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Science Talk

More from MacMania: Kindle v. iPad, Mac v. PC and App Development

MacWorld editorial director Jason Snell and app developer Peter Watling talk with podcast host Steve Mirsky about the iPad, computer culture and apps, aboard a cruise ship in the Atlantic during MacMania, produced by insightcruises.com

MacWorld editorial director Jason Snell and app developer Peter Watling talk with podcast host Steve Mirsky (pictured) about the iPad, computer culture and apps, aboard a cruise ship in the Atlantic during MacMania, produced by insightcruises.com.

Podcast Transcription

Steve:          Welcome to Science Talk, the weekly podcast of Scientific American hosted on May 19th, 2010. I'm Steve Mirsky. As you heard in last week's talk with David Pogue, I recently returned from MacMania, a weeklong series of lectures about Apple products that took place on a cruise ship that sailed from New York City to Bermuda and back. Yes, it's a tough life, but somebody has to do it. I had a chance to talk on the ship to Jason Snell, editorial director of MacWorld, and to Peter Watling, one of the world's foremost app developers. First up is Jason Snell. Joining us is the Scientific American.com Web site editor, Robin Lloyd, who also made the trip. We all talked in my cabin on a Holland America ship, The Veendam.

Steve:          So Jason, I just spotted you with a Kindle.

Snell:          Yes, yes. I have a Kindle, I've had a Kindle for a little more than a year now and I'm still using it, even though there's an iPad in the world—it's true.

Steve:          So what does that say, if anything, about the Kindle-killer aspect of the iPad.

Snell:          Well, I think what it says is that people in the technology media business really like to talk about killers, and I think the reality is a lot less clear. I don't think there are product killers in the world, that the, no one product kills another product; in fact, the best sign that you're doing something right is that everybody else is releasing a killer for your product. That means everybody is trying to find a way to beat your product, and your product is like the Death Star, it just is perceived as this unbeatable product. But, you know, in reality there isn't such a thing, I think there's a product killer, and the iPad doesn't kill the kindle. They're different and it changes, maybe how you use a product like the Kindle, if you have the option of using an iPad, but that's not the same as just blowing it out of the water; they're not identical at all.

Steve:          Now, the iPad will incorporate, it has the Kindle app that the iPhone also has, which means that the Kindle store is available to an iPad user. So what do you think that means for the future of the whole Kindle enterprise, the hardware and the software?

Snell:          Well, it depends on what Amazon really wants to make money at. Apple clearly wants to make money selling hardware, and everything else is secondary. They're not really going to make a lot of money selling books or even things like apps and music and videos on iTunes. It's really a means to an end, which is to sell iPods and iPhones and iPads. So the question with Amazon is, Are they really in this business to sell Kindles? Or are they in this business to sell content via this Kindle platform, and I think that's probably what it is because they've been very open to try and get Kindle apps on every mobile device they can, including the iPad. And the Kindle app on the iPad is great. I actually prefer it to the apple iBooks app. I think it's got a better selection; I think it's just as good, if not better, software. And Amazon's built in this Whispersync system where you can read a book, you can start a book on a Kindle, and then move to an iPad and then move to your iPhone and then back to the Kindle, and every time you open one of those devices up, it remembers where you were, so it's a pretty good system that they've built. So, if what Amazon wants is, sort of, [the] pervasiveness of the Kindle store, then the iPad is a good thing for Amazon, yeah for Amazon and Apple, because Apple wants to sell iPads and Amazon just wants to have Kindle everywhere.

Steve:          And [to a degree] do you think that it's a question that neither company really knows the answer to yet and the users are really going to work this out [among] themselves and determine the course that the two companies go in?

Snell:          I think that's always the case. The companies often will have a good idea of what people will do with their products, but they're usually wrong to a certain degree and people do crazy stuff and some of it is completely unanticipated by the manufacturers and yet ends up being a huge part of the business. So I think that's one of the questions here is, How are people going to use these devices? And how the software is going to evolve and how the contracts between the different, kind of, content manufacturers evolves; one of the big things about the Kindle right now, is you can't read newspapers and books that you bought on the Kindle on any device other than the Kindle. So there is some stuff that can't go to the iPad right now, and it's interesting to see where that goes and if that's something that Amazon holds tight to in order to protect the viability of their hardware, or if it's just purely contractual that they didn't get the rights.

Steve:          You said people do crazy stuff. Did you have anything specific in mind in the history of this technology that you're thinking of specifically?

Snell:          Well, I think, actually if I use the app store as an example, Apple had some ideas about how people would use the iPhone hardware when they [opened] the app store after a year of, sort [of], selling the iPhone with nothing on it but Apple's stock applications; but I don't think Apple really expected the variety of apps that we've seen, and you know, with something like the Kindle or the iPad, there's a lot of question about where are people going to use it [and] where people are going to not use it? Apple may have some real clear feelings about how the iPad is going to be great in all these different environments and it may turn out that the glare on the screen is just too great and nobody wants to use it outside and they need to go back to their drawing room there. Or maybe Amazon, I think, discovered that people wanted to view PDF files on the Kindle and their PDF browser is really terrible; and, in fact, [the] smaller Kindle couldn't view PDFs at all until a recent software update, so I do think that these manufacturers always make some choices about what people are going to want and what they don't want and find that some of those choices are right and some of those choices are just wrong. And then the question is, How do they evolve and can they evolve? You know, or did they make a decision in the hardware, like with the original Kindle, where it's just too late, [that] that screen really can't show PDFs and it's sort of a lost cause for that feature.

Steve:          Right and even with the firmware update, you can't see the PDF now, but it's teeny tiny.

Snell:          Yeah it's terrible and I tried it once and I said, "Oh okay" and then I gave up. And that's someplace where the iPad, because it was built as this open platform for third party development, is much more flexible than a device like the Kindle; which in the end I think might be to the Kindle's benefit because it's a great uni-tasker, it's good at showing text on a screen and reading it in bright sunlight, and I don't think that a device like the iPad makes the need for a product like the Kindle evaporate completely. I would choose the Kindle in bright sunlight over the iPad every time because you can't see anything on the iPad in bright sunlight.

Steve:          [Some wag] said in one of the classes earlier in the week, "The fingerprints on the iPad screen will cover up the glare."

Snell:          Yeah, if you've ever wondered where you touch your iPad screen, just take it outside, and you'll see your fingerprints all over it; and  [the police will come] and if there's a crime and there's an iPad present, go to the iPad—all the prints are there.

Steve:          No dusting necessary.

Snell:          Exactly.

Lloyd:          Jason, I was wondering what your experience was so far as an e-reader with the 24-ounce issue with the iPad. Are you finding it weighty when you read on it or is it not really an issue?

Snell:          Well, I think that's one of the Kindle's great [advantages] is it's so light compared to the iPad. The iPad is light compared to a computer; it's not light compared to a Kindle because it weighs a pound and a half. I find it harder to hold out of the case, I think it's kind of slippery. In a case, it's easier to hold; my arm doesn't get tired so much, but it is a little bit bulky, and I find I sort of rest it on myself, rest [it] on my chest [while I'm] laying down and reading it. It's a first generation product, and I think the way it, Apple's compromise was that they added weight so that they [could add] that big battery, and the fact is it will last 10 or 12 hours, and it's very impressive, and I think they probably made the right decision. But you know, when I pick up the Kindle, I'm amazed at how light it feels in comparison because the iPad is a weight compared to the Kindle. It's just compared to laptops where it shines.

Steve:          I've read three, [four] hours in a row on the Kindle, without any issues. I haven't tried that on the iPad, but I know on the iPhone even there—obviously the smaller size is an issue—but the backlit screen does make your eyes tired after a while.

Snell:          You know, some people have more problems with backlit screens than other people. It hasn't really bothered me. At night, I turn the brightness down all the way, and the Kindle app has an invert mode where it puts white on black background instead of black on white background, so it's pretty dark, and I found that a pretty comfortable experience and certainly preferable to my previous way of reading in the dark which was getting out a little AA battery–powered book light that I had to clip onto my Kindle—which seemed so backward that you have to have a second electronic device attached to your first electronic device—but [the] eInk screen on the Kindle doesn't light itself. So that's a huge iPad advantage; sort of, in the dark, the iPad wins, in bright light the Kindle wins. I don't have a problem reading on the iPad, I think that it's fine. It doesn't bother my eyes, partially I think because the screen is so much bigger. So the type is bigger and just a little more pleasant. But everyone's mileage will vary, I think that may be one of the things that Apple doesn't really know about the iPad is, will people really read on it or not. They can test it with their people, but they can't test it in the real world because they keep everything secret, [so] now it's the real world's turn to say, "Oh yeah, I never read on my iPad."And we'll see whether they [say] that or not.

Lloyd:          And have you been producing anything on the iPad? Some people say, "Oh it's a consumption device much better than a production device."

Snell:          I think it can be both; I think it is a better consumption device because you can, sort of, just lean back and look at the Web, and read your e-mail, really quickly respond to e-mails. I have written articles on the iPad using the Bluetooth external [keyboard]. I don't think I would advise anyone to write any lengthy documents on the touch screen, but, you know, if you're traveling and you wanna travel light, I do think, you could travel with just an iPad and maybe a keyboard. I've always found myself wanting to just take my iPhone on some business trips, but knowing that I need to write a little bit more than I can peck out on that little tiny screen. So I think that primarily, yes, the iPad is for viewing things, but I do think that it's got potential as a creation medium, I just think it's not as fully baked for that.

Steve:          I always used PCs prior to the last basically eight months, except for a little bit at Scientific American's offices we have Macs, and then I got an iPhone and the aesthetics—and this is well known territory, but for me, it's new—I bought a Mac book recently and everything right down to the bag that they put the box in at the Apple store is so elegant and purposeful; I mean the bag doubles as a backpack, you're never going to throw it away. Could you talk a little bit about that the attention that they pay to that kind of thing versus what the big clunky companies seem to be paying attention to, or not paying attention to.

Snell:          Yeah, one of the things that sets Apple apart I think from most technology companies is that it's the focus on what the experience is like for the customer at the end and how does somebody want to use this product and how does it feel getting it out of the box. And a lot of hi-tech companies are run by engineers, and there's nothing wrong with that because obviously you need somebody to design circuit boards and to write code and all of these things, so you've got programmers and you've got hardware engineers. The problem is that if you talk to an engineer about building a device, they're gonna say, "Well the best place is to put the power switch is over here, because there's space for it on the circuit board." Whereas if you're looking at it from the user you'll see well that's a terrible place to put the power switch, it needs to go down here, otherwise they're going to keep hitting it all the time. And the extreme example here is like a cheap clock or radio that you buy at the drug store for four dollars or something like that where it's as much a commodity product as possible. It was made in, probably in China, it's using a circuit board that's probably [been] kicking around for 10 or 15 years, and they've sort of fitted [it] into the cheapest plastic case possible. And if you've ever used one of these kinds of products, they're terrible. They're hard to use, they're unpleasant but they're cheap. That's the extreme example, but I think when you're talking about PCs, you're talking about hardware companies, they don't control the software, that comes from Microsoft; so they don't have very much to differentiate themselves from the competitors; the cost pressures are incredibly high, they're focused on getting these products out the door, and they're sort of like interchangeable widgets. That's one approach, but Apple's approach is this totally other direction; you're thinking about what the end product is and what the users are going to want. They control the software and the hardware together, and it's a very different process. And one of the frustrations in seeing how Apple is often portrayed in the media, especially in the financial media actually, is that traditionally they've always said, "Well, why doesn't Apple behave like Dell?" or "Why doesn't Apple behave like Microsoft?" And they're really not even playing the same game. The end result is the same, which is it's a computer, but they haven't been playing the same game for a long time, because they control their entire means of production; because they've got the software and the hardware and have a philosophy that's very focused on the end user. [So,] yeah, it's interesting. With the Mac the lessons seems to have been that nobody cared, because the Mac was never as successful as Windows was. With the iPod, I think, people started to realized that, well maybe Apple's approach is the right one and it just didn't, they made bad decisions early on with the Mac or the time [wasn't] right. And I think with the momentum they've gained first with the iPod and then with the iPhone and the momentum of the Mac has gotten in the last 10 years, I think, maybe Apple has figured out that their approach works, at least for some sections of the market, that people do care about [their] experience. Some people don't and those people are never going to be Apple customers, and I think that Apple doesn't want them as customers.

Steve:          I was going to ask you, is this an overstatement, but my recollection is that before the iPod was Apple was kind of hurting, and if not for the iPod—maybe this is a ridiculous kind of alternative history question—but if not for the iPod, would Apple have disappeared?

Snell:          If not for the iPod, Apple would be a very different company now and would be very small and might be gone. I think that's absolutely true. In 1997, they were basically on the ropes and Steve Jobs came back to the company, actually because they wanted the operating system that his software company Next owned, which is essentially Mac OS 10, now, they used it as the basis for the Mac OS. But in the deal they also got Steve Jobs, which turned out to be a pretty good throw in, because Steve Jobs immediately set out changes of the company. The first big change was the original iMac; that was the sign that they were going to do things a little differently. The original iMac got a lot of buzz, it was [the all-in-one computer with only three things you needed to] to plug in or two things you needed to plug in and they went from there. But the iPod was the transformative event. It took a while because the first iPod actually worked on Windows and only worked on the Mac, but once they came out with the iPod that ran on Windows and they came out with iTunes for Windows and that product started to accelerate, a few things happened. First off, the iPod started to sell well and that was a hit product for Apple. But the second thing that happened was people who had never bought an Apple product before in their lives bought one, and said "Hey this is actually a pretty cool product. I like this product" and felt attached to the product almost emotionally. And [they] started to think of Apple less as this kind of weird brand that makes incompatible computers that I would never want to use and more of[as] the people who made this iPod that I think is really cool. And then they would wander into the retail stores, which Apple was just launching about then in their local shopping mall and they would see a Mac and that really started the Mac sales growth; and the iPod laid the foundation for the iPhone, which you know, was always sold as part iPod, the iPhone has the iPod in it, so it is also an iPod, so playing off the iPod's popularity, and then with the iPhone's popularity, it sort of cascaded from there. So really in the last 13 years, the transformation that's gone on from what Apple's brand represents to most people, it's gone from being, you know, making computers that most people can't use, to being this brand that represents kind of cool products that people actually enjoy using, and that's what saved the company and the iPod was the start because the iPod reached people who weren't Mac users and got them thinking about Apple in a different way.

Steve:          Yeah, I remember people getting iPods when they first came out and [just] saying "This thing is, it's the most amazing device I have ever seen." And again back to the [a]esthetics that it was so beautiful to handle and just the wheel that controlled everything was just such a mind boggling breakthrough to a lot of users.

Snell:          Well, even there, you saw Apple's design philosophy. If you compared to one of, like the Archos Juke Box that was out at that time, which was a hard drive-based MP3 player at the same time and it was this big wide, ugly thing with this kind of weird interface and it was like, you know, [a] little digital readout with the names. I mean, it was awful, it was something put together by engineers and they didn't really think about the interface to it and it worked, but it was never going to give you that kind of sense of pleasure. Plus Apple engineered that iPod to fit in your pocket and the Archos Juke Box was just too big, it wasn't something you could really stick in your pocket and walk around with and I think that was good timing. They waited until they had a tiny hard drive that was that five gigabyte hard drive that they could build their product around. So essentially it was the size of the drive, and that made all the difference. Now, when you look back on it now and think, "Wow they had a spinning hard drive in a device that you're supposed to put in your pocket"—it's a recipe for disaster. And I think this year we may see the last of that hard drive iPod; they've gone to flash memory with it. But at the time that was the best they could do and it was a huge breakthrough to be able to put a thousand songs in your pocket. And people got that, you know, [they were like] "I can take my [entire] CD library and stick it in my pocket?" And back then we didn't know, people didn't even know about digital music. At the Apple's iPod launch event, they gave everybody 10 CDs tapped together in a cube and an iPod to try preloaded with the contents of those 10 CDs, because they had to explain that you stuck your CDs in a computer and put them on the iPod, because people had no idea that that's how it worked and that that was [legal], if you own CDs, to put them on the iPod, so we've come a long way from there.

Steve:          So are they working anything implantable?

Snell:          Well, it is [funny], we always joke about Apple's design philosophy leading to some very strange and [quirky] conclusions. One thing we call "The War on Buttons". Steve Jobs hates buttons, he just hates buttons—it may be one reason why he wears a turtleneck, I don't know, But if you look at the latest iPod shuffle, it has nothing, it's just a little slab that you could practically stick it in your ear or wear [it], I think I've seen there's a little adapter for people [to] wear it as an earring, there's nothing to it. And I think that Apple is always searching for fewer physical buttons on the devices because they think they're clunky; small [as] possible, as thin as possible, as light as possible; and with battery life—which causes weight, so that's what they're always fighting against with battery life—that will be longer than any sort of normal session you have with that product. So when you look at the iPod shuffle, in some ways it's Steve Jobs' ultimate product because it's got no buttons on it, it's just a thing, it's just a little metallic slab. So I think that's where Apple is going implantable. I don't know, sometimes with the iPod shuffle, I wonder if it would be better off as sort of headphones with an iPod in them, but and we may get there, because that's all part of Apple's philosophy: No buttons, as few buttons as possible, as small, as thin, as light, as possible. And eventually, yeah, our laptops will be Mac book [heirs] and I don't know, they'll have a laser that will shoot the images directly onto [the] back of your retina, so you don't need [the] screen anymore. I'm sure that they would love that if they could manage it.

Steve:          Is he Amish? Maybe he is from an Amish background [and that's why] he hates buttons.

Snell:          He hates the buttons. It's very weird, but it's true if you look at it. Apple is always trying to reduce the number of [buttons] on it devices. I think they just feel that buttons are complicated because you don't know which button to push. [And] there's some truth to that, but I think that it can kind of go to an extreme, and it's like why have five buttons when you can have one? Well, I like to go up, down, left, right and enter. No, no you just need the one button, just wait for it to come around again. And you know, sometimes, I think [they get] obsessive to a fault about it, but their goal is simplicity for the user; I mean, that's what they're trying to push people to, is how could we make this as easy as possible because technology is still not as easy and understandable to regular people as it should be. And that's one of the big failings of the technology industry, and I think everybody at Apple believes that to be the case, that they could do, they could all do better and making regular people be able to walk up to a piece of technology and try it. They love those stories about [the] 90-year-old woman using an iPad, because that's in some ways that's what Apple is about, is getting somebody who is completely averse to technology because it's too hard to try something, and go, "Oh, I understand how this work[s], I don't need to read a manual or have my grandson tell me how to do it, I can just pick it up and use it."

Steve:          Peter Watling is a pioneer in app development. We also talked in my cabin somewhere in the Atlantic.

Steve:          You have a huge background in bringing all kinds of information together into a single site often in real time, so that people can check [weather or] commodities prices, news, sports, things like that and [you've] been doing this for 25 years. But lately, you've been making your living writing apps for mobile devices.

Watling:          Yeah, you bet. so yeah the phone, when it came out I just loved the [phone]; it's a perfect fit, I just loved Apple platform I've been working in and iPhone was just a perfect extension to that. It's based on the same [tools] that I was familiar with and it was totally mobile. And so quite often when something like the iPhone comes out in places like New Zealand, [we're] miles away from where these things are made and where they're basically targeted, even though it is internationalized. So often we get these things, and they don't have any local content. [The weather] information's based on computer models out of America, which is sort of marginal value, and they don't have any local information. So it wasn't too hard to, sort of you know, be a big fish in a small pond. I wrote a few programs in New Zealand to deal with local TV data, to deal with local weather, to deal with local TAB sport information. I wrote the same sort of information I was already familiar with. I also spoke to the same surprise and was able to deliver a whole bunch of applications, for they've, sort of, really targeted the New Zealand market and they've have been and remain really popular.

Steve:          And you wake up one day you realize you're actually making more money writing these phone apps.

Watling:          Yeah.

Steve:          Than you are  [at your] day job.

Watling:          That's right and it got to a point where I was too busy to go to work really. I had [so] many options in all possibilities, [and] around the same time, one of the first [things] I also put out was the game the Bubble Wrap

Steve:          You are the creator of the world famous Bubble Wrap.

Watling:          Yeah, that's me.

Steve:          Where did that come from? Why did you have this idea in the first place?

Watling:          Yeah, I guess a friend of mine said that, "I think, you know, a bubble wrap [app] would be fun." [And] I said, "That [would] be so easy." And [it was really in an afternoon, I showed him a concept] and said "We could do this," and he said, "Yeah," and [I guess he] was happy for me to run with it and do what I like with it, and so that worked out  very well. I have, so [I] put [the] thing [together], [and] I spent a bit more time [with it], making [it into a] game, so it's got [the] timer and it's got the icicles and things. And once that got out into the store, and it was [a]n advantage to get it out [there] so quick, and it was [right] up from day one, and so it became pretty popular pretty quickly. And I initially put a dollar, and I [thought I'd] charge a dollar because I didn't know how the app [store] was going to work. And I got a few messages in the first week suggesting that you know, [this was the sort of program that] should be free,  [and since I was able to knock it together so] quickly I [felt the same]. So I made it free at that point, but I signed [up] with [AdMob, the advertising crowd] and [ever since then] it's been an ad-supported product and that's worked out well.

Steve:          How many people have purchased the free version or the purchased version of Bubble Wrap?

Watling:          Well, I [turned it] into a free one only after [about a] week; in fact, when I got my first report and it showed me that I thought I had , you know, 40 sales or something, but then I couldn't understand [the report;] [it] was quite a big table of information. Turns out it was from 40 different countries and there was thousands of copies that people had bought, but it became it free and since it's become free it's been, you probably get a 100 to one in terms of how many people will take something as free above what they'd pay for it. And so over the last—is that 18 months, since the app store has opened?—it's had, [about] 11-and-a-half million downloads.

Steve:          Wow.

Watling:          And everyday there's hundreds of thousands of people who play that.

Steve:          That's incredible.

Watling:          It's [mental]. It's been a real surprising.

Steve:          Now one of the things you said that I think might be of interest to, I mean most people are never going to write an app. Although is it possible that there are, I think there are tools out there, so that even if don't know how to program, if I have app ideas, the software itself will allow me to turn that into an app?

Watling:          It will sort of, possibly, there are some sort of frameworks out there that make it very easy to write a program that links against [a] particular, if you've got an RSS feed, for example, that like, you have a news service that might provide headlines and stories; you can set up an application that—a custom application—that might do something peculiar. [And] a number of technology sites and others and even some smaller companies have made up the applications that are branded for their company that show their news information on a standard app. But even without that,  [now] there's a 180,000 applications out there. That's an enormous amount and [there's] probably [a] customized the application for just what you want and so even though, with the idea, you don't even have to write your own application, you can find a sort of a general-[purpose]  application that you can point to and say, this [is what] you might want to subscribe to that can be [fed] with live data.

Steve:          Sort of the way if you wanted to create my own web page, I can just do it through somebody else's site.

Watling:          And there's other applications, [and now] there's great programs for sharing content from your computer, so you can have, sort of, a window onto your data. Now the [phone] [is] so connected, the data doesn't even have to be stored on the phone to be useful; it's so easy for it to be pulling stuff anywhere.

Steve:          [Yeah, like] the Dragon NaturallySpeaking [dictation app for the iPhone].

Watling:          Yeah, that's correct.

Steve:          We can't actually use it on the ship because you must be connected, because it actually sends the audio that you're talking in[to] the phone somewhere where it gets transcribed and then the words come flying back through space and land in your phone somewhere.

Watling:          It's unbelievable. The work's being down elsewhere, [and] you wouldn't even know it.

Steve:          Yeah.

Watling:          It's amazing.

Steve:          One of the things you said in your talk earlier in the week was that "apps are cheap but ideas are even cheaper."

Watling:          Yes.

Steve:          What exactly do you mean by that?

Watling:          Well, everyone thinks that, you know, they can get rich quick and they've got that killer application that's going to, you know, it's going to be the end of their working [career]. But in fact it['s] not likely that you do, and a [lot] of people who have [these] ideas want to lock you into a [sort] of nondisclosure agreement before they'll tell you anything about it. And lot of those ideas probably aren't worth pursuing, even though it['d be]  nice to have. And a lot of these programs sets, if you, I'm not sure if [you] can make a living out of [a] lot of these little, small ideas. Everyone's got an idea that they think is going to make them rich, but it's, [there's] some amount of luck involved with hitting one that is super popular. And I'm not sure, there's [a] lot more ideas that haven't come out yet that I'm not even sure what they are, so I often do entertain different concepts. But yeah we get people coming up with suggestions for apps, several a week, [I have]  people wanting to [see if I'm] interested in some venture.

Steve:          So what, as a very successful app creator, what are your criteria? When you hear of an idea and you think that might be an okay idea, what goes through your mind as your parameters for [that's] going to be a good [thing, or I] think or no, I'm not going to bother with that?

Watling:          Well, up to now, a lot of my, I think, [the] iPhone lends itself to applications where you [whip your phone] out at an instant's notice, look something up, find the information you want, [and] put it away again. I think [programs], one trick [ponies that are able] to do one small thing particularly well, [are] things that you [keep] and I like to [write programs that people] keep and refer back to a lot. And so that's why I've worked in with a lot of the bigger companies in New Zealand, my own country, that do have valuable information that people do want to look at often daily or, you know, frequently. And so, I think those sorts of program [are good] and I like being involved with these ones that [are reasonably] high profile because they're useful. And I still, and I think through a series of those I [hoping] to get [to do], you know, more interesting programs that everyone gets to use. [And they're] not necessarily going to make a hell of a lot of money, but it's just each one of them sort of raises my profile a little more and gets me more interesting [work] the next time.

Steve:          And even the free ones have some kind of relationship with advertising?

Watling:          Yeah, in fact the Bubble Wrap game is [my biggest earner.] [It's been quite an eye-opener; I didn't realize] and [I guess that's why] Google have wised up to this, [that there's] money [in] these advertising dollars. And [indeed with the AdMob thing,] it's really easy to implement, and all [the] user [sees] is this small banner across the bottom of a page, and if they click on it, it might go to a full-page Web site or take over the screen. But it's not too intrusive and it's, you can get paid [per impression, just by it being shown, and by people] clicking on it.

Steve:          So those pieces of pennies are going to send your kids to college?

Watling:          Yeah, I hope so. It's been popular for some time. It sort of has fluctuations. Over Christmas, [there's a] lot of new [users] coming on.

Steve:          They just got iPhones as gifts.

Watling:          Yeah, or they might get iTunes [vouchers] and even though [this app's] free, they're getting a bit more click-[happy] filling up the [machine] with all new games, and so that's always an exciting time to watch. [And] long weekends, you can see each weekend people using it more.

Steve:          So Bubble Wrap 2 is on the horizon?

Watling:          Yeah there will be one, I have to make it. Because there's already a Bubble Wrap [Pro], and it's pretty much the same game as the original one, but I give away prize money. And I will have to adapt it a little to work on the iPad. When I get back home, I'll be doing that.

Steve:          So you grew up in New Zealand.

Watling:          Yeah.

Steve:          Yeah, when you were a kid, New Zealand was incredibly far away from pretty much anything else. Obviously, geographically, it still is, but now you can just sit on your iPhone or your Android or whatever your mobile device is, obviously on your desktop at home, and instantly be in touch with anything else going on in the world. So [how is that] different now, psychologically?

Watling:          Yeah, we're way more connected, and it's easier too; it's really quite easy to keep up with everything. And in some ways, you know, because we always had to be more resourceful, I think it's, we do keep up with everything. We have very small country and so it makes quite easy; we're quite quick to adopt new technologies. And when I was working with a big telecommunications company in Wellington, [we were] the first city in the whole world to be 100 percent digital with our telephone exchanges. Because [when you] only have 400,000 people, [and] that['s the] capital city, there's only, it's not over a very large area; it's not a humongous job to change the whole thing over, and in really short order they did that. Same with things like point of sale [UNCLEAR 34:18] ; it got widely adopted very quickly, and so there's a lot of, because [we're small], we can adapt to it very quickly, and [the whole] country's pretty open to technology and pride themselves on being innovative [and] leading the world if we can.

Steve:          There are more MacMania cruises scheduled. They're organized by Insight Cruises, which also does the Bright Horizon series of trips with Scientific American that you may have seen advertised in the pages of the magazine. For info on MacMania or Scientific American cruises, go to insightcruises.com. Well, that's it for this episode, get your science news at http://www.ScientificAmerican.com where you can read our ongoing In-Depth Report on the BP Gulf oil disaster. Follow us on Twitter where you'll get a tweet every time a new article hits the Web site. Our Twitter name [is] @SciAm. For Science Talk, the podcast of Scientific American, I'm Steve Mirsky. Thanks for clicking on us.

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