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App Developers, The Sky Is Not Falling

Unread is a really nice RSS reader for iPhone. I eventually bought it after Newsblur support was added and found that the app is designed with some really nice features that set it apart from its peers. I’ve enjoyed using Jared Sinclair’s apps (like the stellar Riposte) and bought Unread more out of a desire to support Sinclair’s development efforts than my need for an iOS RSS app. I suspect many who appreciated Jared’s previous work did the same thing.

Sinclair recently wrote a post with some revealing data about Unread’s earnings along some details about its design process and some decisions involving the app’s App store distribution. As his blog post made its rounds on the echosphere, developers and pundits alike were pounding out stories about how the App economy is dead since Unread, by all accounts a fantastic app, couldn’t earn above poverty wages.

I think the premise behind many of these pieces is flawed. They take a surface look at the App economy through the lens of an app that, while serving a fairly large overall market1, was ultimately targeting a niche market2 inside a niche market3 inside a niche market4 inside a niche market5.

We can’t know all of the decision points that pushed Sinclair to explore the RSS app market as his next target after Riposte and Whisper (both top shelf apps). While he did talk about some of his thought process in his visit to the App Story podcast (episode 4), we don’t know what type of competitive analysis he did or if it even mattered to him that he was entering a market in which the winners and losers were largely already decided. Doing a cursory look in the current RSS reader market, you can find many capable RSS apps that have been used on iOS devices for quite some time. Some of these apps are free and all perform the common functions of an RSS reader.

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When Google Reader shutdown last July everyone who used the service was forced to decide where they were going to land on the RSS reader front. It caused quite a shake-up since many people were using Google Reader, including me. Some decided to ditch RSS altogether and stick with Twitter, some decided on Feedly, and others decided on NewsBlur among others.

When Unread launched, it didn’t support all of the services that people had flocked to. I know when I saw its original release and noted that it didn’t support Newsblur, it meant that if I wanted to use Unread on my phone I would also need to switch RSS services. Since I had just signed up for a year-long Newsblur subscription, that didn’t sound like a solid idea either.

Sinclair also faced the difficulty in selling a reading app for the smallest iOS device, the iPhone. While he may have built a lot of innovation into the controls for managing feeds and reading one-handed, the truth is I tend to not read RSS on the iPhone, instead opting for a bigger screen which allows for richer navigation and visuals.

When I look at the things stacked against Unread doing well (RSS war fought and won on many fronts months before, readers generally wanting to read longform articles on larger devices, other capable free apps on the market, $5 price tag) I actually thought Unread sold fantastically well. It doesn’t really serve as the best example for why it is hard to make a living solely by publishing apps on the App Store. And as the man once said, “If it was that easy, everybody would be doing it.”


  1. As of 2013, RSS readers number in the 200-250m range. 

  2. Tech nerds who like opinionated software. 

  3. People who haven’t yet found an RSS reader they liked a year after the Google Reader shutdown. 

  4. People who want to read RSS on a small iPhone screen. 

  5. People willing to pay $5 for an app. 

Smaller, Not Larger, Phones

Here’s a good piece by Clark echoing many of the same thoughts I have about the seemingly-inevitable larger iPhone. The gist is that I would prefer a more efficient, smaller iPhone. The thought of a giant, pocket stuffing smartphone is annoying and goes against my goal of minimizing what I carry around every day.

Basically, I want my phone to disappear in my pocket, not fill it.

What I Am Carrying Lately

I have been trying to trim down what I carry around with me for a while now with mixed success. I have trimmed it down as much as I’m willing to and I’m OK with what I currently haul around in my pockets. It isn’t minimal but here it is.

iPhone 5S

I use this thing all the time, obviously. It is one of the greatest inventions ever.

Strider SMF Lego

This is a geniuinely serious folding knife and an amazing one at that. After hearing a lot of opinion back and forth about Strider knives, I eventually decided the only way to know for sure how good these knives are is to buy one and try it out. It has barely left my pocket ever since. There was a break-in period for both the pivot and the lock but it is incredibly smooth now. I have abused this knife and it just shrugs it off. It is a tank. Given how expensive this knife is and its fairly large size, it shouldn’t be at the top of everybody’s list but it is a solid piece of gear and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Keysmart

I hate noisy keys. I bought the Keysmart and now my keys are no longer noisy. Yup.

Atwood Atwrench

This little multitool was what I bought instead of the Gerber Shard and I actually use it a lot, especially the prybar/standard head screwdriver and the little wrench slot. It is quite possible that it is used it to open a bottle of beer now and then.

Fenix LD01 Flashlight

This little flashlight runs off of a single AAA battery and is quite bright. Connecting the Atwrench and the flashlight together with a rubberband further reduces noise.

NiteIze Slide-lock

I like the Slide-lock because I can lock both halves of the carabiner and never have to worry about losing my keychain or my keys. Before the Slide-lock, I had a few circumstances where my keys would get detached from my old carabiner and I got lucky that it was never a disaster.

Fisher Space Pen

This is the smallest, most reliable EDC pen out there. I am not sure why you’d carry something other than this handy little thing. It is awesome.

Field Notes - Pitch Black Edition

Gabe showed me how useful Field Notes could be on a recent trip and I bought a few packs when I got home to try them out. So far they’ve been coming in handy at the weirdest times. I got a few packs of the Field Notes Pitch Black books so I don’t get precious with them; I always tend to do that with Moleskine books given to me as gifts over the years.

My configuration does change now and then. I do have a Bellroy slim wallet that makes it into a front pocket, and I have a large and annoying car keyfob that gets hung on the Slide-lock as well. I try to keep things trimmed down the just the essentials but I use the items above all day long1.


  1. The Strider stays in my bag when I am at my normal job but outside of work, I tend to use it quite a bit. You do have to be sensible where and when to carry a knife, folks! 

Smartwatches I Have Known

When I was a kid, we used to look through the Sears catalog for our Christmas presents. They even called it a “Wish Book” and it worked like a charm. I would dog-ear the pages as flipped back and forth between all of the things I craved and the anticipation was terrible as well as fun. The pictures made the items look so good and it was easy to get swept up in them, ignoring the reality of what they represented.

One day, after reading some vintage Dick Tracy comics, I became fixated on the idea of wrist watch that could do amazing things. It just so happened that, in the Sears catalog, was a “Spy Wristradio” that looked like it would fit the bill. It has knobs and dials and a grill on the face that housed the speaker. I imagined hiding out in spots around the neighborhood picking up interesting radio stations all on my wrist. As Christmas approached I grew more and more excited about the prospect.

Christmas arrived, the presents were unwrapped and there it was. An alarmingly large box with the picture on the side that matched the one in the Sears catalog. I ripped open the package and looked on in horror as the sleek and high tech Dick Tracy wristwatch was replaced with the reality of a large plastic radio mounted on a gargantuan strap. It used four AA batteries and had no antenna to speak of. The power drained quickly as I spent hours listening to static while I turned the knobs patiently looking for any sign of life. I still remember the look on my parent’s faces when we both simultaneously realized that they spent their hard-earned money to buy me this piece of shit and I had been wishing for a Christmas dud all along.

That was my first smartwatch.

Back in 2004, before I contemplated ever owning an Apple product, I was a dyed-in-the-wool Microsoft nerd. I was building computers, playing PC games, running home servers (the hard way), and putting my Windows machines to use for both work and fun. As an unabashed gadget nerd back then, the holy grail was a working computer on my wrist – one that would tell the time as well as give me a full calendar, display upcoming appointments and, importantly, let me know when a critical email hit my inbox.

I already had the latest and greatest handheld device, the Palm Treo, so in reality the watch was redundant but when I saw the Microsoft Fossil at Best Buy, I got a little excited about it. This thing looked like what I expected from a smart device.

I bought one, at a dear cost, and spent the afternoon setting it up. It was a gigantic disappointment. The phone was need to be rebooted often, the battery drained as I watched and would need to be connected to a charging cable often, the communication was carried out via a nascent wireless service called MSN Direct which was still a bit too nascent to actually work. After three days of having to explain the ridiculous thing on my wrist to co-workers, the watch started to rattle and then eventually stopped working altogether. I wrote to Fossil and they sent me an updated model which lasted a few days longer but, by then, I realized that the smartwatch thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It ended up being another device full of imagined promise but delivering none of it.

At this point, I feel as if I’ve learned my lessons on this whole smartwatch thing. Smartwatch technology just isn’t very useful or interesting and I can’t think of a good, life-changing use for it. The Pebble looks like it “works” but delivers information that’s not important enough that I need it at wrist level. Plus it is ugly.

Nothing that can be displayed on my wrist is important enough to get me to wear anything on my wrist. For now, my phone will remain in my pocket and I will check it when I need to know something but every time I see someone wearing a smartwatch, I’ll be sure to ask them the time so they can enjoy a little jolt of superiority staring at the screen of their future piece of garbage.