Recently I realized that both of these quotes have been lodged in the back of my mind ever since I first saw them.
First, David Pogue, from "The Lessons of 10 Years of Talking Tech."
Things don't replace things; they just splinter. I can't tell you how exhausting it is to keep hearing pundits say that some product is the "iPhone killer" or the "Kindle killer." Listen, dudes: the history of consumer tech is branching, not replacing.
TV was supposed to kill radio. The DVD was supposed to kill the Cineplex. Instant coffee was supposed to replace fresh-brewed.
But here's the thing: it never happens. You want to know what the future holds? O.K., here you go: there will be both iPhones and Android phones. There will be both satellite radio and AM/FM. There will be both printed books and e-books. Things don't replace things; they just add on.
Pogue is right, but neglects to mention that this does not mean consumer technologies live forever. They fade and die -- it's just usually due to internal forces, not the emergence of some new category-killer.
Second, Jason Scott in late 2010, just after Yahoo! announced it would kill off lots of stuff. (The whole post is worth reading, this is just the sum-up.)
All I can say, looking back, is that when history takes a look at the lives of Jerry Yang and David Filo, this is what it will probably say:
Two graduate students, intrigued by a growing wealth of material on the Internet, built a huge fucking lobster trap, absorbed as much of human history and creativity as they could, and destroyed all of it.
Great work, guys.
These are the two things the Internet is about: splitting and forgetting.
This is great news if you're starting a company. Splitting means others doing the same thing are no problem -- you'll just carve out your own niche! Forgetting means that they're most likely on their way out, anyway. Or will be soon enough.
On the other hand, if you are hoping for some kind of progress, things are not so bright. The twin forces of splitting and forgetting mean that no problem is solved for good, and future attempts will be mostly ignorant of work done in the past. Attempts to add to human knowledge will be foiled by time. In the future, only the currently popular will survive.
For a long time now I've been sketching interfaces before I start to build them. Until recently, that just meant a little notebook or scratch paper and a pencil or fine tip pen. That worked OK, and it's great for getting ideas down or trying to figure out how things should fit together.
A few weeks ago, I decided to step up my prototyping and sketching game for a new app I'm working on. I tried a few of the popular digital prototyping tools, like the Teehan+Lax template, and Balsamiq. None seemed like much of a win. Since I don't typically use a lot of sliced images to create interfaces (preferring to draw by hand wherever possible), doing everything in Photoshop doesn't make a ton of sense. And if the idea is to block out a rough idea of what things will look like, paper is much quicker than dragging and dropping.
So, I decided to make better sketches. There are plenty of articles on sketching technique out there, showcasing styles from messy to obsessively neat and detailed:
That first article in particular has some helpful stuff. Photocopying and redrawing layers on a sketch might be going a little far, but the light marker washes and use of color look great. I decided to get some markers. Copic markers are very popular. I ended up going with Tombow dual-brush pens, which are stocked at the art store down the street and have a long flexible brush tip that's fun to use.
So far, I wouldn't say I'm a very skilled sketch artist. But it's coming along, and the ability to layer color, starting very light then filling in helps think through how a screen should be laid out, much more than I expected. Adding a color palette can add a little time, but doesn't by itself get you all the way to fussy-sketch land, where you lose sight of the things you're trying to figure out and get diminishing returns. In fact, it can be a little quicker -- with those big brush tips, you can make rough initial sketches much faster than with, say, a pencil.
How many apps are in the iOS App Store's top 200 lists? That might seem like a silly question: 200, duh. But even a quick glance through the list shows that they aren't all unique. The most popular app concepts have multiple top-selling implementations competing.
I was curious just how much duplication there was, so this afternoon I sat down and figured it out. I grabbed a copy of the Top 200 iPhone Paid Apps list at around 2:30pm, and categorized them all. The list is always changing (these days, it seems to update at least every 5 min), and there's no one correct way to make the categorization (you could lump or split more). I grouped all games and game-like entertainment apps (Pocket God and the like) together. A categorization of games might be interesting and they are a huge part of the app marketplace, but I don't understand them well enough to know which might be groupable. With those caveats, the answer is:
That's even fewer than I expected. Emoji extenders are the most repeated app with 8 implementations. If you're a good icon designer and marketer, it might not be a bad idea to throw your hat in the ring. After that come photo editors (5 apps, including PicFX, Color Splash and iPhoto) and download managers, photo booth apps (Fat Booth and friends), and map replacements with 4 apps each.
One thing that stands about the results is just how popular apps replace or extend a built-in app's functionality. Four map replacements (most do turn-by-turn navigation), 3 camera replacements, 3 clock replacements, 3 weather forecast apps, as well as music downloaders (3) and radio players (1) which are partial Music app replacements. There's good money to be made if you can find a new twist or a way to extend one of the apps that came with your iPhone.
Here's the full table:
This is a pretty superficial analysis. There's a lot more that could be done, from categorizing games to looking at the difference between free/paid/grossing lists, to looking at popular apps within a category and comparing category diversity. I may take this further, and if I do, I'll update this post with links to my findings.
If you're reading this, then I've trashed the wreckage that was my Posterous site and replaced it with my own creation. (More on how the site is built soon).
Long ago, Seth Godin did this categorization of blogs, which I've always liked.1 Well, according to his categories, I've always created a cat blog: a little public diary of things I've done. After trying that for a decade or so, it's pretty clear that I'm just no web diarist. Which is fine; that's what twitter is for.
This time I'm trying a different approach. This site is going to publish occasional writing about the Internet, programming, startups, and the tech industry. It will also be the mouthpiece for updates on my work and the products I create. In other words, topics that might actually have an audience.
Except the word viral. Folks, unless it’s killing bits of you in order to spread itself, it ain’t viral.↩
Hi, I'm Phillip Kast. Currently I'm based in Seattle, WA. I have a small company, Year of Code, through which I write software for iOS, Mac and the web.
Previously I founded a YC-funded company and was the first employee of another that was acquired. Then I was the first engineering hire at Urbanspoon, where I built Rezbook, their online reservation product.
When I'm not at the keyboard, I can often be found running, kayaking, or climbing around the PNW.