Category Archives: Apple

First impressions of the Retina 13″ Macbook Pro

macbook pro retinaMy table planner software runs on Windows and Mac. Previously I took a Windows laptop with me when I was out of the office or on holiday, so that I could provide technical support to my customers. But it isn’t (legally) possible to run Mac OS X on Windows, so this made it hard to give Mac customers the best possible technical support. For example I couldn’t send them Mac screenshots or replicate Mac-only bugs from a Windows laptop. However it is legally possible to run both Mac OS X and Windows on a Mac. So I decided to buy a 13″ Retina Macbook Pro for my new laptop, so that I could have access to both OSs when out of the office. I was also attracted by the screen and design of the new Retina Macbook Pro. I choose the 13″ model, rather than than the 15″ model, simply because it is more portable (e.g. more likely to fit in a hotel safe). I also paid to upgrade the SSD from 128GB to 256GB to have room for both Mac OS X and Windows setups. I have now had my Macbook Pro for a few weeks, so I thought I would share my initial impressions.

The good points:

  • The 2560 x 1600 Retina screen is gorgeous, both in terms of sharpness and colour. It makes the display on my old Toshiba Windows laptop look very tired.
  • With a 2.5 GHz Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM and an SSD it is very responsive.
  • The aluminium chassis is beautifully designed. Despite being only 19mm thick and 1.6Kgs, it feels very sturdy. The power brick is quite small and light as well.
  • The keyboard is nice. Automatically backlighting the keys in low light is a nice touch.
  • The power cable attaches magnetically. This means it is easy to attach. But, more importantly, accidentally kicking the cable just pops the cable out, rather than the whole machine crashing onto the floor.
  • Gestures work very nicely on the touch pad. For example you can drag two fingers up and down to scroll or tap with 2 fingers to simulate right click.
  • I have Windows and Mac OS X  stored on separate partitions. I can access Window either by booting into Windows or from inside Mac OS X using Parallels (cost approx $80). Being able to access Windows from Mac OS X without a reboot is very useful.
  • The speakers are surprisingly good.

The not so good points:

  • The Macbook Pro is expensive compared to Windows ultrabooks with similar specs.
  • There are a limited number of ports:  2 USB, 2 Thunderbolt, 1 headphone, 1 HDMI and 1 unidentified (SD memory card?).
  • There is no Ethernet port. So if there is no Wifi, you are out of luck.
  • There is no Kensington slot, so you can’t physically lock it down. This is especially annoying given the price.
  • As someone who mainly uses Windows I’m still struggling to get used to the Mac keyboard. For example there is a Backspace key, but no Delete key. Also there is no Home or End key. Worst of all the cursor sometimes  jumps to a different line while I am typing. I have no idea why.
  • Parallels and Windows don’t do a brilliant job of handling the very high resolution of the Retina display. Fonts are sometimes shown very small or very large in Windows. Some applications, such as Keepass v1, looks very fuzzy. Hopefully this will improve with new versions of Parallels and Windows as Retina-like displays become  more common.
  • Not all applications support gestures. For example Firefox on Mac OS X doesn’t support pinch zoom. But I expect this will improve as new versions of applications are released.
  • Not having a built-in DVD drive is a pain. I was able to install Windows 7 by ripping a DVD to a USB stick using Infrarecorder (free). But this didn’t work for Photoshop Elements 11, so I had to download it from the app store, despite having it on DVD.
  • I couldn’t get Windows 8 to work. I installed it into a Bootcamp partition, but when I booted into Windows I just got a mouse pointer and  blue bar down the side of the screen. Apparently Windows 8 is not yet supported by Bootcamp.
  • I am told the graphics performance isn’t great. But I’m not intending to use it for games, so that doesn’t bother me much.

Overall it is an impressive machine and I’m pretty happy with it so far. In particular it is great to able to support Windows and Mac OS X on a single machine. But it does have some annoyances and I wouldn’t have purchased it to just to run Windows. No doubt PC ultrabook manufacturers will have copied its more innovative features fairly soon.

A couple of tips:

  • If you are  in the UK, consider purchasing from John Lewis. They will price match other ‘bricks and mortar’ vendors that have stock. But (at the time I purchased) they were offering 2 years additional warranty. I got them to price match PC World’s £100 off deal. I got £100 refunded and 2 years extra warranty. The service at John Lewis is usually also very good.
  • You probably want to get some form of case or sleeve to protect your lovely and expensive new Macbook. Beware that many of the existing cases are designed for the old Macbook Pros. Consequently they might not be a good fit for the thinner Retina models. I bought this Cool Bananas case. It is a good fit and quite well made. I just wish it had a bit more padding. No doubt more cases and sleeves will become available to fit the new models.

How to sign your Mac OS X App for Gatekeeper

If a prospective customer downloads your software onto Mac OS X 10.8 and it hasn’t been signed, they will see a scary warning:

Not good. To run unsigned software they need to go into Mac OS X Preferences>Security & Privacy>General and change Allow applications downloaded from Mac App store and identified developers to Anywhere:

Or they need to right/Ctrl click and see another scary warning. Double plus not good. This is the new Mac Gatekeeper system in action. Apple being Apple, Gatekeeper defaults to only allowing users to run software they have downloaded off the Internet if it has been signed. This could have a big effect on your conversion rate on Mac. So if you are shipping software for the Mac, you really need to sign it.

Apple fanboys will tell this is a sensible way for Apple to control software quality. A valid certificate shows that your software hasn’t been tampered with and, if it turns out to be malware, Apple can revoke your certificate. The more cynical might see it as a way for Apple to exert even greater control over Mac developers than it already does, while simultaneously extorting $99 per year from each and every one of them. Make your own mind up on that one.

I have now managed to sign my table planner software, ready for its next release. I should have done it months ago. But I expected the process to be so tedious that it has taken me this long to get around to it. And it was every bit as mind-numbingly tedious as I expected trying to find a few useful nuggets amongst the acres of Apple documentation. I found some useful stuff in blogs, but it was quite fragmented. So I have thrown together these notes in the hope that it saves someone else a few hours going round in circles. Note that I am not currently submitting my software to the Mac App Store, so I don’t cover that here. Also my software is developed in C++/Qt using Qt Creator, rather than Objective-C/Cocoa using XCode, and my approach reflects that.

1. Sign up for Apple Developer Connection ($99 per year). Doesn’t matter if you already paid through the nose for a Windows authenticode certificate. Gatekeeper only accepts Apple certificates, so you have no choice. On the plus side, you do get other benefits, including downloading new OS upgrades for free.

2. You need Mac OS X 10.8 so you can test that your signing works. If you have an Apple Developer Connection subscription, you can download 10.8 for free (get a code from the ADC downloads area and using it in the Mac App Store). I found the upgrade from 10.6 to 10.8 was surprisingly painless (Microsoft eat your heart out).

3. Request your Apple certificates and install them into your Keychain. You can do this from Xcode (instructions here). You may need to upgrade Xcode to a recent version.

4. Use the codesign command line tool to sign:

  • Every framework in your .app bundle
  • Every plugin in your .app bundle
  • Your .app file

I believe you can do this as part of your Xcode build. But I prefer a shell script. For example:

echo --sign frameworks --
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Frameworks/QtCore.framework/Versions/4/QtCore
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Frameworks/QtGui.framework/Versions/4/QtGui
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Frameworks/QtNetwork.framework/Versions/4/QtNetwork
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Frameworks/QtSql.framework/Versions/4/QtSql
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Frameworks/QtXml.framework/Versions/4/QtXml
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Frameworks/Qt3Support.framework/Versions/4/Qt3Support

echo --sign plugins--
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Plugins/accessible/libqtaccessiblecompatwidgets.dylib
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Plugins/accessible/libqtaccessiblewidgets.dylib
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Plugins/bearer/libqcorewlanbearer.dylib
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Plugins/bearer/libqgenericbearer.dylib
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Plugins/codecs/libqcncodecs.dylib
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Plugins/codecs/libqjpcodecs.dylib
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Plugins/codecs/libqkrcodecs.dylib
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Plugins/codecs/libqtwcodecs.dylib
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Plugins/graphicssystems/libqtracegraphicssystem.dylib
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app/Contents/Plugins/imageformats/libqjpeg.dylib

echo --sign app--
codesign --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: <yourID>" <yourApp>.app

I do this in a build shell script that automates the whole process of creating a .dmg for download. I’m not sure if the order you sign the components in is important.

Note that:

  • <yourID> is the ID on your certificate (in my case “Oryx Digital Ltd”).
  • For frameworks you sign the folder, not the file.
  • Any changes to the .app bundle after signing may invalidate the signature (that is kind of the point).

5. Verify the  signing of the .app file. For example:

codesign -vvv -d <yourApp>.app

6. Package your .app into a .dmg, .zip, .pkg or whatever other format you use to install it (I believe .pkg files might require additional signing with a different certificate).

7. Make sure your Mac OS X 10.8 machine is set to the default Gatekeeper setting.

8. Download your software onto Mac OS X 10.8 and check if the scary warning has gone away.

9. Pray that Apple doesn’t decide to revoke your certificate at some point for an infraction, real or imagined.

Until you have released a signed version you can put up a warning with some simple Javascript, for example:

Further reading:

http://www.hardcoded.net/devlogs/20120407

http://www.mactech.com/articles/mactech/Vol.24/24.11/CodeSigning-GetUsedtoIt!/index.html

http://www.macworld.co.uk/macsoftware/news/?newsid=3338078

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5290

http://www.macworld.com/article/1165408/mountain_lion_hands_on_with_gatekeeper.html

http://developer.apple.com/library/mac/#documentation/ToolsLanguages/Conceptual/OSXWorkflowGuide/CodeSigning/CodeSigning.html

http://developer.apple.com/library/mac/#documentation/ToolsLanguages/Conceptual/OSXWorkflowGuide/DistributingApplicationsOutside/DistributingApplicationsOutside.html

Qt related:

http://lynxline.com/submiting-to-mac-app-store/

http://www.digia.com/en/Blogs/Qt-blog/Pasi_Matilainen/Dates/2012/4/How-to-Publish-Qt-Applications-in-the-Mac-App-Store/

http://comments.gmane.org/gmane.comp.lib.qt.user/637

Java related:

http://blogs.oracle.com/talkingjavadeployment/entry/java_applications_and_gatekeeper

http://www.ej-technologies.com/products/install4j/whatsnew51.html

Thanks to Jonathan of DeepTrawl and Stephane of LandlordMax for some useful pointers.

************** Update **************

There are additional signing requirements for Mac OS X 10.9. See this stackoverflow post for more details.

Is it worth advertising Mac software on Google Adwords?

I learnt a long time ago that people will happily click on totally irrelevant pay per click ads. For example, if you bid on “seating plan” I can assure you that a significant percentage of people searching for “boeing 747 seating plan” will happily click on your ad titled “wedding seating plan”. They won’t buy anything, as they aren’t interested in wedding seating plans, but you still have to pay for each click. You can stop your ad showing to these searchers by adding “boeing” and “747” as negative keywords. Problem solved.

But what do you do if you are selling software that only runs on Mac OS X? The vast majority of searchers are running Windows. Indiscriminate clicks by them could quickly turn your Adwords ROI negative. In your Adwords campaign settings you can choose to only show ads on desktop computers and laptops. But you can’t choose the operating system.

As discussed above, putting “Mac” in the title is unlikely to be enough. You can’t use negative keywords, because the vast majority of Windows users searching for, say, backup software will type “backup software” not “Windows backup software”. You can just bid on searches containing keywords “Mac”, “Apple” or “OS X”, but will this be enough? My general advice to Mac only software vendors was to avoid Adwords, unless the ticket price of their software was in the hundreds of dollars. But, as my software runs on both Windows and Mac, I didn’t have any data to back this up.

Recently I got some data on Adwords clickthrough rates for a Mac only app (www.puzzlemakermac.com) by Hokua Software. They have kindly allowed me to share the data.

Initially they bid on generic keywords, such as “crossword maker” and ran ads such as the following with “Mac” displayed prominently in the title:

The results from analytics: 60% of the people clicking on the ads were on Windows and 40% on Mac.

Then Google banned them from the word “Mac” in their ads (it is possible to get this reversed with the express permission of Apple, but I don’t know how likely they are to grant this). So they switched to “OS X” in the ad, which hasn’t been blocked (yet).

The results from analytics: 73% of the people clicking on the ads were on Windows and 27% on Mac.

Then they restricted their bids to Mac targeted keywords such as “mac crossword maker”.

The results from analytics: 23% of the people clicking on the ads were on Windows and 73% on Mac. But there was a big drop in the number of impressions.

I think it is going to be almost impossible for anyone to get a return from Adwords when the majority of their clicks have no chance of generating a sale. So only bidding on Mac specific keywords seems to be the way to go. But there will still be a significant number of wasted clicks from Windows users. Also any Mac users who don’t use the appropriate keywords won’t see your ad. Consequently the return on time and money invested is likely to be a lot lower than Windows, cross-platform and web developers can expect. If you have a Mac only product with: a high ticket price product, well-defined keywords and limited competition, it might be worth trying Adwords. But otherwise it is probably better to wait and see if Google release OS targeting.

Of course, you could always use one of the free Adwords vouchers that Google are handing out like confetti (I get one every month in my PC Pro magazine) and try for yourself. This is how Hokua software got the results above. If you do, I would be interested to know how your results compare.

App stores set to dominate future software sales?

Following the success of the iPhone app store (over 6 billion downloads to date), app stores are becoming more and more of a feature of the software landscape. In case you missed it, Apple announced yesterday that there will be an App Store for Macs  ‘within 90 days’. In summary:

  • The Mac app store will be tightly integrated with Mac OS X, including automatic install and update.
  • There will be restrictions on technology, for example Java apps will not be allowed.
  • Apple will keep 30% of any revenue from sales.
  • $99/year subscription for developers.
  • Developers will still be able to sell their software outside the App store.

It is easy to see why Apple would want to do this:

  • A potentially huge new revenue stream from third party Mac software sales.
  • They get even more control over the customer experience.

And this could have advantages for Mac users:

  • Simpler payment and installation.
  • Screening out of low quality apps and malware.

And potential advantages for Mac developers:

  • Mac users might buy more software if it is easier to do so.
  • One main channel to concentrate your marketing efforts on.
  • Some of the boring infrastructure of selling software (licensing, shopping cart etc) can be taken care of by Apple.

But the disadvantages are all too obvious:

  • Your app could be rejected outright. And you won’t know until you submit it for approval. Apple are judge, jury and executioner. The iPhone app store has been infamous its capricious and opaque approval process.
  • 30% is a huge chunk of revenue. Typical payment processors take 5-10% of revenue. Where the new app store cannibalises existing sales (and it is hard to see that it won’t) vendors will lose 20-25% of existing sales revenues.
  • New apps and updates will be delayed by days or weeks as they go through the app store approval process.
  • A single centralised app store is likely to make it harder for niche/long-tail apps to make any sort of living. Certainly this is what seems to be happening in the iPhone App store.
  • Apple are control freaks and have traditionally taken a rather heavy handed approach with developers, including the liberal use of NDAs. The app store will give them even more control.

And worse might follow:

  • Apple makes a lot of their money from selling over-priced hardware. It may be in their interest to drive software prices down so they can sell more hardware. $5 is considered expensive in the iPhone App Store.
  • This could be the first step to making Mac OS X a closed system, like iPhone, where only Apple approved apps can be installed.

I guess they can’t piss off developers too much – a computer without third party applications isn’t going to be very attractive to customers. But I am finding it hard to work up any enthusiasm for a Mac app store. If it is successful I can either be in the store and give up a lot of freedom and cannibalize exisiting sales at a much lower margin, or stay out and be shut out of a large chunk of the market. It isn’t an attractive choice. As my app is written in C++/Qt, rather than Objective-C/Cocoa, I am not even sure that it will be eligible for inclusion in the store. I could just abandon Mac OS X, but Microsoft is also rumoured to be working on their own app store (despite the failure of DigitalLocker). That is a truly terrifying prospect given the awfulness of their ‘Works with Vista’ approval process (I speak from personal experience).

Suddenly web apps are looking more interesting.

iPhone App store economics

If you believe all the hype about iPhone apps, you can just hammer out an App in a few weeks, let that nice Mr Jobs take care of all that sordid marketing for you and then sit back to collect a big cheque every month. However the numbers in a recent sobering post about the economics of paid iPhone apps tell a rather different story:

  • average annual income for a paid iPhone app (after the App store 30%): $3,050
  • median annual income for a paid iPhone app (after the App store 30%): $682

The numbers are based on various published data from Apple and other sources, plus a few assumptions. I haven’t gone through the numbers and the analysis with a fine tooth comb, but I can’t say I am surprised.

The disconnect between the hype and the reality is so large because Apple (understandably) only want to tell developers about the success stories. The media and the public seem quite happy to go along with this because it makes a more interesting story. But when there are 225,000 apps shouting for attention, only one way to access them via a notoriously dictatorial third party and $5 is considered expensive, it is likely that the majority of developers will do badly. Hence the median is so much worse than the mean. Before you write your iPhone App I think you should ask yourself if it has got a realistic shot at making the top 10 in its App store category. If not, don’t give up the day job just yet.

Further reading:

The Sparrow problem

How to Evaluate a (paid) iPhone App Idea

Qt visual artefacts on Mac OS X 10.6

deploy_nearly_everywhereThe release of Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) snuck up on me while I have been working hard on a major new release of PerfectTablePlan plan. I didn’t really want to risk messing up my stable Mac development machine by installing it, so I asked testlab2.com (who have been doing some third party testing for me) to test my latest beta on it.

Bad news. All the combo boxes in my application (which work fine in Mac OS X 10.3, 10.4 and 10.5) have visual artefacts on Mac OS X 10.6. They work fine, but they don’t look right. I wondered if the artefact could be unique to some weird configuration on testlab2’s test machine, so I asked the fine folk on macsb mailing list to see if they could replicate it. 4 of them tried (thanks Cesar, Jon, Aaron and Pierre) and they all saw the visual artefacts. Damn.

I posted a question on the qt-interest forum. The single response (thanks Francesco) mentioned that this issue had been reported in the Qt development blog. I managed to find the blog post, applied the recommended single line code patch to Qt 4.4.2 and rebuilt everything. Cesar from macsb kindly re-tried the new binaries and reports that this improved things, but some artefacts are still visible the first time a combo box is shown. Perhaps the patch works better for Qt 4.5.

Note the artefacts at the top and bottom of the combo box drop-down list

Note the artefacts at the top and bottom of the combo box drop-down list

It looks like I am going to have to release it like this, unless someone knows of a better patch. This is very annoying after the months of hard work I have put into the new release. Aesthetics are important for commercial software, especially on the Mac. This could cost me quite a few sales.

I am not on the very latest release of Qt, but apparently this issue would still occur even if I was. Qt/Nokia have announced that they don’t expect to  support Mac OS X 10.6 until they release Qt 4.6, whenever that might be. What use is a cross-platform toolkit that doesn’t support the latest major OSs?

Developer releases of 10.6 have been available for a while – I believe the Qt team should have burnt the midnight oil to make sure they had a release that properly supported 10.6 as soon as it became generally available.  I know that isn’t easy given the size of the Qt framework and Apple’s penchant for secretiveness. But that is the game they are in and that is what I expect. I think they have seriously dropped the ball here, and this is coming from a longtime Qt fan-boy. Perhaps they have spread themselves a bit too thin by moving to LGPL licensing.

I have written this post as a quick heads up to other Qt developers. Thanks to everyone that helped me get this far.