Q: Should I build an app? A: Probably not.

One of Room 34’s long-time agency partners emailed me today asking if we build mobile apps. It was a simple question. The email itself was only one sentence, and, initially, so was my response:

We haven’t yet, but it’s been on my radar to potentially pursue.

Then I gave it more thought, and realized I should flesh out that answer a bit, with an explanation of why we haven’t developed any apps. Yet.

Honestly I’m sure part of the reason is that we’re a web development shop. That’s what we do. I’d be lying — to myself — if I didn’t acknowledge that there’s some amount of a desire to “protect my territory”; apps are a threat to the web development business. Adapt or die, etc. But I think apps have been around long enough now to show the web isn’t going to die. The nature of the web and how we use it is changing, but the web itself is still a huge part of the Internet experience, and its underlying technologies (HTTP, SSL/TLS, XML, and JavaScript or JavaScript-derived tools like JSON and AJAX for sure) are fundamental to how any Internet-connected mobile app works!

Yet, I still make the argument that a lot of people who think they need an app really don’t. All they need is a mobile-friendly (ah-hem, responsive) website. So that was the rationale I laid out in the rest of my email response:

Most of the time when people have approached us about an app, I have convinced them that it didn’t make sense for their needs to do an app. But there are definitely legitimate uses.

A few reasons not to do an app, and just do a mobile website instead:

  1. Apps are more expensive to develop.
  2. Apps require more promotion to achieve awareness.
  3. Users have to make the choice to seek out the app in the App Store / Google Play and download it.
  4. Often client requirements for the app don’t involve anything a mobile website can’t do.

On top of those reasons, #2, and to some extent #3, generally means you need a marketing website to promote the app anyway, and if the user is already coming to the website, if #4 applies, there’s really no value left in creating the app, unless it’s a paid app or has ongoing in-app purchases to achieve any kind of ROI.

Reasons to create an app:

  1. Advanced features that require native device functionality, that a website can’t achieve.
  2. The app itself is a (reliable) source of revenue.
  3. The app is for an industry where it might be preinstalled on users’ devices, or required for their work.

What I didn’t mention is that the app “gold rush” is over. The potential in 2015 of a new venture to get rich with an app is approaching the odds of winning the lottery and getting struck by lightning simultaneously.

The only reason to create an app now is if it’s filling a genuine need that can’t be met with a mobile website, and it has the necessary value to the end user that the higher barrier of entry into using an app, compared to a website, can be overcome.

Facing the 2012 RPM Challenge

February is just a couple of weeks away, and as I have every year since 2008, I’ll be participating in the RPM Challenge.

What’s that? It’s simple: produce an entire album (10+ songs or 35+ minutes) entirely during the month of February.

My concept this year is a bit different than in the past. This time around, I will not be using any instruments… just my iPhone. I’ve assembled an interesting collection of music creation apps (which I will detail in a future post, but for now will represent with a pair of screenshots, below), and these will be the only tools I will use to generate sounds. I may sample my voice, found sounds and instruments using my iPhone’s microphone, and I’ll do final mixing and post-production on my MacBook Air, but as much as possible this will be an album produced on the iPhone. Given the nature of some of the apps I’ll be using, I also expect this album to be a lot more experimental/avant garde in style than most of my recent solo work.

I am tentatively calling the album i. And I am also considering producing a companion album, called The Way Out Takes, that will consist of unedited versions of the more experimental tracks that end up on i.

Stay tuned for more details as I think them up.

Couch to 5K week 4 playlist

If you follow me on Twitter (and if not, well…) you know that for the past few weeks I’ve been trying to conquer decades of sedentary lifestyle by way of the Couch to 5K iPhone app. It’s been working out very well so far!

One thing I have yet to do is consciously plan out a playlist to correspond to the cycles of walking and running that are a key to the Couch to 5K program. Well, on Thursday I will be running the final day of week 4, nearing the halfway point (what??!!) in the program, so it’s time to remedy that situation.

Here then is my Couch to 5K week 4 playlist, for your consideration:

Action Song Artist Time
Warm up One More Robot / Sympathy 3000-21 The Flaming Lips 5:00
Run The Distance Cake 3:01
Walk Little Fishes Brian Eno 1:30
Run Smells Like Teen Spirit Nirvana 5:01
Walk And I Love Her The Beatles
Run Highly Suspicious My Morning Jacket 3:05
Walk Pigs on the Wing (Part One) Pink Floyd 1:25
Run Uprising Muse 5:05
Cool down Computerworld Kraftwerk 5:08

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Clearly I focused primarily on the timing and general mood of the songs when programming this playlist, giving… well… absolutely no consideration whatsoever to the transitions between the songs. But I think it will still be successful. It helps me a lot when running to focus on the music and to think, “OK… I run until the end of this song.”

And yes, when I get to running for the entire time, I will have a song for that. I have 14 songs in the library on my iPhone that are over 20 minutes long.

Pocket Sysadmin

I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again. External link

Actually, that’s not true: I will be back on Sunday. But the point is, I’m going on a trip… and more importantly, I’m not taking my laptop. Gasp! Can it be true? I’ll answer that for you: yes, it’s true.

OK, enough with this absurdly bad writing. On to the matter at hand: traveling sans laptop. Since I began freelancing in mid-2008, it’s been a given that I would always have my laptop with me. Not because I am a workaholic (not true) or because I’m an Internet junkie (true), but primarily because I needed to have a way to monitor and troubleshoot web server performance in case any of my clients had technical problems while I was gone.

But for this trip, I’ve decided I want to make it a real vacation. I want to remove the temptation to work when I really shouldn’t. I need a break. But I still need to be accessible if an emergency arises, and I need to be able to do something about it. Accessibility has been a non-issue ever since I got a cell phone: just call me. Or, since I got an iPhone: email, text, or call me (preferably in that order). But heretofore, the best I could do with a phone/iPhone was become aware of a problem. I still needed a full-fledged computer to actually do anything productive.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been preparing my iPhone to become an all-in-one tool for managing my business on the road. That meant setting up all of the diagnostic and troubleshooting tools I could, to ensure that I can adequately monitor the performance of the web servers I’m responsible for, and fix any problems that come up. Here are the tools I’m using to make that possible:



iStat is a very polished little utility for monitoring system performance. Its main feature is that it provides detailed stats on your iPhone itself: battery capacity, memory usage, storage available, IP address, uptime, running processes, and MAC address. But what’s really cool about it is that there are remote monitoring tools that allow you to monitor your Mac from your iPhone, or, more importantly for me, you can monitor a Linux, BSD or Solaris server. It requires a fair bit of command-line mucky-muck to set up (including compiling from source), but in a matter of minutes I had multiple Linux servers set up, sending their performance data to my iPhone wherever I go. With iStat, I can be proactive in monitoring server performance.

TouchTerm SSH

TouchTerm SSH

So, great. iStat lets me see how my servers are doing. But what if there’s a problem? That’s where TouchTerm SSH comes in. When I work with servers from my computer, the main application I use is Terminal. The SSH protocol allows me to connect securely to my servers with a command-line interface, where I can do anything I need to do: check running processes, modify configurations, restart services, etc. TouchTerm SSH is a fully-functional SSH terminal on the iPhone. With it, anything that I can do via SSH from my computer, I can now do with the iPhone. I just installed it today, so I haven’t completely put it through its paces, but I am sure that before long this will be one of the most indispensable apps I have installed on my iPhone. Even more than Ramp Champ.


Slicehost Pro

This one’s a bit more specialized, obviously, but since Slicehost’s iPhone app was one of the main selling points for me to go with them in the first place, it’s worth acknowledging.

Slicehost is a VPS hosting company based in St. Louis. They offer great service at unbeatable prices. Running a VPS is not for the feint of heart, but if you’re not afraid of taking full responsibility for your own server, Slicehost is the way to go. Their simple web-based admin interface makes it a snap to set up your own server with one of any number of Linux distros (Ubuntu, Debian, Gentoo, CentOS, Fedora, Arch or Red Hat), and once it’s running, to monitor its performance and reboot if necessary.

The iPhone app’s functionality is pretty limited, but it has the one critical function I need: if the slice becomes unresponsive, you can reboot it. Sure, you can do that from their mobile website too, but it’s always fun to have another app on your home screen.