General Magic Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because understanding the past prepares us to innovate (and sometimes cope with) the future! Today’s episode is on a little-known company called General Magic who certainly had a substantial impact on the modern, mobile age of computing. Imagine if you had some of the best and brightest people in the world. And imagine if they were inspired by a revolutionary idea. The Mac changed the way people thought about computers when it was released in 1984. And very quickly thereafter they had left Apple. What happened to them? They got depressed and many moved on. The Personal Computer Revolution was upon us. And people who have changed the world can be hard to inspire. Especially at A big company like what Apple was becoming, where they can easily lose the ability to innovate. Mark Pratt had an idea. The mobile device was going to be the next big thing. The next wave. I mean, Steve Jobs has talked about mobile computing all the way back in 83. And it had been researched at PARC before that and philosophically the computer science research community had actually conceptualized ubiquitous computing. But Pratt knew they couldn’t build something at Apple. So in 1990 John Sculley, then CEO at Apple, worked with Pratt and they got The Apple board of directors to invest in the idea, which they built a company for, called General Magic. He kept his ideas in a book called Pocket Crystal. Two of the most important members of the original Mac team, Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld were inspired by the vision and joined on as well. Now legends, everyone wanted to work with them. It was an immediate draw for the best and brightest in the world. Megan Smith, Dan Winkler, amy Lindbergh, Joanna Hoffman, Scott Canaster, Darin Adler, Kevin Lynch, big names in software. They were ready to change the world. Again. They would build a small computer into a phone. A computer... in your pocket. It would be described as a telephone, a fax, and a computer. They went to Fry’s. A lot. USB didn’t exist yet. So they made it. ARPANET was a known quantity but The Internet hadn’t been born yet. Still, a pocket computer with the notes from your refrigerator, files from your computer, contacts , schedules, calculators. They had a vision. They wanted expressive icons, so they invented emoticons. And animated them. There was no data network to connect computers on phones with. So they reached out to AT&T and Go figure, they signed on. Sony, Phillips, Motorola, Mitsubishi gave them 6 million each. And they created an alliance of partners. Frank Canova built a device he showed off as “Angler” at COMDEX in 1992. Mobile devices were on the way. By 1993, the Apple Board of Directors was pressuring Sculley for the next Mac-type of visionary idea. So the Newton was announced in 1994, with the General Magic team feeling betrayed by Sculley. And General Magic got shoved out of the nest of stealth mode. After a great announcement they got a lot of press. They went public without having a product. The devices were trying to do a lot. Maybe too much. The devices were slow. Some aspects of the devices worked, for other aspects, They faked demos. The web showed up and They didn’t embrace it. In fact, Dean Omijar with Auctionweb was on the team. He thought the web was way cooler than the mobile device but the name needed work so it became eBay. The team didn’t embrace management or working together. They weren’t finishing projects. They were scope creeping the projects. The delays started. Some of the team had missed delays for the Mac and that worked. But other devices shipped. After 4 years, they shipped the Sony Magic Link in 1994. The devices were $800. People weren’t ready to be connected all the time. The network was buggy. They sold less than 3k. The stock tumbled and by 95 the Internet miss was huge. They were right. The future was in mobile computing. They needed the markets to be patient. They weren’t. They had inspired a revolution in computing and it slipped through their fingers. AT&T killed the devices, Marc was ousted as CEO, and after massive losses, they laid off nearly a quarter of the team and ultimately filed chapter 11. They weren’t the only ones. Sculley has invested so much into the Newton that he got sacked from Apple. But the vision and the press. They inspired a wave of technology. Rising like a Phoenix from the postPC, ubiquitous ashes CDMA would slowly come down in cost over the next decade and evolve connectivity through 3g and the upcoming 5g revolution. And out of their innovations came the Simon Personal Communicator by BellSouth and manufactured as the IBM Simon by Mitsubishi. The Palm, Symbian, and Pocket PC, or Windows CE would come out shortly thereafter and rise in popularity over the next few years. Tony Farrell repeated the excersize when helping invent the iPod as well and Steve Jobs even mentioned he had considered some of the tech from Magic Hat. He would later found Nest. And Andy Rubin, one of the creators of Android, also come from General Magic. Next time you read about the fact that Samsung and Apple combined control 98% of the mobile market or that Android overtook Windows for market share by double digits you can thank General Magic for at least part of the education that shaped those. The alumni include the head of speech recognition from Google, VPs from Google, Samsung, Apple, Blacberry, ebay, the CTOs of Twitter, LinkedIn, Adobe, and the United States. Alumni also include the lead engineers of the Safari browser and AI at Apple, cofounders of webtv, leaders from Pinterest, creator of dreamweaver. And now there’s a documentary about their journey called appropriately, General Magic. Their work and vision inspired the mobility industry. They touch nearly every aspect of mobile devices today and we owe them for bringing us forward into one of the most transparent and connected eras of humanity. Next time you see a racist slur recorded from a cell phone, next time a political gaffe goes viral, next time the black community finally shows proof of the police shootings they’ve complained about for decades, next time political dissenters show proof of mass killings, next time abuse at the hands of sports coaches is caught and next time all the other horrible injustices of humanity are forced upon us, thank them. Just as I owe you my thanks. I am sooooo lucky you chose to listen to this episode of the history of computing podcast. Thank you so much for joining me. Have a great day!
Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because by understanding the past, we’re able to be prepared for the innovations of the future! Today we’re going to look at the emergence of Google’s Android operating system. Before we look at Android, let’s look at what led to it. Frank Canova who built a device he showed off as “Angler” at COMDEX in 1992. This would be released as the Simon Personal Communicator by BellSouth and manufactured as the IBM Simon by Mitsubishi. The Palm, Newton, Symbian, and Pocket PC, or Windows CE would come out shortly thereafter and rise in popularity over the next few years. CDMA would slowly come down in cost over the next decade. Now let’s jump to 2003. At the time, you had Microsoft Windows CE, the Palm Treo was maturing and supported dual-band GSM, Handspring merged into the Palm hardware division, Symbian could be licensed but I never met a phone of theirs I liked. Like the Nokia phones looked about the same as many printer menu screens. One other device that is more relevant because of the humans behind it was the T-Mobile sidekick, which actually had a cool flippy motion to open the keyboard! Keep that Sidekick in mind for a moment. Oh and let’s not forget a fantastic name. The mobile operating systems were limited. Each was proprietary. Most were menu driven and reminded us more of an iPod, released in 2001. I was a consultant at the time and remember thinking it was insane that people would pay hundreds of dollars for a phone. At the time, flip phones were all the rage. A cottage industry of applications sprung up, like Notify, that made use of app frameworks on these devices to connect my customers to their Exchange accounts so their calendars could sync wirelessly. The browsing experience wasn’t great. The messaging experience wasn’t great. The phones were big and clunky. And while you could write apps for the Symbian in Qt Creator or Flash Lite or Python for S60, few bothered. That’s when Andy Rubin left Danger, the company the cofounded that made the Sidekick and joined up with Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White in 2003 to found a little company called Android Inc. They wanted to make better mobile devices than were currently on the market. They founded Android Inc and set out to write an operating system based on Linux that could rival anything on the market. Rubin was no noob when cofounding Danger. He had been a robotics engineer in the 80s, a manufacturing engineer at Apple for a few years and then got on his first mobility engineering gig when he bounced to General Magic to work on Magic Cap, a spinoff from Apple FROM 92 TO 95. He then helped build WebTV from 95-99. Many in business academia have noted that Android existed before Google and that’s why it’s as successful as it is today. But Google bought Android in 2005, years before the actual release of Android. Apple had long been rumor milling a phone, which would mean a mobile operating system as well. Android was sprinting towards a release that was somewhat Blackberry-like, focused on competing with similar devices on the market at the time, like the Blackberries that were all the rage. Obama and Hillary Clinton was all about theirs. As a consultant, I was stoked to become a Blackberry Enterprise Server reseller and used that to deploy all the things. The first iPhone was released in 2007. I think we sometimes think that along came the iPhone and Blackberries started to disappear. It took years. But the fall was fast. While the iPhone was also impactful, the Android-based devices were probably more-so. That release of the iPhone kicked Andy Rubin in the keister and he pivoted over from the Blackberry-styled keyboard to a touch screen, which changed… everything. Suddenly this weird innovation wasn’t yet another frivolous expensive Apple extravagance. The logo helped grow the popularity as well, I think. Internally at Google Dan Morrill started creating what were known as Dandroids. But the bugdroid as it’s known was designed by Irina Blok on the Android launch team. It was eventually licensed under Creative Commons, which resulted in lots of different variations of the logo; a sharp contrast to the control Apple puts around the usage of their own logo. The first version of the shipping Android code came along in 2008 and the first phone that really shipped with it wasn’t until the HTC Dream in 2009. This device had a keyboard you could press but also had a touch screen, although we hadn’t gotten a virtual keyboard yet. It shipped with an ARM11, 192MB of RAM, and 256MB of storage. But you could expand it up to 16 gigs with a microSD card. Oh, and it had a trackball. It bad 802.11b and g, Bluetooth, and shipped with Android 1.0. But it could be upgraded up to 1.6, Donut. The hacker in me just… couldn’t help but mod the thing much as I couldn’t help but jailbreak the iPhone back before I got too lazy not to. Of course, the Dev Phone 1 shipped soon after that didn’t require you to hack it, something Apple waited until 2019 to copy. The screen was smaller than that of an iPhone. The keyboard felt kinda’ junky. The app catalog was lacking. It didn’t really work well in an office setting. But it was open source. It was a solid operating system and it showed promise as to the future of not-Apple in a post-Blackberry world. Note: Any time a politician uses a technology it’s about 5 minutes past being dead tech. Of Blackberry, iOS, and Android, Android was last in devices sold using those platforms in 2009, although the G1 as the Dream was also known as, took 9% market share quickly. But then came Eclair. Unlike sophomore efforts from bands, there’s something about a 2.0 release of software. By the end of 2010 there were more Androids than iOS devices. 2011 showed the peak year of Blackberry sales, with over 50 million being sold, but those were the lagerts spinning out of the buying tornado and buying the pivot the R&D for the fruitless next few Blackberry releases. Blackberry marketshare would zero out in just 6 short years. iPhone continued a nice climb over the past 8 years. But Android sales are now in the billions per year. Ultimately the blackberry, to quote Time a “failure to keep up with Apple and Google was a consequence of errors in its strategy and vision.” If you had to net-net that, touch vs menus was a substantial part of that. By 2017 the Android and iOS marketshare was a combined 99.6%. In 2013, now Google CEO, Sundar Pichai took on Android when Andy Rubin was embroiled in sexual harassment charges and now acts as CEO of Playground Global, an incubator for hardware startups. The open source nature of Android and it being ready to fit into a device from manufacturers like HTC led to advancements that inspired and were inspired by the iPhone leading us to the state we’re in today. Let’s look at the released per year and per innovation: * 1.0, API 1, 2008: Include early Google apps like Gmail, Maps, Calendar, of course a web browser, a media player, and YouTube * 1.1 came in February the next year and was code named Petit Four * 1.5 Cupcake, 2009: Gave us on an-screen keyboard and third-party widgets then apps on the Android Market, now known as the Google Play Store. Thus came the HTC Dream. Open source everything. * 1.6 Donut, 2009: Customizeable screen sizes and resolution, CDMA support. And the short-lived Dell Streak! Because of this resolution we got the joy of learning all about the tablet. Oh, and Universal Search and more emphasis on battery usage! * 2.0 Eclair, 2009: The advent of the Motorola Droid, turn by turn navigation, real time traffic, live wallpapers, speech to text. But the pinch to zoom from iOS sparked a war with Apple.We also got the ability to limit accounts. Oh, new camera modes that would have impressed even George Eastman, and Bluetooth 2.1 support. * 2.2 Froyo, four months later in 2010 came Froyo, with under-the-hood tuning, voice actions, Flash support, something Apple has never had. And here came the HTC Incredible S as well as one of the most mobile devices ever built: The Samsung Galaxy S2. This was also the first hotspot option and we got 3G and better LCDs. That whole tethering, it took a year for iPhone to copy that. * 2.3 Gingerbread: With 2010 came Gingerbread. The green from the robot came into the Gingerbread with the black and green motif moving front and center. More sensors, NFC, a new download manager, copy and paste got better, * 3.0 Honeycomb, 2011. The most important thing was when Matias Duarte showed up and reinvented the Android UI. The holographic design traded out the green and blue and gave you more screen space. This kicked off a permanet overhaul and brought a card-UI for recent apps. Enter the Galaxy S9 and the Huawei Mate 2. * 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, later in 2011 - Duarte’s designs started really taking hold. For starters, let’s get rid of buttons. THat’s important and has been a critical change for other devices as well. We Reunited tablets and phones with a single vision. On screen buttons, brought the card-like appearance into app switching. Smarter swiping, added swiping to dismiss, which changed everything for how we handle email and texts with gestures. You can thank this design for Tinder. * 4.1 to 4.3 Jelly Bean, 2012: Added some sweet sweet fine tuning to the foundational elements from Ice Cream Sandwich. Google Now that was supposed to give us predictive intelligence, interactive notifications, expanded voice search, advanced search, sill with the card-based everything now for results. We also got multiuser support for tablets. And the Android Quick Settings pane. We also got widgets on the lock screen - but those are a privacy nightmare and didn’t last for long. Automatic widget resizing, wireless display projection support, restrict profiles on multiple user accounts, making it a great parent device. Enter the Nexus 10. AND TWO FINGER DOWN SWIPES. * 4.4 KitKat, in 2013 ended the era of a dark screen, lighter screens and neutral highlights moved in. I mean, Matrix was way before that after all. OK, Google showed up. Furthering the competition with Apple and Siri. Hands-free activation. A panel on the home screen, and a stand-alone launcher. AND EMOJIS ON THE KEYBOARD. Increased NFC security. * 5. Lollipop came in 2014 bringing 64 bit, Bluetooth Low Energy, flatter interface, But more importantly, we got annual releases like iOS. * 6: Marshmallow, 2015 gave us doze mode, sticking it to iPhone by even more battery saving features. App security and prompts to grant apps access to resources like the camera and phone were . The Nexus 5x and 6P ports brought fingerprint scanners and USB-C. * 7: Nougat in 2016 gave us quick app switching, a different lock screen and home screen wallpaper, split-screen multitasking, and gender/race-centric emojis. * 8: Oreo in 2017 gave us floating video windows, which got kinda’ cool once app makers started adding support in their apps for it. We also got a new file browser, which came to iOS in 2019. And more battery enhancements with prettied up battery menus. Oh, and notification dots on app icons, borrowed from Apple. * 9: Pie in 2018 brought notch support, navigations that were similar to those from the iPhone X adopting to a soon-to-be bezel-free world. And of course, the battery continues to improve. This brings us into the world of the Pixel 3. * 10, Likely some timed in 2019 While the initial release of Android shipped with the Linux 2.1 kernel, that has been updated as appropriate over the years with, 3 in Ice Cream Sandwich, and version 4 in Nougat. Every release of android tends to have an increment in the Linux kernel. Now, Android is open source. So how does Google make money? Let’s start with what Google does best. Advertising. Google makes a few cents every time you click on an ad in an advertisement in messages or web pages or any other little spot they’ve managed to drop an ad in there. Then there’s the Google Play Store. Apple makes 70% more revenue from apps than Android, despite the fact that Android apps have twice the number of installs. The old adage is if you don’t pay for a product, you are the product. I don’t tend to think Google goes overboard with all that, though. And Google is probably keeping Caterpillar in business just to buy big enough equipment to move their gold bars from one building to the next on campus. Any time someone’s making money, lots of other people wanna taste. Like Oracle, who owns a lot of open source components used in Android. And the competition between iOS and Android makes both products better for consumers! Now look out for Android Auto, Android Things, Android TV, Chrome OS, the Google Assistant and others - given that other types of vendors can make use of Google’s open source offerings to cut R&D costs and get to market faster! But more importantly, Android has contributed substantially to the rise of ubiquitious computing despite how much money you have. I like to think the long-term impact of such a democratization of Mobility and the Internet will make the world a little less idiocracy and a little more wikipedia. Thank you so very much for tuning into another episode of the History of Computing Podcast. We’re lucky to have you. Have a great day!
Once upon a time, we put a quarter in a machine and played a game for awhile. And life was good. The rise of personal computers and subsequent fall in the cost of microchips allowed some of the same chips found in early computers, such as the Zylog Z80, to bring video game consoles into homes across the world. That one chip could be found in the ColecoVision, Nintendo Game Boy, and the Sega Genesis. Given that many of the cheaper early computers came with joysticks or gaming at the time, the line between personal computer and video game console seemed natural.
Then came the iPhone, which brought an explosion of apps. Apps were anywhere from a buck to a hundred. We weren't the least surprised by the number of games that exploded onto the platform. Nor by the creativity of the developers. When the Apple App Store and Google Play added in-app purchasing and later in-app subscriptions it all just seemed natural. But it has profoundly changed the way games are purchased, distributed, and the entire business model of apps.
The Evolving Business Model of Gaming
Video games were originally played in arcades, similar to pinball. The business model was each game was a quarter or token. With the advent of PCs and video game consoles, games were bought in stores, as were records or cassettes that included music. The business model was that the store made money (40-50%), the distributor who got the game into a box and on the shelf in the store made money, and the company that made the game got some as well. And discounts to sell more inventory usually came out of someone not called the retailer. By the time everyone involved got a piece, it was common for the maker of the game to get between $5 and $10 dollars per unit sold for a $50 game.
No one was surprised that there was a whole cottage industry of software piracy. Especially given that most games could be defeated in 40 to 100 hours. This of course spawned a whole industry to thwart piracy, eating into margins but theoretically generating more revenue per game created.
Industries evolve. Console and computer gaming split (although arguably consoles have always just been computers) and the gamer-verse further schism'd between those who played various types of games. Some games were able to move to subscription models and some companies sprang up to deliver games through subscriptions or as rentals (game rentals over a modem was the business model that originally inspired the AOL founders). And that was ok for the gaming industry, which slowly grew to the point that gaming was a larger industry than the film industry.
Enter Mobile Devices and App Stores
Then came mobile devices, disrupting the entire gaming industry. Apple began the App Store model, establishing that the developer got 70% of the sale - much better than 5%. Steve Jobs had predicted the coming App Store in a 1985 and then when the iPhone was released tried to keep the platform closed but eventually capitulated and opened up the App Store to developers.
Those first developers made millions. Some developers were able to port games to mobile platforms and try to maintain a similar pricing model to the computer or console versions. But the number of games created a downward pressure that kept games cheap, and often free.
The number of games in the App Store grew (today there are over 5 million apps between Apple and Google). With a constant downward pressure on price, the profits dropped. Suddenly, game developers forgot they used to get 10 percent of the sale of a game a lot of times and started to blame the stores the games were distributed in on the companies that owned the App Stores: Apple, Google, and in some cases, Steam.
The rise and subsequent decrease in popularity of Pokémon Go was the original inspiration for this article in 2016 but since a number of games have validated the perspectives. These free games provide a valuable case study into how the way we design a game to be played (known as game mechanics) impacts our ability to monetize the game in various ways. And there are lots and lots of bad examples in games (and probably legislation on the way to remedy abuses) that also tells us what not to do.
The Microtransaction-Based Economy
These days, game developers get us hooked on the game early, get us comfortable with the pace of the game and give us an early acceleration. But then that slows down. Many a developer then points us to in-app purchases in order to unlock items that allow us to maintain the pace of a game, or even to hasten the pace. And given that we're playing against other people a lot of the time, they try and harness our natural competitiveness to get us to buy things. These in-app purchases are known as microtransactions. And the aggregate of these in-app purchases can be considered as a microtransaction-based economy.
As the microtransaction-based economy has arrived in full force, there are certain standards emerging as cultural norms for these economies. And violating these rules cause vendors to get blasted on message boards and more importantly lose rabid fans of the game. As such, I’ve decided to codify my own set of laws for these, which are follows:
All items that can be purchased with real money should be available for free.
For example, when designing a game that has users building a city and we develop a monument that users can pay $1 for and place in their city to improve morale of those that live in the city, that monument should be able to be earned in the game as well. Otherwise, you’re able to pay for an in-app purchase that gives some players an advantage for doing nothing more than spending money.
In-app purchases do not replace game play, but hasten the progression through the game.
For example, when designing a game that has users level up based on earning experience points for each task they complete, we never want to just gift experience points based on an in-app purchase. Instead, in-app purchases should provide a time-bound amplification to experience (such as doubling experience for 30 minutes in Pokémon Go or keeping anyone else from attacking a player for 24 hours in Clash of Clans so we can save enough money to buy that one Town Hall upgrade we just can’t live without).
The amount paid for items in a game should correlate to the amount of time saved in game play.
For example, get stuck on a level in Angry Birds. We could pay a dollar for a pack of goodies that will get us past that level (and probably 3 more), so we can move on. Or we could keep hammering away at that level for another hour. Thus, we saved an hour, but lost pride points in the fact that we didn’t conquer that level. Later in the game, we can go back and get three stars without paying to get past it.
Do not allow real-world trading.
This is key. If it’s possible to build an economy outside the game, players can then break your game mechanics. For example, in World of Warcraft, you can buy gold, and magic items online for real money and then log into the game only to have another shady character add those items to your inventory. This leads to people writing programs known as bots (short for robots) to mine gold or find magic items on their behalf so they can sell it in the real world. There are a lot of negative effects to such behavior, including the need to constantly monitor for bots (which wastes a lot of developer cycles), bots cause the in-game economy to practically crash when the game updates (e.g. a map) and breaks the bots, and make games both more confusing for users and less controllable by the developer.
Establish an in-game currency.
You don’t want users of the game buying things with cash directly. Instead, you want them to buy a currency, such as gold, rubies, gems, karma, or whatever you’d like to call that currency. Disassociating purchases from real world money causes users to lose track of what they’re buying and spend more money. Seems shady, and it very well may be, but I don’t write games so I can’t say if that’s the intent or not. It’s a similar philosophy to buying poker chips, rather than using money in a casino (just without the free booze).
Provide multiple goals within the game.
Players will invariably get bored with the critical path in your game. When they do, it’s great for players to find other aspects of the game to keep them engaged. For example, in Pokémon Go, you might spend 2 weeks trying to move from level 33 to level 34. During that time, you might as well go find that last Charmander so you can evolve to a Charzard. That’s two different goals: one to locate a creature, the other to gain experience. Or you can go take over some gyms in your neighborhood. Or you can power level by catching hundreds of Pidgeys. The point is, to keep players engaged during long periods with no progression, having a choose your own adventure style game play is important. For massive multiplayers (especially role playing games) this is critical, as players will quickly tire of mining for gold and want to go, for example, jump into the latest mass land war. To place a little context around this, there are also 28 medals in Pokémon Go (that I’m aware of), which keep providing more and more goals in the game.
Allow for rapid progression early in the game in order to hook users, so they will pay for items later in the game.
We want people to play our games because they love them. Less than 3% of players will transact an in-app purchase in a given game. But that number skyrockets as time is invested in a game. Quickly progressing through levels early in a game keeps users playing. Once users have played a game for 8 or 9 hours, if you tell them they can go to bed and for a dollar and it will seem like they kept playing for another 8 or 9 hours, based on the cool stuff they’ll earn, they’re likely to give up that dollar and keep playing for another couple of hours rather than get that much needed sleep! We should never penalize players that don't pay up. In fact, players often buy things that simply change the look of their character in games like Among Us. There is no need to impact game mechanics with purchase if we build an awesome enough game.
Create achievable goals in discrete amounts of time.
Boom Beach villages range from level 1 to level 64. As players rise through the ability to reach the next stage becomes logarithmically more difficult given other players are paying to play. Goals against computers players (or NPCs or AI according to how we want to think of it) are similar. All should be achievable though. The game Runeblade for the Apple Watch was based on fundamentally sound game mechanics that could enthrall a player for months; however, there’s no way to get past a certain point. Therefore, players lose interest, Eric Cartman-style, and went home.
Restrict the ability to automate the game.
If we had the choice to run every day to lose weight or to eat donuts and watch people run and still lose weight, which would most people choose? Duh. Problem is that when players automate your game, they end up losing interest as their time investment in the game diminishes, as does the necessary skill level to shoot up through levels in games. Evony Online was such a game; and I’m pretty sure I still get an email every month chastising me for botting the game 8-10 years after anyone remembers that the game existed. As a game becomes too dependent on resources obtained by gold mining bots in World of Warcraft, the economy of the game could crash when they were knocked off-line. Having said this, such drama adds to the intrigue - which can be a game inside a game for many.
Pit players against one another.
Leaderboards. Everyone wants to be in 1st place, all the time. Or to see themselves moving up in rankings. By providing a ranking system, we increase engagement, and drive people towards making in-app purchases. Those just shouldn't be done to directly get a leg up. It's a slippery slope to allow a player to jump 30 people in front of them to get to #1,000 in the rankings only to see those people do an in-app purchase and create an addiction to the in-app purchases in order to maintain their position in the rankings. It's better to make smaller amounts and keep players around than have them hate a developer once they're realized the game was making money off addiction. Sounds a bit like
Don’t pit weak players against strong players unnecessarily.
In Clash of Clans a player builds a village. As they build more cool stuff in the village, the village levels up. The player can buy rubies to complete buildings faster, and so you can basically buy the village levels. But, since a player can basically buy levels, the levels can exceed the players skill. Therefore, in order to pit matched players in battles, a second metric was introduced to match battles that is based on won/lost ratios of battles. By ensuring that players of similar skill duel one another, the skill of players is more likely to progress organically and therefore they remain engaged with the game. The one exception to this rule that I’ve seen actually work well so far has been in Pokémon Go where a player needs to be physically close to a gym rather than just close to the gym while sitting in their living room playing on a console. That geographical alignment really changes this dynamic, as does the great way that gym matches heavily favor attackers, driving fast turnover in gyms and keeping the game accessible to lower level players.
Add time-based incentives.
If a player logs into a game every day, they should get a special incentive for the day that amplifies the more days they log in in a row. Or if they don’t log in, another player can steal all the stuff. Players get a push alert when another player attacks them. There are a number of different ways to incentivize players to keep logging into an app. The more we keep players in an app, the more likely they are to make a purchase. Until they get so many alerts that they delete your app. Don’t do that.
Incentivize pure gameplay.
It might seem counter-intuitive to incentivize players to not use in-app purchases. But not allowing for a perfect score on an in-app purchase (e.g. not allowing for a perfect level in Angry Birds if you used an in-app purchase) will drive more engagement in a game, while likely still allowing for an in-app purchase and then a late-game strategy of finding perfection to unlock that hidden extra level, or whatever the secret sauce is for your game.
Apply maximum purchasing amounts.
Games can get addictive for players. We want dolphins, not whales. This is to say that we want people to spend what they would have spent on a boxed game, say $50, or even that per month. But when players get into spending thousands per day, they're likely to at some point realize their error in judgement and contact Apple or Google for a refund. And they should get one. Don't take advantage of people.
Make random returns on microtransactions transparent.
There has been talk of regulating randomized loot boxes. Why? Because the numbers don't add up. Rampant abuse of in-app purchases for random gear means that developers who publish the algorithm or source code for how those rewards are derived will have a certain level of non-repudiation when the law suits start. Again, if those rewards can be earned during the game as well (maybe at a lower likelihood) then we're not abusing game mechanics.
The above list might seem manipulative at times. Especially to those who don't write code for a living. And to some degree it is. But it can be done ethically and when it is the long-term returns are greater. If nothing else, these laws are a code of ethics of sorts.
These are lessons that hundreds of companies are out there learning by trial and error, and hopefully documenting them can help emergent companies not have to repeat some of the same mistakes of others.
We could probably get up to 100 of these (with examples) if we wanted to! What laws have you noticed?
Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985. He co-founded NeXT Computers and took Pixar public. He then returned to Apple as the interim CEO in 1997 at a salary of $1 per year. Some of the early accomplishments on his watch were started before he got there. But turning the company back around was squarely on him and his team.
By the end of 1997, Apple moved to a build-to-order manufacturing powered by an online store built on WebObjects, the NeXT application server. They killed off a number of models, simplifying the lineup of products and also killed the clone deals, ending licensing of the operating system to other vendors who were at times building sub-par products.
And they were busy. You could feel the frenetic pace. They were busy at work weaving the raw components from NeXT into an operating system that would be called Mac OS X. They announced a partnership that would see Microsoft invest $150 million into Apple to settle patent disputes but that Microsoft would get Internet Explorer bundled on the Mac and give a commitment to release Office for the Mac again. By then, Apple had $1.2 billion in cash reserves again, but armed with a streamlined company that was ready to move forward - but 1998 was a bottoming out of sorts, with Apple only doing just shy of $6 billion in revenue. To move forward, they took a little lesson from the past and released a new all-in-one computer. One that put the color back into that Apple logo. Or rather removed all the colors but Aqua blue from it.
The return of Steve Jobs invigorated many, such as Johnny Ive who is reported to have had a resignation in his back pocket when he met Jobs. Their collaboration led to a number of innovations, with a furious pace starting with the iMac. The first iMacs were shaped like gumdrops and the color of candy as well. The original Bondi blue had commercials showing all the cords in a typical PC setup and then the new iMac, “as unPC as you can get.” The iMac was supposed to be to get on the Internet. But the ensuing upgrades allowed for far more than that.
The iMac put style back into Apple and even computers. Subsequent releases came in candy colors like Lime, Strawberry, Blueberry, Grape, Tangerine, and later on Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power. The G3 chipset bled out into other more professional products like a blue and white G3 tower, which featured a slightly faster processor than the beige tower G3, but a much cooler look - and very easy to get into compared to any other machine on the market at the time. And the Clamshell laptops used the same design language. Playful, colorful, but mostly as fast as their traditional PowerBook counterparts.
But the team had their eye on a new strategy entirely. Yes, people wanted to get online - but these computers could do so much more. Apple wanted to make the Mac the Digital Hub for content. This centered around a technology that had been codeveloped from Apple, Sony, Panasonic, and others called IEEE 1394. But that was kinda’ boring so we just called it Firewire.
Begun in 1986 and originally started by Apple, Firewire had become a port that was on most digital cameras at the time. USB wasn’t fast enough to load and unload a lot of newer content like audio and video from cameras to computers. But I can clearly remember that by the year 1999 we were all living as Jobs put it in a “new emerging digital lifestyle.” This led to a number of releases from Apple. One was iMovie. Apple included it with the new iMac DV model for free. That model dumped the fan (which Jobs never liked even going back to the early days of Apple) as well as FireWire and the ability to add an AirPort card. Oh, and they released an AirPort base station in 1999 to help people get online easily. It is still one of the simplest router and wi-fi devices I’ve ever used. And was sleek with the new Graphite design language that would take Apple through for years on their professional devices.
iMovie was a single place to load all those digital videos and turn them into something else. And there was another format on the rise, MP3. Most everyone I’ve ever known at Apple love music. It’s in the DNA of the company, going back to Wozniak and Jobs and their love of musicians like Bob Dylan in the 1970s. The rise of the transistor radio and then the cassette and Walkman had opened our eyes to the democratization of what we could listen to as humans. But the MP3 format, which had been around since 1993, was on the rise. People were ripping and trading songs and Apple looked at a tool called Audion and another called SoundJam and decided that rather than Sherlock (or build that into the OS) that they would buy SoundJam in 2000. The new software, which they called iTunes, allowed users to rip and burn CDs easily. Apple then added iPhoto, iWeb, and iDVD. For photos, creating web sites, and making DVDs respectively. The digital hub was coming together.
But there was another very important part of that whole digital hub strategy. Now that we had music on our computers we needed something more portable to listen to that music on. There were MP3 players like the Diamond Rio out there, and there had been going back to the waning days of the Digital Equipment Research Lab - but they were either clunky or had poor design or just crappy and cheap. And mostly only held an album or two. I remember walking down that isle at Fry’s about once every other month waiting and hoping. But nothing good ever came.
That is, until Jobs and the Apple hardware engineering lead Job Rubinstein found Tony Fadell. He had been at General Magic, you know, the company that ushered in mobility as an industry. And he’d built Windows CE mobile devices for Philips in the Velo and Nino. But when we got him working with Jobs, Rubinstein, and Johnny Ive on the industrial design front, we got one of the most iconic devices ever made: the iPod.
And the iPod wasn’t all that different on the inside from a Newton. Blasphemy I know. It sported a pair of ARM chips and Ive harkened back to simpler times when he based the design on a transistor radio. Attention to detail and the lack thereof in the Sony Diskman propelled Apple to sell more than 400 million iPods to this day. By the time the iPod was released in 2001, Apple revenues had jumped to just shy of $8 billion but dropped back down to $5.3. But everything was about to change. And part of that was that the iPod design language was about to leak out to the rest of the products with white iBooks, white Mac Minis, and other white devices as a design language of sorts.
To sell all those iDevices, Apple embarked on a strategy that seemed crazy at the time. They opened retail stores. They hired Ron Johnson and opened two stores in 2001. They would grow to over 500 stores, and hit a billion in sales within three years. Johnson had been the VP of merchandising at Target and with the teams at Apple came up with the idea of taking payment without cash registers (after all you have an internet connected device you want to sell people) and the Genius Bar.
And generations of devices came that led people back into the stores. The G4 came along - as did faster RAM. And while Apple was updating the classic Mac operating system, they were also hard at work preparing NeXT to go across the full line of computers. They had been working the bugs out in Rhapsody and then Mac OS X Server, but the client OS, Codenamed Kodiak, went into beta in 2000 and then was released as a dual-boot option in Cheetah, in 2001. And thus began a long line of big cats, going to Puma then Jaguar in 2002, Panther in 2003, Tiger in 2005, Leopard in 2007, Snow Leopard in 2009, Lion in 2011, Mountain Lion in 2012 before moving to the new naming scheme that uses famous places in California.
Mac OS X finally provided a ground-up, modern, object-oriented operating system. They built the Aqua interface on top of it. Beautiful, modern, sleek. Even the backgrounds! The iMac would go from a gumdrop to a sleek flat panel on a metal stand, like a sunflower. Jobs and Ive are both named on the patents for this as well as many of the other inventions that came along in support of the rapid device rollouts of the day.
Jaguar, or 10.2, would turn out to be a big update. They added Address Book, iChat - now called Messages, and after nearly two decades replaced the 8-bit Happy Mac with a grey Apple logo in 2002. Yet another sign they were no longer just a computer company. Some of these needed a server and storage so Apple released the Xserve in 2002 and the Xserve RAID in 2003. The pro devices also started to transition from the grey graphite look to brushed metal, which we still use today.
Many wanted to step beyond just listening to music. There were expensive tools for creating music, like ProTools. And don’t get me wrong, you get what you pay for. It’s awesome. But democratizing the creation of media meant Apple wanted a piece of software to create digital audio - and released Garage Band in 2004. For this they again turned to an acquisition, EMagic, which had a tool called Logic Audio. I still use Logic to cut my podcasts. But with Garage Band they stripped it down to the essentials and released a tool that proved wildly popular, providing an on-ramp for many into the audio engineering space.
Not every project worked out. Apple had ups and downs in revenue and sales in the early part of the millennium. The G4 Cube was released in 2000 and while it is hailed as one of the greatest designs by industrial designers it was discontinued in 2001 due to low sales. But Steve Jobs had been hard at work on something new. Those iPods that were becoming the cash cow at Apple and changing the world, turning people into white earbud-clad zombies spinning those click wheels were about to get an easier way to put media into iTunes and so on the device.
The iTunes Store was released in 2003. Here, Jobs parlayed the success at Apple along with his own brand to twist the arms of executives from the big 5 record labels to finally allow digital music to be sold online. Each song was a dollar. Suddenly it was cheap enough that the music trading apps just couldn’t keep up. Today it seems like everyone just pays a streaming subscription but for a time, it gave a shot in the arm to music companies and gave us all this new-found expectation that we would always be able to have music that we wanted to hear on-demand.
Apple revenue was back up to $8.25 billion in 2004. But Apple was just getting started. The next seven years would see that revenue climb from to $13.9 billion in 2005, $19.3 in 2006, $24 billion in 2007, $32.4 in 2008, $42.9 in 2009, $65.2 in 2010, and a staggering $108.2 in 2011.
After working with the PowerPC chipset, Apple transitioned new computers to Intel chips in 2005 and 2006. Keep in mind that most people used desktops at the time and just wanted fast. And it was the era where the Mac was really open source friendly so having the ability to load in the best the Linux and Unix worlds had to offer for software inside projects or on servers was made all the easier. But Intel could produce chips faster and were moving faster. That Intel transition also helped with what we call the “App Gap” where applications written for Windows could be virtualized for the Mac. This helped the Mac get much more adoption in businesses.
Again, the pace was frenetic. People had been almost begging Apple to release a phone for years. The Windows Mobile devices, the Blackberry, the flip phones, even the Palm Treo. They were all crap in Jobs’ mind. Even the Rockr that had iTunes in it was crap. So Apple released the iPhone in 2007 in a now-iconic Jobs presentation. The early version didn’t have apps, but it was instantly one of the more saught-after gadgets. And in an era where people paid $100 to $200 for phones it changed the way we thought of the devices. In fact, the push notifications and app culture and always on fulfilled the General Magic dream that the Newton never could and truly moved us all into an always-on i (or Internet) culture.
The Apple TV was also released in 2007. I can still remember people talking about Apple releasing a television at the time. The same way they talk about Apple releasing a car. It wasn’t a television though, it was a small whitish box that resembled a Mac Mini - just with a different media-browsing type of Finder. Now it’s effectively an app to bootstrap the media apps on a Mac.
It had been a blistering 10 years. We didn’t even get into Pages, FaceTime, They weren’t done just yet. The iPad was released in 2010. By then, Apple revenues exceeded those of Microsoft. The return and the comeback was truly complete.
Similar technology used to build the Apple online store was also used to develop the iTunes Store and then the App Store in 2008. Here, rather than go to a site you might not trust and download an installer file with crazy levels of permissions.
One place where it’s still a work in progress to this day was iTools, released in 2000 and rebranded to .Mac or dot Mac in 2008, and now called MobileMe. Apple’s vision to sync all of our data between our myriad of devices wirelessly was a work in progress and never met the lofty goals set out. Some services, like Find My iPhone, work great. Others notsomuch. Jobs famously fired the team lead at one point. And while it’s better than it was it’s still not where it needs to be.
Steve Jobs passed away in 2011 at 56 years old. His first act at Apple changed the world, ushering in first the personal computing revolution and then the graphical interface revolution. He left an Apple that meant something. He returned to a demoralized Apple and brought digital media, portable music players, the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple TV, the iMac, the online music store, the online App Store, and so much more. The world had changed in that time, so he left, well, one more thing. You see, when they started, privacy and security wasn’t much of a thing. Keep in mind, computers didn’t have hard drives. The early days of the Internet after his return was a fairly save I or Internet world. But by the time he passed away there there were some troubling trends. The data on our phones and computers could weave together nearly every bit of our life to an outsider. Not only could this lead to identity theft but with the growing advertising networks and machine learning capabilities, the consequences of privacy breaches on Apple products could be profound as a society. He left an ethos behind to build great products but not at the expense of those who buy them. One his successor Tim Cook has maintained.
On the outside it may seem like the daunting 10 plus years of product releases has slowed. We still have the Macbook, the iMac, a tower, a mini, an iPhone, an iPad, an Apple TV. We now have HomeKit, a HomePod, new models of all those devices, Apple silicon, and some new headphones - but more importantly we’ve had to retreat a bit internally and direct some of those product development cycles to privacy, protecting users, shoring up the security model. Managing a vast portfolio of products in the largest company in the world means doing those things isn’t always altruistic. Big companies can mean big law suits when things go wrong. These will come up as we cover the history of the individual devices in greater detail.
The history of computing is full of stories of great innovators. Very few took a second act. Few, if any, had as impactful a first act as either that Steve Jobs had. It wasn’t just him in any of these. There are countless people from software developers to support representatives to product marketing gurus to the people that write the documentation. It was all of them, working with inspiring leadership and world class products that helped as much as any other organization in the history of computing, to shape the digital world we live in today.