’d have to jump through to get a 6″ refurbished Kindle for just $49. The device normally retails for $69.

No Need for a Kindle

I don’t have a Kindle. I never wanted one. I had a NOOK on order when they were first announced, but since B&N took so damn long to deliver and the iPad was announced while I waited, I canceled my NOOK order and bought an iPad. I’ve upgraded it for various reasons ever since.

I love my iPad. I use it for all kinds of things, from monitoring the weather (Weatherbug, Intellicast apps) to planning and tracking long flights in my helicopter (Foreflight app). I also use it as an ebook reader with the iBooks, Kindle, and NOOK apps.

Ironically, it’s the Kindle app that I prefer. Amazon has a good selection of books and can synchronize them between up to 5 devices. There are Kindle readers for iPad, iPhone, and Mac OS — as well as other devices. So I can buy a Kindle ebook and read it on any device at any time — and keep my pages synchronized. No, it doesn’t support the kind of Interactive features available in books created in iBooks Author, but since Apple takes so damn long to approve those books, there aren’t many to choose from. And if there was an Interactive book I wanted, I could look at it in iBooks. If I had just a Kindle device, I couldn’t do that.

In my mind, the Kindle is an extremely limited ebook reading device. While I know some folks think the Kindle Fire is pretty close to an iPad, they’re only fooling themselves.

A Sucker for a Good Deal?

As an ebook author, I always wondered what my books would look like on a real Kindle. So there was a certain desire to get my hands on one — even temporarily — to see what it could do and how it looked. $49 seemed a pretty low price to pay to satisfy my curiosity, especially since I had a $300 credit on my Amazon.com account from selling my iPad 2 to them. So there wouldn’t even be any out-of-pocket cost.

So I jumped through all the hoops — not an easy task on a day when my 3G connection was in full frustration mode — and bought one.

It arrived today.

My Observations

Kindle with Packaging
Smart packaging. Really. (But no, that isn’t a cup of coffee on my Kindle. It’s one of the ads that appear automatically when it powers down.)

Amazon obviously took some cues from Apple on the packaging. They designed a simple cardboard box just the right size for the device and the USB cable that comes with it. Tasteful, simple. Slap a label on it and throw it in the mail. Amazon calls this “frustration-free packaging” — and it is.

When I first pulled out the Kindle, I admit I was somewhat impressed. It was very small and lightweight — like a thin paperback book. I could imagine myself reading a book on the device — throwing it in my purse and pulling it out when I was having lunch or waiting on line somewhere. Of course, I already do that with my iPad — would I take one instead of the other? I doubted it.

I plugged it into a power source to make sure it was fully charged. It came to life, prompting me for my language.

And that’s when the frustration began.

You see, I’m so accustomed to a touch-screen that I couldn’t immediately figure out how to use the buttons. To make matters worse, every time I tried to press the Select button (in the middle of a 5-way controller), I wound up pushing either the up or down button on the controller. Seeing the button I needed to “press” onscreen and not being able to just tap it was driving me bonkers.

But I got past that — at least at first — and got my next surprise: a wifi connection was required to use the device. For some reason, I thought all Kindles had built-in wireless capabilities. Silly me.

So, for a bit more irony, I connected the Kindle to my iPad’s wifi hotspot. That got my account set up so I could start looking at my library.

Around then, I was a bit irked to see that the bottom part of the screen was taken up with a banner advertisement. This 1/2 inch ad appears on the Home screen and changes periodically. I’m not sure where it comes from, because it appears even when wifi is disabled. Right now, it’s advertising an HGTV show called “Design Star.” I don’t think there’s any TV show that could possibly interest me less. Odd that Amazon.com, which knows what I’ve been reading about and buying for the past 5+ years, can’t target an ad toward my interests.

I fumbled around a bit and then realized that I really needed to learn more about how to use the Kindle before trying to read one of my own books. It doesn’t come with any printed documentation — which is really no surprise — and I didn’t have much trouble finding and opening the manual that’s included on the device. I read up about it but before I could do anything else, I got a phone call and stepped away.

When I returned to the Kindle, it was displaying a fullscreen ad.

Apparently, when you leave it alone, it displays a “screensaver.” In the world of Kindle, screensaver = advertisement. It took me a while to figure out how to make it go away. I had to power it back up. The screensaver remains on screen when the device powers itself off. Repeatedly turning the device on and off displays a different “screensaver” each time it’s powered down.

I realized then that Amazon had gotten me to pay $49 for an advertisement delivery device. That’s downright offensive to me.

I played around with it a little more. I found the page turning buttons unintuitive, requiring me to push down instead of in. That might seem like a minor distinction, but with a device small enough to hold in the palm of my hand, it seems more logical to turn a page by squeezing it instead of using a finger on my other hand to press down while holding it. And, of course, my brain keeps telling me to press the right button on the 5-way controller.

And did I mention the delay when turning pages in the books it’s designed for reading? The current page kind of blurs or darkens out before the other page appears. Like a blink. I thought they’d fixed that problem.

As for the much-touted annotation feature, to enter notes on this Kindle, you have to deal with its keyboard. That opens a whole new world of hurt. The keyboard has tabs for symbols, lowercase, uppercase, and international characters. You need to get to the right tab to type the right character. (God help you if your wifi password is a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols; it could take quite some time to enter those characters.) Then you need to use the 5-way controller and its center button to highlight and select characters. Rather than presenting them in standard QWERTY order, they’re alphabetical. I could imagine myself forgetting what note I wanted to type before I’d typed the first few words.

Even defining words requires you to use the controller to navigate to the beginning of the word you want to define. I’m not sure if I’d care enough to bother.

My Conclusions

Before actually getting my hands on this, I thought, hey what’s $49? Seems like a good deal to me. But in the less than 60 minutes I played with the Kindle, getting more and more frustrated every time I tried to do something, I realized that this device should be free, like razors used to be.

Do people actually like this device? Use all of its features — including the nightmarishly designed keyboard? Tolerate its never-ending stream of uninteresting ads?

I can’t and won’t. I’d lose my sanity trying to use this regularly. I could burn a $50 bill and get more satisfaction for money spent.

This puppy is going back to Amazon. I’m sure there are plenty of other suckers out there who think it’s a good deal. Let them give it a whirl.

Apple iBookstore: Understanding Payment Requirements

It’s a royalty agreement, folks.

The other day, I received an unusual email on my Flying M Productions email account. Flying M Productions is my little publishing company, the one I use to publish Maria’s Guides and other books. Its website isn’t much to look at; just a lot of promotional material for the items it publishes and sells. There’s no support for any book there; all support for Maria’s Guides can be found on the Maria’s Guides website.

The Question

Here’s the message, in its entirety; I’ve only omitted the sender name:

I am looking for understanding of this financial requirement for ibooks author:
(Apple does not pay partners until they meet payment requirements and earning thresholds in each territory. You should consider this before applying to work directly with Apple as you may receive payments faster by working with an Apple-approved aggregator.)
Apple was not able to explain this and said I had to contact you.
Please explain.

This is obviously a lie — or a big misunderstanding — I seriously doubt whether Apple even knows of the existence of Flying M Productions — especially since I’ve been waiting over a month for it to approve two titles for the iBookstore. The idea that Apple would refer someone to me about one of their policies is truly laughable. The idea that a tiny publisher with just four titles in 20 years would provide support for the most valuable company in the world is a real joke.

And that explains why I didn’t reply.

What’s This About?

But I wanted to know what she was talking about so I did a little search. I wanted to see whether the text she’d included in parentheses was actually present in any Apple agreement. I picked “payment requirements” and “Apple-approved aggregator” as my search phrases.

First I searched the most recent version of the 37-page Ebook Agency/Commissionaire Distribution Agreement that I’m required to sign to create books for sale on the iBookstore. No joy.

Then I searched the license agreement for the current version of iBooks Author. No joy.

Then I went online, and followed a bunch of links on the Apple and iTunesConnect websites. I eventually wound up on the requirements page for the Paid Books Account. And there, in the third bullet under the heading “Financial Requirements,” was the full text she’d put in parentheses in her email message.

Apple’s Stand on This

Before I go on, you need to understand two things:

  • Apple does not want everyone capable of typing a sentence and turning it into an epub or iBooks Author document to publish on the iBookstore. Think I’m kidding? Why else would they require ISBNs for every title sold on the iBookstore? That’s just another hurdle for authors/publishers to jump. Why does Apple take this stand? Because Apple (1) doesn’t want to publish crap and (2) doesn’t want to hold the hands of hundreds or thousands of author/publisher wannabes to walk them through the publication process.
  • “Apple-approved aggregators” exist primarily as a support mechanism for Apple. If an author/publisher is too clueless to publish on the iBookstore, Apple wants a way to graciously hand them off to someone else. Thus, they approve aggregators who apparently don’t mind holding hands with clueless authors/publishers in exchange for a fee.

The Requirements page linked to above is another hurdle for authors/publisher to jump. It lists requirements to further weed out the folks they don’t want to deal with. Hell, you have to have a relatively new Mac to publish on the iBookstore — if that doesn’t weed out a bunch of people, nothing will.

What are the Payment Requirements?

But what the person who contacted Flying M Productions was concerned with was the “payment requirements.” Of all the requirements, this is the least onerous. All this means is that Apple won’t pay royalties until you’ve reached certain minimum sales amounts. Why? Well, Apple doesn’t want to deal with thousands of tiny payments every month. Instead, it holds your royalties on account until you’ve earned enough for them to make it worthwhile to pay.

This, by the way, is common. Google has always done this with Adsense. Amazon.com does it for the Kindle Direct Publishing program.

While this may seem to suggest that you need to reach a threshold for each individual territory to get payment for that territory, that’s not what I’m seeing. In fact, I was just paid today for February’s sales. My royalty earnings on sales in each of six territories ranged from a low of $38.73 to a high of $659.40, and I was paid for the total amount earned.

Paragraph 5(c) of the Ebook Agency/Commissionaire Distribution Agreement states (in part):

After deducting Apple’s commission from eBook Proceeds, Apple shall either remit to Publisher, or issue a credit in Publisher’s favor, subject to Apple’s standard business practices, including minimum monthly remittance amount thresholds determined by Apple (e.g., $150), the remaining balance by electronic funds transfer (“EFT”) no later than forty-five (45) days following the close of the previous monthly sales period.

This tells me that you need to earn a certain amount of royalties before Apple will pay you and they’re required to pay within 45 days of the close of the period. That’s why I didn’t get my February earnings until April 5 — which is still a hell of a lot better than I get from my traditional print publisher contracts.

The $150 is an example. In looking at my past statements, for periods when I only had one title listed in the iBookstore, I was paid $28 one month and $31 another. Clearly Apple is not waiting for me to earn $150 before it pays me.

How Apple-Approved Aggregators Fit In

In re-reading this Requirements page, I’m thinking that Apple is using this scary sounding “requirement” as a way to encourage authors/publishers to use aggregators. But will aggregators pay more quickly? I can’t see how. Unless Apple uses different thresholds for different publishers? Or aggregators are willing to make payments for very small amounts? Or aggregators are willing to pay before the 45-day period has gone by?

Either way, it’s nothing to get all hot and bothered about.

But I do agree with Apple: if you can’t meet their requirements, use an aggregator.