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Archive for the ‘iPhone App Development’ Category

Interview with developer of Cookmate, an AppStar winner

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Screen shot 2009-12-15 at 10.59.55 AM
If you can’t beat ’em, interview ’em. So the AppStar winners were announced a few days ago. Though Grades wasn’t among them, the next best thing is to learn from the winners. So I got the privilege to talk to the Tapmates, Robin Razka and Petr Reichl. They just launched their first app, Cookmate, which took first place in the Entertainment category in the AppStar Awards.

444624139_9v4qA-M-1:13:2009I feel Tapmates is an ideal team: a designer + a programmer. Who are you guys, how did you get together, and what have been the benefits and challenges of working as a small team in contrast to, say, a one-man show?

avatar-robinRobin: At the beginning, I’d like to say we do no marketing at all. I believe that the best PR is product itself, so we are trying to answer any question and that’s what people like. I’ve met Petr at one of the Czech portals, we understand each other perfectly and working with him just leads to success. Personally I don’t believe that one man can do all things at the best.

avatar-petrPeter: I create iPhone apps for about two years – it’s fascinating platform. When I met Robin, I was literally amazed by his work. Thus when he mentioned, that he wants to go iPhone – I knew that our cooperation can deliver interesting apps. Hopefully it’s true Advantage, I see in our cooperation, is different look at the problem. Things – you would never realize in “one-man show”.

I think fun, usable design is a key ingredient in the iPhone app formula. You obviously spent a great deal of time designing not only the app but the promotion website, the icon, etc. What is the toughest part of designing iPhone apps and why do you think good design is important?

Robin: Totally agreed. By myself, I see the most important properly is very good idea, well designed features and functions. This must work perfectly. Then fit it into nice look and feel and you app is ready for world-wide success.

When designing UI for Cookmate, it was all about cooperation among Peter and me, together with essential feedback from our testers. I had to learn basics of ObjC to quickly fix details and save Petr’s time. I am detailist. Maybe I surprise you, but first mockups were done in just an afternoon. Web was done next day. Idea was clear, inspiration enough. I was suprised how smooth it went.

Petr: I am convinced that good looking and useful UI is the key ingredience to make people love it. It’s not just iPhone specifically, but it plays here main role. Robin is UI perfectionist and that was very important during Cookmate development. We’ve been constantly changing and playing with various details, however I can say I am happy that we’ve invested this amounts of time into it.

What was the toughest part of developing Cookmate?

Robin: The hardest was to figure out, what we really want. At the beginning it was only thought “Let’s make an app, which tells you what to cook regarding to what’s in your storage.”. Then we took it and continue working with the thought. At the end of the of development, we finally knew how it’s gonna work.

Petr: The hardest was to keep the simplicity of whole app. We had many ideas and more the app does, more complicated it is. I see this the most important thing in the future. Keep it simple and useful together.

What are the ways you have generated pre-launch buzz for Cookmate. What has worked, what hasn’t?

Robin: There are two options how to generate prelaunch buz – You are lucky enough or already famous and then you just tweet, you are launching new iPhone app and everybody starts writing about it. We were just lucky, we’ve won App Star Awards 2009 and that kicked off our promotion. We couldn’t have better start. Also I think – Cookmate is exactly that type of application, which can does best PR by itself. I would skip e-mails to journalists, spamming discussions etc.

Petr: I am idealistically convinced, when the app is good – it finds it’s own way. Still you must be lucky – which we had in App Star Awards 2009. Hopefully this win helps to spread the word about the app and people find out, it’s the app they were looking for.

Congratulations on winning the App Star Awards with your first app, Cookmate! What is it about Cookmate that you think makes it stand out among so many other great iPhone apps? Any tips on crafting a winning promo video?

Robin: Thank you! I liked your video as well! Cookmate has great programmer and we have good ideas, we can achieve and reflect them in app. You can expect nice tweaks in next version. The video was done in Final Cut. Recipe was: simple concept, ready story and great tools – SimFinger by Loren Brichter is magical thing.

Screen shot 2009-12-15 at 11.33.04 AMHas being an App Star Winner generated significant buzz for Cookmate and in turn how much do you think that buzz has translated into actual sales on the app store?

Robin: We were lucky, that Apple accepted our app the same day the winners were announced.

Petr: I think it had big impact. It’s very hard to identify good app in App Store nowadays. I can’t predict what’s coming, but I was really happy, that we are TOP #1 in Czech App Store – although it’s small market, but it’s nice reward.

Tell us about the launch. Any lessons learned?

Robin: We’ve found out that Twitter is now better channel for communication with users than Facebook, where we have only few people, mostly our friends. The most interesting markets are US, Australia, UK, Canada and then Germany, France and Italy. The rest is not so important as few downloads make your app top.

Petr: We were betting on Facebook and Twitter at launch. Unfortunately I have to say that Facebook didn’t go so well, we can’t use it’s potencial. We have to figure out this – I still think that Facebook is ideal for iPhone apps promo.

What are your plans for Cookmate going forward? How are you planning to generate sustained sales and exposure?

Robin: We already are working on update for almost a week, which will introduce new features and new recipe packs.

Petr: The update will also include feedback and new ideas from users and we’d like to satisfy them. I believe that app like Cookmate has big potencial and it’s important to aim taste of majority as you can’t satisfy everyone.

Big thanks to Robin and Petr for taking the time to answer my questions. If you have any questions for them, feel free to respond in the comments.

Link: Apple is rejecting its own advice

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Apple’s static analysis seems to be rejecting apps that use Apple’s own backward compatibility techniques. Here’s hoping Apple will fix this soon.

Progress!

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

iPhone Simulator
This man is excited. The screenshot above is not perfect, it’s not complete, it’s not ready—but its not a mockup, hence the exuberance.

Until a few weeks ago the actual Grades code base was a patchwork quilt of sample code and tutorials coerced into doing my will. I trashed it.

A bunch of things clicked a few weeks ago and I decided to start from scratch. It was a good idea. Today, a few weeks later, I have a lean, mean, Grade machine—the core functionality is already built. The best part: the days of constantly referring to sample code and tutorials are over—I finally understand, albeit to a limited degree, how it all works together. Its thrilling.

I was hoping to finish the beta before finals. At the rate I’m going, I may have the whole deal ready by then. No promises.

I already have some fellow UNCC students who will be helping me test out the beta but if you want to get in on the action, post a comment on this post.

Read/Write data on the iPhone: Property Lists, SQLite, or Core Data?

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Cam

I just want to read and write data in my iPhone app.

You can’t do that without making a fateful choice. There are three major options: Property Lists, SQLite, and Core Data. Core Data is Apple’s preferred method but it doesn’t work on non-OS 3.0 devices. This means a lot of iPod Touch users (who have to pay to upgrade) will miss out on your application and you’ll miss out on their money. The following is a brief comparison of the three options based on my limited understanding.

Property Lists

appData.plist - MakeTheGrade Property lists (aka plists) are simple. A plist is simply a list of nested key-value pairs which can contain common data types like Strings, Numbers, Arrays and Dictionaries.

Procedure
Read data from a plist file, turn the data into objects and display the object data in your UI. Set it up so that when objects are modified, the plist is also modified.

Pros

  • Simple to understand.
  • Easy to work with.

Cons

  • Cannot run complex queries on them (at least not easily).
  • You have to read the entire file into memory to get any data out of it and save the entire file to modify anything in it.

Plist Tutorials

Bottom line: If you’re just starting out and your app doesn’t use a ton of data, plists are probably the way to go.

SQLite

Book.m - SQLiteBooksUntil CoreData came along, this was the popular way to read and write data in iPhone applications. If your a web developer, this ain’t nothing new.

Procedure

Set up the SQLite database (tables and that kinda thing), set up the database connection, query the database, turn those queries into objects in your application, display object data in the UI, do some funky stuff to get object data saved back to the database.

Pros

  • Unlike plists, you don’t have to load the whole database up front. This makes SQLite more suitable for applications with lots of data.
  • Better than plists for slicing and dicing data.

Cons

  • Steeper learning curve than plists.
  • Can get tedious to work with.

SQLite Tutorials

Bottom Line: Use if you want to build an iPhone 2.x compatible application with lots of data.

Core Data

CoreDataBooks.xcdatamodel - CoreDataBooks

Its new, its exciting, and its probably what most developers will use from here on out.

I have not spent enough time with CoreData to summarize it; check out the tutorials (below) to learn more about it.

Pros

  • Nearly all the benefits of SQLite with a lot less hassle (Apple does a lot of the dirty work for you).
  • As Apple’s preferred method it has a lot more official documentation and sample code (it seems the articles and sample code for the other two methods have mysteriously disappeared from Apple’s website).
  • Probably more pros, comments please.

Cons

  • Steeper learning curve than plists.
  • Killer: only works on iPhone OS >3.0. Its killer if your market consists largely of iPod Touch users (who have to pay for upgrades).

Core Data Tutorials

Bottom line: use if you are making an iPhone 3.0 only app.

And the Winner is…

I have messed and dabbled and toiled and troubled with this question for months. At first, I tried SQLite because it seemed to be the way to go at the time. It was great but it seemed overkill for my simple application and managing all that extra code was hassling me to death.

Then came the new guy that everybody was talking about: Core Data. It was everything a programmer could dream about for reasons I couldn’t possibly comprehend at the time. It was the new way to do things and the best thing since sliced arrays, so I tried it.

Everything was going great and I was definitely seeing some benefits over SQLite but it was then when my dreams were quickly shattered by a simple fact: Core Data only works on iPhone 3.0. Ahh, you say, but the adoption rate of iPhone 3.0 is off the charts. Ahh, I say, but you forget that my target market is college students, most of whom:

  • Own iPod Touches because they can’t even afford deodorant, let alone an iPhone.
  • Haven’t upgraded to iPhone 3.0 because they don’t want to pay ten colossal bucks.

I am a college student and I am among these creatures every day. Believe me, its true.

Bottom line: I ended up choosing property lists because (1) I didn’t need the power of SQLite and (2) I didn’t want to alienate my potential iPod Touch buyers who have not yet upgraded to OS 3.0.

7 Ingredients of Successful iPhone Apps (source: Apple)

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

success

Apple spilled the beans. After observing the rise and fall of thousands of iPhone apps, they synthesized the major characteristics of the champions.

Don’t Fail

  • If you just had an epiphany in your shower, stop.
  • If you’re busy coding that million dollar app, stop.
  • If you’re frustrated by your app’s dismal sales, stop.

Fact: Most apps on the app store fail.

Fact: Most apps do not exhibit many (if any) of the 7 characteristics of successful iPhone apps as outlined by Apple.

The List

  • Delightful.
  • Innovative.
  • Designed.
  • Integrated.
  • Optimized.
  • Connected.
  • Localized.

That list probably doesn’t mean much to you. I will follow up in detail with examples of each characteristic.

Until then, go to Apple’s iPhone Dev News Website, read “Seven Qualities of Successful iPhone Apps.” Cut out an hour from your normal iPhone development schedule and watch the video (linked to from the news article). You will be convinced. Cut out another hour and think about it. Which of these characteristics does your iPhone app exhibit?

Be realistic. You are probably on a path to failure. Get your priorities straight, ensure to cook in these 7 ingredients, and get ready for app store success.

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