Mark Crump

I am a writer. This is my journey.

On Gigaom

I started writing for Gigaom in June 2009. Back then it was still The Apple Blog. While we were part of the Gigaom media empire, it didn’t feel completely assimilated. This naturally changed over the years. Eventually, the entire Apple channel went away and was replaced by the Mobile channel. I kept writing and they kept publishing.

When I started almost all of us were freelancers. We’d have a Gigaom employee as our editor but I remember days of 5–6 writers dividing up the content especially around Apple event time. We’d lose freelancers and never really replace them as more Gigaom employees wrote posts. Finally, it was just Geoffrey and I holding the fort on weekend duty.

The gig ended when Gigaom shut down Monday. I’m going to miss it.

Looking back, it’s amazing that it lasted so long. In this day and age, a 6-year freelance gig at a tech place is an amazing run. My editors left us alone. I came up with all my own story ideas. Most of the stories were based on my personal experiences and how I used tech. I’d receive great feedback from readers and it was the rare site where I didn’t mind wading into the comments.

I’d actually expected the gig to end soon, and in a lot of ways I think it went about a year longer than I thought. I wasn’t, however, expecting the site to shut down. I just expected with only two real freelancers (that I knew of, anyway) on the Mobile beat one day I’d get the email they were done with freelancers.

In terms of what I’ll be doing, I don’t know. Gigaom was my only major freelancing client. I’ll start looking for more. I also have an unused domain name thats perfect for my tech writing so I’ll be launching that Real Soon Now(TM).

Apple and organizational change

There’s one thing about Apple that has been in the back of my mind since WWDC: Apple has done a fantastic job at organizational change in the last year or so. Every organization I’ve worked at has handled change poorly. Either people refuse to accept the change, or the leaders don’t change enough, or, sometimes they change too much.

It’s pretty much a given: Large organizations handle large changes poorly. Look at Blackberry and Microsoft. Both of these companies saw their markets were being disrupted, but still did a piss-poor job at reacting to it.

Apple, on the other hand, is a market leader and on the outside had little need to change how they did things. Yet they did, in some key ways.

Opening up the betas

Up until earlier this year, it was laughable that Apple would ever open up the OS X betas. Yet, starting with a dot release for Mavericks they opened up the betas. Even now, there is a public beta for their new OS, Yosemite. Hopefully, this will clear up some issues like the whole Gmail Mavericks issue.

That said, I don’t think Apple will open up the iOS betas. There are too many risks for key systems. Apple had enough problems with a small subset of users having problems with a failed 8.0.1 update. Imagine if a bad beta got out for an OS Apple isn’t actively supporting.

Opening up iOS

I don’t’ know if iOS 8 extensions and keyboards would have happened if Jobs and Forestall were still with Apple. Part of me can see it happening if Jobs were still alive (he did accept that sometimes Apple needed to change). If Forestall still stayed on after Jobs died, I doubt it.

At WWDC, it was announced that now 3rd party keyboards would be available for iOS, and now apps can talk to each other in a more logical manner without the need for some crazy workarounds.

Gizmodo is off the shit list

Gizmodo got an invite to the September 9 event. This is the same organization that got their hands on a stolen iPhone and told Jobs to shove it. I thought the odds were better I would get an invite to an Apple event before Gizmodo would. Lo and behold, both Gizmodo and Brian Lam got invites. Even with Jobs and Cotton gone, I thought someone at Apple would have a long enough memory to still stick it to them.

Final thoughts

I look at some of the changes other organizations have tried to make and seen how they have failed first hand. That so far, this hasn’t blown up in Apple’s face is remarkable. So far, a few bugs in iOS have given them egg on their face.

Egg is far easier to clean up than shit, though.

Thoughts on the 6 Plus, a few days in

After the initial pre-order mess where I was promised delivery on the 19th, and then in the October 1-6 range, I picked up my white, 64 GB iPhone Plus on Thursday. Now that I’ve had a few days to play with it, here are some thoughts on it.

Size matters

Typically the first reaction when someone sees the phone is, “Damn, that’s a big phone.” Immediately followed by, “Does it bend?” The bend issue is certainly in the mainstream. I’m a 6’4 man with  decent hand size. While the Plus is large in my hand, it’s not unwieldy. I do have to use it with two hands, but that’s the point. It fits comfortably in my pants. I don’t think I’ll need to worry about needing to take it out and rest it on a table when I’m at a restauraunt. The extra screen real estate is nice. Once more apps support it, I’ll be loving it.


Originally, I set up the phone and restored from iCloud. Following Myke Hurley’s comments about starting from new and getting the most battery life, I reset it Friday night. I haven’t charged it yet and I’m at 60%. Now, this is the weekend and not normal usage by a long shot. My iPhone 5, however, would have needed a charge by now.


HealthKit is what I hoped it would be. Unfortunately, the reset killed all of the data I had been tracking, but, the step and stairs counter is working out fab. I don’t even have to have the device in my pocket. It it’s in my bag, it’ll still track it.

Other stuff

At some point I am going to get a case. I’m leaning towards the Apple Leather Case, in Red. I want one that gives it a little bit more stick so it doesn’t fly off the table or my car mount. The car mount is something I’m trying to figure out. It fits ok, but I have a claw-style mount with no bottom and it’s a bit slidey in there. I have some shelf paper to help grab it. Once more apps use landscape mode, I might just throw it in there landscape and see how it does.

I’m glad I got it. What I’m hoping to do is use little found moments to either write or do a little reading while I’m away from my iPad. After looking at a coworkers 6 Normal, I knew the smaller device wouldn’t fit my hands.

Dungeons and Dragons embraces Free to Play model


Today, Wizards of the Coast announced that the next version of Dungeons and Dragons (officially called DND5e, unofficially DND Next) will be free to play. Sorta. In a way, Wizards has embraced the Free to Play model a lot of MMOs use. In these MMOs, you can usually play a base class to a given level cap but to go beyond a level, or play different classes, you need to pay.

On July 15th (ish) along with the Starter Edition, Wizard will release a free PDF that’s basically the rules you need to play and the base classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard) to level 20. If you want to play what they call an advanced class (Barbarian, Druid, Paladin, etc.) you will need to buy the Players Handbook which comes out a month later. The Basic Rules also have most of the equipment and some monster info so DMs can get their campaign up and running.

I think this is a great idea and also gets around the big problem I have with the 5E release: the timing. When 4E launched, I could by a nice little boxed set with the core rules. This time, they are staggering the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and DMs guides by roughly a month each.

The other reason I think this is a great idea is it gets people to play and try out the new version of DND for free. I think 5E is far superior to 4E for reasons I’ll cover in a future post. Basically. 4E was a vey complex system. My character sheet was usually 7 pages long and half the skills were a reaction that required some type of event to trigger it. The fifth edition feels more like the 2nd edition, which was my favorite edition.



Gibson Memory Cable

Gibson Memory Cable-1

Gibson recently announced the Memory Cable, a $99 guitar cable that records up to 13 hours of audio onto a mini-SD card. It’s a pre-amp recorder so you won’t get your amp signal. I think this would be great for recording how you sound on stage or in practice. It’ll be a clean sound, so you can reamp it. That said, I think recording clean and listening back is a great way to hear how you really sound.

ComiXology and the Curious Case of the App Store

I’ve long thought of ComiXology as the Amazon of comic books. It became a truer statement when Amazon bought Comixology a few weeks ago. Andy Ihnatko summed up my inital reaction with this Sun Times post in which he said:

“I’m hoping that this ultimately ends with ComiXology making comics on Kindle better, and not Amazon making ComiXology’s comics … like Kindles.”

This week, Amazon dropped one hammer by removing in app purchases from the ComiXology app. Now, ComiXology behaves exactly like the Kindle app: you have to go outside the app to purchase content.

Some background on the matter at hand

In July 2011, Apple began enforcing in-app purchasing restrictions for e-reading apps. The Kindle, Kobo, and Nook apps released new versions that removed bookstores from their iOS apps. These restrictions said that 30% of any in-app purchase (IAP) went to Apple. Some people viewed this as Apple collecting a rent, similar to the rent a brick-and-mortar store pays. The other end of the spectrum had people feeling like Apple was acting akin the Corleone family, where they simply “didn’t want anything bad to happen to the developers app.” My opinion was that Apple was taking the view that any exception granted opens a can of worms they don’t want to deal with.

Policies work best when they are applied to everyone equally. In this case, everyone is treated equally by Apple. If you offer an IAP, pay Apple 30%. I don’t generally have a problem with this policy but almost three years later it’s still a little jarring when I have to quit the Kindle app and go to Safari to buy an ebook.

In this Tech Hive article Moises Chiullan has this quote from Chip Mosher, ComiXology’s VP Communications & Marketing:

“As we move to complete the acquisition with Amazon, we are shifting to the web-based purchasing model they’ve successfully used with Kindle, which we expect will allow us to strike the best balance between prices, selection and customer experience.”—Chip Mosher, ComiXology

IAPs work for me because it limits the sites that have my credit card and I can buy a couple of gift cards to Amazon or Apple to use as an allowance of sorts. In this case, the balance of customer experience has not tipped in my favor.

Changes to ComiXology

Comics are a somewhat unique form of content to consume. For the most part, comics don’t take as long as say, Game of Thrones, to read a volume of. In my case, I’d buy the first comic in a series and when I got to the end of it, ComiXology nicely told me there were more issues in the series and did I want to purchase it? This was incredibly convenient for me, but perhaps not so convenient for my bank account. The one saving grace is that I don’t generally buy a lot of comics – enough $2.99 purchases and soon you’re taking about real money. In my case right now, about one purchase – but it was certainly nice to have. If it was a series that’s in the middle of its publishing run I could tell Comixology to auto-purchase the new issues.

Now, when you reach the end of a series of which you don’t own the next issue, Comixology simply stops. There’s no clue there are any more issues; not even a hint to go to the ComiXology web site and purchase it. It simply has a button “back to Library.”

I don’t foresee ComiXology’s changes affecting how I buy comics. I’ve always thought long and hard about any comic I buy anyway. Going to a website as opposed to an app isn’t likely to change the amount of comics I purchase. The big problem, though, is ComiXology’s site doesn’t have a lot of search refinements. As a consolation prize for removing IAPs, ComiXology credited everyone’s account with five bucks. I figured I could buy about 5 $.99 comics. I went to the Top Sellers page, but I couldn’t sort by price or average rating. This is something that I’m a little surprised that ComiXology doesn’t offer.

The Apple morality clause

In that same Tech Hive artile, Moises states something that has been on my mind for a while:

ComiXology also found its content running afoul of Apple’s rigid guidelines about what could be sold through the App Store. Take the case of the series Sex Criminals, banned from being sold through the in-app purchase feature on ComiXology, and yet, still available for sale within Apple’s own iBookstore.

Remember that line I had earlier about policies working best when they are applied to everyone equally? This is a case where Apple violates their own policy of acceptable content they hold developers to. It’s absolutely ludicrous for Apple to ban something from a 3rd-party developer’s app while selling it on the Apple store. Note: This fell off my radar screen after it happened and I can’t find out if the decision was ever reversed.

The problem gets even worse. A quick search through the iTunes store yields plenty of erotic fiction, unrated movies, and season one of the Starz show Spartacus, which has the rare scene where there isn’t a decapitation or a naughty bit doing the things that naughty bits do.

There are many things I think Apple does very well, but this is one thing with Apple that drives me nuts. If they don’t want adult content available on their platforms, fine. Just don’t also sell it through your own in-app store.

Is this problem solvable?

In the case of ComiXology, they had two problems: Apple taking a 30% cut and the worry that another comic would run afoul of Apple’s censors.

Apple eliminating (or even reducing) the 30% cut, well, isn’t really going to happen. The issue surrounding most ereaders is that they are middlemen in the distribution chain and the margins probably aren’t there to give Apple a 30% cut. Back to my comment about policies, if Apple created an exeception for resellers you possibly have the problem of a lot of developers trying to get lumped into that. Apple will continue to stick to thier belief that they get 30% of anything bought on an iOS device for consumption on an iOS device. By and large, I don’t have a problem with this. If a game developer releases an expansion for an iPad game, Apple should get their cut.

Apple being the final arbiter of content is a thornier issue. While this is something that I’m not overly fond of, I think I’d like to see what would happen if Apple didn’t curate this content. The mens rooms of truck stops comes to mind.

The best solution is probably the one ComiXology took: decide that paying 30% for the headache of them curating their content was too much.

Now lets just hope Apple doest take away the ability for apps like Amazon and Comixology to download content from outside the app store. I doubt that will ever happen, though.

Nils Lofgren talks guitars

Nils Lofgren talks guitars

Great guitar player; great gear. Lots of great fender stuff.

Thoughts on the stagnation of iPad sales

Apple yesterday announced its Q2 2014 earnings. iPad sales were down almost 3M units from Q2 2013. According to

Apple sold 16.35 million of the tablets this past quarter, compared to 19.48 million in the second quarter of 2013. Revenues from the iPad fell as well, from $8.7 billion to $7.6 billion. The iPad had a smaller impact on Apple’s revenues, too, accounting for 17 percent of sales, compared to 20 percent last year.

I have some thoughts on why that may have happened.

Last year, Apple announced the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina Display. While both have the new A7 chip, of the two I think the iPad mini with Retina Display is the more tempting upgrade if you own a previous gen iPad. This is because the previous mini did not have the retina display, and was a gimped model with a lower-specced processor. The new mini that actually had feature parity with the larger iPad was a nice upgrade.

The 64-bit processor in the new Air (and mini) is a great upgrade, but I don’t think enough people were taxing their iPads to the point they felt needed a faster processor if they already had a retina iPad. I’m not sure there is even enough RAM on the iPad to fully take advantage of the 64-bit chip. It also doesn’t have the Touch ID sensor, either, which could be a factor.

So, I think a lot of the sales are people who  are probably very happy with their iPad 3 or 4. I know I am. I need the iPad with the largest memory, so I’m on a 2–3 year upgrade cycle on my iPad.

Jean-Louis Gassée had a great article called: The iPad is a Tease

Despite the inspiring ads, Apple’s hopes for the iPad overshot what the product can actually deliver. Although there’s a large numbers of iPad-only users, there’s also a substantial population of dual-use customers for whom both tablets and conventional PCs are now part of daily life.

I see the lull in iPad sales as a coming down to reality after unrealistic expectations, a realization that iPads aren’t as ready to replace PCs as many initially hoped.

Gruber has his take here.

We might have overestimated the eventual role of tablets and underestimated the role of phones — and the whole argument is further muddled by the industry-wide move toward 5-inch-ish phone displays.

I’m not sure about this. A larger screen iPhone is certainly appealing to me. It would take place for a lot of the tasks I would consider a mini for, as long as the resolution also increases – I’d like my Kindle documents have more words on the horizontal size.

I wrote earlier this year that 2014 is the year of the iPad for me. That is largely playing out. Rarely does my MacBook Pro leave the house. My next OS X device will be an iMac. As iOS continues to mature, I will be able to put off buying a new Mac as long as this one keeps running. The largest barrier to going iOS all the time is games, and GigaOM’s WordPress install. Other than that, when I leave the house these days, I only need my iPad. I can write, post to this site, surf, read, and even play some games (just not World of Warcraft).

I’m expecting to get another full year out of my iPad 3. By September 2015, this one will be getting long in the tooth and require replacement. I expect that to be why iPad sales are down. Now that the product has matured, there’s no need to upgrade every year.

Apple does the unexpected; opens OS X betas to everyone

I will admit, I did not see this one coming. Apple announced on April 22, 2014 that they are now allowing anyone with an Apple ID, and is 18 years of older, to participate in their beta program. Previously, this required an Apple Developer Account ($99/year). Now, it’s free, as in beer.

I think this is a great idea. Personally, I’ve been in the iOS and OS X developer programs solely for research. As a freelancer specializing in Apple products, I needed to be comfortable with the new OSs before launch to write about the new features. Now, at least, I don’t have to worry about the OS X program.

When I reached out to Apple PR about their motives, they declined to comment. My uneducated guess is that Apple needed more feedback on beta releases than they were getting from the developer pool. I know that the betas leading up to a GM get a lot of testing from developers, but I don’t know about the dot relases. This could also be a general security issue since betas for the new versions of OS X usually hit the torrent sites. That’s not a good way for people to get their hands on operating systems.

How it works is pretty straightforward. You sign up and download a DMG file which has a MavericksBetaAccessUtility.pkg file in it. Installing this allows he prerelease iTunes 11.1.6 and OS X 10.9.3 betas to be downloaded from the Mac App Store. What is not explicitly stated is whether this will still be in place when the beta for OS X 10.10 starts this summer. There is an FAQ here, but it’s a little vague on how forthcoming betas will be handled. I think that 10.10 will be included. At least, I hope it is. A concern, however, is that the DMG and the PKG file say “Mavericks” and not “OS X”. So, it’s possible this is only for Mavericks. We will see in two months.

My next question is whether this will be available on iOS. I am split on this, and the 51% of me thinks it will not be. OS X has a much smaller install base than iOS. It’s also easier to recover your Mac from a bad beta than your iPhone. Also, you download the files for iOS betas from the developer page; not the iOS App Store.[1] Were Apple to introduce free iOS betas, they would include it in the free developer accounts. You’d have to pay to use iTunes Connect. This would also eliminate the selling of device provisions that generally drive Apple nuts.

  1. Technically, you also do this for the OS X betas, but once you’ve entered in a reclamation code, the beta software appears in the App Store.  ↩

My Thoughts: What Apple will, and will not speak about tomorrow

Will speak of:

New iPhones

They will announce the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5 C. I think it will have the fingerprint sensor.

People will complain about both releases.

 iOS 7

– GM available, date of release announced

– The “killer” iPhone 5 feature announced. People will complain.

– The icons will stay the same. People will complain

– I’m going to go on a limb and predict the iPad will get iOS 7 the same time as the everyone else. Reason: Universal app updating will be problematic


– The new version that works with iTunes Radio will be announced


– I think the iPod Touch will get the 5c treatment

Will NOT speak of

– iPads: no new iPads

– Mavericks: Little, if any discussion

– The new Mac Pro: Not a word, except maybe to play the movie

– iPads and MacPros will be October (at least iPad) discussions. What I don’t know is if the MacPro and Maverick’s releases will be quiet releases, or Apple will hold an event for them.