The Process of Writing About Apple

Scott Francis
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Most people don’t think of creative endeavors as requiring or adhering to process, but when I read enough of someone’s work, a process becomes apparent in the way they approach their subject.

I thought it would be fun to turn a process lens on three of the best “Apple” bloggers out there.  It almost seems strange to group them together because they write about more than Apple, and their choice of “other subjects” is totally different.  But more than that, their approaches to writing about Apple, when they do, are quite differentiated.

The three authors in question are John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame, Marco Arment, and Horace Dediu of Asymco.

I like these three the best because of the different reading experiences they represent:

  • The curated link-quote-snark approach of Daring Fireball.
  • The app developer’s point of view, represented by the quintessential independent developer, Marco Arment.
  • The quantitative analysis of the market, represented by Dediu’s Asymco.

(There are other fantastic blogs that often discuss Apple – Benedict Evans, Jean-Louis Gassée’s Monday Note, and Matt Drance’s Apple Outsider come to mind. They all have the advantage of having previously been Apple Insiders, and are now sharing their views from the outside, and I recommend following all three of them.)

The Claim-Chowder Specialist

I don’t know if John Gruber invented the style of blog he writes or was inspired by others, but the format is brilliant for the space he blogs about – Apple products, news, and “news” (e.g. rumors). Typically he runs with a one liner introducing a quote (with a link), then a quote of sentence-to-paragraph in length, followed by Gruber’s own observations (or sarcastic comments).

It isn’t a sampling of every Apple news story, as you might get from automated services like Flipboard (without commentary).  It is a curated list of significant information about Apple’s ecosystem – curated by someone who really knows his audience since he says he writes for himself.  He sprinkles in his own analysis of why it is significant (whether he feels the information is right or wrong).

You could be quite well-informed about Apple if you only read Daring Fireball, because he links to all the best writing about the subject of Apple already, and picks out the most relevant passages from each blog or article to call your attention to. In fact, it is through Daring Fireball that I discovered Marco Arment’s blog and Asymco’s blog.  I don’t think anyone has hold of the Zeitgeist of Apple better than Gruber.

I imagine the process behind this writing goes something like this:

  • Use Feedly or the like to read every relevant source of Apple news
  • Store a spreadsheet or database table of “claim chowder” that can be perused on occasion for items which are now clearly claim chowder. (To his credit, John often admits when he has been dead wrong on a prediction)
  • Pick out great passages and quotes,
  • Then add two cents (and then some).
  • On occasion, when it is warranted, write a longer piece that shares his insights and understanding of Apple and its culture with the rest of the readership.

Every product company wishes they had a John Gruber – someone who cared as much about their products, culture, ecosystem, and users as John does.  Not many companies deserve such an advocate, however.

It is clear that Gruber reads a massive amount of Apple news and rumors, and keeps in touch with an array of sources.  But it is equally clear that he has a great ear for picking out the best pieces of commentary and expanding upon them.  Reading his blog has refined my own views on product and customer service, and those influences have affected how we approach both at BP3.

The Developer

Marco Arment is the developer’s developer.  The Lone Ranger of App dev, he wrote Instapaper by himself before eventually selling it to Betaworks. He also started “The Magazine” – which is an online periodical with an unusual take on content (I’m a subscriber, and a fan).  Previously he was lead developer at Tumblr from inception (I’m not on Tumblr, never really got into it).

His developer credentials are not in dispute.  And he has quite a following because of his willingness to share his experiences as a developer of iOS apps and web applications.

There’s a clear process in everything he writes about developing software.  Not to mention when he writes about other topics, like making coffee.

There are so many good articles, I’d recommend browsing the “Best of” link he puts at the top of his blog.

He will freely compare developing an Apple’s iOS versus Android, he’ll share his outcomes from pricing experiments in the App store, and he weighs in on how to make the best cup of coffee.  He’s written persuasively about patents. And identity.  And the Mac App store. And how best to use RSS (I happen to use it exactly the same way, very happy to have found affirmation on his site).

It is an amazing body of work for a guy who is also a solo developer responsible for perhaps the most popular time-shifting reader out there (Instapaper).  The process behind writing is described in one of his posts – in that he sets aside a block of time with a fixed deadline that really can’t move – and that’s when he does his most productive work (writing or coding).  But going further, Marco is the classic example of someone who writes about what he does.  Since what he does is interesting to a broad swath of developers, this is a pretty good process.

The Number Cruncher

Horace Dediu’s blog, Asymco, has become well known for his analysis – and his charts are nearly legendary.  Dediu takes the time to pull published data and his own estimates together, and to extensively model the telecom industry in general.  In a sense he spends so much time talking about Apple simply because it has such an outsized effect (directly and indirectly) on the telecom business.

I started reading his blog almost from the beginning – and it became clear that the magic wasn’t just having a knack for pulling together a compelling chart – which he has – it was also his clear-thinking analysis of the market as a whole and Apple’s place within it.  Where Gruber’s take is subjective, emotive, and often from the gut, Dediu’s writing is analytical, cool-tempered, and focused on the data.  Where Arment talks about what it is like to be a developer, and to be in the business of app development, Dediu covers the growth of the app ecosystem as a whole – its impact on Apple, and its natural comparisons to other “app stores”.  In a very real sense, Gruber and Arment pick up on different anecdotal perspectives, whereas Dediu presents market-spanning and defining data-oriented analysis. There are few snarky remarks, and no instructions for making a great cup of coffee.

Some of his posts (and the themes they cover) have become classics, like the ongoing theme about achieving “billion-user counts.” In this post, he talks about Android becoming the third platform to reach a billion users. And sometimes his insights are unintentionally prescient, as when he asked “Why Doesn’t Anybody Copy Apple?“, only to find 7 months later that in fact, we do have a few companies attempting to copy Apple, leading to “Who’s Next?” because Microsoft had in the meantime both re-organized around functional lines and purchased Nokia to become more vertically integrated.

If you want to understand the investable market of Apple and other telecom stocks, there isn’t a better blog to read than Asymco.  Clearly his process includes maintaining estimation models on Apple and several other firms, as well as historical data along the axes he wants to analyze, for these same firms (e.g. Windows users X quarters after launch!).  Dediu is willing to do the homework to make his charts interesting, complete, and accurate, by gathering troves of data and reading financial reports.  His Apple earnings estimates have been among the highest in quality most quarters, and he explains where his estimates missed the mark after each reported result.

The best aspect of Dediu’s approach is that he can use numbers to produce charts that have inescapable conclusions.  For example, the charts of Windows market share.  Charts like these put a finer point to where the real battles for market are being fought.  You can’t look at these charts and not believe that sea-changes are afoot – even before the mainstream media outlets report on them.

Lucky for us as readers, you don’t have to choose which blog to read.  You can read all three – and even throw in a few former-insider blogs for good measure.

 

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