Dev Talks: Why We Transformed Native Access
My name is Hayo Friese. I've been with the company for 1.5 years now, fully involved on the Native Access 2 team as a developer for one year, and now as a product owner for 6 months. I’m excited to kick-off this new version of our Dev Talks series and have the opportunity to share more about topics a lot of you have been asking about. Today, I’d like to give a little overview into the decisions that led to a “version 2” of Native Access, and give insight into some trade offs we made because of it, alongside a glimpse into the future.
History of Native Access
Before there was a Native Access, there were a few tools and services Native Instruments provided users with, among them the Registration tool (that primarily handled product activations) and Service Center (which handled activation, download/updates, driver, firmware, product reparations, and offline mode).
But there were several issues here, like an overcomplicated activation system, especially with bundle elements. Native Access (NA1) helped overhaul this system by logging into your Native account that contained a bundle, and giving you access to every individual bundle member so that you could download the latest available version of each one of them.
The tech stack that we used, however, was slow to build on, and made a LOT of innovations/additions/pivots very difficult to realize because of many internal dependencies. Meaning it took a LONG time to produce any feature and release it. So as we continued to better understand our ecosystem and experiment with things during Hackdays, we happened upon an idea that would eventually shift us to a new approach for Native Access.
The gist of it is that the functionality was decoupled from the interface, and two separate entities operate the system: one is the new dark-themed Native Access (NA2) interface you see today, the other being the NTK Daemon, responsible for activating, downloading, installing, and managing your products. You can think of it as NA2 being the button and the Daemon the wiring and the cogwheels. This allows us to work in parallel without blocking each other, allowing for swift UI iterations, and installation improvements without blocking all other work from going through.
The release problem
So, why did this take two years? NA1 had a lot of features and dependencies, as it was around for quite some time, and we built two practically brand new entities. We were slated for a 2021 release, but as most things go, other initiatives ended up needing our support in the meantime. The technology behind the two entities was also vastly different, which meant that functionality we matched up with NA1 sometimes behaved differently, and we spent quite a lot of time addressing these issues.
In June 2022 we finally reached feature parity on our new product, and we were fully aware of some glaring issues that remained, such as:
- Long startup times
- A hit-or-miss startup experience for a lot of users
- Persistent bugs
- The activation system that we reached feature parity with NA1 on needs a refactor
- Connection with API is handled differently
- Just one language, one color display mode supported
Some of these issues still exist today. I understand that the first release of NA2 might have felt frustrating when it didn't come with anything new or special. Take Uninstall, a feature that we wanted to implement in the first version of Native Access. Once we committed to work towards NA2, we could not create new features in the old version only to have to recreate them in the next version again.
Where are we now? Six months after the official launch, average startup time has been reduced by minutes, and we're about to release another update to further speed it up. We have a diverse portfolio of products to support, and we’re hoping to improve the installation experience on all of them.
Native Access 2 will be prioritizing two major initiatives in the next year: improving on the quality of our installation processes, and getting our Soundwide portfolio products into our product manager, starting with iZotope products over the course of this year. Alongside this, we will be releasing new features to enhance the management and overall user experience, which includes Automatic Uninstallation and Locate All, and of course giving love to some areas that could still see some improvement.
All that being said, our first order of business is getting more users on NA2 and unifying our installation managers. We’ll be migrating our user base from NA1 to NA2 for those on macOS 10.14+ and Windows 10+, so that we can get all users on the same platform. Barring some remaining stabilization work, we feel confident in the current state of NA2 that users will have a shared experience with NA1 users. We’ll be executing this transition early in the next year.
Given that recent degradations caused extensive startup times or empty product catalogs in NA2, especially during high traffic scenarios, we’ll be spending a bit more time making sure our infrastructure is solid on the NA2 front for a part of the next quarter. Service degradations or outages in our online services are not something we can always 100% avoid, and therefore we will work to respond better to these situations.
We will also be committed to stabilizing the last major pain point in our tech stack: installing your products reliably and with the user experience in mind. Firstly we’re shifting the entire mechanism to the Daemon side, so that your download queue can be better managed, such as being stored in between active sessions, and without you needing to have NA2 open to follow it. I will share more information in the next quarter about other ways we intend to tackle these initiatives.
Another thing we’re looking to ship this year is Locate All. Users will be able to execute a batch locate operation to identify all products that exist within a directory. Additionally I am relieved to announce that we are working on the feature to automatically uninstall products. We want to get this out as soon as possible, so we’re doing it iteratively: First for Native Instruments Content Products. These hold the largest share of the types of products we sell, and happen to also be the easiest to tackle. For products that won’t get automatic uninstall on launch, we plan to release a built-in checklist to guide you through manually uninstalling them.
I would at least like to acknowledge some other feature requests that we’ve received. Light Mode and Move/Move All are heavily requested features, as well as a better understanding of a product within Native Access, and more clarity on Product Compatibility. At the moment, there’s a lot on our teams’ plate to promise anything at this stage, but we’ve taken note and will revisit them within the next year.
There’s plenty more ideas floating around, but for now, they’re just interesting ideas. We’ve been really happy with the frequency of users submitting their feedback to us (we read every single one), so we can understand what issues you’re facing, and things you want. Should you have any recommendations or feature requests, please do not hesitate to share, and those that are meant for other product teams I make sure to pass them on to the respective teams. You can submit your feature request/feedback here.
The Native Access team is no longer working on Native Access 1. We have around 650k users on NA2, and we want to commit to improving the product management experience for our user base. We’re going to be migrating all of our users from NA1 to NA2 early on in the year so that we can work under one environment, provided they’re on MacOS 10.14/10.15 and above, and Windows 10 and above. We want all our customers to enjoy the modern interface, improved functionality and security features of the most recent version of Native Access.
Moving forward, the Native Access team will be more transparent. We want to make sure that you recognize that we hear you and are actively looking to make not just Native Access better, but your product and Soundwide experience too. I’ll post updates, and keep you informed on ongoing topics the Access team intends to address in the short term (with it still being subject to change). Thank you for your patience. I look forward to giving you another update again sometime towards the end of March.
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