Over three years ago, I wrote on here about a slick app for the Mac called Delicious Library. It’s a database for your books, movies, CDs, and videogames that presents everything by letting you scan through shelves of the covers.
The first version got a ton of coverage on the internet, mostly because of its extremely slick presentation. Everything was glossy and animated, it let you use your iSight camera to scan in bar codes, it grabbed contacts from your Address Book to let you keep track of who borrowed what. This was what Mac apps were supposed to be like. The presentation actually made it fun to keep track of your conspicuous consumerism, and that’s pretty much the Apple philosophy right there.
In fact, there was so much buzz around the app that it spawned a counter movement among fairly embittered Mac software developers who didn’t cotton to this new wave of style over substance.
Now, after a few years of hype and previews, version 2.0 of the app is out (available from the link at the top of this post). It’s Leopard-only, it’s supposedly faster (I don’t have a large enough library to tell the difference), and it has a few more export features, including exporting your library to a web version.
(Anyone curious can check out my library, which hasn’t been updated in a year or so, and contains most of my DVDs and a few of my books that I entered before I got bored with the process).
To say that I’m not impressed is something of an understatement; I’ve hit the embarrassed-that-I-used-to-think-this-was-kind-of-cool level of disillusionment. It’s $40 for the full program, or $20 if you’re upgrading from a previous version. The HTML export was the bit I was interested in, but with all the data it dumps into the result, the process of generating the export takes a long time and the process of actually uploading it is interminable. Plus, you can see from the example above that a huge chunk of the page is taken up by their gigantic logo, and most of the space on the page is given to their faux wood grain.
The feature I was most interested in was getting a version of my library I could check out on the iPhone. So if I’m at a bookstore, for example, wondering which Terry Pratchett books I’ve already got but haven’t read yet, I could make sure I don’t end up with a duplicate. Delicious Library does generate a special version tailored for the iPhone, but again, most of the space is taken up by stuff that you don’t need. And worst of all: no search. Which pretty much renders the whole thing useless.
I like to think I’m not a jerk, and normally I wouldn’t bother making a blog post about an app I don’t like and wouldn’t recommend. But it’s interesting to me what this app in particular says about the state of Mac development, not to mention web services and the like.
I haven’t heard much lately about the “Delicious Generation;” whether that means it all fizzled out, or I just haven’t been paying attention, I can’t say.
I can say that with all the new features included in Leopard — Core Data, Core Animation, improved Interface Builder, improvements to Objective C — writing something that does the same thing as Delicious Library seems really easy. The latest edition of Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X (an outstanding book) includes retrieving and presenting information from Amazon as one of its short example apps. And there’s definitely no shortage of documentation and example code for Amazon’s API.
The only part of Delicious Library that doesn’t strike me as simple and easy to implement is the iSight barcode scanner. And that’s more of a gimmick than a feature; using it requires you to turn on every light in the room, have an extremely steady hand, and have the patience to repeat the scan over and over again. It’s faster just to type in titles and ISBNs.
But again, this isn’t intended as a jerkish, “You’re not so smart! I could do all that!” post (although I have to say there is a little bit of arrogance surrounding Delicious Monster that I’d like to see dispelled). I’m really pointing out how impressive it is that this kind of thing is included at the operating system level these days. I’ve spent so much time lamenting the death of HyperCard that I never clued into how quickly “real” programming was developing.
With Leopard and the Interface Builder and XCode included free (like HyperCard), you can build a completely functional interface with no code (like HyperCard), you can hook it up to a database with no code (like HyperCard), you can drop whatever media and data you’ve got from other apps into your own (like HyperCard), and you can quickly and easily design really slick-looking transitions and other “fluff” stuff that just makes the app more enjoyable to use (like HyperCard). But you’re not bound to the card/stack metaphor, and you’ve got the entire internet at your disposal as a data source. Things that I never would’ve thought possible when I started programming, are trivial now.
So I’m not saying the “delicious generation” fizzled out. Considering that some flashy indie apps have made their way into the operating system itself, maybe Apple really did take their inspiration from these outside developers, but systemized it and legitimized it so that you get the flash without sacrificing the functionality. It makes me realize that the company is really living up to its publicized philosophy: taking computers from being just a necessity, to being things that are actually fun to use.
Whatever the case, I’m still not paying $40 or even $20 to organize my damn DVD collection. I’d rather write my own program.