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Camera app development for iPhone: Halide Team on the AppleInsider podcast

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Lux Optics, the maker of Halide for iPhone and iPad joins us on a special episode of the AppleInsider Podcast to discuss developing for the App Store, offering a subscription pricing model, and problem solving as a team.

Sebastiaan de With, Ben Sandofsky, and Rebecca Slatkin is the team at Lux Optics that builds Halide, a popular camera app for iPhone. We discuss the founding of their company and what inspired them to build an advanced camera app for iPhone and iPad.

In October 2020, they launched Halide Mark II, a new version of their app that supports Apple's new ProRaw standard on iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. As they planned to launch, the team chose to implement a subscription pricing option in addition to a one-time purchase.

This new subscription model brought unique challenges, including how to implement a free upgrade to Halide buyers. A bug discovered on launch day led to a moment of panic as the team worked to solve an issue with upgrade pricing.

After the launch of Halide Mark II for iPhone, they went on to create a version of their app for iPad. Developing for the larger screen caused them to completely rethink the user interface from the ground up. Launch of Halide for iPad came shortly after the new M1 iPad Pro was announced, and during testing they found these new models had the unique ability to capture macro-style images.

We go on to discuss App Store policies and whether the team at Lux want the ability to sideload iPhone apps. Many developers bemoan Apple's 15% cut of app sales, but there are some benefits to the closed ecosystem. Finally, we look to the future of photography and software on Apple's devices.

Speaking with Halide - interview transcript

Stephen Robles: Welcome to the AppleInsider podcast. Today, we have a special interview episode with the team from the makers of Halide, the popular app for the iPhone and now iPad. They're going here to talk about their app, the app store, and whatever else we get to. We have all three members, which is very exciting. First of all, Sebastiaan de With has joined us.

Thanks for joining us, Sebastiaan.

Sebastiaan de With: Good to be here.

Stephen Robles: And from your Twitter bio, I gathered you're a designer, photographer, and motorcycle person. I don't know the exact term for motorcycle-er, motorcycle extraordinaire, whatever that is.

Sebastiaan de With: Motorcyclist? Whatever works. Yeah. I'm, I'm fine with any.

Stephen Robles: Very good. And I also saw that you used to work for Apple, is that correct On some of the design of mobile media and iCloud?

Sebastiaan de With: Yes, correct.

Stephen Robles: Ah, very cool. So that's Sebastiaan de With, and we also have Ben Sandofsky. He used to be the lead Twitter iOS developer. He helped really launch the app for the iPhone, the Twitter app there. How's it going, Ben?

Ben Sandofsky: Good, good. Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Stephen Robles: And I have, correct me, as you used to work for Twitter and I was reading on your website, then when you joined Twitter, you could fit the entire team around one large lunch table. And then shortly after you left the company, it was over 3,500 employees. Does that sound about right?

Ben Sandofsky: Sounds about right. I think it was like a thousand engineers and, uh, I was the second iOS developer so we acquired Tweedy and I didn't build it myself, but to help scale up the team over the time while I was there. So, yeah.

Stephen Robles: Awesome. And finally, we have Rebecca Slatkin, I would say you're an iOS developer extraordinaire. I saw, you know, some many places you've worked including an adjunct professor at Syracuse university. So thanks for being here, Rebecca.

Rebecca Slatkin: Of course, thanks for having me.

Stephen Robles: So my first question is you guys have a company together and obviously you're all in the same world, iOS developers and all that kind of stuff, but how did you actually find each other and decide to start a company together?

Ben Sandofsky: See, well, originally after Twitter, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to work on next so I did a bunch of different things, uh, and I kept returning to, well, I want to do computer graphics and I'm getting really into photography. And so I thought about building like a side app to learn computer graphics, uh, and scratch this itch. It would be like a manual photography out. And so I started building it and it was an incredibly ugly but functional app. And I'm like, okay, cool. So now I just have to spend 20 or 30 years learning to be a designer, or I could find someone else via of all places, Twitter, uh, and who, uh, was also really into photography. And so we were mutual follows. And so I slid into the DMs. He was up living in San Francisco at the time and so was I. There was a coffee shop halfway in between. And you know, that first nervous coffee meeting and then, um, yeah. And they were like, okay, cool. It sounds like a great idea. And next thing you know, we were shipping Halide 1.0,

Stephen Robles: That's awesome. And Rebecca, how did you find this team and become a part of it?

Rebecca Slatkin: I hunted them down. I would say that and I became mutual friends. Um, through Twitter, I loved his blog and as an iOS developer, it was nice to find someone with, um, higher level engineering principles that I agreed with. So looking beyond the scope of like the basic implementation of iOS development, uh, Ben seemed to really have a good understanding of higher level architecture.

And, um, we became friends through Twitter, I think, you know, witty tweets back and forth, mostly from Ben. We've met up, um, like most people at WWDC drunkenly, and became fast friends. We have a hometown connection. Uh, I think we, our first discussion was over, uh, LARPing at WPI. Uh, so the, uh, what is that? It's the live-action role-playing that happens at his college that I was familiar with from watching. Yeah. I worked for a company based out here in San Francisco. Uh, so I'd come out here a lot and I would, you know, I'd meet up with Ben and his wife and then Sebastiaan and I don't know eventually, right? Yeah, they were like, come work for us.

Ben Sandofsky: Yeah. At the beginning of a pandemic, right.

Stephen Robles: It's amazing, a lot actually happened in that year, in addition to the pandemic, you know, so pretty wild. So you guys have one of the most popular photography and camera apps. I'd be curious what you actually refer to it as you had 1.0, and just recently released 2.0 was a big update.

And now for iPad, and maybe if you could kind of give us an idea and maybe if our listeners had never heard of Halide, why would someone want this secondary camera app as opposed to just the built-in camera app and what makes it unique?

Sebastiaan de With: It's an incredibly good camera I've built into your iPhone. Uh, it's really, really great.

And me and Ben loved like increasingly the kind of photos that our iPhones were producing while we were lugging around these extremely heavy, big cameras with all these buttons and gears and dials on them. And while it's great to have all those buttons and gears and dials, um, it doesn't necessarily translate, like it's, sometimes it can translate to a better photo, but definitely not to a better photo taking experience. When Ben contacted me Apple it was around WWC as well. Apple just announced that they were going to expose some of those dials to developers. Uh, and there were definitely already apps out there that had controls like camera controls basically. Um, but they were all really complex much like those cameras, like if you looked at them and you just gave them to someone, they were fairly intimidating. And we felt like there wasn't really a middle ground between the Apple camera app, where if you tap on something, it immediately changes both the focus and the exposure.

And it's a very, very basic and very user-friendly obviously. And like, just something that looks like, um, if anyone has seen the Chernobyl HBO miniseries, there's this control room and it has 650,000 buttons that are just unlabeled and little dials and everything. It's kind of looks like that.

And like, we didn't want that, you know, when people just run away screaming, because it intimidated me to see all those buttons and I'm into photography. So like something to kind of approach the middle ground of it. And that is kind of what Halide is. It's something that can you a bit more control over your cameras because the cameras are getting really good on your iPhone, but it's not going to immediately overwhelm you. It might even help you learn a little bit about photography.

Stephen Robles: 12 came out, I believe one of the big features was ProRAW, meaning that you can now use a raw type format directly on the iPhone and you have access to that and how that it was one of the early apps to adopt that.

And I think you guys actually had a long article about explaining what RAW is, which is complicated in itself, but it's a great article. I'll include that link in the show notes. But when that came out, ProRAW, then you also updated your app to 2.0, so what was the big change? What were the big feature updates, maybe it was ProRAW, but what also came to 2.0 of Halide?

Ben Sandofsky: So I think that, uh, we launched Halide in 2017 and you put something out in the world when it says built by two people. You're like, okay, this seems like this is right. Okay, cool. And then you get into a lot of hands and they grew quickly. You're like, okay, what? Wait. Oh, well, okay. That's good. And so I would say that 2.0, it wasn't like we totally threw everything out, but it's like, okay, let's rethink how the interface works. Let's rethink like from using the app, we tend to reach for one particular control more often. And also the hardware was getting better around like being able to do auto exposure.

So is this sort of resetting certain assumptions? So we started thinking about that like a year and a half into Halide and we shipped it three, three and a half years later. So it was really a long time coming. And I think that then ProRAW also speaks to Apple's prioritization of the camera systems and how they're also rethinking what professional photography looks like on the iPhone.

Like we launched with regular RAW, which is way more of an advanced concept despite the name than ProRAW. And so it was a chance for us to reset UI expectations and then it made it also on a technical level. It was easier to integrate per RAW. Like, you know, they launched it like a few weeks before Christmas and so were able to get it up pretty quickly.

Um, so yeah, it was just a number of different things, but, um, to your point about the article, I think that what's also interesting from us is trying to approach these advanced photography concepts and make them a little more approachable to like our parents. I would say ProRAW might be not quite there yet for where we're going to be in a few years and we really want to invest more in teaching people about photography and sort of graduating beyond this very, first party camera works— just press a button— it does everything for you. Like how do we get people to learn more advanced concepts?

Stephen Robles: Cool. So one of the other changes with Halide 2.0 was your guys' pricing structure.

And I think now in 2021, people understand what they're paying for in a subscription. You know, a developer works on an app. Ongoing, you know, whether you buy it with one cost and then you have it forever, or you have a subscription model. So people I think understand more, but it's still kind of a barrier for some people, they are averse to subscriptions, but you guys went to that pricing model with Halide 2.0, and I'd love to talk about the morning of launch and what kind of happened there with your upgrade pricing and all of that in a moment.

But tell me what the internal conversations were like when you were discussing, "Should we go to subscription? Should we stick with one-time purchase?" How did that all go?

Ben Sandofsky: We still do offer one time purchase though.

Stephen Robles: You still do. You still do. Yeah.

Sebastiaan de With: Yeah, yeah. That was an interesting one. We're coming off a thing that a lot of developers run into.

If you were to look at a chart of the lifetime of your app, most people, uh, when they launched the app, you get a big spike. And after that it goes down and you kind of get turned into this ambient place where you never quite get that spike again, that spike obviously cannot sustain development of your app forever.

So we had been making Halide for three years. We sold at once. And people were getting free updates for years. Uh, and while that's a great deal for our users and we totally wanted people to have free updates forever. We, we, at some point we can't keep working on it without doing a paid update and we wanted to do a big update and we want also wanted to charge for it.

Um, so then there was a question of how are we going to do this? And it was rather challenging. Um, there were a few different options and all of them seemed to really, um, difficult. Because we obviously are in the app store, uh, the app store limits certain things like you cannot do a paid update, for instance. If people already have the app, you cannot make a second paid app for a lower price as an update for the existing users.

Stephen Robles: You can make an entirely different app and then you have to make them buy that one.

Sebastiaan de With: Yeah, exactly. And then we would have two Halides in the app store and then people would be like, "I bought the other Halide and you're not updating it for some reason." It would just be really confusing and really problematic.

So we thought, okay, we're just going to make a new update and it's going to be an update to the existing apps. So everybody's going to get the update, but then we thought, what's going to happen to people that already have the app, right? And that's where a lot of deliberation we thought, oh we definitely don't want people to happen to go to the beach and see a beautiful sunset, they open the app and it says, "Congratulations! Here's Halide v2, you can't use it unless you pay."

Stephen Robles: Not a great experience.

Sebastiaan de With: Yeah, not a good experience. We never want people to have that experience. So we, uh, looked at it a couple of different options, like in-app purchases, whatever.

We would always run into that problem of continuity. Um, so in the end we thought. Okay, well, there's a clear trade off here between our users and our bottom line, like money basically. And we're like, well, I guess we're just going to give the whole update away for free to everybody that already uses Halide.

And then everybody who is new to Halide, they get the option to subscribe, um, or to do a one-time purchase. And, um, we launched that and we were really happy with the idea. I think when we talked, a lot of people are like, that's beyond fair. It seems like a really great solution. And then, um, And then we launched.

Ben Sandofsky: So there was a bug.

Rebecca Slatkin: I will say, though, about deciding how you wanted to approach it or how you want it to do right by your mark. One users is we had a lot of internal discussions about what we would want as users. Uh, what seemed fair to us. We even thought about companies outside of the App Store that did right by their customers, for instance, like having an easy return policy and what positive experience with we've had and we sort of applied that to our pricing and our implementation.

Stephen Robles: It's so interesting too, because I don't know your all's ages, but when I was buying software, as a teenager, there were big boxes. You would go to a store and you would spend $60 to $80 on a box and you never got updates. You know, if there was a new version of Microsoft Office or whatever other app, you had to spend a whole nother $80 when that came out.

And so it was interesting how that is. Changed over time. But on the morning you guys are going to launch 2.0. one of the things you had implemented was if you had previously purchased Halide 1.0, that those users would be able to upgrade for a certain amount of time or for free, they will get the upgrade for free.

And you had some press releases about to go out at 9:00 AM on launch day, and you discovered a bug. I think it was at seven something in the morning. So less than two hours before it's going to launch publicly that that upgrade feature was not working. And that whole swath of customers that had already purchased your app, were going to be shown that they're going to for free and not be able to— that's a serious bug.

Talk to me about that moment of realization and how that next hour and a half went.

Ben Sandofsky: I should check my heart rate right now as you're describing that morning.

Rebecca Slatkin: Especially as the one higher where my only responsibility was subscriptions. Um, like I have one job. You had one job.

Ben Sandofsky: When two people touch the same code base and they read the same documentation and read it wrong. Get the docs wrong once for me or whatever.

Rebecca Slatkin: Yeah. You need to read the small print and ultimately it was, um, a dev environment change that we didn't anticipate. Uh, and I was on the east coast, so I was dressed at least, um, and I had food. I wasn't dry heaving like Ben, but, uh, we, I mean, Ben, it was nice to see Ben, um, you know, everyone stayed calm and we just cared about fixing the bug. And I think we had to really, we wanted to test it with people who had previously purchased Halide and I think we learned all that morning of which one of our friends, cause you really needed to like reach out to friends who hadn't upgraded, but they needed to be previous owners and learning like my parents or like my brother didn't have Halide was pretty insulting. Ben sort of took the reins.

Ben Sandofsky: Yeah, I remember tweeting or DM-ing people on tour. Hey, Hey. Hey, could you test something for me real quick? Like, yeah. So the moral is have a Twitter account. And just slide into DMS a lot and ask for QA from friends.

Sebastiaan de With: But the DM sliding has been paying off for Ben for awhile.

Rebecca Slatkin: What did save us too, is that we had thought to and I did implement a hidden debug menu that had, uh, our receipt information and display. So we had been using it internally and Ben was smart and made it actually an end point. So our friends could easily send it to us so we could actually see what was going on that really helped narrow the problem.

And that's why I think we were able to fix it so quickly. We had made it accessible secretly to people.

Sebastiaan de With: Yeah. So what ended up happening, just to clarify people who are like, oh, if your release goes out before you officially launched it, how does it happen exactly? If you want to coordinate an app launch, one of the big things you want to do is you work with press like AppleInsider, For instance, we send people our app and some information ahead of time, and then we're like, we're going to release at 9:00 and before then we're not going to talk about it. So that the press also gets an exclusive moment to scoop it, sort of to talk about it first. Um, and then we flipped the switch, or rather Ben flips the switch, in the App Store that it becomes available.

And we do that a few hours before, that what's called an embargo, like the silent period. So, um, the App Store has a chance to update. Sometimes it takes a really long time. We've had updates that actually took like half a day to show up. And then there's all this press and people are like, "Where's the update?"

Um, so we started noticing on our Twitter account, which we could not publicly do a big announcement from before it was out, that people were reply to us like, "Hey, what the bleep, what is this? I paid for this app and I can't take photos. So it was, it was suddenly like one to ten, a hundred replies and like, oh, and we had a really big inbox full of stuff.

So we really like went through it quickly. And unfortunately also we managed to, I work with really talented people that managed to fix it, but also Apple worked with us to get a quick fix out. And I think it was by nine o'clock-ish. It was fixed fortunately.

Stephen Robles: Yeah, that's amazing. Yeah. Kudos to you. That's awesome. Teamwork from the three of you.

So one of the new devices that came out recently was the new M1 iPad Pro. I had Austin Mann on the podcast and he kind of talked about his thoughts on it, but I'd be curious, you guys, as working in the photography world, did you have any thoughts on the new iPad pro, especially that liquid retina XDR screen. And maybe you could also touch on that superpower as you call it, Sebastiaan. I think you discovered it by accident while your iPad was close to your jeans or something, you found that out as well. But talk to me about the iPad Pro.

Sebastiaan de With: Um, yeah, the iPad Pro is really exciting. I mean, a lot of people see the giant hardware improvements that are happening and there's very little attention spent on the camera because who, I mean really who photographs with an iPad?

Stephen Robles: Moms and grandparents, for sure.

Rebecca Slatkin: No shame.

Sebastiaan de With: That's the question. A lot of people asked us when we made the iPad version too. Um, but it is for a lot of people, the best camera they have. And it's a really cool, um, this was a really cool evolution of that, especially because the camera systems on the front of the iPads are a big change.

Like then you ultra right camera was really fun to sort of dig into. Uh, I think I can speak for all of us that we really enjoy it. Yeah. iPad, like just the working on it.

Rebecca Slatkin: Oh, absolutely. It was wonderful.

Sebastiaan de With: Yeah. It's a cool device. Uh, and it was fun to finally jump from the iPhone to work on something a little bigger, but yeah, that super power is really interesting.

So for those that don't know your iPhone, if you look at it, um, as camera lenses stick out a little bit and the module is a certain thickness. We physically cannot fit into an eye. Like people hate the camera bump, right. They cannot make that any smaller to get that kind of quality from it. Um, and the iPad has kind of an older camera that has different considerations.

Like they, they, they fit it in a much in your body. Um, and that camera is designed in such a way that it can focus a lot closer to things. So if you hold something up to your iPhone, you'll notice sometimes it's too close. It just just gets blurry. Like your iPhone can't focus on it anymore if it's within a few inches.

But the iPad doesn't quite have that problem. You can get really close to stuff with your iPad. So it has kind of like an inadvertent microscope mode. So you can, it's like quite a microscope. Like you won't see blood cells, you know?

Rebecca Slatkin: It's like AntMan style.

Sebastiaan de With: Yeah. And then macro photography cell. So there's like a little macro superpower and um, because we were, I was playing with highlights. Um, so I have to manual focus control. You can set it to that minimum focus distance, uh, kind of like found out about it. And I was like, oh, this is. This is a good reason to whip out the iPad thing, take pictures of small things with a very large device.

Stephen Robles: I'll put a link to the article, but some of the images you've got some of those macro images, if we have photographers listening, it's a macro closeup images. They look incredible, you know, pretty surprising coming from an iPad camera.

Ben Sandofsky: They also announced that WWDC, they're going to have an API to check the minimum focus distance of a particular lens. So previously you wouldn't know how close you can focus, so it makes you think that like maybe this was deliberate or, or maybe it's planning for things to come.

Stephen Robles: Now that you mentioned WWDC, we just had their Keynote as we're recording on June 7th, and they announced new changes to all the operating systems. One of the features that's coming to iOS15 is the ability to see EXIF data.

And I'll let you guys, the professionals, explain maybe what that is. But in addition to that, were there any other features that you as developers or just as users were excited to hear from you?

Ben Sandofsky: So EXIF is the extra metadata, it's attached to a photo of not just the time you took the photo, but you can tag the latitude longitude or where it was taken, the configuration of your camera, like the shutter speed, the aperture, all that, and then all sorts of other things, like the white balance setting.

So that's all it's useful data, especially if you're like in an editor like Lightroom, you can actually say, okay, show me all the photos that were taken at this location with this particular lens setting. So it's really good for combing through your photo library. And it's kind of a nerdy photographer feature, really.

Like I bet your parents have never heard of this and don't care in the least bit, but it's very interesting to see it in the first party camera and we are seeing that there's a way that you can filter photos in the first party, a photos app based on which app was used to capture it. And that's going to be huge for us because we do have, like, we add a smart or not smart album, but a raw album.

So we kind of help out users because when they take a photo with Halide it's very different than if you're in a bar or taking a photo of like, Hey, you know, you, you go home and you're like, okay, what were all these gorgeous photos? Wait, why are all these photos of me in a bar?

Sebastiaan de With: Yeah. Sounds like WWC.

Ben Sandofsky: And so it's going to be really helpful to filter out photos there. And it's really cool to see them embracing more pro photographer workflows in the first party apps. And also just, I guess iPad is growing up a little bit. Yeah. I don't know if there's anything else you folks are excited about it.

Sebastiaan de With: I think on the notification side of things, I really enjoyed it. They're improving things there. And I think the Live Text thing is really cool. For those that haven't seen it, now the iPhone can detect text in both, I think, live camera mode, but also in still photos that you can search through it, or even copy and paste text from photos, which I think, we'll have to see, we haven't looked through it yet, but maybe it's something we can even have in our app, which is cool.

Stephen Robles: So one of the other changes they announced later in the keynote was App Store changes and features for developers. One of the things that developers can do in iOS15 is create different app icons and use different screenshots and surface those to users on criteria that you, as the developer set. So if you want to target a specific demographic or age group or location, you can actually have a custom app icon when they see it in the app store, as opposed to someone else. And you can customize the different screenshots.

You guys only have had a day as we record to think about these things, but is that something that interests you or you might do? I know you also got some heat about an app icon thing recently as well, but talk to me about that feature.

Rebecca Slatkin: For one demographic we could just be like, not Facetune, and don't download. We can't make you look thinner.

Sebastiaan de With: Maybe clarify things a little bit.

Rebecca Slatkin: Be really upfront about that.

Stephen Robles: So who is the marketing person of the three of you in this company?

Sebastiaan de With: It's me. Yeah. I'm also responsible for the icon. For what it's worth, the icon thing was, um

Rebecca Slatkin: Drama.

Sebastiaan de With: I designed a rainbow icon with glitter for pride. And we made that our icon in the app store and it's one of the icons. If you use Halide we offer a number of different icons you can use to customize the app with. So if you wanted to look at the different way on your home screen previously, it was all very pro and very camera. So it was all silvers and blacks and, you know, no color, really.

Uh, so we added this pride icon, it's our first pride icon for pride month, We released it as an update and I think our update notes that Ben wrote, "It's a pride update." That's it. That's the update.

Ben Sandofsky: We've got some bug fixes and other small fixes in there as well.

Sebastiaan de With: Yes. Yes. The usual minor enhancements as well. Of course. And some, some people just decided to troll and send like one star reviews. They're like, stay in your lane and all that kind of stuff. Um, but fortunately we feel pretty simple about our stance on that, right?

Rebecca Slatkin: Yeah, I mean, we don't, I don't care, you don't have to be our customer.

Sebastiaan de With: You don't support equal rights, that's fine if you don't. We don't support your money.

Ben Sandofsky: We don't want your money. Yeah.

Sebastiaan de With: So that's fine.

Rebecca Slatkin: I mean, that happens on Instagram sometimes too. I mean, I think we've been pretty outspoken about our beliefs and equality and basic stuff. And if someone has something to say about it we happily say unsubscribe.

Sebastiaan de With: Yeah. That's, that's fine with me, but we want to cater to that. So, yeah. As far as the features go, I don't think right now, like I have to like kind of dig into it. Uh it's cool. Like I welcome more customization of our app store page and. We spent a lot of effort into the pages as it is. Um, so it'll be fun to see what the possibilities are, but one of the things we don't do as it is, is like have analytics in the app or do AB testing or anything like that, because we feel like a camera should basically be the most private thing you have, because you're take photos of your whole life with it.

And like, we don't look at your photos, we didn't collect your data. We don't look at how you use the app. We do nothing but AB testing. So that also frees up our time to actually build like features, instead of looking at data every day and be like, maybe we can optimize this 0.02%. So, yeah.

Ben Sandofsky: And then the most notorious example of that is it's a very Google versus Apple approach.

Yeah. Google is known very much for having a data-driven approach to product development. Like the most famous example is they weren't sure what color, the link ad words should be a blue. So they actually tested 40 or so shades of blue and decided whichever one gets the most clicks. That's the shade of color that we want.

That's one approach that we don't take. We just pick a color and move on. So yeah, we're very much a, that we're very much in the Apple kind of camp of product development.

Stephen Robles: For sure. Now, one of the things, I think Sebastiaan, you were tweeting about this, but an idea for reviews, app reviews, and I get this a little bit on the podcast side because people leave reviews and you really have no control right now to do anything with them.

I mean, you can report a review, but people would just leave one star reviews and on apps, podcasts, whatever. And you had the suggestion of maybe only allow paying customers to actually leave a review. I thought that was a great idea, but maybe you could explain that a little bit.

Sebastiaan de With: Yeah. It kind of stems from when we were a paid app, which is funny when we launched people were like whoa, there are still paid apps out there.

Um, if there's a paid app, you cannot leave a review unless you buy it. Um, and for free apps, of course, that's, that's a little different, but I feel like one of the things we ran into, and this is kind of a continuing struggle with us is we are free to download, but we're not a free app. We don't have like, we have a trial period, but it requires you to start a subscription, basically like you can cancel before the trial period is over, but that's just the way Apple implements trials.

That's just how it works. Um, so some people download the app, even though we put in all caps on our app store description, like, Hey, it's a paid app. You have to pay to use Halide. Um, they just downloaded it and then they deleted it. But then you'd leave a one-star review saying like, "Oh it's a scam, they ask you for money before unlocking the camera." And it's like, no, that's the point like it works with design. And I wish we could make that really clear. I honestly wish that Apple had a way to take a box and it doesn't say, you know, it just has a big price underneath that says, like requires subscription or something like that.

Um, and if you have an app like that, um, and the app review could very easily look at this and say, like, go through your app and see that it requires you to unlock it before using it, uh, it would be fairly great to have a feature like that, that limits reviews to people that have either gotten subscription or a one-time purchase.

And it could even help with like scam apps that usually also do this and they throw up a paywall before you can use it. So I don't know. Just an idea.

Stephen Robles: Yeah, for sure. And so also in regards to the app store, obviously there was the big Epic Games vs Apple case and all that, but I've had other developers on the show ahead.

Paulka Faucets from Audio Hijack and different developers have different ideas about should the app store or should the iPhone specifically, an iPad be open? Should the operating system be as such where you can install apps outside the app store, maybe it's for financial reasons so the developer doesn't have to pay the cut to Apple for every purchase, or because you want to do features that aren't allowed because being in the app store requires, you know, you have to follow all the API rules and things like that.

Rebecca Slatkin: God forbid we have to follow the API rule.

Stephen Robles: So, well, maybe you've already answered it with that, but is that something that—

Rebecca Slatkin: Sorry.

Stephen Robles: No, no, that's good. Is that something that you would either want the ability to sell your app and allow iPhone users to install it outside of the app store? Or do you feel like the app store and the cut that Apple takes and everything is at all good and fair and good as it is. What do you guys think?

Rebecca Slatkin: It's one of those, like the tweets that I say, "Do not represent my employer." I would say I like rules. Some of them, I like security. I like reasons. There were a lot of reasons that Apple has implemented some of the things that they have.

And I feel like following APIs for instance, and not utilizing like private APIs, protect me as a user. And protect our app. I don't want to create a vulnerability. Yeah. Or someone can take a phone and, um, retrieve information that, you know, I have, you know, coerced or utilized my customer's information to do something incorrectly.

I don't want that responsibility. I think, um, a customer's information belongs to them. So I wouldn't want to accidentally do that by thinking I'm more creative or getting around an API. The financial stuff, I'm not educated enough on the topic, I would say. Uh, I know that's the go-to response, so I'll let these guys weigh in on that.

Stephen Robles: Sure.

Ben Sandofsky: So I'd say that, uh, as far as like there's the alternate app stores thing and the sideloading thing, like, I'm just thinking about how I was telling someone like a few years ago, my dad, who has a Mac got malware, where he clicks the first search results in Google for Java SE6 update. And it turned out it was malware that would change, it only changed the default search engine, but I had to go in there and unlock it. And so the Mac is like supposed to be this bastion of like a safe OS and iOS is better. But I think if you allow sideloading, you're going to get some shenanigans like that. Right. So if you want to be tech support for my parents and that's great.

Um, as far as a business owner, I think that for us, there's this in the app store, there's a level of trust from the users that make them impulsively download stuff, whether or not they read that it costs money because like it wasn't going to happen. And so that kind of like frictionless experience that comes from what Apple provides, they provide a very clean storefront.

And I mean, that is in like, the floors are swept, uh, has really nice lighting. You go in there and you're like, yeah, I want to download an app. And so that's, you know, we're paying a cut to Apple for that. And in my opinion, I think that. They earn their keep. Um, it's also nice that because a portion of our users are subscription-based, we're going to be paying 15% after a year.

So that's awesome. I mean, I would never turn down more money. Yeah. If you want to give me a hundred percent, that's cool. But as far as like what's fair, I don't have a big problem with what they're offering and the curation is amazing on the editorial side.

Sebastiaan de With: Yeah, I think as a small developer, and obviously we're privileged in this because Apple has picked one of our apps, Spectre, was the app of the year in 2019.

And their editorial stories feature our apps. My personal opinion is I feel like we get what we pay for. Um, we do get a lot out of that cut. Um, I worked when I moved to San Francisco, about a decade ago, I worked at this startup called Double Twist. I made Android apps and I exclusively shipped apps on the play store.

And this is still the same in terms of design. Like it has basically not changed in 10 years. Apple has worldwide editorial teams. They feature in the apps and like our app didn't have subscriptions, it didn't have some sort of, like, we knew it wasn't gonna make Apple a ton of money and yet they picked it as like the app of the year. It seems like there is some editorial integrity there. There are a lot of people at Apple that do care about this stuff. In the end, is it a trillion dollar company that cares about its bottom line? Yes. Obviously that determines the politics and that's what you see in these lawsuits.

But as a small developer, I feel like we get a pretty fair deal. Like Ben said, we'll never turn out more of a cut and like more money. Um, but for me, like, I really like the security and convenience the app store offers and, um, we have quite few complaints. It's gotten a lot better over the years.

Rebecca Slatkin: Right, and I think, um, it's interesting that you said that you feel like you get your money's worth, I think that maybe for some small indie developers that haven't experienced some of the success and the exposure to their apps from the app store or the recognition, I think that perhaps like, if this cut were to stay the same, that maybe Apple needs to be better about finding, you know, some developers who are building apps that maybe aren't as pedigreed as these gentlemen here. Sebastiaan obviously has a high profile and is highly respected, as is Ben. And I think it sort of didn't make it easy for them, but it made it easier for Apple to find them and maybe Apple needs, with that in mind, to do a better job of finding some developers that don't have as big of a reputation.

Stephen Robles: Well, let's look to the future. Either as you're comfortable saying, you know, I don't want you to give away any secrets that you guys are working on, but as far as from the software side or maybe hardware that you'd like to see Apple release in the future, maybe it's ARVR headset, something you would make for that.

What are you guys excited for about the future? Either with Apple's hardware or the software or your own apps?

Ben Sandofsky: I hope they release another iPhone.

Stephen Robles: Pretty much guarantee.

Ben Sandofsky: Oh, okay.

Sebastiaan de With: As far as like future plans, we're always like famously mum about what we're working on. But I think, I remember it was so funny, my mom was visiting when we launched Halide and like me and Ben were basically launching out of my kitchen in San Francisco four years ago. And she said, "Aren't there a lot of camera apps already?" And I thought at that point it was just getting started. Like the cameras were just about getting good enough.

I think at this point we were getting to a point where cameras are starting to enter really exciting territory. And it's not just that they can take pictures, but it's the sensing and being sensors of the world and enabling all the applications that that enables with older computational magic is really, really cool.

Like when we got to build Spectre, we got to do things that normally would take setting up like a tripod. Knowing tons of things about photography and like calculating your exposure and like doing all this stuff. And thanks to like the magic of like how powerful these little devices are now and all the computational magic, we can make something like that accessible to anyone.

And that's kind of the future. We're looking at, like making a lot of photographic things, kind of magic and work through the advanced technology that's in these things. It's really exciting. And I don't know exactly what Apple has in store for it, but it's going to be really cool to kind of roll with the punches and play with whatever's coming out.

Ben Sandofsky: I'll add one other thing is also a nice thing about us now, moving to subscriptions is that we can now support certain things like we have such a wider field to play with with our ideas stuff that has ongoing costs that can require the cloud or whatever. Uh, so it's gonna be really fun thinking like, "Yeah, we could pull that off, let me run the numbers Yeah, we could do that." So we'll say it's going to be fun, doing stuff a little more than just camera, like direct press a button, take a capture kind of stuff.

Sebastiaan de With: That's a hint right there.

Rebecca Slatkin: That's the scoop.

Stephen Robles: Yeah. All right. Well, for my last question, I'm just curious. What is your daily driver each of you? I mean, you guys are all into photography. You make these camera apps. Are you all 12 Pro Max people, have one of you got the Mini what's, your daily driver?

Rebecca Slatkin: I have a 12 Pro. I have a reputation of losing phones. So I thought, you know, I'll go cheap.

Ben Sandofsky: Yeah. 12 Pro

Sebastiaan de With: I have a 12 Pro Max. Uh, I did the 12 mini for a little bit. I really missed the telephoto lens. Like I thought like, oh, I won't be able to make it to live without ProRAW. I can live without ProRAW. I kinda like the old RAW a lot. Cause it's, it's hard to work with, but it's also really aesthetic. It has like grain and I don't know, I like it, but the telephoto lens, I really miss it. So I hope. It's not happening, but I hope the next iPhone has like, is tiny and has a telephoto lens. They need to fix physics or just, you know, cover the entire back of it with lenses. Then I'm like super happy. So it's kind of like a suction cup, like an octopus tentacle.

Stephen Robles: Kind of like a range stove, you know what I mean? Just have all the buttons.

Sebastiaan de With: Exactly. Six Photoshop. It was like Evergreen, the little pots and pans on it. Yes. Yeah. So that's our daily drivers right now. And then apart from that, when I take, like, sometimes I use like a Leica film camera, if I am like really like done with iPhone photography for a little bit.

Uh, it's nice to get back to the basics.

Stephen Robles: Very cool. Well, thank you guys so much for joining us on the AppleInsider podcast. Obviously we'll point people to Halide and Spectre, your apps in the app store. Anywhere else that you would point people to, to learn more about Lux?

Ben Sandofsky: It's actually a domain name. Really,

Sebastiaan de With: Yeah. We write articles on there about photography and whenever new stuff comes out, like when the new iPad came out, we dug into the cameras and find whatever little surprises and super power. So anytime something like happens in iPhone and iPad land we do a little writeup.

Rebecca Slatkin: And if you're a new to photography and you want to sign up for Halide, there is a course that you can take online that you just go to the membership setting screen, and you can subscribe and learn some cool stuff.

Stephen Robles: Very cool. We'll put all those links in show notes, listeners, you can check them out there and learn more about, you should try that out. And all the apps will be there as well. Thanks for joining us.

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