The New Apple Dock Connector is a Good Thing

By now, it’s basically accepted that the next generation of iOS devices will have a new dock connector. Apple’s even patented it. But among the glory of the new technology, I’m seeing a ton of complaints. Here’s why I think the new Apple Dock will be a good thing:

new iphone connector 300x228 The New Apple Dock Connector is a Good Thing

It is smaller, which is good for a myriad of reasons

The first thing that comes to mind is a smaller iPhone. But how much thinner can you really go and make a solid feeling device?

The real upside to a smaller dock connector is more room on the inside of the phone, be it for battery, antennas, or even the fancy NFC that Android phones are being packaged with nowadays.

It really is time for change

As it stands, the 30 pin connector is obsolete. Multiple ports for FireWire, iPod Video and other jibber-jabber that nobody uses anymore makes for wasted space. It was going to change someday, so why not today?

Apple is aiming to cut the cord

If it isn’t clear to you yet with Apple’s iCloud, iTunes Match, Wi-Fi Syncing, and lack of optical media, Apple really doesn’t like wires or discs. While some may believe that it’s better for the user to have a cable or physical buttons, you have to agree it’s not as elegant. And elegance is Apple’s motto. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear of inductive charging from Apple, with a reliance on Wi-Fi and 3G for syncing.

Even though Apple is very confident in their bold design choices, they know they can’t cut the cable yet. But it’s coming, and this is the in-between of the two extremes. But keep an eye on the horizon, because this is a pretty big hint of things to come.

Technology And The Ruling Party

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“Power tends to corrupt,” said Lord Acton, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

The sexism needs updating but the sentiment remains true. That’s been all too obvious this week, during which the powers that be did their damnedest to protect their once-secret surveillance programs…while the NSA responded to Freedom Of Information Act requests with the claim “There’s no central method to search [internal NSA emails] at this time.”

@rezendi In related news, NSA says it's never come across the term “dogfooding” in any of its data trawling, & doesn't know its definition.-
Lun Esex (@LunaticSX) July 24, 2013

The black-comedy message is clear: surveillance is something that the powerful do to the powerless, in their own perfect secrecy. Two-way transparency is but a pipe dream in the minds of civil libertarians. Which puts me in mind of science-fiction guru Charles Stross’s recent blog post A Bad Dream:

Is the United Kingdom a one party state? […] I’m nursing a pet theory. Which is that there are actually four main political parties in Westminster: the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Ruling Party. The Ruling Party is a meta-party…it always wins every election, because whichever party wins is led by members of the Ruling Party, who have more in common with each other than with the back bench dinosaurs who form the rump of their notional party […] Any attempt at organizing a transfer of power that does not usher in a new group of Ruling Party faces risks being denounced as Terrorism.

Of course in America this is old news. The one thing that the Tea Party and the Occupy movement have in common is their desire to throw the Ruling Party bums out of Washington. It’s an accepted axiom in American politics that anyone who has been in Washington too long is suspect and probably corrupt. (More than 75% of Americans think their political parties are corrupt.)

The wave of hope that drove Obama into office was fuelled in part by the belief that he wasn’t a member of the Ruling Party. Well, even if he wasn’t then, he sure is now. That’s what usually happens to successful politicians:

The GOP establishment: Obama is a tyrant, except in the areas where we want to give him sweeping unilateral power to exercise in secret.-
Conor Friedersdorf (@conor64) July 26, 2013

Nancy Pelosi in 2005: Patriot Act “a massive invasion of privacy” 1.usa.gov/1bOHdyZ Today, she voted to let that invasion continue.-
Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) July 24, 2013

Similarly, the recent spate of antigovernment street protests in Turkey, Brazil, etc., are-arguably-protests against the various international incarnations of the Ruling Party. As Slavoj i ek writes in the London Review of Books:

What we first took as a failure fully to apply a noble principle (democratic freedom) is in fact a failure inherent in the principle itself. This realisation – that failure may be inherent in the principle we’re fighting for – is a big step in a political education. Representatives of the ruling ideology roll out their entire arsenal to prevent us from reaching this radical conclusion.

i ek’s a Marxist, and I’m a staunch capitalist, but even I have to admit that he may be on to something there. it’s possible that multiparty democracy suffers from an inherent and fundamental flaw: the eventual installation of an entrenched, parasitical Ruling Party.

So, of course, as a techie who instinctively thinks in terms of hacking and fixing systems, I immediately find myself wondering: is there a technical fix? Can better technology save us from the Ruling Parties, or at least alleviate some of our governments’ more glaring flaws? Or will technology further entrench and empower them?

These days it’s hard for Silicon Valley to look at Washington with anything other than dismay trending towards horror, along with a powerful sense of “there has to be a better way.” I expect that’s why people have seriously called for Google to buy Detroit. I suspect that’s what Larry Page had in mind, at least in part, when he mused aloud about the desirability of a mad science island untrammeled by antiquated laws and politics, where we could experiment with new and better systems:

We’re changing quickly, but some of our institutions, like some laws, aren’t changing with that. The laws [about technology] can’t be right if it’s 50 years old – that’s before the Internet. Maybe more of us need to go into other areas to help them improve and understand technology.

Google is, after all, the apotheosis of the Valley; a company that muses about offering eternal youth to its employees somewhere down the road, a company that oozes scientific method. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot better than the Ruling Party? Doesn’t it seem like the best thing we could do is import the Google Way to Washington, and turn our government into a genuine technocracy?

Sorry. No. Silicon Valley thinks of itself as built on merit, innovation, iteration, and rational thought, and to some extent it is, but its worldview can be even more blinkered and bubble-bound than that of the Ruling Party. Technology does not solve all of the world’s problems, and it’s dangerous hubris to think that it might. Rational thought is a flawed tool in a world full of irrational people. And most of all, power corrupts; anyone who replaces the Ruling Party will probably eventually become a member.

But on the other hand, avoiding politics and/or pretending that it has nothing to do with us is no longer an option for the tech industry. Edward Snowden has shown us that much. We have become too important and too powerful. As I wrote here almost three years ago:

You probably don’t want to read about political idiocy here, and I can’t blame you. But it may be time for the tech industry to start paying much more attention to the political world, because as Wikileaks vividly illustrates, these days almost every political issue has tech aspects-and hence, down the road, tech repercussions.

Can’t help but think I wasn’t wrong. But that doesn’t mean the tech industry should be trying to directly shape what happens in Washington and Westminster. We provide tools; we don’t dig trenches. That’s not what we’re good at. (Witness FWD.us.) Instead we should collectively be trying to ensure that tomorrow’s technologies, and tomorrow’s networks, support individual authority (and privacy), rather than building centralized panopticons which increase and cement the existing hegemonies.

I realize that this all sounds simultaneously paranoid and na ve. But I believe we’re nearing a crucial point at which, depending on a myriad of separate decisions ultimately made by individual people, tomorrow’s technologies can-and will-either increase or diminish our individual and collective freedoms by a very significant degree. The direction we will take seems finely balanced, and could still go either way. So keep your fingers crossed, and your eyes wide open.

Postscript: I’ll be in Las Vegas this week to cover the Black Hat and DefCon security conferences. I’m not entirely sure yet what kind of reportage I’ll be filing, but if you’re interested in occasional sardonic tweets from Sin City, follow me on Twitter.

Why You Should Never Digital Detox Alone

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For the first time in years, I spent 72 hours without Internet or cell phone reception. While I didn’t experience any life-altering epiphanies that some claim comes from a digital detox, I now enjoy a handful of very meaningful relationships that never would have existed, with the constant temptation for shallow interactions with dozens of peoples’ avatars, thousands of miles away. I learned that when you’re stuck with people, you’re forced to find meaning in conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have seemed more entertaining than YouTube at the time.

I don’t buy the snake oil that cutting ourselves off from the net makes us better thinkers; access to the world’s information has made me more informed and creative. But, the Internet can’t give you friendship, nor can it help you discover ideas that people have never told anyone about.

Last week, I had the fortune of testing the “never detox alone” hypothesis at two back-to-back business conferences held in the mountains. The first, Summit Outside, was an invite-only Burning Man-like gathering of 800 young social entrepreneurs in the Utah Mountains. Completely cut off from the Internet, attendees slept in tents, could go horseback riding, dance to A-list DJ’s under a full moon, or attend spirituality-themed talks.

I left Summit Outside with more friends and business ideas than I have at any other conference-some from people I’d know for years, but thought I didn’t even like very much. On the flip side, CEOs and investors that normally would have avoided a tech journalist like the plague, were forced into uncomfortable conversations that unexpectedly led to great ideas.

The Internet has spoiled us; at the slightest hint of boredom or unpleasantness, we escape to the Internet. Modern life is a constant elevator pitch. Potential friends and projects that don’t enjoy a good first impression get tossed out.

Indeed, Summit Series itself has built a thriving company on top of the theory that the best business relationships start out as friendships. Since 2008, Summit Series has held a pricey annual conference of socially oriented entrepreneurs. Held on a cruise ship, at a ski resort, and in a makeshift camping mountain village, the Summit conferences intermix crazy-fun activities, such as shark tagging in the Caribbean, with A-list speakers, from the likes of Richard Branson and Bill Clinton. Now, Summit has raised $40 million to purchase a mountain and build permit home in Eden, Utah for grand pursuits.

Of course, I’m fully aware that pricey, quasi-exclusive networking conferences aren’t for everyone. There have been plenty of criticism of them over the years. I understand the sense of irony of rich people talking about saving the world, while they party in ostentatious digs. And, of having more bark than bite when it comes to actually making an impact on the world. The conferences appeal to wide-eyed idealists.

That said, Summit Outside taught me that the world won’t come crashing down If I’m off the grid for a weekend. Like many people feeling the digital overload, I’m still planning my vacation from electronics. But, now I know I shouldn’t detox alone. I’m going to convene a camping trip-at least half from people I don’t know and never would have thought to hang out with. I’ve learned not to underestimate the power of experience and randomness.

How Social And Primary Sources Affect Online Media Brands

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Editor’s Note: Semil Shah is a contributor to TechCrunch. You can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

Throughout high school and college, I took a heavy dose of political science and history classes. As a result, those teachers and professors stressed the importance of investigating primary source documents and analyzing them on their own merits versus secondary sources (like textbooks, for instance), even though we were all issued textbooks, essays by subject matter experts, and a range of other interpretations. Eventually as college ended, the courses focused more on the primary source and our own interpretation of it.

Fast forward to today. At least in the world of startup technology news, which moves too fast to be captured by textbooks or print-versions of magazines, primary sources remain important, but social sources – at least for me – trump all. Of course, in early-stage, private companies, obtaining primary sources is difficult. In my world of tech news, like many, Twitter is my main source of information and how I surf the web. Specifically on Twitter, however, I do not follow any “news sources” directly. There is too much information out there. As a result, I try to follow people who’ve I’ve grown to trust who read and share articles or random blog posts.

In order for me to read something, I need a social signal to trigger and capture my attention. “Who” shares it with me matters. The “source” matters still, just not as much. And, in some cases, the source online can be propped up by a brand and hold power in its distribution. Real estate to create content online is infinite. There is no barrier to entry to create information, to build an audience, to generate page views, and to peg those against ads. Therefore, at least in my small world of online tech news, social sources reign supreme.

I’m guessing many of you reading this may feel the same way. The social signal from following a friend or trusted industry source motivates me to gain interest in a link, to read the story, or save for later. The most critical piece of information in that decision is not where the link originates from and resides, but rather who has shared this link. In a way, the tweet itself, as a unit of social currency, is more important than the source itself. One product which demonstrates the pervasiveness of this Flipboard. Yes, Flipboard has dedicated media channels for sources, but on their social feeds, the author of a piece of content is nearly greyed out so that the reader can focus on “who” shared the content with them over “who” created it.

The point of view I’m sharing obviously isn’t new or earth-shattering. The idea of “social news” has even collected dust. We all know it to be true. However, I believe this has big, long-term implications for online media brands. In my college history experience, book publishers spent time aligning with universities, professors, and other beacons in that world in order to make sure their materials were picked as sources. Fast-forward to today, those kind of tactics may not be as effective. Instead, media brands are forced to think critically about the quality of their loyal, core audience, because it is those individuals who will, as social sources, share and discuss the content, information, facts and myths with their own friends and audiences. This is where real, sustainable distribution lies. For media companies online, the social source trumps the primary source – it is the realization that who shares information online is oftentimes more important than what that information is. And for many media brands, that is a fundamentally – and at times scary – new reality.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Montes / Flickr Creative Commons

If Instagram Isn’t Building Private Messaging, It Should Be

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Once upon a time, Instagram was a little app for sharing photos with friends and photography buffs. Its mostly public sharing model worked at that size. But now with over 150 million users, widespread awareness, and years of people following each other, users may be holding back from posting as much because they don’t want the whole world to see what they see.

That’s why it may be the right time for Instagram to launch private messaging. [Update 12/11: Instagram will launch messaging on December 12th, TechCrunch confirms from multiple sources.]

That time could come as soon as December 12th when Instagram holds a press event in New York, for which it sent out invitations today with the tagline “You are invited to share a moment with Kevin Systrom and the Instagram team.” The snail-mail invite came with a woodblock printed with an Instagram on it, leading writers, including our own Jordan Crook, to speculate Instagram might launch some sort of physical printing option.

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While that might be cute, and a nice holiday gift option, I suspect (with no inside knowledge) that Instagram is actually gearing up for the launch of private messaging, a feature that last month GigaOm’s Om Malik said “well-placed sources” told him Instagram is preparing to release.

There are a ton of reasons this makes sense. Let’s start with why physical printing isn’t worthy of its own launch event. Last year, Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, tested a postcard service for sending paper prints of your photos to friends. It never took off and was shut down. Facebook
also launched a physical Gifts service but eventually switched to only selling virtual gift cards. It seems Facebook hasn’t physical goods to be a big enough business to support.

Meanwhile there are a slew of small startups like Postagram and CanvasPop that print Instagrams on everything from postcards to canvas
paintings. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of additional value for Instagram to add by launching its own printing service. A simpler native integration for sending photos to or buying prints from third-party services beyond its existing APIs doesn’t seem important enough to warrant its own press blitz (though it could be a small part of the show).

“Public Eyes / They’re Watching You”

So why messaging? Because Instagram has outgrown public sharing. Yes, you can set your entire profile to private so only people you approve can see everything you share, but that’s privacy with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel.

Most people are excited to share some photos publicly and have them shown right in the feeds of whoever follows them. In fact, they tag their photos with reams of hashtags just so they show up in more places and win them the sweet sweet validation of another Instagram heart or follower. Setting their account to private would mean their more benign pics of sunsets and lattes wouldn’t get as many eyeballs.

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While Instagram’s privacy model hasn’t changed much over the years from a functionality standpoint, a lot more people see the photos you post today. There’s better native discovery of photos, a web version of your profile, and an ecosystem of third-party apps for power users. That means someone who is curious about where you are and what you are doing has a lot easier time finding your photos now.

But most importantly, Instagram just has way more users now than when some of its earliest, most loyal, and most engaged users joined. It’s gone from early tech adopters and artists to teens to mainstream young adults to even hosting a good number of parents.

Does that growth progression ring any bells? It should because Facebook similarly went from young to mainstream to your mom. And what did that cause? A chilling effect on sharing. Posting party pics, silly jokes, or snarky perspectives on the world is a lot less appealing when you
know your dad, boss, little sister, or stalker are watching.

That is a dangerous trend for Instagram. It needs people constantly sharing photos to fill its feed so other people check it, are delighted…and see its new ads. Less sharing = less happiness/revenue.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of apps happy to help you share photos privately. Snapchat is building a powerhouse social network on the concept of private sharing. It doesn’t matter who joins Snapchat, as the only people who see your photos and videos are the ones you send them to. Then there’s a ton of international messaging apps like WeChat, WhatsApp, KakaoTalk, and Line where people can share their precious moments privately.

Perhaps if Facebook’s bid to acquire Snapchat was successful, it could use that as its private photo-sharing play. But it got rejected, and so the burden falls on Instagram.

I’d imagine Instagram messaging could fit in the top left of the app, or be worked into the existing Activity tab alongside tags and likes. Anyone you follow would be eligible to send you messages, and group messaging would be allowed. Threads would typically start with a photo and caption, and permit both photo and text replies to let people have a conversation around the moments they’re sharing. Messages could also be a private back channel for discussing photos shared publicly.

Done right, private photo sharing could be a huge win for Instagram.

4 Reasons Instagram Needs Messages

1. Boxing Out Competitors

Most people who have Snapchat probably have Instagram, too, and more of their friends are probably also on Instagram. Its size suddenly goes from a liability to an asset with private messaging.

2. Notifications

Today if your best friend shares a photo on Instagram, you might not even know. There’s no notification sent. And since Instagram is an unfiltered feed like Twitter, it has the same issue where your favorite people can get drowned out by some shutter-happy person you followed but don’t even know. You might be missing some of Instagram’s most relevant content. Without the constant stream of
notifications like on Facebook, it’s easy to forget to even visit Instagram. I sometimes go weeks without checking as there’s nothing there addressed specifically to me to demand my attention.

But with Instagram messaging private sharing, you can be damn sure I’d open any photo sent to me. And after that, I’d probably browse my feed, get a few more smiles, and maybe see some ads. Instagram Messages could re-engage tuned-out users.

3. Growth

Messages could drive sign-ups for Instagram. You can already share a photo via email but then the engagement happens outside of Instagram in a decidedly crusty old medium. If I could privately message people by phone number (the identity basis for most modern messaging apps), I might lure my friends into signing up for Instagram.

4. Intimate Sharing

Private messaging could get people sharing a whole new category of photos and videos on Instagram. Intimate ones.

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I’m not just talking about sexy ones (though who couldn’t benefit from some blur and filters to touch up their birthday suit or flirtatious smile). I mean the other stuff people currently share on Snapchat. Funny faces. Inside jokes. Lighthearted insults. Controversial or illegal activities. Flawed portraits. Random glimpses into their current scene.

These are all things you probably wouldn’t want to share with everyone, and wouldn’t want permanently associated with your profile. They don’t necessarily need to be able to disappear like Snapchats (though
maybe that’d be useful), but having them buried in conversation threads would probably be enough privacy by obscurity.

In a world where you get made fun of for sharing selfies, but people do it anyway, it seems clear that the world’s most beloved photo app gives a way to share on the down low. It’d certainly keep some of the photos that appear in this post from ending up on a blog somewhere.

Instagram messaging could also turn the app into a true visual communication medium – one where people use it as a sort of replacement for text. Getting people constantly sending photos and
captions back and forth over Instagram could rack up more engagement in a single conversation than the social network side of that app sees in a week.

Right now, conversation on Instagram is restricted to its messy, unthreaded comment system. And like the chilling effect on the photos in the first place, I’m often apprehensive to share a comment publicly, especially if I only really care if the person who shot the photo saw it. I’d often be inclined to message them directly, but currently have to resort to text or Facebook message. Messaging would fix that.

Maybe I’m drinking my own Kool-Aid but this seems like a wise move to make, and sooner rather than later. Sure, it would bloat Instagram a bit, making it less clear what the purpose of the once-lean app is. It might cannibalize some photos from the feed, though they might inspire more return visits and engagement as private messages. It could be seen, like Poke, as another desperate attempt by Facebook to compete with Snapchat. And it could flop, becoming a rarely used extra communication channel we’re loathe to check. But I don’t think those are big enough concerns to dissuade Instagram.

The company’s mission is “to capture and share the world’s moments.” But right now it’s only broadcasting them.

Apple’s iPad Needs A Kid Mode. Like, Yesterday.

“No, don’t hit that button.” “Hit the red X.” “Don’t tap on the ones with the stars.” “No, go back with the arrow.” “Not that one.” “No, here.”

These are the kinds of things I’m constantly having to say to my three-year-old as she explores the world of iPad applications on her first computer, my hand-me-down iPad 1. At her age, she’s too young to understand the nuances of how in-app purchases work – or even read for that matter – but that hasn’t stopped app developers whose apps are targeted at her age range from including confusing mechanisms to direct their youngest fans to in-app purchases, upgrades, and new app installs.

Just a few days ago, Apple made headlines when it had to refund customers in the U.K. when their five-year-old boy accidentally spent $2,500 in in-app purchases in just 15 minutes. It’s odd to me that much of the response has blamed the parents, tut-tutting about their failure to enable the appropriate restrictions and parental controls on their iPad before handing it over to the child. Maybe they should have RTFM (ahem, read the manual, as the expression goes), it’s true. But at the end of the day, while this is an extreme example of what can go wrong (and here’s another), it’s at the far end of the spectrum of a completely broken model in terms of how Apple’s youngest users are interacting with its technology and mobile applications.

It’s a downright poor experience today.

From a parent’s standpoint, when it comes to selecting applications that are appropriate for children, the App Store offers an overwhelming selection. The top charts help to some extent, but it’s hard to qualify the educational value these apps offer. Some startups like KinderTown and YogiPlay are trying to change that, but they’re still struggling to get picked up by mainstream users in large numbers. So parents generally hunt and peck, read descriptions, look at pictures, then download. Only after the apps are in the kids’ hands do they realize that wow, that app may not have been the best choice after all. But now it’s the kid’s favorite new thing and deleting it would not go unnoticed.

So the apps remain.

And the kids tap the wrong buttons, accidentally buy things or, in the case where parents do have controls enabled, cry because they can’t. And whine. Wonderful.

It’s enough to make even the most tech-savvy parent want to rip the iPad from the child’s hands and yell, go play outside!

Of course, I can’t fault the app developers for installing revenue-generating mechanisms into their applications. Companies need to make money, and development is expensive. But the freemium model makes much more sense in the world of apps for grown-ups, where the users themselves are the decision-makers holding the purse strings. Kids will just blindly click and tap and buy if there are no restrictions.

Parents choose free apps for kids over paid ones for a number of reasons. For starters, there’s no “try before you buy” mechanism in the iTunes App Store, so developers tend to either launch a “lite” version or a single app that includes an upgrade path through an in-app purchase. The model makes some sense, as it’s hard to say if junior will appreciate that $4.99 investment in his new digital toy. But it also means that iPad becomes littered with apps that aren’t fully functional and that continually ask the child to buy, buy, buy.

Not only is this an annoyance for parents, it puts up barriers between the technology and the child. Kids are learning quickly that in so many of their apps, there are sections that break the experience, redirecting them to the App Store, taking them to screens unrelated to gameplay and other odd behavior.

I can see first-hand the impact this has on my own child even at the age of three. In new apps, we’ll sit side-by-side, and I see her hesitate to tap obvious buttons like the big green “GO” button, or the little house-shaped “Home,” for example. “This?” she will ask me. After being on the iPad long before her first birthday, my daughter is now used to me telling her “no, not that one.” I have to guide her through the new freemium apps, so she can learn the nuances of which things you should tap or not tap in a particular one.

Parents also choose free/freemium apps because kids tire of some applications relatively fast. Like bigger people, kids want a little variety, too. But more importantly, they also outgrow educational apps quickly – there’s a big developmental leap between age three and four, for example, when it comes to what the child is learning at that time.

It’s Not Just Apps That Are Broken

The way parents find, install and purchase apps for their kids’ iPads isn’t the only thing that’s inexplicably broken on these mini computers. So are those ham-fisted parental controls in iOS. Today, they’re “all or nothing” switches that either turn on or off default iPad apps entirely. Parents must decide between web browser or no web browser. Should the child never be able to install or delete apps? Ever? Use the camera? Browse the iBookstore?

Why not a little nuance and assistance here? Let the kids surf a web of white-listed websites, like Disney or Nickelodeon’s homepages, perhaps. Or surf in safe mode. Let them install the free apps, but not the paid ones. Let them browse a kid-friendly section of the bookstore. Oh, and those app ratings? A mess. Turn on ratings for younger kids only, and watch Netflix disappear from the homescreen – arguably the most-used app of dozens on any kid’s iPad. (I should also point out that Netflix’s “kid mode” doesn’t work on iPad 1, which is likely the hand-me-down iPad that’s in the hands of most kids today. Genius.)

Just Fix It

There’s a lot of room for improvement here and a million ways it could be done. The iPad could offer a “kid sign in” that lets kids use the device in a safe mode of sorts. The Android ecosystem is full of solutions for this problem, including things like KIDO’Z, Kytephone, Play Safe and others. And Android developers can more deeply integrate with and take control of various operating system features. But developers can’t solve this problem on Apple’s platform – only Apple can. And where are they on this? Getting beat by Windows Phone 8′s OS, for god’s sake. Even it has a built-in kid mode.

Stopping short of setting up kid accounts, sign-ins or special modes, Apple could do more to enforce the naughtiness prevalent in the kids’ app ecosystem, which encourages the errant purchases. Apple could offer a subscription service plan where parents can download a select number of apps per month, or one where usage is monitored and developers get their cut based on actual app activity.

Bypassing Apple, there’s also a little wiggle room for developers to take charge. Many kids’ apps come from larger studios with big portfolios, so at the very least, these app makers could test such similar subscriptions ahead of any official moves by Apple.

These Are Kids’ Computers

According to some reports, over 80 percent of the “educational” apps are aimed at children (and growing). Nickelodeon’s research into the market found that 27 percent of U.S. households with kids aged three to five had an iPad as of October 2012, up from 22 percent in April. Forty percent of those preschoolers used educational apps on the iPad, up from 27 percent. In addition, Apple device owners were willing to pay 15 to 23 percent more for apps in that category.

At this point, I’m beyond wanting to argue for one solution over another – I just want Apple to pick one solution – ANY SOLUTION – and implement it. We’re on the fourth generation of iPad now, after all. There’s even a kid-sized iPad mini.

It’s not just humorous that some toddler thinks magazines should work like tablets, it’s simply a reflection of reality: Our babies are now computer users. But kids need guidelines and boundaries. Apple is long overdue in addressing the needs of parents and children with the way it has structured its app ecosystem, the rules for those targeting kids and parental-control mechanisms. Apple needs to start looking out for the kids, or risk losing parents’ trust.

Mailbox’s Virtual Queue Succeeds In The Waiting Game Where Peter Molyneux’s Curiosity Stumbles

Mailbox, the email inbox management app for iPhone that was released in beta this week, currently has around 700,000 users queuing up for access, at the time of this writing. That’s according to the in-app counter that many of us have been staring at on and off for days now, which tells you how many people there are still ahead of you in line for the app, and how many people are joining up behind to wait their own turn.

It’s ostensibly a mechanism to help Mailbox’s servers manage the tremendous demand put upon them by users, though some believe it’s a marketing ploy designed to increase demand, and others think it could be an obnoxious experiment in human behavior. I’m inclined to believe that the Mailbox creators are truly looking for a more efficient and effective way to bring a server-intensive app online in a way that doesn’t result in huge outages, but intentionally or unintentionally, Mailbox is breaking new ground in virtual experiences that others have tried to explore with arguably less successful experimental games.

The Mailbox queue is in itself an experience, apart from the app itself, which is highly regarded according to most reviewers. It’s probably the app I open most frequently on my iPhone at the moment (besides another project currently in development with some oddly similar mechanics). That despite the fact that there’s nothing to actually “do” for the time being: I open the app, a counter ticks down and another ticks up, I close the app. Still, even that simple act of repeatedly opening and closing the app represents more engagement than I can muster for around 90 percent of the other titles currently gracing my iPhone’s home screen.

Compare that to Peter Molyneux’s recent exercise in patience for mobile devices, Curiosity. The app, built by Molyneux’s new 22cans studio, features a mystery wrapped inside a cube, which is chipped away gradually by all of the app’s users working in tandem to unlock the ultimate secret. Molyneux’s game has interactivity, an end goal that should be more exciting since it’s cloaked in secrecy, and manages to not simply replicate the experience of standing in line. Yet I’ve opened it exactly no times in the months following my initial exploration for a launch article.

One part of my interview with Molyneux at Curiosity’s launch stands out as extremely telling, and in retrospect, it foreshadows Mailbox’s current success. Molyneux said that in developing Curiosity, the 22cans team found that by and large, players were content to just sit and watch while others did the work, and that they had to come up with tricks and incentives to convince those lurkers to participate. These “idle” players greatly outnumbered the active ones, so it stands to reason that Mailbox’s virtual queue, which is essentially exclusively about passive participation, would work so well.

Other games have experimented with delayed gratification, including the excellent The Heist by the team behind the MacHeist bundle. What’s interesting is seeing that concept applied to a productivity apps, and to see that implementation received as well as it has been. Sure, there’s been some groaning about the absurdity of having to wait for an app, both on Twitter and in the App Store reviews for Mailbox, but I’d argue that as vocal as complainers have been, there’s still more demand for the app than anything else.

So does that mean a participatory wait list becomes a staple of mobile app development? Don’t count on it; Mailbox benefitted from a unique blend of pre-launch hype, good design, and working in an area where people are immensely frustrated with existing solutions (i.e., email). But like Curiosity and The Heist before it, the example of Mailbox adds another data point to how software developers might use delayed gratification to engage users, and that could have interesting ramifications for the future of apps.