Interview with Alan Cook of Bad Dog Apps

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bad dog apps interviewIn the short time since Bad Dog Apps was founded, developer Alan Cook and his loyal mascot Basenji  already have eight apps in the App Store. Cook's background is in engineering and not programming, which makes him the atypical developer, he says.

1. You have several apps in the App Store right now. Are there attributes these apps have in common and if so, what would they be?

AC: They all solve a problem or provide a service you need to use over and over again. I don't know how may apps I have on my iPhone that I forget about because they do not meet this criteria. All the applications share a common code base so as new features appear on one application, if they make sense, they will be added to the other apps. You can see each version get better over time and never worry about paying for upgrades.

2. Of the apps you’ve developed thus far, which ones do you like most and why?

AC: I would have to say the Craigs Ads — The CraigsList first and Emailer second. Craigs Ads solves the biggest problem with Craig's List on the iPhone and on the Web, and that is I can't see the photo's before I click on the item. We solved this problem by allowing Craigs Ads show you the photo in a table cell so now you can browse ads and get a idea of what the item is right away. I use the app almost every day when I need to buy something or check if I can buy the item used at a better price. It's probably the best investment besides the Save $ shopping app you can make in this down economy.

3. If you could be something other than a developer, what would it be?

AC: A professional pool player or a Scuba instructor. I never get tired of either.

4. EA, among other companies, has  promoted its developers as rock stars. If you were a rock star, what instrument would you play?

AC: Well, I did have a band when I was a teenager named the Eliminators. I played guitar.

5. What’s the development cycle for one of your apps?

AC: Because of all the shared code I have I could create a fairly polished app in just a few days now, but my goal is to create one great application a month, I have two others I am working on — a Mapping app and a Contact manager. You only need to look at BdContacts to get some idea of what I may be doing.

6. When did you start developing apps for the iPhone?

AC: As soon as I could get a iPhone after last year's WWDC in July, so I have been doing about one application a month. The hardest part has been the reworking of my apps, even though the apps where basically the same. Apple sent me over 12 rejections for features that had already been approved in previous version, so needless to say this has been very frustrating time to get all my apps updated.

7. How do you settle on a price point for your app? Is it better to price at $0.99 and hope to sell a zillion copies or is it better to price at $9.99 and hope to generate at least as much in revenues or more?

AC: This is a real problem right now, and I am probably going to have to increase all my apps by least one dollar. Unless you luck out, it's almost impossible to stay in business with $0.99 apps. The problem is no one improves their apps at that price point. They only come out with more apps, hoping that something is is successful.

The real problem in my eyes is free apps with embedded advertising, they are being subsidized by Apple as they make them no money and they force paid apps to a unhealthly price range. The second problem is the App Store, it needs subcategories and a random app placement each time you click on a category. Tht would level the playing field and make it easier for users to explore what is available on the App Store.

8. What features do you hope Apple will implement in future versions of the iPhone/SDK?

AC: More interface widgets. The biggest thing holding back iPhone applications right now is space. There are only so many icons you can add to a tool bar and the Navigation bar is limited. It would be nice to be able to hide Navigation bar items instead of just disabling them when they are not needed. A pop out tab view where you can add more icons would be the top thing I'd want to see. That way. it's easier for the user to choose more features without being pushed to another view.

9. What compensations do you have to make for the iPhone’s small playing surface?

AC: The trick is to never have to go more than three to four levels down to do anything, and if you make it easy to perform the function multiple times without having to jump back and forth again and again. An example would be our Emailer app, one of the most requested features was being to change the quick response emails. The trick was once they are editing a email they can easily move on to the next email without leaving the editor. The same can be said with having multiple SMTP accounts. The solution was to assign the account to a signature so it's simple for the users to change the SMTP client with only a two touches.

10. What’s the biggest advantage of the iPhone other than mobility?

AC: Cocoa and Interface Builder. Lucky for me, I've been working in Cocoa since NeXT 1990, without those two things development would be beyond painful. I get emails almost every other day from RIM and Android users asking for my apps to be ported to their platforms. I usually respond like this, 'The iPod was so successful not because of  the iPod but iTunes. Well, on the iPhone it's iTunes App Store. There would be anything like you are seeing without Cocoa language.

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