Native vs Mobile Web vs Hybrid Apps

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As an iOS developer, I frequently get asked what I think of mobile web apps. For one, there wouldn’t be much of a need for iOS developers if everyone made mobile web apps. Some companies–like LinkedIn and Facebook–have moved away from mobile web to native apps. I’ll try to weigh the pros and cons of native, mobile web, and hybrid without any bias.

Native

Native apps are inherently not cross-platform and cost more to make. Hiring a mobile engineer is more expensive than a web developer and if you want an Android app as well, you need to hire an additional engineer. Some people believe that native apps have higher maintenance costs. The term “maintenance costs” is vague to me. I would argue that maintenance costs are lower for native apps because the developer tools are much better for native apps. Apple and Google spend thousands of man-hours building sophisticated dev tools like profilers and debuggers, so it is easy to find a bug or a slow feature in your app. LinkedIn and Facebook switched from mobile web to native for this exact reason–they found the dev ecosystem of mobile web to be limited.

Native apps also have access to the device and its sensors. On the iPhone this includes Location Services (iBeacons, etc.), accelerometer, gyroscope, bluetooth, motion coprocessor, barometer, magnetometer, and compass. There are definitely some interesting apps that use some of these sensors, which just wouldn’t be possible in a mobile web app. Then there are touch screen gestures, clean and fast animations, offline modes, things like Apple Pay and TouchID that a mobile web app can’t access either. Also, native apps have the advantage of being distributed through the App Store. When users want a new app, they just go to the app store–it’s a fixed behavior, it could change, but it would take a while. Users have also come to expect a particular user interface and Apple’s SDK provides the components that users expect.

Native apps are also more secure. Since there is an app approval process, users know that Apple has verified that the app they downloaded is safe–at least to a certain extent. In many forms of authentication, developers use a device ID to in conjunction with credentials to verify identity, which adds an additional layer of security. Apps are sandboxed and are generally safer, where as web apps are kind of like the wild west, since there are many well known web attacks out there.

Native apps also can use push notifications. This is probably a good enough reason itself to build a native app. Push notifications dramatically improve retention and can improve the user experience significantly.

Mobile Web

Mobile web does have a few things going for it. You can bypass the app store completely. Apple’s app review times are somewhat unpredictable ranging anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. Whether you want to ship a copy tweak, a huge new feature, or a bug fix you can deploy it immediately on mobile web. Plus, mobile web apps are cross platform, so it’s easy to build one app for all devices. Also, there are many more web developers than mobile developers, so it would be easier to find a competent dev who can make your app. Cookies are another advantage for mobile web if you want to do more sophisticated tracking/attribution. Mobile web apps typically don’t have an icon on the home screen, unless the user manually adds one, which may hurt retention.

Hybrid

Hybrid apps seem like a great compromise. You can get access to sensors, deploy many fixes immediately, have app store distribution, and take advantage of cross-platform development. LinkedIn and Facebook ditched their hybrid apps though, again, claiming that the dev ecosystem was sparse. They also said animations were to slow.

Users have come to expect a certain experience. They want to download a familiar looking app through the app store, be able to take advantage of the latest features their new device has to offer, want push notifications, and expect animations to be crisp and fast. I definitely think native is the way to go, as do most people. I just wish Apple had a better way to deal with bug fixes. For example, if you release a new version of your app, and it has a bug, it would be great if you could roll back to the previous version, while your new version is waiting for review. Google let’s you rollback in the Playstore. Apple has said that they save previous binaries. It would definitely make life better for both users and developers.

 

Kishin Manglani

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More on 3D printing & “Print the Legend”

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Print the Legend

Print the Legend

I recently watched Print the Legend, a Netflix Original. The documentary is about 3D printing and follows some of the founders of the early 3D printing companies. I originally thought 3D printing was a relatively new technology, but it’s beginning goes as far back as 30 years ago. Charles Hull–co-founder of 3D–invented stereolithography (a specific type of 3D printing) and was granted a patent for it. Back then stereolithography, or SLA, was used for commercial applications, specifically rapid prototyping.

SLA made building concepts and prototypes significantly faster, cheaper, and more precise, all of which were appealing to large manufacturers for industrial applications. The two largest 3D printing companies, Stratasys (SSYS) and 3D Systems (DDD), both focus on this market. These 3D printers can print much larger objects To give you an idea of how large these companies are, they print 39.3 x 31.4 x 19.6 inch objects–which can pretty much print a bike (minus the wheels). These printers are prohibitively expensive: the Stratysys Objet1000 runs at about $600,000. 

In 2005, Dr. Adrian Bowyer started RepRap, an open-source intiative for 3D printing. The goal was to democratize 3D printing by making it open-source and low cost. Four years later, Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer and Zach Smith started Makerbot. They wanted to bring 3D printing to consumers by lowering the cost. The initial printers were DIY kits that came unassembled, requiring a certain degree of technical skill. The other main goal of Makerbot was to keep everything open source, including the hardware, following in the same vein as RepRap.

The founders of Makerbot were all fans of the open source movement and a bit nerdy. They all wanted to be the Steve Wozniak–or the brainy engineer–behind Makerbot. The most charismatic of the group was Bre, and they decided that he needed to be the face of the company. He needed to be the Steve Jobs of Makerbot–many journalists liken him to Steve Jobs. He needed to be the spokesman of consumer 3D printing.

After seeing Makerbot’s early success many other consumer 3D printer manufacturers started popping up. Most of these companies were inspired by Makerbot and built off of Makerbot’s open source infrastructure. In 2012, Cody Wilson, a self-proclaimed “information anarchist” started Defense Distributed. His goal was to build a 3D printed gun. Most people, including myself, would describe him as a lunatic. He believes in “radical equality” and believes if the police and military can carry guns, ordinary citizens should be able to as well.

As the consumer 3D printing industry started to grow, Makerbot grew with it. However, the company the 3 co-founders had started was changing its culture and principles. In September 2012, the company announced it was no longer going to open source it’s hardware. Over the years, many people were fired. Former employees said the company’s culture changed dramatically. Bre–a former teacher who even open sourced his lesson plans–changed Makerbot’s intellectual property strategy and made everything closed source, which is indicative of just how much everything changed.

In May 2013, Cody Wilson printed a pistol that he called The Liberator. Cody posted a video of him successfully firing the gun on Youtube. Millions watched the video and the files he used to print the gun were publicly available. Shortly after, the State Department demanded the files be taken down, but by then over 100,000 people had downloaded them. Bre was asked about what he thought of 3D printed guns, but the company took a new stance, and that was too not talk about it in public. Instead, Makerbot’s implicit response to the video was Robohand, a video of kids getting prosthetic hands printed by 3D printers. This is no doubt amazing. If 3D printing does nothing else, I think giving kids hands is good enough to make the investment worthwhile. Sadly though, Cody Wilsons’s Liberator video has several times more views and has more media than Robohand.

Later in 2013, Makerbot was acquired by Stratysys for roughly $600M. Some employees were unhappy with the acquisition. Many of them joined looking to overtake the big companies by doing things better. It reminds me of when Venmo/Braintree was acquired by PayPal. There were mixed emotions. We were all happy because getting acquired is one of many signals of success, and each of us contributed to that success. On the other hand, PayPal had long been the enemy. I hated the PayPal brand and the product. Part of the reason why I loved Venmo so much was that it wasn’t PayPal. I can imagine that many employees felt the same way. That they had sold out to capitalism and compromised their principles.

Makerbot still remains a separate subsidiary of Stratysys and is the consumer facing brand.Bre also moved on from Makerbot to a role at Stratysys. It shouldn’t bother me that Makerbot was acquired, but now I don’t feel like I am as much of a supporter of them as before. It’s probably irrational, but most entrepreneurs like supporting the little guy. 

Overall, I would highly recommend the documentary. Not only will you learn a lot more about 3D printing, but you’ll also learn a lot about the psychological factors that sway entrepreneurs’ decisions.

If you’re interested in a 3D printer, I would definitely recommend the PrintrBot Simple.

 Kishin Manglani

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The Fantasy Football Market

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One thing that makes me sad around this time of year is the end of the fantasy football season. Over the past few months, though, I’ve learned just how big the fantasy football market really is–over $11B annually. The NFL pulls in roughly $10B. It is one of the few markets where the derivative market is larger than the original.

It’s unclear if that $10B is 100% accurate. In an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, I learned NFL teams have shared revenue and unshared revenue. Shared revenue includes: the league’s national TV revenue, the ambiguous “NFL ventures”, collective merchandising, licensing, sponsorships,  production house, and digital properties. Unshared revenue is mostly ticket sales, which the home and away team split 60-40. Shared revenues are estimated to be $200M on average per team, while unshared averages are at $100M. A lot of these numbers were gathered from the Green Bay Packers, which publicly discloses its numbers at a high level, since its community owned.

According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, the number of fantasy sports players has almost tripled, going from 13.5M to 41.5M over the past 10 years. It is estimated that at least 80% of those play fantasy football. Teenagers are also engaging with fantasy sports at a younger age, possibly because of social media. Social media users want to engage with friends, and fantasy sports allow them to compete with friends in the context of professional sports.

The average user spends over 3 hours managing their team. People usually consult online analysis and resources when setting lineups or picking up free agents. Roughly 75% of fantasy football player use 4 or more websites to gather information. Many of these sites are free to use and generate revenue through advertising. Some sites charge a monthly or annual fee to access their analysis, coverage, and predictions. Fantasy hosting sites, like Yahoo, also make money off of ads. So the market around fantasy football could be even bigger.

football-market-share-graph

Sports leagues can’t cash in on these huge fantasy leagues since Major League Baseball was denied copyright status for the use of player names and statistics in fantasy leagues. I don’t think the NFL has tried, but it would almost definitely be denied copyright status as well. The NFL is still embracing fantasy football. The 49ers and Jaguars have added fantasy football lounges to their stadiums with free WiFi and TVs to cover all the games.

It’s no secret that many fantasy players play for money. In 2006, the Federal Government passed the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act. It was intended to prevent gambling over the internet, but included a “carve out” for fantasy sports. Since fantasy sports is a skill based game it is not considered gambling. It’s considered skill-based because if you watch the games, read analysis, the assumption is you’ll get better over time. Ask any league champion, and they’ll definitely say it’s pure skill.

Hardcore fantasy players play in season-long leagues and the draft order is usually selected randomly. With injuries and “unfair” draft orders a few managers in each league lose interest as their team doesn’t fair as well as they had hoped. Things don’t always pan out the way managers intended though. Every season there is always at least one fantasy team that is plagued with injuries. One company, Fantasy Player Protect, allows you to buy insurance on players in case they get injured throughout the season, yet another revenue source for the industry.

With social media and turn-based games, people want something that’s faster and more asynchronous. Recently, daily games have become popular, such as FanDuel, DraftKings, and Draft. Each of these makes it simple to draft players and play against others, usually for money.

The growth, engagement, and size of the fantasy sports market is unparalleled. Most of these users are actively transacting money, and it becomes addicting, which together make it a potential gold mine. Writing this post makes me wish it was the beginning of the football season again.

Kishin Manglani

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Coin and Mobile Payments

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coin-credit-card

On November 14, 2013 I preordered my Coin. If you’re not familiar with Coin it looks like its from the future. It is a card that holds all your other cards. It comes with an attachment you plug into your iPhone and you can swipe your existing credit cards through this attachment. It reads the data from each card and stores it. Coin has a tiny e-ink screen that displays the last four of the card being used. It also has a button that cycles through the cards on the device.

I got my coin in November, so it took about a year. I practically forgot about it to be honest, especially with all the hype about Apple Pay. Setting up was pretty easy. The first time I used it, it worked flawlessly. I was pretty amazed. The next couple of times I used it, things didn’t go as smoothly. I used it at Guy & Gallard in New York and the cashier asked me what it was. She said she couldn’t accept it. I insisted that she could. She ultimately swiped it, but it didn’t work. The next time I used it I got a similar reaction. And it didn’t work again.

It works two out of every three times or so. What is the most interesting though are people’s reactions when they see it. Sometimes I cycle through cards, and they ask me what it is and I explain it to them. Every time I use it I’m still a little amazed.

Coin is pretty cool, but since it doesn’t work all the time, it’s not entirely useful. I guess the point is that I wouldn’t have to carry around all my cards. Since it doesn’t work 100% of the time, I still carry them around. It is a fun conversation starter. Some people claimed that Coin was dead because of Apple Pay and CurrentC, but each of those still has a long way to go. I’d recommend Coin if you’re a nerd and want to try out something cool (or you could always get a 3D printer).

Since Coin was announced a bunch of other similar products have been announced as well. Plastc looks pretty similar to Coin, but has a bigger screen, an EMV chip, NFC, and works with barcodes. There are also a couple that generate new numbers to help protect your data when making purchases online.

While working in mobile payments over the past couple of years, I’ve learned how antiquated financial institutions really are. A lot of people think that credit cards and even checks are really secure, which is completely wrong.. These new devices and technologies are far more secure and will mitigate the consequences of data breaches. I’m excited to see these new technologies and am curious just how much they’ll push the laggards.

Kishin Manglani

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My First Experience With 3D Printing

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Over the holidays I got a 3D printer, the PrintrBot Simple. It came completely unassembled–the box had 100s of parts: motors, pieces of wood, screws, circuit boards, electronics. It was very intimidating and took over 6 hours to assemble! All in all, it was pretty cool to assemble something that can make things.

printrbot-simple-before-and-after

Before and After

Before getting the PrintrBot I hadn’t looked into 3D printing much. Probably because it was too expensive to get one when they first came out and most tech news sites cover social media apps, so they sort of fell off my radar. It’s pretty cool how far things have come in the 3D printing ecosystem. Most people think you can just make crappy, plastic toys with 3D printers. I definitely thought that too.

One of the things I learned about was the different filaments, or materials you can print with. The two basic ones are PLA and ABS, different types of plastics with slightly different properties. However, there are many different filaments including nylon, wood-like, stone-like, rubber-like, polycarbonate, dissolvable, and metals like copper.

Given all these materials, it seems like the possibilities are endless. One student at UNC printed a young child a $20 prosthetic hand, something that typically costs thousands. Typically insurance companies don’t cover prostheses for children because they will quickly outgrow them. On the flip side, 3D printed guns are also progressing. Pretty much anyone with a sophisticated 3D printer and additional parts would be able to print a gun, which will introduce a legal mess. 

Thingiverse seems to be like Github for 3D printing. You can view images of the finished product, and also download the code used to create that product. It’s all pretty seamless.  Once you download the code, you use Slic3r, which generates G-code for 3D printers. Effectively Slic3r cuts the model into 2D slices. As these slices are stacked on top of each other, they create a 3D model.  The G-code primarily tells the extruder (the heating element that melts and lays the plastic) the X and Y coordinates to go to and the amount of filament to “extrude”.

It’s exciting because the code can so easily be shared, allowing mass collaboration and improvements. In my opinion, this is one of the most exciting things about 3D printers. Being able to download an open source file, print it, and improve it. Furthermore, if somebody has built something useful they can share it with everybody instead of having to go through a manufacturer, distributor, etc.

I think we’re just scratching the surface on 3D printing, but everything is moving quickly. There are even 3D food printers, where the filaments are ingredients. We could potentially download and print things we buy from Amazon. Instead of movies being pirated, physical goods could be pirated. Intellectual property and DRM for 3D printing will be really interesting.

Kishin Manglani

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