AppCraver recently spoke with Alan Chung, part of the developer team behind Zenbe Lists. He answered our questions about developing apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
1. When did you start developing apps for the iPhone?
Alan Chung: We began developing in May, and were able to leverage the infrastructure we built for the main Zenbe site to shorten the development process and turn out an application that was as clean and elegant. Which is pretty amazing.
2. What was the inspiration behind your app?
Alan Chung: It was pretty straightforward. The task list component in our Zenbe email service has been well-received, and as an iPhone 1.0 user I knew it was a key missing feature in the iPhone’s suite of functionality. So we combined it with the sharing and collaboration innovations we had already built for Zenbe, we came up with the most unique list application out there for the iPhone – a list app that allows sharing.
3.How did you settle on your price point for the app?
Alan Chung: We decided it will be free to make it as widely available as possible.
4. Roughly how many apps did you sell in the first month of operation?
Alan Chung: The number of downloads far exceeded our expectations, but I rather not disclose the exact numbers. We’re consistently in the top 20 of the Productivity category, and we’re in the top 10% of all the free applications, which we’re thrilled about.
5. How did you like the developer tools provided in the iPhone SDK? Is there anything missing?
Alan Chung: The main developer on this project, Robert Kieffer, was a NeXTStep developer. So was I, but that was many moons ago. So the tools are familiar and comfortable. Robert had not written anything in ObjC in a long time, but he got back into it very quickly. There are always going to be rough edges developing on a beta platform, but I think his overall experience was quite positive.
6. Is your company privately owned? Venture backed?
Alan Chung: Yes, we’re a private company that is angel backed. We’ve not raised funds from VCs yet.
7. What are some of the other iPhone apps that you like?
Alan Chung: I obviously love our Zenbe Lists app, but on my iPhone I’ve a number of apps I use often. They are:
— FAAwait, because I travel a lot
— Mobile News & NYTimes, I love reading news on the go. I wish NYT app was a little be more robust. It crashes a lot.
— Instapaper, a simple bookmarking service but the ability to have it with me on my iPhone made me switch from delicious.
— MissileCmnd, an old school game that’s pretty fun Enigmo, very pretty graphics
— X-Plane, it is simply amazing they’ve a full flight simulator running on the iPhone. Kudos to the developers. It is a great reminder of how much computer power we now have in our pockets.
8. What kind of features should apple implement in future versions of the iPhone / SDK?
Alan Chung: Ultimately, I would like to see most of the functionality of our Zenbe webmail service available on the iPhone. I cannot imagine handling my email, calendar, task lists with any other service beside Zenbe. But to make that happen we would really like to see APIs in the SDK to allow more access to Apple’s native calendar and email applications, so we can integrate seamlessly with those applications. Without that access we’ve to decide if we want to take on the huge task of writing a calendar and email app from scratch.
I think it would be far better experience for end users if we can integrate and extend the current apps.
9. What’s the development cycle for iPhone apps like?
Alan Chung: I think it’s pretty typical of our development process. We started with the general list idea, brainstormed what features we want in a list app on our iPhones. Then we handed it over to our very talented UI designer, Jay, to make some mock ups. After that we went into the usual code, test, debug cycle. Normally we have a more structured testing process but it was tougher to test on the actual hardware before the July launch. Only a few of us were brave enough to put the beta firmware onto our iPhones, so we got some iPod touches for testing. Only having 5 actual devices to test on before launch was a little scary. But it all worked out great.
10. Are you working on any other apps that you will be releasing soon?
Alan Chung: Our main focus right now is on our Zenbe webmail service. We’ve a number of exciting features slated for release soon. But we’re continuing with our iPhone development efforts. I’ll let you know as we get closer to anything concrete.