Mobile Orchard: Tells us about yourself and your company.
Chad Podoski: Shacked is a two person iOS focused dev shop I founded after leaving a local tech startup here in Honolulu, HI. Shacked is going through a transition at the moment, with my initial co-founder moving on to take a position at Microsoft on the new Windows Phone platform team. My new partner, Jason Skicewicz, is a server side expert, specializing in Python/Django development, which nicely complements my skill set on the mobile side. I am really excited about the opportunities it opens up for Shacked to make some stellar products that leverage server side computing and cloud storage. This also gives us the ability to develop apps for all the major mobile app platforms, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone tied together with a common server side component.
I am an University of Florida alumni (Go Gators!) with a couple degrees in computer engineering. After college, I moved to Oregon and worked at Nike world headquarters (can you say rock climbing for your lunch break) as a Java/Oracle developer for a few years, before moving on to Hawaii to work for a Mac photo management app startup, Blue Lava Technologies, founded by the creator of Tetris. Their main product, the Mac desktop app iLovePhotos , was a great idea that unfortunately suffered from really bad timing. iLovePhotos was an iPhoto alternative whos primary purpose was organizing and sharing photos based on the people in the photos. We launched in August of ’08. iPhoto ’09 with Faces came out the following January. Despite the failure, the startup experience I gained was invaluable. It really opened my eyes to entrepeneurship, startups in general, startup financing, taking a product from concept to deliverable, not to mention causing me to transition over to Mac and Objective-C from the Windows based world and Java development.
MO: How did you get into iPad app development?
CP: iOS development was an easy transition from the Mac app development I was doing previously. The iPad was announced a couple months after I started doing Shacked full-time. Being an avid photographer myself, the moment I saw the iPad, the concept for Flickpad came to mind. As we have seen, the iPad has opened up amazing new ways to interact with digital media. Flickpad was my solution for keeping up with the massive amount of photos that are shared with each of us on any given day.
MO: Do you also create apps for the iPhone?
CP: Shacked’s first app was an iPhone app called The Now. I have always been interested in the concept of mindfulness, and living more fully in the present. The Now was my attempt to create an iPhone app to help me achieve that personally. It is a pretty simple idea really, make use of the push notification system on the iPhone to periodically snap people back to the present moment, via some poignant quote or relevant exercise. While it has seen limited commercial success compared to Flickpad, it still holds a special place for me as my first app in the app store.
MO: How does iPhone and iPad development differ?
CP: On the coding side, there are not really a ton of differences that come to mind. It is on the design side that you really have to change the way you think. The iPad definitely opens up more possibilities for creative interfaces, but it is also a pitfall that can easily result in overly complex design, and as a result, a poorly received app.
MO: What are some of your favorite development tools?
CP: Most of the tools I use are pretty standard, Xcode, Interface Builder, and Photoshop primarily. I am a huge fan of utilities and plug-ins though. Cocoa Browser Air is an alterative to the Xcode documentation browser (which I find horrid) that I have used for a long time. Visor, a quake style drop down terminal is super handy. Completion Dictionary is an XCode code sense alternative that I have been using since XCode 2.*. TotalFinder is a Finder hack that gives you a tabbed Finder. It is amazing and totally worth the money. Finally, I have really enjoyed using the ALT fork of Notational Velocity by Brett Terpstra, as a great alternative to TextEdit, as well as heavy todo management apps.
MO: Best thing about developing for iOS?
CP: Apple sometimes gets a bad rap for being closed, versus say Google and the Android platform. While I feel the difference in openness of the two platforms is smaller than it is made out to be in the press, Apple’s control of the entire iOS development ecosystem does make for an really enjoyable platform to develop on. You can just tell that extensive thought has been put into every tool (XCode, Interface Builder, Instruments), not only how they are designed but also how well they all fit together. I think that attention to detail can’t help but bleed through in the apps independent developers like myself produce for the platform. Also, Objective-C is a great language to develop in.
MO: Worst thing about developing for iOS?
CP: Inconsistencies in the API, extensibility limitation in some of the UI controls, and ‘standards’ that are set in terms of UI controls in core Apple products that can’t be replicated without rolling your own or using private classes. To Apple’s credit, I don’t think these are intentional, I just don’t think they have the bandwidth to do it in as timely a manner as independent developer’s would like. In almost all cases, future SDKs and OSs have added the functionality and UI flexibility, but by that time, new UI ‘standards’ have been set. Frustrating, but at the same time it is also part of the fun of the platform, the evolution of UI design. While still valuable as an indicator of solid baseline design, I tend to think the HIG became pretty irrelevant with the Delicious Monster generation.
MO: What are the challenges of developing for the iPad?
CP: I think the challenges are the same as for any software product. Ideas are cheap, it is execution and persistence that count. Additionally, in making apps for Mac, or iOS in particular, stellar design is key. Finally, there are so many apps in the app store, marketing is huge. In an upcoming guest post for Mobile Orchard, I plan on documenting my marketing efforts with Flickpad, what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully it will help other devs navigate the app marketing gauntlet.
MO: What advice do you have for someone wanting to start developing for the iPad?
CP: Apps with limited and focused functionality with stellar design are the easiest to sell and market. Don’t overlook the opportunity for free, ad revenue driven apps with focused functionality, as well as in-app purchase opportunities. Integrating multiple ad networks via AdWhirl opens up some great opportunities, not only for ad revenue but also cross app promotion. Network, network, network. Start early trying to develop relationships with reviewers and influencers in the iOS app space. It is hard to be noticed with all the noise in the app store, every little bit helps. Finally, don’t delude yourself that all you have to do it code a great app. In the end, depending on the idea, all the supporting activities (app website design, marketing, support, maintanence) will probably end up taking more time than the actual development.
MO: New projects in the works?
CP: I have a couple apps that are really close to being ready for release, both photo related. Additionally, I have two new app ideas that are just starting that I think could turn out to be really big, both have a small Hawaii influence. Nothing ready to announce though, stay tuned.
MO: Where did your app idea come from?
CP: If you haven’t noticed already, all my apps to date have pretty much been apps that I built for myself. Flickpad solved a need I had related to keeping up with all the photos people were sharing with me on Facebook and Flickr. The Now was a tool to help better appreciate the subtleties of life. My up coming apps are starting to shift more towards solving other peoples problems and targeting app areas that haven’t seem to have been addressed yet in the app store. Also, as mentioned above, I am starting to explore app ideas that are Hawaii related.
MO: How long did it take to develop your app?
CP: Flickpad v1.0 was developed over 4-6 weeks of intense coding and design. To date though, i think I have put roughly 4+ solid months of work into Flickpad. The integration of Flickr in version 2 of Flickpad alone took close to another 6 weeks of work. The Now was my first iOS app and I released an open source push notification framework for Urban Airship along side it, but I think it took about 6 weeks of work total. I have since changed it to use Local Push Notifications introduced in iOS 4, which would have greatly simplified the original implemention. If I were to do it know, I think it would be a 2 week app.
MO: What is your favorite iPad app?
CP: Besides Flickpad of course , my current favorites are VLC, Plex, and Instapaper. Playing MKV episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba via VLC on a recent road trip with my 1 year old son saved my sanity. The whole transcoding thing for getting videos in the default iOS video app is a nightmare. Guess it is not an issue if you buy everything from iTunes. Plex for iPad is amazing for navigating my Mac Mini/Drobo/Samsung LED home theather setup. Instapaper is great to read intersting articles I saved for later. Great functionality, design, not to mention supporting a great indie developer.
MO: Anything else you would like to add?
CP: Just a mahalo to all the Flickpad users out there, as well as Mobile Orchard for the interview opportunity. Also, if there are any talented indie iOS designers out there reading this and looking for partnership opportunities, drop me a line.
MO: Thanks for your time.