Developing Perspective

#170(#156): Distinctiveness


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective. Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing

00:00:04   news of note and iOS development, Apple and the like. I'm your host, David Smith. I'm

00:00:08   an independent iOS developer based in Herman, Virginia. This is show number 170. Today is

00:00:13   Wednesday, January 15. Developing Perspective was never longer than 15 minutes. So let's

00:00:18   get started. First, just a quick note, if you may have noticed that this I said this

00:00:22   was episode 170 and not episode 156, as you may have been expecting. This is basically

00:00:29   I'm just re-numbering the shows. Every time I do an interview or I do talk about retrospectively

00:00:36   or whatever about the show, I always have to have these weird caveats because early

00:00:39   on in the show's history, when I did some interviews and some other things that were

00:00:44   part of the show, I didn't number them in the sequential order. And this is just one

00:00:49   these things that has been starting slowly driving me crazy. And it's just kind of one

00:00:53   of my OCD things that I just wanted to sort out. And since I control the numbers, and

00:00:56   it's my show, I'm just going to fix it. And so this is episode 170, which is the 170th

00:01:03   episode of this show, which seems like the way it should be. So anyway, just that's a

00:01:07   minor note, don't worry about it. Things will just continue as normal from now, but I will

00:01:10   feel much better. Alright, and another quick note, I will be speaking at NS North next

00:01:16   It's a great little conference in Ottawa, and I just wanted to mention it here.

00:01:20   If you're in Canada or like Canada, it'll be a great little place to go.

00:01:24   The guys who run it have done a great job.

00:01:26   I think this is the second year of the show's existence, and so this is another kind of

00:01:30   example of me trying to try some new things this year and stretch myself a little bit.

00:01:35   And so I haven't typically done much conference speaking, and so far this year I'll be doing

00:01:39   three conference talks, which is a little intimidating, a little bit scary, but it's

00:01:44   thing I'm excited about exploring and just exploring and understanding a bit more about

00:01:49   myself and seeing how well I can do with that, how much I enjoy it, as well as also hopefully

00:01:55   just gaining a new skill, which is always exciting.

00:01:57   All right, so I'm going to now get into the main topic of the day's show, which I could

00:02:01   call a couple of different things. I kind of call it distinctiveness, and that's probably

00:02:05   what I'll title the show. And it's kind of the way that I manage distinctiveness. You

00:02:11   You could call it branding, you could call it copyright.

00:02:12   It has a lot of different things.

00:02:14   But this is coming out of a situation that I have with one of my apps, Podometer++, which

00:02:18   is an app for the iPhone 5S that takes advantage of its motion tracking capabilities to create

00:02:24   essentially a podometer that's built into your phone, that doesn't drain your battery,

00:02:29   etc.

00:02:30   It's a cool app that I really enjoy writing and it's what I've been working on this last

00:02:32   week.

00:02:33   And it's just probably about once a day, sometimes a little less, but around once a day.

00:02:38   I'll get a note from somebody saying, "Hey, have you seen this app?

00:02:41   It looks just like pedometer."

00:02:42   And then I'm sort of using it as often some kind of comment, "Oh, you know, imitation

00:02:45   is in serious form of flattery," or whatever.

00:02:48   Because there's a collection of apps, I'm not entirely sure exactly how many, but there's

00:02:52   at least two or three that are pretty much exact copies of the pedometer++ aesthetic.

00:03:01   And I get a lot of comments about, "Oh, what are you going to do about this?

00:03:05   What's going to happen?"

00:03:06   And I thought it happened, you know, once I get a question five or six times, I think

00:03:09   it's probably worth me just addressing it on the show and unpacking a little bit how

00:03:15   I think about these things and the way that I've sort of just learned to deal with it.

00:03:21   So first, it's probably fair to say, it's like, there's a very big difference between

00:03:28   an idea and a design.

00:03:32   And by that I mean, so the concept

00:03:35   of developing a pedometer using the motion tracking

00:03:38   capabilities of Apple's M7 coprocessor

00:03:41   is not particularly unique.

00:03:42   And that's not something that I would necessarily

00:03:45   hold onto as something that I invented

00:03:47   or that I was unique or somehow especially privileged in.

00:03:52   Apple created this technology, and one

00:03:55   of the most obvious uses for it is to make a pedometer.

00:03:57   And so that's what I did.

00:03:59   So that's not-- it's just good to say that out front, though,

00:04:02   that that's not what I'm talking about.

00:04:04   That it's like having someone copy your concept.

00:04:06   I mean, there are very few unique concepts.

00:04:09   And honestly, you can get very, very tied to knots,

00:04:13   getting too wrapped up around being first,

00:04:15   being that it's important that you're

00:04:17   recognized as being the first person to do something.

00:04:20   It's just-- it's ultimately unproductive, more often

00:04:23   than not, to hold on to that too tightly

00:04:26   and to really sort of wrap into it.

00:04:28   Because ultimately, being first doesn't matter so much

00:04:30   as being best.

00:04:32   And they're very different things.

00:04:33   You can be the first at something

00:04:34   and have a not great implementation

00:04:38   that someone else can come along and improve on in a way that

00:04:41   will make the concept and the actual underlying functionality

00:04:47   better.

00:04:47   And that's a good thing.

00:04:48   And I think by and large, that's something

00:04:50   that I would encourage and like.

00:04:52   There's a difference, however, between that

00:04:55   and a design. And a design is something that I would call, it's something, being distinctive,

00:04:59   being recognizable. Having a, something that, if someone looks at an app, they familiar,

00:05:04   I mean, they associate it immediately with something else. And this is what's a lot of

00:05:09   what's happened with Podometer where there's a lot of these apps that have the same exact

00:05:12   physical layout. You know, it's like it has a settings button in the top left, a share

00:05:16   button in the top right. It has the app's name in the nav bar. Below that, it has the

00:05:21   the number of steps you've taken today. Below that, it has the number of steps that you've

00:05:25   taken this week. It's all color-coded based on a goal that you set. And then below that,

00:05:31   it has a series of horizontal bar charts that one for each day with the date, the number

00:05:37   of steps, and then either the goal that they've--your goal accomplishment or the distance you've

00:05:41   traveled or calories or something like that is associated with it. And that particular

00:05:46   layout, that choice of colors, etc. is the part where it gets tricky, the part where

00:05:51   people are essentially copying that. And if I'm honest, one of these things that doesn't

00:05:57   make me that doesn't make me happy. That makes me a little bit, it definitely hits you a

00:06:00   little bit low, where you're like, that, that's my design, like you took it and you copied

00:06:07   it. And like I said, it's not about doing the same app concept. It's about taking the

00:06:13   exactly how I built it, how I structured it, and putting it, you know, and then just sort

00:06:19   of copying it exactly. It's being a Xerox machine rather than interpreting the way I

00:06:23   do what I've done and really expanding on it and making it your own, which would be

00:06:26   fine. If someone wants to come along and make a better pedometer app, that's great. That's

00:06:30   the competitive market that I work in, but it feels different when someone is copying

00:06:34   exactly your app down to a lot of the details, a lot of the layout and coloring decisions

00:06:38   and structures and things like that. You know, there is a certain amount of needing to differentiate

00:06:43   yourself if you're going to enter into a market. And so that's kind of the challenge and the

00:06:50   struggle that I have because you see these apps and I'm always like, "Oh, man, another

00:06:53   one?" You know, there's something that's just kind of unfortunate about it where obviously

00:06:58   on the one end, I'm worried that people are going to buy that app or download that app

00:07:02   for a couple of these difficulties or paid and then be disappointed or contact me and

00:07:07   be like, "Hey, I got your pedometer app and it doesn't work quite right." Or, "Hey, it

00:07:11   it doesn't work this." And it's like, "You don't have my app." And that's really complicated

00:07:15   and confusing for me. It's like, "What do I do with that person?" It's like, "Here,

00:07:19   go get my app. It's free in the App Store. I'd appreciate you get that one. If you think

00:07:24   you're getting Pedometer++, make sure you're getting Pedometer++."

00:07:28   But ultimately, more of its impacts, I think, are just personal. They're emotional rather

00:07:37   than necessarily business. Because the reality is a lot of these apps aren't, don't have

00:07:42   nearly the traction. The app store is so crowded that it's unlikely they're going to get a

00:07:46   massive amount of attention anyway. I mean, it's possible. But by and large, the nature

00:07:51   of the app store is that it's very hard to copy something else and then to have wide

00:07:56   success. And even if it did, even if it had wide success, there's only so much you can

00:07:59   do. So what I was going to talk about now is some of the things that you could do to

00:08:03   deal with it and kind of where I come down on it. So you know, so you see one of these apps, and

00:08:08   it appears in the store, it's very much a copy of what you've done. And what do you do? So you,

00:08:13   you can ignore it, which is just largely what I do. But you, you know, the tricky thing about like,

00:08:20   drawing attention to it in any way is that it will, you know, you're only making the problem

00:08:24   worse. You know, so if someone sends me a link to these things, it's like, I'm not likely going to

00:08:28   to be retweeting that or posting about it or making a big deal publicly about it because

00:08:33   more likely than not, all that's doing is driving attention to the thing that I don't

00:08:37   want people to be looking at. If people are thinking, "I want a pedometer app for my iPhone

00:08:43   5S," I want them to think "pedometer++." They type it in the search bar and go get it. And

00:08:48   that's really what I want. I could privately reach out to these people and say, "Hey, you

00:08:52   know what you're doing isn't so cool. I understand you want to make a pedometer app. That's cool.

00:08:56   don't copy my design though. That doesn't feel right. I could have some success with

00:09:03   that probably. It's always tricky because I don't know these people. If it was someone

00:09:09   I knew, it might be a little different. But if it's someone I don't know, like it's honestly

00:09:13   if someone I knew when someone was copying my app, I'd feel it would be a very different

00:09:17   conversation. But in general, I could probably reach out with someone and I just don't know

00:09:22   what they'll do with that. It's a very dangerous situation. Not physically dangerous, but just

00:09:29   I don't know how that interaction is going to go. You become very contentious, could

00:09:33   become heated in ways that aren't necessarily productive. I could contact Apple. They have

00:09:39   a pretty good copyright takedown process in place. I could write a cease and desist letter

00:09:45   kind of thing and put that out there and say, "Hey, you're using the trade dress and style

00:09:51   of my application, please don't. And they may or may not have a response to that. And

00:09:57   I guess on the far extreme, you could potentially take legal action. It's trickier for something

00:10:02   like a design. It would certainly be if they were using your actual name, things that are

00:10:06   much more copyrightable or trademarkable or those types of things where you actually would

00:10:10   have a legal case for it rather than just sort of an app store policy case for it. But

00:10:15   by and large, what I usually do is I just ignore it. And I've gone through this experience

00:10:20   enough times that in by and large, and this applies to a lot of things in the way that

00:10:24   I run my business is I'm going to try and apply my energy and my focus and my, you know,

00:10:32   mental, you know, I only have so many thoughts that I can have in a day and I can have so

00:10:37   much attention that I have in a day. And I'm going to try and apply those to places that

00:10:41   are improving my products that are making them better, that are benefiting the largest

00:10:45   number of people. And that's something that as an independent, I found especially I have

00:10:49   have to do. There are a lot of things that I can do and choices that I can make that

00:10:55   would impact and help one person or a relatively small number of people. But being that I'm

00:11:02   one person, I just can't consistently make those decisions because I've gone through

00:11:06   periods where I've done that. This is, for example, why I don't do my first round. I

00:11:11   hired somebody to do my help desk, at least as a first pass, who goes through and filters

00:11:15   and processes and does all of the normal responses that are fairly generic in some ways and then

00:11:22   filters and passes back to me the more tricky or nuanced cases.

00:11:26   I have someone else do that because anytime I would sit down and I would do help desk,

00:11:31   the volume of it is to a degree that it would take a substantial part of my day.

00:11:35   And I'm helping and dealing with and improving the experience of one customer at a time.

00:11:40   And you could say that's important, each customer values.

00:11:42   But the reality is I'm one developer, and if I'm spending, say, half my day working

00:11:47   on helping one customer at a time, I'm not really helping the broader audience of my

00:11:53   applications.

00:11:54   The hundreds or millions, hundreds of thousands or millions of people who use my applications

00:11:58   are being hurt by that.

00:12:00   And so this is another kind of example where I'm going to take my energy and I'm going

00:12:02   to take my focus and I'm going to just work on making my products better.

00:12:06   And I'm going to rely on the fact that in this case, I can likely improve my applications

00:12:11   and I can make them better and do things in ways that someone who's just copying would

00:12:16   be much more -- would have much greater difficulty in doing.

00:12:21   Because the reality is when I -- you know, when I build an application, I'm coming at

00:12:25   it from a certain sense of experience and design, and they're seeing the final result,

00:12:31   not the 20 versions that I threw away. And in those 20 versions that I threw away, there's

00:12:36   lots of nuggets and things that I'm like, oh, I need to revisit this later. Oh, I need

00:12:39   to revisit that, you know, this isn't that great in this current version and I wish it

00:12:42   was something else. And they're not seeing that. And I think ultimately what that does

00:12:46   is that it gives me an advantage in being able to continue to move faster and faster

00:12:51   and to make my app better and better because it's starting from a thoughtful place of starting

00:12:56   from this, you know, starting from scratch and building up rather than starting from,

00:13:01   you know, copying something and making some tweaks and adjustments. And so that's kind

00:13:04   of what I do. Largely, I'll just ignore them. You know, if I'm actually going through a

00:13:08   major redesign for Pedometer++. It will hopefully be out in the next couple weeks. And I will

00:13:13   feel a little funny if I put out this brand new redesign, the visually very different

00:13:18   than the old version, and all these apps immediately start looking like that one. I might reach

00:13:23   out to Apple a little bit and be like, "This is clearly just somebody who--this isn't just

00:13:28   a situation of somebody who happens to have something similar. Like, they're, you know,

00:13:31   consciously making efforts to copy exactly what I was doing." But, you know, by and large,

00:13:37   I just kind of ignored.

00:13:38   And like I said, the key I found in so many situations

00:13:41   as a developer is to just think, where

00:13:43   can I most productively and constructively

00:13:45   put my energy and time?

00:13:47   And this loops back to last week's episode,

00:13:50   which a lot of you gave me very great feedback about,

00:13:52   and I really appreciate.

00:13:54   That these struggles we have with things

00:13:56   like Twitter or social media or things

00:13:58   where we're putting our time and energy

00:14:00   into these relationships and conflicts

00:14:01   and whatever it is that ultimately aren't constructive,

00:14:04   it applies in so many areas.

00:14:06   And in this particular area, it's like, don't worry so much about what other people are

00:14:10   doing.

00:14:11   Focus on your own products and make them better and better and better.

00:14:13   And ultimately, I think that you'll end up in a much happier place.

00:14:17   You'll end up in a place that is much more productive that way.

00:14:19   You'll end up with better products and happier customers than if you get too wrapped up in

00:14:24   losing a day and a half to all kinds of back and forths and legal issues and those types

00:14:31   of things that ultimately aren't improving your products, that are just making you feel

00:14:34   a little bit better and potentially maybe reducing a little bit of customer confusion.

00:14:40   So anyway, that's kind of where I think on that. And that's it for today's show. As always,

00:14:43   if you have questions, comments, concerns, complaints, I'm on Twitter @_DavidSmith, David

00:14:47   at DevelopingPerspective.com. And otherwise, thanks, have a great week, happy coding, and

00:14:51   I'll talk to you later. Bye.