What is an app?

By Mike / On / In Technology

In a recent seminar with some Danish journalists (starting at about 5:00), I used the metaphor of the app as a cup of coffee, an ambassador of your business whose production encompasses a wide range of possible efforts. I also gave an extended technical definition of the word “app” (at around 14:45) that I found tidy enough to transcribe for you here.


An app is software that transforms its hardware to provide a complete and productized experience.

So let’s go into that.

An app is software, which is to say, an app is not a physical product. An app is the instructions that describe a physical product.

Software is not about ones and zeros. Software is about configurability. It’s about, you’ve already invested in something, and now you’re just going to find new uses for that thing, an application of that thing, or an “app,” if you will.

That software transforms, right? It transforms it hardware, that physical device.

When you have an iPad, and you’re using the iBooks app, you’re not using an app. You’re reading a book. You’re holding a book.

And if you want to switch over to GarageBand and start playing on the piano, you’ve turned the book into a piano. You have transformed that flat piece of glass.

This is something that people always wonder about, this dichotomy in, for example, Apple’s design. They say, “Why is it? The iPad, the iPhone, such a minimalist piece of art, but the software so colorful, and so rich, and so synthetic.”

And that’s the whole point. The hardware is meant to fade away and let the software take over what that device is to the user.

That’s what we mean when we say, software that transforms the hardware. But it’s not just that you’re transforming hardware. That’s a demo.

An app is a complete and productized experience. It is complete, which is to say, the app does not leave you hanging. The app is what you need to have the experience you’re meant to be having.

And it’s a product. It is something finite and measurable that you can buy, that you can transmit, that can be created by artisans and sold to customers.

Therefore an app is software that transforms its hardware to provide a complete and productized experience.

Tips for WWDC / AltWWDC

By Mike / On / In Knowledge

WWDC has been part of my life for over a decade now. It started as something I’d watch from afar, when my only career goal was to get there. When I finally made it in 2005, I met my mentor and put my career on the fast track. A couple of years later, my team won an Apple Design Award, and a couple of years after that, I actually got to help put on the show.

For the past couple of years, I’ve helped the Appsterdam Foundation build the conference around the conference, serving the growing number of ticketless showcializers, and leading this community exercise in providing solutions, instead of merely complaining. Inevitably, I’ve developed some top tips for new and returning attendees to our annual homecoming.

Be prepared. You can certainly just show up and see what happens, but like most things in life, you’ll do a lot better if you take it seriously and start getting ready before you go. Pick some parties you want to attend and get on the RSVP lists. Think about what you want to accomplish, what you have to share with the community, and what you hope to bring home.

Carry cheap cigarettes. That has been my number one tip for years. A lot of the conference is actually spent standing on the sidewalk holding conversations with people you won’t get to meet any other time. In a city like San Francisco, you’re competing for their attention with a parade of panhandlers, and the fastest, cheapest way to keep them moving and get back to your conversations is to offer them a cigarette.

Bring your A game. This is your biggest and best chance to meet colleagues, future teammates, and media gatekeepers. Here, more than ever, you need to be hustling. Don’t come empty handed. Be prepared to exchange business cards. If you hurry, you can still order some from MOO and get 10% off. Also, if you have an app, you should bring 2″x2″ icon stickers to trade. Don’t have any? There’s still time to order those too. Go to StickerMule and get $10 off.

Go with the flow. Get it together now, because once you get there, it’s up to fate. WWDC should always be a life-changing experience, but if you show up with a checklist, or try to recreate the same experience year after year, you’re going to end up disappointed, and the conference will start to feel like it has passed you by. It’s nice to see old friends, but come just as prepared to make new ones. Don’t try to shape the experience; let the experience shape you.

New Lemurs Press Page

By Mike / On / In Knowledge

After my post about our press release and all the help we got from awesome people, folks wanted to know more about the press page, so here are some diagrams I made in the spirit of Chris Phin.

PressPage1

There are two important ideas that went into our press page. The first is that journalists want basic, no-nonsense information, stripped of marketing fluff. They want to know as much about our product as possible in as little time as they have, so we give them the good stuff, right up front.

They want promo codes. We try to make getting them as painless as possible. Then the basic links: where we are on the various networks, and our press kit, which has all the important stuff on the page zipped up and waiting, so you can download that and be off the site in 30 seconds. We try to provide the site and its content in every language we are localized in, and make that immediately obvious.

Since our press release is concise enough to demo, we include the whole thing, right above the fold, right next to the basic information that should accompany any press release: what the product is, and how people can get in touch with us. Oh yeah, and high-resolution logos and screenshots. Making high quality assets available makes it easy to cover us, which brings me to the other second important idea.

PressPage2

Journalists are just as lazy as I am. The easier we make it for them to do their jobs, the more they are going to love us. We tell them lots of clever things to notice about the game in our heavily illustrated reviewer’s guide. We want them to know everything they need to know after 20 minutes with our product.

Hell, we even prerecord that 20 minutes with extended format Let’s Play videos. You can play them full-screen on your iPad and it’s like playing the game without using your hands.

I figure, I was a journalist, and I like to jump to the bottom of the page, so we made it a bit of a mini-site, with minimal gimmicks, and minimal chrome. The way I see it, by the time you get down to the press page, all we can do is let the product speak for itself.

Launch Thanks

By Mike / On / In Personal

We’re about a week into our ongoing soft relaunch of Lemurs Chemistry: Water, and we’ve finally gotten to the point where people are starting to notice. There were quite some murmurs yesterday about our press page, which I appreciate, and while I could easily point to my experience as a journalism major for providing some kind of savvy, the reality is, I can hardly take credit for it.

First and foremost, all we really did was our best implementation of what Chris Phin asked all App Makers to do in his talk at NSConference 5. Our “perfect press release,” was literally just a point for point copy of the ideal press release from his talk, which I hope nobody will mind me sharing here.

Chris Phin's Press Release Format

Our press page is just the stuff he asked us to make available, like a bunch of full resolution screenshots, and a short trailer, together with the extended “Let’s Play” videos that we put up as a way for people to experience the game without having to buy it first. In particular, I didn’t even know what a reviewer’s guide was before his talk, and ours ended up turning out really nicely.

A lot of credit for that, and for the press release, goes to my brother, Hernan Pelassini. He started working on the press release when we were still writing code, and he harped on the reviewer’s guide and the Phin format from the very beginning, even going so far as to send me a copy of the video to make sure I watched it before writing the final draft.

Despite being quite hard at work half a world away, and even after I messed up the time zones and called him at 5:30 in the morning, he proofed the release and the reviewer’s guide, and made crucial changes. We rarely get past the last 80% of polish without guidance from the outside, and on a deadline, availability is everything. Hernan is always there when you need him. That’s why we all love him.

Speaking of people who are always there for you, there are a couple of folks I almost never mention because they’re so close to me, they’ve become part of me, and talking about them feels like talking about myself. Klaas Speller and Judy Chen are two people who always make sure I keep going, who reign me in when I need reigning in, who give me criticism when I need criticism, who offer support when I need support.

These are shining examples of a class of people I have been blessed to have cultivated relationships with in my life. The credits page of the game is a tribute to that. My whole career has been a tribute to that. Where I have been tough, and shown grit, it has been to chew and swallow the big problems I bite off for myself, but where I have succeeded, or even exceeded, it has been thanks to people like these.